Draft bill fails openness test on the environment

11 Nov 99
Home Secretary Jack Straw has been forced to go back to the drawing board after it emerged that his draft Freedom of Information Bill contravened international agreements on the environment.

12 November 1999

Home Office sources confirmed that new clauses are being drawn up to meet the standards of openness demanded by European directives and the United Nations' Aarhus Convention, to which Britain is a signatory.

The convention binds the government to 'guarantee the right of access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters'.

The amendments will force ministers to be more open on a range of environmental concerns, including genetically modified crops, radiation from nuclear power stations, air quality and water pollution.

Maurice Frankel, director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, said: 'If it is good enough for the environment, why not for health and education, which equally affect the community? Why is environmental pollution a more serious issue than dangerous consumer products: drugs that might poison you or exploding factories?' he said.

One Home Office source admitted the anomalies could undermine the credibility of the bill. 'We are being forced into piecemeal concessions on particular issues which could make the final Bill very unbalanced,' said the source.


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