The Constitution Unit


FOI & Parliament: the Sword & the Shield

August 2009 - July 2011

Speaker's Table
Abstract and proposal

Research proposal

Abstract for FOI & Parliament: the Sword & the Shield

The Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000 extends across more than 100,000 public bodies, one of the most important of which is Parliament. Since implementation in 2005, the interaction between FOI and Parliament has been a source of tension and controversy. On the one hand, Parliamentarians have begun using the FOI Act to hold government to account, on its own and in conjunction with other accountability tools. On the other hand, the controversial Maclean Bill, which sought in 2007 to exempt both Houses of Parliament from the scope of the FOI Act, and the succession of revelations relating to MPs' expenses revealed deep divisions within Parliament over how transparent the institution should be.

In this research project we ask to what extent Parliament has used FOI to hold the government to account, and to what extent Parliament itself is now more open and accountable as a result of FOI (hence our byline - The Sword and the Shield). Despite the inclusion of Parliament in some FOI Acts abroad ( Ireland, India, South Africa), no systematic study has been done of the consequences of making a Westminster style Parliament subject to FOI.

The research project is timely. Media focus upon MPs' expenses has driven the issue of Parliamentary accountability and transparency firmly atop the political agenda. This study will examine the crucial interplay between the media and Parliament, the role of the media and of FOI in shaping public perceptions of Parliament, and the influence of key groups such as MPs, the ICO and the media.

The impact and use of Freedom of Information laws is a new research area. The grant from the Leverhulme Trust presents the opportunity to develop and test new theories in a subject of increasing interest and use, both nationally and internationally. Our findings will be presented to Parliamentary staff and other interested practitioners. They will help to inform MPs, peers and their researchers in deciding when and how to use FOI, both Houses of Parliament when next reviewing their approach to disclosing information, overseas countries (Australia, Canada, NZ) which have been contemplating making Parliament subject to FOI and the decision whether the Information Commissioner should be more directly accountable to Parliament, as in Scotland.




This report presents the findings of our two-year study into the impact of FOI on the Westminster Parliament. 

Research progress reports


Conference Papers

This paper examines the impact of Freedom of Information Act upon the UK Parliament. It asks if FOI has made both Houses, MPs and peers more accountable and transparent, increased public understanding of parliament, public participation and trust. The findings represent some preliminary conclusions from our study, due to
finish in July 2011. They show the unique governance of parliament has meant FOI has had a very nuanced effect as opposed to the impact on other UK public bodies.

This paper presents findings from the first six months of our Parliament study, and examines to what extent FOI is used by Parliament to hold the government to account. The research is predicated upon a number of hypotheses based upon MPs' use of FOI in other regimes, and presents some of the preliminary findings based upon interviews with MPs and researchers, analysis of Parliamentary Questions (PQs), parliamentary debates and requests made by MPs to central government departments. It also compares and contrasts the UK experience with the use of FOI by Parliament in other countries.

This poster presents some short case studies of MPs' use of FOI requests, and describes how the FOI Act 2000 has changed Parliament