Select Committee confirms Constitution Unit analysis in review of Freedom of Information Act
26 July 2012
In its Post-Legislative Scrutiny of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, to be published on Thursday 26 July, the Commons Justice Committee has drawn heavily on the Constitution Unit’s analysis of how well the FOI Act is working, and cited the Unit’s research and evidence over 40 times in the Committee’s report.
“The Justice Committee has conducted a very thorough review
of the operation of the Act”, said Director of the Constitution Unit Prof
Robert Hazell. “They concluded, as we did, that FOI has led to greater
transparency and accountability. But it has not achieved its secondary aims
of improving the quality of government decision making, or increasing public
understanding of those decisions; nor has it led to an increase in public
trust, or public participation in government. In those respects FOI was
over-sold. In reaching those conclusions the Committee drew heavily on
our research projects which evaluated the impact of FOI on Whitehall, and on
The Committee also drew heavily on the Constitution Unit’s
research on the costs of FOI, and on whether FOI has had a chilling
effect. It decided not to recommend an application fee for FOI, and
decided not to recommend a stronger exemption for policy advice, or a specific
exemption for Cabinet papers. Instead the Committee invited senior
government officials to re-affirm that there is a safe space for policy
discussions, and that the government is prepared to use the veto to protect
Prof Hazell commented, “That will not provide the greater
certainty which officials like Sir Gus O’Donnell were calling for.
Officials will not know until much later whether the veto might be
applied. At best they might know that the government is more willing to
exercise the veto. But that guesswork might degenerate into a cat and
mouse game, with greater friction between the government and the Information
Notes for Editors
- Prof Robert Hazell and Dr Ben Worthy are both available for interview.
- Their book on which the Justice Committee relied so heavily is Does FOI Work? The Impact of the Freedom of Information Act on Central Government in the UK (Palgrave 2010).
- The Constitution Unit is an independent research centre based in the Department of Political Science at University College London.
- Blair criticised by Freedom of Information inquiry MPs (BBC, 26 July 2012)