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Parliamentary debate on delays in dealing with FOI requests

Gordon Prentice MP opened an adjournment debate on the time taken by the Information Commission to process Freedom of Information requests. The debate was replied to by Michael Wills, Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): I am very grateful for this opportunity to raise the issue of the processing of freedom of information requests. This concerns the Information Commissioner and how freedom of information requests are dealt with, and it is a very sorry tale. The Information Commissioner enforces and oversees the Data Protection Act 1998, the Freedom of Information Act, the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 and the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003. The span of responsibilities is very wide, but the Information Commissioner’s office is simply not coping. There are big issues to address in respect of how the Information Commissioner’s office is staffed, managed and resourced. Curiously, its funding comes from the Ministry of Justice, which also provides advice to all Departments on freedom of information cases and issues.

The Information Commissioner’s office has a huge backlog of hundreds of cases, which go back to 2005. I have in my hand a copy of the “case load snapshot” that the Information Commissioner published in September. It runs to about 30 closely typed pages, and about 30 to 40 cases are listed on each page. The system is just gumming up. Some of the requests seem fairly trivial. For example, information was requested about the names of individuals holding parliamentary passes from the Association of Former Members of Parliament and the Industry and Parliament Trust; that request goes back 16 months. A request relating to the use of pseudonyms by the Cabinet Office dates back 15 months; another, relating to the royalties paid to the estate of the composer of “Sailing By” on Radio 4 dates back a year. And so the list goes on, page after page.

Mr Prentice raised this issue before in the summer adjournment debate on 21 July 2009 (see earlier blog post). He has now asked Sir Alan Beith MP, who chairs the Justice Committee, to question the Commissioner about the delays.

You can watch a recording of the debate here or read it in Hansard here.

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