‘Significant milestone’ in bid for Freedom of Information legislation

Chris Robertshaw MHK

Chris Robertshaw MHK

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MHKs voted unanimously to give a long-awaited Freedom of Information Bill its second reading.

Minister for Policy and Reform Chris Robertshaw described the legislation as a ‘significant milestone in our ongoing journey towards greater openness and transparency’.

Peter Karran MHK

Peter Karran MHK

Mr Robertshaw said that journey had taken the ‘best part of a decade’ but this was the ‘right Bill at the right time’.

He said the Bill aimed to strike a balance between the legally enforceable right to information and the financial implications such a right may create.

The Bill, in the charge of Policy and Reform Minister Chris Robertshaw MHK, introduces a legal right of access to information held by public authorities, subject to a number of exemptions.

Its implementation will be phased, it will not apply retrospectively beyond the start of the current administration in October 2011 and can only be used by island residents.

The Council of Ministers has agreed that the FOI regime should start in 2016 with a pilot scheme at the Cabinet Office and the Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture.

It will be extended over the following two years to other departments, statutory boards and local authorities.

The current Code of Practice on Access to Government Information, which applies to all departments and statutory boards, will remain in place.

The Minister said the phased implementation, the October 2011 cut-off date and restriction to island residents had allayed the fears about affordability but that Freedom of Information legislation still came at a cost.

He said the pilots in the Cabinet Office and DEFA would provide real-time experience. A ‘big bang’ approach used elsewhere had had a profound effect on public administration – ‘and not always for the better’.

Peter Karran (Lib Van, (Onchan) said: ‘To be fair at least it’s a stumble in the right direction.’

David Quirk (Onchan) said he had some concerns including the long delay for the legislation being implemented.

Mr Robertshaw said Freedom of Information was going to a ‘learning curve for us all’. He added: ‘This will change the complete culture and mindset of government.’

The Keys voted unanimously in support of the Freedom of Information Bill’s second reading.

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