I have today (30 January 2014) given the Information Commissioner a certificate under section 53 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (“the Act”) both as it applies for the purposes of the act itself, and as it applies to the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (“the Regulations”) by reason of Regulation 18(6). This certificate relates to the Information Commissioner’s decision FER0467548 of 6 June 2013 (“the Decision Notice”). That decision notice found that the Cabinet Office had failed to comply with its obligations under the EIR in refusing to disclose a project assessment review (“PAR”) report concerning High Speed Two (“HS2”), the project for a high-speed rail link between London, Birmingham, the East Midlands, Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester.
The consequence of my giving the Information Commissioner this certificate is that the Information Commissioner’s decision notice, which requires the November 2011 Major Projects Authority project assessment review report to be disclosed, ceases to have effect.
A copy of the certificate has been laid before each House of Parliament. I have additionally placed a copy of the certificate and a detailed statement of the reasons for my decision in the libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.
My decision to exercise this power of veto in this case was not taken lightly. I have taken into account the statement of government policy on the use of the executive override as it relates to information falling within the scope of section 35(1) of the Act.
I have taken into account the views of Cabinet, Ministers and the Information Commissioner, in considering both the balance of the public interest in disclosure and nondisclosure and whether this is an exceptional case. My view is that the public interest favours nondisclosure. I have also concluded that this constitutes an exceptional case and that the exercise of this power of veto is warranted.
In summary, the major projects review was conducted to inform the development of the HS2 project. The public interest in ensuring that projects of this scale, importance and cost are properly controlled and overseen is very high indeed. The assurance of confidentiality is important in the conduct of the review. In my view, there is nothing in the nature or content of this particular report which outweighs that strong public interest against disclosure.
A detailed explanation of the basis on which I arrived at the conclusion that the veto should be used is set out in my statement of reasons.