26 February 2011
Caroline Lucas, Green Party leader and MP for Brighton Pavilion, called yesterday for Freedom Of Information (FOI) legislation to be extended to banks, telecoms operators and other large corporations providing key services to the public.
In her speech to the Green Party spring conference in Cardiff, Lucas said: "We depend on these corporations in just the same way as we depend on schools or hospitals to deliver our services. When they fail, we all suffer - so they must be opened up to public scrutiny. That's why I am proposing that the current FOI act be extended to cover major corporations."
Under the proposal, the Information Commissioner would be empowered to determine classes of information that companies would have to publish, such as risk registers, payment to sub contractors, or tax payments made overseas.
The Green MP believes that this would be more rapid and flexible than the current situation, where extra disclosure requirements on businesses have to be enacted by parliament in primary legislation - which can take years.
Talking about her proposal today, Caroline Lucas said: "The public would not make requests directly to companies, as with FOI for government, to avoid creating an administrative burden for businesses.
"Instead, members of the public could make requests to the Information Commissioner to add to the classes of info that major companies must release.
"This would help the public see the impact - for good or bad - which companies have on our economy and society: anything from their employment policies to cases of charging excess profits from their poorest customers. Well run companies would have a good story to tell; badly performing ones would be shamed into mending their ways.
"If we had a right to ask for information - for example, about new financial instruments or lending policies - then the irresponsible policies of the banks and financial institutions might have been exposed before the crisis hit."
Lucas concluded: "The coalition government has called for the public sector to be scrutinised by an ‘army of armchair auditors'. Extending FOI would mean not only the public but also the media and campaigning groups being given the right to scrutinise powerful corporations and so improve the way they serve their customers and society as a whole.
"No company - or government - should be afraid of such a move and I am looking for cross-party support to put this principle into law."
The Green Party's spring conference continues at the Angel Hotel in Cardiff until the 28th of February 2011. For more information, please visit the conference website here.