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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment No. 103, in page 5, line 25, at end insert--

'(1A) Where the authority has notified a third party in accordance with section (Notification of third parties) that it has received a request for information which relates to the third party's commercial interests, the third party shall have a period of 10 working days to make representations in accordance with section (Notification of third parties) (1)(a), and that period of 10 days shall be disregarded in calculating for the purposes of subsection (1) the twentieth working day following the date of receipt.'.

Government amendment No. 101.

Amendment No. 99, in clause 41, page 22, line 36, at end insert--

'(1A) Information is exempt information if it was supplied to a public authority by a company or other commercial organisation before the coming into force of this Act'.

Amendment No. 37, in page 22, line 37, leave out subsection (2) and insert--

'(2) Information is exempt information if it was supplied to the authority in confidence by any person and its disclosure under this Act would unreasonably prejudice the commercial interests of that person.

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(2A) Information is exempt information if it has been consistently treated as confidential by the authority and its disclosure under this Act would unreasonably prejudice the commercial interests of the authority.'.

Amendment No. 31, in page 22, line 38, after "to", insert "substantially".

Amendment No. 38, in page 22, line 39, at end insert--

'(2A) Information is not exempt by virtue of subsection (2) if or to the extent that--
(a) it relates to the quality or safety of the goods or services produced or supplied by the person referred to in that subsection or the conditions under which those goods or services are produced or supplied; and
(b) the prejudice to that person's commercial interests would result from the exercise of more informed choice by persons seeking to acquire those goods or services,
unless the information is inaccurate.'.

Amendment No. 32, in page 22, line 41, after "to", insert "substantially".

Amendment No. 104, in clause 50, page 26, line 41, at end insert--

', or whether representations made by the complainant in accordance with section (Notification of third parties) have been dealt with in accordance with the requirements of that section.'.

Amendment No. 98, in clause 62, page 31, line 19, leave out ",40 or 41" and insert "or 40".

New clause 8--Extension of meaning of "data subject"--

'.--(1) Section 1 of the Data Protection Act 1998 (basic interpretative provisions) is amended in accordance with subsections (2) and (3).
(2) In the definition of "data subject", after the word "individual" there is inserted "or company".
(3) The definition of "personal data" is omitted and the following words are inserted--
""personal data" means data which relate to--
(a) a living individual, or
(b) a company (but only where those data are held by a public authority),
where the individual or the company can be identified from those data, or from those data and other information which is in the possession of, or is likely to come into the possession of, the data controller, and includes any expression of opinion about the individual or company and any indication of the intentions of the data controller or any other person in respect of the individual.".'

New clause 9--Notification of third parties--

'.--(1) Where a request for information is received by a public authority and that information relates to a third party's commercial interests the public authority shall--
(a) without delay notify the third party of the request for information and the extent and nature of the information relating to the request and give the third party a reasonable opportunity to make representations regarding whether the information requested falls under an exemption as listed in Part II; and
(b) have due regard to any such representations before discharging the duty to confirm or deny and before communicating the information or giving a notice under section 15.
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1)--
(a) "third party" means anyone other than the person making the request of any public authority; and

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(b) information shall be taken as relating to a third party's interests if that person provided the information to the public authority, is identified in the information and is reasonably likely to be affected (at any time) by disclosure of the information or of its existence.
(3) Where, after due regard has been given to any representation made in accordance with subsection (1), a public authority is to any extent not relying on a claim that information is exempt information in reaching its decision, the public authority must, without delay, give the third party a notice which--
(a) states that fact;
(b) specifies the exemption in question; and
(c) states why the exemption does not apply.'.

Mr. Hawkins: The Opposition consider this group of amendments and new clauses to have special importance. When the Under-Secretary dealt with this matter in Committee, he cited the interests of business--including small business--in his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway). It seems that the Under-Secretary may not respond to the debate, although he is in the Chamber. However, I wonder whether the Government may be embarrassed by the fact that they are flying in the face of the interests of business, both small and large.

When the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) was winding up the debate on the previous group of amendments, he had an exchange with the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter) about the question of self-destruct mechanisms. It struck me that the idea of mechanisms self-destructing came from a television programme entitled "Mission Impossible". Given the lack of support enjoyed by Ministers this evening, it is clear that the Government are embarked on just such a mission with this Bill, so it is not surprising that they reject the idea of self-destruct clauses.

However, I shall begin with the matters covered by new clause 8, which is linked with amendments Nos. 102, 103, 99, 98 and 104. The Data Protection Act 1998 gives companies--small or large--no rights to ensure that information held on them by any public authority is correct.

The Bill would give the public wide powers of access to information on any company that works with any public authority. The amendments in this group would broaden the scope of the Data Protection Act 1998 to ensure that companies have the same rights as individuals to ensure that information held on them is correct.

That is simple justice. For example, information held on people by credit reference agencies causes great unease, but individuals have the right to ask the agency what information it holds about them. They can correct what they can prove to be wrong.

We believe that freedom of information demands a degree of reciprocity in this regard. Companies need to be able to ensure that the information held on them is correct. When he responds, I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will say whether he can think of any good reason why companies should not have the right to check.

Mr. White: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the original US freedom of information legislation contained no provision such as he proposes? After several court cases, that element became a key part of the US legislation.

Mr. Hawkins: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I was aware of that aspect, and I was going to speak about

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the history of what has happened in other jurisdictions. However, the hon. Gentleman and I have served on the parliamentary information technology committee, and I know that he shares my interest in matters such as data protection.

As I said earlier, I may be the only hon. Member to have conducted cases under the Data Protection Act 1998 in the courts. However, once again, the Opposition's argument has the support of a Labour Back Bencher, who I hope will join me in pressing Ministers on this matter. We have yet to hear a Back-Bench Labour Member supporting the Ministers on any of these matters. Once again, the Minister is under friendly fire from his own side. The hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. White) is absolutely right, and I am glad to have his support. I hope that many other Labour Members will also support the idea of simple justice.

If business organisations do not have the right that we propose, incorrect or inaccurate information on companies, be they small or large, could be released into the public domain following a freedom of information request under this measure. We believe that any freedom of information legislation should mean that more information relating to the dealings between public authorities and business is released as long as, and only so long as, that information is accurate. Therefore, our welcome for the Government's proposals is subject to the exemption of information that could harm a commercial interest and to our concern that businesses must have a right to check on the accuracy of the information and correct it if there are mistakes. Because of accident or incompetence--not malice--records may, on many occasions, be incorrect. Things may be mistranslated. In many business fields, the accuracy of record keeping cannot be perfect. If more information is to be released, it must be checked for accuracy.

Under the Bill, a third party that may be affected by the disclosure of information has no right to be notified of any application for disclosure. Once again, we think that that is wrong. We believe that third parties should be given the right to be notified, in advance, of any application for disclosure that may affect them. It is also vital that third parties should then have the opportunity to make representations on whether that information is covered by an exemption. Can the Minister think of any good reason why that should not be the case? In no way would new clause 9 give commercial organisations a veto over whether information should be released. It simply means that no company, small or large, would have to rely on an action for breach or confidence or other legal remedy after the information was disclosed. We think it wrong for any company to seek to shut the stable door after the horse has well and truly bolted.

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