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Session 1997-98
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Freedom of Information Bill

This is the text of the Freedom of Information Bill, as presented to the House of Commons on 18 November 1998

Freedom of Information Bill
2.Right of access.
3.Exempt information.
4.Public interest.
6.Duty to assist applicants, etc.
7.Information Commissioner.
9.Regulations and report.
10.Meaning of "official information" and "public authority".
11.Financial provisions.
12.Short title, commencement, etc.





Extend the right of access to information held by public authorities; and for connected purposes.

BE IT ENACTED by the Queen's most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:-

 1. - (1) The purposes of this Act are-
    (a) to extend progressively the right of the public to have access to information held by public authorities in order to promote-
      (i) better informed discussion of public affairs;
      (ii) greater accountability of public authorities; and
      (iii) more effective public participation in the making and administration of laws and policies;
    (b) to ensure that persons are given reasons for decisions taken by public authorities which affect them;
    (c) to ensure that guidelines used by public authorities in making decisions affecting persons are publicly available.
      (2) This Act shall be interpreted so as-
    (a) to further the purposes specified in subsection (1) above; and
    (b) to facilitate and encourage the disclosure of information, promptly and at the lowest reasonable cost.
 2. - (1) It shall be the right of any person to obtain access, subject to the provisions of this Act, to official information held by a public authority.
      (2) The right of access under subsection (1) shall apply notwithstanding any statutory or common law prohibition on the disclosure of information other than one contained in an order of the court.
      (3) A public authority to which a request for official information has been made under this Act shall-
    (a) give the applicant access to the requested information as soon as practicable and in any case within the specified period, which is 20 working days from the date on which the request was made, except insofar as a request relates to information obtained by the authority from a third party in which case the specified period is 35 working days from that date; and where, in either case, the requested information has not been provided within the specified period the request shall be deemed to have been refused;
    (b) not be required to give access to any information which is exempt within the meaning of section 3(1); but an authority shall not refuse to give access to any record where this can be done by providing a copy of the record from which any exempt information has been excluded;
    (c) in any case where it withholds exempt information, notify the applicant that it has done so specifying under which of the paragraphs in section 3(2) and for what reasons the information is considered so to be and the procedure by which an appeal against its decision may be made;
    (d) at the request of the applicant correct any information held by it relating to the applicant which is incorrect, incomplete, misleading, or not relevant to the purpose for which the information is held.
      (4) Any information which is required to be made available under this section shall be made available to any person on request-
    (a) by supplying a copy of it to the applicant in the form in which it is held unless the applicant requests that it be made available in another form and it is practicable to do so; and
    (b) if the applicant so requests and it is practicable to do so, for inspection by the applicant.
      (5) An authority shall not be required to give access to information where to do so would interfere substantially and unreasonably with its work by requring it to identify and retrieve a substantial volume of records, provided that before refusing to provide information on these grounds the authority has taken reasonable steps to assist the applicant to reformulate the request so as to avoid causing such interference.
 3. - (1) Information is exempt if its disclosure would be likely to cause substantial harm to any of the interests specified in the following provisions of this section.
