Schedule 1 — Scottish Public Authorities

Freedom of Information (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 6:00 pm on 24th April 2002.

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Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 6:00 pm, 24th April 2002

Amendment 78 is grouped with amendments 42 to 47, 79, 48 to 51, 80 and 52.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I hope that you have another 10 bob for the meter.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

As long as we have sound, we will continue.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

Amendment 78 is essentially a probing amendment to seek clarification, as it is unclear whether a fire authority that is within a single local authority area is covered by the bill, as the bill refers to joint boards. I would welcome clarification from the minister on that.

The purpose of amendment 79 is to ensure that private prisons are included as public authorities under the bill. Private prisons work for the Scottish Prison Service and it is essential that we have an opportunity to scrutinise what they do. The SPS often responds to questions from MSPs concerning Her Majesty's Prison Kilmarnock by saying that the information is commercially confidential or is the responsibility of Premier Prison Services. Even when we request information on matters such as the conditions in Kilmarnock medical centre, minimum and maximum nursing staff levels, agreements on procedures at the medical centre, the number of prison officers who are employed at Kilmarnock or issues relating to staff bullying, we are told that they are matters for Premier Prison Services, which naturally chooses not to provide us with that information. It is clear that those matters are of public interest. Neither the operating company nor the Prison Service has an interest in remedying situations that it thinks might be in its commercial interest, but which we think might not be in the public's interest.

Amendment 79 will ensure that private prisons are treated on a level playing field with public sector prisons. In light of the fact that the outcome of the prison estates review might be that we will have more private prisons in Scotland, I see no reason why a private prison should be treated differently from a public prison. The same terms should apply to both private prisons and public prisons. I hope that members will support amendment 79 to ensure that private prisons are covered by the bill.

I move amendment 78.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

As we are getting close to the end of the debate, I will try to be brief. I will perhaps deal with other amendments when referring to amendments in my name.

Amendment 42 addresses an oversight in the development of schedule 1 by seeking to add licensing boards to that schedule.

Amendments 43, 44, 49 and 50 reflect the passing of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman Bill, which establishes a one-stop-shop ombudsman service that replaces, among others, the Health Service Commissioner for Scotland, the Commissioner for Local Administration in Scotland, and the Scottish Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, all of which must be removed from schedule 1.

Amendments 46, 47, 51 and 52 reflect the abolition of the three regional water authorities and the establishment of Scottish Water by the Water Industry (Scotland) Act 2002.

Amendment 45 deletes Community Learning Scotland, which has been abolished, from schedule 1.

In an earlier series of debates, Michael Matheson made play of the fact that several bodies had been added to or removed from schedule 1 in a short period of time. That happened because bills have been progressing in tandem. In future, when a new body is established by parliamentary statute, it will be added to schedule 1 by the particular bill that introduces it. For example, if the Water Industry (Scotland) Bill had come after the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Bill was on the statute book, the three water authorities would have been removed and Scottish Water added by a provision in the Water Industry (Scotland) Bill. It will not always be necessary for the powers under sections 4 and 5 of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Bill to be used. We have had so many amendments because of transitions that have been caused by other bills.

I want to discuss the amendments to which Mr Michael Matheson spoke and to anticipate other amendments. Amendment 78 would add fire authorities to schedule 1. I reassure Mr Matheson that fire authorities are already covered by two references in paragraphs 21 and 22 of schedule 1. Paragraph 21 refers to

"A council constituted by section 2 of that Act."

In Dumfries and Galloway and in Fife, the fire authority is coterminous with and constituted by the council.

Paragraph 22 of schedule 1 refers to

"A joint board, within the meaning of section 235(1) of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 (c.65)."

I reassure Michael Matheson that paragraph 21 covers fire authorities. Amendment 80 adds social inclusion partnerships to schedule 1. We are prepared to accept amendment 80.

Amendment 48 removes registered social landlords from schedule 1. We indicated at stage 2 that our view was that it was not appropriate for all RSLs to be covered automatically by the bill. We do not lightly seek to overturn an amendment and I will briefly give the reasons behind this. RSLs are voluntary sector bodies and are not Scottish public authorities. The bill, as we have said many times during its passage, will impose significant legal obligations on the authorities that it covers. However, many RSLs are small, informally run organisations that are not geared up for such stringent regulations. For example, some RSLs, such as the Abbeyfield Society for Scotland, are small charitable bodies that provide sheltered housing for the elderly. Subjecting such bodies to burdensome legal obligations is not sensible and might deter those who are involved in small RSLs from volunteering their time and effort. It is also important to note that RSLs are already subject to a regulatory regime that is appropriate to their size and structures, and that Communities Scotland supervises that RSLs.

