Right to Know Bill likely to clear first hurdle

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Indy Politics
THE GOVERNMENT is expected to allow a Labour MP's Right to Know Bill to be given a Second Reading - a move its backers believe will be a significant milestone in the battle for freedom of information legislation, writes Nicholas Timmins.

Although the Bill, which would itself provide a full freedom of information Act, remains unlikely to become law, a Second Reading would ensure it went into committee, forcing ministers to defend in detail their opposition to freedom of information laws.

Despite that, William Waldegrave, the Cabinet minister responsible for open government, is understood to be willing to see Mark Fisher's Right to Know Bill gain its Second Reading on 19 February. This is, in part, because Mr Waldegrave's own White Paper on open government will not be ready before then.

Promised 'relatively soon' last July, it has been held up by opposition in Whitehall and among other ministers.

Given the Prime Minister's election commitment to more open Government it is thought to be too embarrassing, when Mr Waldegrave will have no detailed alternative to offer, for the Government to be seen to be killing off a Bill which has Conservative backers.

Mr Waldegrave's stance is in marked contrast to that taken by Baroness Thatcher and Douglas Hurd when Prime Minister and Home Secretary. They unprecedently used not just the ministerial vote but a three-line whip to kill at Second Reading the Private Member's Bill introduced in the last Parliament by Richard Shepherd, a Conservative backer of Mr Fisher's Bill.

Mr Fisher said yesterday he was interested in 'any sign that the Government may be serious about freedom of information legislation', but said he remained anxious that his Bill could still be talked out next month.