Freedom of Information Causes Secrets

The Scottish Parliament came under intense criticism last night, after it emerged that up to a third of all committee business takes place in secret, only days after 'The Freedom of Information Act' (info) came into effect. MSPs and lobbyists warned the parliamentary authorities that it was anti-democratic and unaccountable for committees to take decisions and hold debates in private. About 5 per cent of committee discussions take place in secret, but critics claim the number of items taken in private session can amount to a third of all committee business. 'The Freedom of Information Act 2002', which came into effect on 2005-01-01, gives the public the right to access information held by the 10_000 authorities covered by the act. The Executive, councils, police and the NHS must comply with these requests. Parliamentary Committees are allowed to go into private session, but the original aim was to hold meetings in public apart for exceptional circumstance: for example, matters of commercial confidence, national security, or when discussing a candidate for a particular job. However, there has been an increasing tendency for committees to discuss other matters and even take decisions on a majority vote in private session. A quick look at the parliament's website reveals just what a wide range of issues are now discussed in private. 'The Enterprise and Culture Committee' recently discussed a draft arts report and debated a report into area tourist boards in private, while the audit committee discussed a report into 'The National Galleries of Scotland' by The Auditor General in private. Details are not recorded by the official report, and so the members concerned are not accountable for their decisions. Mr.Tommy Sheridan, the former convener of The Scottish Socialist Party, has campaigned vociferously against the increasing use of private sessions for committee work at 'Holyrood'. He said:
Tommy Sheridan 'I think it's locking the public out of the part of the system which was supposed to be the jewel in the crown of the Parliament. 'It's not the jewel in the crown if it is hidden away. The committees should be as open and accountable to the public as possible'.
Mr.John Swinburne, the MSP for 'The Scottish Senior Citizens Unity Party', said he was generally against private sessions.
John Swinburne 'Openness in government should be totally open', he said.
Mr.Stuart Crawford, a parliamentary lobbyist who represents several major organisations, said the number of items taken in private session had grown over the past few years and now up to third of all items were considered in secret. He said:
'This has been building up since the opening day, and there seems to be no rhyme or reason for it'.
Mr.Crawford said he suspected that some decisions were taken in private session to allow MSPs to vote without worrying about their party 'whips'. A spokesman for 'The Scottish Parliament' said committees were perfectly entitled to go into private session whenever they wished and stressed that the final decisions of committees are published, even if the voting records and the comments by MSPs are not.
Jack McconnellKirsty Wark
The First Minister Mr.Jack Mcconnell's decision to take his family on a Spanish holiday with the television journalist Ms.Kirsty Wark came under scrutiny yesterday. The First Minister was criticised for accepting The BBC's 'Newsnight' presenter's invitation to spend 'New Year' at her holiday home in Majorca. Critics said it highlighted the 'cosy' relationship between The Scottish Labour Party and certain sections of 'the media'. But a spokesman for The First Minister dismissed such speculation yesterday and said it was 'despicable' to insinuate that there was anything amiss. 'Freedom of information suppressed by secretive Holyrood', Hamish Macdonell, The Scotsman, 2005-01-03, Mo. Previously on this Blog: New Law: Freedom of Information -- Authorities must be 'open', 2004-05 Govt. Deletes E-mails 11 Days Before Freedom of Information, 2004-12 Links: Parliament Live Holyrood Inquiry


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Corrupt to the core!

1/07/2005 08:11:00 am  

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