Home > Media > Westland affair Cabinet minutes and freedom of information

Westland affair Cabinet minutes and freedom of information

It has just been reported that the Information Commissioner has ordered the disclosure of the minutes of the 1986 Cabinet meeting that took place immediately prior to Michael Heseltine’s resignation.

The question is whether the government will now release the minutes, appeal the decision or use the ministerial veto. Earlier this month, the veto was used to avoid releasing minutes of a Cabinet sub-committee. That decision was thought to show a pattern of using the veto to protect the convention of collective responsibility (with some suggesting that there is an unstated policy to keep Cabinet minutes secret).

This leaves the government with a difficult choice. If they use the veto, the government is open to criticism for upholding secrecy and undermining the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act. These arguments are particularly strong given the time that has elapsed since the meeting in 1986 and the public interest in knowing these issues.

On the other hand, if the minutes are released, then the government is open to criticism for using the veto strategically for political purposesĀ  – in other words, that the veto is used to shield the current government from embarrassment, but is not used where it could embarrass previous governments. The criticism here is that a policy in relation to protecting Cabinet minutes is not being applied consistently.

Will be interesting to see which path is taken. Hopefully, it will force the government to rethink the use of the veto in relation to Cabinet meetings in future.

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