Freedom of Information Bill [H.L.] - continued        House of Lords

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Information Commissioner.     7. - (1) For the purposes of this Act there shall be an officer known as the Information Commissioner ("the Commissioner").
      (2) The Commissioner may be appointed by Her Majesty by Letters Patent.
      (3) The Commissioner shall-
    (a) subject to the provisions of subsection (4) below, investigate any complaint that a public 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 his 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 the operation of this Act as he thinks fit.
      (4) The Commissioner may decline to investigate a complaint in relation to any decision or action of a public authority if-
    (a) before making it the complainant has failed to comply with any procedure prescribed by regulations under section 9 for seeking the internal review by the authority of any such decision or action; or
    (b) the review has been completed within 15 working days from the day on which the application for review was received, or the complainant is satisfied 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 public 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 public authority any information, including exempt information, which in his 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; 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 or under an enactment, 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.
Enforcement.     8. - (1) On the completion of an investigation under section 7, the Commissioner may make an order requiring a public authority to take such steps as he 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;
    (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 the Court, would constitute contempt of court,
  the Commissioner may certify the offence to the Court.
      (3) The court to which an offence is certified under subsection (2) may inquire into the matter and, after hearing-
    (a) any witness who may be produced against or on behalf of the person charged with the offence, and
    (b) any statement that may be offered in defence,
  may deal with him in any manner in which the Court could deal with him if he had committed the same offence in relation to the Court.
      (4) Any person who-
    (a) destroys a record which, at the time it was destroyed, contained information which was the subject of an application, or a complaint to the Commissioner, under this Act; and
    (b) who does so intending to prevent disclosure of that record in accordance with the requirements of this Act or in circumstances in which it was foreseeable that such disclosure would thereby be prevented,
  is guilty of an offence.
      (5) A person found guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable-
    (a) on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum; or
    (b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or to a fine, or to both,
  unless he can prove that, at the time of the alleged offence, he did not know and had no reasonable cause to believe that the record was a record to which subsection (4) applies.
Regulations and reports.     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 applied for 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 procedures that should be followed by a complainant in asking a public authority to review any decision or failure to act before a complaint may be made to the Commissioner;
    (f) the charges which may be made for the provision of information for commercial purposes;
    (g) the steps that a public authority shall take to consult a third party before giving access to information obtained by it from that party;
    (h) applications 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 applications for access to such data and to have been made under section 7 of that Act;
    (i) the procedure to be followed by the Commissioner in carrying out an investigation under section 7(3);
    (j) 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; and
    (k) the salary and expenses of the 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 resolution of, each House of Parliament.
Interpretation.     10. In this Act-
    "the Court" means-
      (a) in relation to England and Wales, the High Court;
      (b) in relation to Scotland, the Court of Session; and
      (c) in relation to Northern Ireland, the High Court in Northern Ireland;
    "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;
    "public authority" means-
      (a) a government department or executive agency;
      (b) a nationalised industry or 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, a Minister of the Crown or a public authority;
      (h) any body which-
        (i) is established by virtue of Her Majesty's prerogative, by an Act of Parliament, Order in Council, Order made under an Act of Parliament or in any other way by a Minister of the Crown in his capacity as a Minister, a government department or public authority; and
        (ii) receives at least half of its revenue directly from money provided by Parliament, from a levy, fee or charge of any description authorised by or under any enactment, from a fee or charge of any other description so authorised or from more than one of those sources;
      (i) any other body carrying out a statutory function or performing a public function on behalf of a public authority.
Financial provisions.     11. There shall be paid out of money provided by Parliament-
    (a) any expenses of the Secretary of State under this Act; and
    (b) any increase in the expenditure of public authorities resulting from compliance with the provisions of this Act.
Short title, commencement, etc.     12. This Act-
    (a) may be cited as the Freedom of Information Act 1999;
    (b) shall come into force on 1st January 2000;
    (c) extends to Northern Ireland; and
    (d) binds the Crown.
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Prepared 11 December 1998