Good government needs scrutiny and challenge
In future, parents will be better able to find out how schools apply their admissions policies. Patients will be able to understand how hospitals allocate resources between different treatments, and how they prioritise waiting lists. And citizens will be able to find out more about the actions of their local police force. It's at this local level that constitutional reform matters. We are modernising our constitution to meet the needs of modern Britain - just as we promised in our manifesto.
Freedom of Information is a key part of this Government's drive to create a modern and fairer country. We have created a Scottish Parliament and a National Assembly for Wales, and are working hard to establish the Assembly in Northern Ireland. An elected authority is being restored for London, with an elected Mayor for the capital. It's curious that this Government is always caricatured as wanting to control everything centrally while the facts show we have done more than any previous administration to devolve and share power.
Good government depends upon external scrutiny and challenge. A government that talks only to itself risks losing touch with the people in whose name it makes decisions, as the last government found out. This government is already the most open in the UK's history. In the Home Office, for example, we have published our guidance to immigration caseworkers and taken the politics out of the publication of recorded crime statistics.
The Bill imposes a legal duty on public bodies to adopt and maintain a scheme for publication of information. I believe it has the power to transform radically the relationship between government and citizens.
There are, of course, areas that must be protected. They include material on national security, law enforcement and personal privacy. And government itself needs some protection for its internal deliberations. If government is to work effectively, then there must be the chance for robust policy discussions to take place in private.
And it is worth bearing in mind that most policy deliberations are focused on one end - on proposals that are published. What is important is that as much information as possible is made public, consistent with the needs of good government and collective responsibility.
On the substantial harm test included in the White Paper, we have decided that a single omnibus test could not work properly for the range of exemptions proposed. What is "substantial" in relation to law enforcement may not be in the case of international relations.
After careful consideration, we have replaced this single test with proposals that are workable and will achieve the same purpose in a more straightforward way. Where national security is an issue, for example, the test proposed is whether the exemption is required for the purpose of safeguarding that national security. Where the health and safety of an individual is concerned, the test proposed is whether disclosure would, or would be likely, to endanger the physical, mental health or safety of an individual.
So the draft Bill strikes a balance between extending the right of access to official information, preserving confidentiality and safeguarding personal privacy. But the scales are weighed decisively in favour of openness.
Even in these areas that are specifically exempted, there will still be a duty on the body concerned to consider whether it would be in the public interest to disclose the information requested.
As we set about preparing this Bill, we examined closely the existing FOI legislation in a range of countries, including Canada, New Zealand, Australia, France and The Netherlands. I believe the proposals we are putting forward stand comparison with all of them.
The creation of the Information Commissioner will help enforce the rights the Bill gives to the public. No such regulator exists, for instance, in the US, leaving expensive and lengthy court action as the only way of forcing public bodies to comply with the law.
This is a complex area of law. By publishing a draft Bill, we shall ensure our proposals are given the maximum scrutiny by both Parliament and the public, and that should lead to better law.
We intend, after the consultation period is completed, to bring the Bill to Parliament as soon as time allows. The Bill will be accompanied by a major programme of cultural change, so that all public bodies are prepared for the Act when it comes. We have already established a task force to help achieve this.
It adds up to another major step towards implementing this Government's promise to increase openness, and to involve people more in decisions that affect their lives.
Art Somebody is going around telling people he's Banksy - but it isn't the street artist
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated
tvAn expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle
artLee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 2 Mystery man who gave mum heart-warming note on train 'wanted to put a smile on her face'
- 3 Michelle Obama highlights harsh restrictions faced by Saudi women after meeting King Salman without wearing a headscarf
- 4 Mafia's wall of silence broken: Victim of Cosa Nostra's extortion rackets in its Corleone heartland co-operates with authorities for the first time ever
- 5 Amal Clooney gives excellent answer to fashion question at European Court of Human Rights
Heavy metal producer's corpse to be mutilated by models as per his dying wish
Game of Thrones season 5: Grey Worm actor Jacob Anderson is all for more male nudity – as long as it’s not him
The Jump 2015 line-up: Joey Essex, Phil Tufnell, Heather Mills and co take to the slopes
Costa Book Awards 2015: H is for Hawk named book of the year
New Ghostbusters movie lands all-female cast with Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures