Thursday, 9 February 2012

Tories renew Labour's Freedom of Information order

It is interesting that the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, has decided to make a further order under section 53 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 overriding a decision of the Information Commissioner under that Act that minutes of meetings of the Cabinet Ministerial Committee on Devolution to Scotland and Wales and the English Regions in 1997 should be released.

This is the second time this has happened. Jack Straw made a similar order in 2009, about which I wrote in some detail here. I will not repeat the legal issues concerned - those interested can follow the link. However, one of the arguments used then, pointing to a fear of prejudice to the public interest arising from disclosure, was that some ministers which had taken part in the meetings in 1997 were still in office in 2009, notably Jack Straw himself. That argument of course no longer applies.

Presumably in order to make his decision, Dominic Grieve looked at the minutes in question: at least, I certainly hope he did, since it was incumbent on him in law to acquaint himself with all the facts when making his decision. Presumably also, he had some kind of permission to do so by the Shadow Attorney General, because there is a convention that governments do not get to see the cabinet meetings and briefing papers of previous governments of a different party.

Given that the "ministers in office" argument at least no longer applies (although other ones employed in 2009 still do), there must have been some interest amongst the Tories in letting the world see Labour's internal manoeuvrings in 1997. Presumably what has stayed their hand is the forthcoming referendum on independence in Scotland, and a notably increased concern amongst some people in England about their position as (in their eyes) the union's whipping boys.

This implies that there must be some quite powerful stuff in these cabinet committee minutes and it is interesting that there has so far been no leak: perhaps there will be a nicely timed one before the referendum. One can also guess that Sir Peter Housden, viewed by some in government as Alex Salmond's accessory, has been kept well away from the papers.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have to say, there must be some very dangerous stuff. There must be a real fear amongst unionists about the contents. Their covering up shows there's something very deep and disturbing going on.