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Lord McNally: Before the Minister sits down, my noble friend Lord Goodhart mutters that he does not in principle like one-sided rights of appeal. I leave the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, to think about that.

There is a point here which causes concern. Public authorities have deep pockets. Unless education changes the psychology of public authorities, there may be a temptation to go to appeal. If a public authority showed that tendency to appeal--if not frivolously, far too often and over protectively--would be there be any sanction?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: There would be no sanction other than the fact that it would cost the public authority. I do not believe that a responsible public authority would want to incur that additional cost.

It is also worth considering what happens in the event of a perverse decision. It must be right that the matter should be referred to a higher court so that the

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perversity can be dealt with. We all accept that that is very unlikely in most circumstances, but it could happen and it might not be in the wider public interest.

Lord Lucas: The Minister seemed to elevate Amendment No. 318 to a matter of enormous public importance--almost a matter of life and death. We are dealing with a tribunal that will decide between an applicant who wants a piece of information and wants it now and a very well funded public authority with every incentive to string things out and cause delay. Systems of tribunals and courts are generally pretty easy to delay with a bit of money, science and legal expertise.

A precedent can be found in the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996, which was passed when I was on the Government Front Bench. It provided for arbitration in construction disputes between two such parties--a very powerful party intent on stringing things out as long as possible and a small contractor in desperate need of the money. That Act imposes a time limit on the tribunal for the same reasons as lie behind the amendment. I believe that there was a consensus among officials and the industry at that time that there should be a time limit. Surely that is a precedent worth looking at.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: This has been a valuable opportunity to pause for a moment and consider the points raised by my noble friend Lord Lucas and the noble Lord, Lord McNally. I should like to reflect on them, just as I hope that the Minister will reflect on the burden of our arguments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 314 and 315 not moved.]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 316:

    Page 31, line 30, at end insert--

("( ) In relation to a decision notice or enforcement notice which relates--
(a) to information to which section (Decisions relating to certain transferred public records) applies, and
(b) to a matter which by virtue of subsection (3) or (4) of that section falls to be determined by the responsible authority instead of the appropriate records authority,
subsections (1) and (2) shall have effect as if the reference to the public authority were a reference to the public authority or the responsible authority.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Archer of Sandwell moved Amendment No. 317:

    Page 31, line 31, leave out subsection (3).

The noble and learned Lord said: If my noble and learned friend the Minister wishes me to move the amendment, in my usual spirit of helpfulness I shall be happy to do so. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 56, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 57 [Determination of appeals]:

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[Amendment No. 318 not moved.]

Clause 57 agreed to.

Clause 58 agreed to.

Clause 59 [Appeals against national security certificate]:

[Amendments Nos. 319 and 320 not moved.]

Clause 59 agreed to.

Clause 60 agreed to.

Schedule 4 agreed to.

Clause 61 [Interpretation of Part VI]:

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 321:

    Page 33, line 4, at end insert ("unless--

(a) the dates of creation of the records span more than two years; and
(b) the file or other assembly may reasonably be separated into older and more recent parts.").

The noble Lord said: This is merely a technical suggestion that there should be an obligation to look at splitting long-running files if that is appropriate.

Amendments Nos. 322, 323, 324 and 326 cover similar areas, providing that once the 30-year limit has been reached, all sorts of exemptions should no longer apply.

I shall listen with interest to what the Government have to say about that idea in general. However, I draw their particular attention to the inclusion of Clause 20 in Amendment No. 322. I really do not see how Clause 20 can be an active source of exemptions after 30 years.

On Amendment No. 328, I shall listen with interest to what the Government have to say. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I recognise the concern behind Amendment No. 321 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. But I believe that the Bill as currently drafted, backed up by the Lord Chancellor's code of practice, allows an appropriate amount of flexibility in what is described as records management.

The Lord Chancellor's code of practice will provide guidance to authorities on the practice of records management. A working draft of the code recommends that as a general rule, files should be closed after five years, and that, if action continues, a further file should be opened.

Moreover, the commissioner will be able to issue practice recommendations against authorities which fail to act in accordance with the code. A statutory requirement to close files every two years would not be sensible, for example, where an issue was long running and regularly yet infrequently updated. In that case, it would not be administratively useful to split one file into many parts.

Finally in relation to this amendment, I should like to emphasise that information contained in records is accessible under freedom of information provisions whether the record has been designated as "historical"; that is, over 30 years old, or not. While the Bill disapplies certain exemptions in respect of historical records, it is also generally true that, over time, the

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sensitivity of information will decrease, so that more information will become available as the years pass. Having heard that explanation, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

I turn now to Amendments Nos. 322, 323, 324, 326 and 328 which would disapply certain additional exemptions in respect of information contained in historical records. Without the continuation of those exemptions, information could be disclosed which was necessary to safeguard the defence of the UK, or which could prejudice international relations, the economy, or the environment. We argue that that cannot be in the public interest.

In each case there are good reasons for the exemptions to apply beyond the 30-year point. Disapplication could result in prejudice being caused to the national interest, and so I ask the noble Lord not to press those amendments.

Lord Lucas: I am extremely grateful for those explanations. The noble Lord read his brief extremely well. But I still do not understand how information falling under Clause 20--information intended for future publication--can possibly be a good reason for exemption 30 years after the creation of the information. I do not insist on an answer now, but I should very much like to know why Clause 20 is not included in the list at the head of Clause 62.

I am reminded also that one of the ongoing problems is the lack of public access to the 1911 census data.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I shall investigate the circumstances surrounding that and get the noble Lord an answer promptly.

Lord Lucas: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 61 agreed to.

Clause 62 [Removal of exemptions: historical records generally]:

[Amendments Nos. 322 to 326 not moved.]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 327:

    Page 33, line 12, leave out ("seventy-five") and insert ("sixty").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 328 not moved.]

Clause 62, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 63 [Removal of exemptions: historical records in public record offices]:

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 329:

    Page 33, line 27, leave out ("13(2)") and insert ("(Effect of exemptions)(3)").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 63, as amended, agreed to.

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11.15 p.m.

Clause 64 [Decisions as to refusal of discretionary disclosure of historical records]:

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendments Nos. 330 and 331:

    Page 33, line 29, leave out from beginning to ("authority") in line 30 and insert ("Before refusing a request for information relating to information which is contained in a historical record and is exempt information only by virtue of a provision not specified in section (Effect of exemptions)(3), a public").

    Page 33, line 35, leave out ("Northern Ireland Minister responsible for public records in Northern Ireland") and insert ("appropriate Northern Ireland Minister").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 332 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

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