I have today given the Information Commissioner a certificate under section 53 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (‘the Act’). The certificate relates to case FS50100665 from 23 June 2009 in which, in my opinion, the Information Commissioner wrongly found that the Cabinet Office had failed to comply with section 1(1 )(b) of the Act by withholding copies of the minutes of the Cabinet Ministerial Committee on Devolution to Scotland and Wales and the English Regions (DSWR) of 1997. The consequence of my giving the Information Commissioner a certificate is that the Commissioner’s decision notice ceases to have effect.
A copy of the certificate has therefore been laid before each House of Parliament. I have additionally placed a copy of the certificate and a detailed statement of the reasons for my decision in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.
This is only the second time this power (the ‘veto’) has been exercised since the Act came into force in 2005 and over that period of time central Government have received approximately 160,000 non-routine requests for information. The decision to exercise the veto in this case was not taken lightly but in accordance with the statement of Government policy1 on the use of the executive override as it relates to information falling within the scope of section 35(1) of the Act.
In accordance with the policy, my conclusion rests on an assessment of the public interest in disclosure and non-disclosure of these Cabinet minutes, and of the exceptional nature of the case. While the convention of collective Cabinet responsibility is only one part of the public interest test, in my view disclosure of the information in this case would put the convention at serious risk of harm. As an integral part of our system of Government the maintenance of the convention is strongly in the public interest and must be given appropriate weight when deciding where the balance of the public interest lies.
Having done that, and having taken into account all of the circumstances of this case, I have concluded that the public interest falls in favour of non-disclosure and that this is an exceptional case where release would be damaging to the convention of collective responsibility and detrimental to the effective operation of Cabinet Government. Consequently, this case warrants the exercise of the veto.
1 Annexed to ‘Statement of Reasons’ at: http://www.justice.gov.uk/news/announcement240209a.htm