Freedom of Information Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:15 pm on 14th November 2000.

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Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip 11:15 pm, 14th November 2000

My Lords, Amendment No. 53 would make it a requirement for the code of practice to include guidance concerning the desirability of making information available on the Internet.

As has been said, the purpose of the code is to provide guidance to public authorities on meeting their obligations under Part I of the Bill. Clause 11 already requires authorities to comply, as far as reasonably practicable, with the applicant's expressed preference for communication. This will include the provision of information by electronic means, which may involve making use of the Internet. We believe therefore that we do not need to include any specific reference to the Internet in so far as responding to requests for information is concerned.

Clause 18, relating to publication schemes, requires proactive disclosure. The means by which authorities make information available in accordance with a publication scheme is something over which the commissioner has direct control as she must approve the scheme. In so far as the commissioner thinks that the authority is not making appropriate use of the Internet, she can require it to include appropriate provisions in its scheme. This seems to the Government to be the appropriate way to ensure that the intention behind the amendment is met.

There is an important general point here. Given the range of public authorities which will be required to comply with the Bill's provisions, it would be inappropriate to make the Internet or any other means of communication a recommended method for communicating information under the terms of the Bill. We see where the noble Lord is coming from but we do not think that his amendment is necessary.