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Right to information threatened by parliamentary bill

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has strongly condemned the British parliament's approval of amendments to the Freedom of Information Act, including one that would bar access to details of MPs' expenses.

"If these measures become law, it would be a setback," the press freedom organisation said. "Access to information is a basic principle of democracy and for MPs to hide details of their spending is a serious blow to the public's right to be informed. The motives for such a move are unacceptable."

The bill, introduced by Conservative MP David Maclean and passed by the House of Commons (the elected lower house of parliament) on 18 May 2007, remains to be approved by the House of Lords (the unelected upper chamber). Despite strong opposition led by Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes, the measure could soon become law, on grounds that it is needed to protect the privacy of MPs' correspondence.

Critics accuse MPs of trying to hide excessive spending. Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker said after the Commons vote that it was a "terrible day" for parliamentary democracy and that he was "ashamed to be an MP."

The Freedom of Information Act, which came into effect in January 2005, allows the public and the media access to most information held by the authorities and has enabled the media to obtain hitherto inaccessible information.

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