JUSTICE – FOI REQUESTS & MEMBERS' INTERESTS – 23 March 2010
[Norman Baker: Although it is not entirely necessary, for the avoidance of doubt, I draw hon. Members' attention to my entry in the Register of Members' Financial Interests. When does the Ministry of Justice plan to respond to the freedom of information request submitted to it by me in January 2010?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Bridget Prentice): I sent a reply to the hon. Gentleman last week. I apologise to him and the House that, because of the depth of consideration required, we were unable to respond within the 20-day statutory period.
Norman Baker: In early January, we learned the astonishing news that in 2003 Lord Hutton recommended that material relating to the death of Dr. David Kelly should be locked away for 70 years. That material would have been made public had the matter been dealt with in a coroner's court. On 27 January, Lord Hutton indicated that he was now content for the material to be released to medical experts, who are threatening legal action against the Government, and I tabled the FOI request to which the Minister replied. The doctors have heard nothing, and my request has been turned down. Where is that material? Will she now comply with Lord Hutton's request for it to be made publicly available?
Bridget Prentice: Our refusal of the hon. Gentleman's request is an entirely legitimate and normal use of the exemptions under the Freedom of Information Act. The correspondence to which he refers is a matter of public record and represents nothing new. We have already provided to the Hutton inquiry, by third parties, a clear expectation that its contents would remain confidential. I reiterate the commitment made to him by the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Mr. Wills) to revisit the Government's position should he come forward with any new evidence. ]
Dr Julian Lewis: Is the Minister satisfied that no foreign Government were involved in the sponsorship of the question that she has just answered?
[Bridget Prentice: I suspect that that is not a matter for me.]