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Select Committee on Public Administration Second Report


MEMORANDUM 6

Submitted by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Thank you for your letter of 9 June about "blocked" parliamentary questions to Sir John Kerr.
I attach explanations for each of the parliamentary questions answered by Ministers in the FCO. I hope this will be helpful to the Committee.

Question 62341: 7 December 1998: col 35

Honours (Mr Peter Penfold)

The question related to possible discussions with an individual about his inclusion in the New Year's Honours List 1998.

Under Part II paragraph 8 © of the Code of Practice, information, opinions and assessments given in relation to recommendations for honours are exempt from the commitments to provide information in the Code. This particular question fall squarely under terms of this paragraph.

Question 63819: 14 December 1998: col 403
Question 65683: 14 January 1999: col 254
Question 78033: 22 March 1999: col 63

Sale of Properties

We do not publish details of terms agreed in such transactions when they are commercially sensitive. It would be professionally unethical and might unreasonably disadvantage the other parties involved, in the course of their lawful business, commercial and financial affairs. Accordingly Part II, section 13 (third party's commercial confidences) of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information applies. Part II, section 7 (a) also applies, as disclosures of such information could undermine our reputation and future negotiating position for similar deals elsewhere and thus limit our ability to secure best value for money for the tax payer.

Question 68417: 1 February 1999: col 495

Departmental Legislation

The information sought would have required a breach in the long-standing convention not to announce legislative proposals before they have appeared in the Queen's Speech, in this case those to be delivered at the Sessions starting in 2000 and 2001. The convention exists for a number of reasons, not least because the legislative priorities change over time and pre-announcing proposals could be misleading or open to misinterpretation. Exemption 10 (publication and prematurity in relation to publication) of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information therefore applies.

Question 77173: 16 March 1999: col 616

Communications - Telegrams to Posts

(I)    Sierra Leone

This reply was only partially blocked since some information was given on the countries which were contacted about giving financial support for Sierra Leone. However, the lobbying exercise with individual countries was conducted in confidence and details of relevant communications as advised in the cited "Restricted" telegram remain confidential. Since the release of this telegram would be likely to impair confidential communications between governments and thereby cause harm to the conduct of international relations, it is exempt from disclosure under Part II, section 1 (b) of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.

Question 92941: 26 July 1999: col 151

(ii)  Lord Levy

Telegrams from FCO posts contain Ambassadors' opinions and advice. If Ambassadors' telegrams were made public, Ambassadors would be prevented from frank expression of their opinion. Exemption 2 accordingly applies.

Question 78352: 24 March 1999: col 297

Governor or Ambassador (Gibraltar)

We do not reveal details of confidential exchanges between the FCO and any Governor or Ambassador because this would harm the conduct of international relations or affairs and the frankness and candour of internal discussion. Nor do we give details of the operational instructions given to the Royal Gibraltar Police because this would harm national security and defence and could prejudice the enforcement or proper administration of the law. Since the harm likely to arise from disclosure outweighs the public interest in the release of this information, it is exempt from disclosure under Part II, sections 1 (a-b), 2 and 4 (b) of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.

Foreign Governments:

Question 80878: 20 April 1999: col 511

(I)  Papua New Guinea

The contents of discussions between FCO officials and the Papua New Guinea High Commissioner were not disclosed as to do so would risk impairing openness and dialogue between our two governments. Exemption 1 © of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information applies."

Question 83468: 10 May 1999: col 25
Question 84233: 14 May 1999: col 228

(ii)  Al Shifa Plant

The PQ answers referred to section 1 © of the Code. If we had revealed information given to us in confidence by the US government, they and other foreign governments would not have trusted us with further confidential information. This would have impaired our confidential dialogue with the US and other foreign governments.

Question 86457: 15 June 1999: col 115

(iii)  Senator Pinochet

We do not disclose the substance of discussions with foreign authorities because to do so would harm the conduct of international relations, and because the information so disclosed would have been obtained in confidence. Part II, exemptions 1 (b) and © of the Code therefore apply. To disclose the substance of such discussions would be likely to impair candour between governments.

Question 88331: 29 June 1999: col 114

(iv)  Kosovo

As the original reply explained, these communications from the Russian Government were sent and received in confidence. They were not released because disclosure would be likely to impede negotiations and impair candour between Governments, and could prejudice the future supply of such information, therefore causing harm to the conduct of international relations or affairs. Since the harm so caused outweighs the public interest in its release, exemption 1 (b and c) of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information applies.

