Submitted by the Northern Ireland Office
Thank you for your letter of 9 June in which you
asked for a fuller explanation of why it was necessary to withhold
information in answers to particular Parliamentary Questions.
I have looked into this matter and am pleased to be able to provide
the attached elaboration.
I have noted your point that PQ Answers should cite how a refusal
relates to the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.
I have instructed that we follow this in future.
This PQ from Robert Jackson was in three parts and asked the
Secretary of State to list the names of the special advisers in
the NIO, to list the issues in which each specialised and to provide
the level of security clearance each held. Only the third part
was not answered because it asked for personal information. Under
the terms of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information,
Part II, exemption 8 (a), personnel records including those relating
to recruitment, promotion and security vetting need not be disclosed.
This question asked for a list of the religious and political
affiliations of the newly appointed Commissioners for human rights.
The reply covered as fully as possible the political affiliations
but said that it was not Government policy to release the religious
affiliation of each member. We said we were satisfied that the
Commissioners, as a group, were representative of the community
in Northern Ireland.
The Fair Employment (Monitoring) Regulations (Northern Ireland)
1989, state that information supplied by job applicants and employees
on their community background is treated in the strictest confidence
and failure to do so may lead to criminal liability. Organisations
are required not to disclose, without the individual's consent,
information about an employee or applicant which might be used
under any monitoring method to determine community background;
and determination of an employee's or applicant's community -
or any other information from which community background might
be deduced. Paragraph 14 (a) of Part II of the Code of Practice
This question asked what action was taken against a civil
servant who had appeared on a public platform in support of the
Spirit of Drumcree Group. The answer stated that disciplinary
action had been taken against an individual and that, as this
was an internal matter, in accordance with established procedure
it was not appropriate for any papers to be placed in the Library.
Employment custom and practice, not just in the public sector,
is that personnel information is always held to be confidential
between the employee and employer. Disclosure by one party could
be held to be prejudicial and result in significant litigation.
In addition, the Data Protection Act requires personal data to
be held in confidence and prohibits unauthorised disclosure. Paragraph
8 (a) of Part II of the Code of Practice applies.
PQ 62941 & 69091
These questions sought extensive detail of prisoners released
or due to be released under the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act
1998. It is the policy of the Northern Ireland Prison Service
not to publish the names of prisoners on release. Such releases
are not supported by all, and the policy not to publish personal
details has been a key element in ensuring the safety of the former
prisoners, and to assist their successful reintegration into normal
life in society. This policy has been heavily drawn on, particularly
across the period following the Good Friday Agreement and the
subsequent early release of prisoners. This policy is fully compliant
with Part II, paragraph 4 (f) of the Code of Practice.
This question, also asked of other Government Departments,
sought detail of the legislative programme taken into account
when producing the spending plans for the following three years.
Central guidance advised us to answer that "There is a long-standing
convention that legislative proposals for each year are not announced
before the Queen's Speech at the start of the relevant Session".
This question sought to determine what "knowledge"
the RUC might have as to the perpetrators of punishment beatings
and shootings. As much information was given as was possible but
to go further would have been to discuss intelligence matters.
To disclose such information would harm national security or defence
and could prejudice the enforcement or proper administration of
the law, including the prevention, investigation or detection
of crime, or the apprehension or prosecution of offenders. It
could also endanger the life or physical safety of any person,
or identify the source of information or assistance given in confidence
for law enforcement or security purposes. Paragraphs 1 (a), 4
(b) and 4 (f) of Part II of the Code of Practice apply.
This question asked what representations there had been about
the working practices of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry. In composing
the reply, it was taken that to discuss what representations had
been made would involve discussing the working practices themselves.
The Tribunal was set up pursuant to the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence)
Act 1921 which made provision "
.with respect to the
taking of evidence before and the procedure and powers of certain
Tribunals of Inquiry". The Act states that the Tribunal shall
.all such powers, rights and privileges as are
vested in the High Court
." The reply stated that the
Inquiry was independent, that its working practices were a matter
for it to decide and that it would not be appropriate for the
Government to interfere with or comment on the way Tribunal was
Information was sought on the value of beef exports from Northern
Ireland. Since only one company was involved in exports at that
time and in the absence of aggregation with figures from other
companies, the information had to be treated as commercial in
confidence. This approach is in accord with paragraph 13 (Third
Party's commercial confidences) of Part II of the Code of Practice.
This question asked how many post mortems each state pathologist
in NI had conducted over the last three years and for similar
information for England & Wales. The answer refused to give
details of individual workloads but gave overall NI totals for
each of the last three years. The England and Wales equivalents
were for the Home Secretary.
While it is accepted that there is no exemption afforded by the
Code of Practice, the refusal to give the detail requested was
based on the belief that we should be sensitive to the feelings
of the individuals concerned. A simple breakdown of post mortems
conducted by named pathologists would have provided a highly distorted
and, especially in the case of the State Pathologist himself,
unflattering picture of workloads. Added to this is the fact that
the recent Criminal Justice Review emphasised the desirability
of maintaining the independence of the State Pathologist's Department.
Although administered and funded by the NIO, the State Pathologist's
Department is essentially a medical department which provides
a direct objective scientific service to coroners, the courts
and the police. Its professional staff are required to meet the
standards laid down by the British Medical Council, the Royal
College of Pathologists and Queen's University, Belfast (for which
it is the Institute of Forensic Medicine).
This question asked what guidance was issued to the RUC on
the circumstances in which the assistance of army units should
be sought in dealing with public order problems. The reply explained
that the RUC Force Policy document was a confidential operational
policing manual. We agree with the Chief Constable that disclosing
this document would harm national security or defence. Paragraphs
1 (a); 4 (b) and 4 (e) of the Code of Practice therefore apply.
This question asked about the RUC's tri-annual report to the
Fair Employment Commission and if a copy could be placed in the
Library. While the answer gave the main points of the report,
it went on to explain that the report would not be made public
since it contained information which could prejudice the security
of individual officers. Therefore paragraph 4 (f) of the Code
of Practice applies.
5 July 2000