§ Mr. Llew Smith
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to amend the draft Freedom of Information Bill to accommodate commitments on environmental information disclosure contained in EU directives and the Aarhus Convention on Access to Environmental Information. 
§ Mr. Mike O'Brien
The consultation paper on the draft Freedom of Information Bill (published 24 May 1999) set out the Government's intention to modify as necessary the general right of access in the Freedom of Information Bill in order to implement the Aarhus Convention (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Convention on access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters) insofar as it relates to access to environmental information.
The Bill will now contain a provision giving power to the Secretary of State to make regulations to give effect to the Aarhus Convention as it relates to access to environmental information. Ministers have agreed to this 420W change of approach. This will allow for the creation of a free-standing regime for environmental information which will give effect to the Aarhus Convention and the existing European Community Directive on Freedom of Access to Information on the Environment. The current regulations will be revoked.
Access to environmental information will, therefore, be given in the first instance under the regulations rather than the Bill itself. Freedom of Information legislation will continue to have an effect, however, by placing a duty on authorities to consider any discretion they may have to disclose information in the public interest where it is otherwise exempt under the regulations.