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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The clause is drawn in this way because the circumstances in which it will be necessary for the Cabinet, in effect, to override the information commissioner are not predictable from where we stand at present; in other words, there will not always be national security and police issues. Therefore, having identified the need in the extreme cases for the override, it would then be wrong to restrict it.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: Although the hour is somewhat late, this has been one of the most important debates of the Committee stage. I am glad to say that the Minister made his case without resorting to the charge that the provisions were undemocratic, which caused such scorn during the course of the debate. We have also heard some extremely authoritative speeches from other speakers from all sides of the Committee--all of them against the Government's propositions. However, the clause is being substantially rewritten; indeed, the Minister just described a whole raft of amendments. We shall all have the opportunity, between now and Report stage, to study the re-written texts. As far as I am concerned that will make it much easier to follow exactly how far we have got, because the legislation has become somewhat confusing.
The debate has also been interesting for another reason. This is the first suggestion that I recall for quite some time that the present Cabinet actually discusses matters collectively. The information that we have received during recent months suggested that Cabinet meetings were extremely brief and that they simply waft things through. But now we are told that these matters at least will be discussed round the Cabinet table on each occasion, before the dreaded veto is applied. As I said, we have had a most interesting debate and we shall have a good opportunity to study the legislation more carefully between now and the Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
The last of this rather disparate collection is Amendment No. 271, which states that a decision notice should be issued promptly. This comes back to time limits, which we have discussed before. If there are too many places in the Bill where there are no time limits set, either in the Bill or in any other form, we risk encouraging public authorities to play a game of spinning out time. If that were allowed to happen, the whole Bill would fall into disrepute. I beg to move.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Amendment No. 262 is based upon the proposition that separate rights of access to historical information are contained in Part VI. I do not think that that is right. All rights of access to information are contained in Part I. It is therefore not necessary to add a reference to Part VI in subsection (1) of Clause 49. Part VI merely modifies the rights in part I in certain circumstances. The right provided by the Bill applies to information in a historical record as much as to any other information, and the commissioner's powers are the same. I hope that that satisfies the noble Lord that the amendment is unnecessary.
Similarly, I believe that the noble Lord may have misunderstood Clause 49. That already provides that a complainant may apply for a decision from the commissioner about an authority's compliance with Part I of the Bill in respect of a request for information. That would cover the case where the authority was relying on a claim that Clause 11 applied to justify non-compliance with the request. Clause 11 is not referred to in Clause 49(4)(b) simply because there are no requirements in Clause 11 to which the notice could relate. That does not affect the basic position which I have set out. I hope that I have demonstrated that that amendment is equally unnecessary.
As regards Amendment No. 271, it would be impractical to impose an arbitrary time limit on the commissioner when, clearly, applications under Clause 49 will vary considerably in their complexity and therefore the length of time required to make a thorough investigation. The amendment states:
("(1) This section applies to a decision notice or enforcement notice which--
(a) is served on--
(i) a government department,
(ii) the National Assembly for Wales, or
(iii) any public authority designated for the purposes of this section by an order made by the Secretary of State, and
(b) relates to a failure, in respect of one or more requests for information--
(i) to comply with section 1(1)(a) in respect of information as respects which any provision of Part II provides that the duty to confirm or deny does not arise, or
(ii) to comply with section 1(1)(b) in respect of exempt information.
(1A) A decision notice or enforcement notice to which this section applies").
Page 29, line 22, leave out ("day on which the notice was given to the public authority") and insert ("effective date").
Page 29, line 25, leave out from ("that") to end of line 26 and insert ("in respect of the request or requests concerned, there was no failure falling within subsection (1)(b).").
On Question, amendment agreed to.