Information bill fulfills long-standing Labour pledge

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Indy Politics

The announcement that a Freedom of Information Bill will finally be introduced into Parliament fulfils what has been a Labour Party manifesto commitment since 1974.

The announcement that a Freedom of Information Bill will finally be introduced into Parliament fulfils what has been a Labour Party manifesto commitment since 1974.

The Government said the Bill, which will enshrine in law the public's right to information held by public bodies for the first time, was "an essential component of the Government's Constitutional reform".

But campaigners, who have watched the Bill's faltering progress through a series of delays and setbacks, have complained bitterly that the right to information will be subject to far too many safeguards and exemptions.

Home Secretary Jack Straw has been forced to make a number of concessions to the original draft Bill to head off the threat of a backbench revolt.

For example, a blanket exemption on information relating to accident investigations has been modified to one based on whether releasing the information would cause harm, or if criminal proceedings were a possibility.

However, the Bill could still receive a rough ride through the Commons.

The Government insists some limits are essential to protect the right to privacy for individuals, confidentiality and national security.

Under the Bill, all public authorities will be forced to consider whether information should be released even if it is exempt, if that would be in the public interest.

A new Information Commissioner would be responsible for ensuring public authorities implemented the new provisions.

But campaigners are angry that although the Commissioner will be able to say information should be disclosed, he or she will not be able to order public authorities to comply.

They are also unhappy that the public will have no right to access policy advice to ministers, even if it would cause no harm to publish it.

The Campaign for Freedom of Information has warned the Bill would not prevent scandals like BSE being covered up by the Government.

The Government's draft bill came under fire from two Parliamentary select committees and more than 190 MPs have signed a Commons motion calling for substantial improvements to the proposed legislation.

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