Page last updated at 01:10 GMT, Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Scots 'want freedom law extended'

Padlock and key
Mr Dunion claimed strong support for an extension to data freedoms

Scots want legal access to documents held by bodies such as private prisons, a new survey has indicated.

The research also suggested companies which build and maintain schools and hospitals should fall under expanded freedom of information legislation.

The figures, published by the information commissioner, suggested more than two thirds of the Scottish public wanted the laws extended.

The Scottish Government is currently reviewing the issue.

The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act, which came into force in 2005, gives the public a legal right to information held by public authorities, although some exemptions apply.

But Scottish Information Commissioner Kevin Dunion warned there was a risk of that right being eroded, as the number of private operators providing public services increased.

I would not wish to disproportionately increase the strain or burden that some organisations might be challenged with
Bruce Crawford
Minister for parliament
A total of 66% of people favoured extending the legislation to prisons run by the private sector, according to the survey of 1,002 people, published by Progressive Scottish Opinion.

The figure was higher for housing associations, 69%, while 73% of respondents said trusts which provide council health and leisure services should now fall under freedom of information laws.

In addition, 75% said the legislation should be extended to cover private companies which build and maintain local authority schools, rising to 79% for operators with similar contracts for hospitals.

Mr Dunion said: "Our research reveals the Scottish public is broadly in favour of bringing additional bodies that provide public services within the scope of freedom of information law.

"The responsibility of delivering public services is increasingly being transferred to those outwith the public sector, and there is growing concern that this transfer is leading to an erosion of the public's rights to the information which matters to them on the operational delivery of health, housing, and leisure services."

The survey also reported that 78% of respondents said they were aware of freedom of information legislation - a 34% increase since 2004.

Bruce Crawford, minister for parliamentary business, said there were complex legal, financial and practical issues surrounding an extension of the legislation.

He added: "In these difficult economic times I would not wish to disproportionately increase the strain or burden that some organisations might be challenged with."

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