Cabinet Office ordered to release information on Bob Kerslake's peerage

Information Commissioner Christopher Graham rejects argument that releasing information on former civil service chief Lord Kerslake's peerage would have a "chilling effect" on the honours system

By Matt Foster

03 Jun 2016

The information watchdog has ordered the Cabinet Office to release information on the peerage given to former civil service head Lord Kerslake, rejecting the government's argument that to do so would undermine the integrity of the honours system.

Kerslake – who served as head of the civil service from 2011 to 2014 – was made a life peer last year, after stepping down as permanent secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government.

He now sits in the House of Lords as a crossbench peer, where he has been an outspoken critic of a number of government policies, including plans to extend the Right to Buy to housing association properties and scrap the automatic deduction of trade union subscriptions from civil servants' pay packets.

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Detailed information on who has nominated a person for a peerage, and the reasons for that decisison, is not normally disclosed, and is protected by a qualified exemption under the Freedom of Information Act.

However, the Information Commissioner Christopher Graham has now ruled that the Cabinet Office must provide requester Martin Brighton with details on Kerslake's peerage, including a copy of the letter proposing that he be given the honour.

The Cabinet Office initially refused Brighton's request on the grounds that it fell under the provision of the act that exempts information on the honours system.

Brighton than asked for that decision to be reviewed, and eventually escalated his complaint to the Information Comissioner's Office.

According to the information watchdog, the Cabinet Office "argued that disclosure of information relating to specific appointments would have a negative impact on future discussions", and said it believed that revealing information on Kerslake's peerage could deter others from putting forward nominations.

"The Cabinet Office emphasised that it was not in the public interest to threaten the integrity of the appointments system," the ICO said.

However, Graham ultimately came down in favour of disclosure, with the ICO saying it "does not accept that the Cabinet Office needed a safe space, free from interference and distraction, to discuss Lord Kerslake’s nomination" and saying the requested correspondence "does not contain any information which could be accurately described as candid or frank in nature".

The ICO added: "In reaching this conclusion, the Commissioner wishes to emphasise that he accepts the Cabinet Office’s fundamental argument that for the honours system to operate efficiently and effectively there needs to be a level of confidentiality which allows those involved in the system to freely and frankly discuss nominations. 

"However, for the reasons discussed, he does not accept that disclosure of withheld information in this case would erode this confidentiality."

The Cabinet Office now has 35 calendar days to comply with the ICO's May 26 ruling, while Graham also admonished the department for the lenght of time taken to carry out an internal review of its decision.

"In the circumstances of this case the complainant requested an internal review on 14 April 2015," the watchdog noted.

"The Cabinet Office informed him of the outcome of the internal review on 15 September 2015. It therefore took the Cabinet Office 107 working days to complete its internal review. The Commissioner considers this to be unsatisfactory. In the future he expects the Cabinet Office to ensure that internal reviews are completed within the timeframes set out within his guidance."

The Information Commissioner’s Office recommends that public authorities complete internal reviews of FOI decisions within 20 working days.


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