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					                 Please write a description of the project in sufficient detail to enable expert
              referees, well acquainted with the subject of the research, to give advice to the
                 Trustees. It should include the background to the work, hypotheses to be
                tested, objectives, significance, methods to be used, and details of how the
                 results will be published. This description should not exceed five pages in
                                             ARIAL, font size 10.




                            Parliament and FOI: the ‘sword’ and the ‘shield’


Background

The Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000 extends across more than 100,000 public bodies, one of the
most important of which is Parliament. Since implementation in 2005, the interaction between FOI and
Parliament has been a source of tension and controversy. On the one hand, Parliamentarians have begun
using the FOI to hold government to account, possibly both on its own and in conjunction with other
accountability tools. On the other hand, the controversial Maclean Bill, which sought in 2007 to exempt both
Houses of Parliament from the scope of the FOI Act, and the succession of revelations relating to MPs’
expenses revealed deep divisions within Parliament over how transparent the institution should be. The
media focus upon expenses has driven the issue of parliamentary accountability and transparency is now
firmly atop the political agenda. The research asks to what extent Parliament has used FOI to hold the
government to account and also to what extent Parliament itself is now more open as a result of FOI.

The UK Parliament is one of the few Westminster style legislatures that have been made subject to FOI
legislation. Australia, Canada and New Zealand decided to exclude their Parliament from FOI legislation to
ensure the preservation of parliamentary privilege and a number of those that excluded their Parliament have
debated whether to now incorporate it (Wilson 2007). However more recently Ireland, India and South Africa
have included their Parliaments within the scope of FOI. Ireland, by way of comparison, experienced a
similar controversy over members of Parliament expenses in 1999, over which the Irish Information
Commissioner, like his counterpart in the UK, ruled in favour of openness (OIC 99168). However, no
systematic study has been done of the consequences of making a Westminster style Parliament subject to
FOI.

Hypotheses

The main hypotheses stem from the combination of potential opportunity and potential threat FOI brings.
MPs and peers have begun to see the benefits of using the Act, and are using FOI requests as a ‘sword’ to
elicit information to hold the government to account. But MPs feel less comfortable about FOI requests
directed at Parliament or their own activities. Parliament as an institution is attempting to ‘shield’ itself from
FOI and struggling to come to terms with a series of adverse rulings by the Information Commissioner. From
this literature survey we can thus derive the following hypotheses:

The sword
    MPs and peers are creatures of habit, and, although they are beginning to realise the potential of
       FOI, will be slow to use FOI in preference to PQs, adjournment debates and writing to Ministers
    MPs and peers will use FOI in combination with other parliamentary tools to access information, not
       in isolation
    Only a small minority of MPs and peers will make systematic use of FOI
    Government will subject MPs’ FOI requests to special procedures
The shield
    FOI will lead to Parliament being more open, transparent and accountable
    FOI will lead to greater public participation in Parliament, better public understanding of how
       parliament operates, and greater trust in Parliament
    The exemption provisions will properly protect information which needs protecting
    Parliamentary privilege will be unaffected by FOI

The Information Commissioners
    The UK Information Commissioner is not sufficiently independent
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As seen below, FOI is such a new area of research and consequently the literature and theory is very limited
in comparison to other more established areas of political science. This gives us the opportunity to develop
and innovate and build a literature. For the ‘sword’ there is the literature on the experience of FOI overseas;
and for the ‘shield’, the literature on the objectives of FOI in the UK. The literature on the ‘sword’ suggests
that parliamentarians are slow to exploit the opportunities offered by FOI. Four years after the introduction of
FOI, MPs in Australia, Canada and New Zealand were making no FOI requests, but preferred to rely on the
traditional tools of PQs and writing to Ministers (Hazell 1987, 1989, 1991). White reports that New Zealand
MPs and their researchers have since become heavy users, but that is 20 years later (White 2007). Roberts
found that because of the case tracking system and ‘amber light’ procedures used in Canada, MPs’ requests
took longer than average to process: so that far from being in a privileged or fast track position to access
information, MPs found themselves disadvantaged by comparison with ordinary citizens making similar
requests (Roberts 2006).

