Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Government accepts academies should be subject to FOI Act

Schools minister Lord Hill of Oareford has confirmed that the government accepts academy schools should be public authorities for the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act. In response to an amendment proposed by Lord Lucas during the committee stage of the Academies Bill, to add academy proprietors to Schedule 1 of the FOI Act, the minister said he supported the amendment in principle and promised to come back to the issue at report stage.
Moved by Lord Lucas

168: After Clause 8, insert the following new Clause-

"Academy proprietors: freedom of information

In Schedule 1 (public authorities) to the Freedom of Information Act 2000, after Part IV insert-

"Part IVA Academies
56A A qualifying Academy proprietor, within the meaning of section 8(2) of the Academies Act 2010, when exercising functions under that Act.""

Lord Lucas: My Lords, the coalition agreement pledges to review the Freedom of Information Act with a view to increasing its scope. This, the first legislative act of the coalition, seeks to reduce its scope. It should not.

Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, in Amendment 168 my noble friend proposes inserting a new clause that would amend the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to add academy proprietors to the list of public bodies covered by that Act. Having thought about this, and having come newly into the department, I think that he makes a very good point in his new clause. I can see no reason in principle why academy proprietors, in relation to their function of running academies under academy arrangements, should not be subject to the Freedom of Information Act in the same way as all other state-funded schools are.

I am also happy to confirm that this Government, like the last one, accept that academies are public authorities for the purposes of the Act. In principle, then, I am completely with my noble friend on the merits of his amendment. It also helps us to address some of the broader debate that we have had about consultation, where I accept the points that have been made from around the Committee. Making sure that information is available and that there is as much transparency as possible is part of the process of helping to overcome suspicion, so it will help in that respect as well. I undertake to consider the issue further. If my noble friend would be happy enough to withdraw his amendment, I will come back to the issue on Report.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, that is very cheering news at this time of night, I shall go straight off and have a whisky to celebrate. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

No comments: