Freedom of Information Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:45 pm on 14th November 2000.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative 5:45 pm, 14th November 2000

My Lords, I can answer the noble Countess, Lady Mar. That is exactly the sort of information that is covered by this clause. It is also exactly the kind of problem that we ran into with BSE in relation to information about the enforcement of abattoir controls and how releasable that was because some of it had been obtained in confidence. The way in which the Government receive some of their information creates a real problem.

We understand the argument, but I do not believe that it is reasonable for the Government to take the view that civil servants should not to be asked to take decisions about such matters. Often in life we are faced with two rather uncomfortable alternatives and we have to make choices. It is important that there is a public interest test that is understood by everybody. It is not a matter of narrow balancing, exceeding one way or the other, and then landing ourselves with an enormous bill for breach of confidence.

As there is a possibility of action in relation to a breach of confidence, the public interest would have to be substantial in order to outweigh that. If my amendment were accepted, a point of minor public interest would not cause that kind of trouble. There would have to be substantial public interest to outweigh the possibility of damages being awarded in the courts against the agreed lower public interest test that would there be applied.

The Government are making a grave mistake in shying away from this amendment and I wish to test the opinion of the House.