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Government promises FoI extension

26 January 2011

A bill clarifying and strengthening the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act has been promised for the next Parliament by the Minister for Parliamentary Business, Bruce Crawford.

Mr Crawford announced today that the Scottish Government is committed to bringing forward measures to strengthen and improve the Act, which was passed in 2002 and has now been in force for six years. However the Government also considers that it would be premature to extend the legislation to cover a greater range of bodies delivering public services during the current parliamentary session.

Ministers consulted last year on whether the Act should be widened to cover a greater range of bodies who deliver public services in Scotland. As a result of this, they believe it would be premature to extend coverage before the deficiencies identified in the Act can be put right and the opportunity is taken to strengthen and update its provisions.

Organisations that have been under consideration for extending the Act include bodies established by local authorities to providing leisure or cultural services; private prison operators; Glasgow Housing Association; the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland; and private contractors who build and/or maintain schools and hospitals, or operate and maintain trunk roads.

The proposed bill would put right two deficiencies that have been identified in the 2002 Act, relating to Part 5 (historical records, where it would be desirable to introduce different timescales for different classes of documents) and s 65 (offence of altering records with intent to prevent disclosure, where there is a problem with the time limit within which a charge must normally be brought).

The Scottish Government also intends to review and consult on how best the Act can be improved and strengthened as part of bringing forward this primary legislation.

Spirit of the law

Mr Crawford said: “Freedom of Information has brought a welcome culture of openness and transparency to the work of Government and other public bodies since its introduction in Scotland, and we can be proud of the fact that we have set an example for other countries in this respect. However, the existing legislation can be improved, and that is why we intend to bring forward legislation in the next parliamentary session to improve and strengthen the existing Act.

“At the same time, Scottish Ministers have carefully considered responses to our consultation on the possible extension of FoI, and it is clear that, while there is broad support for the principles of openness and transparency, any extension of legislation is not favoured by the majority of those bodies proposed for coverage at the present time.

“It was also apparent from the replies to the consultation that many of these organisations are already acting within the spirit of the act by making relevant information available, through both voluntary and statutory means. Ministers believe it would be premature to extend coverage before the deficiencies in the Act can be put right and the opportunity is taken to strengthen and update the current legislation.

“In the meantime, alternative methods with the same aim, including revision to the FOISA Code of Practice, assessment of the impact of the proposed Scottish Housing Charter and the further development of the transparency agenda, will continue to be explored."

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