ICO respond to my email re dissolution of Parliament
Date: Tue, Jul 6, 2010 at 6:24 PM
Subject: Response to your correspondence to the Information Commissioner’s Office[Ref. ENQ0307303]
To: [email address]
6 July 2010
Case Reference Number ENQ0307303
Dear Mr Cross
Thank you for your correspondence dated 15 April, 6 and 20 June regarding the approach taken by the House of Commons and the House of Lords to requests under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) made prior to and during the dissolution of Parliament. We would also like to thank you for the detailed arguments that you have raised regarding this matter.
Firstly we would like to apologise for the delay in responding to your correspondence. However, sometimes there are circumstances outside our control that prevent us from providing a response as quickly as we would like, and one of these is the volume of complaints and enquiries we receive. Over the last few months we have seen a large increase in the correspondence sent to us, and we are implementing changes that should help us to meet improved service standards in future.
We did consider the status of the House of Commons and the House of Lords under the FOIA before the previous election in 2005 and did again before the election this year.
Prior to the recent election we were in communication with both Houses in regard to their status under the FOIA during dissolution and the measures that they were taking in regard to advising requestors of this. Both Houses had taken their own legal advice before contacting us which concluded that they are not legal entities during the election period when Parliament is dissolved and therefore no duty exists to respond to FOIA requests during this time. Upon receiving this view we took our own legal advice, and based upon this we accept the position set out by both Houses is correct. This is also consistent with the position we came to in 2005.
The ‘House of Commons’ and the ‘House of Lords’ are described in paragraphs 2 and 3 of Schedule 1 to the FOIA as a public authority within the meaning of section 3(1)(a) of the Act. The ‘House of Commons’ and the ‘House of Lords’ as listed in Schedule 1 cease to exist when Parliament has been dissolved and they do not come into existence again until the day named in Her majesty’s summons. There are a number of statutory provisions which, in relation to the House of Commons and the House of Lords, maintain certain offices and functions during dissolution; however these do not maintain the ‘House of Commons’ or the ‘House of Lords’ as such. Because the specific public authorities set out in Schedule 1 of the Act do not exist during dissolution they have no duty to comply with FOIA requests during this time, and by extension there is no duty to comply with the timescale for response set out in the Act. While the entities subject to the FOIA did not technically exist during dissolution we did encourage both Houses to still be helpful to requestors.
As you are aware, in regard to FOIA request made within 20 working days of dissolution and those made during dissolution there were measures put in place to advise requestors of the affect of dissolution on the time for responding to their request. Requestors who made a request before Parliament was dissolved were advised that the time remaining on their request would resume on the day Parliament met. Requestors who have made a request while Parliament was dissolved were advised that the 20 working days would start when Parliament met.
From the link you provided in your email it is clear that you have now received responses from both the House of Commons and the House of Lords in regard to this matter. Because we do not consider that either House has a duty to respond to FOIA requests during dissolution we consider that both responses have been provided within the 20 working day timescale. In the case of the House of Commons the response was provided only a couple of days after Parliament met. For this reason we will not be taking your complaint any further.
Finally, we are not in a position to advise the House of Commons or the House of Lords in regard to ‘The Seven Principles of Public Life’. In regard to these we would suggest that you contact the Committee on Standards in Public Life, and more details can be found on their website using the following link:
I hope this information is helpful, and again we would like to apologise for the delay in responding to your correspondence. If we can be of any further assistance please contact our Helpline on 0303 123 1113 quoting your case reference number. You may also find some useful information on our website at www.ico.gov.uk.
Lead Case Officer (Advice)
Information Commissioner’s Office
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