Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I said "kept up to date". I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendments Nos. 31 to 55:



(" . The London Transport Users Committee.").


    Page 46, line 11, at end insert--


(" . A Community Health Council established under section 20 of the National Health Service Act 1977.").


    Page 47, leave out lines 4 to 23 and insert--


    (" . The governing body of a maintained school, within the meaning of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998.
    .--(1) The governing body of--
    (a) an institution within the further education sector,
    (b) a university receiving financial support under section 65 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992,
    (c) an institution conducted by a higher education corporation,
    (d) a designated institution for the purposes of Part II of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 as defined by section 72(3) of that Act, or
    (e) any college, school, hall or other institution of a university which falls within paragraph (b).
    (2) In sub-paragraph (1)--
    (a) "governing body" is to be interpreted in accordance with subsection (1) of section 90 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 but without regard to subsection (2) of that section,
    (b) in paragraph (a), the reference to an institution within the further education sector is to be construed in accordance with section 91(3) of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992,
    (c) in paragraph (c), "higher education corporation" has the meaning given by section 90(1) of that Act, and

17 Oct 2000 : Column 949


    (d) in paragraph (e) "college" includes any institution in the nature of a college.").


    Page 47, leave out lines 25 to 36 and insert--


(" .--(1) The managers of--
(a) a controlled school, voluntary school or grant-maintained integrated school within the meaning of Article 2(2) of the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1986, or
(b) a pupil referral unit as defined by Article 87(1) of the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1998.
(2) In sub-paragraph (1) "managers" has the meaning given by Article 2(2) of the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1986.
.--(1) The governing body of--
(a) a university receiving financial support under Article 30 of the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1993,
(b) a college of education maintained in pursuance of arrangements under Article 66(1) or in respect of which grants are paid under Article 66(2) or (3) of the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1986, or
(c) an institution of further education within the meaning of the Further Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1997.
(2) In sub-paragraph (1) "governing body" has the meaning given by Article 30(3) of the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1993.
.--(1) Any person providing further education to whom grants, loans or other payments are made under Article 5(1)(b) of the Further Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1997.").

48, line 9, leave out paragraph 73.


    Page 48, line 34, at end insert--


("The Advisory Committee on Consumer Products and the Environment.").


    Page 49, leave out line 9.


    Page 49, line 15, at end insert--


("The Airborne Particles Expert Group.").


    Page 50, leave out line 7.


    Page 50, line 23, at end insert--


("The Commission for the New Towns.").


    Page 50, leave out line 43.


    Page 51, line 2, at end insert--


("The Council for Professions Supplementary to Medicine.").


    Page 51, leave out line 33.


    Page 51, line 48, at end insert--


("The General Chiropractic Council.
The General Dental Council.
The General Medical Council.
The General Osteopathic Council.").


    Page 52, line 1, leave out ("Fund").


    Page 52, line 38, at end insert--


("The Insurance Brokers Registration Council.").


    Page 53, leave out line 4.


    Page 53, leave out line 18.


    Page 54, leave out line 18.


    Page 54, line 21, leave out ("Relations").


    Page 54, line 33, at end insert--


("Resource: The Council for Museums, Libraries and Archives.").


    Page 55, line 38, at end insert--


("The United Kingdom Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting.").

17 Oct 2000 : Column 950


    Page 56, line 36, at end insert--


("The Civil Service Commissioners for Northern Ireland.").


    Page 57, line 28, at end insert--


("The Northern Ireland Civil Service Appeal Board.").


    Page 58, line 5, at end insert--


("The social fund Commissioner appointed under Article 37 of the Social Security (Northern Ireland) Order 1998.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 1, as amended, agreed to.

7.15 p.m.

