Labour calls for investigation into Michael Gove over Cabinet Office unit

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Labour has called for the government’s ethics watchdog to investigate whether Michael Gove has broken the ministerial code and misled parliament.

The party’s deputy leader Angela Rayner has written to Boris Johnson demanding an investigation. She’s asked that lord Geidt, the adviser on ministers’ interests, investigate a unit known as the Clearing House. The unit is based in the Cabinet Office and handles Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.

Information rights tribunal ruling

As chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, Gove is the minister in charge of the Cabinet Office.

Its Clearing House unit has been criticised for how it operates. There are fears journalists were blacklisted and transparency was stymied in the handling of potentially sensitive information requests from across government.

And following an appeal, an information rights tribunal ruled that the Cabinet Office must release certain documents to the openDemocracy website. The ruling came on Wednesday 9 June after a three-year fight.

Judge Chris Hughes said:

The profound lack of transparency about the operation of the Cabinet Office, might appear, from the material before this tribunal, to extend to ministers.

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Labour claimed that this proved statements Gove had made about the Clearing House in the past to be untrue.

What will the released documents reveal?

But the Cabinet Office said it had never said the Clearing House did not exist. Rather it had disputed accusations that journalists were blacklisted among other practices.

A spokesperson said: “Any suggestion that there has been a breach of the ministerial code is wrong”.

In her letter, Rayner said:

Because of the lack of transparency regarding the operations of the Cabinet Office Clearing House, the truth about the operations of the unit – and therefore whether Mr Gove misled Parliament by saying that ‘all freedom of information requests are treated in exactly the same way’ – will be revealed in the documents that the judge has ruled must now be released.

Cabinet Office response

But the Cabinet Office spokesperson added:

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 which go to a number of different departments or where requests are made for particularly sensitive information.

We remain committed to transparency and always balance the need to make information available with our legal duty to protect sensitive information.

In order to be as transparent as possible we have released the vast majority of information that was requested in this case and have already published a considerable amount of information on Clearing House, including a page explaining its purpose and remit.

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