A debate on the early days of the implementation of the Freedom of
Information (Scotland) Act 2002 took place in Parliament on 2 November
2005, just days after the resignation of Conservative leader David
McLetchie following the FOI assisted controversy over aspects of his
taxi expenses.

The Minister for Parliamentary Business, Margaret Curran, opened the
debate, drawing attention to some of the successes of the legislation
so far. She highlighted the fact that more than 5,500 files that would,
before FOI, have been routinely closed for 30 years are now fully open
and available for inspection at the National Archives of Scotland. Ms
Curran added that the government is looking to achieve a shift in
culture from a presumption of secrecy to recognition of the public's
right to know. She described the progress of the last ten months as
"significant".

Kenny MacAskill, opening for the SNP, warned against devaluing the
Parliament by losing sight of what the legislation was intended to
achieve. Alluding to McLetchie's resignation, he said: "We must go
beyond simply devouring individuals in a firestorm and look at what we
are trying to do in achieving accountability and allowing access to
individuals."

Liberal Democrat Jim Wallace, one of the architects of the
legislation during his time as a Minster, welcomed the debate and said
that he hoped, in future, that such debates could be tied in with the
publication of the Commissioner's report. He emphasised that FOI is not
only about legislation, but also about a change of climate and approach.

The debate was planned as part of a review of the legislation the
Executive is about to undertake. The proposed review will include an
opportunity for individuals as well as public authorities to submit
their views on the operation of the new regime. The Executive has
indicated that particular matters under consideration include: the
public authorities that are or should be within the scope of the
legislation; the operation of fee-charging; and whether there is a
continuing need for a Ministerial certificate protecting certain G8
related information.

The Executive will seek views later this year from public
authorities, users, campaigning groups, MSPs and a wide range of other
stakeholders to feed into the review.

The parliamentary debate was held a day after the Scottish
Parliament Corporate Body (SPCB) recommended a move to fuller
disclosure of MSPs' personal allowances at the earliest opportunity. In
a letter to MSPs, Holyrood's Presiding Officer George Reid said that
since January it has become "increasingly clear" that the current
administration of the allowances scheme does not fit easily with the
FOI regime. Following the controversy surrounding Mr McLetchie, FOI
requests have been made for details of expenses for every MSP dating
back to 1999 – a task the SPCB believes will involve tens of thousands
of pages and take approximately nine months to complete.

Pledging to put the Parliament's commitment to openness beyond
doubt, the SPCB has proposed a move from annual to more frequent
reporting, and a new improved claims process to make checking and
reporting of allowances more straightforward.

A detailed breakdown of claims for the 2004-05 financial year will
be published in December, and information for 2005-06 onwards will be
published as soon as possible next year, possibly online.

A joint MSP and parliamentary staff working group will be
established to consider and report on options for making improvements.
All options will be tested against best practice elsewhere in the UK
and overseas, and the views received will be published.

Mr Reid said that the FOI Act was passed in the spirit of the
Parliament's principles of openness and transparency, and has made
considerable changes to the culture of public life in Scotland.

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