Recently CFOI compared the position of the three main parties on Freedom of Information based on there manifestoes.

I wanted to find out about some of the other parties’ policies, UKIP have replied today:

“…Thank you for your email, which has been passed on to me as a member of the UKIP policy team.

UKIP supports the right for the British people to find out more from government about how decisions are made, information the government keeps on government business and where the government spends our money. The Freedom of Information Act is an invaluable tool to empower the British people.

Best wishes, …”

MY EMAIL TO ICO

Dear ICO
I am writing to complain about the general approach taken by public
officials to those requests addressed to the House of Commons and the
House of Lords to:

(a) requests received prior to dissolution but not yet answered; and
(b) requests received during dissolution.

I am also complaining specifically about the approach taken to a
request I made myself. [6]

I fully accept that Parliament has been dissolved however there are a
number of other factors the Information Commissioner should consider
in dealing with this complaint. I am sure you will appreciate that
a general election is a time of increased awareness of politics and
that it is very damaging for democracy if questionable technicalities
are used to avoid disclosing information to the public.

The standard response being used by officials is [1][2][6]:

“When Parliament has been dissolved there is no ‘House of Commons[or
Lords]’ for the purposes of Part 1 of Schedule 1 to the 2000 Act, and
there is therefore no ‘public authority’ to which the 20 day deadline
under section 10 of the 2000 Act is capable of applying. The time
limits do not, therefore, apply during the period of Dissolution.

The effect of the 2000 Act, including its time limits, resumes when
the new House of Commons/Lords first meets. “

(1) Under Section 10 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (‘the
Act’) public authorities must reply to requests “promptly”. If the
House of Commons considered that it would cease to be a public
authority on dissolution it ought to have interpreted the word
“promptly” in that context. This would mean applying significant
additional resources to ensuring as many requests as possible were
dealt with prior to dissolution. I have not seen any evidence of
this.

(2) Requests for information that could include environmental
information [e.g. requests for copies of internal newsletters] should
of course be considered with reference to the Environmental
Information Regulations 2004 (“EIR”). EIR would apply to the House of
Commons Commission which exists even during the period of
dissolution[3]. EIR would also apply to the the Corporate Officer of
the House of Commons and the Corporate Officer of the House of Lords
(corporations with perpetual succession established by the
Parliamentary Corporate Bodies Act 1992. Requests received by
officials during dissolution cannot be received by those officials in
their capacity as agents of a public authority that does not exist so
arguably the requests for information are requests received by one of
the corporate bodies which continue to exist during dissolution.

(3) UK law includes explicit time extensions for schools recognising
the difficult of responding during school holidays legislators would
have made explicit provision for a time extension during the
dissolution period had this been their intention.

(4) The Freedom of Information Act 2000 was clearly intended to
provide a general and uninterrupted right of access to documents held
by public officials and public bodies an section 3(2)(b) of the Act
states that a public authority is deemed to hold information if the
information “is held by another person on behalf of the authority.”
This adds further weight to the argument that Parliament’s records and
documents should remain accessible regardless of which legal body has
control of them at any given time.

(5) According to the dissolution guidance published on the Parliament
website: “The House of Commons Information Office’s services for the
public will operate as usual. [during the dissolution period]” [4]
This statement seems at odds with what is actually happening.

(6) Section 77 of the Act is clearly intended to prevent public
officials from destroying records to avoid disclosure under the Act.
[5] If the House of Commons really ceases to exist as a public
authority during the dissolution period for the purposes of the Act
then officials would be able to destroy records “with the intention of
preventing the disclosure” without committing a offence under that
section. It seems very unlikely that this would be what the
legislators intended.

(7) (a) According to the Parliament website: “Members of the House of
Lords are appointed – not elected – so during dissolution they remain
Members.” this suggests that perhaps the House of Lords does exist
during dissolution.[8]

(7) (b) According to the Parliament website: “When Parliament is
dissolved every seat in the House of Commons becomes vacant.” this
suggests that perhaps the House of Commons does exist in some form
after dissolution as it refers to the seats being vacate rather than
the seats ceasing to exist but this may just be a poor choice of
wording.[8]

(8) My person view is that the best way to interpret the law is that
the officials of the Palace of Westminster are required to continue to
respond to requests under the Act during the period of dissolution.

(9) Even if the ICO has no legal powers to intervene in this matter
please can you at least write to the relevant officials and remind
them of “The Seven Principles of Public Life” in particular:

“Accountability
Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and
actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny
is appropriate to their office.” [7]

and

“Openness
Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the
decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for
their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public
interest clearly demands.” [7]

Notes appear at the foot of this email. Thank you for your time and
consideration in this matter

John

———————-

John Cross

[1] http://www.mysociety.org/2010/04/13/parliament-foi-delay-dissolved/
[2] http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/newsletters#incoming-79897
[3] “On a dissolution of Parliament the person who is then Mr. Speaker
shall continue in office as a member of the Commission until a Speaker
is chosen by the new Parliament.” Schedule 1 3(1) of the House of
Commons (Administration) Act 1978
[4]http://www.parliament.uk/documents/upload/dissolutionarrangements.pdf
[5] “any person to whom this subsection applies is guilty of an
offence if he alters, defaces, blocks, erases, destroys or conceals
any record held by the public authority, with the intention of
preventing the disclosure by that authority of all, or any part, of
the information to the communication of which the applicant would have
been entitled.” Section 77 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000
[6] A request I made – http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/crowned_portcullis
[7] http://www.public-standards.gov.uk/About/The_7_Principles.html
[8] http://news.parliament.uk/2010/04/dissolution-of-parliament-12-april-2010/


John Cross