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Wednesday, 3 January, 2001, 07:36 GMT
Call for stronger freedom law
Top secret graphic
Scotland will have its own freedom of information bill
The Scottish Executive has been urged to strengthen its plans for freedom of information legislation.

The call has come from Unison, the country's largest public service union.

It says lessons have to be learned from the experience of freedom of information legislation south of the border, which it dubbed a "failure".

The experience of the failure of freedom of information legislation in England should make us very wary

John Stevenson, Unison Scotland
Unison wants the draft bill, which is expected to be published early this year, to be backed by increased resources which would allow public sector bodies to provide full information storage and retrieval.

The union is also demanding that private sector bodies are treated the same as those in the public sector.

The legislation is viewed as one of the most important bills which will come before the Scottish Parliament.

The executive's plans were unveiled last November in a freedom of information consultation document.

It is said to offer Scots more rights than their English and Welsh neighbours.

Scottish commissioner

It is presumed that information held by the executive and public bodies, like health boards, should be freely available except where, for example, national security is threatened.

Ministers have also proposed the creation of a separate Scottish commissioner to rule on disputes.

However, John Stevenson, the chairman of Unison Scotland's communications committee, said: "The experience of the failure of freedom of information legislation in England should make us very wary of what happens here.

"The consultation document was very positive, but unless it is strengthened and backed up by resources the difficulty will be in delivering the practice."

Private companies

Unison also wants to ensure that private firms providing public services have to disclose the same information as the public sector.

Mr Stevenson said that much information was not currently available from private companies.

"This leads to the absurd situation of the public not being told how many staff are employed by Kilmarnock Prison, for example," he said.

Communications officer Chris Bartter said: "Private firms providing public services must be subject to the same legal constraints as their public sector counterparts."

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26 Nov 99 | Scotland
Bill to end 'culture of secrecy'
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