Correspondence with Karl McCartney MP

Request

Please provide me with the following information, in an electronic format, under the Freedom of Information Act 2000:

  • A copy of all abusive, offensive or insulting material (ie. an actual, scanned copy of the original document) sent to you by Karl McCartney MP which was referred to your chief executive in the run-up to his letter to McCartney of 28 February 2013.

  • A copy of any correspondence within IPSA regarding how to respond to the said abuse from McCartney, including any discussions and submissions to your Board, plus any minutes of relevant meetings.

  • A copy of all correspondence between IPSA and McCartney regarding the abuse.


Response

IPSA holds the information that you request.

Taking your requests in turn:

  • A copy of all abusive, offensive or insulting material (ie. an actual, scanned copy of the original document) sent to you by Karl McCartney MP which was referred to your chief executive in the run-up to his letter to McCartney of 28 February 2013.

You may be aware that in Mr McCartney made a complaint to the ICO regarding IPSA’s decision to publish the letter of 28 February 2013.  In responding, the Information Commissioner concluded that the comments made by Mr McCartney, and held by IPSA, constituted personal data.

As such, Section 40(2) provides that personal data 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.

  • A copy of any correspondence within IPSA regarding how to respond to the said abuse from McCartney, including any discussions and submissions to your Board, plus any minutes of relevant meetings.

  • A copy of all correspondence between IPSA and McCartney regarding the abuse

In responding to this part of your request, we have considered the public interest arguments surrounding the release of the correspondence sent by Mr McCartney to IPSA.

Our qualified person, Sir Neil Butterfield, 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 Neil 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 Neil considered the correspondence requested and the arguments for and against applying s.36.

Sir Neil considered that the presumption of Freedom of Information legislation is that information should be released on request.  Sir Neil 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 MP in question would reasonably expect to see his 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 the MP and 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 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 Mr. Gabriel Webber.

Mr. Webber has requested copies of all abusive, offensive or insulting material sent to IPSA by Karl McCartney MP which was referred to the Chief Executive of IPSA leading to the letter of the Chief Executive to Mr. McCartney dated 28th February 2013. I note and emphasise that this letter was written following allegations made by Mr. McCartney on the floor of the House of Commons about the conduct of the Chief Executive. The letter was published by IPSA.

Mr. Webber has further requested copies of any correspondence within IPSA regarding how to respond to the abusive material from Mr. McCartney, including any discussions and submissions to the Board together with any minutes of relevant meetings, and copies of all correspondence between IPSA and Mr. McCartney regarding the abuse.

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 was likely to be prejudicial to the effective conduct of public affairs. In doing so I have considered all the material 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 material 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 recognise that there is a public interest in disclosing further information relating to the published letter of 28th February 2013 and the fact that the letter of 28th February itself is already in the public domain.

However, I have also given weight to the consideration that releasing this material, in particular in the face of the decision of the Information Commissioner referred to herein, would of itself be likely to result in significant damage to the relationship between IPSA and Mr. McCartney. There is a real risk that the release of the material would exacerbate Mr. McCartney’s dispute with IPSA, increase the level of distrust between IPSA and Mr. McCartney and substantially impair the prospects of resolving the dispute between them.

There is a wider consideration. Such a breakdown of trust between IPSA and Mr. McCartney could lead in turn to a significant breakdown in trust between IPSA and other Members of Parliament. 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. I do not consider that MPs would expect to see all their correspondence with IPSA or the internal processes within IPSA relating to their affairs to be released to the public in response to an application such as this and have concluded that they would not reasonably have such an expectation.

Further, some of the material requested relates to internal processes, the release of which could, irrespective of other considerations, prejudice IPSA’s ability to act as an independent regulator.

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.

Sir Neil 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:
F1314-156
Disclosure:
January 8, 2014
Categories:
CORRESPONDENCE
Exemptions Applied:
Section 36