“A company is a “publicly-owned company” for the purposes of section 5(1)(b) if one or more public authorities own, whether directly or indirectly, shares or other interests in the company together aggregating more than half of the votes exercisable in general or other meeting of the company on any matter.

The UK could learn from the Isle of Man rather than insisting on every single share without exception being held by a public body.

Isle of Man, draft bill (from consultation document)

I am looking for a good MP to help get the Protection of Freedoms Bill amended. The changes I want made relate to Freedom of Information (FOI). Under the current FOI Act a company owned by one public body is (generally) subject to FOI itself but there is a loophole in that a company jointly owned by two or more public bodies (generally) isn’t. The Protection of Freedoms Bill seeks to close this loophole which is very welcome but there is a chance to close a few more loopholes at the same time and give FOI law a boost. If you are the good MP I refer to please get in touch (@confirmordeny)

changes needed Protection of Freedoms Bill (93)
in summary:

  • the term “wholly owned” is part of the problem as it means one privately owned share in 100 or even in 1,000 can be enough to mean a company is not publicly accountable.
  • change this to include companies where 95% of the voting shares (95% of the members for companies limited by guarantee) are owned by public bodies
  • make sure Scottish Public authorities are included when calculating proportion owned by public sector

Someone recently tweeted (@confirmordeny) “political parties that get taxpayers money should be subject to #foi”. My initial response was to disagree and I got a follow up message: “I disagree. State-funded parties are as much part of the apparatus of the state as quangos.” After this second tweet I decided the issue needs looking at in a bit more detail.

Political parties in the UK have no special powers in themselves they only really get power through their candidates winning elections by gaining sufficient support from the public. This power is exercised through public bodies e.g. House of Commons, Ministerial Departments etc and not through the parties themselves which remain private bodies. Public funding seems to be the only factor that might make it right to make political parties subject to FOI.

public funding of political parties

Major political parties do receive public funding in several forms:

European wide parties also get EU money

Organisations in receipt of substantial public funding ought to be accountable for how the money is spent not just to their own members but to all taxpayers. The present system is not transparent enough but I am still not sure making political parties subject to FOI is the right solution.

The next thing to look at is what proportion of party funding is public money.

  • Conservative Party (09 accounts): public: £5.2M, total: £42.0M. (~ 11%)
  • Labour Party (09 accounts): public: £1.0M, total: £26.8M. (~ 4%)
  • Lib Dems (09 accounts): public: £0.5M total: £4.3M (~ 12%)
  • Plaid Cymru (09 accounts): public: £0.2M total: £0.8M (~ 25%)

As far as I can tell UKIP and the Green Party got no public funding at all for 2009.

Quangos in contrast are state controlled and in most cases receive substantially all of their funding from the state.

conclusion

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 is a framework designed for public bodies that should not be imposed on private bodies not carrying out public functions and not receiving the majority of their cash from public funds.
Nevertheless political parties receive large amounts of public funding and therefore the public in general need a legal ‘right to know’ how that money is spent. The general requirement to file accounts with the Electoral Commission does not provide enough detail a new access regime is needed.

An A to Z of bodies not subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (or its Scottish equivalent) that I think should be.

A – Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)

regulates advertising in the UK

alternative suggestions from readers’ comments: Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS)

B – British Board of Film Classification (BBFC)

classified cinema films since it was set up in 1912 and videos/ DVDs since the Video Recordings Act was passed in 1984.

C – Companies owned two thirds or more by any number of public authorities

there is a loophole in the law at present

D – District Auditors

Auditors appointed under the Audit Commission Act 1998

E – Electoral Registration Officers for public elections

currently the people responsible for maintaining the electoral register are not subject to FOI, nor are Returning Officers in public elections or counting officers in public referenda

F – Financial Reporting Council

regulator responsible for promoting confidence in corporate governance and reporting

G – Glasgow 2014 Limited

the Organising Committee of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games

H – Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA)

central source for the collection and dissemination of statistics about publicly funded UK higher education

I – Independent Schools Inspectorate

inspection services for private schools

J – Joint Information Systems Committee (Jisc)

supports UK post-16 and higher education and research by providing leadership in the use of ICT for learning, teaching and research

K – Kingstonfirst

Kingstonfirst is the brand name for the Business Improvement District (BID) of Kingston town centre. BIDs are funded by levies raise on local businesses.

