The Public Records (Scotland) Bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament on 7 October 2010. Copies of the Bill and the supporting documents can be found on the Scottish Parliament's website.
The origins of the Bill stem from a report published in November 2007. The Historical Abuse Systemic Review of Residential Schools and Children's Homes in Scotland 1950 to 1995 (the Shaw Report) was the direct outcome of a debate in the Scottish Parliament on 1 December 2004. The debate followed a motion on behalf of the Public Petitions Committee, seeking an inquiry into past institutional child abuse in residential schools and children's homes.
The then Minister for Education and Young People, Peter Peacock, announced his intention to appoint someone with experience to analyse independently the regulatory requirements of the time, the systems that were in place to monitor operation of those requirements, and, in general, to analyse how that monitoring was carried out in practice. The Scottish Parliament appointed Tom Shaw, former Chief Inspector of Education and Training in Northern Ireland, as Independent expert to lead the review.
The Shaw Report (link to Scottish Government website) was published on 22 November 2007. The Report revealed poor record keeping within the looked after children sector. It also identified problems for abuse survivors when attempting to trace records for purposes of identity, family or medical issues. It expressed a wider concern over record keeping problems throughout the sector. The review pointed to an urgent need to take action to preserve historical records, ensure that residents can get access to records and information about their location.
The Report recommended that "the government should commission a review of public records legislation which should lead to new legislation being drafted to meet records and information needs in Scotland. This should also make certain that no legislation impedes people's lawful access to records. This review's objectives should address the need for permanent preservation of significant records held by private, non-statutory agencies that provide publicly funded services to children."
In February 2008 Scottish Ministers asked the Keeper of the Records of Scotland to undertake a review of public records legislation. His report (PDF 404KB) was published in October 2009. The Keeper's conclusion, based on the evidence, was that existing legislation was not fit for purpose, was seriously out of date, too narrow in scope and simply not relevant to the conditions of the day.
Scottish Ministers accepted the Keeper's findings, and proposed a light touch legislative response with carefully focused new legislation with a strong emphasis on self assessment, in order to minimise additional burdens on public bodies, Ministers also advocated the use of existing guidance and best practice to support implementation.
The Scottish Government carried out a public consultation over a six-week period during the summer of 2010. Its findings showed broad support for the Government's proposals. Most respondents agreed that the proposals would be a positive step towards achieving lasting improvements in the management of records by public authorities. More than half considered lasting improvements could not be made without legislation.