Defra FoI – update

The story so far:

Defra FoI fail, 25 April

Defra FoI continued fail, 26 April

Defra FoI – less of a fail, 26 April

This morning I received this response (or at least this is the bit that I am revealing at the moment):

Thank you to Defra for apparently pulling out the stops once you were given a very firm nudge.  I’m grateful.

I’m a bit surprised that there are no notes of a meeting between the Secretary of State and the Chief Executive of the GWCT.  My experience of such meetings is that there is almost always someone taking notes.

And I’m a bit surprised that Defra has no record of a meeting between Michael Gove and Ian Coghill, Nick Downshire and Amanda Anderson since I have heard through various slightly boastful shooting sources that the Secretary of State did meet them and offered them some words of…shall we call it support?… at that meeting. Well, I’ve asked Defra whether they are quite sure about this or whether their first answer is an answer of Amber Rudd-type accuracy. Then I might ask GWCT and the Moorland Association. And then I’ll be able to tell you quite definitively that Michael Gove could not possible have said…whatever he didn’t say…because he has not met these people.






6 Replies to “Defra FoI – update”

  1. Ah, the ‘chilling effect of freedom of information legislation.’ A controversial topic, and Michael Gove has form here:

    It would be extraordinary if the meeting with Teresa Dent went unminuted; your experience is as mine. But the directness of the Defra response suggests that indeed it is so: for all their other failings they would lie about this. However…well this is where it gets difficult. I’m sure that “Mrs Blurt” exchanged notes with Teresa Dent before or after (or even during) their meeting. But unless the Information Commissioner has been overruled, which I doubt, Gove cannot escape FOI. There must be stuff here which Defra would break the law if they failed to reveal. The difficulty is in getting to it.

    Shame upon Gove for doing it like this, it shows contempt for both the law and for an accountable democracy. FoI from the outset created a right to a ‘policy space’ for politicians and administrators to discuss future policy in private with those with an interest. If Defra had simply cited the relevant part of the law regarding that meeting, then fine – you could then have asked the Information Commissioner whether she agreed. And she might have: the maintenance of that space is important. Well I think so anyway and so in the end so did Parliament, which decided not to cripple FoI after all. As it is you’ve got to pursue the darker channels of a discussion in which the public plainly has a legitimate interest.

    Let me know if I can help.

    1. I accidentally left out a ‘not’ towards the end of the second sentence of the second para above. I realise that others might not believe it, but if the Defra FoI team say “Information…is not held…” then it is true. So the question then becomes either “why is the SoS holding unminuted meetings on a topic of significant public interest” or (more practically) what exchanges (under whatever pseudonym) took place between the participants of this meeting before, after or during it. There may also be a way of questioning the civil servants involved, they are more likely to tell the truth.

  2. Mark

    I spot a pattern here.

    In July 2016 the UK government was supposed to implement the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards. This agreement will ban the use of Fenn traps to catch stoats – which has obvious implications for shooting estates.

    DEFRA had been regularly consulting with shooting bodies throughout the 18 years or so of negotiations in Europe. In October 2015 DEFRA commissioned experimental work to identify compliant and non compliant traps. DEFRA had already approved DOC traps which are AIHTS compliant but these traps are significantly more expensive than Fenn Traps (something shooting lobby groups later suggested should be a criteria that should eliminate DOC traps as a candidate replacement trap for the Fenn traps.) The vivisection contract ended in February 2016 but just before it conclusion, at the end of January 2016, senior officials from DEFRA representing the Scottish, Irish and English and Welsh governments held a major meeting to which about 24 representatives of shooting lobby groups, shooting estates, game keeper representative organisations, trappers, manufacturers and sellers had been invited. I think about 15 representatives attended that meeting. The meeting was chaired by non other than Teresa Dent! IIRC, at the meeting she was representing the GWCT not NE. I have repeatedly tried to get the minutes of the meetings from DEFRA because it was agreed at that meeting to delay implementation of the AIHTS – an internationally binding agreement that should have been enacted in July 2016. So three senior DEFRA officials agreed with lobbyists at that meeting to withdraw from an agreement already implemented throughout Europe, Russia, Canada, USA etc so you might expect a record to have been kept and made by those senior officials. Yes? Think again!

    After numerous letters, I have been informed that the DEFRA officials took no notes whatsoever. The minutes of the meeting were taken by the GWCT but apparently the minutes and draft minutes of the meeting have never been distributed to the DEFRA officials so there is no information that DEFRA can supply to me. They have avoided telling me if they will obtain a copy for me since GWCT won’t forward a copy. There were presentations at the meeting on the results of the experimental work and other types of traps approved elsewhere but all of those were apparently verbal presentations – so there is no written record DEFRA can supply to me. Nothing.

    The whole thing stinks and now I read about DEFRA holding similar meeting with Teresa and lots of other lobby groups regarding negotiations over legal obligations with the European Commission and the same thing seems to have happened.

    I wonder if the Information Commissioner might agree that there is a deliberate strategy being played out here to keep certain agreements under wraps? I’m busy with other stuff at the moment but if you’re interested in my letters with DEFRA I’ll happily send them on.

      1. PS I think I last asked, in about December last year, for the umpteenth time, for a copy of the final report into the results of the experiments (on which basis the delay was largely based). I have also been asking since July 2016 for the draft results reported to that meeting or even a draft copy of the report. Unfortunately – you know what it’s like – DEFRA claims that that research report can’t be released until it has been peer reviewed and that seems to be taking a very long time to complete! So – no copy of the report … so I can’t forward that on to you I’m afraid!

      2. A slight correction to the above. The civil servants who attended the January 2016 meeting represented Defra and the Scottish and Welsh governments. The Irish government civil servant sent his/her apologies so did not attend the meeting. Apologies for the error.

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