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 Archer of Sandwell Lord Archer of Sandwell Labour 9:15 pm, 14th November 2000

My Lords, I agree with all noble Lords who have said that this is much more than a debate among lawyers. I am not sure that between them the lawyers have clarified the matter. I am the first to accept that I have misread Clause 29. I do not believe that I am totally alone in having misread parts of the Bill. As my noble friend Lord Brennan reminded us, in Committee my noble and learned friend himself was somewhat surprised to discover that both criminal and non-criminal matters were part of Clause 29. My noble friend Lord Borrie cheerfully agreed that he too had not been as clear about the clause as perhaps some of us should have been. Clearly, we need to reflect further on this matter.

I remain slightly troubled by two matters. Paragraph (2)(b), which governs so much of this debate, exempts information if it relates to the obtaining of information from confidential sources. As my noble and learned friend said, that is much wider than the question of deterring witnesses from coming forward.

Earlier today we discussed what is information from confidential sources. Is it confidential if it arrives in an envelope marked "confidential"? We are in danger of going very wide with that requirement unless we look more closely at the meaning of information from confidential sources. I say no more about that at the moment. It is something on which I want to reflect. I hope that it is something on which my noble and learned friend may want to reflect.

I turn to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, that this matter is now dealt with because of the amendments to the public interest test. It may be that all this was comparatively late and we have not had as much time to absorb it as we should. I am not certain that he has persuaded me. That is something else on which I should like to reflect. For all those reasons, I do not propose to press the amendment further tonight. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.