Cost of extra security for MPs

Request

Please provide all documents relating to the cost of extra security for MPs laid on since the 2016 referendum. This includes things like the installation of panic buttons and security officers as well as more secure travel arrangements, e.g. using a taxi instead of public transport.

Documents should include details such as: date, location, cost, MP’s party, and an explanation of why the security measure was needed. Specific references to Brexit should be included, as well as any reference to specific threats and/or offences.


Response

IPSA holds some of the information you requested.

Security Assistance may be claimed under the Scheme of MPs’ Business Costs and Expenses (‘the Scheme’) for additional security measures that are necessary to enable the MP’s parliamentary functions to be undertaken.

Our Publication Policy states that:

‘’IPSA will not publish information that the police advise poses a risk to MPs’ security, or that of their staff or family.’’

In this regard, IPSA will only publish aggregate totals of all MPs’ security spending. This information is published on our website.

We have considered your request, but have concluded that the requested information falls within the scope of four exemptions under the FoIA, namely:

  • Section 24 – National Security

  • Section 31 – Law Enforcement

  • Section 38 – Health and Safety

  • Section 40 – Personal information

The first three exemptions are qualified, prejudice-based exemptions which means that we are required to articulate the public interest and harm, whilst section 40 is an absolute exemption, which means that the public interest test does not apply.

Exemptions applied

Section 24 – National Security

Section 24(1) of the FoIA states ‘Information which does not fall within section 23(1) is exempt information if exemption from section 1(1)(b) is required for the purpose of safeguarding national security.'

The exemption is based on the effect that disclosure would have, not on the content or source of the information.

ICO guidance emphasises there is no definition of national security and refers to an Information Tribunal Decision (EA/2006/0045) that noted the following:

"National security" means:

  • the security of the United Kingdom and its people

  • the interests of national security are not limited to actions by an individual which are targeted at the UK, its system of government or its people

  • the protection of democracy and the legal and constitutional systems of the state are part of national security as well as military defence

  • action against a foreign state may be capable indirectly of affecting the security of the UK

  • reciprocal co-operation between the UK and other states in combating international terrorism is capable of promoting the United Kingdom's national security

As mentioned above, whilst national security is not defined under the Freedom of Information Act, it does include the security of the United Kingdom including its system of government (of which MPs form a part), and its people.

Public Interest Considerations

Section 24 – National Security

Factors against withholding the requested information

The public are entitled to know how public funds are spent. Disclosure of information relating to MPs’ security spend would allow the public to gauge the appropriate use of public funds in carrying out their national security obligations. In addition, it would provide appropriate transparency and reassurance regarding the manner in which IPSA regulates MPs’ business costs and expenses.

This, in turn, may also enhance public confidence in IPSA, and would likely add to the accuracy of public awareness and debate, whilst providing insight into the way public funds are being spent, thus enabling the public to have a better understanding of IPSA’s effectiveness with regards to the use of public resources.

It would inform other issues that are currently the subject of public debate in relation to MPs’ security, and improve the quality and accuracy of public debate.

Factors favouring withholding the requested information

The strongest reason favouring withholding the requested information is the need to ensure that national security is not placed at risk by enabling terrorists or those with criminal intent, the opportunity to better understand the nature, types and level of spend on security by MPs.

This is because terrorists or those with criminal intent could potentially understand the measures that MPs have in place, or the levels of security employed by MPs, which would allow them to either focus their ill-intent on circumventing those measures, or focus on those MPs who are perceived to be ‘softer targets’, i.e. because they have lower levels of security measures in place.

On balance, we find there is a much stronger public interest in withholding the requested information.

Section 31 – Law Enforcement

Section 31(1) states ‘Information which is not exempt information by virtue of section 30 is exempt information if its disclosure under this Act would, or would be likely to, prejudice:

(a) the prevention or detection of crime

The term ‘law enforcement’ should be interpreted broadly. In the case of William Thomas Stevenson v the Information Commissioner and North Lancashire Teaching Primary Care Trust, the Upper Tribunal commented that:

“...it is plain from reading the activities listed in s.31(1) and the purposes specified in s.31(2), that they include activities and purposes which go beyond actual law enforcement in the sense of taking civil or criminal or regulatory proceedings. They include a wide variety of activities which can be regarded as in aid of or related to the enforcement of (i) the criminal law, (ii) any regulatory regime established by statute, (iii) professional and other disciplinary codes, (iv) standards of fitness and competence for acting as a company director or other manager of a corporate body (v) aspects of law relating to charities and their property and (vi) standards of health and safety at work” (paragraph 75). 

Factors against withholding the requested information

Disclosing the requested information would provide insight into the way IPSA regulates MPs’ security spend which would show how public funds are being spent in relation to protection against terrorism and other criminal activity.

As stated above, some information is already in the public domain regarding the levels of security spending, and providing further information would ensure transparency and accountability, which would enable the public to better understand the nature of MPs’ security spending.

Factors favouring withholding the requested information

Freedom of Information Act requests are considered to be disclosures to the world at large, and whilst not questioning the motives of the requestor, it has been recorded that FOIA releases are monitored by criminals and terrorists.

