Britons had their first opportunity to test the country's new Freedom of Information Act yesterday, when the nation goes to work after an extended New Year holiday. \nBut the government was already making clear that there were limits to its new openness, insisting in particular that it would not release the attorney-general's advice on the legality of the Iraq war. \n"Whether or not information is disclosed depends on the Act, but every government needs space to take advice. I don't think any government with an [freedom of information] Act such as this would act on any other basis," Lord Falconer, the lord chancellor, or chief legal officer, said on Monday. \nOpposition parties and opponents of the Iraq war have sought in vain to obtain a copy of the advice of the attorney-general, Lord Goldsmith, which underpinned British Prime Minister Tony Blair's decision to join the US-led invasion. \nUnder the Act, every government department must declare what information will be routinely available, how to get it and whether there will be a charge for access. The effective date varies from department to department. \nEvery public authority now must comply with requests for information it holds unless that information is specifically exempted from disclosure. In general, public agencies are to respond to requests within 20 working days. \nFalconer said the government was not being selective in the information it releases, insisting that any request it refuses can be appealed to an independent tribunal. \nA Cabinet minister might veto release from his or her department, but only with the support of the full Cabinet. \nA Freedom of Information Act was first promised by the Labour Party in its 1974 election manifesto. Blair's government secured passage of the legislation in 2000. \nThe Act is supervised by Information Commissioner Richard Thomas. He can reject departmental plans on information release and, in some cases, can order a department to release information that it has withheld. \nThe Act is expected to lead to the release of Foreign Office files on the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) between 1870 and 1939. \nThe government has also indicated it will release notes by Cabinet secretaries of Cabinet meetings back to 1942, which are more thorough than the official minutes. \nSome 50,000 government files were being released to the National Archives yesterday, all of them sooner than the past British practice of keeping many documents secret for 30 years. \nAmong the records were National Coal Board Files from the time of the coalminers' strike of 1984 and 1985, and a titanic collision between organized labor and former prime minister Margaret Thatcher's government. \nIn an interview published on Sunday in the Observer newspaper, Thomas said he expected the Act would lead to the public release of information on the performance of National Health Service physicians and surgeons. \nFalconer caused some consternation in editors' offices last month when he announced that any information released to a media organization under the Act would immediately be published on a Web site. \nThe Guardian newspaper, which is using the Act to request the attorney-general's advice on Iraq, protested in an editorial that immediate publication on a Web site would cripple the incentive for reporters to take advantage of the Act.
FRENCH AID: Paris has sent a navy ship and aircraft from Reunion Island with some pollution control equipment, but rough seas are spreading the oil spill The operator of a Japanese bulk carrier which ran aground off Mauritius in the Indian Ocean yesterday apologized for a major oil spill, which officials and environmentalists say is creating an ecological disaster, as police prepared to board the ship. The MV Wakashio, operated by Mitsui OSK Lines, struck the reef on Mauritius’ southeast coast on July 25. “We apologize profusely and deeply for the great trouble we have caused,” Mitsui OSK Lines executive vice president Akihiko Ono said at a news conference in Tokyo. The company would “do everything in their power to resolve the issue,” he said. At least 1,000 tonnes of
They stand as eyesores to most passers-by and potential public health risks to authorities, decaying buildings wrapped in tangles of exposed wire, studded with protruding leaky plastic pipes, vegetation billowing from cracks and terraces where particulates from polluted air have accumulated over time. With skyscrapers and ultramodern developments on every side, some of these “nail houses” are also sitting on land worth millions of dollars in Shenzhen’s inferno of a property market, where new-unit and second-hand home prices rival London. In battles over land and development, the nail house phenomenon has become widespread throughout China over the past two decades, with owners
An Italian alpine resort on Friday remained on high alert over fears that a vast chunk of a glacier on the slopes of the Mont Blanc massif could plummet in high temperatures. “No one gets through! No cars, bikes or pedestrians,” was the message at a checkpoint where an automatic barrier and two guards blocked the small road snaking up into a lush valley below the Planpincieux glacier, near the town of Courmayeur and the Italian-French border. The blockade has largely been greeted with contempt by the locals, one of whom said: “It’s a joke.” The huge ice block measuring around 500,000 cubic
SHOW OF SOLIDARITY: The publisher’s ‘Apple Daily’ newspaper has had to raise the number of copies printed from 70,000 to 550,000 to meet a huge surge in demand They have occupied Hong Kong’s central business district, marched by the hundreds of thousands through the territory’s streets and endured tear gas and pepper spray in pitched battles with riot police. Hong Kong’s pro-democracy supporters are now wielding a new protest weapon: their stock-market trading accounts. To show support for Jimmy Lai (黎智英), the publisher and outspoken government critic who was on Monday arrested under the territory’s new national security legislation, Hong Kongers have been piling into shares of his media company Next Digital. The result: a more than 1,100 percent surge in two days that propelled the stock to a seven-year