HC Deb 19 April 2000 vol 348 cc1046-7 7.45 pm
Dr. Cable

I beg to move amendment No. 35, in page 14, line 17, leave out "or body".

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 36, in page 14, line 18, leave out from beginning to "or" in line 19.

No. 38, in page 14, line 25, leave out from "body" to end of line 28.

Dr. Cable

May I first seek your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on a point of information? My colleagues and I tabled four amendments that were logically connected, but the Chair, in its wisdom, has chosen three of them, but not the fourth, on which, in fact, the three were contingent. The effect of that is the amendments that we are debating would have exactly the opposite effect to that which we intended.

May I ask whether the Speaker's provisional selection list is sufficiently provisional to allow for the readmission of amendment No. 33, or could you give me further advice on how I should proceed?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am afraid that Madam Speaker's decision on the selection of amendments is final.

Dr. Cable

Naturally, I accept your judgment, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall therefore speak briefly on the three amendments, but shall not waste the House's time by entering into prolonged debate on amendments that we acknowledge to be defective as they stand.

The Bill uses commercial confidentiality as a broad brush exemption from information that can be made available through the National Consumer Council. We regard that as a serious defect, which undermines the openness and transparency that we would wish from the consumer protection regime. We recognise that commercial confidentiality must sometimes be honoured and accepted, but a balance has to be struck between confidentiality and the right to know and to freedom of information.

Our amendments were intended to try to ensure that a balance would be struck and that the council would have an obligation to balance commercial confidentiality against the value of open information. In the event of a dispute between those two objectives, the matter would have been referred to the Information Commission. I regret that because of the way in which the amendments have emerged, their effect would be to narrow freedom of information rather than broaden it. I do not want to achieve that, so I shall not trouble the Government to produce a reply. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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