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Right of Reply

The Home Secretary responds to criticism made in a recent article by Donald Macintyre
DONALD MACINTYRE claims that the draft Freedom of Information Bill represents a "retreat" from our earlier White Paper. But his arguments show a misunderstanding of the Bill.

We have not ignored the recommendation of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry relating to the police service. The police have been brought into the scope of the draft Bill, in contrast to the White Paper, which excluded all operational functions.

Mr Macintyre also fails to explain that this is a draft Bill, published for consultation and scrutiny. I am very willing to consider constructive suggestions for improving the Bill. Like Mr Macintyre, I believe that the Bill can be made better - if I did not believe that there would be little point in the extensive consultation and scrutiny process.

It is incorrect to suggest that the powerful statutory provisions in the draft Bill are worse than the existing, voluntary Code of Practice or to suggest that the Bill overturns the presumption of openness set out in the White Paper. The Bill creates an entitlement in law to information held by public authorities. Even where the Bill provides an exemption, public authorities are required to balance the public interest in making the information available against any harm caused by the disclosure.

Freedom of information has to be balanced with the rights to privacy and confidentiality. The public interest is not always served by making information available - for example, premature disclosure of evidence obtained during an investigation may prevent proceedings being taken against the accused.

The proposals in the draft Bill will make a radical change to the way that public services in this country operate.