      (2) The interests referred to in subsection (1) are-
    (a) the defence or international relations of the United Kingdom and its dependencies or the lawful activities of the security or intelligence services;
    (b) the prevention, investigation or detection of crime or the apprehension or prosecution of offenders or the prevention of escape of persons from legal custody;
    (c) the fairness of legal proceedings or the authority's position in any actual or contemplated legal proceedings insofar as any harm to that position results from the disclosure of information to which legal professional privilege applies;
    (d) the competitive position of the authority, or a third party, insofar as any harm to that position arises from the use of information which is confidential to the authority or third party by a competitor of that authority or party;
    (e) the privacy of an individual to whom the information relates and who has not consented to the disclosure; and for the purposes of this paragraph a disclosure shall be regarded as causing substantial harm to an individual's privacy if it consists of information relating to the individual's personal affairs which the individual was required by law to supply to the authority or supplied to it in confidence in connection with a statutory benefit provided by the authority or if the information was obtained in connection with the provision of health care or social work services to the individual;
    (f) the protection of the life or safety of an individual or of the public or of rare or endangered species or their habitats;
    (g) the ability of an authority to obtain information which is necessary to its work from a third party insofar as any harm to that interest results from the disclosure of information which has been supplied to the authority in confidence by a third party who was not, and could not have been, required (whether by statute, contract or otherwise) to supply it and who did not supply it for the purpose of influencing the contents of legislation or the policy or practice of an authority or of securing some material benefit for itself;
    (h) an authority's ability to give adequate consideration to a matter concerning which no final decision has been taken and which remains the subject of active consideration, insofar as that ability would be harmed by disclosing the advice, opinion or recommendation tendered by an identifiable individual in the course of that individual's official duties for the purpose of the formulation of the policy of the authority.
      (3) Information does not fall within paragraph (h) of subsection (2) insofar as it consists of-
    (a) factual information; or
    (b) the analysis, interpretation or evaluation of or any projection based on factual information; or
    (c) expert advice on a scientific, technical, medical, financial, statistical, legal or other matter other than advice falling within subsection (2)(c) above; or
    (d) guidance such as is described in section 6(2)(c); or
    (e) information relating to the personal affairs of the applicant or of the reasons for any decision taken in relation to the applicant.
 4. - (1) A public authority to whom a request for official information has been made under this Act shall give access to the information, notwithstanding that it is exempt, where to do so is justified in the public interest having regard both to any benefit and to any harm that may arise from doing so.
      (2) In determining whether a disclosure is justified in the public interest an authority shall have regard to-
    (a) the purposes of this Act set out in section 1(1) above, and
    (b) the question of whether the information indicated the existence of any-
      (i) offence, failure to comply with a legal obligation or miscarriage of justice;
      (ii) abuse of authority or neglect in the performance of official duty;
      (iii) danger to the health of safety of an individual or the public or to the environment.
      (3) In any proceedings for an offence under the Official Secrets Act 1989, it shall be a defence to show that the information whose disclosure gave rise to those proceedings would have been available to an applicant under this Act having regard, in particular, to the provisions of this section.
 5. - (1) An authority shall make no charge to the applicant for the provision of information under this Act other than-
    (a) an application charge, which shall not exceed £10;
    (b) an hourly charge, not exceeding £15 per hour, in respect of the time required to identify and locate the requested information by a person doing so in an efficient manner, provided that no such fee may be charged in respect of the first three hours so spent;
    (c) a charge of 5p per copy in respect of any photocopies supplied to the applicant;
    (d) in respect of copies of records supplied other than on paper, a reasonable charge to cover the cost of any blank tape, disk, film or other material onto which the record has been copied;
    (e) in respect of information sought by a person for commercial purposes, such an additional charge as the Secretary of State may by regulations prescribe.
      (2) The charges referred to in subsection (1) above shall be waived-
    (a) where disclosure of the information is in the public interest; or
    (b) where the cost of collecting and accounting for the charge exceeds the amount of the charge.
 6. - (1) A public authority shall take reasonable steps to assist any person seeking to exercise any right under this Act.
      (2) A public authority shall make available-
    (a) a guide sufficient to enable any person wishing to apply to it for information under this Act to identify the classes of records held by it, the subjects to which they relate, the location of any indexes to those records and, so far as is practicable, facilities to enable those indexes to be consulted by any person;
    (b) an indexed register containing copies of information released in response to requests under this Act other than information relating to the personal affairs of the applicant;
    (c) any guidance used by the authority in relation to its dealings with the public or with corporate bodies;
    (d) to any person, the reasons for any decision taken by it in relation to that person.
      (3) The materials referred to in paragraphs (a) to (c) of subsection (2) above shall be made available-
    (a) for inspection by any person without charge;
    (b) by supplying a copy to any person on request for which a charge not exceeding 5p per page so copied may be made;
    (c) on the internet, provided that the materials are held by the authority in electronic form and it is practicable for it to so make them available.
