Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20
WEDNESDAY 25 APRIL 2001
20. Are those bodies looking at publication
schemes at the moment or are they waiting for you?
(Mrs France) Some of them are very keen. We are not
short of volunteers for the pilot scheme which is encouraging.
People are phoning up to volunteer all the time. We have had one
small workshop in our Office, of people who were keen to be in
the first flush of activity. We have various representative bodies
out there beginning work already: the Association of Chief Police
Officers for example have a meeting involving some of my staff
next week; the Local Government Association also have begun work.
Interestingly we have just come from a one-day conference where
we heard that central government are putting in place structures
to make sure that they get their programme sorted out and begin
to get their internal structures organised. People are moving
ahead and what we are trying to do is keep in touch without stunting
the enthusiasm of those who are ready to go, but try to focus
on our timescale so that we are ready to take on those first wave
bodies when the law fully bites.
21. Are you involved at all in the work that
the Performance and Innovation Unit is doing, for example, on
(Mrs France) Yes, I am. The privacy and data sharing
project is just coming to an end. I seconded one of my Assistant
Commissioners to work on the project two days a week for its duration
and I am on the advisory group to the project. The report is now
in its draft form, so I would expect that to be published shortly.
That is focusing on the approach of central government to the
important reconciliation of data sharing and privacy as twin goals
which are both important in taking government work forward.
22. So that helps in the modernising government
(Mrs France) Yes, very much in the modernising government
23. One of the issues which has happened since
the Freedom of Information Act is that technology has changed.
We have had quite a number of discussions in this Committee about
the Knowledge Network, for example. How are you going about tackling
issues of changes like that?
(Mrs France) Clearly, wearing my data protection hat,
I have had to keep very closely in touch with developments in
new technology both in the public and the private sector. We do
have links in with those who are making developments of one kind
or another. The Knowledge Network itself, as I understand it,
is really a way of sharing published information, speeches and
press statements and so on, so it does not really raise any data
protection concerns for me, but could be a good vehicle when we
are talking about the form of publication schemes; it could be
an element of the way that departments are regularly able to share
and make information available. What we have to have are good
links into various parts of the public and the private sector
because of my joint responsibilities. The key from my point of
viewand something we have encouraged strongly and I am
pleased to see is coming out also of central government reports
of one kind or anotheris that you need somebody to own
the responsibility for information issues at a senior level in
public authorities so that there is somebody there we can interface
with and somebody who is having a look at how these different
initiatives fit together.
24. I am interested that you have had people
knocking at the door wanting to be pilot schemes. Is there a pattern
to what kind of organisation is doing that? Is that across the
board or is there a particular type of organisation which is especially
keen to be in these early waves?
(Mrs France) They will be bodies who have had some
involvement with access regimes. We have not had any from what
the Ombudsman called the periphery. They have mainly been people
you expect to be in the first wave.
25. Such as?
(Mrs France) Central government departments, NDPBs,
local government; the police have been very keen. The Welsh Assembly
have been very keen and have put forward papers to us.
26. Have you had resistance then? Presumably
in terms of pilot schemes you want to get a broad range and a
feel for different agencies. Have you found it quite hard?
(Mrs France) At the moment resistance is not an issue.
I only want to run with about six pilot schemes, because I want
to have results within three months. At the moment it is a matter
of choosing from those who volunteered rather than looking to
27. This is an enormous undertaking. You mentioned
the fact that you need to get up to 35 staff, or you now are up
to 35 staff.
(Mrs France) I shall be recruiting specifically for
FOI during the financial year 2001-02 an additional 35 staff.
28. How many do you have currently?
(Mrs France) I have about 120 staff for data protection.
The figures we are working to allow us to move up to somewhere
between 270 and 300 staff by 2005, which is the date of full implementation
of the FOI Act.
29. What kind of annual budget have you been
(Mrs France) My annual budget has obviously changed
dramatically. For 2000-01, which is the year just finished, I
had a budget for data protection of about £4.8 million and
for that year I only had a small amount for freedom of information
because I did not have the vires; I had under £0.5 million
for the very end of the financial year. For the year just begun
I have £2 million for freedom of information and just over
£5 million for data protection. In addition to that I have
been successful in securing a capital modernisation budget of
£5 million over two years to make sure that I can meet the
Government's modernising targets at the same time as taking on
30. By 2005 when you are up and running with
300 staff, what do you think your annual budget will be then?
