Press Release: 14th December
Tommy Sheppard, SNP spokesperson for the cabinet office, has joined forces with Tom Watson, deputy leader of the Labour party to gather evidence as part of a cross party review into the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
The alternative commission will take evidence in public from leading figures in Government, Whitehall, the media, academics and NGOs. Today’s second session of the review (co-chaired by Tommy Sheppard and Tom Watson) will hear from the former Head of the Civil Service, Sir Bob Kerslake; the Chief Executive of the Taxpayers Alliance, Jonathan Isaby and the Campaign for Freedom of Information’s Maurice Frankel.
David Cameron launched his own review of the Act earlier this year and appointed a five-strong Independent Commission to examine possible changes. Campaigners have warned that the potential changes to FOI (including charges, increasing exceptions and an increase in veto powers) by the UK Government could have a significant impact across the UK.
Tommy Sheppard commented:
"It's interesting that the government seems to be reviewing Freedom of Information legislation in a manner which seems to reflect the changes it aspires to. The Government’s Commission has been hand-picked from establishment cronies and is totally unrepresentative of both public and parliamentary opinion. It meets in secret and seems certain to rubber-stamp government prejudices on this matter. Our alternative commission will allow a proper debate to take place and examine ways to strengthen FoI and make government more transparent and accountable rather than less.”
Scotland is covered by separate FOI legislation which is already stronger than the UK equivalent with, for example, a 20 day working response time that can’t just be extended by companies like it can in the rest of the UK. The Scottish Government has recently held a consultation to consider extending the legislation to contractors who deliver public services.
“If the UK Government does seek to make changes to FOI legislation, it should look north of the border where any changes to legislation aim to extend the scope of FOI rather than making it harder for the public to find out relevant information”
Any amendments and restrictions to the UK Act will affect Scottish citizens seeking information from UK wide organisations, including UK government departments.
Carole Ewart (Convenor of Campaign for FOI Scotland) commented:
“We welcome this alternative commission which allows people to articulate the benefits of FoI for democracy, highlight the importance of public authorities’ pro-actively publishing information as well as reacting to individual FoI requests, and keep the pressure on government to extend FoI to organisations that deliver services of a public nature.”