Freedom of Information Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:01 pm on 14th November 2000.

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Photo of Lord MacKay of Ardbrecknish Lord MacKay of Ardbrecknish Crossbench 6:01 pm, 14th November 2000

My Lords, Clause 7 gives the Secretary of State some order-making powers. Under the current subsection (3)(a) the Secretary of State has the power to place limitations on the information held by a public body which would be subject to disclosure in accordance with the Bill.

While I understand that some known arbitrary alternations of limitations might be desirable under certain circumstances, and given that the material abuse of Clause 7 would undermine the entire principle of the Bill, I would prefer to see the revision of existing limitations rather than the creation of new ones. In other words, I approve of subsection (3)(b), which would remove or amend existing limitations but I do not like subsection (3)(a) which gives the Secretary of State the power to create new ones. My amendment would do what I suggest.

The Government responded to our concerns expressed in another place by putting forward a proposal for an affirmative resolution and we welcome that. However, some important questions remain unanswered. For example, we would be grateful if the Minister would indicate the kind of information which might be exposed to limitation and whether the limitation would be applied on a departmental basis or by some other means.

It would be helpful if the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, could tell the House what the Government mean by that, what their intentions are and give examples. Perhaps he will persuade me that this is not merely a piece of gold-plating for no apparent reason. As I understand the Bill, all information held by a public body would already be subject to the tests for exemption as laid out in the Bill. However, I am perplexed as to the need for what I consider to be a superfluous piece of legislation.

Despite all the warm words which the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, gave me in Committee, the existence, which I accept, of an affirmative resolution does not address the essential point; that is, the use to which the Secretary of State might put such a power. If the noble Lord believes that the power is so vital, can he give the House a scenario in which the Secretary of State might use the power. If he cannot, I do not believe that it should exist. I beg to move.