Tories 'delaying information law'

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The Independent Online

Legal Affairs Correspondent

The Government is being accused of downgrading its commitment to freedom of information after failing to introduce legislation which was promised two years ago to give the public the right to safety information from official files.

According to the pressure group, Campaign for Freedom of Information, the series of leaks on suppressed rail incidents in recent days show the need for information to be made available.

Maurice Frankel, director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, has written to Roger Freeman, who as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is in charge of open government, saying "the delay in bringing forward the legislation suggests that further progress on open government is now a relatively low priority".

As pressure on parliamentary time grows as the next general election approaches, the chances of the reforms being made seem to be low.

In a White Paper in 1993, the Government promised to introduce a new legal right of access to health and safety information, and a separate right for people to look at their personal records held on government files.

According to Mr Frankel, the delay is particularly damaging because the Government has said neither of the new laws will be retrospective. Any information collected before a law is passed will remain secret.He said in his letter: "Information which is currently being acquired by public bodies may be permanently inaccessible, even after the new legislation is introduced. With every day that passes, public authorities accumulate more information which will not be subject to these new rights."

The Government introduced a voluntary code of open government last year, but this code does not apply to all public bodies and gives wide exemptions.