A resounding vindication of Request Initiative’s arguments from the Information Commissioner
A “ridiculous” attempt by the Cabinet Office to keep David Cameron’s communications relating to his resignation honours list a state secret today received a double blow from the Information Commissioner.
Request Initiative, a nonprofit community interest company, sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the Cabinet Office in September 2016 “concerning the process of shortlisting Mr Cameron’s recommendation for honours”.
But the Cabinet Office refused the request claiming the honours were given out by Cameron “in a personal capacity” and therefore the department did not hold any information under the terms of the act. Request appealed, describing the claim as “a ridiculous formalism”.
The Prime Minister’s nominations
The honours list was deeply controversial and reinforced the public concern about Cameron’s cronyism. A peerage for Michael Spencer, the former Tory party treasurer and major donor, was reportedly blocked by the independent advisory committee amid concerns about his firm’s involvement in the Libor rigging scandal.
Elizabeth Denham, the Information Commissioner, today released a decision notice ruling in favour of Request and giving the Cabinet Office 35 days to release any information that is held – or come up with a better excuse.
The official notice from the Information Commissioner’s Office stated: “The honours which are the focus of [this] request are after all the Prime Minister’s nominations; whilst nominees may be political ones, David Cameron was obviously only in a position to make them by virtue of the fact that he was Prime Minister, an official government position, not simply because he was leader of the Conservative Party.”
The Taint of Cronyism
Brendan Montague, the founder of Request, said: “This is a victory for common sense, and for accountability in government. David Cameron’s Cabinet Office relied on extremely dodgy mechanisms to prevent information embarrassing to him and his colleagues being released under FOIA.
“Theresa May in her highly precarious position as Prime Minister must understand that the government has to be answerable to the public. The PM must be open and transparent in her dealings or the taint of cronyism and being completely out of touch will only get worse.”
The Information Commissioner upheld a second complaint made by Request stating that the Cabinet Office had wrongly extended the time taken to respond to the original request by 20 days. She agreed the exemption they relied on had no public interest element to justify the delay.
The ICO decision concluded: “[T]he Cabinet Office was under a duty to comply with section 1(1) of FOIA within 20 working days. The Cabinet Office’s failure to do so represents a breach of section 10(1) of FOIA.”