Greens pushed to back freedom of information reform

The Scottish Greens are coming under pressure to back a bid to strengthen and extend freedom of information (FoI) law – and boost the chances of reform.

Campaigners have voiced “disappointment” that no Green MSP has so far signed an FoI bill being promoted by the Labour MSP, Katy Clark

The bill has been signed by 24 Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative MSPs and will be debated in the Scottish Parliament. But without Green or SNP backing, it is unlikely to become law.

The Green MSP, Gillian Mackay, said she was keen to work with Clark “in good faith” to support reform “where appropriate”. The two MSPs are due to meet to discuss the bill.

Clark’s bill aims to extend freedom of information coverage to all bodies delivering public services, including private and third sector agencies. It hopes to close loopholes, improve enforcement and introduce a statutory duty to proactively publish information.

The bill was out for public consultation in 2022 and 2023. It was fully or partially supported by 63 of the 85 organisations and individuals that responded, including the then Scottish Information Commissioner, Daren Fitzhenry.

On 8 January 2024 the Scottish Parliament disclosed that the bill had been signed by enough MSPs from enough parties to be introduced to parliament: 18 Labour, four Liberal Democrats and two Conservatives.

In November 2023 the Scottish Government dropped its plans to reform FoI legislation, arguing that the existing law was sufficiently “rigorous”. This was criticised by the new Scottish Information Commissioner, David Hamilton, as a “missed opportunity” which had harmed Scotland’s international reputation.

Clark said it was “disappointing” that no Green or SNP MSPs had signed her bill. “But I hope they will give active consideration to the contents of the bill as it goes forward,” she told The Ferret.

“The focus will now be on introducing a bill to make FoI fit for the modern day. I will be listening closely to colleagues across all political parties as we attempt to get this right.”

The public’s right to know should mean that “public information must follow the public pound”, Clark argued. “I look forward to making that case as we seek to ensure parliament progresses reforms that achieve that.”

Greens have pushed for FoI law to be updated

The Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland was also “disappointed” the bill had not received unanimous support, thereby “endangering” its success. “This bill presents an opportunity which should not be wasted,” said the campaign’s director, Carole Ewart.

Reform of Scotland’s 22-year-old FoI law was “long overdue” and a “non party political matter,” she added. “There is now an opportunity for all MSPs to convert positive statements into legislative action to strengthen transparency and accountability.”

Green MSP, Gillian Mackay, said: “These are early stages, but we are keen to speak to Katy Clark and to learn more about her proposals and to work with her.

“Freedom of information is one of the most important advances that has been made for transparency and good governance in decades, and has led to countless stories that some would rather were kept in the shadows.

“The Scottish Greens have always pushed for the legislation to be updated and to go further where appropriate, and we will always work with others in good faith to do so.”

Cover image thanks to iStock/ManuelVelasco.

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