Michael Gove is withdrawing his appeal against the Information Commissioner’s ruling that his private emails were searchable under the Freedom of Information Act, I understand.
The Education Secretary has decided to do this because the Cabinet Office has concluded that anything that constitutes ‘information’ falls within the scope of the act which removes Gove’s ground for appeal. In other words, if two ministers, or a minister and a special adviser, email or text each other from their personal accounts or phones and that conversation involves any discussion of government business—however, fleeting or peripheral—then those texts are FOI able. I’m informed that new Cabinet Office guidance to this effect will be issued in the near future.
This will, almost certainly, lead to a slew of new FOI requests. I suspect every journalist and blogger would like to see the texts between David Cameron and Nick Clegg about the coalition which both men have spoken about so much. I do wonder, though, if further limiting the private space in which ministers can think will lead to better government.
There will be efforts to retrospectively apply this to the last government. There are more than a few people who would like to see whether anyone in Downing Street used their private email accounts to discuss the Iraq WMD dossier or cash for honours.