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Wednesday, June 23, 1999 Published at 17:26 GMT 18:26 UK

UK Politics

Wallace pledges 'open government'

Scotland will have its own Freedom of Information legislation

Scottish Deputy First Minister Jim Wallace has set out plans for a Freedom of Information Bill - but refused to set a date for its introduction.

Mr Wallace announced the coalition administration's commitment to more open government through effective legislation.

BBC Scotland political correspondent David Porter reports
He revealed that a specific new voluntary code to protect people's rights in Scotland will come into force from next month.

In a statement to MSPs, Mr Wallace said consultations would begin in the autumn.

"At the heart of the legislation we bring to this parliament will be a presumption of openness," he declared.

The current UK-wide voluntary rules governing rights will be replaced with a specific Scottish code, policed by a Scottish commissioner, when the parliament takes over its full powers on 1 July.

The Scottish administration is keen to avoid criticism of freedom of information proposals for England and Wales.

Home Secretary Jack Straw has defended legislative plans amid accusations that they have been watered down.

Public bodies

From 1 July, there will be a voluntary code laying out clearly what is expected of all departments of the Scottish government and public bodies they influence.

[ image: Jim Wallace: Tough legislation]
Jim Wallace: Tough legislation
Members of the public will be able to appeal to a Scottish commissioner via their MSP if they feel they are being denied access to information held by a Scottish department.

That, and other provisions agreed by the parliament, will then be enshrined in law.

Information on Scottish matters such as finance, defence and foreign affairs which are reserved at Westminster will be covered by legislation in the Houses of Parliament.

This has raised concerns that Westminster will have the ultimate veto over Westminster government matters relating to Scotland.

Civil rights

The Scottish administration has also faced criticism from civil rights groups for failing to introduce Freedom of Information legislation in the first batch of Bills to go before the Scottish Parliament.

Jim Wallace: Freedom of information a "hallmark"
Mr Wallace sought to stress that with his party's commitment to civil rights issues, there would be no justification to accusations that the administration would seek "get-out clauses" on certain matters.

Alan Miller, from the Scottish Human Rights Centre, said Scotland had a "wonderful opportunity" to set an example to the rest of Britain and the world.

"Many of the criticisms that we are going to find being levelled against the UK Freedom of Information legislation Bill, the lessons should be learned in Scotland," he added.

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