SPICe FAQ – MSPs and FOI

We are regularly asked if Members of The Scottish Parliament (MSPs) and their staff can be required to release information under Freedom of Information (FOI) laws.

FOI laws apply to public authorities, but not to their elected members as individuals.

The public can request any information held by the Scottish Parliament. This includes information about its elected members e.g. expense details, member discussions about policy matters, or the background to decisions involving members.

However, MSPs and their staff are not subject to the legislation. This is because, in their role as MSPs, they are individuals rather than public bodies.

MSPs often correspond with public bodies on behalf of constituents. In these circumstances, the public body may be required to release details of the correspondence in response to an FOI request.

When reaching a decision about whether to release information, a public authority will consider whether the information falls within the scope of an FOI exemption. Information which identifies third parties (such as MSPs or constituents) will often be exempt. Where the authority is considering applying an exemption to information, it may consult the views of relevant elected members.

Do Scottish Parliamentary Questions qualify as FOI requests?

Scottish Parliamentary Questions are not valid information requests for the purposes of FOI and cannot, therefore, be appealed to the Scottish Information Commissioner. There is, however, nothing to prevent an MSP submitting both a parliamentary question and an FOI request at the same time.

Can an MSP make a request on behalf of a constituent?

There is nothing to stop an MSP making a request on behalf of a constituent. However, all information requests must contain the name of the person on whose behalf the request is made, in order for the request to be valid.

More information about FOI:

Emma Robinson, SPICe Enquiries Manager