Freedom of Information Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 14th November 2000.

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Photo of Lord MacKay of Ardbrecknish Lord MacKay of Ardbrecknish Crossbench 6:45 pm, 14th November 2000

My Lords, this amendment addresses the provision in Clause 12 where it states that a public authority is not obliged to comply with a request for information if it,

"estimates that the cost of complying ... would exceed the appropriate limit".

That appropriate limit will be £500, although I understand that that figure has been worked out in consideration of the cost of searching for the information rather than the cost of giving it out, so to speak. However, the point is that the local authority has complete discretion to refuse. My amendment would put at the beginning of the subsection the words,

"Unless it is in the public interest to do so".

In other words, an authority would be obliged to comply with a request, regardless of the cost, where it is in the public interest.

What is interesting about this amendment is that I think that I am right to say that these words were included in the Bill when it started its progress through the House of Commons. Somehow, they were removed in the other place. I wonder whether this is another example of something which has been removed in error, as was the case with one of the earlier amendments. The Government removed a phrase in error and the Liberal Democrats considered it a great triumph to put it back. Could the same thing have happened here? Would the Government like to consider whether they have made a mistake and that they would now like to put this back into the Bill? In all seriousness, they were right initially to put in a test of public interest for a local authority to consider when deciding whether a request would lead to far too great an expenditure. I beg to move.