Freedom of Information Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 14th November 2000.

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Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative 6:15 pm, 14th November 2000

My Lords, I should have thought that the natural thing would be to say, "just a couple of weeks". Having waited a couple of weeks, one can usually persuade someone to wait a couple more weeks. If one is capable of reaching a decision within the first two weeks, that will give ample time to spin matters out. After a month it may be that the information has been rendered useless by other actions or other decisions that have been taken to deal with a problem which would have been brought to light earlier had the information been available more promptly.

In this and other areas where the timescales are undefined, what is lacking in the Bill is any sense of urgency. There is no imposition of urgency or promptness or mention of "as quickly as you can" or anything else. There is nothing to give the information commissioner some teeth to bite on authorities which do not so much delay unreasonably but generally dawdle and stretch timescales as much as they can.

I think that the Liberal Democrats have sold the pass very cheaply and that we could have achieved something a good deal better with their co-operation. It is clear that the point was understood by the Government in Committee. It is clear because the Government have agreed to the Liberal Democrat amendment. It is a great shame that the Liberal Democrats should have settled for such a little advance when, without any great difficulty, the Government could have conceded something much more useful.