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

My Lords, I rather fear that the Minister has been both helpful and worrying. He has confirmed the point that I put to him: our openness laws, which we are discussing this evening, would not operate in any decision on whether to comply with a request for information about matters relating to the EU. They would take second place to the EU ones. If the EU ones were of a lesser order, then of course the doors to open government would be closed somewhat. I find that worrying.

I also find it worrying that the Minister seems to believe that our membership of the EU is of the same order as any other international organisation. I do not believe for a moment that it is. No other international organisation has so much control--I do not make that as a negative point--over what happens in this country. I take as examples the agricultural and fishing fields. In this country we can do little without the agreement of the European Union. For good or ill, we are very much bound to the decisions and style of government of the European Union. The relationship is quite different. Our relationship with the other member states is also quite different. They have rights in our country and we have rights in their countries which no one else outside the European Union has.

Therefore, I believe that, in our association with the Union itself and with the individual member states, our membership of the European Union is significantly different from our relationships on any other level; for example, with the United Nations, the Commonwealth, and so on. None is so closely involved with the detail of what we in this country would otherwise decide entirely on our own. That is what worries me.

The Minister has been very clear about the proposition but he has made me feel more concerned about it. I fear that many people in certain fields who believe that they will be able to use this Freedom of Information Bill, when it becomes an Act, in order to extract information which is collected on an EU level, including information collected in Britain, will find themselves up against a closed door. I am most concerned about that. It is very worrying.

I accept that my amendment may not be terribly well drafted. I shall withdraw it this evening. However, I may discuss it with people who understand these matters better than I do to see whether we can produce an amendment which is worded more tightly and which will address what I believe could be a worrying loophole in our freedom of information laws. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.