In terms of forecasting the impact of FOI on Parliament (the ‘shield’), the relevant literature is that explaining
the objectives of FOI in the UK. This is primarily official literature (Blair 1996; Cabinet Office 1997; Irvine
1998; Home Office 1998; PASC 1999; Falconer 2005). From analysing this literature Hazell and colleagues
have identified six main objectives of FOI (the first two means, the last four ends): to make government
institutions more transparent, and more accountable; leading to better public understanding of government,
greater public participation, higher quality decisions, and greater trust in government (Glover and Holsen
2007; Hazell 2007; James 2006; Worthy 2008). These objectives can be extended to Parliament as to the
other public bodies subject to FOI. So can the forecast that the exemption provisions will properly protect
information that needs to be protected (Hazell 1987). But specific to Parliament is the exemption for
parliamentary privilege in s 34 of the FOIA, with the additional protection of certification by the Speaker and
the Lords Clerk. Specific also to Parliament is the wish to develop a closer relationship with constitutional
watchdogs in general, and the Information Commissioner in particular, in order to bolster their independence
(PASC 2007, 21; CASC 2006, 33; CASC 2007, 19).


Objectives

The objectives of the study can be broken down into a series of research questions stem that from the two
key questions the research asks. What use have MPs and peers made of FOI? What has been the impact
of FOI on Parliament as an institution?

First, in terms of use of FOI by MPs and Peers, to what extent can FOI serve as a ‘sword’ to obtain
information, compared with more traditional methods?
      How have MPs and Peers and their researchers used FOI to obtain information and hold the
          government to account?
      What were the FOI requests intended to achieve? What subjects have the requests covered? How
          has the information subsequently been used?
      How do the government and other agencies deal with FOI requests from MPs?
      How does the use of FOI compare with other methods of holding the government to account? What
          are the advantages and disadvantages of different methods? What motivates MPs to use FOI given
          the other tools available?

Second, the study will examine the impact of FOI and the ICO upon Parliament in terms of making
Parliament, MPs and Peers more accountable and transparent and the extent to which Parliament can, and
wishes to, ‘shield’ itself from FOI.
     What subjects do the requests to Parliament cover?
     How has parliamentary privilege and the autonomy and privacy of individual MPs and their
        constituents been affected by FOI? What role has the media played in the disclosures and how it
        may have affected perceptions of Parliament?
     How has FOI affected the administrative side of Parliament?
     What decisions have been made by the Information Commissioner and Information Tribunal which
        impact on Parliament, and how has Parliament responded to them?
     What are the accountability relationships between Parliament and the Information Commissioner?
        How does his independence and accountability differ from the Scottish Information Commissioner?

Objective 1: FOI as an additional weapon: the ‘sword’

Our first objective is to ascertain to what extent is FOI a ‘sword’ that Parliament can use to hold the
government to account. Wood’s aborted study suggests that a few MPs have been heavy users of the
legislation (Wood 2006). Although MPs in other countries were slow to utilise FOI (Hazell 1987), opposition
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MPs in the UK were quick to use it. The Ministry of Defence disclosed that it received 85 FOI requests from
MPs in the first year (MOD 2006). These requests ranged from the cost of the war in Iraq to Navy Board
meetings and the interests of Ministerial spouses. MPs’ requests to the Home Office (40 in the same period)
covered a similarly broad range (Home Office 2006). Shadow Chancellor George Osborne used FOI to
make18 requests in two months in 2005 on issues from file shredding to taxation policy (HM Treasury 2006).
One procedural issue is whether MPs’ and peers’ FOI requests are dealt with differently by departments and
by the MoJ’s central Clearing House that advises on sensitive FOI requests. Steve Wood’s initial study and
evidence from Canada and New Zealand suggest that MPs’ requests are dealt with more carefully, and at a
higher level, than ‘normal’ requests (Wood 2006: Roberts 2006; White 2007).

