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Lord Cope of Berkeley: This is an issue we must consider further with, in this case, the Law Society of Scotland which suggested the precise wording of Amendment No. 93. However, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 94 not moved.]

Clause 12, as amended, agreed to.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 95:


SPECIAL PROVISIONS RELATING TO PUBLIC RECORDS TRANSFERRED TO PUBLIC RECORD OFFICE, ETC

(" .--(1) Where--
(a) the appropriate records authority receives a request for information which relates to information which is, or if it existed would be, contained in a transferred public record, and
(b) either of the conditions in subsection (2) is satisfied in relation to any of that information,
that authority shall, within the period for complying with section 1(1), send a copy of the request to the responsible authority.
(2) The conditions referred to in subsection (1)(b) are--
(a) that the duty to confirm or deny is excluded only by a provision of Part II not specified in subsection (3) of section (Effect of exemptions), and
(b) that the information is exempt information only by virtue of a provision of Part II not specified in that subsection.

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(3) On receiving the copy, the responsible authority shall, within such time as is reasonable in all the circumstances, inform the appropriate records authority of the determination required by virtue of subsection (3) or (4) of section (Decisions relating to certain transferred public records).
(4) In this Act "transferred public record" means a public record which has been transferred--
(a) to the Public Record Office,
(b) to another place of deposit appointed by the Lord Chancellor under the Public Records Act 1958, or
(c) to the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.
(5) In this Act--
"appropriate records authority", in relation to a transferred public record, means--
(a) in a case falling within subsection (4)(a), the Public Record Office,
(b) in a case falling within subsection (4)(b), the Lord Chancellor, and
(c) in a case falling within subsection (4)(c), the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland;
"responsible authority", in relation to a transferred public record, means--
(a) in the case of a record transferred as mentioned in subsection (4)(a) or (b) from a government department in the charge of a Minister of the Crown, the Minister of the Crown who appears to the Lord Chancellor to be primarily concerned,
(b) in the case of a record transferred as mentioned in subsection (4)(a) or (b) from any other person, the person who appears to the Lord Chancellor to be primarily concerned,
(c) in the case of a record transferred to the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland from a government department in the charge of a Minister of the Crown, the Minister of the Crown who appears to the appropriate Northern Ireland Minister to be primarily concerned,
(d) in the case of a record transferred to the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland from a Northern Ireland department, the Northern Ireland Minister who appears to the appropriate Northern Ireland Minister to be primarily concerned, or
(e) in the case of a record transferred to the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland from any other person, the person who appears to the appropriate Northern Ireland Minister to be primarily concerned.").

The noble and learned Lord said: The amendments are intended to deal with the relationship between the Public Record Office and originating departments that handle requests under the Bill.

The Public Record Office and the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland are public authorities under the terms of the Bill, which therefore gives rights of access to all of the information that is held by those offices. It also recognises the 30-year rule by disapplying certain exemptions after 30 years. The amendments involve the relationship between the Public Record Office or the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland and the public authority from which the information that was placed in the relevant record office came. Clearly, departments and public authorities continue to have an interest in public records that they transfer to a record office, especially when the records have not been designated as open on transfer. The amendments are necessary to give the Bill maximum clarity in this context.

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Amendment No. 95 deals with the situation in which the appropriate records authority, such as the Public Record Office, receives a request for information that is contained or, if it existed, would be contained, in a transferred public record. When a non-absolute exemption applies, the appropriate records authority shall send a copy of the request to the responsible authority--that is, the public authority from which the documents or information originated--within the period for complying with Clause 11. After that, the responsible authority shall apply to the appropriate records authority within a reasonable time giving its decision about the public interest test and confirming or denying the information as held. That should be done in relation to disclosure under the requirements of subsections (3) and (4).

Amendment No. 333 will apply to information that is contained in a transferred public record that has been designated as closed by the responsible authority. In that situation, the requirement is that before a decision is made about whether an exemption applies, the originating public authority must be consulted. If a non-absolute exemption applies, it is, as with Amendment No. 95, for the original public authority to decide whether the public interest requires disclosure.

Subsection (5) of the amendment will require that the responsible authority--that is, the authority that sent the matter to the record office in the first place--must consult the Lord Chancellor before determining that the public interest does not require disclosure. That provision reflects the Lord Chancellor's role in relation to public records and it works as a further guarantee of openness.

Amendment No. 105 clarifies the minutiae of the way in which the clause will work and seeks to ensure that it fits with other amendments concerning public records. It does not represent a change in policy.

Amendment No. 316 will allow responsible authorities that have decided that there should not have been disclosure but which have been overturned by the information commissioner to appeal against the conclusion of the information commissioner. That is because those bodies have an interest in resisting the conclusion of the information commissioner.

The amendments make redundant Clause 65, as it is currently drafted. I hereby formally give notice that I shall oppose the continuation of that provision in the Bill.

Amendments Nos. 357, 362, 363 and 364 provide definitions for the various authorities concerned, and Amendment No. 330 is consequential on the amendments that will restructure the right of access. I beg to move.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I seek clarification on two matters. First, paragraph 6.7 of the White Paper stated:


    "So far as criteria for withholding documents for longer than 30 years was concerned, the over-riding presumption would be that all records preserved for historical reasons would be made available to the public at 30 years".

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It went on to explain that the 1993 White Paper on open government laid down the strictly defined criteria that must be met if information is to be withheld from the public for longer than 30 years. The Government continued:


    "As part of our general approach to giving access rights a statutory basis, we propose to incorporate these criteria into statute so that they have the same status as the tests governing access to current information".

My first question is whether that is reflected in the Bill. I do not ask for an answer at this hour this evening, but I am concerned that the overriding presumption should be, as the White Paper promised, that nothing beyond the 30-year rule should normally apply and that the split criteria of the Bill will apply in this case.

My second point is about timing. The Lord Chancellor's draft code has helpfully been placed in the Library. On themanagement of records under freedom of information, paragraph 11.3 in part 2 says:


    "In reviewing records for public release, authorities should ensure that public records become available to the public at the earliest possible time in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000".

It does not say within a reasonable time in all the circumstances but at the earliest possible time. Again, I do not expect an answer this evening but we may have to return to the issue. We need to be satisfied that there will be a speedy requirement in this area, which mainly affects historians and others concerned with historical documents.

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If the Minister does not have an immediate answer, I should be most grateful if he would reflect on those two issues: the strictness of the criteria and the timing.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I shall reflect on those issues. I can tell the noble Lord what I think the answer is, subject to checking. The amendments do not relate to the historical exemption, if that is the right word. That is dealt with in Clause 62, which removes a huge number of exemptions from non-disclosure as a result of the material concerned being a historical record that satisfies the 30-year rule. I do not know whether that satisfies the noble Lord. I shall certainly reflect on whether it complies with what the White Paper said, but I think that it does.

The noble Lord referred to paragraph 11.3 of the code of practice on the review and transfer of public records, which says:


    "In reviewing records for public release, authorities should ensure that public records become available to the public at the earliest possible time in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000".

That refers to the age of the records, encouraging release before the expiry of the 30 years. It does not deal with time limits within the freedom of information regime. I hope that that clarifies matters.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 13 [Disclosure in public interest]:

[Amendment No. 96 not moved.]


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