HC Deb 06 May 1999 vol 330 c458W
Dr. David Clark

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what was the average cost of each case in which information was supplied under the Open Government: Code of Practice on Access to Government Information in the last parliamentary session. [83273]

Mr. Straw

Information is not collated either centrally, or in Departments, on the average cost of supplying information under the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.

In most cases, requests under the Code are for information which it is necessary for the public to have as part of the fair and accountable performance of the functions of Government. Such requests are dealt with in the same way as general correspondence and separate accounting is not systematically undertaken.

In order to provide a range of estimates for the cost of meeting requests for information under the proposed Freedom of Information Bill, a low cost estimated of £62 (the average cost of replying to a Parliamentary Question) and a high cost estimate of £350 (reflecting additional work needed to collate an extensive range of information) was used. These are typical costs of responding to Code requests, but are not average costs.

Where information is provided in order to meet a specific individual request, which is not in the course of a Department's normal day-to-day business, a charge may be made to help defray the costs. Where charges are made, Departments are required to strike a balance between the interests of the applicant and those of the taxpayer. Individual Departments decide how best to apply this principle to their particular circumstances, and charges will not necessarily reflect the actual cost to the Department of supplying the information.

The charging schemes for each Department are set out at Appendix 5 of the 1997 Report on the Code of Practice, a copy of which is available in the Library. In that year charges were levied in 242 cases out of 3,772 requests logged as Code requests (6.4 per cent.).

I hope to be able to publish the 1998 Code Report in the next few weeks.

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