After the Lib Dem/Tory coalition was announced there was much debate as to why the talks with Labour failed. The Lib Dems say that even if the numbers could be made to work Labour weren't interested in compromise. Labour ".
So I got curious...
Then the well-worth-a-follow Noeticat on Twitter pointed me in the direction of a BBC Radio 4 "The Report" programme about the coalition negotiations. During the programme David Laws says (starts at 3.24)
"Gus O'Donnell very generously offered to have Civil Servants stay in the meeting to service the talks. Both sides said that they thought that wasn't necessary. I think that probably turned out to be a good decision because within a couple of days we had a Freedom of Information request for the details of all the talks between both sides."
So I got more curious...
Why was having no Civil Servants present a good thing in relation to the FoI request? Two theories were put forward.
- No Civil Servants meant no official record to be disclosed under FoI
- No Civil Servants meant no delay in disclosing under FoI
So I put in a Freedom of Information request of my own for the minutes of the Lib Dem/Labour and Lib Dem/Conservative negotiations. Of course I used the marvellous WhatDoTheyKnow as usual.
Guess what? The Cabinet Office replied (for some reason in a scanned letter so I can't cut and paste from it):
Following a search of our paper and electronic records I can confirm that the Cabinet Office does not hold any minutes of any meetings between Liberal Democrat and Conservative Party members or between Liberal Democrat and Labour party members. However, the department does hold some information that is of relevance to your request.
But a Minister of the Crown must decide personally whether to release the information to me because of a possible Section 36 exemption:
Information to which this section applies is exempt information if, in the reasonable opinion of a qualified person, disclosure of the information under this Act—
(b) would, or would be likely to, inhibit—
(i) the free and frank provision of advice, or
(ii) the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation
(c) would otherwise prejudice, or would be likely otherwise to prejudice, the effective conduct of public affairs
But if the balance of public interest lies in releasing the information they have to and will. In theory. They hope to let me know by 23rd July, so I'll keep you posted.
As with the request to find out which Secretary of State is lying about the preparatory work carried out on the Welsh Assembly powers referendum, I am pretty sure that it is in the public interest to know which politicians are being dishonest.
I should make clear that I believe the first hand overviews of the negotiations I've been fortunate enough to hear. I just like to have extra evidence to back up anything I say on the topic because, like most of the country, I wasn't there.