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Monday, September 20, 1999 Published at 16:27 GMT 17:27 UK

UK Politics

'Retreat' on information bill condemned

The government's draft bill was criticised by delegates in Harrogate

The government has retreated on promises made about the content of freedom of information legislation, Liberal Democrat deputy leader Alan Beith has told his party.

The Lib Dems are demanding legislation that goes further in opening up government than the draft bill published by the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, earlier this year.

Delegates at the conference backed a motion condemning the draft legislation as a "significant retreat" on last year's white paper and demanding change.

The motion called for a clear requirement that information should be released "unless the harm that would arise from disclosure would outweigh the public interest in making the information available".

[ image: Alan Beith: Too many
Alan Beith: Too many "get out clauses"
Mr Beith said the controversial draft bill had "lost much of the substance" of earlier plans.

He said: "The government has gone from a warmly welcomed white paper to a widely-slated draft bill."

The draft document included too many "far-reaching exemptions" and "get-out clauses".

Mr Beith said: "It is simply too weak to guarantee effective access to information."

Robert Maclennan, the party's constitutional affairs spokesman, said he hoped the bill would be altered following consultation.

He said: "We didn't expect a New Labour government would stumble on freedom of information.

"If consultation means anything, the bill will be altered in significant and important respects."

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