Freedom of Information and Parliament

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA): general information

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) was introduced to foster a culture of openness in government. It does this in two ways:

  • FOIA obliges public authorities to proactively make information available through publication schemes,
  • FOIA gives the public a general right of access to information held by public authorities

This is supported by a framework of exemptions when information should properly be withheld The Act gives certain powers to the Information Commissioner to promote access to official information and to enforce certain elements of the Act.

This page summarises the general obligations which apply to the House of Commons and the House of Lords as public authorities under FOIA. Greater detail can be found on the Information Commissioners website www.ico.gov.uk. Specific information for each House, including what information is included in their publication scheme and how to request access to information, can be found on the Commons- and Lords-specific information pages.

Publication schemes

The Act places a duty on public authorities to adopt and maintain a publication scheme, which identifies classes of information held by the authority. A public authority must:

  • Identify information that it holds under the classes of the scheme.
  • Proactively make this information publicly available. €
  • Note the form in which the information will be made available. €
  • Specify any charges that apply to access this information. €
  • Review and update the scheme on a regular basis. €
  • Make the scheme available to the public.

The publication schemes for both Houses were updated from 1 January 2009 in order to adopt the approved new model publication scheme produced by the Information Commissioner.

Requests for information

Any individual is entitled to ask a public authority for access to information that it holds. Requests for access must be made in writing and they must include your name, an address for correspondence and a description of the information you would like to see. A response will be given within 20 working days. The response will either:

  • Disclose the requested information. €
  • If the information is not held, state this fact. €
  • State that the requested information is exempt under one of the absolute exemptions identified in FOIA and that the information cannot therefore be disclosed, or €
  • State that the requested information is exempt under one of the qualified exemptions identified in FOIA and that the public interest in withholding the information outweighs the public interest in disclosure and that the information cannot therefore be disclosed.

Greater detail on the process of requesting access to information from the House of Commons

Greater detail on the process of requesting access to information from the House of Lords

Guidance from the Information Commissioner's Office for applicants can be found on the Information Commissioner's Office website.

Scope

In general, the Freedom of Information Act applied to the House of Commons. However, it does not apply to:

  • Information relating to any residential address of a member of either House of Parliament. €
  • Information relating to travel arrangements of a member of either House of Parliament, where the arrangements relate to travel that has not yet been undertaken or is regular in nature. €
  • Information relating to the identity of any person who delivers or has delivered goods, or provides or has provided services, to a member of either House of Parliament at any residence of the member. €
  • Information relating to expenditure by a member of either House of Parliament on security arrangements.

The second bullet point above does not except information relating to the total amount of expenditure incurred on regular travel during any month.

Exemptions

The Act allows public authorities to withhold information if it falls within certain categories. These categories include:

  • Personal information, on the basis that this information can either be requested under the Data Protection Act or that it would breach the Data Protection Act to share this information.
  • Environmental information on the basis that this information can be requested under the Environmental Information Regulations €
  • Confidential information. €
  • Information that, if disclosed, would infringe the privileges of either House of Parliament €
  • Commercially sensitive information. €
  • Information protected by legal professional privilege. €
  • Information which, if disclosed, would prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs.

Further details on the exemptions and how they apply can be found on the Information Commissioner's website www.ico.gov.uk

Are there any restrictions on how you can use the information received?

The Act does not transfer copyright on any information supplied in response to a request made under the Freedom of Information Act. Information may be subject to parliamentary copyright or to third party copyright. Any infringement of copyright is the responsibility of the applicant. You will need to check whether copyright restrictions apply before copying or publishing (including on the Internet) information you receive in response to a Freedom of Information request.

Complaints and appeals

You are entitled to complain to us if you are not happy with the response to your request or if you have a comment regarding the publication scheme. Your complaint will be reviewed internally, according to the procedure of the House who handled your request or whose scheme you wish to comment on, which can be found on the Commons- and Lords-specific information pages. If you are not happy with the internal review of your request, you can appeal to the Information Commissioner's Office www.ico.gov.uk

Related information

Information Commissioner

The Information Commissioner's Office is the UK's independent authority set up to promote access to official information and to protect personal information. Further information about relevant laws is available on the Information Commissioner's Office website.

 

Relevant legislation

The official, revised edition of relevant legislation can be found in the UK Statute Law Database through the following links             

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