      (4) Nothing in this section shall require an authority to disclose information which is exempt within the meaning of section 3(1).
      (5) A public authority shall create and preserve such records as are necessary to document adequately its policies, decisions, procedures and transactions and to ensure that records in its custody, including those held in electronic form, are maintained in good order and condition.
 7. - (1) For the purposes of this Act there shall be an officer known as the Information Commissioner (the "Commissioner").
      (2) The Information Commissioner shall be appointed by Her Majesty by Letters Patent on an Address presented by both Houses of Parliament following a motion by the Prime Minister acting with the agreement of the Leader of the Opposition and the Chairman of a select committee of the House of Commons who has been designated by the Speaker of that House for this purpose.
      (3) The Commissioner shall-
    (a) investigate any complaint that an authority has failed to comply with any requirement of this Act and may initiate an investigation in the absence of a complaint;
    (b) perform his functions under this Act so as to further the purposes specified in section 1(1) above;
    (c) conduct an investigation with as little formality and as expeditiously as the requirements of this Act and a proper consideration of the matters concerned permit;
    (d) arrange for the dissemination of such information as he thinks fit about the operation of this Act and other matters within the scope of the Commissioner's functions and may give advice to any person as to any of those matters;
    (e) annually lay before each House of Parliament a report on the operation of this Act,
  and may from time to time lay before each House of Parliament such other reports on its operation as the Commissioner thinks fit.
      (4) The Commissioner may decline to investigate a complaint in relation to any decision or action of a public authority unless before making it the complainant has complied with any procedure prescribed by regulations for seeking the internal review by the authority of any such decision or action and, following a period of 15 working days from the date on which the application for review was received, the review has not been completed or the complainant remains dissatisfied with the outcome of the review.
      (5) For the purpose of an investigation under this Act the Commissioner-
    (a) may require any Minister, officer or employee of the authority concerned or any other person who in the Commissioner's opinion is able to provide information or produce records relevant to the investigation to do so;
    (b) shall have the same powers as the Court in respect of the attendance and examination of witnesses (including the administration of oaths and the examination of witnesses abroad) and in respect of the production of documents;
    (c) may examine any record containing information to which this Act applies, including any record containing information which is or may be exempt;
    (d) shall take all reasonable precautions to avoid the disclosure of information which is or may be exempt but may disclose to the appropriate authority any information, including exempt information, which in the Commissioner's opinion indicates the commission of an offence or significant misconduct on the part of any person;
    (e) may receive and consider any record or information, whether or not it would be admissible in a court of law; and
    (f) may enter any premises occupied by a public authority and examine or remove any record or material relevant to the investigation.
      (6) No obligation to maintain secrecy or other restriction upon the disclosure of information, whether imposed by an enactment or by any rule of law or otherwise, shall preclude a person from supplying information to the Commissioner for the purpose of an investigation under this section.
      (7) The Crown shall not be entitled, in relation to any investigation by the Commissioner, to any privilege in respect of the production of records or the giving of evidence as is allowed by law in legal proceedings; but anything said or any information supplied in any record produced by a person in the course of such an investigation shall be privileged in the same manner as if it were said or supplied in proceedings in court.
 8. - (1) On the completion of an investigation the Commissioner may make an order requiring an authority to take such steps as the Commissioner deems necessary to comply with the requirements of this Act within such period of time as the order may specify.
      (2) If any person without lawful excuse-
    (a) fails to comply with an order of the Commissioner; or
    (b) obstructs the Commissioner in the performance of his functions; or
    (c) is guilty of any act or omission in relation to an investigation by the Commissioner which, if that investigation were a proceeding in court, would constitute contempt of court,
  the Commissioner may certify the offence to a court which may inquire into the matter and, after hearing any witness who may be produced against or on behalf of the person charged with the offence, and after hearing any statement that may be offered in defence, deal with the person in any manner in which the court could deal with the person if he or she had committed the same offence in relation to the court.
