Freedom of Information Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:00 pm on 14th November 2000.

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Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office 10:00 pm, 14th November 2000

My Lords, the term "government department" is defined for the purposes of the Bill in Clause 83 so that it is clear to the public, the public authorities and the commissioner what is meant by that term.

Amendments Nos. 44 and 58 seek to alter this definition for the purposes of the application of the term in Clause 34--the formulation of government policy, and so on, and the exception certificate procedure in Clause 52.

I understand that by the amendments the noble Lord seeks to limit the scope of the protection provided to certain government bodies by the exemptions at Clause 34 and the certification procedure at Clause 52. We have debated at length in this House why it is necessary that the central functions of government should attract the exemptions provided by Clauses 34 and 52. The Government have listened to the arguments and have moved, I think considerably, to limit the scope of the exemptions. But the Government cannot accept that the distinction which the noble Lord now seeks to identify between ministerial and non-ministerial government departments is sensible. The noble Lord clearly does not accept or perhaps understand the reality of how governments are structured in a modern state. Government functions are no longer all performed solely by the central ministerial government departments. The provisions in the Bill which are specifically focused on government must reflect this and the current wording does exactly that.

The term "government department" has a generally accepted meaning which includes bodies other than the classic ministerial central government departments including government agencies and non-ministerial government departments.