Lord Wallace calls for extension of the FOI Act in Scotland

Press release: 8 February 2009




Lord Wallace of Tankerness, the architect of Scotland's Freedom of Information Act, has expressed surprise that the Act has not yet been extended to a wider range of bodies.

Delivering the inaugural lecture of the new Centre for Freedom of Information (a partnership between the University of Dundee and the Scottish Information Commissioner), Lord Wallace applauded the success of Scotland's FOI laws, but went on to say that Parliament had expected the powers which Ministers have to designate bodies which are not public authorities under the FOI Act, would "almost certainly" have been used before now.

Lord Wallace said "I reassured Parliament that the power would be exercised ? and that this would happen sooner rather than later.

"Surely there is a compelling case for extension to bodies providing significant public services or in receipt of substantial public funds?"

Referring to a recent Scottish Government discussion paper, seeking views on designating new bodies under the FOI Act, Lord Wallace also shared the Commissioner's concerns about suggestions that there was any legal doubt over the power to designate bodies under the FOI Act.

The Commissioner, Kevin Dunion has called for the designation of housing associations, some local authority trusts, and PFI/PPP contractors, He has said "it would be highly unsatisfactory for designation to be thwarted or severely inhibited for fear of legal challenge, since the decision is based upon whether a person appears, in the view of Ministers, to be exercising functions of a public nature."

Professor Janet McLean, of the University of Dundee, agreed: "The statute confers a power on the Scottish Ministers to make political judgements about what is a public function or service?and sets out a process by which such judgements are to be justified.  Public function will be in the eye of the beholder."

A full transcript of Lord Wallace's speech is available on the The Centre for FOI in Scotland website.


For further information email media@itspublicknowledge.info to contact the Commissioner's Media Team, or call 01334 464610 (out of hours on 07976 511752 ), or Roddy Isles, Head of Press, University of Dundee on 01382 384910, mobile 07800 581902 (email r.isles@dundee.ac.uk).

Notes to editors:

The Centre for FOI in Scotland

The Centre for Freedom of Information is a joint venture between the Law School, University of Dundee and the Scottish Information Commissioner.  It was launched at a seminar on 29 January 2009 in Dundee, with a keynote speech from Lord Wallace.  The Centre will provide:

  • Conceptual space to reflect on and discuss current FOI issues and practice;
  • A central point for the development of research into FOI issues, in particular modelling decision making and examining bureaucratic culture;
  • Access to expertise from specialists in constitutional and civil law, FOI practitioners and the Commissioner's office;
  • Opportunities to transfer knowledge and gain further learning.

Further information on the Centre, including a transcript of Lord Wallace's speech, can be found on the Centre's website at www.centrefoi.org.uk

Lord Wallace of Tankerness

Lord James Wallace, Baron Wallace of Tankerness was formerly Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, MP for Orkney and Shetland, MSP for Orkney and the first Deputy First Minister. Having led consultation on the Government's proposal for "An Open Scotland?" in 1999, Lord Wallace was then charged with steering the Freedom of Information Bill through the first session of the Scottish Parliament.

Extending the scope of the FOI Act

In October 2007, the Scottish Information Commissioner called on the Scottish Government to protect freedom of information rights which are being lost when public services are operated by private or charitable bodies, by designating more bodies under the Act, using the powers set out in section 5 of the Act.

On 17 November 2008, Minister for Parliamentary Business Bruce Crawford launched a discussion paper, calling for views on the extension of the FOI Act to cover:

  • Registered social landlords;
  • Contractors who provide public services that are a function of a public authority (e.g. contractors providing prison services);
  • Local authority trusts or bodies set up by local authorities (for example, bodies set up by local authorities as limited companies to run leisure facilities).

The deadline for responses was 12 January 2009.  The Government has yet to advise what will be its next steps following this exercise.

Read the Scottish Government's Designation Discussion Paper and the Commissioner's response.

In December 2008, the Commissioner published the fifth wave of his annual public opinion survey found that two thirds of the Scottish population favour extending Scotland's freedom of information (FOI) laws to cover organisations other than public authorities, such as housing associations and privately run prisons.


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