Library borrowing (2013)

Request

Request 1

All books borrowed by David Cameron from the House of Commons library since June 2010.

Request 2

A breakdown of books borrowed from the House of Commons library since 1st January 2013, in the form: title, author, name of MP who borrowed book.

Response

Response 1

You asked us to provide you with details of all books borrowed by David Cameron MP from the Commons library since June 2010.  We note that you also requested the same information [subsequent requests] for George Osborne MP, Nick Clegg MP, Ed Miliband MP, Ed Balls MP, Chuka Umunna MP and Tom Watson MP.  The following response applies to all those requests.

We can confirm that the information you require is held by the House of Commons. 

Information about which books individual Members of Parliament have borrowed is personal data as explained below. 

We have therefore considered whether disclosure of the information would breach any of the data protection principles.
As the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) guidance on exemption for personal information makes clear, only condition 1 (consent), which is not relevant here, and condition 6 (legitimate interests) of Schedule 2 should be relevant to disclosure under the FOIA.  A public authority is required to approach condition 6 as a three-part test:

  • is there a legitimate public interest in disclosure?
  • is disclosure necessary to meet that public interest?
  • would disclosure cause unwarranted interference with the rights, freedoms and legitimate interests of the individual?

There is a legitimate public interest in knowing which books Members of Parliament are borrowing, showing how public funded resources are being utilised but we do not consider that there is also a legitimate public interest in knowing which individual Member asked to borrow a book.   The second test of whether disclosure is necessary to meet that public interest is therefore not relevant.

In respect of the third test, we have considered whether it would be fair to disclose the personal information.  The Information Commissioner’s Office guidance on this exemption poses three questions to be considered in judging whether such disclosure would be fair: the possible consequences for the individual; the reasonable expectations of the individual and the nature of the information.  A key factor in relation to this request is the expectations of the individual.  Members borrowing books from the Library have the reasonable expectation that their request is private and will remain private. Given that reasonable expectation, publishing the names of Members in this instance would not, in our view, be appropriate.

Consequently, we have concluded that providing the details of books borrowed by specific Members would be inconsistent with the House’s obligations under the Data Protection Act. This information is exempt by virtue of section 40 (2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the exemption for personal information), as disclosure of this information to the public generally, in the House’s view, would not be consistent with data protection principles in the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA). This is an absolute exemption and the public interest test does not apply.

 

Response 2

You asked us to provide you with a breakdown of books borrowed from the House of Commons library since 1st January 2013, to include details of the title, author and name of the MP who borrowed the book.

Details of titles borrowed during this period but already returned are not held. The list includes titles borrowed from other libraries via inter library loan. Where a title appears more than once, either the House of Commons Library holds more than one copy or a further copy has been borrowed as an inter library loan.

You also asked us to provide you with details of the Members who have borrowed these books.  In respect of books not yet returned, we can confirm that the information you require is held by the House of Commons. 

Information about which books individual Members of Parliament have borrowed is personal data as explained below. 

We have therefore considered whether disclosure of the information would breach any of the data protection principles.
As the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) guidance on exemption for personal information makes clear, only condition 1 (consent), which is not relevant here, and condition 6 (legitimate interests) of Schedule 2 should be relevant to disclosure under the FOIA.  A public authority is required to approach condition 6 as a three-part test:

  • is there a legitimate public interest in disclosure?
  • is disclosure necessary to meet that public interest?
  • would disclosure cause unwarranted interference with the rights, freedoms and legitimate interests of the individual?

There is a legitimate public interest in knowing which books Members of Parliament are borrowing, showing how public funded resources are being utilised but we do not consider that there is also a legitimate public interest in knowing which individual Member asked to borrow a book.   The second test of whether disclosure is necessary to meet that public interest is therefore not relevant.

In respect of the third test, we have considered whether it would be fair to disclose the personal information.  The Information Commissioner’s Office guidance on this exemption poses three questions to be considered in judging whether such disclosure would be fair: the possible consequences for the individual; the reasonable expectations of the individual and the nature of the information.  A key factor in relation to this request is the expectations of the individual.  Members borrowing books from the Library have the reasonable expectation that their request is private and will remain private. Given that reasonable expectation, publishing the names of Members in this instance would not, in our view, be appropriate.

Consequently, we have concluded that providing the names Members borrowing specific books would be inconsistent with the House’s obligations under the Data Protection Act. This information is exempt by virtue of section 40 (2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the exemption for personal information), as disclosure of this information to the public generally, in the House’s view, would not be consistent with data protection principles in the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA). This is an absolute exemption and the public interest test does not apply.

We also hold data showing which books Members have borrowed and have since returned.  However, this information is not held in an accessible form.  In order to retrieve the data we would need to review every Member’s borrowing history.  Each Member is entitled to have up to three staff members who may borrow books on their behalf. 
We estimate that the cost of complying with your request would exceed the appropriate limit of £600. The appropriate limit has been specified in regulations and for the House of Commons is set at £600. This represents the estimated cost of one person spending 3½ working days in determining whether the House holds the information, and locating, retrieving and extracting the information. Under section 12 of the Freedom of Information Act the House is not obliged to comply with your request and we will not be processing your request further.

On this occasion I am unable to advise as to how you may be able to refine this request as narrowing by specific Member would be subject to the same s.40 FOIA exemption above, whilst narrowing the time frame would encounter the cost limit as we would still need to search through every record.