L – London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Limited (LOCOG)

responsible for preparing and staging the Games

M – Manchester Airport Group

MAG is publicly owned by the ten local authorities of Greater Manchester

N – National Screen Agencies

UK Screen Agencies are development agencies charged with encouraging public access to film culture they receive the majority of their funding from the UK Film Council.

alternative suggestions from readers’ comments: Network Rail

O – Office of the Complaints Commissioner

investigates complaints against FSA

P – PhonepayPlus Limited

regulator for premium rate charged telecommunications services

Q – Quality Assurance Agency (QAA)

reviews quality and standards of higher education in universities and colleges

R – Royal Household

publicly funded body – see also: Royalty Free Freedom of Information

S – Scottish Community Councils

lowest tier of local government in Scotland

T – Trinity House

The Corporation of Trinity House of Deptford Strond is the General Lighthouse Authority for England, Wales, the Channel Islands and Gibraltar and it is also a Deep Sea Pilotage Authority.

U – UCAS

responsible for administration of university applications

V – Visitors of universities

investigates complaints by academic staff at certain universities [1]

W – Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA)

representative body for Welsh Local Government

X – eXam boards

set and mark examination papers and award qualifications

Y – Yourclimate

Regional Climate Change Partnership for Yorkshire and Humber

Z – Zoo inspectors

undertake zoo inspections and making their recommendations to local authorities on whether to grant a zoo licence


see also: addtofoi.co.uk

Dear Information Commissioner
I am writing in a personal capacity to seek clarification about the ICO’s approach to requests to specific Government Ministers.

It has come to my attention that the ICO has stated in a letter that “the Ministers for Health” and the “Prime Minister” are not public authorities for the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 FS50173182[1] . Is this the ICO’s official position?

“Any government department” is included in the list of public authorities in schedule 1. In Section 84 of the Act defines the term “government department” is define to include “any other body or authority exercising statutory functions on behalf of the Crown”.

The Prime Minister exercises a number of important statutory functions on behalf of the Crown for example the PM has the power to make emergency regulations under section 20 of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004.

In fact, all ministers exercise statutory functions on behalf of the Crown for example the “Power of Ministers and departments to offset greenhouse gas emission” under section 87 of the Climate Change Act 2008.

Even if however the Commissioner takes the view that individual ministers are not public authorities is it not the case that the information they hold in their capacity as ministers is information held by a Government Department or by another person on behalf of a Government department?

Schedule 1 of the Act lists public bodies as oppose to listing employees, directors, agents or officers of such bodies. I consider that this supports my view that one can make a valid FOI request to the Prime Minister or any other Minister.

To be clear I am not interested in information held by ministers in their capacity of being an MP. I am only interested in information they hold by virtue of being a minister.

I would be most grateful if you could provide clarification on this point.

[1] http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/10189/response/26089/attach/2/R%20scanned%20copies%20of%20all%20FOI%20cases%20listed%20in%20request.PDF.pdf

regards,

I was reading the ICO’s Annual Report and I noticed on page 7 that the list of laws that the ICO enforces now includes:

“The Infrastructure for Spatial Information in the European Community Regulations 2009″ (The regulations are subject to a staged implementation – I don’t fully understand the timing of the implementation yet).

I found the regulations on statutelaw under the shorter title ‘the INSPIRE Regulations 2009‘. I have also found the explanatory memorandum.

There is Defra site as well: http://location.defra.gov.uk/inspire/

The impact of these regulations could be interesting for supporters of increased transparency. A summary follows:

Summary of INSPIRE Regulations

The regulations apply to public authorities and “spatial data” means any data with a direct or indirect reference to a specific location or geographical area.

Public authority is defined in much the same way as in the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, it includes almost all bodies which people would normally call public bodies and it is arguable that water companies, the National Grid etc might also be covered.

Regulation 6
A public authority or a third party must create metadata in relation to any spatial data set or spatial data service for which that authority or third party is responsible.

Regulation 7
A public authority or a third party must establish and operate certain services in relation to spatial data sets:

“making it possible to search for spatial data sets and spatial data services on the basis of the content of the corresponding metadata”

“view services making it possible, as a minimum, to display, navigate, zoom in and out, pan, or overlay viewable spatial data sets and to display legend information”

“download services, enabling copies of spatial data sets, or parts of such sets, to be downloaded and, where practicable, accessed directly;”

“transformation services, enabling spatial data sets to be transformed with a view to achieving interoperability”

Regulation 8
Is about linking spatial data sets together.

