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Monday, May 24, 1999 Published at 15:30 GMT 16:30 UK

UK Politics

Freedom to know what?

Schools would have to explain how entry criteria are applied

The government says its draft Freedom of Information Bill will give the public a general right to access a wide range of information held by public authorities.

The bill would enable people to demand a wealth of material that is currently kept secret or only released at the discretion of the organisation holding it.

However, it also sets out a series of reasons and circumstances under which bodies would still be able to deny access to certain files.

Below are a few examples of the sort of information which public bodies would have a duty to provide if asked:

  • Police forces will have give out information about the conduct of inquiries, provided it does not prejudice law enforcement
  • Schools will have to explain how they apply their admission criteria
  • Health authorities will have to provide details of how they allocate resources between different patients
  • The Prison Service will have to give information about performance of different jail regimes
  • Hospitals and general practitioner doctors will have to explain how they prioritise their waiting lists
  • National Health Service trusts and health authorities will have to provide information on their administrative procedures governing private finance initiative projects - the controversial partnerships with private companies which are increasingly being relied on to provide new hospitals.

The bill will not apply to several organisations, which the government says have to be excluded because of the nature of their activities.

These include: the security services, the Secret Intelligence Service, the Government Communications Headquarters and the special forces.

Requesting information

The bill does not set down a formal procedure for how the public should apply for information.

It will be up to individuals to approach an organisation with their requests of what they want.

However, every public authority will have to specify what types of information it publishes or intends to publish, the manner of publication and whether or not a fee will be charged to applicants.

Where the bill confers a right to information, authorities will have the discretion to charge up to 10% of the marginal cost of locating the relevant data - plus fees for copying and postage.

Higher charges may be levied for information only issued at an organisation's discretion.

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