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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The clause is drawn in this way because the circumstances in which it will be necessary for the Cabinet, in effect, to override the information commissioner are not predictable from where we stand at present; in other words, there will not always be national security and police issues. Therefore, having identified the need in the extreme cases for the override, it would then be wrong to restrict it.

Contrary to what my noble friend Lord Brennan said, it is worth noting that the effect of this provision is not that any decision of the information

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commissioner can be overridden: the only decision of the information commissioner that can be overridden is one on the balance of the public interest under Clause 13. If, for example, the information commissioner determined that something was not covered by an exemption, then the ministerial override would never apply. Once it is not exempt, disclosure is automatic. The ministerial override under Clause 13 applies only where something is exempt and the Minister or the public authority concerned has refused to override the exemption in the public interest.

Lord Lucas: That is a wonderful argument. However, under Clause 34, anything that will cause a Minister distress is exempt.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: Although the hour is somewhat late, this has been one of the most important debates of the Committee stage. I am glad to say that the Minister made his case without resorting to the charge that the provisions were undemocratic, which caused such scorn during the course of the debate. We have also heard some extremely authoritative speeches from other speakers from all sides of the Committee--all of them against the Government's propositions. However, the clause is being substantially rewritten; indeed, the Minister just described a whole raft of amendments. We shall all have the opportunity, between now and Report stage, to study the re-written texts. As far as I am concerned that will make it much easier to follow exactly how far we have got, because the legislation has become somewhat confusing.

The debate has also been interesting for another reason. This is the first suggestion that I recall for quite some time that the present Cabinet actually discusses matters collectively. The information that we have received during recent months suggested that Cabinet meetings were extremely brief and that they simply waft things through. But now we are told that these matters at least will be discussed round the Cabinet table on each occasion, before the dreaded veto is applied. As I said, we have had a most interesting debate and we shall have a good opportunity to study the legislation more carefully between now and the Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 49 [Application for decision by Commissioner]:

[Amendments Nos. 260 and 261 not moved.]

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 262:

    Page 27, line 8, at end insert ("or Part VI").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 262 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 269 and 271. I hope the Minister will tell me that Amendment No. 262 is not necessary. If it is, I think it should be accepted. Amendment No. 269 inserts Clause 11 into the provisions where the commissioner can decide that a public authority has failed to comply with any of the requirements of the section. I am concerned about the regulations which are to be made under the provision at the end of Clause 11 concerning

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how cost is to be calculated. In the past, public authorities have managed to avoid answering questions by vastly inflating the costs they think they will incur and by answering relatively simple questions. The best that I know of is a quote of some £5,000 or £6,000 to disclose the names of the 26 companies which had been subject to prosecutions or warnings as a result of breaking the BSE regulations.

The last of this rather disparate collection is Amendment No. 271, which states that a decision notice should be issued promptly. This comes back to time limits, which we have discussed before. If there are too many places in the Bill where there are no time limits set, either in the Bill or in any other form, we risk encouraging public authorities to play a game of spinning out time. If that were allowed to happen, the whole Bill would fall into disrepute. I beg to move.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Amendment No. 262 is based upon the proposition that separate rights of access to historical information are contained in Part VI. I do not think that that is right. All rights of access to information are contained in Part I. It is therefore not necessary to add a reference to Part VI in subsection (1) of Clause 49. Part VI merely modifies the rights in part I in certain circumstances. The right provided by the Bill applies to information in a historical record as much as to any other information, and the commissioner's powers are the same. I hope that that satisfies the noble Lord that the amendment is unnecessary.

Similarly, I believe that the noble Lord may have misunderstood Clause 49. That already provides that a complainant may apply for a decision from the commissioner about an authority's compliance with Part I of the Bill in respect of a request for information. That would cover the case where the authority was relying on a claim that Clause 11 applied to justify non-compliance with the request. Clause 11 is not referred to in Clause 49(4)(b) simply because there are no requirements in Clause 11 to which the notice could relate. That does not affect the basic position which I have set out. I hope that I have demonstrated that that amendment is equally unnecessary.

As regards Amendment No. 271, it would be impractical to impose an arbitrary time limit on the commissioner when, clearly, applications under Clause 49 will vary considerably in their complexity and therefore the length of time required to make a thorough investigation. The amendment states:

    "A decision notice should be issued promptly, and in any event should not, without good cause, be issued later than the twentieth working day following the date of receipt of the application".

I have every sympathy with what is clearly the intention behind the amendment, which is to ensure that complaints made to the commissioner are dealt with as promptly as possible. But, even if it were practicable to find a formula to ensure that decisions were made quickly but without jeopardising the thoroughness of the investigation, it is not necessary to do so because, if the commissioner fails in her duties,

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she is answerable to Parliament. In those circumstances, I do not think that the amendment is appropriate.

Lord Lucas: I shall study those replies with interest. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 263 to 269 not moved.]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 270:

    Page 27, line 27, leave out (", 13").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 27l not moved.]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 272:

    Page 27, line 40, leave out subsection (7).

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 273 not moved.]

Clause 49, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 50 [Information notices]:

[Amendments Nos. 274 to 279 not moved.]

Clause 50 agreed to.

Clause 51 [Enforcement notices]:

[Amendments Nos. 280 to 285 not moved.]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 286:

    Page 29, line 14, leave out subsection (4).

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 287 and 288 not moved.]

Clause 51, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 52 [Exception from duty to comply with decision notice or enforcement notice]:

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendments Nos. 289 and 290:

    Page 29, line 19, leave out from beginning to ("shall") in line 21 and insert--

("(1) This section applies to a decision notice or enforcement notice which--
(a) is served on--
(i) a government department,
(ii) the National Assembly for Wales, or
(iii) any public authority designated for the purposes of this section by an order made by the Secretary of State, and
(b) relates to a failure, in respect of one or more requests for information--
(i) to comply with section 1(1)(a) in respect of information as respects which any provision of Part II provides that the duty to confirm or deny does not arise, or
(ii) to comply with section 1(1)(b) in respect of exempt information.
(1A) A decision notice or enforcement notice to which this section applies").

    Page 29, line 22, leave out ("day on which the notice was given to the public authority") and insert ("effective date").

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On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 291 not moved.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Cox): If Amendment No. 292 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 293 because of pre-emption.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 292:

    Page 29, line 25, leave out from ("that") to end of line 26 and insert ("in respect of the request or requests concerned, there was no failure falling within subsection (1)(b).").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 293 not moved.]

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