Regulation 9
Access by the public to a spatial data set or spatial data service by means of a service specified in regulation 7 may be limited only if there is an ‘exemption’ available. There are about ten exemptions relating to personal data, national security, the confidentiality of commercial or industrial information, protection of the environment and so on and except for personal data they are all subject to a public interest test.

The YourFreedom website lists hundreds of ways in which could be changed but I have decided to take a look at some of the ideas which are consistent with republican principles.

Ideas on the site are supposed to fall into at least one of the following headings:

  • restoring civil liberties
  • repealing unnecessary laws
  • cutting business and third sector regulations

There are a lot of ideas on the site which don’t actually fall under any of the above headings.  I wish to highlight some of the better ideas that republicans might like to support:

separating church and state

ending discrimination

civil liberties

steps to a better constitution

I may need to update this post from time to time.

From: <casework@ico.gsi.gov.uk>
Date: Tue, Jul 6, 2010 at 6:24 PM
Subject: Response to your correspondence to the Information Commissioner’s Office[Ref. ENQ0307303]
To: [email address]

6 July 2010

Case Reference Number ENQ0307303

Dear Mr Cross

Thank you for your correspondence dated 15 April, 6 and 20 June regarding the approach taken by the House of Commons and the House of Lords to requests under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) made prior to and during the dissolution of Parliament. We would also like to thank you for the detailed arguments that you have raised regarding this matter.

Firstly we would like to apologise for the delay in responding to your correspondence. However, sometimes there are circumstances outside our control that prevent us from providing a response as quickly as we would like, and one of these is the volume of complaints and enquiries we receive. Over the last few months we have seen a large increase in the correspondence sent to us, and we are implementing changes that should help us to meet improved service standards in future.

We did consider the status of the House of Commons and the House of Lords under the FOIA before the previous election in 2005 and did again before the election this year.

Prior to the recent election we were in communication with both Houses in regard to their status under the FOIA during dissolution and the measures that they were taking in regard to advising requestors of this. Both Houses had taken their own legal advice before contacting us which concluded that they are not legal entities during the election period when Parliament is dissolved and therefore no duty exists to respond to FOIA requests during this time. Upon receiving this view we took our own legal advice, and based upon this we accept the position set out by both Houses is correct. This is also consistent with the position we came to in 2005.

The ‘House of Commons’ and the ‘House of Lords’ are described in paragraphs 2 and 3 of Schedule 1 to the FOIA as a public authority within the meaning of section 3(1)(a) of the Act. The ‘House of Commons’ and the ‘House of Lords’ as listed in Schedule 1 cease to exist when Parliament has been dissolved and they do not come into existence again until the day named in Her majesty’s summons. There are a number of statutory provisions which, in relation to the House of Commons and the House of Lords, maintain certain offices and functions during dissolution; however these do not maintain the ‘House of Commons’ or the ‘House of Lords’ as such. Because the specific public authorities set out in Schedule 1 of the Act do not exist during dissolution they have no duty to comply with FOIA requests during this time, and by extension there is no duty to comply with the timescale for response set out in the Act. While the entities subject to the FOIA did not technically exist during dissolution we did encourage both Houses to still be helpful to requestors.

As you are aware, in regard to FOIA request made within 20 working days of dissolution and those made during dissolution there were measures put in place to advise requestors of the affect of dissolution on the time for responding to their request. Requestors who made a request before Parliament was dissolved were advised that the time remaining on their request would resume on the day Parliament met. Requestors who have made a request while Parliament was dissolved were advised that the 20 working days would start when Parliament met.

From the link you provided in your email it is clear that you have now received responses from both the House of Commons and the House of Lords in regard to this matter. Because we do not consider that either House has a duty to respond to FOIA requests during dissolution we consider that both responses have been provided within the 20 working day timescale. In the case of the House of Commons the response was provided only a couple of days after Parliament met. For this reason we will not be taking your complaint any further.
Finally, we are not in a position to advise the House of Commons or the House of Lords in regard to ‘The Seven Principles of Public Life’. In regard to these we would suggest that you contact the Committee on Standards in Public Life, and more details can be found on their website using the following link:

http://www.public-standards.gov.uk/index.html.

