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Labour accuses Gove of misleading Parliament over secretive Cabinet Office ‘clearing house’ for FOI requests

LABOUR has accused Michael Gove of misleading MPs over the existence of a secretive Cabinet Office “clearing house” that allegedly blacklisted freedom of information (FOI) requests from journalists.

Deputy party leader Angela Rayner wrote to Boris Johnson today demanding that the Prime Minister order an investigation into whether the Cabinet Office Minister broke the ministerial code when he told a parliamentary committee in December that there was no such system.

Ms Rayner’s letter argued Mr Gove’s statement had been “proven to be untrue” by a court ruling earlier this week, which confirmed that a clearing house does exist, and accused the government department of a “profound lack of transparency” on the issue.  

Following three years of legal action by independent media website openDemocracy and public interest law firm Leigh Day, information tribunal judge Chris Hughes ordered the Cabinet Office to publish documents revealing how the system operates.

In her letter, Ms Rayner urged the PM to ask his independent standards adviser Lord Geidt to consult the documents and also determine whether Mr Gove had misled MPs a second time when he told Parliament that all FOI requests were treated in “exactly the same way.”

The Cabinet Office has been contacted for comment. 

On Wednesday, Labour demanded that Mr Johnson launch a separate investigation into Mr Gove following a High Court ruling that he had acted unlawfully in the awarding of a government contract.

Campaign group the Good Law Project took legal action against the Cabinet Office over its decision to pay more than £500,000 of taxpayers’ money to market research firm Public First, despite the friendship between the Prime Minister’s former special adviser Dominic Cummings and the firm’s owners.

Justice O’Farrell ruled that the decision was unlawful because it created a perception of bias.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: "Any suggestion that there has been a breach of the ministerial code is wrong. A clearing house function was set up by the last Labour government in 2004 to help ensure there is a consistent approach across government to requests for information.

“We remain committed to transparency and always balance the need to make information available with our legal duty to protect sensitive information. [We] have already published a considerable amount of information on clearing house, including a page explaining its purpose and remit.”


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