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Straw reveals cabinet switch on veto

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Martin Rosenbaum | 09:50 UK time, Tuesday, 21 September 2010

My blogging has been a little light recently because (in the non-FOI part of my job) I've been producing The Brown Years, a BBC Radio 4 series about Gordon Brown's premiership which begins today.

I'm afraid the series doesn't contain anything about freedom of information, but there's one FOI-related detail that emerged during the interviews and didn't survive the editing process which I thought might interest those who are particularly intrigued by FOI matters.

The former Justice Secretary Jack Straw told us that, in contrast to the later cabinet meetings under Tony Blair, Gordon Brown's cabinets held proper discussions which sometimes resulted in a change of policy.

The example he then quoted relates to the decision to veto the publication of the minutes of cabinet meetings in the run up to the Iraq war. This was in response to the Information Tribunal's judgement [155KB PDF] and a previous ruling from the information commissioner [80KB PDF], both ordering disclosure.

Mr Straw revealed in his interview that the initial government intention had been to issue the ministerial veto after the unwelcome decision by the commissioner, but that discussion in cabinet changed that stance and it was agreed instead to appeal to the tribunal. It was only after this appeal failed that the veto was announced.

It fell to Mr Straw as lord chancellor to issue the veto formally. This action was taken by the cabinet to protect the confidentiality of cabinet meetings. Whether Mr Straw has himself breached such confidentiality with this minor revelation is another matter, but he along with our other interviewees provided some candid descriptions of events during Mr Brown's premiership, and I hope you find the series adds to your knowledge and understanding of that period.


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