This leaflet urged MSPs to improve the FOI Bill and removed loopholes during it’s final stage in the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday 24 April.
MSPs vote on the final stage of Scotland’s Freedom of Information Bill on Wednesday (April 24). The Bill is an improvement over the UK FOI Act – but it still contains important loopholes which make it too easy for authorities to keep crucial information secret.
- The facts on which decisions have been based don’t have to be disclosed – as they do under the Irish and Australian FOI laws. An exemption for policy-making covers the facts as well as civil servants’ advice. Factual material will only be disclosed if officials think the public interest in openness outweighs the public interest in confidentiality. This invites officials to find reasons not to release research, scientific findings on hazards, cost figures and descriptions of a problem. The Information Commissioner who enforces the Bill could ultimately overrule them – but by then it may be too late to use the information. We should have a clear right to the facts.
- Routine inspection reports into consumer and environmental health problems could be withheld under a similar test. They should have to be disclosed unless this would cause “substantial prejudice” – the tougher test used elsewhere in the Bill
- PFI bodies and private contractors running public services aren’t caught by the Bill. They can be brought in one at a time later, if ministers decide to. They should automatically be covered.
- The Executive is proposing to delete Housing Associations from the Bill. These are precisely the kinds of essential bodies that should be included.
- The right of access won’t start until December 2005 – much too late. The Act should come into force within a year.
MSPs have one last chance to improve this vital Bill – and ensure that Scotland gets an effective right to know!