Skip to main content

Freedom of Information

Volume 549: debated on Monday 3 September 2012

On 31 July, I gave the Information Commissioner a certificate under section 53(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (“the Act”). The certificate relates to the Commissioner’s Decision Notice dated 4 July 2012 (FS50417514). It is my view, as the accountable person for the purposes of section 53 of the Act in this case, that there was no failure by the Cabinet Office to comply with section 1(1 )(b) of the Act by withholding information contained in the minutes of the Cabinet discussions on 13 and 17 March 2003 concerning the military invasion of Iraq.

The consequence of my giving the Information Commissioner this certificate is that the Commissioner’s Decision Notice, which ordered disclosure of extracts of these minutes, ceases to have effect.

I was required to reach a decision in this case during the summer recess as a result of the statutory deadlines set out in the Freedom of Information Act. A copy of the certificate was laid before each House of Parliament on 31 July. I am making this statement to the House at the first available opportunity.

My decision to exercise the veto in this case was taken in accordance with the Act and the published 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. In reaching my decision, I assessed the balance of the public interests in disclosure and non-disclosure of the extracts of the minutes and I considered whether this case met the criteria set out in that policy for determining whether or not this was an exceptional case.

It was my opinion as the “accountable person” in this case, as well as the collective view of the Cabinet, that (1) disclosure of this information would be damaging to the doctrine of collective Cabinet responsibility and detrimental to the effective operation of Cabinet government; (2) the balance of public interest favoured the continued non-disclosure of the information; and (3) this was an exceptional case and met the criteria set out in the policy on the use of the veto.

Having reached that conclusion, I decided to exercise the power in section 53(2) of the Act.

A detailed explanation of the basis on which I arrived at the conclusion that the veto should be used is set out in a statement of reasons which has been deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.

This is the fifth time the veto power under section 53 of the Freedom of Information Act has been exercised since the Act came into force in 2005, although this veto and another recent one (8 February 2012) followed previous vetoes by the last Government in respect of the same information. Since the Act came into force, central Government have released an enormous amount of information in response to FOI requests—including in July and October 2010 when the Government published Cabinet Office papers on the miners’ strike and the minutes of the Cabinet discussion of the Westland affair.