The work of the Information Commissioner: appointment of a new Commissioner: Government Response to the Committee's Third Report of Session 2008-09 - Justice Committee Contents


Appendix: Government response


Thank you for your Committee's report "The work of the Information Commissioner: appointment of a new Commissioner", published on 9 February 2009. The Government's response to each of the conclusions and recommendations in your report is attached to this letter.

I am very grateful to the Committee for holding the two hearings covered in the report and for its endorsement of Mr Christopher Graham's suitability for appointment as the next Information Commissioner.

Rt Hon Jack Straw MP

Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor

Ministry of Justice

April 2009

Government Response to the conclusions and recommendations of the Justice Committee Report on "The work of the Information Commissioner: appointment of a new Commissioner"

1. We are not persuaded by the case for changing from an Information Commissioner to an Information Commission. We welcome Mr Graham's recognition that it is important that the branding of communications from the ICO leaves no room for confusion about the personal responsibility of the Commissioner. We view the personal responsibility of the Information Commissioner for the regulation of data protection and freedom of information as the main value of the way in which the role is constituted. (Paragraph 28)

The Office of Information Commissioner is established as a corporation sole under the Data Protection Act 1998. While the Commissioner could not discharge all of his statutory responsibilities without the support of his Office, it is clear that ultimate responsibility rests with the Commissioner. The Government agrees with the Committee that this arrangement is one of the strengths of the present arrangements.

2. We recommend that the Ministry of Justice takes the appropriate steps to ensure that there are sufficient resources available to the Information Commissioner to enable the backlog of freedom of information cases to be resolved within a reasonable timescale. (Paragraph 36)

The Government notes the Committee's recommendation.

The Ministry of Justice and the Information Commissioner regularly review the level of funding made available to the Commissioner to discharge his statutory freedom of information responsibilities. In response to business cases provided by the Information Commissioner, he has been provided with grant in aid over and above the baseline fixed for each of the last four financial years, including the current one. In the current financial year, additional funding has been complemented by a secondment scheme. Seven civil servants paid by their parent departments are currently working for the Information Commissioner's Office on the backlog of freedom of information cases

The Government agrees that it is unsatisfactory to the complainant and inefficient for the public authorities involved if complaints remain outstanding at the Information Commissioner's Office for significant periods of time. In agreeing the level of grant in aid for 2009-10, additional funding has been identified although the baseline will remain the same. The additional funding will be made specifically to reduce the outstanding backlog of cases.

3. We endorse Mr Christopher Graham's suitability for appointment as Information Commissioner and his preliminary view of the priorities of the role and its supporting organisation. We look forward to a continuing dialogue on progress both in protecting people's personal information effectively and sensitively, and in securing implementation of the letter, and the spirit, of the Freedom of Information Act. The Information Commissioner needs to be an independent and fearless champion of both data protection and freedom of information, backed by a well-led and well-managed organisation. We wish Mr Graham success in this role. (Paragraph 38)

The Government welcomes the Committee's endorsement both of Mr Graham's suitability for appointment as Information Commissioner and his preliminary view of the priorities of the role and its supporting organisation. While respecting the Information Commissioner's independence, the Government, like the Committee, looks forward to a close and productive dialogue with Mr Graham if and when his appointment is confirmed.


 
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