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Materials produced by the European Research Group (ERG) and correspondence between IPSA and the ERG (Jan 2017 - Aug 2018)
CAS-121264
Disclosure Date:4 Sep 2018
Categories: IPSA - POLICY MPs' STAFFING
Exemptions Applied: Section 36
Request
  1. Copies of any and all correspondence between IPSA and the European Research Group or its representatives from 1 January 2017 to the present. 
  2. Copies of any and all documents obtained by IPSA for its 2016-17 Assurance Review relating to the ERG’s formal governance structure and internal controls, as referenced in paragraph 90 of IPSA’s Annual Review of Assurance 2016-17.
  3. Copies of any and all research reports produced by the ERG that are held by IPSA. 

 

Response

Under the terms of the Scheme of MPs’ Business Costs and Expenses (‘the Scheme’), MPs can claim the costs of payments for pooled staffing services, which provide research, briefing and drafting services to groups of MPs. There are currently five such services which are registered with IPSA:

  • the Parliamentary Research Service (for Labour MPs);
  • the Policy Research Unit (for Conservative MPs);
  • the Scottish National Party Research Team (for SNP MPs);
  • the Parliamentary Support Team (for Liberal Democrat MPs) and
  • the European Research Group (ERG), which provides briefings to Conservative MPs on issues relating to the UK’s relationship with the European Union.

As part of our core regulatory function, and to assure both ourselves and the public that public funds claimed are in accordance with the Scheme, we conduct regular assurance reviews on different areas of spending, including that related to pooled staffing services. We last conducted such a review in 2016, the report of which is available on our website, during which we examined all expenditure claimed by MPs relating to such services, reviewed the governance and operations of each service and scrutinised examples of output material.

I will take your requests for information in turn.

Copies of any and all correspondence between IPSA and the European Research Group or its representatives from 1 January 2017 to the present

IPSA holds this information.

We have searched our systems for any correspondence exchanged with the European Research Group since 1 January 2017 and have identified the following seven emails.

  • Four of these emails, which relate to our statutory role regulating MPs’ business costs and expenses, are attached to this letter, with personal information relating to specific individuals withheld under section 40(2) of the FOIA. Further information on this exemption can be found below.
  • Three of these emails do not relate to our statutory functions and are personal in nature, referring to, for example, details of individuals’ personal pensions. These emails are being withheld in full under section 40(2) of the FOIA. Further information on this exemption can be found below.

Date

Summary

Disclosure

30/01/2017

Outcome of IPSA’s Assurance Review

  1. Cover email disclosed with personal data of individuals withheld under section 40(2) FOIA
  2. Assurance Review available on our website
  3. Attached letter to the Government Chief Whip disclosed with personal data of individuals exempt from disclosure under section 40(2) FOIA

11/09/2017 – 27/09/2017

Consultation with ERG staff member regarding possible disclosure of their personal data under the FOIA

Withheld in full. Personal data (exempt from disclosure under section 40(2) FOIA)

12/09/2017 – 13/09/2017

Request for a sample of materials produced by the ERG

Disclosed with personal data of individuals withheld under section 40(2) FOIA

13/09/2017 – 19/09/2017

Discussion regarding IPSA assurance review

Disclosed with personal data of individuals withheld under section 40(2) FOIA

09/04/2018

Request for ERG staff member contact details

Withheld in full. Personal data (exempt from disclosure under section 40(2) FOIA)

30/05/2018 – 06/07/2018

Arranging a meeting to discuss IPSA’s assurance review

Disclosed with personal data of individuals withheld under section 40(2) FOIA

06/07/2018 – 17/08/2018

Discussion between IPSA’s payroll team and ERG staff member regarding a personal pension

Withheld in full. Personal data (exempt from disclosure under section 40(2) FOIA)

We have withheld instances of 'personal data' (as defined by the Data Protection Act) in accordance with section 40 of the FOIA. For reference, section 40(2) provides that personal information about third parties is exempt information if disclosure would contravene any of the data protection principles - in this case, principle (a), where it would be unfair to the individuals concerned. You can find out more information about personal data and FOI via guidance from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) on their website.

Copies of any and all documents obtained by IPSA for its 2016-17 Assurance Review relating to the ERG’s formal governance structure and internal controls, as referenced in paragraph 90 of IPSA’s Annual Review of Assurance 2016-17

No documents were provided by the ERG relating to their formal governance structure and internal controls.

Details of the arrangements were described to us by the ERG’s Senior Researcher, and these details were published in full at paragraphs 60 to 65 of our 2015-16 pooled services assurance review, which can be found on our website.

We do not hold any additional information other than that included in this report.

Copies of any and all research reports produced by the ERG that are held by IPSA

The ERG provided us with some examples of the materials they produce for their subscribers as part of our 2016 assurance review, the report of which can be found on our website.

In processing your request for information, we have considered the application of the exemption at s.36(c) of the FOI Act, where disclosure of the information you requested would, or would be likely to prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs.  The exemption at section 36 can only be engaged if, in the reasonable opinion of a ‘qualified person’, disclosure would result in any of the effect set out in section 36(2) of the Act. IPSA’s qualified person, Sir Robert Owen QC, as designated by the Lord Chancellor under s.36(5)(o)(iii) of the FOIA.

Sir Robert recently made this consideration in relation to an identical request, which can be found on our website here. In considering your request, we again provided Sir Robert with the materials requested and arguments for and against disclosure, and asked whether he wished to alter his previous determination. Sir Robert has concluded that he considers the exemption is still engaged. He commented as follows.

By email dated 6 August 2018 David Pegg, acting for and on behalf of Guardian News and Media, made a further request for disclosure of material relating to the European Research Group under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the Act). The request was essentially a repeat of the request made on behalf of Buzzfeed News dated 23 March, request reference CAS-109721.  On 18 May 2018 I gave the opinion that the exemption under section 36(2)(c) of the Act was engaged and that the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighed the public interest in disclosure of the material.

On further consideration, and there being neither any further matters to be taken into account nor any material change in the matters taken into account in my opinion dated 18 May, save for a lapse of time of approximately 4 months, I hold to that opinion in respect of the material the subject of the further request.

We have also considered whether the public interest in disclosure outweighs the application of the exemption. In particular, we noted the significance of Brexit as an issue of concern to the general public and considered whether disclosure of the information requested would further debate and accountability on the issue, as well as current public references to the ‘European Research Group’ in relation to the ongoing Brexit negotiations. We also considered the information that we already publish on MPs’ spending with the European Research Group, including: the publication of all claims made (including the names of all subscribing MPs) and the publication of our assurance report on their work, which contains analysis of the materials they produce and comprehensive details relating to their governance arrangements, and whether this fulfils the public interest in terms of assuring the taxpayer that funds are being spent appropriately. Given Sir Robert’s conclusion that prejudice would occur (as opposed to it being likely), a higher bar must be met for the public interest to outweigh the exemption and while we recognise there are public interest arguments in favour of disclosure, we do not consider that this higher bar is met.