New policy on FOI veto power on the cards

Giving evidence at the House of Commons Justice Committee hearing on 5 February, Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, spoke about the work of the Information Commissioner’s office and gave his views on the government veto under FOIA.

Graham said he accepted that the veto was ‘an important part of the legislation and it ought to provide reassurance within the public service that the most significant matters will not be left to the Information Commissioner or even to the tribunal.’ However, he said that the veto should only be used on rare occasions.

It is understood that the government will now review and revise its policy on the veto.

Graham Smith, ICO’s Deputy Commissioner and Director of Freedom of Information, said: “There is no legal requirement on the government to have a veto policy here. They decided themselves that they would have a policy on the exercise of the veto, and I think now they are trying to extricate themselves from having their hands tied by the policy that they came up with, which, as I think you say, was in the context of Cabinet material being envisaged as what would most likely be the subject of the veto. I should say that it was the previous government we are talking about there.”

“We have now had two cases-one involving the NHS risk register on the proposed reforms there, and the other one more recently on the Prince of Wales’ correspondence which do not involve Cabinet discussion. My understanding is that the government are looking for a policy which can be applied in a wider set of circumstances than perhaps had been originally envisaged. But there is no obligation on them to have a policy and there is no obligation on them to consult the Commissioner about that policy.”

See uncorrected oral evidence from the session.