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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The intention of Amendment No. 82 is to ensure that an applicant should always be able to require that information is supplied to him or her only in his or her preferred format, to include electronic format--which I believe is what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has particularly in mind. The major way of seeking to achieve that is to delete the words "in permanent form". But that makes no difference to the construction of the provision. If those words are deleted, the right of the applicant is to have the material provided to him in a form that is acceptable to him so far as is "reasonably practicable". Getting rid of the words "in permanent form" would not change that at all; even if they remained in the provision, the right would be the same. So there is no real difference between the Government and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, in that respect.
That applies equally to Amendment No. 83. Again, the applicant is entitled to receive information in a form that is acceptable to him or her so far as is "reasonably practicable". If it is reasonably practicable to provide the information in Braille or large print, it will be so provided if that is what the applicant requests. It would be wrong to make special provision for that sort of format because there may be other formats of a similar sort and there is no need simply to provide for one. Again, the requirements of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, are met.
Amendment No. 104 would have the effect that an applicant would be able to publish any information received by him as a result of a disclosure under the Bill, subject to the payment of any fee specified under regulations made under Clause 14 or Clause 19 as amended. The entitlement to publish such information would include publication in print, on the Internet, or by any other means.
The noble Lord made clear that his Amendment No. 104 is intended to ensure that disclosure of information by virtue of Clause 1 of the Bill incorporates a waiver in respect of the applicant of intellectual property or copyright rights in the information, subject, of course, as the noble Lord acknowledges, to the payment of a fee. It was never the Government's intention that FoI legislation should result in a transfer or other weakening of existing
The noble Lord asked what the developments are on the issue. As noble Lords know, most central government information is subject to Crown copyright. The regulation and licensing of Crown copyright rests with the Controller of HMSO. The management of Crown copyright has been the subject of a wide-ranging review process. Following consultation with private and public sector interests, a simplified and streamlined system for licensing Crown copyright was announced by the Government on 6th September. An on-line click-use pay class licence will provide a mechanism covering the re-use of a wide range of government information which is quick and simple. Charging will be based on a marginal cost model, which will in cases where information is published officially mean a nil cost to the user. Other principal benefits address the demand for a one-stop shop approach to the licensing of government information, so avoiding the need to negotiate separately across government with individual departments and agencies. Therefore, we are addressing these issues in a much wider way than simply in relation to freedom of information.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: Can the Minister say whether similar liberalisation will occur in relation to parliamentary copyright, or does this apply only to Crown copyright? Perhaps the noble and learned Lord would like to consider the matter at a later stage. It is very important because of the fact that the property with which we are concerned--the parliamentary copyright--ought to be public property and not the property of these Houses.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I do not know the answer. Off the top of my head, I suspect that Crown copyright is a matter for the executive, whereas parliamentary copyright will be matter for the parliamentary authorities. I do not know if that is the right answer. I shall therefore check on the position and write to the noble Lord in that respect.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I raised the matter because in Australia and the United States there are special exemptions to deal with the situation. It is a very important issue. I realise that it may not be within the scope of Government's power, but I should be grateful if the matter were clarified at some point.
Amendment No. 125 would introduce two new subsections to Clause 19. The first of these would have the effect that a public authority would not be able to claim an exemption from disclosure of requested information on the grounds that the information was exempt because it was already "reasonably accessible" if access to that information was not in an electronic format "reasonably" requested by the applicant. The second subsection of the amendment would provide that information is not considered to be reasonably accessible if the applicant were not free to publish that information, subject to the payment of a fee.
As to the first of these proposed new subsections--namely, that it should not be treated as "reasonably accessible" if it is not available in electronic format--this is presumably intended to ensure that a public authority would not be able to avoid providing information in the applicant's preferred electronic format simply because that information may have been previously published in another format and be reasonably accessible in that format. No similar provisions are proposed in respect of requests for information already reasonably accessible but which an applicant may wish to receive in a different but non-electronic format.
Therefore, the noble Lord is suggesting a special regime to apply where it is reasonably accessible but not in electronic form. Nevertheless, Clause 19 would not apply. It would result in public authorities being required to carry out considerable additional work in respect of information that they had already made available in the public domain and could give either an applicant or a pressure group the power potentially to disrupt the work of an authority by making excessive and unreasonable demands for information to be converted into a preferred data format. So at present we are not attracted to the proposal in the first part of this amendment.
Again, as regards the second subsection, in which an applicant would be free to publish such information subject to the payment of a fee, I believe that I have already dealt with that in my remarks. That deals with all the amendments tabled by the noble Lord for this evening, except Amendment No. 91 which seeks to make provision in the Bill for a public authority to charge an applicant where that applicant is seeking to publish information disclosed to him under the Bill where copyright of that information is held by the authority. The effect of the amendment would be to impose a charge for the transmission of the information. That is already provided for in Amendment No. 90. Therefore no further amendment is required. I would like to make it clear that in so far as his amendment supposes a right to get through copyright on the payment of a fee, that would not be permissible. In those circumstances I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendments.
Lord Lucas: I am grateful for those replies. The Minister has given comfort in respect of at least half of that for which I was looking. I should be grateful if his officials would send me a copy of that September
So far as my first amendment to Clause 19 is concerned, I am disturbed by the implication that if, as apparently happens, government agencies which have published their 1998 annual reports in text and have electronic copies will still be able to refuse to provide applicants with an electronic version because the paper version has been published. I do not find that a satisfactory situation. I accept that, as the noble and learned Lord says, my wording is not perfect, and I will read what he has said. I hope that he does not mean that he regards that situation as satisfactory, certainly not come the year 2005 and electronic government. In respect of particular formats that may be fine. I can see the difficulty that it must not be possible for people to refuse to provide information on the grounds that something inherently unsatisfactory is out there in the public domain. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.