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Last Updated: Saturday, 31 December 2005, 08:14 GMT
Openness laws could be tightened
Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor
One request was about toilet paper expenditure, said Lord Falconer

The government is considering changing the year-old Freedom of Information Act to limit so-called frivolous inquiries.

Writing in the Guardian, the Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer said the new laws had successfully cracked open "the culture of secrecy in Whitehall".

But a minority of requests had been made simply to feed the "wilder fevers of journalistic wish-lists", he said.

Lord Falconer told the BBC the scope of the Act could be widened to include private bodies running public services.

I am not surprised that they have been some problems in relation to timing because this is a new arrangement
Lord Falconer

The Freedom of Information Act 2000, which became law on 1 January 2005, means people have the right to access information held by 100,000 public bodies.

Police forces, hospitals, schools, local councils and the government are obliged to reply to requests for information.

But privately run public services are not covered by the laws.

Lord Falconer said he could see a case for widening the provisions of the act to include such bodies.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today Programme: "They have not been included in the first wave, but there's a provision in the Act which allows the Act's provisions to be extended to bodies like privately run prisons or city academies."

He suggested a consultation on which bodies they should be extended to should be undertaken.

'Significant information'

On so-called frivolous inquiries, Lord Falconer said requests for the number of windows at the Department for Education and Skills and for how much another department spent on toilet paper had been made.

Irresponsible queries such as these diverted energy from answering "worthwhile requests", he told the Guardian.

"Freedom of information is about giving power to the people, not about declaring open season for the wilder fevers of journalistic wish-lists," he said.

But Lord Falconer said the vast majority of requests had been for key information about issues, especially local ones, which had "a real impact on people's lives".

"Inevitably, a small minority have not been so responsible," he told the paper.

"So we are looking now at the operation of the Act to ensure that its central purpose is being honoured."

'Deluge of detail'

On Today Lord Falconer said: "Very, very significant amounts of information are being released."

He added that something like 16,000 pieces of information had been disclosed by central government and other bodies in the nine months since the Act came into force.

The Act had led to "a deluge of detail coming into the public domain for the first time ever", he said.

He added: "Our job now is to sustain it for the benefit of all the people."

Lord Falconer also defended the fact that at least one in 10 information request under the new laws had not been met in time, saying the vast majority had met the deadline.

He said: "Of course there will be some not dealt with in the time because they take longer than expected.

"I am not surprised that there have been some problems in relation to timing because this is a new arrangement - it has changed completely the approach to disclosure that existed before."

Openness watchdog in case backlog
16 Dec 05 |  UK Politics
Anti-secrecy law inquiry launched
03 Oct 05 |  Scotland


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