The research will compare the benefits and costs of using FOI by MPs and Peers against more traditional
methods of obtaining information: oral and written questions, writing to Ministers, adjournment debates. Oral
questions are limited in the information they elicit. By contrast, a majority of MPs believe written answers to
be ‘quite or very’ effective but they may be a victim of their own success, as the system is now in danger of
overload (House of Commons Procedure Committee 2002, 12-13; 22). The study will seek to learn when
MPs and peers follow up a PQ with an FOI request, or vice versa; when they use information obtained under
FOI in parliamentary debates and why. There are over 1000 PQs which refer to FOI, so the overlap is
considerable and some tensions can be seen to exist between them. The government recognise the link
between FOI requests and questions and the Cabinet Office advises departments that any refusal to answer
questions must be made ‘in similar terms’ to FOI exclusions (PASC 2005, 7; Cabinet Office 2007). Moreover,
during the recent high court case the Judge pointed out that PQs should be kept separate from FOI so as not
to cause complexity and difficulty regarding Judicial Review (REF). We will also investigate why
parliamentary committees have rarely used the Act, despite sometimes expressing frustration about access
to information (House of Commons Liaison Committee 2004, 8).

Objective 2: Parliament as an institution subject to FOI: the ‘shield’

The second objective is discover the effect of making Parliament subject to FOI and the extent to which
Parliament has sought, and been able, to shield itself from the Act. The FOIA covers Parliament as an
institution, and Parliament has thus been given a ‘lead role in the promotion of openness’ (Mendel 2005, 33).

Making Parliament subject to FOI impinges upon two sensitive areas: parliamentary privilege, and the
autonomy and privacy of individual MPs. Parliamentary privilege, and the related legal doctrine of exclusive
cognisance, derive from the 1689 Bill of Rights and are designed to ensure that Parliament has control of its
own affairs, free from interference by the courts (Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege 1998). The
privacy of elected officials is a common source of difficulty in all FOI regimes, and the subject of a number of
appeals to the Information Commissioner, whose legal power over parliament is a further source of tension.
A large number of FOI requests to Parliament touch upon these two areas. Commons requests are
dominated by questions relating to expenditure, expenses and financial interests, particularly for MPs but
also for staff and administration. In 2005 and 2006 one third of all requests to were focused upon expenses
relating to MPs, staff or administrators, while the remaining two thirds covered a broad range of subjects
from catering facilities to lost property and security incidents. (House of Commons 2007). By contrast, many
of the requests to the Lords are concerned with legal and historical material with only 5 out of 75 requests in
2005 concerning expenses and 3 out of 56 in 2006 (House of Lords 2007). It is these requests that media
coverage has focused upon. A series of FOI requests pursued by campaigners and highlighted by the media
led to the disclosure, after appeal to the ICO, of what was dubbed the ‘John Lewis List’, detailing individual
MPs use of the expenses, which led to a review and reform of the system by which MPs expenses are
organised (BBC 2008). The House of Lords has also experienced controversy following the disclosure of
arms lobbyist links to Peers (Percival 2008).

