Scottish Government to remove absolute exemption for Royal communications from FOI Bill

The Scottish Government has announced its intention to remove the absolute exemption for information relating to communications with the Queen, the Heir and the second in line to the throne from its Freedom of Information (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill. In its Stage 1 report on the Bill the Scottish Parliament’s Finance Committee said it “remained unconvinced of the need” for the provision, having received “substantial evidence” from witnesses including the Scottish Information Commissioner and Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland (see earlier post).

The Government also outlined a further amendment which will place new obligations on Scottish Ministers to regularly review extending the scope of the legislation to cover additional bodies, and the range of organisations who are consulted when considering extensions through Section 5 of the Act will be widened.

Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon said:

We’ve carefully considered the views of the Finance Committee, the Scottish Information Commissioner and other stakeholders and we are lodging two key amendments today which will help to make our procedures here in Scotland even stronger.

Having carefully considered the report of the Finance Committee, we have concluded that the principle of public interest as regards Royal communications should be maintained. As a result, and subject to the views of the Parliament, we are now proposing that there should be no absolute exemption for information relating to communications with senior members of the Royal Family.

We remain firmly of the view that communications between Her Majesty and other members of the Royal Family with Scottish Ministers – and other public authorities – should be handled sensitively and confidentially, with strict and appropriate application of the exemptions contained within the current Freedom of Information Act.

I also believe that the scope of bodies covered by Freedom of Information must be kept under regular review to ensure that the regime remains robust and relevant. Our amendments aim to do just that.

The Bill will be considered by the Finance Committee at Stage 2 on 5 December.

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