Freedom of Information Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:15 pm on 14th November 2000.

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Photo of Lord Williamson of Horton Lord Williamson of Horton Crossbench 10:15 pm, 14th November 2000

My Lords, there has been much discussion between legal experts, but I intervene briefly because earlier I said that in an earlier existence I believe that I would have been qualified as a "qualified person" for the purposes of the clause. The Minister will be glad to hear that I do not have strong views on this point. However, it is important to understand that including in the Bill the words,

"in the reasonable opinion of a qualified person", we are de facto, but perhaps not de jure, restricting the operation of the commissioner.

If a qualified person has already decided in accordance with statute that the disclosure of certain information would, or would be likely to, prejudice the maintenance of the collective responsibility of Ministers of the Crown, it would be extremely difficult for the information commissioner to put against that her opinion on the public interest. That is the reality. The reality is the reverse of what the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, stated; it is, that the opinion of the qualified person will be the most important element in deciding on the disclosure of the information and, although the information commissioner may be able to operate in the public interest under Clause 2 of the Bill, her position will be extremely weak.