Freedom of Information Bill

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

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Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Minister of State, Cabinet Office 7:34 pm, 14th November 2000

My Lords, I entirely understand that basis of the noble Lord's argument, but I do not think that it is correct. Clause 26(2) states:

"Information is also exempt information if it is confidential information obtained from a State other than the United Kingdom or from an international organisation or international court".

In effect, the noble Lord wants,

"the European Union, its member states, institutions, organisations or related bodies", to be treated differently from all other international organisations, states or international courts.

The confidentiality of diplomatic documents is universally recognised in international relations. There is no logic in treating confidential information from the European Union differently from information from other international organisations of which the United Kingdom may or may not be a member. Many international organisations may be more secretive than we should like. We shall try to increase the internal openness of any such organisation of which the United Kingdom is a member. In the EU, we shall seek to ensure the implementation of Article 255 of the Amsterdam treaty, which commits the European Union to increased openness. That will balance the scales in favour of openness. However, it is neither right nor sensible to treat the European Union differently from the other international organisations and countries with which we deal.

The noble Lord asked whether we would be bound by EU laws or whether we could deal with information under our legislation. We would be bound by any EU regulations in so far as they related to Community documents held by the UK Government. It would be contrary to our obligations to the European Union to enact laws which are contrary to EU rules.

Therefore, the correct forum in which to ensure openness in relation to EU matters is at the EU level. Clause 26(2) sets out our approach to documents which we receive in confidence from the EU. It draws no distinction between the EU on the one hand and other international organisations or member states on the other. I believe that that is the right approach. I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.