The privacy of individual MPs and parliamentary privilege are the two most common grounds for refusing
requests. Both areas are protected by exemptions without a public interest test. The protection of privilege,
section 34, is guaranteed through a certificate signed by the either the Speaker of the Commons or the Clerk
of the Parliaments in the Lords (s 34(4)). In the House of Commons, section 34 has been invoked 53 times in
the first three years of operation of FOI (House of Commons 2007). Section 40 protects ‘personal data’,
which can potentially include information relating to an MP, their staff and constituents. It was used by the
Commons 101 times in the first three years (House of Commons 2007). In July of 2008, Harriet Harman
announced that an alteration be made of schedule 7 of the Act to take MPs addressees outside of the scope
of the Act (House of Commons 2008). In the House of Lords, section 34 was used five times, and section 40
just once between 2005 and 2007 (House of Lords 2007). The uncertainty over privacy and privilege gave
the MacLean Bill much of its force (Gay 2007, 3). The study will not only investigate the impact of FOI on
Members’ expenses and allowances, but also on more general administrative matters, such as finance,
security and personnel. Related to these issues is the relationship between Parliament and the Information
Commissioner, one of the very few external bodies with the power to regulate Parliament. His impact has
                                                                                                        3
been highlighted by a series of decisions relating to the naming of MPs’ staff, MPs’ travel expenses and MPs’
expense claims (ICO FS5012467: ICO FS50083202 and FS50134623). There is a particular sensitivity
about external bodies adjudicating on parliamentary privilege, as parliaments freedom from judicial
interference is one of the key features of exclusive cognisance (see case EA 2006/0068). But up to now the
main concern expressed in Parliament has been that the Information Commissioner is insufficiently
independent. This is mainly because the Information Commissioner and his office (ICO) are dependent on
the Ministry of Justice for their funding. The Constitutional Affairs Select Committee (now the Justice Select
Committee) has twice expressed the view that the ICO should come under Parliament (CASC 20006, 33:
CASC 2007, 19).

Significance

The succession of scandals and controversies outlined above makes the study a timely and important
one, examining the crucial interplay between the media and Parliament, the role of media coverage
and of FOI in shaping perceptions of Parliament and influence of key groups such as MPs, the ICO
and the media. FOI more generally is a very new research area and the project presents the
opportunity to develop and innovate theories in a new academic area that is the subject of increasing
interest and use.

The research findings will be of wide interest both nationally and internationally. It will be presented to
parliamentary staff and other interested practitioners (see Dissemination section below). The research will
help to inform MPs and peers and their researchers in deciding when and how to use FOI, both Houses
when next reviewing their publication schemes, Overseas countries (Australia, Canada, NZ) which have
been contemplating making Parliament subject to FOI and the decision whether the Information
Commissioner should be more directly accountable to Parliament, as in Scotland

Research Methods

To test the hypotheses and answer our research questions we will use the following methods:

The sword: MPs’ and peers’ use of FOI

The best way of finding out how much parliamentarians use FOI, and which parliamentarians use it most,
would be a written survey. Our ideas are based upon a study began by Steve Wood, which sought to
examine MPs use of the FOIA. Wood’s study attempted to use a survey of MPs in conjunction with FOI
requests but was aborted when the survey got close to a nil return. However, Wood has given us access to
both his data and methodology. Drawing upon Wood’s data and experience, the next best method is to ask
central government departments. We will use the FOI Act to ask departments for lists of requests they have
received from MPs and peers and the results of the requests. This will not identify individual requesters, but it
will give data about numbers of requests, what MPs and peers are asking about, and how different
departments respond. As Wood’s initial study demonstrated, this information is obtainable by making FOI
requests.

Next we want to know what MPs and peers do with information obtained under FOI. This we will do by
studying the parliamentary record, and by interviewing MPs and peers. Using the search facilities in
Hansard, we will study parliamentary debates for mentions of FOI, and parliamentary questions (PQs). Our
initial research shows over 1000 PQs which refer to FOI. For our current study we have undertaken similar
research, creating a dataset of how MPs and peers are using information obtained under FOI to call the
government to account. The topic and date of the question were recorded, together with the questioner’s
party affiliation, front or backbencher, and whether the questioner mentions the use of other information tools
(such as writing to the Minister). Provisional analysis shows that the majority of FOI requests concern the
operation of the Act, rather than using the Act, with questions covering the scope of the Act, possible reform
of the legislation and its impact and questions regarding particular disclosures. Similar coding to create a
separate dataset will be done for interventions using FOI which are made in parliamentary debates.

