Freedom of Information laws should be used better by Holyrood, says Scots creator

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By Oliver Farrimond

THE ARCHITECT of Scotland’s Freedom of Information laws has called on the Scottish government to start properly exercising its powers.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness expressed surprise that more public bodies had not been brought under the scope of the laws, despite a “compelling” case to do so.

The 2002 act allows for any individual to request information from a government body.

Individuals do not have to give a reason for their requests, and these can only be refused under extreme circumstances.

Lord Wallace said: “I assured 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 that provide significant public services, or receive substantial public funds?”

He added that the powers should ‘almost certainly’ have been used by now.

His remarks came in the wake of a survey saying that over two-thirds of Scots want to see the laws extended.

The survey, published in December, says that the public should be able to request information from contracting bodies such as housing associations or private prisons.

Speaking at Dundee University, Lord Wallace agreed with Scotland’s Information Commissioner, Kevin Dunion, in saying that any legal fears over the 2002 act were unfounded.

Mr Dunion said: “‘It would be highly unsatisfactory for designation to be thwarted for fear of legal challenge.

“The decision should be based upon whether a person appears to be exercising functions of a public nature.”

In 2005, Conservative MSP David Letchie was forced to resign his position as Tory leader after a freedom of information request found that he was abusing his expense account.

The Edinburgh Pentlands MSP spent £11,500 during five years on taxi trips – more than any other MSP.

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