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Official Documents

Volume 704: debated on Thursday 23 October 2008

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they intend, within the Committee of Ministers, to support the recommendation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 3 October that the draft convention on access to official documents should be sent back to the Steering Committee on Human Rights for further consideration, in particular to consider (a) broadening the definition of “public authorities” to include a wider range of activities of public authorities so as to widen the scope of information made available; (b) including a time limit on the handling of requests; and (c) adding a paragraph to prevent the making of reservations to the convention by member states when signing it. [HL5453]

The Government are content for the draft to be remitted back to the drafting experts (Steering Committee on Human Rights) for further consideration, including the three issues the noble Lord has identified.

The Government are content with the definition of public authorities set out in the current draft convention. Because of the constitutional position of the judiciary in the United Kingdom, courts and tribunals are not within scope of our domestic freedom of information legislation. We do not believe it would be appropriate to extend the definition in the draft convention in a way that undermined this position.

The Government would be content for appropriate upper time limits on the handling of requests to be included in the draft convention. However, the convention would need to recognise—as domestic legislation does—that cases requiring consideration of complex issues such as the public interest in disclosure of information may require additional time.

The Government believe that reservations should be permissible, so long as they are compatible with the object and purpose of the convention.