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 Goodhart Lord Goodhart Liberal Democrat 6:45 pm, 14th November 2000

My Lords, Amendment No. 25 is a relatively minor but useful improvement of the Bill as it now stands. Under the present Clause 44, the code of practice to be published by the Secretary of State must include, among other things, reference to the provision of advice by public authorities to persons who propose to make or have made requests for information. Public authorities should, of course, comply with that code, but it is not formally a statutory duty.

Amendment No. 25--which seeks to add a new clause after Clause 15--would achieve two things. First, it would add a duty to provide assistance to the duty to provide advice. Secondly, it would make the provision of such advice and assistance a statutory duty on a public authority, although it is provided in subsection (2) that the duty can be complied with by conforming with the code of practice.

The advantages are fairly self-evident. It seems a reasonable thing to require a public authority, subject to a test of reasonableness, to provide not only advice but also assistance to applicants for information, many of whom may be inexperienced in dealing with public authorities and need assistance in putting forward their application. It plainly strengthens the obligation to help with both advice and assistance to make it a statutory duty, as opposed to it being merely something which should be complied with because it is contained within a code of practice. I do not need to expand any further. I beg to move.