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The Freedom of Information Ministerial Veto

Volume 551: debated on Tuesday 16 October 2012

I have today given the Information Commissioner a certificate under section 53 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (“the Act”) both as it applies for the purposes of the Act itself, and as it applies to the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (“the Regulations”) by reason of Regulation 18(6). This certificate relates to the Upper Tribunal’s judgment dated 18 September 2012—Evans v (1) Information Commissioner (2) Seven Government Departments [2012] UKUT 313 (AAC). It is my view, as an accountable person under the Act, that there was no failure by the seven Departments1 joined as additional parties to this appeal at the tribunal to comply with section 1(1 )(b) of the Act, or to comply with any obligation under the regulations, as a result of those Departments withholding the correspondence between the Prince of Wales and Ministers in the previous Administration.

The consequence of my giving the Information Commissioner this certificate is that the tribunal’s judgment, which anticipates that the Information Commissioner’s decision notices will be amended so that the documents identified in the tribunal’s judgment be disclosed, ceases 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.

My decision to exercise the veto in this case was not taken lightly. I have taken into account 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. Although that policy is not directly applicable to this case I have applied the principles in it in coming to my decision.

I have taken into account the views of Cabinet, former Ministers and the Information Commissioner, in considering both the balance of the public interest in disclosure and nondisclosure and whether this is an exceptional case. My view is that the public interest favours nondisclosure. I have also concluded that this constitutes an exceptional case and that the exercise of the veto is warranted.

In summary, my decision is based on my view that the correspondence was undertaken as part of the Prince of Wales’ preparation for becoming King. The Prince of Wales engaged in this correspondence with Ministers with the expectation that it would be confidential. Disclosure of the correspondence could damage the Prince of Wales’ ability to perform his duties when he becomes King. It is a matter of the highest importance within our constitutional framework that the Monarch is a politically neutral figure able to engage in confidence with the Government of the day, whatever its political colour. In my view, there is nothing in the nature or content of this particular correspondence which outweighs that strong public interest against disclosure.

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.

1Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Department of Health, Department of Children Schools and Families, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Northern Ireland Office and the Cabinet Office.