Scottish Government announce amendment removing Royal exemption provision
Ministers have abandoned plans to automatically exempt communications with senior members of the Royal Family from Freedom of Information (FoI).
The Scottish Government has attracted criticism in recent weeks over proposals to create an absolute exemption for communications with the Queen, the heir and the second in line to the throne by scrapping the public interest test that currently precedes publication.
However, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon today unveiled an amendment blocking the change ahead of members of the Finance Committee scrutinising the Freedom of Information (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill at Stage 2 next week.
Earlier this month, the cross-party group of MSPs used its Stage 1 report on the Bill to urge the Scottish Government to back down on an absolute exemption after being left “unconvinced of the need for this provision”.
New obligations are also to be placed on ministers to regularly review extending the scope of legislation to cover additional bodies, added Sturgeon.
It comes in the wake of concerns voiced by Scotland’s Information Commissioner Rosemary Agnew that use of ‘arms length’ bodies to provide public services were reducing citizens’ right of access considering they remain exempt from FoI requests.
The range of organisations who are consulted when considering extended coverage of FoI through Section 5 of the Act will also be widened.
Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Capital Investment and Cities Sturgeon said: “Scotland has a robust Freedom of Information regime and our Amendment Bill will ensure that this is maintained.
“We’ve carefully considered the views of the Finance Committee, the Scottish Information Commissioner and other stakeholders and we are lodging two key amendments today which will help to make our procedures here in Scotland even stronger.
“Having carefully considered the report of the Finance Committee, we have concluded that the principle of public interest as regards Royal communications should be maintained.
“As a result, and subject to the views of the Parliament, we are now proposing that there should be no absolute exemption for information relating to communications with senior members of the Royal Family.
“We remain firmly of the view that communications between Her Majesty and other members of the Royal Family with Scottish Ministers – and other public authorities – should be handled sensitively and confidentially, with strict and appropriate application of the exemptions contained within the current Freedom of Information Act.
“I also believe that the scope of bodies covered by Freedom of Information must be kept under regular review to ensure that the regime remains robust and relevant. Our amendments aim to do just that”.