Ministerial vetoes back on the agenda – foreign office v information commissioner & plowden

Yesterday’s Guardian reported that the Cabinet will shortly be considering whether a ministerial veto should be issued in respect of the Plowden decision (see the Guardian article here and see also Tim Pitt-Payne QC’s post on Plowden). If the Government does veto the Plowden decision, it will be the third time it has vetoed an order to disclose information under FOIA in the space of six months (see further my post on the recent veto in respect of the NHS risk register case). Prior to February of this year, the veto had only been deployed twice (once in February 2009 and once in December 2009). The question which is likely to arise if a third veto is issued is whether the increasing deployment of the veto powers by the Government reflects a growing desire to insulate Government from the effects of FOIA (see further my earlier post today on tensions between the Commissioner and the Government over the latter’s commitment to FOIA). On this point, it is worth noting a recent paper by Oonagh Gay (Head of the Parliament and Constitution Centre in the House of Commons) which provides a helpful overview of how the Government has to date used the ministerial veto. In her paper, Ms Gay notes that, in 2009, Australia legislated so as to remove the power of veto from relevant foi legislation (you can find the paper here). It appears that our own government may be moving in a rather different direction. 11KBW’s Julian Milford and Robin Hopkins both appeared in Plowden.

Anya Proops