However, the Executive recognises that larger and more formal RSLs might be appropriate for coverage by the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Bill, and they can be added to the bill. There is a statutory obligation to consult before that is done and we will consult the sector. When RSLs were added to the list of authorities at stage 2, I do not think that there had been any consultation with that sector—I think that I am right in saying that no evidence had been taken from the sector prior to the addition of RSLs. There will be consultation before any organisation is added. I assure members that we expect the majority of organisations to be covered.

As Michael Matheson has said, amendment 79 would add private prisons—as referred to under section 106 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994—to schedule 1 to the bill. I repeat that schedule 1 sets out the public authorities at the heart of the freedom of information regime and is not the appropriate place for the addition of private companies, although those may be added using the powers that are available under section 5. We have not yet given that matter detailed consideration and the statutory obligation to consult means that it would be inappropriate to make any firm commitments at this stage.

As I indicated earlier, it is clear that companies involved in major PPP/PFI contracts, for example Kilmarnock Prison Services, are delivering important public services. I assure members that we would expect such companies to be added to schedule 1 using the powers that are already available in the bill.

I will conclude with our more straightforward amendments and will give a brief synopsis of them. We will urge members to reject amendment 79, which would add private prisons to schedule 1; to support the removal of RSLs from that schedule; to agree to the addition of SIPs; and to support the various technical amendments, which I will move at the appropriate time.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat

Amendment 80 will include social inclusion partnerships. A number of us felt that they are very important bodies in the community, which spend a lot of public money. They should be responsive and responsible to their communities and it is right that they should be open to the freedom of information regime that the bill introduces. I am pleased that the Executive supports that.

The housing associations represent the big picture and many of us are keen that they should come under the proposed freedom of information arrangements. The Executive had a better argument than usual about the fact that we have not consulted housing associations. That is a fair argument and, as I think that we should consult them, I reluctantly go along with the Executive's proposals, on the understanding that it will consult housing associations. As the minister said, the majority of them should, following consultation, be eligible for inclusion under the bill. On that condition, I am reluctantly prepared to support the Executive's stance.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

There really is very little time left now. I ask members to restrict themselves to a maximum of two minutes and I would appreciate it if they could speak for even less time.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I speak in favour of amendment 79 and I will refer to Kilmarnock Prison Services. I am one of the many members who has fallen victim to the Executive's non-answers or evasive and incomplete answers, as I have tried to find out such a simple thing as who insures Kilmarnock prison and what it is insured for. I have lodged a series of questions on the matter but have not received straightforward answers. I ended up writing to the director of Kilmarnock Prison Services.

I stated in a written question:

"the Auditor General for Scotland's report in the Scottish Prison Service Annual Report and Accounts for 2000-01 states that the prison does not appear in the Scottish Prison Service's accounts as a 'property asset'", nor does it appear in the accounts of Premier Prison Services. The Auditor General stated:

"neither party is recognising HMP Kilmarnock as a property asset with both parties claiming to have transferred substantially all risk and rewards associated with ownership of the property asset to each other".—[Official Report, Written Answers, 3 April 2002; p 354.]

In other words, SPS thinks that Premier Prison Services carries the risk of insuring Kilmarnock prison, while Premier Prison Services thinks that the SPS does.

That is not an illustration of the spirit of openness. It is vital that such a prison company or any other private sector organisation that is wholly funded by public money is accountable to the Parliament, and that MSPs get answers to questions instead of having to go round and round in circles and getting into a paper chase. That is why amendment 79 is important.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

I ask for assurance on the time scale of designation. Like Donald Gorrie, I am prepared to accept the Executive's argument about consultation with housing associations. It would be intolerable if Glasgow Housing Association in particular were not eventually designated under the act. The same observation applies generally to private sector bodies providing public services, and I am glad that social inclusion partnerships have been included.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I would rather the minister replied to that point in his summing up.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

