My Lords, the Internet age has dawned. The Freedom of Information Bill makes provision for an application to be purpose blind. It requires that an applicant must apply in writing, which includes any electronic application, and provide an address. These are commonsense provisions which are necessary to ensure that a public authority can carry out its statutory duty to communicate information to that applicant. The Bill assumes that an applicant will wish to give his real name, but nothing requires him or her to do so or to use any particular name. He can call himself Father Christmas, or even Ralph Lucas, if he desires. In any event, the name is not relevant, as long as the information provided is sufficient to identify the applicant for the purpose of communicating information. We believe, therefore, that the first amendment is unnecessary.
However, as drafted, paragraph (b) of the amendment appears to be intended to override the provisions of Clause 11 where an applicant provides only an electronic address to which information can be communicated. Clause 11 provides that an authority is under a duty to communicate information in the applicant's preferred format where it is reasonably practicable to do so. That is sensible and proportionate. A balance must be struck between public authorities being under an obligation to provide information to an applicant and the need to make sure that inappropriate amounts of both time and resources are not expended on each potential application.
We believe that, if passed, the noble Lord's amendment would mean that a public authority would be required to provide an applicant with information in electronic format regardless of the cost or other resource implications if the applicant declined to provide any alternative address for communicating that information. For example, it would mean that information contained in records which had always, or until relatively recently, been kept in written form--perhaps several hundred pages--would have to be converted if requested. The implications for public authorities such as GPs could be huge and, we believe, damaging if they had to divert time and resources from their main purpose in order to meet those demands. For those reasons, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.