Clause 3 [Amendment of Schedule 1]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 56:


    Page 2, line 27, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 60, 64 and 65. Amendment No. 56 seeks to alter the word "may" to "shall". As we discussed in connection with the previous group of amendments, changes will undoubtedly be required to Schedule 1. In those circumstances, it is important that the Secretary of State should not merely have the option at his discretion to alter the list but should be under an obligation to alter the list. If it turns out that there is an error in the list, or a development takes place and a body is not added to the list for the time being, an individual seeking information may find that he is frustrated by the fact that the Secretary of State has not done so. If the Secretary of State is under an obligation, it is more likely to happen.

Amendment No. 64 relates to the same power in Clause 4. The amendment seeks to make it a duty on the Secretary of State rather than an option to add any necessary bodies that come along. Amendment No. 65 seeks to make it a requirement that the Secretary of State should consult the commissioner and should allow not less than 20 working days for people to respond to such consultation. The Secretary of State is already under a duty to consult people to whom the order relates. As the Bill stands, the bodies have an infinite amount of time in which to respond and can delay doing so if they do not wish to fall foul of these provisions or to be enmeshed in these provisions too quickly. The 20 working days apply mainly to them. It would be an advantage if the commissioner were also consulted at the same time as the people to whom the order relates.

Amendment No. 60 gives the Secretary of State the duty rather than the discretion to remove bodies when they have ceased to exist. The list is long enough. We do not want it cluttered up with bodies that should not be on it. We think that the Secretary of State should have a duty to do that and to keep the list up to date. I beg to move.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Amendments Nos. 56 and 60 would have the effect of removing the Secretary of State's discretion in respect of making orders bringing bodies within the remit of the Bill. If they satisfied the criteria, they would have to be brought in. If we were to accept the amendments it would mean

17 Oct 2000 : Column 951

that the Secretary of State would have to include in Schedule 1 bodies such as the security and intelligence agencies, even though it has been a matter of common agreement between the parties that it is necessary to exempt all information held by these agencies from the scope of the Bill in order to preserve their ability to carry out their duties effectively in the interests of the nation.

The amendments could also lead to administrative nonsense. They take no account of the life-span of any body. it is possible that a body may come into being, perform its functions and be almost at the point of completing its task before the Secretary of State has had a chance to make an order. Nevertheless, under these amendments he would have to make an order which would have the effect of bringing the body within the scope of the Bill for only a very short period before it was wound up. Although it is a point to which I shall return later, I should perhaps note that under Amendment No. 64 the Secretary of State would then be under a duty to make a further order removing the entry in respect of that body from the list in Schedule 1.

I want to be clear about the Government's intentions in respect of coverage under the Bill. We have produced a Bill which provides rights of access to information held by an astonishingly wide range of public sector bodies. It is right that the public should have that access. It is our intention that the normal and proper course of action would be that, whenever the Secretary of State becomes aware of the creation of a new public authority, he should seek to ensure that it is brought in as quickly as he reasonably can. In some cases that would be achieved through the primary legislation setting up the new body. In other cases there will be no need to take action because it will be covered by one of the generic descriptions in Parts I to V of Schedule 1. In some instances the Secretary of State would need to use the order-making powers in Clauses 3 and 4, but as the lists in Parts VI and VII of Schedule 1 show, many of the bodies which might be brought in under the order-making power of Clause 3 may be relatively or absolutely small bodies and offices. Many others which will fall to be considered under the Clause 3 powers may be working groups or task forces set up with a limited lifespan or having no real independent character from their parent or sponsoring department. Comparable considerations are likely to apply in the exercise of the Clause 4 powers.

We believe it is sensible that in those circumstances the Secretary of State should have some discretion to consider the full facts and implications of listing for FoI purposes before proceeding to make an order--not so that information can be withheld from the public, because in almost every case it is likely that the information will be available from another authority, but because it would be irresponsible to designate all those meeting the broad criteria as public authorities without regard to other relevant considerations.

These amendments could impact dispro- portionately in particular on those authorities which are to be brought within the scope of the order-making power in Clause 4. The criteria under Clause 4 are

17 Oct 2000 : Column 952

relatively broadly drawn and have at the margins some areas for debate as to whether a body is performing public functions. A statutary requirement to include all bodies ultimately held by a court to fulfil the criteria could well lead to the Bill's coverage extending far into what would generally be regarded as purely private areas. A discretion on the part of the Secretary of State would avoid that risk.

