The new cabinet manual published today goes to some lengths to emphasise the need to have a clear chain of record-keeping around decisions and prevent a ‘chilling effect’.
It gives a very wide definition of information
‘Official information is information created and commissioned in the course of official government business. It includes information created or received by ministers in a ministerial capacity. Official information can be in any format, and includes correspondence and memoranda, guidance, emails, datasets and databases, websites, official blogs and wikis, and film and sound recordings. Other formats that emerge will also be covered.’
It then goes on to describe what information needs to be kept in relation to decisions:
‘The role of ministers’ private offices
11.4 Guidance issued by the Cabinet Office and The National Archives1 emphasises the need for private offices to record ministerial decisions on any correspondence or submissions to ministers or officials, including special advisers, and outside interest groups, private sector organisations and MPs. This would include any meetings, telephone conversations and communications via the internet where decisions are taken that relate to government business, so that there is a clear audit trail.
11.5 All papers and electronic information relating to a minister’s personal, party or constituency affairs remain the minister’s personal responsibility during their time in office and once they have left office or moved to another ministerial appointment. Private Office staff and special advisers should manage and maintain personal, party and constituency papers and information separately from departmental material and Cabinet and Cabinet committee documents.2 Data security of constituency material is the responsibility of the minister in their capacity as an MP. Responsibility for party information is a matter for the relevant political party to determine.’
It would be interesting to know if this is preventative, a subtle telling off for certain ministers who may be trying to hide communications or whether they know something about the extent of the chilling effect that we don’t.