Clause 6 — Transfer of property, rights and liabilities

Part of Delegated Legislation – in the House of Commons at 8:00 pm on 21st February 2008.

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Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Chief Secretary to the Treasury 8:00 pm, 21st February 2008

My hon. Friend makes an important point, but he will recognise that there is a public interest test at the heart of the Freedom of Information Act—and it is right that there should be. It is important that an organisation that needs to function in the commercial markets has some certainty about what the status of different pieces of information will be.

We see the bank as something that is staying in the public sector only on a temporary basis. This is not about a long-term public institution; if it were about such an institution with a long-term history in the public sector and if our intention were to keep it indefinitely in the public sector, that would be a completely different matter and my hon. Friend's point would be exactly right. However, this is about an institution that we want to get out of the public sector and into the private sector as rapidly as possible. We want to be able to sell it on; we do not want the taxpayer's interest to be undermined by the fact that the bank might have had to reveal commercially sensitive information or information that could weaken its position when it comes to getting the sale deal agreed.

This is a temporary arrangement, therefore there is a temporary position with regard to the Freedom of Information Act. When the original discussions about the 2000 Act took place, and given all the deep principles rightly embedded in the Act by this Government, we provided for an exemption for the Bank of England precisely around the provision of private banking and related services. The legislation is in the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act; it is not about changing the approach to it. There are the additional interests of taxpayers, so it is right that we do this now to get the operation working effectively and to get the bank back into the private sector.