UK Politics

More than 400,000 Freedom of Information requests made since 2005

Pile of paperwork
Image caption The legislation applies to more than 100,000 bodies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland

More than 400,000 requests have been made under Freedom of Information laws in England, Wales and Northern Ireland since they were introduced 10 years ago, ministers have revealed.

The Freedom of Information Act was passed by the UK Parliament in 2002 and came into force on 1 January 2005.

It now applies to over 100,000 public authorities including government departments, schools and hospitals.

The current government has extended FOI to more than 100 new organisations.

The Freedom of Information Act enshrined a "general right of access" to information held by all public bodies, subject to certain absolute exemptions and cases where disclosure was not deemed to be in the public interest.

The Ministry of Justice, which oversees FOI requests, said the number of applications made to monitored central government bodies had risen steadily since 2007 to the point where almost 1,000 were now received every week.

Earlier in the Parliament, Conservative ministers suggested they were considering how to curb repetitive and overly expensive FOI requests, but the Lib Dems were opposed.

'Triumph'

"The Freedom of Information Act has been a triumph for transparency and this government has built on its continued success by extending its reach," Lib Dem Justice Minister Simon Hughes said on releasing the new figures.

Image caption Tony Blair, whose government introduced FOI, has questioned its repercussions

"FOI is not only about the high-profile, headline-making releases of information but about the right of the individual to find out about the issues that matter to them.

"It is a fundamental right of all citizens to be able to hold their government to account and that is why transparency is vital."

Since 2010, FOI has been extended to cover academies, companies wholly owned by more than one public authority, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service and the Financial Ombudsman Service.

Earlier this year the government announced that the act would also be extended to Network Rail in 2015.

Former prime minister Tony Blair has questioned the impact that FOI has had on decision-making in government, suggesting it has "hugely constrained" ministers' confidence in being able to have frank discussions with advisers.

In his 2010 autobiography, Mr Blair said introducing the act was one of his biggest regrets of his time in power.

The Scottish Parliament passed its own FOI legislation in 2000, which also came into force on 1 January 2005.

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