This will be followed up by interviews with MPs and peers and MPs’ researchers. We will aim to interview 20
MPs and 10 peers and 10 researchers, with a suitable range across the parties, and of front and
backbenchers. We will ask how and why they have used FOI, how effective it has been in relation to other
methods of obtaining information, and how they have used the information. The interviews will be semi-
structured, allowing time for follow up questions, and recorded but not transcribed. In our experience it is
more cost effective to write a note of the interview on the same day, using the recording only to check
accuracy.



                                                                                                        4
To understand how government deals with FOI requests from MPs and peers, we will interview the head of
the MoJ clearing house (known to us), and the heads of FOI units in four departments. To study how MPs
use information obtained under FOI to gain publicity, we will study a sample of national, regional and local
newspaper reports which mention ‘MP’ and ‘freedom of information’. We have already sampled national
newspaper reports of FOI in another study. We will create a dataset similar to the coding for MPs.

The data from these sources will then be compared and cross referenced against other sources. This will
include official and parliamentary reports, such as the investigations by PASC into the effectiveness of the
various accountability mechanisms available to MPs (PASC 2005: 2002a). Media reports will also provide
context and enable us to follow up the results and impact of the requests.

The shield: impact of FOI on Parliament as an institution
To study how much more open Parliament has become since FOI, we will start by studying
Parliament’s publication scheme (required by the FOI Act) and website, looking in particular at the
disclosure logs which publish the results of FOI requests made to Parliament. We will follow this up
with interviews with the officials responsible for the publication scheme, the FOI officers in both
Houses (Bob Castle in the Commons, Frances Gray in the Lords), and with the senior officials
responsible for preparing Parliament for FOI and adapting policy and practice since (for early accounts
see Wilson and Rogers 2006; Wilson, Gay and Rogers 2006). They will be asked in what ways
Parliament is now more open and accountable, what difficulties have arisen, and whether the
exemptions have protected information that needs protecting. This will include the impact on
parliamentary privilege, its rationale and boundaries; and the impact on MPs’ privacy and autonomy,
where we will interview Chris Sear and Andrew Kennon, clerk to the 2008 review of Members’
expenses and allowances.

To answer our hypotheses about the objectives of FOI, we will also ask if it has led to greater public
participation in the work of Parliament, better public understanding, and greater trust in Parliament. We will
ask similar questions of five external observers of Parliament, such as Peter Riddell. And we will ask similar
questions in our interviews with 20 MPs and 10 peers (see above). A further round of interviews will focus
specifically on the Maclean Bill. We will seek to interview five MPs, including David Maclean MP and a
couple of other supporters of the bill, plus two of the bill’s main opponents. The interviews will seek different
perspectives on what the bill was intended to achieve, and why it failed.

Information about Parliament resulting from FOI requests is filtered and distributed via the media. Media
stories about Parliament resulting from FOI may serve to encourage public participation, increase public
understanding of Parliament, and increase trust in Parliament; or to have the reverse effect. To study how
the media use FOI stories about Parliament we will study a sample of national newspaper reports which
mention ‘Parliament’ or ‘MPs’, and ‘freedom of information’. There have been over 5,000 stories in the
national press relating to FOI and more than 3,000 in the regional press since Jan 2005. We will construct a
dataset to code these stories according to their subject matter, and whether they depict Parliament in a
positive or negative light.

Our fourth research method is to analyse the legal rulings of the Information Commissioner and Information
Tribunal which have affected Parliament. We will study the extent to which Parliament resisted disclosure
and the legal arguments advanced, as well as the impact of the decisions and subsequent changes made by
Parliament in order to comply with them. [We will focus in particular on arguments about parliamentary
privilege and the privacy and autonomy of MPs.] We will interview the Information Commissioner and two of
his senior staff about the special difficulties raised by adjudicating on compliance by Parliament. We will also
ask about the wider relationship between the Information Commissioner and Parliament. Does he want to be
directly accountable to Parliament as the Justice Committee has recommended? Would this enhance his
independence, or put it at risk from a different quarter?

