Wednesday, March 22, 2006

House of Commons Constitutional Affairs Committee inquiry into FOI

A further meeting will take place next week, with the DCA to give evidence following on the 18th April.

Tuesday 28 March 2006, The Wilson Room, Portcullis House 4.15pm

Maurice Frankel, Director, Campaign for the Freedom of Information, Steve Wood, Lecturer, John Moores University, David Hencke, journalist, the Guardian

Dr Lydia Pollard, Improvement and Development Agency (I&DeA), Ian Readhead, Deputy Chief Constable, Hampshire and Association of Police Officers (ACPO)

Natalie Ceeney, Chief Executive, National Archives

Tuesday 18 April 2006, The Grimond Room, Portcullis House 4.15pm

Baroness Ashton of Upholland, Under Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs

Evidence from 14th March

The Uncorrected transcript of Oral Evidence given by Richard Thomas, Information Commissioner, Graham Smith, Deputy Commissioner and Jane Durkin, Casework and Advice Division on is now available on the Select Committee website. The evidence covers a lot of ground, all very interesting discussion - worth reccommend reading in full, a few select highlights:

-The processing of cases -700 is stated as "backlog"

-There has been a switch of ICO staff from promotion and development to complaint handling

-The IC's view on the public ineterest extension to the 20 day limit:
"Richard Thomas: In some situations they will need the time, but I am increasingly sceptical they need as much time as they are taking. We have got one example where I think they required six extensions of time, and I am not prepared in future to let my staff have that degree of tolerance towards a public authority....I cannot create law on this front, but what I have been saying increasingly informally, and perhaps we will find ways of saying it formally, is that two months ought to be quite long enough for anybody to go through a weighing of the public interest considerations."

-On the lack of a statutory time limit for internal review:
"Richard Thomas:So, yes, the answer is we would like to see a tighter control there, but, equally, where we feel that we are being spun a line by a public authority, we think that they are not actually pursuing the internal review as fast as they should be, then we will do our best to put more pressure upon the public authority to speed up their act."

-The ICO has bid for an extra £1.13 million from the DCA to clear the backlog:
Richard Thomas: We are saying if we got nothing it would take years to clear the backlog, if we got 50% we reckon we would clear the backlog in two years, if we got the full bid we put in for, 100% of our £1.13 million, we think we can clear the backlog, we said 14 months starting in January, so we think it would be clear by March 2007, but we have lost two or three months already.......
Q61 Keith Vaz: But will the backlog grow because you have not received this money?
Richard Thomas: I fear absolutely, Mr Vaz, that is a real risk. I was very pleased over a year ago with this Committee, and if I can just read out and remind the Committee what you said in your report because resources are critical to this.

-On the fees Review:
"I do have an anxiety that any fee regime which did deter members of the public from making a legitimate request would be inconsistent with the principle of open government. I am concerned about the Irish experience, where the fees were increased, and that had a very obvious chilling effect on the uses to which the Act was being put."

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