I would like to make a brief point about the estates review, which is relevant to amendment 79. Ministers will be aware that in the current information vacuum some 200 parliamentary questions have been lodged on the estates review and only a few have been answered. I recognise that there are difficulties in providing a large amount of information, but I ask the minister to recognise that the absence of information—information that was withheld previously—is creating practical difficulties now. I would like the minister to assure me on the record that, if we are unable to get answers within a reasonable time scale to all or the majority of the questions that have been lodged, we will not be held to a consultation period of 12 weeks.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Before I call Michael Matheson to wind up the debate on this group, I am happy to let the minister respond to the points that have been made.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

Section 5(5), which requires ministers to consult, does not require us to wait for the appointment of the commissioner before doing so. Once the bill has received royal assent, we can begin the consultation process.

I repeat what I said earlier about prisons. We will try to provide answers to the parliamentary questions to which Stewart Stevenson referred as quickly as possible. Matters relating to public sector prisons would in any event fall under the freedom of information regime. We recognise that companies involved in major PPP/PFI contracts are delivering important public services. I assure members that companies that are involved in contracts of that nature—whether those relate to prisons or to matters such as road maintenance—are the sort of bodies that we want to add to schedule 1 after proper consultation.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

We are now taking time from the stage 3 debate on the bill, so I ask Michael Matheson to sum up as briefly as he can.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I welcome the minister's comments on my probing amendment 78 and take note of his willingness to consult on whether social landlords should be included under schedule 1.

I turn briefly to amendment 79 and the issue of whether private prisons should be subject to the freedom of information regime. I take note of what the minister said about private contracts and PPP projects. However, it is quite clear what Kilmarnock prison delivers. The contract that the public sector has with the prison makes clear what it does. I see no reason to delay making Kilmarnock prison subject to the provisions of the bill.

Amendment 78, by agreement, withdrawn.

Amendments 42 to 47 moved—[Mr Jim Wallace]—and agreed to.

Amendment 79 moved—[Michael Matheson].

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The question is, that amendment 79 be agreed to. Is that agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 23

For: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Campbell, Colin, Canavan, Dennis, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, 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, Johnstone, Alex, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, MacDonald, Ms Margo, Matheson, Michael, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McGugan, Irene, McIntosh, Mrs Lyndsay, McLeod, Fiona, Monteith, Mr Brian, Paterson, Mr Gil, Russell, Michael, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Sheridan, Tommy, Stevenson, Stewart, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, Mr John, Ullrich, Kay, 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, Stone, Mr Jamie, Thomson, Elaine, Wallace, Mr Jim, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The result of the division is: For 46, Against 65, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 79 disagreed to.

Amendments 48 to 51 moved—[Mr Jim Wallace].

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Does any member object to the putting of a single question on amendments 48 to 51?

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

In that case, we will deal with each amendment separately.

The question is, that amendment 48 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 24

For: Aitken, Bill, Baillie, Jackie, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Davidson, Mr David, Deacon, Susan, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Fergusson, Alex, Fitzpatrick, Brian, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Godman, Trish, Goldie, Miss Annabel, Gorrie, Donald, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Harding, Mr Keith, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, Mr John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Jenkins, Ian, Johnstone, Alex, 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, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McIntosh, Mrs Lyndsay, McLeish, Henry, McMahon, Mr Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNulty, Des, Monteith, Mr Brian, 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, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Mrs Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stone, Mr Jamie, Thomson, Elaine, Wallace, Mr Jim, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan, Young, John
Against: Canavan, Dennis, McNeill, Pauline, Sheridan, Tommy
Abstentions: Adam, Brian, Campbell, Colin, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Elder, Dorothy-Grace, Ewing, Dr Winnie, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, Gibson, Mr Kenneth, Grahame, Christine, Hamilton, Mr Duncan, Harper, Robin, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Lochhead, Richard, MacDonald, Ms Margo, Matheson, Michael, McGugan, Irene, McLeod, Fiona, Paterson, Mr Gil, Russell, Michael, Stevenson, Stewart, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, Mr John, Ullrich, Kay, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra, Wilson, Andrew

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The result of the division is: For 79, Against 3, Abstentions 28.

Amendment 48 agreed to.

Amendments 49 to 51 agreed to.

Amendment 80 moved—[Donald Gorrie]—and agreed to.

Amendment 52 moved—[Mr Jim Wallace]—and agreed to.