All representations on MPs' pay and pensions from serving MPs since launch of consultation on 15 October 2012

Request

Please provide me with all representations that you has received on MPs' pay and pensions -- from serving MPs – since launching your consultation on 15 October 2012.

This should include, but not necessarily be limited to, all submissions from MPs handled under the auspices of the two public consultations, in addition to all other communications, in whatever form, received from MPs which relate to the matters at issue in the consultation, whether officially 'part of the consultation' or not.

This should also include documents which, though authored by IPSA staff, are intended to convey the views or sentiments of groups or individual MPs.

Where there is a valid exemption in the Act, I am happy to accept documents redacted such that the anonymity of the MPs is preserved.


Response

IPSA holds the information that you request.

We publish responses to consultations undertaken by IPSA since it was established in May 2010 on our website, except in cases where respondents have requested anonymity.  These include any letters or emails received from MPs in response to the consultations.  We have already published responses to closed consultations, including the work IPSA has already carried out on the review of MPs’ pay and pensions.  You can access the published information via this link to the Consultations section of our website.

Responses from groups of MPs, such as the Parliamentary Labour Party and the 1922 Committee, in relation to the most recent consultation on MPs’ pay and pensions, have already been published on our website, which you can access via the following link.. All individual responses to the consultation will be published on our website in due course, except in cases where respondents have requested anonymity.

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).

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 the conclusions and responses to consultations in a complete form rather than on an ad hoc basis.   It is for this reason that the application of the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosure at this stage.

Further, as noted above, in some cases respondents to consultations have specifically requested anonymity.  In IPSA’s view, this information is exempt under Section 41(1) of the FOIA. Section 41(1) provides an exemption to the right of access where disclosure to the public of information that has been provided to IPSA in confidence by another person would constitute an actionable breach of confidence. This is an absolute exemption and therefore not subject to a public interest test.

Correspondence received by IPSA, during the consultation period, which related to pay and pensions was regarded as a submission to the consultation.  Any further correspondence relating to MPs’ pay and pensions may be located within a central system of correspondence between IPSA and MPs, which allows us to filter by MP and by date received, however, we are not able to easily extract emails by the category you have specified in your request.  In order to do so, we would be required to manually search all 666 sets of records (which relate to current and former MPs), open each email to identify whether it falls into any of the categories you specify in your request and extract any relevant information from each email.

We undertook a test to estimate the amount of time it would take to identify and locate the information you request.  As a result, we estimate that it would take us 1,156 hours of staff time to identify and locate the information you request, which takes us substantially over the appropriate cost limit of £450 (part 1 of Schedule 1 of the Freedom of Information Act).  Consequently, IPSA is not obliged to respond to your request (see section 12(1), FOIA).  This estimate does not include the additional time that would be required to extract the information you request. 

You also requested ‘documents which, though authored by IPSA staff, are intended to convey the views or sentiments of groups or individual MPs’. With relation to this part of your request, we have considered the application of the exemptions at s.36(2)(b) (inhibit the free and frank provision of advice and exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation) and (2)(c) (prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs) of the FOI Act. The application of these qualified exemptions 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, Sir Neil Butterfield, has conducted a public interest test, reviewing all of the relevant information located on our systems. He has considered that IPSA, as a publicly-funded body, is accountable for the decisions it makes and that there is a public interest in understanding how decisions are reached within the organisation.  However, it is also in the public interest that IPSA is able to continue to function in an effective and efficient manner. In order to achieve this, IPSA’s Board must feel confident that they are able to engage in open and candid discussions. It is the opinion of the Qualified Person that release of this information would have an adverse impact on future discussions and advice. Consequently there is a real likelihood that the ability of IPSA to continue to operate in an effective manner would be jeopardised.

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

The request relates to representations from serving MPs to the IPSA public consultation on MPs pay and pensions since the consultation was launched on 15th October 2012. The information sought is requested to include, but not necessarily be limited to, all submissions from MPs handled under the auspices of the two public consultations, in addition to all other communications, in whatever form, received from MPs which relate to the matters at issue in the consultation, whether officially part of the consultation or not. No issue arises in respect of this information, which is intended for future publication in any event.

The request further extends to include documents which, though authored by IPSA staff, are intended to convey the views or sentiments of groups or individual MPs. It is in respect of this part of the request that my opinion is sought.

In determining whether in my reasonable opinion the information in those documents should be exempt from disclosure as being likely to inhibit the free and frank provision of advice or the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation or would otherwise prejudice, or would be likely otherwise 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 have further reminded myself that there is a legitimate interest in the public knowing how IPSA as a publicly funded body conducts its business and in understanding how decisions are reached within a public authority.

However, I have also given weight to the consideration that releasing this information might significantly prejudice the future confidence of IPSA Board Members and IPSA staff to engage in free and frank exchanges of views for the purpose of deliberation on matters of policy. In my judgment there is a strong likelihood that releasing the information would adversely affect the ability of IPSA to carry out its functions in a professional, competent and efficient manner and to engage in a robust decision-making process.

It is important and in the public interest that there is an effective and trusting working relationship between the members of the Board, between the Board members and members of IPSA staff, and between members of IPSA staff. In particular the members of the Board must have the freedom to engage in free and frank exchanges of views outside the forum of Board meetings between themselves and the freedom to communicate in such a manner with IPSA staff. The staff too must have the freedom to engage in free and frank exchanges of view with each other and with MPs.  The release of the information requested would, in my judgment, have a significant and detrimental impact on that freedom and on the working relationship within the Board and among IPSA staff.

I am firmly of the view that these considerations are of fundamental importance and outweigh the public interest. If members of the Board and IPSA staff felt that they were unable to communicate with each other without their email correspondence, internal notes and memos and drafts of internal reports being put into the public domain that would unquestionably be detrimental to the operation of 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.

Ref:
F1314-185
Disclosure:
February 11, 2014
Categories:
MPs' PAY AND PENSIONS
Exemptions Applied:
Cost limit