Management of Freedom of Information and Data Protection

6.21The Freedom of Information Act 2000 gives a general right of access to information held by public authorities, sets out exemptions from that right and places a number of obligations on public authorities. The right of access to information was brought into force for all public authorities in January 2005. The Houses are separate public authorities under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and therefore have separate schemes and arrangements for implementing and complying with the Act. The Act requires every public authority to adopt and maintain a publication scheme setting out the classes of information which it publishes or intends to publish, the form in which it intends to publish the information, and details of any charges. The House of Commons' publication scheme was approved by the Information Commissioner in July 2002, and, in accordance with new requirements, a revised version was published in 2009. The House of Lords' publication scheme was approved by the Information Commissioner and was laid on the Table by the Clerk of the Parliaments in November 2002 and a revised version published in 2014. Both schemes are available on the Parliament website.

Either House may refuse to disclose information on the ground that exemption is necessary for the purpose of avoiding an infringement of the privileges of either House. The Speaker of the House of Commons or the Clerk of the Parliaments as the ‘appropriate authority’ may certify that an exemption is required for that purpose and the certificate is then conclusive evidence of that fact (s 34 of the Act). Either House may also refuse to disclose information if in the reasonable opinion of the Speaker of the House of Commons or the Clerk of the Parliaments as a ‘qualified person’ disclosure of the information would, or would be likely to, inhibit the free and frank provision of advice or the exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation or would otherwise prejudice or be likely otherwise to prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs. A certificate signed by the ‘qualified person’ is conclusive of the fact that disclosure would, or would be likely to, have such effects (s 36).

In the House of Lords, the Commission has appointed a Freedom of Information Advisory Panel to advise the Clerk of the Parliaments on the application of exemptions under ss 34 and 36. The panel is chaired by the Chairman of Committees. Other members are drawn from each of the parties and the Crossbenches.