Previous SectionIndexHome Page

10 pm

Mr. Mike O'Brien: I have made most of the main points that I would wish to make, so I will reply briefly. I cannot accept the amendment of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). I am sure that it is not his intention, but the amendment would lead to attempts to widen the application to include investigations and proceedings that were not narrowly confined to accidents, health or safety and environmental matters, thus undermining the class exemption. We do not consider it acceptable to introduce such scope.

The clear choice, in our view, is between a prejudice test that would leave uncertainty about outcomes and an exemption such as that which we want in the Bill,

27 Nov 2000 : Column 744

which offers certainty, but which is conditional on a strong public interest test--it will ensure that, in all circumstances where information should be disclosed, it will be so disclosed. We think that relying on the public interest test and on the public interest is the best approach.

The hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) says that he disagrees with amendments Nos. 12 and 13. It is not possible to accept the 20 working days time limit as a statutory maximum for both the decision under the Bill as to whether an exemption applies and the public interest test. The latter will often be much more complicated than the former. It may involve consultation with third parties, something that the official Opposition supported in Committee, if I remember rightly. Now they seek to change their view and insist on a 20-day maximum. Clearly, where third parties are involved--they may be, of course, in the private sector--it is right that they should properly be consulted. I am sure that if he speaks to the business community, it will be concerned by his approach.

There are clear protections against the abuses that concerned the hon. Gentleman. The Information Commissioner can indicate if a public authority is taking an unreasonable time to deal with an application and can issue an enforcement notice, so there are clear protections.

During the debate, a rather bizarre approach was taken by some Members, particularly the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley). They urged that we kept the code of practice, but then complained that the Government and other public authorities did not comply with the code. However, they then attacked the Bill because, they said, there was no need to create a statutory right to know.

Mr. Lilley: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. O'Brien: I will not.

The debate has revealed that the Tories are approaching the matter by objecting to the public having a statutory right to know.

Mr. Lilley: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. When a Minister misrepresents a contribution to the debate and refuses to respond to questions, does a Member have any redress from the occupant of the Chair?

Mr. Speaker: Those are matters for debate. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will find some opportunity to put the record straight.

Mr. O'Brien: During the debate, we have heard references to a week of guillotines. All I have heard are the whines of the ancien regime, the old Bourbons worried that they hear the sound of the people's tumbrels coming as the date of the general election approaches. No wonder some of the old Tories are getting worried about the chop. It is not surprising, after we have heard what appears to be a lack of substance from the Opposition. A weak and waffly opposition is what we expect from them, and that is what we are likely to get in the next debate.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 2 and 3 agreed to.

27 Nov 2000 : Column 745

New Clause

Lords amendment: No. 4, after clause 1, to insert the following new clause--Effect of exemptions in Part II--

".--(1) Where any provision of Part II states that the duty to confirm or deny does not arise in relation to any information, the effect of the provision is that where either--
(a) the provision confers absolute exemption, or
(b) in all the circumstances of the case, the public interest in maintaining the exclusion of the duty to confirm or deny outweighs the public interest in disclosing whether the public authority holds the information,
section 1(1)(a) does not apply.
(2) In respect of any information which is exempt information by virtue of any provision of Part II, section 1(1)(b) does not apply if or to the extent that--
(a) the information is exempt information by virtue of a provision conferring absolute exemption, or
(b) in all the circumstances of the case, the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.
(3) For the purposes of this section, the following provisions of Part II (and no others) are to be regarded as conferring absolute exemption--
(a) section 19,
(b) section 21,
(c) section 30,
(d) section 32,
(e) section 34 so far as relating to information held by the House of Commons or the House of Lords,
(f) in section 38--
(i) subsection (1), and
(ii) subsection (2) so far as relating to cases where the first condition referred to in that subsection is satisfied by virtue of subsection (3)(a)(i) or (b) of that section,
(g) section 39, and
(h) section 42."

