Freedom of Information Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:15 pm on 14th November 2000.

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Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Minister of State, Cabinet Office 9:15 pm, 14th November 2000

I entirely agree with that, but I do not believe there is any doubt that that is what the Bill means. The question that arises is whether Clause 2, as amended in the way indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, with the result that the burden is on the public authority to prove that there should not be disclosure, is materially adequate to achieve the end that my noble friend identified; namely, to ensure that in relation to health and safety and environmental matters the material emerges unless there is a good reason why it should not. We believe that that is the effect of the Bill as a result of the Liberal Democrats' amendments. I do not believe that my noble friend Lord Brennan and I are far apart, or that an amendment of the kind proposed by my noble and learned friend Lord Archer is now necessary.

The first part of the amendment tabled by my noble and learned friend Lord Archer introduces a prejudice test. I believe that the objectives are met in the structure that we have put forward. The second part of the amendment bites only if there is a prejudiced-based test in the clause. As I have outlined, I do not believe that that is either desirable or necessary.

I deal briefly with the point which arises on Clause 29(2); namely, the situation in which there is an informer. The subsection provides as much protection as possible for people who give information confidentially. The informer protection under Clause 29(2) goes wider than criminal matters and covers other forms of investigation. We believe that such protection is sensible where other kinds of investigation are being dealt with. It is very important to distinguish the Clause 29(1) situation dealt with by my noble friend Lord Brennan from the Clause 29(2) situation which focuses entirely on informers. I earnestly suggest to noble Lords that they consider what I have said. I am not sure that our basic objectives are all that different. I believe that as the Bill now stands, particularly having regard to the amendments tabled by the Liberal Democrats, broadly we have achieved the objectives.