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All correspondence between Mark Simmonds MP and IPSA, and claims made
F1415-050
Disclosure Date:9 Sep 2014
Categories: CORRESPONDENCE MPs' TRAVEL
Exemptions Applied: Section 21 Section 22 Section 36
Request

Under the FOIA I wish to know all correspondence my MP Mark Simmonds has had with IPSA by e-mail personally. Also, I wish to know what travel he has claimed for his children and partner. And, if other than hotels he has claimed anything at all. 

 

Response

You also requested information regarding travel claims by Mr Simmonds. You may be aware that IPSA publishes all claims for business costs and expenses on our website every two months, three months in arrears. You can view the published information via this link to our publication website.

The following instructions may assist you in filtering the information.

  1. Select ‘Search Function’ via the menu bar at the top of the page.
  2. Under ‘Select MP(s), Constituencies, Postcode or Region’ tick the box to select all MPs.
  3. Under ‘Select a year and, optionally, month(s)’, select a year.
  4. Under ‘Select category(s) of Business Cost or Expense’, select ‘Travel’.
  5. Under ‘Select type(s) of Business Cost or Expense’, select the expense types relating to ‘dependants’.
  6. Click ‘Find’ to retrieve the results. You can export this data to a spreadsheet format via the link at the top right-hand corner of the page.

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 our website, it is exempt from disclosure under section 21 of the FOIA (information accessible to applicant by other means).

For your reference, the next publication date is 11 September 2014, which will cover those claims processed by IPSA during April and May 2014. Claims subsequently processed by IPSA will follow in future publications.

Some of the information you have requested is intended for publication at a future date. Section 22(1) of the FOIA states that information intended for future publication is exempt from release.

We have considered whether the public interest in releasing the information outweighs the application of the exemption. It is our opinion that the public interest is best served by publishing a full list rather than on an ad hoc basis, as in this way a clear and complete set of information is published, avoiding any potential confusion. It is for this reason that the application of the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosure at this stage.

With regards your request for correspondence, we considered the exemption at section 36 of the FOIA (effective conduct of public affairs). Unlike other exemptions, consideration of this exemption is conducted by a Qualified Person, who considers the arguments for and against release of the information requested.

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 exemptions provided in Section 36 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 should apply to a recent FOI request made by Adam M.

The requestor wishes “to know all correspondence my MP Mark Simmonds has had with IPSA by e-mail personally.” I interpret that request as being for copies of all e-mails exchanged between IPSA and Mr. Simmonds from May 2010 to the present time. He also wishes to know what travel expenses Mr. Simmonds has claimed for his children and partner, and if other than hotels he has claimed anything at all. In response to the second part of the request relating to claims for travel and other expenses IPSA has directed the requestor to the IPSA website where all such claims are published and freely available. My consideration is accordingly confined to the e-mail correspondence exchanged between IPSA and Mr. Simmonds from May 2010 to the present time.

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 exemption 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 the correspondence to which the requests relates and the arguments for and against applying Section 36.

In determining whether in my reasonable opinion the release of some or all 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 that such part of the material to which Section 40 (personal information) might apply can be redacted and that some of the information contained in the correspondence is routine in nature. In addition I acknowledge that it is in the public interest that a publicly funded independent organisation should be transparent in the way it interacts with MPs.

However, I have also given weight to the consideration that releasing this correspondence, even if redacted, might lead to a significant breakdown in trust between IPSA and the Member of Parliament concerned and subsequently with all MPs. Such a breakdown in trust, if it occurred, is highly likely in my view to have a considerable and negative impact on the way in which MPs and IPSA relate and interact with each other and thus on the conduct of public affairs.

I have also considered whether MPs would reasonably expect to see all their correspondence with IPSA, whatever the subject matter and regardless of content, released to the public in response to what is in essence a wide-ranging and unfocussed application and have concluded that they would not reasonably have such an expectation.

I am firmly of the view that trust between MPs and IPSA is of fundamental importance. If MPs felt that they were unable to communicate with IPSA without all their correspondence being put into the public domain that would unquestionably be detrimental to the way in which they dealt with IPSA. The release of the information requested would have an adverse effect on the relationship with IPSA not only in respect of the MP directly affected but all MPs. It would much reduce the confidence they would otherwise have in dealing openly and frankly with IPSA.

For the reasons set out above it is my reasonable opinion that the release of the requested information 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 requested information from being released.