Information Commissioner orders Defra to release ministerial advice

The Information Commissioner has ruled that ministerial advice concerning salmon fishing on the River Teign in Devon must be made public. The advice was provided by officials at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to the minister, Ben Bradshaw MP, who subsequently confirmed a byelaw aimed at protecting salmon stock levels in the river.

Following a request for information, Defra refused to disclose the advice given to the minister. The department argued that the requested information constituted internal communications and that releasing the information was on balance not in the public interest.

The Commissioner considered the arguments put forward by Defra but also found that there were strong public interest arguments in favour of releasing the information. For instance, making the information public would help demystify the process by which a minister is informed of, and arrives, at a decision on an environmental issue. It would also promote greater transparency and accountability of decision making in government. Furthermore, the material may well be of interest to people in the local area, especially as any change in the use of the river could affect the local economy.

There is a presumption of disclosure in the Environmental Information Regulations. Defra has until 8 January 2007 to disclose the information (35 days from the date of the original notice).