LETTER: Why secrecy over meeting?

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HM Civil Servants at the Department of Health have been as helpful to me as they possibly can in relation to obtaining information about a meeting held at the Cabinet Office on 18 December 2012 which was chaired by Francis (now Lord) Maude, our former Horsham MP.

At this meeting Mr Maude met with Horsham District Council leader Cllr Dawe and his then deputy, who the local Conservative Association dumped as a council candidate, with the majority land owner of land in North Horsham Steve Harvey (Huntley LLP).

Also present was Andrew Blevins, the managing director of Liberty, Adam Walker of Crickmay (Liberty’s agent) and both HDC’s chief executive and director.

However, no HM Civil Servant from either the Department of Health (DoH) or the Cabinet Office (where the meeting was held) sat in on this meeting.

Both these Government departments and HDC have confirmed in their own FoI replies to me that no minutes or notes were taken of this seemingly important meeting, yet HDC and the DoH were able to confirm the list of attendees.

HM Government rules requires a Secretary of State to register and have published on the Government website all meetings that a Cabinet Member has with outside bodies and any gifts or hospitality received.

In their first FoI reply the DoH provided me with a hyperlink to their website and told me that registered declarations of all meetings the Secretary of State for Health has with outside bodies would be found there. But when I looked I could see that the meeting had not been registered.

On 22 August 2016, I wrote to Jeremey Hunt MP Secretary of State for Health asking him why he did not register his and Francis Maude’s meeting with Liberty and Mr Harvey (Huntley LLP) and Crickmay.

The response from the DoH (19.9.16) states: ‘In response to your question as to why the meeting was not included in the list of external meetings, this was because we categorised it as a meeting between the Secretary of State and a fellow Cabinet Minister [Francis Maude] and as such there was no requirement to declare it as part of the external organisation meeting returns.’

Well how very convenient for the Secretary of State! By categorising the meeting as simply a meeting with a fellow Cabinet Minister (Francis Maude) the rules for registration of meetings with outside bodies did not apparently need to be adhered to.

The reply on behalf of the Secretary of State for Health does not say why that course of action was chosen over and above the alternative, and clearly more transparent one, which was to register the meeting with Liberty, the majority land owner Mr Harvey and Crickmay. Clearly such a meeting must have been about an issue of concern to residents of Horsham.

But it has taken 18 months of FoIs, appeals and letters to confirm even the existence of this meeting.

What was the reason for the Secretary of State not registering the meeting?

If it was about a proposed new hospital – why the secrecy?

Surely the meeting should have been recorded, minutes kept and the details open to the press and public.

Dr Geoffrey Richardson

Tennyson Close,

Horsham

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