How the results will be published

The major output of the research will be a report published by the Constitution Unit. We will also submit
journal articles to Public Administration and the Journal of Legislative Studies; and practitioner-oriented
articles like The House magazine, The Parliamentarian and Parliamentary Brief (we have published in all
these journals before). We will also present the findings at one of our monthly FOI seminars, attended
regularly by the leading FOI policy makers and practitioners. We would also seek to present the findings to
the annual conference of the Study of Parliament Group (attended by senior parliamentary officials), the
PSA’s new study group on Legislatures, and in the new seminar series organised by Parliament and the
Constitution Centre of the House of Commons Library. The research findings will also be publicised through
summaries in the Unit’s newsletter ‘Monitor’, on the FOI pages of the Unit’s website, the Ministry of Justice’s
FOI Bulletin and the FOI weblog hosted by the Campaign for Freedom of Information.
                                                                                                         5
                                              rd
House of Commons Order of Business July 3
Thursdayhttp://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200708/cmagenda/ob80703.htm

OIC. 1999. Mr Richard Oakley, The Sunday Tribune newspaper and the Office of the Houses of the
OireachtasCase 99168
http://www.oic.gov.ie/en/DecisionsoftheCommissioner/LongFormDecisions/Name,1629,en.htm

BBC 2008 IN Full: the John Lewis List http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7295150.stm


Percival 2008 ‘Lobbyists to have Lords security pass withdrawn’
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/jun/26/lords.defence




                                                                                                 6
                Please write a summary of your project - in no more than 1200 words - in
             language accessible to a lay reader with no prior knowledge of the subject
              area. No diagrams, chemical symbols or references should be included in this
                   section. This section will be read both by the Trustees and referees.
                       The text should be organised under the following headings:
                     A Context
                     B Objectives
                     C Significance and originality
                     D Method
                     E Why the Leverhulme Trust is the most appropriate recipient for your bid(as opposed
                                                      to other funding bodies).



FOI and Parliament: the sword and the shield

Context

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 allows the public to access information from over 100,00 public bodies.
One of the key bodies that is affected is Parliament. Since the Act came into force, FOI has presented both
an opportunity to MPs, who can use it themselves to obtain information from the government, but also as a
challenge, as the public can use it to obtain information about Parliament and MPs. MPs have used the Act
in a number of ways to hold the government to account and its use by MPs seems to be increasing. However,
in relation to FOI requests to Parliament, FOI has caused a number of controversies, particularly when
disclosures have been used and scrutinised by the media. Two focal points were the Maclean Bill of 2007,
which sought to exempt Parliament from FOI, and the ongoing scandal relating to the disclosure under FOI
of MPs expenses claims, which has led to a great deal of media attention and, as a result, a review of the
system by which MPs are given expenses.

Objectives


Our first set of objectives aim to discover how and why MPs are using FOI to hold the government to account,
given that they have a number of tools at their disposal already. The research will seek to assess how many
FOI requests are made by MPs and peers, on what subjects, and will compare the benefits and costs of
using FOI against more traditional parliamentary methods of obtaining information: oral and written questions
to Ministers or debates. We will also study how these tools are used in combination: initial research shows
over 1000 Parliamentary Questions have referred to FOI, some of them following up FOI requests.

Our second objective is to ascertain how Parliament has sought to ‘shield’ itself from the Act. FOI impinges
upon two sensitive areas: parliamentary privilege (the protection of Parliament from external legal influence),
and the autonomy and privacy of individual MPs (information stretching from addresses to financial details of
themselves or staff). Both have been the subject of a number of appeals to the Information Commissioner,
who enforces and regulates the FOI and who has the power to order disclosure and whose consequent legal
power over parliament is a further source of tension. His impact has been highlighted by a series of decisions
relating to the naming of MPs’ staff, MPs’ travel expenses and MPs’ expense claims (ICO 4/9/2006:
13/06/2007: ICO 16/1/2008). MPs’ sensitivity to these disclosures surfaced strongly in 2007 with the bill
introduced by David Maclean MP.

