Scottish Executive models its Freedom of Information Bill on Irish legislation

 

The Scottish Executive is to model its new Freedom of Information Bill on current Irish legislation.

Scotland's Justice Minister, Mr Jim Wallace, has already unveiled a Bill that broadly matches the law in Ireland and is holding talks with the Irish Government in an effort to fine-tune the proposals.

Mr Wallace said he wanted to share Ireland's experience of freedom of information legislation built up over several years. "Where have they [the Irish Government] identified the strengths, where perhaps they've been taken by surprise, and how indeed generally do you try to foster a culture of openness rather than a culture of secrecy?"

Mr Wallace leads the Scottish Liberal Democrat party, coalition partners in the Executive with Labour. The "openness" promise was a key election pledge.

He is impressed by the Irish legislation where all information is presumed to be open unless the authorities successfully argue for secrecy on grounds that include national security. Mr Wallace plans to establish a commissioner to rule on disputes, as is the case in the Republic.

The Freedom of Information Bill is a crucial one for the devolved parliament in Edinburgh as Mr Wallace is determined to go further than proposals for England and Wales. In London, the Westminster Bill has been subject to several rebellions by backbench Labour MPs angered at what they regard as watered-down legislation.

Critics argue that having two separate Bills within the same state will lead to confusion. Mr Wallace disagrees, saying: "We are going to have our own regime in Scotland and I am trying to get a Scottish Bill for Scottish circumstances. This is not a case of putting one over Labour at Westminster.

"The whole point of the Scottish Parliament is that we should be devising our own rules and that is what we are going to do. I don't accept the concerns that there will be problems with a separate Westminster Bill. This is part of the devolution statement," he said.

The Edinburgh legislation will not allow people to get round the Westminster Bill, he added, saying "it is clear that information which is given to Holyrood from Westminster will remain the property of Westminster".

There have been several meetings between Dublin and the Scottish Executive since the creation of the devolved Scottish Parliament. Ministers in Scotland created a Drug Enforcement Agency based on the Irish model.