The Committee had a full and detailed debate about the public disclosure of information relating to pesticides during which I explained at some length the Government's intentions. In the drafting of subsections (2) (j) and (5) of clause 15 the Government believed that they had struck the right balance between the public interest in access to information and the protection of the commercial interests of those who supply the information. My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) raised this very issue when introducing a few minutes ago his Bill on environmental pollution information. I have no doubt that the balance is weighted in favour of public access, but the feeling in Committee was that more could be done in the Bill to favour the public interest as the Royal Commission recommended.
The Government have reflected carefully and in response have tabled the amendment to the first subsection of clause 15 on the general purposes of this part of the Bill. If accepted, the amendment would have the effect that the following provisions of part III
would have effect with a view to making information about pesticides available to the public".
This would apply to safety data about chemicals and to other information and to information about the controls exercised over pesticides in the Bill. I believe that this addition to clause 15 further strengthens the presumption in favour of public access. We cannot adopt the Royal Commission's use of the term "unrestricted access" in a legal statute because that would nullify the effect of subsection (5), which protects the legitimate interest of manufacturers. Again, that is an issue to which my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington referred in introducing his Bill.
We are moving public information into the highest category of purpose of the Bill, which, because of the widespread public concern about pesticides, is the appropriate place. Moreover, we are maintaining the balance between the public interest and the respect for commercial interests in the body of clause 15. That seems to us to be a significant improvement.