Scotland's FoI Act criticised by one of its architects

The architect of Scotland's Freedom of Information Act has hit out at subsequent governments' failure to extend the legislation to cover a wider range of public bodies and has challenged allegations of the "legal difficulty" of doing so.

In an interview with the Sunday Herald, Lord Wallace of Tankerness (below), former deputy first minister and leader of the Scottish LibDems, expressed dismay that, in the four years since he guided FoI into law, ministers have not pushed to expand it despite repeated calls to include organisations such as Glasgow Housing Association (GHA), Kilmarnock Prison Services Ltd and prison security operator Reliance.

His criticisms come just weeks after the close of responses to a Scottish government discussion paper canvassing citizens and stakeholders on the pos-sibility of bringing housing associations, local authority trusts and contractors who provide public services under the umbrella of FoI liability.

That, he says, was always the expectation of those involved in drafting the legislation. "There was a move to exempt housing associations because we didn't think it was fair to the very small ones to sweep them all up," he said, " but that's why we put in the power to give ministers the opportunity, after consultation, to nominate various organisations for inclusion. And I think where there's substantial public money being spent, or where a body has a large role in delivering public services, it is right, and in the spirit of the parliament, that they are included."

Delivering the inaugural lecture at Dundee University's new Centre for Freedom of Information, Wallace also highlighted concerns that legal doubts were being manufactured by civil servants eager to muddy the waters and postpone amendments.

Freedom of Information Act criticised … by the man who invented it (Sunday Herald, 8 February 2009)