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Corporate Procurement Cards (2019)

Request

Please provide a record of all spending by House of Parliament staff using government procurement cards for the last five financial years, and the current financial year to 12.02.19.

 

Response

This information is held by the House of Commons.

Owing to the significant public interest in expenditure by the House of Commons, records of GPC transactions of a value of £500 and above are routinely published by the House of Commons each month. These publications date back to April 2013. As this information is reasonably accessible to you otherwise than under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA), your request is refused. In refusing your request the House is applying the exemption set out in section 21(1) and (2)(a) FOIA. This is an absolute exemption and the public interest test does not apply.

Further, information for GPC transactions over £500 in January and February 2019 is scheduled to be published in line with the usual timetable for publication. Transactions for January will be published within the next 2 weeks and transactions for February will be published in early April in line with the end of the financial year. This information is being withheld under section 22 FOIA (intended for future publication). Section 22 is a qualified exemption, and accordingly we have to consider whether the public interest is in withholding the information or in disclosing it. The arguments for and against disclosure are detailed below.
The general argument in favour of releasing information is that there is a public interest in being able to scrutinise aspects of the House of Commons where that information might be easy to access and will not prejudice the House. Against disclosure the argument is the public interest in permitting public authorities to publish information in a manner and form and at a time of their own choosing.  It is a part of the effective conduct of public affairs that the general publication of information is a conveniently planned and managed activity within the reasonable control of public authorities.  Where the decision has been made in principle to publish, there is a reasonable entitlement to make arrangements to do so.

GPC transactions of a value under £500 for the financial years 2014/15 to 2016/17 have been disclosed in previous FOI requests that are published on the parliamentary website. As this information is reasonably accessible to you otherwise than under the FOIA, your request is refused. In refusing your request the House is applying the exemption set out in section 21(1) and (2)(a) FOIA.  This is an absolute exemption and the public interest test does not apply.

Some information has been redacted from this disclosure under s.31, s.38 & s.40 FOIA. Please find our reasons for exempting this information below.

Section 31 (law enforcement)

Details of hotels regularly used by Members as well as some booking reference numbers for travel and accommodation have been redacted as the House considers that this information is exempt by virtue of s.31(1)(a) FOIA as it would be likely to prejudice the prevention or detection of crime. This is a qualified or non-absolute exemption and the public interest test applies.

In favour of disclosure is the argument for transparency in the appropriate use of public funds for trips required for parliamentary business and ensuring that the House and its Members are not overspending is a matter of interest to the public generally.

However, this is outweighed by the risks of criminal activity being undertaken if the information was disclosed. If we were to disclose the hotel information, the House would fail in our duty to protect Members from the threat of targeted criminal attacks. This would also frustrate the efforts of law enforcement agencies to protect the public generally by increasing the likelihood of criminals, terrorists or fixated individuals from attempting to commit offences on or around the premises of the hotel. Further, disclosure of the booking reference numbers would serve no purpose other than to allow a fixated individual to fraudulently gain access to personal and potentially sensitive information about the booking and the individual/s using the room/s. Quoting the booking reference alongside an email address which may potentially be in the public domain or known to the individual can be all that is needed to access this information. As disclosure of this information would increase the risk of criminal offences being attempted against Members of the House, House staff and the public more generally, in turn causing us to fail in our duty to assist those services providing us with law enforcement, the House believes that the public interest is better served through exemption of this information from disclosure.

Section 38 (health & safety)

As the disclosure of this information could help to reveal the precise location of Members and their staff at various times, this information is also being withheld under s.38(1)(a) and (b) FOIA, on the basis that its disclosure to the public would endanger the health and safety of the Members and any staff or members of the public more generally on or around the premises of these hotels. This is a qualified or non-absolute exemption and the public interest test applies.

The House recognises that there is a clear public interest in the effective function of parliamentary delegations and ensuring that Members are kept safe during trips abroad. Further, the House understands that it is a matter of interest to the public generally that the travel and accommodation of Members does not undermine the health and safety of members of the public around them.

However, we have considered the countervailing public interest that Members in these delegations should be protected from targeted malicious attacks or harassment, including over the phone or online. Disclosing the names and specific locations of hotels frequently used by Parliament to accommodate Members on trips abroad would make it easy for interested to make contact with Members by contacting the hotel in person or over the phone to attack or harass them. In turn, this would prejudice our ability to protect their mental and physical health and safety while away from the parliamentary estate. It is our view that the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.

Section 40 (Personal Information)

We have also redacted the personal information of some individuals from the attached. Disclosing this information would identify individuals and it is therefore exempt by virtue of section 40(2) FOIA, as disclosure of this information to the public generally, in the House’s view, would not be consistent with data protection principles in Article 5 of the General Data Protection Regulations. This is an absolute exemption and the public interest test does not apply.