Furthermore, the amendment would effectively negate the requirement at Clause 4(3), which requires the Secretary of State to consult any person in respect of whom he proposes to make an order. These amendments would require the Secretary of State to make the order irrespective of the outcome of the consultation. That would be an obvious nonsense.

Amendment No. 64 would require the Secretary of State by order, to remove the entry in Part VI or Part VII of Schedule 1 which relates to any body which no longer meets the criteria to be designated as a public authority by virtue of the conditions set out in Clause 3. I can understand that this amendment would be argued as complementary to those we have just looked at and in effect no more than a reassurance that the lists at Schedule 1 would all be kept up to date and that no body would be inappropriately required to fulfil the duties of a designated public authority for the purposes of this Bill.

The order-making power in Clause 3(5) is necessary so that the lists may be routinely updated to remove dead wood: that is, bodies which no longer exist or no longer meet the necessary criteria for listing as public authorities. However, in truth this amendment adds nothing to that purpose. No amendment is required to ensure that such dead wood is removed in order to be satisfied that the scope of the Bill is not exceeded because of a public authority's changing circumstances. The Bill already achieves exactly that form of housekeeping.

Clause 3(4) ensures that Parts VI and VII are self-regulating by providing that a body or office ceases to be a public authority by virtue of its inclusion in the schedule if it ceases to satisfy the conditions in subsections (2) or (3) of that clause. Therefore it is quite unnecessary to provide a relevant duty for the Secretary of State. The Government recognise the importance of ensuring the widest possible coverage of public service functions within this Bill, but placing inflexible duties on the Secretary of State in the way these amendments propose would be wrong. I would urge the noble Lord to withdraw these three amendments.

If I may now turn to Amendment No. 65, it would have the effect of requiring the Secretary of State to consult the commissioner in every case before making an order under Clause 4. I can understand the noble Lord's concern to ensure that Ministers make a decision to designate a person or body under the powers in Clause 4 only after the most careful consideration. However, I wonder just how the noble Lord could conclude that placing a duty on the Secretary of State to consult the commissioner in each and every case would assist in delivering that outcome.

17 Oct 2000 : Column 953

It may be that in some cases the commissioner has detailed knowledge of the kinds of information which a body holds and will have taken a view as to whether and to what extent that body ought properly to be considered to be exercising functions of a public nature. In such circumstances I accept there would be value in consulting her but in many instances there is no reason to believe that the commissioner will have any knowledge of the relevant circumstances. In other cases there might, and would, be no dispute as to whether the body should be designated for FoI purposes and therefore little would be gained by imposing an obligation to consult where the result is obvious and the information commissioner may have nothing to add.

I cannot see what is gained by quoting this duty. That does not mean that the Secretary of State ought never to consult the commissioner. I have set out circumstances in which that might be sensible but an across-the-board duty does not look at all sensible.

I turn now to the second part of the amendment which would introduce a requirement to allow 20 working days for any response to the statutory consultation required by Clause 4(3) before any order to designate a public authority can be made. I understand the noble Lord's concern not to see organisations bounced into responding to a consultation, but I can assure him that the Government have no desire unnecessarily to increase the burden on private sector organisations and that we shall not do so in this respect either.

As your Lordships will be aware, government guidelines already provide that a reasonable period shall be allowed for responses to any public consultation exercise. Of course we will need to be flexible in how we apply these guidelines, but as a general principle we shall look to ensure that the normal guidelines of a minimum eight weeks' response timetable are followed for consultations in respect of any proposal to make an order under Clause 4 of the Bill. I would suggest that is a more appropriate way of dealing with a particular problem and the question of representations than setting out a statutary timetable. I would therefore urge noble Lords to withdraw their amendments.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page