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Disclosure and use of official information by former Ministers

8.120 Former Ministers should not disclose official information dating from their time in office.

8.121 Former Ministers may wish to publish memoirs, articles, or other material that relates to their time in office. The free flow of advice and comment among Ministers and between Ministers and officials, along with the concept of collective responsibility, justifies the following of certain standards by former Ministers who are contemplating publication of this kind.

8.122 The following guidance is designed to provide and preserve a confidential working environment for Ministers, and the officials who advise them. Such an environment allows diverse opinions to be freely canvassed and expressed without the constraint that would accompany the expectation of disclosure.

  1. Any Cabinet records drawn on for possible publication must be used with care, unless the information they contain has already been made public by authorised means. Disclosure should preferably be checked with the relevant department (through the Cabinet Office), so that the material can be assessed in terms of the Official Information Act.
  2. The views expressed by other Ministers, or the process by which a decision has been arrived at, should not be disclosed. It is impossible to lay down precise rules, but the closer the publication date to the actual event recorded, the more sensitive the approach required. Ministers may account for their own views, but should not reveal the attitudes or opinions of colleagues as to the government business with which they have been concerned without first consulting those colleagues.
  3. Comment from officials or others whose duty it has been to tender their advice or opinions should not be released without prior consultation. Any reference should be made only in general terms, without attribution to identifiable people.
  4. Before making public assessments or criticisms of those who have served them, or making judgements of competence or suitability, former Ministers should carefully consider the fact that, in most cases, the people concerned will not be in a position to respond.
  5. Former Ministers should not disclose the content of any discussion held during an Executive Council meeting. On appointment to office, all Executive Councillors swear or affirm an oath under the Oaths and Declarations Act 1957 that they “will not directly or indirectly reveal such matters as shall be debated in Council and committed to [their] secrecy”.

8.123 If former Ministers retain any Ministers’ papers after leaving office and receive requests to disclose any such records, they should contact the Cabinet Office. The Cabinet Office will arrange for the relevant department to assess the material in terms of the Official Information Act, so that appropriate considerations can be taken into account by the former Minister before a decision is made on the release of the information.

Last updated: 
Saturday, 24 June 2017

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