Freedom of Information Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:30 pm on 14th November 2000.

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Photo of Viscount Colville of Culross Viscount Colville of Culross Crossbench 9:30 pm, 14th November 2000

My Lords, I do not think that my mind has been put at rest. If one refers to Clause 10(3), we may assume that someone is making an inquiry for information about one of the matters covered by Clause 30(2). The inquiry may be made at a time when the public authority does not wish to disclose the information. The authority can then rely on the provisions in Clause 10(3) to insist that it need not comply,

"until such time as is reasonable in the circumstances".

This is a completely circular argument because what the public authority might think is reasonable in the circumstances is the period of time during which it wishes to keep the matter secret. Having been set out in that form, it seems to me that it cannot be construed as part of the exercise under new Clause 2; namely, as being part of the general circumstances which the information commissioner would take into account. The timing has been selected as a separate issue and thus is "reasonable under the circumstances". I believe that thereby it has been taken out of the generality covered in Clause 2. That worries me very much because I believe that, judging by the way this was handled as regards the BSE issue, a great deal of tension and difficulty has been experienced in government as regards the decision as to when, if at all, such matters should be disclosed--and to whom. This will provide a method whereby a public authority, under the provisions of Clause 10, can say that disclosure is not "reasonably" necessary given the present circumstances.