The letter written by Angela Rayner, the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, to Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, and Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, on 10 June 2021.
Dear Prime Minister,
I am writing to you following a court judgement in a case regarding the Cabinet Office’s ‘Clearing House’ for Freedom of Information requests. In this case, the judge ruled that the Cabinet Office had presented “misleading” documents regarding the Clearing House unit in the Cabinet Office, demonstrating a “profound lack of transparency about the operation” of this unit.
The judge ordered the Cabinet Office to release further details of how the Clearing House handled Freedom of Information requests, however these documents have yet to be released.
The Cabinet Office lists one of its own key responsibilities as “making the way government works more transparent”, yet as the court’s damning judgement makes clear, your government is determined to undermine accountability and transparency at every turn, including when Ministers have been asked about this Clearing House unit.
Giving evidence to Parliament as a witness to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, on 10th December 2020, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove said: “The idea that there is a secret clearing house or any sort of blacklist is, I am afraid, not correct. Actually, I am glad it is not correct. It is the case that when we look at all freedom of information requests… whether it is a freelance journalist, someone working for an established title or a concerned citizen, all freedom of information requests are treated in exactly the same way”.
It would appear that Mr Gove has misled Parliament, whether knowingly or unknowingly, in saying “the idea that there is a secret clearing house… is … not correct”, a statement that has been proven to be untrue by this court judgement.
Mr Gove also stated that all Freedom of Information requests are treated “in exactly the same way”, denying any notion that the Clearing House works to try to withhold some information requested under Freedom of Information laws, treating some Freedom of Information requests differently to others or even blacklisting certain journalists and researchers.
Because of the lack of transparency regarding the operations of the Cabinet Office Clearing House, the truth about the operations of the unit – and therefore whether Mr Gove misled Parliament by saying that “all freedom of information requests are treated in exactly the same way” – will be revealed in the documents that the judge has ruled must now be released.
The Ministerial Code is clear that: “It is of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity. Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister”.
As laid out in the Terms of Reference for the Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests, I would urge you to consult the Cabinet Secretary and refer this matter to the Independent Adviser of Ministers’ Interests for a full investigation. This investigation must include within its scope the documents regarding the operation of the Cabinet Office Clearing House that the Cabinet Office has been ordered to release by the judge in this case, and any further documents relating to the treatment of Freedom of Information requests by the Cabinet Office Clearing House unit.
Rt Hon Angela Rayner MP
Deputy Leader of the Labour Party
Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster