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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:


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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Minutes of Cabinet sub-committee on Devolution to Scotland, Wale

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

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In fact 8 out of that cabinet

In fact 8 out of that cabinet had signed the Claim of Right for Scotland to have its own national parliament.

This secrecy stinks!

It's because the issues

It's because the issues discussed by Cabinet are currently the subject of debate between The UK Government and the Scots and Welsh that these minutes are being blocked.

I quote the Times November 27, 2005:

There is no need to have an inflated sense of respect for the current devolution settlement. It was not handed down in tablets of stone, but was the result of protracted horse-trading between Dewar and sceptical Westminster cabinet ministers who were reluctant to surrender power and influence. Devolution as it stands contains a number of inconsistencies and ragged edges.

It is useful to understand how this happened. The crucial negotiations took place in a cabinet sub-committee called DSWR (it stood for “devolution to Scotland, Wales and the English regions”) in the first months of the 1997 Labour administration. It was chaired by Derry Irvine, the lord chancellor, who was widely seen as reflecting Tony Blair’s deep reservations about the devolution project. Over 11 weeks DSWR considered 39 policy papers on Scottish devolution, with Dewar having to battle the whole way.

In a recent book of biographical essays about Dewar, Lord Irvine himself gives a taste of what went on. “DSWR was determined that the Scots could not proceed as if their lucky number had come up and what they wanted they could demand,” he writes. “For Donald, DSWR was onerous in the extreme. There was constant sniping — entirely legitimate — from those whose enthusiasm for the Scottish project was somewhat behind Donald’s.”

Some battles were won in the teeth of bitter opposition from English ministers, elections to Holyrood by proportional representation, for example. Some were conceded — eventually, Dewar did not insist on abortion law being devolved. Other battles were simply lost — while all matters of criminal justice were devolved, the law on drugs was reserved to Westminster.

Some of the battles may require to be fought again.

'Some battles were won in the

'Some battles were won in the teeth of bitter opposition from English ministers ...'

There have been no English ministers since 1707. Sloppy journalism?

William - he could have meant

William - he could have meant ministers representing English constituencies - and if so I would like to know who they were and why they agreed to be silenced.

Gruff, since the forced

Gruff, since the forced marriage between Scotland and England was to protect Englands interests, and secure her back door. Westminster and the UK has been regarded totally by England as English, which is why it never was a United Kingdom and that brings us to the point we are at today. Broken and resentful of each other.

England resents Scotland for her ungrateful manner in wishing to secede, Scotland resents England for her superiority complex that makes Englands establishment behave as if Scotland is in their possession. Jack Straw is on record as saying so.

Sloppy thinking on your part.

You can be an English

You can be an English politician but minister is a post and in UK government terms should be 'UK minister'. British excludes Northern Ireland.

William Orange - of course

William Orange - of course it's all England's fault! You make it so clear! Personally, I'm English and I regarded Westminster as British and have always been fully aware of what that entailed. And I thought the establishment of the Union involved the work and interests of elite minorities on both sides. But your opinion is obviously the right one. Arrogance does not come into it.

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