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MSPs condemn government approach to freedom of information

Out-Law News | 23 Jun 2017 | 1:15 pm | 1 min. read

Members of the Scottish Parliament have supported a motion condemning the Scottish Government's performance in responding to freedom of information (FOI) requests and calling for an independent inquiry into the way these are dealt with. 

The motion was put forward by Conservative MSP Edward Mountain.

"I started campaigning to become an MSP in 2010, and one of my reasons for doing so was that, like many others in the chamber and across Scotland, I felt that politicians seemed remote, unapproachable and secretive. Countering those traits remains one of my key drivers, and that is what the debate is all about," Mountain said.

The motion was supported by all MSPs, and amended to say that the Parliament "welcomes commitments by the Scottish Government to adopt a policy of pro-actively publishing all material released under FOI to ensure that it is as widely available as possible".

Minister for parliamentary business Joe FitzPatrick said: "Although there is some surprise that the Government is accepting the Conservative motion, anyone who has been listening to the ongoing debate will know that we accept that our recent performance has not been good enough and we are working to improve it."

All information released in response to information requests will also be published online from 3 July, FitzPatrick said.

Mountain's motion followed an open letter from a group of journalists who complained that information requests are being delayed significantly without "clear justification or warning" and that follow up emails are ignored. Other requests have been blocked or refused for "tenuous reasons", the letter said.

Scotland's outgoing information commissioner Rosemary Agnew said in May that the FOI regime needs a "re-think" as public authorities are getting bogged down in handling an increasing number of requests for information.

The authorities also adopt a tick-box approach to compliance with their duty to proactively publish certain information, "rather than an opportunity to use the framework to promote and enable the dissemination of information", she said.

Agnew suggested a "simpler framework to both administer and use" could be established to help "engender the fundamental cultural shift that is needed to move Scotland that stellar step from publication because it is something we have to do, to openness and transparency because that is how we want to be".