Significance and Originality


The influence of FOI upon Parliament offers an insight into the power and openness of one of Britain’s key
political institutions at a time of great change and controversy. This study will be of interest not only to
academics across the political science and legal field, but to journalists and the wider community. It is of
particular interest because the UK Parliament is unusual in being subject to FOI: the parliaments of Canada,
Australia and New Zealand (which introduced FOI 25 years ago) are all exempt.

FOI is such a new area of research, the literature and theory is very limited in comparison to other more
established areas of political science. So we are building theory at the same time as we conduct empirical
research: there are no established theories to test or develop – we are effectively creating our own. What
literature there is mostly concerns the experience of FOI from overseas. For example, Parliamentarians were
slow to exploit the opportunities offered by FOI in Australia, Canada and New Zealand, but preferred to rely
on the traditional tools of PQs and writing to Ministers (Hazell 1987, 1989, 1991). From analysing this
                                                                                                       7
literature Hazell and colleagues have identified six main objectives of FOI (the first two means, the last four
ends): to make government institutions more transparent, and more accountable; leading to better public
understanding of government, greater public participation, higher quality decisions, and greater trust in
government (Glover and Holsen 2007; Hazell 2007; James 2006; Worthy 2008). These objectives provide a
set of hypotheses which we can test when assessing the impact of FOI on Parliament. Moreover, one area of
great interest concerns the relationship of the media to FOI and the extent to which the media both use and
shape perceptions based upon disclosures, seen particularly in recent events surrounding expenses


Method

Our research methods will be a mixture of innovative and more traditional techniques. First, we will
use the FOI Act to ask departments for lists of requests they have received from MPs and peers and
the results of the requests. This will give data about numbers of requests, what MPs and peers are
asking about, and how different departments respond. Use of FOI requests is an innovative research
method, but it has been piloted in this context in an unfinished study by Steve Wood, who has
generously given us his data obtained so far.

Second, we will analyse and code parliamentary questions which mention FOI to create a dataset of how
MPs and peers are using information obtained under FOI. It will record the topic and date of the question,
together with the questioner’s party affiliation, front or backbencher, mention of other information tools as
well as the answer. This method has already been developed in our current study, which has already
revealed interesting insights into how MPs use the Act and what they use it for.

Third, we will interview MPs, peers and MPs’ researchers. The Constitution Unit has a long track
record in obtaining access and conducting interviews and has the experience and contacts across
Parliament, the government and the Information Commissioner. We will aim to interview 20 MPs and
10 peers and 10 researchers, with a suitable range across the parties, and of front and backbenchers.
We will follow this up with interviews with the parliamentary officials responsible for Parliament’s
publication scheme, the FOI officers in both Houses and with the senior officials responsible for
preparing Parliament for FOI and adapting policy and practice since (Wilson and Rogers 2006; Wilson,
Gay and Rogers 2006).

Why the leverhulme trust

FOI is a new and important area of study. Because of the absence of a body of literature or
established theories, research in this field is higher risk and harder to fund. But from our earlier work
on the lessons of FOI in Canada, Australia and New Zealand the Constitution Unit is well placed to
develop this new area of political research in the UK. The Leverhulme Trust has enabled us to do
pioneering studies into two important aspects of constitutional reform: a study of second chambers to
inform reform of the House of Lords (Russell 2000), and Nations and Regions: the Dynamics of
Devolution (Hazell 2005). FOI is another part of the constitutional reform programme which is
severely under-researched. There is no good political science literature on the impact of FOI, and no
established theory. We hope the Leverhulme Trust will enable us to develop both through this
pioneering study of the impact of FOI on Parliament, and the use which parliamentarians make of FOI.




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