I hope this information is helpful, and again we would like to apologise for the delay in responding to your correspondence. If we can be of any further assistance please contact our Helpline on 0303 123 1113 quoting your case reference number. You may also find some useful information on our website at www.ico.gov.uk.

Yours sincerely,

Trevor Craig

Lead Case Officer (Advice)

Information Commissioner’s Office
____________________________________________________________________

The ICO’s mission is to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.

If you are not the intended recipient of this email (and any attachment), please inform the sender by return email and destroy all copies. Unauthorised access, use, disclosure, storage or copying is not permitted.
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Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF
Tel: 0303 123 1113 Fax: 01625 524 510 Web: www.ico.gov.uk

I have been getting a lot of tweets from @One_Society and in the main I agree with what they are trying to achieve – a more equal society.  I have however expressed some reservations about the idea of fixed pay ratio that would for example limit the maximum pay to 10 times the London Living Wage.  I have now started getting replies defending this policy.  I won’t be replying in Twitter some arguments can’t be properly made in 140 characters so I reply here.

  1. I support the minimum wage and I think it should be raised.  The minimum wage stops exploitation an recognises the dignity of human labour.  We don’t need a maximum wage in order to stop exploitation.
  2. The factor of ten seems to have been plucked out of thin air – why not say the highest paid should not earn more than five times the lowest? or perhaps twenty times? If there is a case for ten no-one has made it yet.
  3. If such a rule was brought in lots of people would find ways around it e.g. an office could outsource its cleaning to an agency then make the cleaners who use to have a full time job redundant then the cleaners would not be employees and would not count in the ratio.
  4. You could try to avoid this by saying that every agent, every service provider and every supplier was included in the ratio but collecting the data would be a nightmare and what could be done about foreign suppliers?
  5. Cutting the salaries for the highest paid employees may well reduce the total wage bill meaning the owners of the business make even more profit – in many cases the owners will be far richer than the employees so the proposal may not narrow the gap between rich and poor.
  6. aspiration should not be limited
  7. The super rich don’t get their money from salaries many of them don’t need to work. A lot of their money comes from inheritance, rents on land and property and returns on investments.

Finally, we have already invented a fair and practical way to increase equality without limiting aspiration it is called progressive taxation and we should use it more. One Society should in my opinion spend its time campaigning against the VAT rise (rich and poor alike pay VAT at same rate) and for increases in taxes on inherited wealth and large land owners. One Society should also be pushing the Government hard on measures to reduce tax evasion.

All that said I commend One Society for caring about these issues and for getting more people (me included) involved in this debate.

Dear Sirs
I am writing to complain about the House of Commons Commission’s failure to answer my request for environmental information:

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/environmental_information_in_min

The House of Commons Commission have stated that:

“For the avoidance of doubt the House of Commons Commission is not a public authority within the meaning of the Environmental Information regulations.”

I believe the House of Commons Commission is a public authority by virtue of regulation 2(2)(c) (“any other body or other person, that carries out functions of public administration”). I note the following facts in support of my argument:

(1) “The House of Commons Commission is the overall supervisory body of the House of Commons Administration.”
http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/offices/commons/house-of-commons-commission/

(2) The House of Commons is part of the United Kingdom legislature and is itself a public body which is publicly funded.

(3) “Its [the House of Commons Commission’s] responsibilities include:

  • appointing staff of the House
  • preparing and laying before the House the Estimates for the House of Commons Service
  • allocating functions to House departments
  • keeping staff pay and conditions broadly in line with those of the Civil Service.

The Commission was established by the House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978.”
http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/offices/commons/house-of-commons-commission/

(4) I consider the House of Commons Commission’s functions to be public because they relate the pay and conditions of public officials and the work of publicly funded House departments in support of a key part of UK legislature.

(5) I consider the House of Commons Commission’s functions to be administrative because of its supervisory role in relation to the House of Commons Administration and its appointment of public officials but also because the House of Commons Commission was established by the House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978 [“An Act to make further provision for the administration of the House of Commons.”]

I believe I have presented a concise, referenced and persuasive argument in my email above and therefore I urge to issue a Decision Notice which makes clear that the House of Commons Commission is a public authority and as such must comply with the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.

regards,