Scottish Committee Rejects Government FOI Proposals

2 November 2012

A Scottish Parliament committee has asked the government to drop a proposed exemption for the British royalty from the freedom of information law and to consider bringing private organizations performing public functions under the act.

The Nov. 1 report and press release by the Finance Committee was welcomed by the Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland (CFoIS).

Among other things, the committee asks the Scottish Government to remove the Royal exemption provision from its proposal. The government FOI package submitted in June was criticized as too narrow.  (See previous Freedominfo.org report.)

The committee says testimony it received provided “substantial evidence… arguing against the inclusion of a provision that would make absolute those elements of the existing exemption relating to communication with The Queen, the Heir and second in line to the Throne.”  It asked the Scottish Government to remove this provision from the Bill at Stage 2.

“The committee also shares concerns expressed in evidence around the lack of extension of FoI coverage and has asked the Scottish Government to consider amendments to the FoI Act at the Bill’s Stage 2. The committee heard evidence about the right to access information being weaker now than in 2002 and of organisations being created which are not covered by the Act,” according to the press release. Critics have urged that the law be made applicable to private organizations performing public functions.

The Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland (CFoIS) Nov. 2 endorsed the Finance Committee’s conclusions, calling on the government to bring forward proposals to protect the public’s right to know.

It stated:

CFoIS is pleased the Committee has listened to its evidence that legal reform must address the increasing number of public services that are being moved outwith the scope of Freedom of Information legislation via private contractors, housing associations, arms-length organisations and voluntary bodies. The Committee has requested that the Scottish Government come forward with fresh proposals at Stage 2.”

CFoIS believes a ‘purpose’ clause should be added to the Bill and Section 5 of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 amended to require all public services be covered by FoI.  These two reforms will ensure the public have an enforceable right to access information when public services or services of a public nature are delivered.

CFoIS had called for the proposed absolute exemption for Royal Communications to be dropped and is relieved that the Committee agrees.  We believe there is no case to change the current arrangement whereby the existing exemption is subjected to a ‘public interest’ test.

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