Letter from Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Environment

The request was partially successful.

Dear Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs,

I refer to a letter from Dr Therese Coffey MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Environment, sent from Nobel House, dated 18th April 2018 (the date is handwritten so it might be 15th April 2018), which reads as follows:

“Thank you for your letter of 29th March on behalf of your constituent about congestion on the River Lea. The responsibility for individual waterways sits with the respective navigation authority. I am aware, however, that the rise in the number of houseboats is an issue for all navigation authorities as more people choose to make houseboats along our waterways their homes.

My officials have pulled together a group comprising of representatives from a number of interested organisations, including local government, the Environment Agency and a number of navigation authorities which includes Canal & River Trust. The group's remit is to serve as a platform for discussions to take place on a number of issues around moored houseboats. Although these discussions are at an early stage, I can reassure your constituent that there is a clear wish amongst the members of the group to find appropriate solutions that balance the needs of waterways users against those who choose to live on our inland waterways.”

Please provide me with the following information regarding the above letter:

The name of the group;
The date the group was established;
A list of the organisations represented in the group and the job title of each organisation's representative including any DEFRA representative(s);
The dates of the group meetings to date;
The group's terms of reference;
The contact details for how the public may contact the group;
Communications from DEFRA to the group members inviting them to join the group, with any explanatory memoranda or reports that were sent with the invitations;
The agendas for the group meetings;
The reports, spreadsheets, documents and other information created by or for the group; and
The minutes or notes of the group meetings to date.

Thank you. I look forward to your reply within 20 working days.

Yours faithfully,

P Smith

Helpline, Defra (MCU), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Thank you for your email. We have a target of replying to emails within 15
working days where a response is required, and 20 working days where a
case is handled under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 or the
Environmental Information Regulations 2004. If you need a reply before
then, please call the Defra Helpline on 03459 33 55 77, or visit
[1]https://www.gov.uk/government/organisati....
We often receive thousands of identical emails each month from organised
campaigns. Ministers and officials are made aware of these campaigns, but
unfortunately we cannot reply to each email when such large volumes are
received.
Best wishes,
Ministerial Contact Unit
 
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) This email and
any attachments is intended for the named recipient only. If you have
received it in error you have no authority to use, disclose, store or copy
any of its contents and you should destroy it and inform the sender.
Whilst this email and associated attachments will have been checked for
known viruses whilst within Defra systems we can accept no responsibility
once it has left our systems. Communications on Defra's computer systems
may be monitored and/or recorded to secure the effective operation of the
system and for other lawful purposes.

References

Visible links
1. https://www.gov.uk/government/organisati...

correspondence.section@defra.gsi.gov.uk on behalf of informationrequests@defra.gsi.gov.uk, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Dear P Smith,

Thank you for your email of 24 May 2018, requesting information on working
groups for houseboats on River Lea.

We aim to answer your request within 20 working days from the date we
received it. If we are unable to meet this deadline we will contact you to
explain the reason.

If you have any queries about this letter please contact us.

Yours sincerely

Information Rights Team

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Email: Information [email address]

Address: Seacole Building, Floor 1, 2 Marsham Street, London, SW1P 4DF

Information Rights Team

[email address]

correspondence.section@defra.gsi.gov.uk on behalf of informationrequests@defra.gsi.gov.uk, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

2 Attachments

Dear P Smith,

I am writing in response to your request for information, received 24th
May.

Yours sincerely,

Information Rights Team

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Email: Information [email address]

Address: Seacole Building, Floor 1, 2 Marsham Street, London, SW1P 4DF

Dear Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs's handling of my FOI request 'Letter from Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Environment' (FOI2018/12182). I specifically require a review of the decision to withhold the minutes and agenda of the meeting on 4th December 2017, for the following reasons:

Whilst I accept that genuinely personal information should be withheld under the Freedom of Information Act, the exemption in s.35(1)(a) of the Act has been applied incorrectly and inappropriately, in that the public interest test has been applied wrongly.

A letter from Dr Coffey MP to Marcus Jones MP dated 19th July 2018 states firstly that it was agreed at the meeting on 4th December 2017 that user groups would be invited to attend any future meetings and secondly that “there is every intention to ensure that the views of those who represent boat dwellers are taken into account”.

Given that “user groups” include organisations that represent boat dwellers, these organisations will thus be invited to attend future meetings. In order for user groups to fully understand the background to an invitation to such a meeting, it is necessary for them to know what was discussed at the meeting on 4th December 2017 and for this information to be publicly available to those members of the public who live on boats.

The meeting in December 2017 was held in secret at the instigation of the Secretary of State Michael Gove, in response to letters from MPs raising concerns about “illegally [sic] moored houseboats”.

Given that the UK's estimated 50,000-plus boat dwellers have had no opportunity to put their case regarding the lawfulness of their moorings, and given that the group's activities could result in very serious consequences for boat dwellers, namely the loss of their homes, the public interest in facilitating accountability and transparency outweighs the public interest in withholding this information.

In addition, a balanced and objective view of the issues cannot be achieved when more than 50,000 people who are directly affected are prevented from obtaining information created by an meeting that was held as the result of hostile lobbying that they were unaware of, the outcome of which is likely to have an extremely detrimental impact on their family and private lives.

In response to my request for review of your decision, please provide the minutes and agenda of the above meeting apart from the genuinely personal information of the participants.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/l...

Thank you. I look forward to your prompt reply.

Yours faithfully,

P Smith

Helpline, Defra (MCU), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Thank you for your email. We have a target of replying to emails within 15
working days where a response is required, and 20 working days where a
case is handled under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 or the
Environmental Information Regulations 2004. If you need a reply before
then, please call the Defra Helpline on 03459 33 55 77, or visit
[1]https://www.gov.uk/government/organisati....
We often receive thousands of identical emails each month from organised
campaigns. Ministers and officials are made aware of these campaigns, but
unfortunately we cannot reply to each email when such large volumes are
received.
Best wishes,
Ministerial Contact Unit
 
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) This email and
any attachments is intended for the named recipient only. If you have
received it in error you have no authority to use, disclose, store or copy
any of its contents and you should destroy it and inform the sender.
Whilst this email and associated attachments will have been checked for
known viruses whilst within Defra systems we can accept no responsibility
once it has left our systems. Communications on Defra's computer systems
may be monitored and/or recorded to secure the effective operation of the
system and for other lawful purposes.

References

Visible links
1. https://www.gov.uk/government/organisati...

no-reply@defra.ecase.co.uk on behalf of Defra Information Rights Team, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Dear P Smith,

Thank you for your email of 17th August, which we received on 17 August,
requesting an Internal Review into the response to your request for
information on working groups for houseboats on River Lea.

We aim to answer your request no later than 15 October 2018, which is 40
working days from the date we received it. If we are unable to meet this
deadline we will contact you to explain the reason.

If you have any queries about this letter please contact us.

Yours sincerely

Damian Lynch

Information Rights Team

[email address]

no-reply@defra.ecase.co.uk on behalf of informationrequests@defra.gsi.gov.uk, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

1 Attachment

Dear P Smith,

I am writing in response to your request for information, received 17th
August.

Yours sincerely,

Information Rights Team

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Email: Information [email address]

Address: Seacole Building, Floor 1, 2 Marsham Street, London, SW1P 4DF

P Smith left an annotation ()

This has now been referred to the Information Commissioner.

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