Jack Straw Denies Devolution FOI Request
Letter to Norman Baker MP
Dear Mr Baker,
I am writing to you to ask whether there is anything you can do to put pressure on the Government to disclose the information denied to us by Jack Straw's veto over a FOI request.
Today Jack Straw vetoed a Freedom of Information Request that would have disclosed the minutes of the Cabinet Ministerial Committee on Devolution to Scotland and Wales and the English Regions (DSWR) of 1997.
The remit of the DSWR Committee was as follows: "To consider policy and other issues arising from the Government’s policies for devolution to Scotland and Wales and the regions of England and to promote and oversee progress of the relevant legislation through Parliament and it subsequent implementation."
Jack Straw has stated that that release of the minutes was not in the public interest, would be damaging to the doctrine of collective responsibility and detrimental to the effective operation of Cabinet government.
I beg to differ. The recent Holtham report into an alternative to the Barnett Formula, which revealed that Scotland received £4.5bn a year too much; the demand for a legislative Welsh Assembly; the recent Calman Commission proposals; the Scottish Government's Your Scotland, Your Voice white paper, and; England's complete rejection of regional government, makes these minutes a matter of great public interest. That the Government believes otherwise indicates to me that they believe that disclosure of these minutes would somehow compromise the devolution settlement or cast it - or the UK Government itself - into disrepute. As a denizen of England, and one who feels that democracy in England has been damaged by the devolution acts, I would like to know the exact nature of the horse-trading that occured between Derry Irvine and Donald Dewar, in order that I can determine whether anyone in Government considered English interests during these negotiations (this is particularly important because England's place in the Union has only been debated by Cabinet members and not by the people of England - we have been denied our say).
Given that a great many people in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are very dissatisfied with the asymmetric mess that is New Labour's bodged attempt at devolution, it is conceivable, probable even, that they are witholding this information in order to prevent public knowledge of valid reservations raised by ministers at the time.
And as for the 'doctrine of collective responsibility', a look at the 1997 Cabinet should reveal exactly who this veto is designed to protect from public scrutiny and embarrassment: Jack Straw and Gordon Brown.
I have to ask, what are they hiding?
In ending I quote Peter Facey of Unlock Democracy:
"This is 12 years after the event. Devolution has already happened and is well established. There have been two General Elections, a change of Prime Minister and numerous Government reshuffles since this Cabinet meeting."
"A cynic could easily think that the Government is vetoing this to save themselves of political embarrassment months away from an election. The Freedom of Information Act is meant to empower the public, not protect politicians. It is ironic that the day after the Pre Budget Report, this veto will leave many feeling they have been short-changed. "
Out of interest the 1997 Cabinet was as follows:
SIR ROBIN BUTLER
LORD IVOR RICHARD
Two considerations that Jack Straw believes are of particular relevance are:
- A number of participants, including current Government Ministers, have their respective views recorded in the minutes.
- Of the large number of Ministers who took part in at least one of the DSWR meetings, the majority remain active in Parliament. 16 are members of the House of Commons and a further 15 members of the House of Lords. Additionally, seven Ministers are still in Government.
Really, what are these corrupt bastards hiding from us?
Unlock Democracy's press release is reproduced here.
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In December 2009 the Government vetoed public access to the minutes of the Cabinet sub-committee on Devolution to Scotland, Wales and the Regions (DSWR), as reported on this site.
Yesterday the publication of these minutes was again blocked on the ground