Amendment proposed to the Lords amendment: (a), in line 18, at end insert--

'(2A) In making any determination under subsection (1)(b) or (2)(b) in respect of information which is exempt by virtue of section 28 and which has at any time been held by an authority for the purposes of ascertaining the cause of an accident or for any investigation or proceedings relating to any requirement relating to the health, safety or welfare of members of the public or of persons at work or the protection of the environment--
(a) the public interest in disclosing whether the public authority holds the information shall be regarded as outweighing the public interest in maintaining the exclusion of the duty to confirm or deny; and
(b) the public interest in disclosing the information shall be regarded as outweighing the public interest in maintaining the exemption
unless, in either case, to do so would or would be likely to prejudice any particular investigations or proceedings of the kind referred to in that section.
(2B) Where--
(a) disclosing whether information referred to in subsection (2A) is held, or
(b) disclosing information referred to in subsection (2A)
would or would be likely to have either of the effects referred to in that subsection, nothing in that subsection shall prejudice the generality of subsection (1)(b) or (2)(b).'.--[Mr. Simon Hughes.]

Question put, That the amendment to the Lords amendment be made:--

The House divided: Ayes 56, Noes 343.

27 Nov 2000 : Column 746

Division No. 355
[10.5 pm


Allan, Richard
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Ballard, Jackie
Bell, Martin (Tatton)
Brake, Tom
Brand, Dr Peter
Breed, Colin
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Burnett, John
Burstow, Paul
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies
(NE Fife)
Chidgey, David
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Corbett, Robin
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cotter, Brian
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Fearn, Ronnie
Foster, Don (Bath)
Gidley, Sandra
Hancock, Mike
Harris, Dr Evan
Harvey, Nick
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Jones, Ms Jenny
(Wolverh'ton SW)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Keetch, Paul
Kennedy, Rt Hon Charles
(Ross Skye & Inverness W)
Kirkwood, Archy
Livsey, Richard
Llwyd, Elfyn
McDonnell, John
McNamara, Kevin
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Mitchell, Austin
Moore, Michael
Oaten, Mark
Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Sanders, Adrian
Shepherd, Richard
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Skinner, Dennis
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Stunell, Andrew
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Tonge, Dr Jenny
Tyler, Paul
Vis, Dr Rudi
Webb, Steve
Wigley, Rt Hon Dafydd
Willis, Phil
Wright, Tony (Cannock)

Tellers for the Ayes:

Sir Robert Smith and
Mr. Lembit Öpik.


