Freedom of Information Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:34 pm on 14th November 2000.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord MacKay of Ardbrecknish Lord MacKay of Ardbrecknish Crossbench 7:34 pm, 14th November 2000

My Lords, that would be consistent with the general policy of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, today, when he has been very much in favour of the Government. However, I think that he said that we should argue our case in international forums and that if Europe had a more restrictive regime, we would have to play by its rules rather than our own. I am not sure that I accept that, particularly because many of the issues relating to agriculture, fisheries and the environment are very important. We all agree that such information should be opened up in this country, so I can see no reason why similar European Union information should not also be opened up. I understand and appreciate the need to protect diplomatic information.

I am not keen to wait until the EU decides whether to adopt a Community-wide scheme before we open up the information that flows between this country and the European Union. I think that that was the argument put forward by the Government and the Liberal Democrats. Freedom of information provisions should be able to open the doors on many of the policy areas that I have mentioned.

How great an impact would the proposed EU scheme have on the United Kingdom? Might it restrict our access to information further than it will be restricted by the Bill? Could we adhere to our scheme for our government departments, rather than adopting a possibly narrower European scheme, even when some of the information concerned came from the European Union or was collected on behalf of the European Union? Those are important issues.

If we are to have more openness rather than less, it must include our dealings with the European Union. It is not a foreign state. We are part and parcel of it. A lot of the detailed information, advice and policies devised in Europe impinge hugely on us. At this time of year, for example, the entire British fishing industry is dependent on statistics and decisions that will be arrived at in Brussels. I am pleased that there has been increasing openness on statistics. However, if dealings between government departments and outside bodies are to be opened up within the United Kingdom, they should be opened up within the European Union. I may not have explained that terribly well, but I understand what I mean and I am sure that noble Lords do, too. This is not an anti-European Union point. I am simply saying that a great deal of government business now involves the European Union and I want the public to have the same access to that information as they would have if it was held entirely within the United Kingdom. I beg to move.