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Freedom of Information

Volume 540: debated on Wednesday 8 February 2012

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 the Decision Notices dated 12 September 2011 (ref. FS50347714) and 13 September 2011 (ref. FS50363603). It is my view, as an accountable person under the Act, that there was no failure by the Cabinet Office to comply with section 1(1 )(b) of the Act in these cases by withholding copies of the minutes of the Cabinet Ministerial Committee on Devolution to Scotland and Wales and the English Regions (DSWR) from 1997 and 1998.

The consequence of my giving the Information Commissioner this certificate is that the Commissioner’s Decision Notices, which ordered disclosure of most of the DSWR minutes, cease to have effect.

A copy of the certificate has 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 third time the power under section 53 (otherwise known as the “veto”) has been exercised since the Act came into force in 2005. In that time, central Government have released an enormous amount of information in response to FOI requests—including in October 2010 the minutes of the Cabinet discussion of the Westland affair.

My decision to exercise the veto in this case was not taken lightly, but in accordance with the Statement of Government Policy on the use of the executive override as it relates to information falling within the scope of section 35(1) of the Act. I have placed a copy of that policy in the Libraries of both Houses.

In line with that policy, I have both assessed the balance of the public interest in disclosure and non-disclosure of these minutes, and considered whether this case meets the criteria set out in the Statement of Government Policy for use of the veto.

I consider that the public interest falls in favour of non-disclosure and that disclosure would be damaging to the doctrine of collective responsibility and detrimental to the effective operation of Cabinet government. I have concluded, in light of the criteria set out in the Government’s policy, that this constitutes an exceptional case and that the exercise of the veto is warranted. A detailed explanation of the basis on which I arrived at the conclusion that the veto should be used is set out in my statement of reasons.