Section 33 — Commercial interests and the economy

Freedom of Information (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 4:45 pm on 24th April 2002.

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Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

The purpose of amendment 5 is to prevent public authorities from claiming commercial confidentiality when passing information between each other. It may seem odd to talk about public authorities trying to dress things up in commercial confidentiality, but increasingly frequently, a public authority will ask another to tender for a specific service.

When the Scottish Prison Service put social work and education for prisoners out to tender and public bodies tendered for the contract, commercial confidentiality prevented the release of information. I lodged a parliamentary question asking for the number of social workers at HMP Glenochil and at HM young offenders institution in Polmont, but the information was refused because the contracts specified outputs and not inputs, which are characterised by commercial confidentiality. It is clearly a matter of public interest to know what is happening in such public institutions, given that often—if not in all cases—the social work and education facilities are being provided by other public agencies.

In another recent case, Glasgow City Council was unable to provide information relating to the national asylum support service on the basis that it was commercially confidential. I do not believe that one public authority that is working with another should be able to dress matters up in commercial confidentiality. Amendment 5 seeks to ensure that that does not happen.

I move amendment 5.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I am sorry, but I have to ask the minister for a very brief response.

Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour

Amendment 5 seeks to disallow any claim to the commercial exemption if the information has been passed between two or more public authorities. That is simply absurd. Commercially sensitive information does not cease to be commercially sensitive because it has been passed between public authorities. For the most part, the exemption is content based, which means that the information can be withheld only if its disclosure would cause substantial prejudice and if disclosure would be contrary to the public interest. It is the information that is sensitive; it has nothing to do with the holder.

Under amendment 5, if sensitive commercial information regarding inward investment opportunities was passed from the local enterprise company to the local authority, it could not be withheld, which could jeopardise the creation of jobs. Also under amendment 5, if sensitive commercial information regarding a rescue package for a business that was under threat of closure was passed from Scottish Enterprise to the Scottish Executive, it could not be withheld and that could jeopardise the preservation of jobs and the financial position of employees.

Amendment 5 is nonsense and I urge that it be rejected.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The question is, that amendment 5 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 14

For: Adam, Brian, Campbell, Colin, Canavan, Dennis, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Elder, Dorothy-Grace, Ewing, Dr Winnie, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, Gibson, Mr Kenneth, Grahame, Christine, Hamilton, Mr Duncan, Harper, Robin, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, MacDonald, Ms Margo, Matheson, Michael, McGugan, Irene, McLeod, Fiona, Morgan, Alasdair, Reid, Mr George, Robison, Shona, Russell, Michael, Stevenson, Stewart, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, Mr John, Ullrich, Kay, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra, Wilson, Andrew
Against: Aitken, Bill, Baillie, Jackie, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Davidson, Mr David, Deacon, Susan, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Fitzpatrick, Brian, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Godman, Trish, Goldie, Miss Annabel, Gorrie, Donald, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Harding, Mr Keith, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, Mr John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Jenkins, Ian, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, MacKay, Angus, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, McAllion, Mr John, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McLeish, Henry, McLetchie, David, McMahon, Mr Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Monteith, Mr Brian, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Mundell, David, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Radcliffe, Nora, Raffan, Mr Keith, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mr Mike, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Mrs Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Thomson, Elaine, Wallace, Ben, Wallace, Mr Jim, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The result of the division is: For 32, Against 78, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 5 disagreed to.