UUK fails in bid for amendment to FoI Act

The government has rejected calls for an amendment to the Freedom of Information Act that would specifically exempt pre-publication research data from release.

February 18, 2012

Universities UK has been campaigning for a change in the law because it fears data could be ‘scooped’ before scholars had been able to publish their findings or companies involved in research are able to take out patents.

This would make universities, individual scientists and companies less likely to collect data, UUK claims.

It has argued that a new exemption should be inserted into the Act during the passage of the Protection of Freedoms Bill, legislation that addresses freedom of information.

However, Home Office minister Lord Henley said this week that he believed that “adequate protection already exists” for pre-publication research.

The Act already exempts information if it will be published in the future or if it would be commercially damaging.

Lord Henley acknowledged that “adequate safeguards must exist within information rights legislation to make sure that that position [of universities] is not undermined through inappropriate and premature disclosure.”

But he said during the third sitting of the report stage of the Bill in the House of Lords that a number of exemptions already protect research-related material.

“Therefore, the amendment provides alternative protection rather than necessary additional protection and is not necessary,” he said.

UUK has also raised concerns that research done in collaboration with companies might be released before it was advanced enough to prove a commercial interest exemption.

But Lord Henley said it was not for him to prejudge what the Information Commissioner, who rules on FOI disputes, would decide in such cases.

The UUK amendment was withdraw before it could be put to a vote.

UUK will continue to call for an amendment in evidence to the Commons Justice Select Committee, which is currently considering the effects of the Act.

david.matthews@tsleducation.com

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