Question 73253: 26 February: col 491
87601: 22 June: col 360
81942: 26 April: col 34
89609: 15 July: col 287
88637: 30 June: col 168
95569: 26 October: col 803
96547: 1 November: col 31
96548: 1 November: col 31

Intelligence Matters

The Security and Intelligence Services are not within the scope of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information, nor is information obtained from or relating to them. It remains the long standing practice of successive governments not to provide information on the activities of, or speculation about, the intelligence and security services which could have a bearing on the operational effectiveness of the agencies, or the safety of their staff and those who operate with them. The reasons were set out by the then Prime Minister in his Written Answer of 14 July 1994 (Hansard col 711).


Question 75081: 9 March 1999: col 179

Common Foreign and Security Policy

Discussions in Common Foreign and Security Policy working groups are an opportunity for EU member states to exchange views and develop a common approach on specific foreign policy areas in complete confidence that their negotiating position will not be made public. This is reflected in the Rules of Procedure of the Council that state that its deliberations are confidential. The Government is therefore not at liberty unilaterally to release reports of the Common Foreign and Security Policy Working Groups and so cannot place copies of them in the Library of the House.

Question 78397: 24 March 1999: Col 300

Party Discussions (Pauline Green)

The Head of the European Socialist Party referred to in the question was Pauline Green MEP, the then leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party, and a party colleague of the Minister.

Ministers are responsible to Parliament only for their actions as Ministers. They are not accountable for their party political activities.

Question 82249 and 82250: 29 April 1999: col 262 and 263

US-British-Russian Trilateral Agreement

The information requested was of a commercially sensitive nature the disclosure of which would have unreasonably disadvantaged the third parties to which it related in the conduct of their lawful business, commercial, financial or professional affairs. It would also have caused serious harm to the conduct of international relations. Since the harm so caused would outweigh the public interest in the release of this information, it is exempt from disclosure under Part II, sections 1 (b) and 13 of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information. It was therefore not possible to list the facilities of locations at which visits had taken place.

Question 82250: 26 July 1999: col 36

Job applications (Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police).

Question answered by DfID (Mr Foulkes) not FCO.

Question 89028: 2 July 1999: col 315

It is neither our policy nor practice, for security reasons, to give details of routes taken by Ministers. This information is exempt from disclosure under Part II, section 1 (a) of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information in that it could cause harm to national security by giving possible assistance to those engaged in espionage, sabotage, subversion or terrorism. Since such disclosure might endanger the life or physical safety of individuals, exemption 4 (f) also applies.

Question 91247: 15 July 1999: col 290

Non-proliferation Policy

As the FCO Department concerned does not produce any output for public consumption that it would class as an assessment, it interpreted this question as a request for all internal deliberations upon which non-proliferation policy decisions are based. To release such information would harm the frankness and candour of internal discussion and this outweighs the public interest in its disclosure. It is therefore covered by Exemption 2 of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.

Question 92301: 23 July 1999: col 727

Kidnap Cases

It has been the policy of successive governments not to comment on operational aspects of kidnap cases. This information could be of assistance to future terrorists and would prejudice the operational effectiveness of the armed forces and the security and intelligence services in their efforts to resolve future kidnaps. Part 2, exemptions 1 (a) and 4 (b) of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information apply.

Question 92033: 27 July 1999: col 373

European Commission Staff

The information sought was not held by the FCO, and accordingly Part I, para 4 of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information applies ("the Code does not require departments to acquire information they do not possess"). The information could have been sought from the Commission. But as the answer makes clear, for reasons of personal confidentiality, the Commission does not publish details of secondary employment of staff below the level of Commissioner.


Question 93056: 27 July 1999: col 375

Security Clearance

Security clearance of individuals is often based on personal information which should properly remain private. To publicise the level of security clearance of individuals would lead to speculation as to why some individuals were not cleared to a higher level, and to unduly intrusive questioning into their private lives. Such disclosure to third parties would be an unwarranted invasion of privacy and exemption 12 therefore applies.

Question 3740: 1 November 1999: col 32

Contingency Plan

The discussion of contingency planning could be exploited by hostile forces, potentially jeopardising the operations of British forces and those of our allies. It is therefore covered by exemption 1 (a) of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.

4 July 2000


 
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