Bishop Hill notes that Nicholas Macpherson, Chancellor Gordon Brown’s new Permanent Secretary at the Treasury, has written to the Daily Telegraph denying the Chancellor’s involvement in the redactions to the flat tax documents that were released in late July:
Sir — You are wrong to suggest that information released under the Freedom of Information Act by the Treasury relating to flat tax proposals was edited by the Chancellor.
The decision to excise arguments both for and against a flat tax was taken by Treasury officials on the advice of government lawyers to comply fully with the statutory obligations of the Freedom of Information Act, as laid down by Parliament.
The Chancellor had never seen any version of the released documents and no minister had any involvement in the decisions regarding their release. To suggest otherwise is completely false.
This is very interesting.
It’s true that usually, FOI redactions don’t require the input of a minister. If the redactions were justified with any of the 22 exemptions that don’t require the opinion of a minister, the Telegraph got the story wrong by assuming the Chancellor had some involvement.
As I wrote yesterday, however, if section 36 exemptions of FOIA were invoked, a Minister of the Crown would have had to offer his opinion that disclosure would be prejudicial to the effective conduct of public affairs. This would not necessarily have to be Gordon Brown, but Macpherson says “no minister” was involved.
If it’s not an s36 exemption, as Macpherson’s letter implies, it’s the Telegraph that will have egg on its face for jumping to conclusions about political motivations for the redactions.
Something here doesn’t add up. Either something has been misreported or some crucial detail is missing.
Another FOI request should clear this all up. Tomorrow morning, a Treasury civil servant’s inbox will contain an FOI request from me asking for the letter sent to the original requestor of the flat tax documents indicating the justifications for the redactions. I have asked that if that letter invokes s36, they should also supply a copy of the document showing which Minister of the Crown gave his opinion that disclosure would be prejudicial to the effective conduct of public affairs.