|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Perhaps I can deal with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and the meaning of the words "may" and "shall". It is my understanding that the meaning of a word can vary according to the way in which it is used.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: However, on this occasion, "may" would permit allocating authorities and monitoring authorities to disclose, while "shall" would require them to do it. I shall come back in a moment to the point that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart made, with which I agree.
I also hope to return to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, on the question of diagonal lines of communication between different authorities within different countries within the United Kingdom. It may be more logical for me to write to him and to other Members of the Committee about lines of communication and organisation. I shall see whether that is the case when I have finished replying to the other points.
Amendments Nos. 63 and 65 would make it a requirement for the monitoring authority to disclose information to other monitoring authorities and to allocating authorities and for allocating authorities to disclose information to other allocating authorities. Amendments Nos. 64 and 66 would remove the power to disclose any information to any other allocating authority. I have the sense here that this group of amendments is going in both directions and that the Government are being reasonable and balanced, taking a middle course between the two lines that the different amendments advocate.
For England, it is important that the information available to the monitoring authority is made available to the allocating authority so that a check can be made on whether the requirements of the Bill are being kept. This point relates to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, who said that it was particularly important for information to be shared between monitoring and allocating authorities in countries of the UK which took part in the trading scheme. Clearly, it should also take place here. The trading scheme can work only if such an exchange takes place. In that way, all trades can be monitored and the owners of allowances can be ascertained.
We have returned to the whole issue of devolution. Where trading is not permittedthis is an answer to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddartit will not be necessary for an allocating authority to disclose information to other monitoring authorities and allocating authorities. We do not believe that they should be forced to do that. I hope that with that explanation the noble Lords will feel able to withdraw the amendments. I undertake to write to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, on the complex issue of diagonal lines of communication between different countries within the UK.
Lord Greaves: In view of that explanation, can the Minister say why it would not be simpler, clearer and altogether better to state in the Bill that the information shall be disclosed in the circumstances that she outlined, rather than to say that it may be disclosed? People might not know what "may" means.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: That may be a logical point. Without any commitment whatever, I shall undertake to look at that. If what the noble Lord says is correct I shall wish to return to the matter.
Lord Livsey of Talgarth: This debate has been useful. Before the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, spoke, I had not understood that the circumstances which he described were a possibility. I can understand that that could be the case. I believe it would be better if the matter were in the public domain. On the other hand, we are looking at trading and there are aspects that perhaps should be confidential. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 67 is grouped with Amendment No. 68 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, which I also support. This is also a may/shall issue. Clause 15 relates to the matter of public access to registers. I have read this carefully in the light of the discussion that we have had. It states:
It seems to me that the word "shall" is appropriate here because in some circumstances it may not be necessary for a person to require to maintain, and so on, so the position would not arise. The word "shall" would apply if and when such registers are maintained.
This matter concerns making provision for public inspection of the register or such of the information contained in the register as is of a description specified by the regulations, or making provision for members of the public to obtain copies of information in the register. It seems to us that the case for making that information publicly available is incontrovertible. I do not believe that the Government can say that there are circumstances in which such registers will exist but to which the public should not have access to the information. Perhaps they will clarify that. Do they say that if the registers exist the public must have access to them? If that is so, I believe that they agree with the amendment.
The aim of the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, is to make provision for public inspection of the register rather than of that part of the register that the Government believe they should see. The fundamental question is whether any parts of those registers should not be open to public access, and if so which parts. We want clear answers from the Government on this. If we do not receive satisfactory answers, we shall return to the issue later. For the moment, I beg to move.
Lord Dixon-Smith: I support the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and shall also speak to my amendment in the group. The Bill appears to imply that there are two registers: a register of information that may be available to the public and a register of information that should not be made available to the public. The Bill does not put it like that, of course: it puts it all in one register and then, by regulation, the Minister has power to differentiate the information. That means that if the public want to see the register they have to get the extracts that they are allowed to see out of it, which is a lot of trouble for somebody.
In local government we were familiar with this problem a long time ago. My noble friends who have local government experience will recognise it immediately: we had to have on agenda papers for local authorities a differentiation between the generality of the business that was entirely appropriate to be made public and the confidential information, which might have been of a commercial nature and therefore should notalthough I am not sure that I can see what confidential information there might be on the registers that should not be available to the public. We have tabled a straightforward amendment to try to simplify the situation and give the public full access. However, I shall be interested to hear the Minister's reply because it may be that the distinction that had to be made in local government is envisaged as essential in this area. If that is the case, we ought to make the distinction clear on the face of the Bill rather than leave in the rather exotic words that the Minister can define by regulation what the public are not allowed to see because it would be so frightfully dangerous or offensive and we should not upset them. I have some difficulty with that as a proposition, given the very tolerant nature of the society in which we live today. I would prefer to have straightforward, clear
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: We believe that all relevant information should be in the public domain, except for sensitive financial details, pricing and trading details, which it is not in the public interest to have in the public domainif I can put it that way. Other than that type of sensitive information, we intend to operate an open and transparent trading system. The scheme will have to operate that way to be successful. We agree on objectives, but the amendments would require an allocating authority to make regulations providing for public inspection of the register that is required to be maintained under Chapter 1 of the Bill. That is the difficulty, because we would be turning a permissive power for an appropriate authority to do that into a mandatory one. There may be circumstances in which the sensitive partand only that partwould have to be withheld from the public domain. I hope that with those assurances noble Lords will be happy not to press the amendments.
Lord Greaves: I shall withdraw the amendment in a moment, but I am less happy with the Minister's response than I was with her response to the debate on the previous amendment. We shall look very carefully at what she said when it is written down. This is probably an issue to which we shall return in order to find wording which is more satisfactory and which reflects more accurately what she said than what appears to be written down now. With that firing shot across the bows, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.