(Mrs France) It is difficult for me to predict that
far ahead. Obviously any budgets that I have talked about with
my sponsor department beyond 2001-02 are only speculative. I certainly
expect it to go up quite substantially in 2002-03, because I shall
need to take on accommodation. I expect it to be in the order
of about £11 million in that year, but then to drop back
down a little bit after that year following that necessary investment.
I should have thought it would probably settle at about that level
to cope with 300 staff, but that is something we need to discuss
as we go on into the period of bidding for those resources. At
the moment I can only say that for the current year I have just
over £7 million and in addition the capital modernisation
grant, and significantly more next year.
31. You mentioned earlier on that you expect
that as it gets towards 2005, when you get down to the levels
of GP practices and things like that, that this could get quite
complex and tricky. Remind me, though I should probably know,
do you have a duty to advise and help and assist with those organisations?
What kind of advice are you giving them and planning to give to
(Mrs France) They will have to be just a little bit
out of my central vision for the moment. What I am doing in the
way that we are currently intending to structure the officethough
of course this could be reviewed during the five-year period,
but the way we are starting offis that I shall keep a fairly
small policy team developing our work on FOI. What I intend to
do to make maximum use of the fact that we already have contacts
with all these bodies for data protection, is to grow the sector
teams we already have so that if you are a GP representative who
is used to phoning the compliance manager in my Office for data
protection concerns or issues, then that same person will deal
with FOI as well. We will need to train our staff gradually so
that they can all deal with queries on both Acts. It should not
be forgotten that although I am saying that FOI is very broad
and probably one of the broadest regimes we have looked at for
FOI in terms of the bodies covered, I do cover an even wider range
for data protection, so I am used to dealing with small organisations.
That is not to say that I could assure you they were all fully
complying with their statutory obligations. However, we do have
some mechanisms in place which clearly we could hone and improve
for making contact, usually through representative bodies with
those who will need to comply.
32. What is the mechanism for you reporting
to Parliament on progress as we move up towards 2005 and beyond
(Mrs France) I have a statutory duty to lay my report
before Parliament annually. I can also make reports at any time
and I am sure you will call me to talk to you whenever you think
33. Just on that, we have had the advantage
of having the Ombudsman report to us on a periodic basis. You
have not had an equivalent regime with your data protection hat
on. You are going to report to Parliament as Information Commissioner.
We should quite like to nab you really. Would you like to report
(Mrs France) When you say I have not had an equivalent
regime, technically I have always considered that I reported wearing
my data protection hat to the Home Affairs Committee.
34. You have not really, have you?
(Mrs France) They called my predecessor to them on
his 1990-91 report. I have given expert evidence to them on many
occasions, but you are right, I have never been before them to
discuss my own performance or to discuss my annual report with
them. I should be delighted to report to both of you should you
wish to call me.
35. So we have got you, but not exclusively.
(Mrs France) There would be difficulty, would there
not, in that some of my responsibilities relate to applying data
protection to the private sector. However, that is a matter for
you and not for me. I am keen to be seen to be accountable to
Parliament and happy to respond to interests that Parliament shows.
36. Your desire to be accountable to Parliament
and our imperialist ambitions may come together. All this expansion
is taking place in Wilmslow, is it?
(Mrs France) Yes, it is at the moment.
37. This is very good news for Wilmslow, is
(Mrs France) Yes.
(Mrs France) We have been based there since the office
opened in 1985. We have occupied two different buildings in Wilmslow.
We are, however, looking at the momentone of my Assistant
Commissioners is doing a report for meat whether we should
in fact have any devolved presence. Data protection, as you know,
is a reserved matter. I have responsibilities in Scotland, Wales
and Northern Ireland and we are looking to see whether we ought
to have a physical presence in other places. We envisage the headquarters,
whatever happens, remaining in Wilmslow.
39. May I return to the Ilisu dam case once
again? You mentioned that the complaint actually came from a private
individual, as it were.
(Mr Buckley) I had to regard the complainant as such
because the words of the statute are "from a member of the