Section 12 — Excessive cost of compliance

Freedom of Information (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 4:15 pm on 24th April 2002.

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Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party 4:15 pm, 24th April 2002

Amendment 66 is grouped with amendments 17 and 18. If amendment 66 is agreed to, members will not be able to vote on amendment 17.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

I have asked for the volume of my microphone to be increased. We will do our best.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

Amendment 66 would remove the provision by which a public authority may deem several requests to be part of a concerted campaign and refuse to answer them if the cost of answering all the requests would be more than £500. The aggregation of requests allows public bodies to ignore two or more requests if they perceive them to have come from an organised campaign and if answering the requests would cost more than the prescribed threshold figure.

Section 14 gives public authorities sufficient protection from vexatious or repeated requests. The campaigns exemption is open to abuse by public bodies, which could misinterpret several similar requests that originated from an organised campaign. Members should be minded that, in a democracy, the opinions of people who participate in a campaign do not count for less. Those people should continue to have a right to obtain information.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

The Justice 1 Committee was given an example of a campaign that Friends of the Earth Scotland ran. It wrote to public authorities throughout Scotland to request information. That campaign would fall foul of the system under the bill. I hope that members will recognise that the bill contains sufficient provisions to deal with vexatious or repeated requests.

I move amendment 66.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

I will be as brief as I can be.

As I explained at stage 2, the Executive is firmly of the view that section 12(2) provides public authorities with necessary and practical protection against being overwhelmed by floods of requests. Amendments 17 and 18 would supplement that essential protection with provisions that require the general dissemination of information.

Members of the Justice 1 Committee will remember that I spoke about an authority in Canada that had to employ extra staff to meet requests that required the provision of 1.2 million pieces of paper. It is important to remember that the bill will apply to public authorities from the very large to the very small. Michael Matheson proposes to remove section 12(2). However, that could require an authority, even a small one, to provide information to thousands of applicants. There may be a more efficient way of providing that in keeping with the spirit of FOI.

Two concerns have been raised. The first is that section 12 is too widely drawn. Amendments 17 and 18 directly address that concern. Amendment 17 removes the words

"in pursuance of a campaign" from the bill and replaces them with a much more specific provision. I draw members' attention to proposed section 12(2)(c). Any authority citing section 12(2) on the ground of applicants pursuing a campaign will be required to disseminate the information that is requested. Amendment 17 proposes to move a provision from the code to the bill.

Secondly, some people have suggested that authorities will be tempted to abuse the provision. We have taken specific steps to define more tightly the grounds on which section 12(2) can be cited. That removes directly the capacity for abuse. However, the Parliament must remember the role of the commissioner. Any authority that abuses the provision will be treated accordingly, as is the case with an abuse of any other provision.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

I am afraid that the knife falls at that point. Does Mr Matheson wish to press amendment 66?

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

The question is, that amendment 66 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 8

For: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Campbell, Colin, Canavan, Dennis, Crawford, Bruce, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Elder, Dorothy-Grace, Ewing, Dr Winnie, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, Fergusson, Alex, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Gibson, Mr Kenneth, Goldie, Miss Annabel, Grahame, Christine, Hamilton, Mr Duncan, Harding, Mr Keith, Harper, Robin, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, MacDonald, Ms Margo, Matheson, Michael, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McGugan, Irene, McLeod, Fiona, McLetchie, David, Monteith, Mr Brian, Morgan, Alasdair, Mundell, David, Paterson, Mr Gil, Robison, Shona, Russell, Michael, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Sheridan, Tommy, Stevenson, Stewart, Sturgeon, Nicola, Tosh, Mr Murray, Ullrich, Kay, Wallace, Ben, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra, Wilson, Andrew, Young, John
Against: Baillie, Jackie, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Fitzpatrick, Brian, Godman, Trish, Gorrie, Donald, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, Mr John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Jenkins, Ian, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, MacKay, Angus, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, McAllion, Mr John, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McLeish, Henry, McMahon, Mr Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Radcliffe, Nora, Raffan, Mr Keith, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mr Mike, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Mrs Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Thomson, Elaine, Wallace, Mr Jim, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

The result of the division is: For 48, Against 64, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 66 disagreed to.

Amendment 17 moved—[Mr Jim Wallace].

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

The question is, that amendment 17 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

There will be a division. I advise members that we are now in a run of 30-second divisions.

Division number 9

For: Adam, Brian, Alexander, Ms Wendy, Baillie, Jackie, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Campbell, Colin, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Crawford, Bruce, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Eadie, Helen, Elder, Dorothy-Grace, Ewing, Dr Winnie, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, Ferguson, Patricia, Fitzpatrick, Brian, Gibson, Mr Kenneth, Godman, Trish, Gorrie, Donald, Grahame, Christine, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Hamilton, Mr Duncan, Harper, Robin, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, Mr John, Hughes, Janis, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Jenkins, Ian, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lochhead, Richard, Lyon, George, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Macdonald, Lewis, MacDonald, Ms Margo, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, Matheson, Michael, McAllion, Mr John, McCabe, Mr Tom, McGugan, Irene, McLeish, Henry, McLeod, Fiona, McMahon, Mr Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Morgan, Alasdair, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Paterson, Mr Gil, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Radcliffe, Nora, Raffan, Mr Keith, Robison, Shona, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mr Mike, Russell, Michael, Sheridan, Tommy, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Mrs Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stevenson, Stewart, Sturgeon, Nicola, Thomson, Elaine, Ullrich, Kay, Wallace, Mr Jim, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan, Wilson, Andrew
Against: Aitken, Bill, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Fergusson, Alex, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Goldie, Miss Annabel, Harding, Mr Keith, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McLetchie, David, Monteith, Mr Brian, Mundell, David, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Tosh, Mr Murray, Wallace, Ben, Young, John
Abstentions: Canavan, Dennis

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

The result of the division is: For 93, Against 17, Abstentions 1.

Amendment 17 agreed to.

Amendment 18 moved—[Mr Jim Wallace]—and agreed to.

Amendment 19 moved—[Mr Jim Wallace].

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

The question is, that amendment 19 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 10

For: Alexander, Ms Wendy, Baillie, Jackie, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Fitzpatrick, Brian, Godman, Trish, Gorrie, Donald, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, Mr John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Jenkins, Ian, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, MacKay, Angus, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, McAllion, Mr John, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McLeish, Henry, McMahon, Mr Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Radcliffe, Nora, Raffan, Mr Keith, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mr Mike, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Mrs Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Thomson, Elaine, Wallace, Mr Jim, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan
Against: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Campbell, Colin, Canavan, Dennis, Crawford, Bruce, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Elder, Dorothy-Grace, Ewing, Dr Winnie, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, Fergusson, Alex, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Gibson, Mr Kenneth, Goldie, Miss Annabel, Grahame, Christine, Hamilton, Mr Duncan, Harper, Robin, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, MacDonald, Ms Margo, Matheson, Michael, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McGugan, Irene, McLeod, Fiona, McLetchie, David, Monteith, Mr Brian, Morgan, Alasdair, Mundell, David, Paterson, Mr Gil, Robison, Shona, Russell, Michael, Scott, John, Sheridan, Tommy, Stevenson, Stewart, Sturgeon, Nicola, Tosh, Mr Murray, Ullrich, Kay, Wallace, Ben, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra, Wilson, Andrew, Young, John

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

The result of the division is: For 64, Against 46, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 19 agreed to.