Although the paper didn’t spot it, a small local story in today’ Yorkshire Post highlights a major loophole in the UK’s Freedom of Information Act.
A fisherman in the town of Bridlington, who is trying to establish a floating educational centre in Bridlington Bay, is having a row with the Bridlington Harbour Commissioners. After they set high berthing fees for his project, the fisherman, Tony Pockley, requested the Commissioners’ appeals procedure under the Freedom of Information Act.
Although this is precisely the type of information that public authorities should routinely be making public, Pockley was unsuccessful. And the reason is simple. According to the Department of Constitutional Affairs, harbour authorities are not subject to FOIA requests:
There are a large number of harbour authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Unless listed by name in Schedule 1, they are not presently covered by the Act.
However, we are aware that some (but not all) of them meet the necessary conditions for inclusion. Rather than include them piecemeal, we are looking into all the port and harbour authorities so that we can consider whether, and if so, how they should be covered by the Act.
A list of statutory port authorities was published in response to a PQ in 2002, but only a handful in Northern Ireland are covered by FOIA:
- The Belfast Harbour Commissioners
- The Warrenpoint Harbour Authority
- The Northern Ireland Fishery Harbour Authority
- The Londonderry Port and Harbour Commissioners
- The Harbour of Donaghadee Commissioners
These are public bodies that we know very little about. Many don’t even have web sites. Google searches lead to PQ responses in Hansard, which only became available online a few years ago. How is a citizen who comes into dispute with them supposed to know who to turn to? It’s time to shine a light on the lighthouse keepers.