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Clause 5—(Restriction On Disclosure Of Information)

Volume 440: debated on Friday 25 July 1947

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Lords Amendment: In page 5, line 41, at end, insert:

"(4) A Development Council order shall make provision for ensuring that, where under powers conferred by virtue of either of the two last preceding sections a requirement is imposed to furnish returns or other information relating to an individual business or to produce for examination hooks or other documents or records, and the person on whom the requirement is made uses in his business what he claims to be a secret process that ought not to be disclosed on the ground of risk of prejudice to his business, he shall not be subject to any liability for withholding disclosure of any particulars relating to the process unless the form of the requirement and the making of it in that form have been approved by the Board or Minister concerned after consideration of his claim."

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

This Amendment is designed to protect trade secrets. During the passage of the Bill the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) and many of his hon. Friends frequently asked that we should introduce into the Bill some provision to protect trade secrets During the Committee stage an assurance was given that we did not contemplate that development councils would, in fact, use their powers to obtain this kind of information. I do not think that he was very satisfied with an assurance of that kind. On the Report stage my right hon. and learned Friend promised to put down an Amendment providing further safeguards against the abuse of a council's power in this way, in order to give to industrialists as little reason as possible for apprehension. I agree that we should do everything we can to remove from the minds of industrialists any fear that they would be exposed to the opening up of their trade secrets. I believe that this Amendment will have dial effect.

Again, I thank the President of the Board of Trade.For having made us easy on this point. That was not so easy to do as it appears at first sight. The difficulty about protecting trade secrets was that if there was unlimited power by industrialists to say that any process was secret they would find it in their power to prevent the operation of necessary parts of this Bill acting. At the same time, it must be recognised that there are processes, perhaps not covered by patents or by what the Americans call "know-how," which it would be very embarrassing for a manufacturer to have to disclose even to a development council especially when that council, in the nature of things must have Independent members on it from other industries. Therefore, my suggestion was that if we left it in the ultimate power of the Minister to decide whether the information regarding a secret process was to be asked for, then we would get as near satisfying the apprehensions that we have on this side of the House as is possible. I think this carries out that undertaking which was given during the Committee stage and we welcome it for that reason.

I would like to assure the Parliamentary Secretary that he need not get worried I am not going to ask him a question, whether I think that he would answer it or not. I want to say—and I speak, neither as an industrialist nor a trade union leader — that I welcome this Amendment. I believe that it is essential that we should do nothing whatever to create suspicion about this Bill in any section of industry. I wish that the Parliamentary Secretary would not look at me in such an unkindly way. I am not going to say anything unkind to him. I merely wish to congratulate his chief on having accepted the bigger and wider view on this matter. I know that he is trying to remove distrust. We had a good deal of discussion on this point earlier. The Bill has gone through its various stages. I am glad that we have been able to accomplish something and that we have done something to relieve what is a very natural and just suspicion. I feel sure that these statistics will not be used for other than absolutely necessary purposes and that they will be kept secret. I think that it would have been right for some ordinary member who represents the trade, especially the trade unions, to get up and to say how glad he is that the employers' side have been helped by the Government on this point.

Question put, and agreed to.

Remaining Lords Amendments agreed to.