Correspondence relating to MPs' rental agreements not complying with evidence requirements and shared agreements

Request

Can you please supply copies of all correspondence relating to:

  1. Rental agreements not complying with the evidence requirements,

  2. Shared agreements where the MP is sharing with another MP or a non partner.

Both these since May 2010.

In addition can you supply copies of any correspondence not covered by the above between IPSA and Edward Garnier MP, and Adam Afriye MP, for the same period, and any correspondence from those MPs who responded to the consultation process in 2010 regarding this.


Response

You later clarified that the correspondence requested is not related to administrative errors (e.g. missing signatures on MPs’ rental agreements), but cases where we had to consider whether rental agreements or claims were within the MPs’ Scheme of Business Costs and Expenses.

IPSA holds some of the information that you request.

In relation to the first part of your request, the team is confident that we do not hold correspondence where we had to enter into an exchange because the proposed rental agreement was not within the MPs’ Scheme of Business Costs and Expenses. Correspondence, as we have explained, was on administrative matters – absence of a signature etc.  However, to comply with your request, we carried out a review of all our correspondence, using search criteria such as “rental accommodation”.  We also searched using terms such as “furniture” which would fall outside the scheme for rental accommodation, but would be allowable for office accommodation. We carried out a test to estimate the time it would take to identify the relevant MPs, extract the correspondence and search to identify whether the correspondence items were relevant to your request.

We also carried out a test relating to historic leases, in order first to identify the relevant MPs.  These would have to be extracted from archived hardcopies, which increases the amount of time it would take to identify and retrieve the information you have requested.

For parts one and two of your request, we estimate that it would take a total of 115.6 hours of staff time.  This is broken down as follows:

  1. We estimate that it would take 55.4 hours to identify cases where we have either had to consider whether rental agreements/claims were within the rules or where they were not paid and extract any relevant correspondence;

  2. We estimate that it would take 60.2 hours to identify leases that are shared with another MP or non partner and identify any related correspondence

In both cases, this takes us over the appropriate cost limit of £450 (part 1 of Schedule 1 of the Freedom of Information Act).  We considered how to limit your request to bring it under the cost limit, for example by limiting the time period, and concluded that this could not be done in such as way as to provide you with the information you requested.

Consequently, IPSA is not obliged to respond to the first and second parts of your request (see section 12(1), FOIA).

In respect of the third part of your request, we have considered the public interest arguments surrounding the release of any correspondence between IPSA and specific MPs. 

Our qualified person, Sir Scott Baker, as designated by the Lord Chancellor under s.36(5)(o)(iii) of the FOIA, undertook a public interest test to assess whether the public interest in withholding the information outweighs the public interest in disclosure in relation to the s.36 exemption.

Sir Scott has conducted the public interest balancing exercise in relation to the engagement of the exemption at s.36(2)(c) (prejudicial to the effective conduct of public affairs) of the Act. In doing so, Sir Scott considered the correspondence requested and the arguments for and against applying s.36.

Sir Scott considered that the presumption of Freedom of Information legislation is that information should be released on request.  Sir Scott also considered whether releasing such correspondence could lead to a significant breakdown in trust between IPSA and MPs, affecting directly the manner in which MPs and IPSA interact with each other and whether this could have a detrimental impact on the conduct of public affairs.

He also considered whether the MPs in question would reasonably expect to see their correspondence with IPSA released to the public, notwithstanding the fact that certain communications may from time to time placed in the public domain.  He considered whether MPs have a right to a level of confidentiality in their communications with IPSA, taking into account that such a right is not absolute and whether if MPs as a class believe that their communication with IPSA is likely to be released they are likely either to minimise contact with IPSA – resulting potentially in increased self-funding of their parliamentary functions – or to seek to communicate with IPSA through other avenues, for example by seeking informal meetings or making direct approaches by telephone.  The latter consequence would impede IPSA’s ability to work effectively and the former would likely impede the MP’s ability to work effectively – in both cases impeding the effective conduct of public affairs.

In balancing the arguments, Sir Scott has commented as follows:

“In applying the section 36 exemption I have concluded that the overriding consideration is the maintenance of trust between MPs and IPSA. If they feel unable to communicate freely with IPSA without their correspondence being made public this is likely to have a significant impact on their relationship with IPSA and consequently on the effective conduct of public affairs.”

Sir Scott has, therefore, in his capacity as the Qualified Person, applied s.36(2)(c) of the Act to exempt the requested information from being released.

Ref:
FOI2012-A081
Disclosure:
October 16, 2012
Categories:
CORRESPONDENCE
Exemptions Applied:
Section 22