Ministers' private text messages to be revealed

  • @oliver_wright

Emails and text messages written by David Cameron and other members of his Government from private accounts are to be accessible to the public for the first time under the Freedom of Information Act.

New government guidance, to be released shortly, will say the act relates to "the nature of the information and not the format". The move could open up large amounts of previously undisclosed correspondence to public scrutiny – including texts and emails between Mr Cameron and the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg.

Written evidence, disclosed by the Government to the Leveson Inquiry, revealed that ministers and aides routinely used private email accounts and text messages to conduct sensitive government business.

As Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt used a private Gmail account to discuss News Corporation's bid for BSkyB, while Downing Street and Treasury aides were in contact with each other and outside organisations without using official civil-service channels.

The shift was revealed in a letter from the Department for Education, abandoning a two-year dispute with the Information Commissioner that related to private emails.

The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, had been claiming that his private emails should be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. But in a letter to the commissioner from the director of law and information rights the department has indicated it intends to give up the fight.

Instead new guidance on the scope of the Freedom of Information Act will be published by the Cabinet Office "shortly".

It emerged last year that Mr Gove had been using his wife's private email account under the name "Mrs Blurt" rather than his departmental account to discuss government business with advisers. In one leaked email Mr Gove (pictured with his wife, Sarah) summarised his expectations about a judicial review of his decision to cancel the School Building programme with one word: "AAAARGGGGGHHHH".

Mr Gove had been resisting the release of other emails on the grounds that ministers' personal email accounts were not covered by the act. But as The Independent revealed, senior civil servants were not persuaded by Mr Gove's stance. A meeting of Permanent Secretaries concluded that private emails would fall within the remit of the act.

Ministers and aides routinely use private email accounts to conduct government business