I am writing to make a request under the Freedom of Information Act for copies of correspondence (including but not limited to emails, faxes, memos, notes, letters, etc.) between John Bercow and IPSA in the calendar year 2014.
IPSA holds the information that you request.
In processing your requests, we searched our systems for any correspondence between any member of IPSA’s staff and the Speaker, sent or received during 2014.
We have located 19 pieces of correspondence. 10 of these correspondences are attached to this response. Personal signatures have been redacted under section 40 of the FOIA.
Section 40(2) provides that personal information about third parties is exempt information if one of the conditions set out in section 40(3) is satisfied. Under the FOI Act disclosure of this information would breach the fair processing principle (Principle 1) of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA), where it would be unfair to those persons or is confidential. For further information, you may wish to visit the UK Legislation website.
Five pieces of correspondence have already been published by the Speaker and can be viewed on his website, available via the following address: http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/offices/commons/speakers-office/speakers-publications/general-correspondence/.
The FOIA states that information that is accessible by other means is not subject to release. Therefore, as the information you have requested is already available on the Speaker’s website, it is exempt from disclosure under section 21 of the FOIA (information accessible to applicant by other means).
With regards the remaining four pieces of correspondence, we have considered the application of the exemption at s.36(2)(c) (prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs) of the FOI Act. The application of these qualified exemptions also requires a public interest balancing test.
IPSA’s qualified person, as designated by the Lord Chancellor under s.36(5)(o)(iii) of the FOI Act, is Sir Neil Butterfield, who has considered the competing arguments and has provided a reasonable opinion.
In balancing the arguments, Sir Neil has commented as follows.
I am asked to consider whether the exemption provided in Section 36 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 should apply to part of a recent FOI request made by Guy Basnett.
Mr. Basnett has requested copies of correspondence (including but not limited to emails, faxes, memos, notes, letters, etc.) between John Bercow and IPSA in the calendar year 2014.
In response to the request IPSA intends to release the majority of the correspondence and my opinion is not sought in respect of those documents. However I am asked to consider whether the exemption provided in Section 36 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 should apply to a small part of the correspondence, correspondence which is clearly both sensitive and confidential.
As the Qualified Person designated by the Lord Chancellor under Section 36(5) of the Freedom of Information Act my duty is to assess whether the public interest in withholding the information outweighs the public interest in disclosure in relation to the exemptions specified in Section 36 of the Act, and in particular in this case whether disclosure is likely to be prejudicial to the effective conduct of public affairs. In doing so I have considered all the correspondence to which the request relates, in particular the small part of the correspondence for which an exemption is sought, and the arguments for and against applying Section 36.
In determining whether in my reasonable opinion the release of that correspondence would, or would be likely to prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs I have given full weight to the presumption in the FOIA that information should be released on request. I further recognize and take fully into account that such part of the material to which Section 40 (personal information) might apply could be redacted, and that it is in the public interest for a publicly funded independent organization to be transparent about the way it operates with Parliament.
However, I have also given weight to the following considerations.
IPSA has a close working relationship with the Speaker, who chairs the Speaker’s Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, the body responsible for the appointment of the Chairman and Board Members of IPSA and for considering and approving the annual budget of IPSA. That close working relationship is essential for the continued effective conduct of the work of IPSA.
The nature of the relationship between the Speaker and IPSA necessitates written communication. If confidential and sensitive correspondence between the Speaker and IPSA were to be disclosed the inevitable consequence would be that neither IPSA nor the Speaker would be willing openly and frankly to discuss issues central to the conduct of the affairs of IPSA, something which of itself would be likely to prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs. That prejudice would be compounded by the almost certain undermining of IPSA’s relationship with the Speaker, which would be additionally detrimental to the effective conduct of public affairs.
Further, in my judgment there is a strong likelihood that releasing such correspondence would adversely affect the ability of IPSA to carry out its functions in a professional, competent and efficient manner and to engage effectively with the Speaker and with the SCIPSA.
It is important and in the public interest that there is an effective and trusted working relationship between IPSA and the Speaker. The release of the confidential and sensitive correspondence would, in my judgment, have a significant and detrimental impact on that relationship.
I am firmly of the view that these considerations are of fundamental importance and outweigh any public interest.
For the reasons set out above it is my reasonable opinion that the release of that part of requested information which relates to confidential and sensitive correspondence would be likely to be prejudicial to the effective conduct of public affairs.
In the light of this conclusion I, as the Qualified Person, apply Section 36(2) of the Act to exempt the identified requested information from being released.