Abbott, Ms Diane
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)
Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Alexander, Douglas
Allen, Graham
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary
Ashton, Joe
Atherton, Ms Candy
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, John
Banks, Tony
Barnes, Harry
Barron, Kevin
Battle, John
Bayley, Hugh
Beard, Nigel
Begg, Miss Anne
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)
Bennett, Andrew F
Benton, Joe
Bermingham, Gerald
Berry, Roger
Best, Harold
Betts, Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blears, Ms Hazel
Blizzard, Bob
Blunkett, Rt Hon David
Boateng, Rt Hon Paul
Borrow, David
Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Bradshaw, Ben
Brinton, Mrs Helen
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Browne, Desmond
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Butler, Mrs Christine
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen
Caborn, Rt Hon Richard
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, Dale
Cann, Jamie
Caplin, Ivor
Casale, Roger
Caton, Martin
Cawsey, Ian
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Chaytor, David
Clapham, Michael
Clark, Dr Lynda
(Edinburgh Pentlands)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Clelland, David
Clwyd, Ann
Coaker, Vernon
Coffey, Ms Ann
Coleman, Iain
Colman, Tony
Connarty, Michael
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cooper, Yvette
Corston, Jean
Cousins, Jim
Crausby, David
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Dalyell, Tam
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Darvill, Keith
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Davidson, Ian
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Davis, Rt Hon Terry
(B'ham Hodge H)
Dawson, Hilton
Dean, Mrs Janet
Denham, John
Dismore, Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Donohoe, Brian H
Doran, Frank
Dowd, Jim
Drew, David
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Edwards, Huw
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs Louise
Ennis, Jeff
Field, Rt Hon Frank
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna
Flint, Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Foulkes, George
Galloway, George
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Gerrard, Neil
Gibson, Dr Ian
Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Godsiff, Roger
Goggins, Paul
Golding, Mrs Llin
Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Grocott, Bruce
Grogan, John
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Hanson, David
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Healey, John
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hepburn, Stephen
Heppell, John
Hesford, Stephen
Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Hill, Keith
Hinchliffe, David
Hodge, Ms Margaret
Home Robertson, John
Hood, Jimmy
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, Rt Hon Alan (Newport E)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Howells, Dr Kim
Hoyle, Lindsay
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Humble, Mrs Joan
Hurst, Alan
Hutton, John
Iddon, Dr Brian
Illsley, Eric
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jenkins, Brian
Johnson, Miss Melanie
(Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Kemp, Fraser
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Khabra, Piara S
Kidney, David
Kilfoyle, Peter
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Kumar, Dr Ashok
Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Lammy, David
Laxton, Bob
Lepper, David
Leslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Lock, David
Love, Andrew
McAvoy, Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCafferty, Ms Chris
McCartney, Rt Hon Ian
McDonagh, Siobhain
Macdonald, Calum
McFall, John
McIsaac, Shona
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
McNulty, Tony
MacShane, Denis
Mactaggart, Fiona
McWalter, Tony
McWilliam, John
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Mallaber, Judy
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Martlew, Eric
Maxton, John
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Meale, Alan
Merron, Gillian
Michael, Rt Hon Alun
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Milburn, Rt Hon Alan
Miller, Andrew
Moffatt, Laura
Moonie, Dr Lewis
Moran, Ms Margaret
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Morley, Elliot
Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle
(B'ham Yardley)
Morris, Rt Hon Sir John (Aberavon)
Mudie, George
Mullin, Chris
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)
Naysmith, Dr Doug
Norris, Dan
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Olner, Bill
O'Neill, Martin
Organ, Mrs Diana
Osborne, Ms Sandra
Palmer, Dr Nick
Pearson, Ian
Pendry, Tom
Perham, Ms Linda
Pickthall, Colin
Plaskitt, James
Pollard, Kerry
Pond, Chris
Pope, Greg
Pound, Stephen
Powell, Sir Raymond
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Prescott, Rt Hon John
Primarolo, Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Ken
Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce
Quinn, Lawrie
Radice, Rt Hon Giles
Rammell, Bill
Rapson, Syd
Raynsford, Nick
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff
Rooney, Terry
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Rowlands, Ted
Roy, Frank
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Ryan, Ms Joan
Salter, Martin
Savidge, Malcolm
Sawford, Phil
Sedgemore, Brian
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Barry
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Short, Rt Hon Clare
Singh, Marsha
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Smith, Miss Geraldine
(Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Snape, Peter
Southworth, Ms Helen
Spellar, John
Squire, Ms Rachel
Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Steinberg, Gerry
Stevenson, George
Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stinchcombe, Paul
Stoate, Dr Howard
Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Temple-Morris, Peter
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Timms, Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mark
Touhig, Don
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Paul
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Tynan, Bill
Vaz, Keith
Walley, Ms Joan
Ward, Ms Claire
Wareing, Robert N
Watts, David
White, Brian
Whitehead, Dr Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, Rt Hon Alan
(Swansea W)
Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Wills, Michael
Wilson, Brian
Winnick, David
Woolas, Phil
Worthington, Tony
Wray, James
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Wyatt, Derek

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. David Jamieson and
Mrs. Anne McGuire.

Question accordingly negatived.

27 Nov 2000 : Column 748

Lords amendment agreed to.

Next Section

IndexHome Page