Freedom of Information Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:55 pm on 14th November 2000.

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Photo of Lord MacKay of Ardbrecknish Lord MacKay of Ardbrecknish Crossbench 10:55 pm, 14th November 2000

My Lords, this amendment seeks to insert a public interest test into Clause 42(2), which exempts information that would prejudice commercial interests. Anyone who wished to appeal against the disclosure of information under this test and the ruling of the commissioner could do so by applying to the tribunal.

The amendment seeks to ensure that the public interest continues to be weighed against the commercial one, including the commercial undertakings of public authorities, when considering whether information should be disclosed or not. Without the amendment, it would be possible to exempt information under this clause with the weakest attachment to commercial activity and thereby avoid the more rigorous test of what would be in the wider public interest.

An example is information relating to the use of pesticides for commercial gain. I suppose that most pesticides are used for commercial gain, or else they are used to rid us of the demon midges--unfortunately, they are not very successful. If commercial gain could be prayed in aid, it could mean that information would not be revealed. The authorities would take the view that to give out such information would prejudice the commercial interests of either an individual or a public authority in terms of reputation or management and that it ought not to be revealed.

Trade secrets as a whole would remain unexposed to disclosure because the display of their content would not qualify as overwhelmingly in the public interest. However, it might well be in the public interest if some other pieces of commercial information were revealed. I should like to try to tease out from the Minister some of the thinking behind parts of the Bill that attempt to close the door on public information rather than keep it open. I beg to move.