General Questions — Scottish Information Commissioner (Court Case)

Scottish Executive Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 11:40 am on 15th April 2010.

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Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour 11:40 am, 15th April 2010

To ask the Scottish Executive what its position is on the use of public money in its appeal to the Court of Session regarding the Scottish Information Commissioner's access to Government documents. (S3O-10092)

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government is asking the court to clarify the responsibilities of public bodies under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002. That is consistent with the Scottish Government's support for the proper functioning of freedom of information in Scotland and is an appropriate use of public money.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

In November last year, one of my researchers requested, under FOI, information relating to a ministerial visit to my constituency. Despite the advice of the Scottish Information Commissioner on how to make his request, he became embroiled in a bizarre exchange of correspondence with the minister's private secretary in which increased focus was demanded before information could be released. It now transpires that others, including the commissioner himself, have had similar experiences.

The minister's party voted for the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, and the Scottish Government's website states that it is committed to open government and freedom of information. Why, then, is the minister's Government trying to thwart the intentions of that act by not releasing information that would previously have been released by other Administrations?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I have no knowledge of the bizarre exchange or the ministerial visit to which Elaine Murray refers. However, I can say that the Scottish Government has dealt with more than 1,600 requests in 2009, and in most cases we provided some or all of the information that was requested. Less than 5 per cent of our decisions on requests are appealed, and we rejected only a very small proportion of requests as invalid. Therefore, we have a strong record on freedom of information. We recognise the principles and are putting them into practice.

The court action, which is of course sub judice, will have the advantage of clarifying the law in an area in which there are some uncertainties and may therefore bring about savings in future in the conduct of meeting our duties under the freedom of information legislation.