Lib Dems accused of caving in on secrecy Bill

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The Liberal Democrats were accused by freedom of information campaigners yesterday of caving in to government pressure to support legislation that had "serious defects".

The Liberal Democrats were accused by freedom of information campaigners yesterday of caving in to government pressure to support legislation that had "serious defects".

The party faced criticism after the decision by Liberal Democrat peers to promise their support for the controversial Freedom of Information Bill after the Home Secretary offered a series of concessions. Jack Straw has accepted four amendments to strengthen the public's access to information from public authorities amid fears that the Bill would otherwise be lost.

But Maurice Frankel, the Campaign for Freedom of Information's director, expressed "deep disappointment and anger" at the Liberal Democrat climbdown.

Mr Frankel said: "The four amendments in themselves are helpful. But they represent only limited progress on issues of mainly secondary importance and do not address the Bill's key shortcomings... [It] will become law with all its serious defects intact."

Mr Frankel added that the peers' decision to give up their opposition to continuing exemptions to public access to information had been "totally unnecessary" because there could have been further negotiations once the Bill returned from the Commons.

Under the proposed changes to the Bill, public authorities will now have to spell out why they want to exempt certain information from public release. People who want information will also be able to get assistance in drafting their requests and public authorities will have to advise applicants within 21 working days.

The Home Secretary also strengthened the public's rightto obtain factual information from public authorities that had been taken into consideration when policy decisions were made.

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