Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Freedom of Information Bill

Lord Lucas asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Bach: Under Clause 15 of the Bill, a public authority which is relying on a claim that the duty to confirm or deny does not arise must give the applicant

20 Apr 2000 : Column WA129

a notice that states that fact, specify the exemption in question and state why the exemption applies.

We do not anticipate prescribing a standard form of words that authorities should use in those circumstances--it must be a matter for each individual authority.

Lord Lucas asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, under the Freedom of Information Bill, a person who receives information from a public authority under the terms of the Bill may freely publish that information on the Internet; and, if not, why not, and what restrictions apply.[HL2058]

Lord Bach: Whether disclosed information may be published on the Internet or not depends on whether the information is subject to copyright under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Anyone wishing to publish disclosed information which is copyright must first seek and obtain the permission of the copyright holder. The provisions in the Freedom of Information Bill will not disturb this.

In terms of copyright, the information that may be disclosed under the proposed freedom of information regime will fall into three categories.

Some information held by public authorities will be Crown copyright. This is defined as those works made by Her Majesty or by an officer or servant of the Crown in the course of his duties. The Government's White Paper on The Future Management of Crown Copyright, published on 26 March 1999, stated that:

"the future management of Crown copyright will emphasise improved and streamlined access to ensure that government information is used and developed to best advantage";

and that,

"the general principles which govern the operation of Crown copyright should be extended, where possible, to non-Crown governmental bodies and to local government".

Some information held by public authorities may be subject to the copyright of a third party. For example, government departments and agencies commission a wide range of works by non-Crown individuals and organisations. Unless specific provision is made in the commissioning contract for the copyright in such commissioned works to be assigned or transferred to the Crown, the copyright will continue to rest with the Author.

Finally, there will be information which is not subject to copyright. There would be no restriction on the copying of such information which could also be put on the Internet.

Lord Lucas asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, under Clause 19 of the Freedom of Information Bill, information is "reasonably accessible to the applicant" if it is not available in electronic form and the applicant requires information in that form. [HL2061]

20 Apr 2000 : Column WA130

Lord Bach: Clause 19 of the Freedom of Information Bill exempts information which is reasonably accessible to the applicant by other means. When assessing whether the information is "reasonably accessible" to the applicant, the Information Commissioner will of course take into account the form in which it is available.

Where information is judged to be reasonably accessible by other means, the applicant will not have a right to require the information to be communicated to him in a different form other than the form in which it is already available. Therefore, if the information is reasonably accessible to the applicant in manual form, the applicant will not have the right to require it to be communicated to him electronically. However, an authority may always convert the information into the form requested by the applicant at its discretion.

If the information is not reasonably accessible to the applicant, then Clause 19 will not apply, in which case the applicant is entitled to express a preference for the form in which the information is to be communicated to him, and, under Clause 10 of the Bill, the authority shall so far as is practicable give effect to that preference.

Identity Cards

Lord Marlesford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Which countries of the European Union have a system of national identity cards, and in which of them (a) the system is mandatory and (b) the carrying of identity cards is mandatory; and from which of these countries such identity cards are an acceptable travel document for entry into the United Kingdom. [HL2017]

Lord Bach: The following countries have identity cards, although they do not all use the same system for them: Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Italy, Greece, Germany, France, Luxembourg, Austria, Finland and the Netherlands. To the best of our knowledge identity cards are compulsory in the first six of these countries; and must be carried in the first five. The valid identity card of any European Union or European Economic Area country may be accepted as a travel document for entry into the United Kingdom.

Illegal Immigrants: Country of Origin

Lord Marlesford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether illegal immigrants who refuse to disclose their country of origin can claim, and be granted, political asylum; and, if not, whether it is possible for them to be deported.[HL2016]

Lord Bach: The United Kingdom is a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Under the Convention, the United Kingdom has an obligation to consider all

20 Apr 2000 : Column WA131

applications for asylum made in the United Kingdom or at its ports. The Secretary of State will, therefore, consider all claims for political asylum made in this country.

Where an applicant refuses to disclose his nationality, this will be taken into consideration when the claim is considered. However, failure to disclose his nationality may affect the assessment of the applicant's credibility and ultimately the overall decision whether or not to grant asylum.

Under the Immigration Act 1971, an illegal entrant may be removed to the country of which he is a citizen or national or to any country or territory to which there is reason to believe he will be admitted. Provided the latter condition is satisfied, it is still possible to remove someone who is unwilling to disclose his country of origin.

Kevin Chambers

Lord Marlesford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will enquire into the circumstances of the release from prison of Kevin Chambers, who on 3 April was sentenced to life imprisonment for a rape committed in Ipswich within 18 hours of being released from serving four years' imprisonment for an earlier conviction for rape; and why the Suffolk Police were not informed that he was accommodated at public expense in the Chequers Hotel in Ipswich on his release from the earlier custodial sentence.[HL2015]

Lord Bach: This case was the subject of a serious incident report by Essex Probation Service in line with the requirements of Probation Circular 71/1998. The Home Office has asked Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Probation to investigate, and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary will be receiving an urgent report on this incident, which will recommend any action that should be taken.

Sex Offenders: Procedures on Release

Lord Marlesford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, when a convicted sex offender is released from prison, it is standard practice to alert the police force covering the area in which it is expected that the offender will reside; and, if not, why not.[HL2014]

Lord Bach: Yes. A mandatory instruction was issued to prisons in August 1997 requiring them to inform the relevant police force when sex offenders who are subject to the Sex Offenders Act 1997 are released. There is also a statutory requirement on those sex offenders themselves to notify the police of their address and other details on release from prison.

It is not standard practice to alert the police of the release of other sex offenders.

20 Apr 2000 : Column WA132

Official Documents: Classification

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What measures are in place to prevent the excessive classification of official documents as not appropriate for public disclosure.(HL2086)

Lord Bach: Clear guidance is available on the use of protective markings for the administrative classification of official documents. However, such classifications are not a factor which will be taken into account when considering disclosure of information under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Bill.

Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Recommendations: Implementation

Baroness Whitaker asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many and which of the 70 recommendations made by the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry have been implemented.(HL2085)

Lord Bach: Forty-four recommendations have now been fully implemented, and work is in progress to implement the remaining 26 in line with my right honourable friend the Home Secretary's Action Plan. Further information is available in Stephen Lawrence Inquiry--Home Secretary's Action Plan: First Annual Report on Progress, published in March 2000, a copy of which is in the Library.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page