Straw tries to head off defeat for Bill in Lords

Local authorities could be ordered to disclose confidential facts against their will under fresh concessions to the Freedom of Information Bill being considered by the Government.

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, is looking at substantial changes to the controversial legislation in an attempt to head off a potentially embarrassing defeat in the House of Lords.

Peers, buoyed by a back-bench rebellion in the Commons, are due to give the Bill a second reading today but a cross-party alliance could throw it out later.

Mr Straw has already announced that he will alter the Bill to restrict the ability of the Government to override decisions made by a new Information Commissioner.

The Information Commissioner will have the power under the Bill to order public authorities to disclose information if he thinks it is in the public interest. Home Office officials are looking at to what extent local councils should be forced to comply. The Bill as drafted said that in extreme circumstances, ministers - regardless of rank - could override the commissioner's decisions.

Mr Straw said in the Commons that he would table amendments to the Bill when it was debated in the Lords to restrict these decisions to cabinet ministers. He added that the code of guidance to ministers' conduct would be changed to say that they should not take that decision without consulting cabinet colleagues.

But freedom of information campaigners believe the Bill does not go far enough in making a general presumption that information should be disclosed unless there is good reason to prevent it.

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