Parliamentary committee to examine Cabinet Office FOI handling after transparency concerns

MPs will probe the central department’s clearing house to ascertain whether it complies with information law

Credit: Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/DPA/Press Association Images

A committee of MPs has opened an inquiry into the Cabinet Office’s handling of freedom of information requests after a court said there was a “profound lack of transparency” over the operations of its clearing house for information demands.

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee said it is not planning to probe the workings of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, but will instead look at how the department’s FOI clearing house works and whether it complies with the act itself.

In April, campaign group Open Democracy secured a tribunal judgement that demanded the government release information on the clearing house’s operations. Open Democracy brought the case because it believed the department was obstructing access to information it was entitled to seek under FOI rules.

The Cabinet Office denies blacklisting some information seekers, including particular journalists. It insists its clearing-house function “helps ensure there is a consistent approach across government” to requests that go to a number of departments or when particularly sensitive information is requested.

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PACAC chair William Wragg said committee members believe it is important to get a range of views on how well the Cabinet Office is complying with the Freedom of Information Act; how the clearing house works; and its role in advising and coordinating responses across government.

“The perceived opacity of how the FOI clearing house operates has the potential to damage trust in governance and transparency legislation,” he said. “As a matter of trust, we felt it is something that must be addressed at the earliest opportunity. The committee will examine how the Freedom of Information Act is implemented at the heart of government and whether these measures fit with the spirit of act.”

Earlier this year, Open Democracy called on both PACAC and the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee to launch inquiries into the Cabinet Office clearing house, arguing that the unit was “Orwellian”.

The call was backed by more than a dozen national newspaper editors and former editors.

PACAC is taking submissions for its inquiry until 31 August.


Sam Trendall

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