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Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

6.1 p.m.

Schedule 1 [Public authorities]:

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 8:


The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, Schedule 1 lists "public authorities" for the purposes of the Bill. The purpose of these amendments is to ensure that the list is as up to date and accurate as possible.

Amendments Nos. 8 to 14 are technical amendments which maintain the accuracy of Schedule 1 to the Bill by ensuring that the schedule includes

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entries for bodies recently established. Provision is made in Clauses 4 and 7 for further necessary changes to the schedule to continue to be made once the Bill has been enacted. I beg to move.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I was not aware that English Nature had been recently established. Why does it make a sudden appearance in the Bill?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the reason is that the Countryside Bill will re-name the Nature Conservancy Council for England as English Nature. Amendment No. 10 inserts a reference to "English Nature" and Amendment No. 13 removes a reference to the Nature Conservancy Council for England.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendments Nos. 9 to 14:


    Page 52, line 16, at end insert--


("The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service.").
Page 53, line 33, at end insert--


("English Nature.").
Page 54, line 30, at end insert--


("The House of Lords Appointments Commission.").
Page 55, line 10, at end insert--


("A local probation board established under section 4 of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000.").
Page 55, leave out line 47.


    Page 58, line 47, at end insert--


("The consultative Civic Forum referred to in section 56(4) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 7 [Public authorities to which Act has limited application]:

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 15:


    Page 5, line 10, leave out paragraph (a).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Clause 7 gives the Secretary of State some order-making powers. Under the current subsection (3)(a) the Secretary of State has the power to place limitations on the information held by a public body which would be subject to disclosure in accordance with the Bill.

While I understand that some known arbitrary alternations of limitations might be desirable under certain circumstances, and given that the material abuse of Clause 7 would undermine the entire principle of the Bill, I would prefer to see the revision of existing limitations rather than the creation of new ones. In other words, I approve of subsection (3)(b), which would remove or amend existing limitations but I do not like subsection (3)(a) which gives the Secretary of State the power to create new ones. My amendment would do what I suggest.

The Government responded to our concerns expressed in another place by putting forward a proposal for an affirmative resolution and we welcome that. However, some important questions remain

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unanswered. For example, we would be grateful if the Minister would indicate the kind of information which might be exposed to limitation and whether the limitation would be applied on a departmental basis or by some other means.

It would be helpful if the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, could tell the House what the Government mean by that, what their intentions are and give examples. Perhaps he will persuade me that this is not merely a piece of gold-plating for no apparent reason. As I understand the Bill, all information held by a public body would already be subject to the tests for exemption as laid out in the Bill. However, I am perplexed as to the need for what I consider to be a superfluous piece of legislation.

Despite all the warm words which the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, gave me in Committee, the existence, which I accept, of an affirmative resolution does not address the essential point; that is, the use to which the Secretary of State might put such a power. If the noble Lord believes that the power is so vital, can he give the House a scenario in which the Secretary of State might use the power. If he cannot, I do not believe that it should exist. I beg to move.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his question. The power to amend the entries in Schedule 1 so as to limit them to specific types of information is necessary in order to ensure that the bodies listed at Schedule 1 are covered by the Freedom of Information Act only in respect of those activities which should properly be the subject of the obligations in the Bill. It is not the Government's to apply the Bill to information held for purposes in respect of which it would be inappropriate and damaging to apply freedom of information principles. Journalistic information held by public sector broadcasters or private banking information held by the Bank of England are two current examples of such information.

Where we have identified information which needs to be protected in this way, we have amended the entry in Schedule 1 accordingly. However, we cannot be certain that any of the bodies listed may not change their functions in the future. For that reason, we need to make provision for a power to amend the entry if this should be deemed necessary. To that extent, Clause 7(3) is a just-in-case provision.

The noble Lord asked for an example, hypothetical or otherwise, and I am happy to try to provide one. The entry in Schedule 1 relating to the Bank of England is already limited to certain information. Should the Bank decide to add, say, an insurance provision to the services it provides to its private customers, that private activity which would relate to private customers would be brought within the scope

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of the Freedom of Information Act, unless an order was made to limit the entry in Schedule 1 specifically to exclude it.

That is why the power in Clause 7(3) is necessary. I hope that the noble Lord will accept the example I have given and feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, the noble Lord is always grateful for the question and in this case I am reasonably grateful for the answer. He set out a clear scenario and I hope that if the Secretary of State decides to go a good deal further a clever lawyer will be able to prevent him by using the courts and quoting what the noble Lord said and the example he gave. I am pleased to beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 16:


    Page 5, line 40, at end insert--


("( ) In this section "publicly-owned company" has the meaning given by section 6.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, these are technical amendments. Amendment No. 16 clarifies the term "publicly-owned company" in Clause 7 so as to have the same definition as in Clause 6. Amendment No. 66 removes a reference to order-making powers which no longer apply. The powers referred to were previously contained in Clause 52 but amendments made in Committee mean that the reference is no longer necessary. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 8 [Request for information]:

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 17:


    Page 6, line 6, at end insert--


("( ) For the purposes of subsection (1)(b)--
(a) the name of the applicant may be any name by which that applicant wishes to be known, and
(b) the address for correspondence may be an address suitable only for the receipt of electronic communications.").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 17 is also a genuinely technical amendment which rectifies an omission by the draftsman who has provided in subsection (2) of Clause 8 for the application of electronic conventions to subsection (1)(a), which says "is in writing", but has failed to provide for the application of electronic conventions to (1)(b), which requires a name and address for correspondence. There is no indication that that can be an electronic name, such as [email protected] or an electronic address, which is much the same thing. I hope that the noble Lord will say that the Internet age has dawned for both subsection (8)(b) and subsection (8)(a). I beg to move.

Lord Bach: My Lords, the Internet age has dawned. The Freedom of Information Bill makes provision for an application to be purpose blind. It requires that an applicant must apply in writing, which includes any electronic application, and provide an address. These are commonsense provisions which are necessary to

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ensure that a public authority can carry out its statutory duty to communicate information to that applicant. The Bill assumes that an applicant will wish to give his real name, but nothing requires him or her to do so or to use any particular name. He can call himself Father Christmas, or even Ralph Lucas, if he desires. In any event, the name is not relevant, as long as the information provided is sufficient to identify the applicant for the purpose of communicating information. We believe, therefore, that the first amendment is unnecessary.

However, as drafted, paragraph (b) of the amendment appears to be intended to override the provisions of Clause 11 where an applicant provides only an electronic address to which information can be communicated. Clause 11 provides that an authority is under a duty to communicate information in the applicant's preferred format where it is reasonably practicable to do so. That is sensible and proportionate. A balance must be struck between public authorities being under an obligation to provide information to an applicant and the need to make sure that inappropriate amounts of both time and resources are not expended on each potential application.

We believe that, if passed, the noble Lord's amendment would mean that a public authority would be required to provide an applicant with information in electronic format regardless of the cost or other resource implications if the applicant declined to provide any alternative address for communicating that information. For example, it would mean that information contained in records which had always, or until relatively recently, been kept in written form--perhaps several hundred pages--would have to be converted if requested. The implications for public authorities such as GPs could be huge and, we believe, damaging if they had to divert time and resources from their main purpose in order to meet those demands. For those reasons, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.


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