      (3) Any person who destroys a record-
    (a) which at the time it was destroyed contained information which was the subject of a request, or of a complaint to the Information Commissioner, under this Act; and does so
    (b) intending to prevent its disclosure in accordance with the requirements of this Act or in circumstances in which it was foreseeable that such disclosure would thereby be prevented,
  commits an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or, on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or a fine or both unless the person can prove that at the time of the alleged offence he or she did not know and had no reasonable cause to believe that the record was a record to which this subsection applies.
 9. - (1) The Secretary of State may by regulations make further provision for-
    (a) the manner in which applications under this Act are to be made;
    (b) the form in which information requested under this Act is to be supplied;
    (c) the making of applications for personal information by representatives of the individual to whom the information relates;
    (d) the measures which public authorities shall take in order to assist persons in exercising their rights under this Act;
    (e) the measures which public authorities shall take to ensure that adequate records are created and maintained by public authorities;
    (f) the procedures that should be followed by a complainant in asking an authority to review any decision or failure to act before a complaint may be made to the Information Commissioner;
    (g) the charges which may be made for the provision of information for commercial purposes;
    (h) the steps that a public authority shall take to consult with a third party before giving access to information obtained by it from that party;
    (i) requests made under this Act for access to information relating to the personal affairs of the applicant which do not consist of personal data within the meaning of section 1(1) of the Data Protection Act 1998 to be deemed to be requests for access to such data and to have been made under section 7 of that Act;
    (j) providing that specified utility companies or utility companies subject to regulation by specified regulatory authorities shall, in relation to specified functions be public authorities for the purposes of this Act;
    (k) the procedure to be followed by the Information Commissioner in carrying out an investigation;
    (l) the records that public authorities shall be required to keep and the information that they shall be required to supply to the Secretary of State relating to the operation of this Act;
    (m) the salary and expenses of the Information Commissioner.
      (2) The power to make regulations under this section shall be exercisable by statutory instrument; and no such statutory instrument shall be made unless a draft of it has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.
      (3) The Secretary of State shall annually lay before each House of Parliament a report on the operation of this Act.
 10. - (1) In this Act, "official information" means information held in any form by a public authority in connection with its functions as such; and information is so held if it is in the possession, custody or power of a public authority.
      (2) In this Act, "public authority" means-
    (a) a government department or executive agency;
    (b) a nationalised industry or a public corporation;
    (c) a health service body, within the meaning of section 2(4) of the Health Service Commissioners Act 1993;
    (d) any other authority or body subject to examination by the Comptroller and Auditor General by virtue of section 6 of the National Audit Act 1983;
    (e) any other body in relation to any function which it exercises on behalf of the Crown;
    (f) a local authority;
    (g) any body which is wholly or partly constituted by appointment made by Her Majesty or a Minister of the Crown or by a public authority.
    (h) any body which is-
      (i) established by virtue of Her Majesty's prerogative or by an Act of Parliament or an Order in Council or an Order made under an Act of Parliament or which is established in any other way by a Minister of the Crown or by a government department or public authority; and which
      (ii) receives at least half of its revenues directly from money provided by Parliament or from a levy authorised by an enactment or a fee or charge of any other description so authorised or from more than one of those sources;
    (i) any other body carrying out as statutory function or performing a public function on behalf of a public authority; or
    (j) in relation to a prescribed function, a prescribed utility company or a utility company which is subject to regulation by a prescribed statutory regulatory authority.
 11. - There shall be paid out of money provided by Parliament-
    (a) any expenses of the Secretary of State under this Act;
    (b) any increase in the expenditure of public authorities resulting from compliance with the provisions of this Act.
 12. - (1) This Act may be cited as the Short title, commencement, etc.Freedom of Information Act 1998.
      (2) This Act shall come into force on 1st January 1999.
      (3) This Act extends to Northern Ireland.
      (4) This Act binds the Crown.

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Prepared 20 November 1998