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Freedom of Information bill is first test of whether SNP government has listened to concerns

January 11, 2013 3:23 PM
Originally published by Scottish Liberal Democrats

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie MSP has urged the SNP toWillie RennieWillie Rennie begin 2013 with a fresh commitment to open government. Speaking ahead of the Stage 3 debate on the Freedom of Information (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill, Mr Rennie has called on Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to support the introduction of a purpose clause to the bill.

The purpose clause would plainly set out how the bill could be used to expand the public's right to access information about bodies which spend the public pound. It requires governments to increase progressively the availability of information held by Scottish public authorities. This is an amendment the Scottish Liberal Democrats will be supporting in the final debate.

Speaking ahead of the debate, Mr Rennie said:

"2012 saw the SNP throw away any credibility it had for governing openly and transparently. While Alex Salmond talked of a modern, liberal Scotland, his government was drawing the blinds and double locking the doors. The Freedom of Information (Amendment) (Scotland) bill is the first test of whether the SNP have been listening to concerns about their fondness for secrecy.

"When the parliament has its final debate on the bill, I will be urging Nicola Sturgeon to support the introduction of a purpose clause. This would, in very plain terms, require any Scottish government to take the steps needed to improve the public's access to information. It would require bodies to proactively release information rather than wait for someone to ask.
"As more local authorities deliver their services through arms' length organisations, I share the concerns of the Information Commissioner that citizen's rights will continue to be eroded if access to information is not expanded. Nicola Sturgeon has admitted Freedom of Information coverage has been eroded since the act was enacted so now she needs to act.

"We also need a commitment to expand, by the end of the year, the range of bodies covered by FOI law to include bodies that spend public money. The SNP could then begin the year with a fresh commitment to open government.

"From misleading Scotland about the existence of legal advice on an independent Scotland's position in the EU, to hiding cuts to college budgets, people I meet across Scotland have been appalled with the SNP's dislike for openness. Only this week we've learnt that now the ministerial code will be changed to provide clarity around what ministers can and cannot say about legal advice.

"The Scottish Parliament was founded on the tenets of openness. Under the SNP, those foundations are beginning to crumble. I will be urging Nicola Sturgeon to demonstrate that her government has listened to concerns by supporting a move for clarity in the Freedom of Information (Amendment) (Scotland) bill."