Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 294:

("(1B) In subsection (1A) "the effective date", in relation to a decision notice or enforcement notice, means--
(a) the day on which the notice was given to the public authority, or
(b) where an appeal under section 56 is brought, the day on which that appeal (or any further appeal arising out of it) is determined or withdrawn.
(1C) Before making an order under subsection (1)(a)(iii), the Secretary of State shall--
(a) if the order relates to a Welsh public authority, consult the National Assembly for Wales,
(b) if the order relates to the Northern Ireland Assembly, consult the Presiding Officer of that Assembly, and
(c) if the order relates to a Northern Ireland public authority, consult the First Minister and deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 295 not moved.]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 296:

    Page 29, line 28, leave out ("(1)") and insert ("(1A)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: If Amendment No. 297 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 298 to 303 because of pre-emption.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 297:

    Page 29, line 35, leave out subsection (4) and insert--

("(4) In this section "the accountable person"--
(a) in relation to a Northern Ireland department or any Northern Ireland public authority, means the First Minister and deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland acting jointly, and
(b) in relation to the National Assembly for Wales or any Welsh public authority, means the Assembly First Secretary.
(c) in relation to any other public authority, means--
(i) a Minister of the Crown who is a member of the Cabinet, or
(ii) the Attorney General, the Advocate General for Scotland or the Attorney General for Northern Ireland.").

25 Oct 2000 : Column 450

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 298 to 303 not moved.]

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 304:

    Page 30, line 29, leave out subsections (5) and (6).

The noble Lord said: I am extremely grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, for having constructed Amendment No. 297 in a way which allowed my amendment to stand as a valid part of the Bill. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 305 to 307 not moved.]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 308:

    Page 30, leave out lines 41 to 45.

The noble and learned Lord said: I have already spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 52, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 53 [Failure to comply with notice]:

[Amendment No. 309 not moved.]

Clause 53 agreed to.

Clause 54 agreed to.

Schedule 3 [Powers of entry and inspection]:

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 310:

    Page 62, line 3, after ("sub-paragraph,") insert--

("( ) to copy any information held in electronic format, or to seize the equipment containing that information if a copy cannot conveniently be made,").

The noble Lord said: This merely lifts a part out of another Bill that was debated in this Session--I think that it was the then electronic commerce Bill. If I am misconceived in suggesting that this measure should be included in this Bill, I shall not require much convincing. I am already convinced that Amendment No. 311 is misconceived and I shall not speak to it or move it. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I think that the relevant Bill might have been the "rest in peace" Bill.

Amendment No. 310 is connected with powers of entry and inspection which Schedule 3 of the Bill will give to the information commissioner. The schedule provides that the commissioner will have the same powers for these purposes as she currently enjoys as Data Protection Commissioner. I am not aware that this has been a particular problem or issue for her, and in the absence of any such reported concern it would not be appropriate to make provision on the basis that the noble Lord has suggested. I trust that the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.

Lord Lucas: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 311 not moved.]

Schedule 3 agreed to.

Clause 55 [No action against public authority]:

25 Oct 2000 : Column 451

[Amendment No. 312 not moved.]

Clause 55 agreed to.

Clause 56 [Appeal against notices served under Part IV]:

Lord Hunt of Wirral moved Amendment No. 313:

    Page 31, line 26, leave out ("or the public authority").

The noble Lord said: We now move to that part of the Bill which relates to appeals. The purpose of this amendment is to leave out the words "or the public authority" in Clause 56(1) to ensure that the public authority has no right of appeal to the commissioner against a notice. The whole purpose behind the commissioner's appointment is to assist disclosure, not for her to get tied up in a process of administrative appeals from public authorities.

I am aware that this amendment is being discussed at a late hour. I very much welcome the fact that the Government Chief Whip is present because I hope that on Report we may find a more amenable time of day to discuss this important Bill rather than having it squeezed on to the end of other Bills. There are a number of us, including those on the Government Benches, who believe that this is a most important Bill that ought to be discussed not only in prime time but with sufficient time allocated to it. As I say, the hour is late and I have no wish to detain people longer than is necessary.

Therefore I simply say that I believe that it is inappropriate that public authorities which may be reluctant to give up the information that they should disclose should be able to tie up the commissioner in handling appeals, and, indeed, the tribunal in hearing them. The public authorities would already have been instructed by the commissioner to release information and should do so. The risk is that the commissioner could well be tied up by automatic appeals by public authorities creating a backlog and forcing members of the public and/or the commissioner to prepare for tribunal hearings.

As a lawyer, I have to declare my vested interest because this would be of enormous benefit to the legal profession and those with deep pockets but is hardly likely to give effect to the main purpose of the Bill. I believe that it is only appropriate for the public to appeal to the tribunal; and this would create a firm presumption in favour of disclosure. I beg to move.

11 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I had intended to deal with all the amendments in this group, if that is for the convenience of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.

This part of the Bill provides for an information tribunal to consider appeals against determinations of the information commissioner. The effect of Amendments Nos. 313 and 315 taken together would be to deny public authorities an avenue of independent review while allowing the right for complainants to appeal against decision notices to remain.

We have provided for an information tribunal which will be able to look again at any complaint about decisions under this Bill. That, as the noble Lord

25 Oct 2000 : Column 452

will agree, is no more than fairness demands, provides natural justice and should be available, we believe, to all parties. The amendments would remove one side of that commitment.

Another unintended consequence would be that public authorities would also have removed from them the opportunity--it is a most important point--to appeal to the High Court on a point of law. That is an important consideration. As drafted, Clause 58 provides that such access is consequential on an appeal to the tribunal. The removal of such a right seems to the Government to be both inequitable and unjust. I ask the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 314 is wholly impracticable. It would give the appellant very little time to consider the commissioner's decision, let alone what grounds of appeal would be appropriate, and certainly insufficient time to take legal or other advice. Nor is any account taken of special circumstances that might delay an appeal being lodged. The impact of such an amendment would surely result in fewer well considered appeals being lodged in time and larger numbers of hurried appeals being lodged containing somewhat ill-conceived grounds. I cannot imagine that this would be the noble Lord's intention or a desirable outcome.

Again we believe that Amendment No. 318 is completely impracticable. It is in no one's interests surely that the appeal procedure should be dragged out unnecessarily. But, equally, it is not in the interests of appellants, respondents or the cause of natural justice that tribunals should be under an unreasonable time constraint of 20 working days to reach a hurried decision. It is perhaps worth pointing out to the Committee that provisions dealing with the speed with which the tribunal hears an appeal will be dealt with by secondary legislation.

I hope that with those explanations noble Lords will feel able not to press the amendments.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page