The Cabinet Office took over government policy for Freedom of Information because it is a “logical step” and the office has an “interest” in the Act, Lord Chancellor Michael Gove has said.

Gove was forced to write to the MPs on the Justice Select Committee to explain why the policy responsibility was shuffled from the Ministry of Justice to the Cabinet Office – which is often criticised for its own performance under FOI – earlier this year.

Bob Neill, the chairman of the Committee which is responsible for scrutiny of the Ministry of Justice’s work, wrote to Gove demanding answers to why FOI policy, as well as data protection policy, was moved without the Committee being told.

In his letter Neill said he was “surprised” and “dismayed” that notice of the changes were not provided to him and the members of the scrutiny group.

Neill wrote to Gove in July this year – just after creation of the Independent Commission on Freedom of Information – to ask why David Cameron had transferred FOI policy to the Cabinet Office. Neill’s letter, which is below and was originally published by the Committee, asked for reasons for the move and what would happen with data protection policy.

This was followed up by a second letter in September after no response had been received. The letter said: “Could we please have an answer… and in addition an explanation of the rationale for the changes announced…?”

In response Gove apologised for not telling the Committee about the changes and also said it would be notified on the same day if there are any more “machinery of government changes”.

“I hope you will agree, however, that transfer of responsibility for the policy on the Freedom of Information Act from the Ministry of Justice to the Cabinet Office is a logical step, given that the Cabinet Office leads on wider transparency issues and already has an interest in the practical application of the Act within central government,” Gove’s letter continued.

The Cabinet Office is often criticised for its responses to FOI requests, with questions being raised over whether enforcement action should be taken by the regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office.

The Information Commissioner Chris Graham, at an LSE event earlier this month, said when the policy was transferred to the Cabinet Office in July he met with minister Matt Hancock to say that the Office’s FOI performance must be exemplary.

The Justice Select Committee conducted a review of the Freedom of Information Act in 2012 and concluded that the Act was working well and has been an enhancement on the democracy of the United Kingdom.

Documents

The first letter from the Justice Select Committee:

 

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The Justice Select Committee’s follow-up letter to Michael Gove:

 

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Michael Gove’s response:

 

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I am a journalist and author. I am a staff writer at the UK edition of WIRED magazine and in 2015 my book, Freedom of Information: A Practical Guide for UK Journalists, was published. I created FOI Directory in 2012.