FOI in Parliament: 8-13 February 2006

Highlights this week include the revelation that the Information Commissioner has himself received 17 FOI requests related to the excessive time taken to close clases (Written Answers 13 Feb 2006)

8 Feb 2006
Written Answers – Prime Minister: Freedom of Information Act
Bob Spink: To ask the Prime Minister what total sum has been received by his Office for the provision of information under the *Freedom of Information* Act 2000 in its first year of operation.
Tony Blair (Prime Minister) – Nil.

Written Answers – Transport: Freedom of Information
Bob Spink: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what total sum has been received by his Department for the provision of information under the *Freedom of Information* Act 2000 in its first year of operation.

Written Answers – Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs: Freedom of Information Act
Bob Spink: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what total sum has been received by his Department for the provision of information under the *Freedom of Information* Act 2000 in its first year of operation.

Westminster Hall Debates
Bichard Inquiry
Tim Loughton: The database of children, which seeks to include the names of and basic data concerning 11.5 million children in England, provides nothing short of an overload of poor-quality information. That was one reason that the Information Commissioner described some of the developments in information division and data sharing as “sleepwalking into a surveillance society”.

9 February 2006
Debates
Orders of the Day – Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill
John Redwood: Why do we need regulation on data protection? This was not on the original list of 63 items that the official Opposition sponsored, but we have a clumsy system of data protection. It is one of the bigger burdens mentioned in the list referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire in his opening remarks-over £5.5 billion of compliance, and I do not see that it necessarily offers the protection that the Government have in mind.

When one looks at the impact of regulation, one often finds that it does not protect the data against abuse by criminals and potential criminals and it does not necessarily inform the public, but it represents a very large burden indeed. How many times have hon. Members tried to use data protection and *freedom of information* to find out legitimate things from the Government only to find that, under existing legislation, there are ways to block that legitimate inquiry and stifle one’s appetite for information? Data protection certainly needs a haircut, even if the Government do not want to go as far as reducing it entirely. It seems a disproportionately expensive and complex machine for a rather limited goal.

Written Answers – International Development: Freedom of Information Act
Gareth Thomas: In 2005, DFID received no payments for requests which fell above the appropriate limit and received no payments for disbursements. The *Freedom of Information* Act allows for public authorities to determine when the cost of processing a request will exceed the appropriate limit, which for central Government is set at £600 and for the wider public sector £450.

Written Answers – Constitutional Affairs: Freedom of Information
Oliver Heald (North East Hertfordshire, Con): To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs whether it is Government policy that civil servants routinely remove their names from documents before releasing them under the Freedom of Information Act 2000; and if she will make a statement.
Bridget Prentice: Disclosing or withholding officials’ names in *freedom of information* releases is dealt with on a case-by-case basis. The names of many officials are already made public in a variety of ways, such as in the civil service yearbook or as speakers at conferences, therefore it is unnecessary to redact names. However, there may be cases in which it is necessary to remove officials’ names, for…

Written Answers – Deputy Prime Minister: Freedom of Information Act
Jim Fitzpatrick: No fees have been received by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, its agencies or the Government Office network, for the provision of information under the *Freedom of Information* Act or the Environmental Information Regulations since 1 January 2005.

13 February 2006
Written Answers – Constitutional Affairs: Census Records
Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield, Lab): How many requests has the Department received regarding access to census records before 1970 in the last 12 months?
Harriet Harman: The National Archives holds the 1911 and earlier censuses, while censuses from 1921 onwards are in the custody of the Office for National Statistics. Since the implementation of the *Freedom of Information* Act on 1 January 2005, the National Archives has received 171 specific requests for access to information contained in the 1911 census returns.

Written Answers – Constitutional Affairs: Census Records
Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield, Lab): What recent representations her Department has received regarding the denial of public access to census records before 1970.
Harriet Harman: Since the implementation of the *Freedom of Information* Act on 1 January 2005, the National Archives has received 14 appeals from inquirers who have been denied access to information contained in the 1911 census returns.

Written Answers – Constitutional Affairs: Freedom of Information Act
David Drew (Stroud, Lab) : To ask the Minister of State what steps she is taking to speed up responses to Freedom of Information Act inquiries made to Government Departments.
Harriet Harman: In the third quarter of 2005 Departments of State responded to *Freedom of Information* requests within their statutory obligations in an average of 86 per cent. of cases. This figure reflects an increase of 11 per cent. on performance in the second quarter of last year, which in itself had improved significantly on
performance in the first quarter. However, there is still work to be done and…

Written Answers – Constitutional Affairs: Freedom of Information Act
Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey & Wood Green, LDem): What assessment has been made of the extent to which local authorities are complying with the Freedom of Information Act 2000; and if she will make a statement.
Harriet Harman (Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs): The Department for Constitutional Affairs does not directly monitor Freedom of Information Act compliance in local government in order to avoid imposing an administrative burden. However, independent surveys and reports in the regional press indicate that FOI is working well in local government, and a great deal of new information is being released to local communities.

Written Answers – Constitutional Affairs: Information Commissioner
David Drew (Stroud, Lab): What meetings held with the Information Commissioner in the last 12 months; what issues were discussed at these meetings; and if she will make a statement.
Harriet Harman: … I have had no meetings with the Commissioner. However my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor meets regularly with the Information Commissioner to discuss issues of mutual interest, covering both Freedom of Information and Data Protection. At some of these meeting he is accompanied by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Baroness Ashton. Baroness Ashton has also met the Information Commissioner separately to discuss issues of both Freedom of Information and Data Protection. These issue have included such matters as the implementation and operation of Freedom of Information in its first full year, the promotion of public understanding of Freedom of Information and Data Protection, the promotion of best practice among authorities subject to the Acts, and the Commissioner’s report on his work in 2004-05 and his plans for his office in 2005-06 and 2006-07.

Written Answers – Constitutional Affairs: Information Commissioner
Alistair Carmichael (Orkney & Shetland, LDem): How many complaints has the Information Commissioner received about the time taken by his office to handle cases.

Harriet Harman: The Commissioner’s Office has not routinely maintained statistics relating to complaints about the length of time it has taken to handle cases. Any complaints received are treated in accordance with the Information Commissioner’s policy in complaints. This policy has recently been updated and from 1 February 2006, the office has maintained a database of information about complaints received which include the reason for the complaint. Since the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act, the Commissioner has also received 17 FOI requests relating to the time taken to close cases.

Written Answers – Trade and Industry: Freedom of Information Act
Bob Spink (Castle Point, Con): To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what total sum has been received by his Department for the provision of information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 in its first year of operation.
Alan Johnson (Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry): My Department did not charge for information released under the Freedom of Information Act during 2005.

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