FoI request made to the Treasury for information about Tory leadership contender

The Government has been accused of mounting a "dirty tricks" campaign last night over a controversial file on the personal life of David Cameron, currently campaigning in the contest for the leadership of the Conservative Party.

The Treasury issued a statement revealing that it held sensitive security information on the Tory leadership front-runner. Officials said the information was compiled when Mr Cameron was recruited as a special adviser to the Conservative chancellor Norman Lamont in 1992. The existence of the file was revealed in a detailed response to a Freedom of Information request by The Sunday Telegraph.

But officials said that they could not release the information, saying that this was because of "the effect disclosure would have on the individual".

The information concerns the vetting procedure used at the time of Mr Cameron's recruitment. It was aimed at identifying any individual who "suffers from defects of character which may expose him or her to blackmail. . . or which may otherwise indicate unreliability".

Mr Cameron, 39, was vetted before May 14 1992 when he was made a Treasury special adviser. He worked there until June 1993. The routine background checks would have involved looking into his student days and criminal record checks. Subsequent Treasury advisers have been subjected to extraordinarily detailed questioning with questions about drug-taking, their sex lives and their alcohol intake.One interrogation was so detailed that it included questions about the names of extra-marital sexual partners he may have had and listing drugs he might have used.

The existence of the file on Mr Cameron was revealed after the Telegraph asked for "any information relating to the recruitment of David Cameron as special adviser to Mr Lamont, including what vetting procedure was followed and any information held on Mr Cameron at the Treasury as a result of, or relating to that vetting procedure".

A Treasury official said that the information relating to Mr Cameron's recruitment is "personal information which we are withholding under exemption S40 of the FOI Act" and that officials have weighed four factors in deciding whether to release the file including "the effect disclosure would have on the individual and the public interest in disclosure".

The official acknowledged that the information held was obtained for recruitment and selection purposes: "If personal information were to be released the effect of disclosure would break the duty of trust between the individual and the Treasury and adversely affect our ability to maintain recruitment. . . to release such information would severely damage our ability to recruit and additionally risks a legal challenge as a contravention of the Data Protection Act. Information on the vetting procedure used at that time can be found in Hansard, WA 159-161, 24 July 1990."

That passage sets out the Government's procedures for the security vetting of new appointments and includes safeguards to root out those involved in espionage, terrorism, sabotage, and anyone who is "susceptible to pressure from any [terrorist] organisation. . . or suffers from defects of character which may expose him or her to blackmail or other influence by any such organisation or by a foreign intelligence service or which may otherwise indicate unreliability".

The Telegraph also pointed out that Labour has been accused of abusing the Freedom of Information Act before by releasing information that is convenient to the Government while refusing to release things it did not want disclosed.

Labour's 'dirty tricks' over secret Cameron dossier (Sunday Telegraph, 20 November 2005)