From: <casework@ico.gsi.gov.uk>
Date: Tue, Jul 6, 2010 at 6:24 PM
Subject: Response to your correspondence to the Information Commissioner’s Office[Ref. ENQ0307303]
To: [email address]

6 July 2010

Case Reference Number ENQ0307303

Dear Mr Cross

Thank you for your correspondence dated 15 April, 6 and 20 June regarding the approach taken by the House of Commons and the House of Lords to requests under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) made prior to and during the dissolution of Parliament. We would also like to thank you for the detailed arguments that you have raised regarding this matter.

Firstly we would like to apologise for the delay in responding to your correspondence. However, sometimes there are circumstances outside our control that prevent us from providing a response as quickly as we would like, and one of these is the volume of complaints and enquiries we receive. Over the last few months we have seen a large increase in the correspondence sent to us, and we are implementing changes that should help us to meet improved service standards in future.

We did consider the status of the House of Commons and the House of Lords under the FOIA before the previous election in 2005 and did again before the election this year.

Prior to the recent election we were in communication with both Houses in regard to their status under the FOIA during dissolution and the measures that they were taking in regard to advising requestors of this. Both Houses had taken their own legal advice before contacting us which concluded that they are not legal entities during the election period when Parliament is dissolved and therefore no duty exists to respond to FOIA requests during this time. Upon receiving this view we took our own legal advice, and based upon this we accept the position set out by both Houses is correct. This is also consistent with the position we came to in 2005.

The ‘House of Commons’ and the ‘House of Lords’ are described in paragraphs 2 and 3 of Schedule 1 to the FOIA as a public authority within the meaning of section 3(1)(a) of the Act. The ‘House of Commons’ and the ‘House of Lords’ as listed in Schedule 1 cease to exist when Parliament has been dissolved and they do not come into existence again until the day named in Her majesty’s summons. There are a number of statutory provisions which, in relation to the House of Commons and the House of Lords, maintain certain offices and functions during dissolution; however these do not maintain the ‘House of Commons’ or the ‘House of Lords’ as such. Because the specific public authorities set out in Schedule 1 of the Act do not exist during dissolution they have no duty to comply with FOIA requests during this time, and by extension there is no duty to comply with the timescale for response set out in the Act. While the entities subject to the FOIA did not technically exist during dissolution we did encourage both Houses to still be helpful to requestors.

As you are aware, in regard to FOIA request made within 20 working days of dissolution and those made during dissolution there were measures put in place to advise requestors of the affect of dissolution on the time for responding to their request. Requestors who made a request before Parliament was dissolved were advised that the time remaining on their request would resume on the day Parliament met. Requestors who have made a request while Parliament was dissolved were advised that the 20 working days would start when Parliament met.

From the link you provided in your email it is clear that you have now received responses from both the House of Commons and the House of Lords in regard to this matter. Because we do not consider that either House has a duty to respond to FOIA requests during dissolution we consider that both responses have been provided within the 20 working day timescale. In the case of the House of Commons the response was provided only a couple of days after Parliament met. For this reason we will not be taking your complaint any further.
Finally, we are not in a position to advise the House of Commons or the House of Lords in regard to ‘The Seven Principles of Public Life’. In regard to these we would suggest that you contact the Committee on Standards in Public Life, and more details can be found on their website using the following link:

http://www.public-standards.gov.uk/index.html.

I hope this information is helpful, and again we would like to apologise for the delay in responding to your correspondence. If we can be of any further assistance please contact our Helpline on 0303 123 1113 quoting your case reference number. You may also find some useful information on our website at www.ico.gov.uk.

Yours sincerely,

Trevor Craig

Lead Case Officer (Advice)

Information Commissioner’s Office
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I finally got a response from the House of Commons to my request for an internal review. The House in effect conceded that its original interpretation of the law was wrong and agreed to provide the information I had asked for. It seems strange to win an argument with a branch of the legislature on a point of law.

I did find out that the Clerk has been shopping at the Majestic Wine Warehouse, including (it would appear) purchasing 12 bottles of De Telmont Grande Reserve Champagne in January and 24 more in February.

I expect that the bottles were purchased for an event of some sort but it seems a bit excessive to be regularly buying Champagne at tax payers’ expense.

The House of Commons just does not seem to grasp “Freedom of Information”, they refused to provide me with copies of documents on the grounds they were not information despite an ICO Decision Notice that clearly indicates that this approach is wrong:

Paragraph 18 of the ICO Decision notice FS50076355 states that:

“Defra has advised the Commissioner that public authorities are
only required to release information, not documents. Consequently,
it believes that to provide a summary is adequate. The Commissioner
does not accept this view. The Act provides a right of access to
recorded information held by a public authority. This will normally
be fulfilled through access to existing documents or electronic
media, though in some cases the information can, or should, be
disclosed through other means. The Commissioner’s approach is
consistent with paragraph 6 of the Explanatory Notes to the Act
which states that the Act provides access to documents, or copies
of documents as well as to information.”

The House of Commons has now missed its own deadline for dealing with my complaint. Yes this is a rant and yes I am angry about this.

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/clerks_expenses#outgoing-19843

Francis Irving’s requests seems a fairly sensible use of the Freedom of Information Act.

“electronic copies of any documents produced by PICT discussing or evaluating the possible deployment of electronic petitioning systems in Parliament.”

So how did the House of Commons deal with it? was it:

[A] a prompt response with full disclosure.

[B] A clear refusal notice citing the relevant exemption.

[C] A long winded exercise in spending public money to keep information from the public? You have obviously asked them for information before

Find out here:

http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/online_petitions_documents_from

Get your MP to sign this Early Day Motion: EDM 1637 – Transparency in Lobbying

That this House notes the strong public cynicism about the influence of corporate lobbyists on British politics; further notes that individuals and organisations engaging in lobbying activities are able to do so effectively hidden from public scrutiny; remains concerned that lobbyists are not subject to levels of scrutiny similar to that which political parties and politicians have been subject since 2000; believes that greater transparency over the activities of lobbyists and their relations with hon. Members is needed to help restore trust in hon. Members and Parliament; and therefore calls for a mandatory register of individuals and organisations that are involved in lobbying hon. Members and civil servants and the introduction of an enforceable code of ethics for lobbying activities to ensure their transparency.”

103 MPs have already signed up.
You can write to your MP using http://www.writetothem.com/