Releasing more granular information regarding MPs’ security spending would undermine and compromise law enforcement with regards to hindering or preventing attacks against MPs from taking place. As stated above, disclosure of the requested information would afford those with criminal intent or terrorists the opportunity to better understand security measures in place, enabling them to better plan and carry out attacks against their targets.

It can be argued that there are significant risks associated with providing information in relation to any aspects of security and therefore releasing the information may reveal the relative vulnerability of those whom law enforcement may be trying to protect.

IPSA would not wish to reveal information that would undermine any law enforcement operations, as more crime would be committed because terrorists or those with criminal intent would be able to better understand which MPs had potentially fewer security measures in place, which in turn would place individuals at a greater risk. A fear of crime would be realised because the terrorists or would-be criminals could identify more vulnerable individuals, whom they would target and exploit. This may lead to the emergency services needing to increase their resources to afford appropriate levels of protection.

Section 38 – Health and Safety

Section 38(1) states information is exempt information if its disclosure under this act would, or would be likely to:

(a) endanger the physical or mental health of any individual, or

(b) endanger the safety of any individual

Factors favouring disclosure of the requested information

Disclosure of the requested information would lead to better informed public awareness and debate.

Factors favouring withholding the requested information

To disclose this information would endanger the health and safety of MPs, their staff or families by affording terrorists or those with criminal intent the ability to better understand the levels or security or nature of measures in place, which would help them better plan and successfully carry out attacks.

Balance Test – Sections 24, 31 and 38

Whilst there is a public interest in the transparency of the spending of public funds and IPSA’s accountability, there is also a strong public interest in maintaining confidence in IPSA with regard to helping those responsible for national security, law enforcement and protecting the safety and well-being of citizens to properly discharge their functions.

Individuals’ safety and the ability to deliver effective emergency response provision and assisting with law enforcement is of paramount importance. Disclosure of the requested information would undoubtedly compromise both national security and undermine law enforcement and public safety processes. Therefore, it is our opinion that for these reasons the balancing test for withholding the requested information is? upheld.

Evidence of Harm – Sections 24, 31 and 38

The national security exemption is based on the effect that disclosure would have, not on the content or source of the information. As you will be aware, disclosure under FOIA is a release to the public at large. Whilst not questioning the requestor’s motives, to disclose the requested information would enable those engaged in criminal activity or any form of terrorism to formulate a national picture of all MPs’ security spend and measures they have in place. This, in turn, would help them to identify any vulnerabilities that could be exploited and would prejudice national security.

Releasing the requested information would lead to an increase in harm of attacks thus compromising law enforcement. This would be to the detriment of those providing an efficient emergency response service and a failure in providing a duty of care to affected individuals.

The disclosure of the requested information would also limit operational capabilities as would-be criminals/terrorists would gain a greater understanding of the security measures in place, enabling them to take steps to counter them. It may also suggest the limitations of capabilities in this area, which may further encourage terrorist activity by exposing potential vulnerabilities.

In addition to world-be criminals or terrorists being better informed, those intent on organised crime throughout the UK will be able to ‘map’ where specific security measures are or are not deployed or where increased or decreased levels of security exist. This can be useful information to those intent on committing crimes or carrying our terrorist attacks. It would have the likelihood of identifying location-specific measures which would ultimately compromise response tactics and operations as individuals with malicious intent could counteract the measures used against them.

Any information identifying the focus of higher or lower levels of security could be used to the advantage of terrorists and/or criminal organisations. Information that undermines the operational integrity of these activities will adversely affect public safety and have a negative impact on both national security and law enforcement. The disclosure of the requested information could lead to attacks being carried out against MPs, their staff or families, and is likely to involve criminal acts which would threaten their health and safety.

Section 40 – Personal Information

Information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person is ‘personal data’, as defined by the General Data Protection Principle (GDPR).

Section 40(2) of the FOIA provides that personal information is exempt information if:

(a) it constitutes personal data; and

(b) the condition set out in s. 40(3A)(a) of FOIA is satisfied, namely that disclosure to a member of the public would contravene any of the data protection principles in the GDPR.

In our view (a) is satisfied because the information sought by you relates to an identifiable, living individual, and (b) is also satisfied because disclosure would breach the first data protection principle in Article 5(1)(a) of the GDPR, which requires that personal information is processed fairly, lawfully and in a transparent manner; processing includes disclosure.

In relation to fairness, IPSA is required to process personal data in a manner in which people, including MPs and their staff, would reasonably expect.

We recognise that there is a legitimate interest in ensuring transparency in matters relating to the spending of public funds, which we believe is met by the significant amount of information already published.

We do not consider it within the reasonable expectations of MPs or their staff that the correspondence exchanged with us about their security arrangements or requirements for measures or additional measures would be released into the public domain.

As such, we do not consider that disclosure of the requested information about MPs’ requirements for specific security measures would be fair, and are obliged to withhold it from disclosure under section 40(2) of the FOIA.

This part of the section 40 exemption is an absolute exemption and so no consideration of public interest arguments for and against disclosure is required.

This concludes our response to your request.

Ref:
CAS-140396
Disclosure:
May 29, 2019
Categories:
SECURITY ASSISTANCE
Exemptions Applied:
Section 24, Section 31, Section 38, Section 40