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 Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office 10:55 pm, 14th November 2000

My Lords, I think we have been subjected to a Damascene conversion on the part of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.

Amendment No. 50 aims to introduce a public interest test. The amendment would affect the second limb of the exemption which relates to information the disclosure of which would prejudice the commercial interests of any person. However, the public interest test already applies to information exempt under Clause 42, by virtue of Clause 2, so that authorities must release such information where the public interest in disclosure outweighs the public interest in maintaining the exemption--the considerations of balance that were much discussed earlier. The amendment is unnecessary because the Bill already achieves what it appears to be aimed at.

The amendment also applies different wording to the public interest from that already used in the Bill. It uses the formula,

"except that, where the public interest in complying with the request for information exceeds the harm to the public interest that would arise from the authority releasing it, the information is not exempt".

The use of different formulas for the public interest test would cause confusion for practitioners and the courts when interpreting the Bill. For that reason, we believe that the wording of the test in Clause 2 is to be preferred. In our view, the amendment is in fact weaker than Clause 2, especially after the acceptance of the Liberal Democrat amendments that were moved earlier. For that reason, we think that that test should be preferred.