HC Deb 03 February 2000 vol 343 c699W
Mr. Simon Hughes

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what estimate he has made of the proportion of freedom of information requests for information which will be turned down because of the cost; and if he will make a statement. [108085]

Mr. Mike O'Brien

Under the Freedom of Information Bill, a fee may be charged by a public authority, in accordance with regulations made by the Secretary of State. The regulations will set an 'appropriate limit', whereby if the cost of complying with the request exceeds that limit they would be exempt from that obligation under clause 11 of the Bill. These regulations are currently being prepared and it is intended that they will be circulated in draft as soon as possible. However, without pre-empting the regulations the Government's view have been that the 'appropriate limit' should be the same as the £500 threshold for disproportionate costs which currently applies to parliamentary questions. It is not possible to make accurate projections of the number of requests that will fall outside this limit at this stage. However, I am confident that the percentage of cases where the exemption is claimed and the applicant refused will be very small.

It is, of course, possible that this threshold would be exceeded on occasions where, for example, an application required a significant amount of work on the part of the authority in drawing the information together. In such circumstances, the authority would still be required to consider the disclosure of the information, under clause 13 of the Bill, if to do so would be in the public interest. Therefore, even if the 'appropriate limit' is exceeded, it is still possible, because of the nature of the information, that it will be disclosed.