Scottish Parliament Finance Committee seeks removal of Royal exemption from FOI Bill

The Scottish Parliament’s Finance Committee has today published its Stage 1 report on the Freedom of Information (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill. The report asks the Scottish Government to remove the Royal exemption provision from the Bill, which would mirror the absolute exemption for information relating to communications with the monarch, heir and second in line to throne that was controversially introduced to the UK FOI Act by the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010.

The report also states that the Committee shares the concerns expressed by the Scottish Information Commissioner, Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland and others, 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:

While the Committee recognises the Scottish Government’s intention to defer consideration of the extension of coverage until the Bill has been considered by Parliament, it invites the Cabinet Secretary to provide details and timings of how the Scottish Government intends to take forward this work and clarify what the options are which she is ‘actively considering’, including the possibility of Stage 2 amendments to section 5 of the 2002 Act. In the light of this response, the Committee will reconsider its position on this issue at Stage 2.

The Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland welcomed the Committee’s conclusions and said the Scottish Government must have the courage to reform the Scottish Freedom of Information Act. Carole Ewart, Co-convener, said:

We are delighted that the Finance Committee has identified that people’s right to know is not as effective in 2012, as it was in 2002 when the law was passed, and 2005 when it came into force. It is now time for the Scottish Government to accept the Committee’s conclusions and the evidence provided and introduce the necessary amendments so Scottish FoI law is once more pre-eminent in the UK.

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