02 November 2005

Subject Debate: Freedom of Information

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 2 November 2005

[THE DEPUTY PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:30]

… … …

Freedom of Information

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on freedom of information.


… … …


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): This is my 215th speech in the Parliament.

Ms Curran: It seems like much more.

Stewart Stevenson: My 23rd speech was made during stage 1 of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Bill. It came as a bit of a surprise to me, some 18 months after that bill was passed, to find that speech of mine being quoted in Executive literature. It had been kept secret from me that the Executive was using parts of my speech from 17 January 2002 as part of the training material for civil servants. Well, at least I have done something useful while I have been here. I share that honour with Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, Donald Gorrie and one or two other members. Donald, of course, spoke about a muttered conversation with Jim Wallace. I demand that that muttered conversation be published in the interests of freedom of information.

I always mine "Yes Minister" when I want to think about what goes on in the hallowed corridors of power to which we are so seldom admitted. I remember the episode quite early in the first series when Sir Humphrey was talking to his boss the cabinet secretary about the cabinet secretary's upcoming retirement. The cabinet secretary ran through the things that he expected to do after retirement, and said, "I'm taking up a position as the chairman of the campaign for freedom of information." That was written in 1981. Already it was satire and parody. We have been talking about freedom of information for a long time.

Of course, the interesting thing was the expression of horror on Sir Humphrey's face when the cabinet secretary said that. Then, of course, the cabinet secretary explained that he was taking the position so that the exercise of freedom could be responsibly discharged. That is precisely what the Tories sought to do in 1994—to create an environment not where the public determined the information that was brought into public gaze, but where Government ministers and civil servants exercised a "responsible attitude" to freedom of information.

I welcome the passing of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002. Notwithstanding some of the wrinkles that have emerged subsequently, on balance it is very much in the public interest and in the interest of parliamentarians in all parties.

Phil Gallie, a representative of the Tories, suggested that much of the information could have been released. That is perfectly true, but there is a huge difference—albeit of one letter, but huge in sentiment—between could and would. Could did not mean would. The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 under which we now operate has made a world of difference.

I was slightly surprised that Bill Aitken appeared to forget that the information commissioner is a creature of this Parliament, not of the Executive. We should remember that fact.

I give members the words that the Executive plucked from my previous speech:

"A desire to keep information is always an expression of someone's self-interest".—[Official Report, 17 January 2002; c 5499.]

Self-interest has now been laid at the door of public interest, which is welcome.

There is a lot more work to do to see how things operate. I point in particular to section 6 of the 2002 act, on publicly owned companies. Section 6(2) states that a company is publicly owned if it is

"wholly owned ... by the Scottish Ministers"


"if it has no members except ... persons acting on behalf of the Scottish Ministers or of such companies".

That touches upon PFI—private companies, single purpose, totally at the work of Scottish ministers.

We must be much better at opening the dirty raincoat and seeing what is going on.

The Minister for Environment and Rural Development (Ross Finnie): We will not be quoting that.

Stewart Stevenson: I see that Mr Finnie has a particularly capacious dirty raincoat about which he is worried.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Please wind up, Mr Stevenson.

Stewart Stevenson: I used "sensitive" in my speech three years ago in the generally understood sense. Sensitive information is precisely the information that should now be being disclosed.


Stewart Stevenson
does not gather, use or
retain any cookie data.

However Google who publish for us, may do.
fios ZS is a name registered in Scotland for Stewart Stevenson

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP