MIL-OSI United Kingdom: Labour accuses Michael Gove of misleading Parliament over secretive Cabinet Office “Clearing House” for FOI requests – The Labour Party

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Source: Labour Party UK

Following a court ruling that Michael Gove acted unlawfully in the awarding of a government contract, Labour has today accused Gove of misleading Parliament regarding the operations of a secretive Cabinet Office “Clearing House” that handles Freedom of Information (FOI) requests following a separate court ruling against the Minister for the Cabinet Office.

Labour’s Deputy Leader and Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Angela Rayner has written to the Prime Minister demanding that the Government’s Independent Adviser Lord Geidt investigate whether Gove misled Parliament and broke the Ministerial Code, when he told a parliamentary committee in December 2020 that: “The idea that there is a secret clearing house or any sort of blacklist is, I am afraid, not correct”. Rayner’s letter says that this statement “has been proven to be untrue” by a court judgement published earlier this week, which confirmed that the Clearing House does exist, and that the Government had tried to cover up how it operates.

Following legal action that spanned three years, a court ruled that the Cabinet Office had attempted to mislead the court about the operation of the Clearing House and demonstrated a “profound lack of transparency about the operation of this unit”, ordering the Cabinet Office to publish documents revealing details of how the FOI Clearing House operates.

Rayner has demanded that the investigation include these documents in order to determine whether Gove broke the Ministerial Code a second time when he told Parliament that: “all freedom of information requests are treated in exactly the same way”, after allegations of blacklisting journalists, the withholding of some information requested under Freedom of Information laws and the government treating some Freedom of Information requests differently to others based on the subject matter and who requested the information.

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Notes to Editors

Full text of letter from Angela Rayner to the Prime Minister

To: Prime Minister

Cc: Simon Case, Cabinet Secretary

Dear Prime Minister,

I am writing to you following a court judgement in a case regarding the Cabinet Office’s ‘Clearing House’ for Freedom of Information requests. In this case, the judge ruled that the Cabinet Office had presented “misleading” documents regarding the Clearing House unit in the Cabinet Office, demonstrating a “profound lack of transparency about the operation” of this unit.

The judge ordered the Cabinet Office to release further details of how the Clearing House handled Freedom of Information requests, however these documents have yet to be released.

The Cabinet Office lists one of its own key responsibilities as “making the way government works more transparent”, yet as the court’s damning judgement makes clear, your government is determined to undermine accountability and transparency at every turn, including when Ministers have been asked about this Clearing House unit.

Giving evidence to Parliament as a witness to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, on 10th December 2020, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove said: “The idea that there is a secret clearing house or any sort of blacklist is, I am afraid, not correct. Actually, I am glad it is not correct. It is the case that when we look at all freedom of information requests… whether it is a freelance journalist, someone working for an established title or a concerned citizen, all freedom of information requests are treated in exactly the same way”.

It would appear that Mr Gove has misled Parliament, whether knowingly or unknowingly, in saying “the idea that there is a secret clearing house… is … not correct”, a statement that has been proven to be untrue by this court judgement.

Mr Gove also stated that all Freedom of Information requests are treated “in exactly the same way”, denying any notion that the Clearing House works to try to withhold some information requested under Freedom of Information laws, treating some Freedom of Information requests differently to others or even blacklisting certain journalists and researchers.

Because of the lack of transparency regarding the operations of the Cabinet Office Clearing House, the truth about the operations of the unit – and therefore whether Mr Gove misled Parliament by saying that “all freedom of information requests are treated in exactly the same way” – will be revealed in the documents that the judge has ruled must now be released.

The Ministerial Code is clear that: “It is of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity. Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister”.

As laid out in the Terms of Reference for the Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests, I would urge you to consult the Cabinet Secretary and refer this matter to the Independent Adviser of Ministers’ Interests for a full investigation. This investigation must include within its scope the documents regarding the operation of the Cabinet Office Clearing House that the Cabinet Office has been ordered to release by the judge in this case, and any further documents relating to the treatment of Freedom of Information requests by the Cabinet Office Clearing House unit.

Yours sincerely,

Rt Hon Angela Rayner MP

Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

MIL OSI United Kingdom