Women in politics: reflections on the referendum and beyond

“What difference did the Scottish referendum on independence make to women’s participation in political life in Scotland? What does the future hold? What barriers are there to women’s participation in public civic and political life and how can we overcome them?”

Listen to the lecture and discussions.

The was part of the annual lecture series “Women In Public Life” hosted by the Centre for Gender and Feminist Studies and was co-hosted by the Centre on Constitutional Change to mark International Women’s Day in 2015.

Orders in Council, old charts and the PCO

A bit of treasure hunting in search of an Order in Council from 1913…

A Very Fine Library

Last week I was asked to locate “the Order in Council dated 19th December 1913 (made pursuant to the Dockyard Ports Regulation Act 1865)” and concerning the Dockyard Port of Cromarty. You know I love these old ones!

Dockyard Port of Cromarty

Orders in Council are orders which have been personally approved, at a meeting of the Privy Council, by the monarch. If the order had been recent it might have been available via the Privy Council website – but 1913 is not recent (even by our standards).

Orders in Council fall into two broad categories, Statutory and Prerogative:

  • Statutory Orders in Council are issued as Statutory Instruments – they are numbered and are published with other SIs
  • Prerogative Orders are not SIs. They are published in the London Gazette and Edinburgh Gazette.

I had no way of knowing which I was looking for…

I began by checking our holdings of published SIs and our unique collection of local SIs…

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Ten years of freedom of information – what does the future hold? – via Informed

an interesting article found on Informed

Ten years of freedom of information – what does the future hold?

Image c/o v1ctory_1s_m1ne on Flickr.

To celebrate 10 years of the Freedom of Information Act, Bilal Ghafoor (FOI Kid) reflects on its impact and ponders what the future holds for this important Act of parliament.

If you go onto the website or read the official publications of any government department, local council, NHS organisation, the one thing that almost all of the information will have in common is that it has been volunteered. And while the communications and press teams in many organisations do a great job, ultimately they are a prism through which an organisation shines out what light it wishes to. Most press releases or official statements do not contain raw data. Most organisations do not publish email trails that they are even slightly uncomfortable about.

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 came into force on 1 January 2005 and it has, in the words of the Justice Select Committee, which undertook a post legislative review of the Act, been “a significant enhancement of our democracy.”[1] However, it went on to note that “we are not surprised that the unrealistic secondary expectation that the Act would increase public confidence in Government and Parliament has not been met.”[2] This was, after all, while the fire of the MPs’ expenses scandal was still smouldering.

I continue to be struck by an observation I heard when I attended a Request Initiative event on FOI that all the complaints about the burden of FOI are irrelevant – public authorities hire FOI officers and spend money not on releasing information but on withholding it. Aside from personal data, which must be guarded, there is more truth to this idea than I would like.

I remember when I worked in FOI in a central government department, a Labour Secretary of State visited us. The first thing he did was apologise to us for bringing in the Act. It was not just Tony Blair who later thought it foolish. We in the FOI team (it seemed to be the natural home of a couple of a Marxists who had somehow joined the civil service), thought it to be utterly bizarre. How was it not a good thing (and not just because it kept us in employment)?

It is our tax, it is our society, these institutions are ours, the work they do belongs to us. It almost seems like a naïve assertion, but perhaps that is because it is so true. If we live in a democracy.

But there are dangers. The FOI Act, which was heroically worked on by the Campaign for Freedom of Information (which just celebrated its 30th birthday party – 20 years older than the legislation itself), came into force over a long period of time and the dangers are similarly slow but sure.

The Government’s response to the post legislative review[3] highlighted that it wanted allow organisations to refuse multiple requests from the same person or organisation. At first glance, this might be ok – why should one person be allowed to harass an organisation with lots of requests? But what about a local newspaper wanting to make lots of requests to local organisations? How is a local newspaper  supposed to survive on being able to make only a small number of requests in any one year to the local council?

There is a suggestion that ‘thinking time’ be included in cost limits for responding to a FOI. This means that any request of a new kind or for new types of information or invoking a new exemption will start to breach the cost limits and be refused. This encourages organisations to hire non-specialists. Or to copy in 15 members of staff into emails about FOI requests and to count thinking time 15 times over.

The chronic under-funding of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is another terrible problem. While the ICO’s basic stance seems to be to advocate the release of information and accessibility for all, in the latest triennial review of the ICO, its own submission to the Ministry of Justice[4] proposed a charge for requestors wanting to use its services. This would be appalling. But I can see that the ICO is constantly frustrated by its tiny grant in aid (the organisation runs its entire FOI operation for less than many central government department’s communications and spin budgets) and that this proposal is a sign of its desperation.

Application of the Act has become complicated – most ICO decision notices and Tribunal judgments add nuances onto how we should apply exemptions. I love the complication, but I am also very drawn to an idea that was kicked around by others on Twitter that perhaps all of the exemptions should be discarded and everything become subject to a plain public interest test. This would include cost limits – if you ask for a lot of information, if it is in the public interest to provide it, it should be provided. Thanks to relatively recent developments in understanding of ‘vexatious requests’), where a request would be significantly disruptive, the Act allows for a refusal.

The FOI Act is not perfect. But I am still of the generation that compares it to Yes Prime Minister days of secrecy and am thankful to the Campaign for Freedom of Information and other advocates that we can now ask the people who formerly felt like our masters for our own information.

[1] Post legislative scrutiny of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 – Justice Committee Para 241, http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmjust/96/9602.htm.

[2] ibid

[3] http://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/publications/policy/moj/gov-resp-justice-comm-foi-act.pdf

[4] https://ico.org.uk/about-the-ico/news-and-events/news-and-blogs/2014/11/ico-response-to-the-ministry-of-justice-s-announcement-of-their-triennial-review-of-the-information-commissioner-s-office/

source http://theinformed.org.uk/2015/02/foi-ten/

Previous Events – archive

Papers and info from previous SWOP events

February 2014 presentation by Gill Hamilton, Digital Access Manager at the National Library of Scotland entitled “The long and winding road”: implementation of electronic legal deposit at National Library of Scotland

March 2011 – Introduction to Social Media in the Work Place – free course looking at Social Media tools. Thursday 3rd March, Scottish Government, Victoria Quay, Edinburgh. 10.00-12.30.

May 2008 – From Parliament Square to Holyrood – historical official publications online. Seminar aimed at all users of official publications and statistics. The seminar will provide an introduction to all the new and exciting historical resources currently available online – from the Pre 1707 Scots Parliament records through to the Holyrood of the present day.

April 2007 – Made in Scotland: law making from inspiration to implementation – held in the Wolfson Suite, Edinburgh University Library, on 17th April 2007. A workshop aimed at front line users of Scottish Parliamentary material or those with an interest in the process. The workshop will concentrate primarily on Scottish Parliamentary material although reference will be made to practices in Westminster.

Sept 2006 – Copyright & Official Publications – papers from the seminar held at the National Library of Scotland, Causewayside, Edinburgh, Thursday 7th Sept 2pm to 5pm

Sept 2005 – Electronic Sources of Scottish Legislation – papers from the seminar held at the National Library of Scotland, Causewayside, Edinburgh on 6th September 2005.

October 2004 – SWOP Statistics Seminar – papers from the seminar, held at held at the National Library of Scotland, Causewayside, Edinburgh on 28th October 2004.

October 2003 – Understanding Freedom of Information – Scottish Working Group on Official Publications (SWOP) briefing held on Thursday 16th October 2003 in the Brenda Moon Room, Wolfson Technology Resources Centre, Edinburgh University Library – papers unavailable