Friday, June 18, 2010

Censorship is in Labour's, not the public's interest.

About six months ago, I reported on the then Justice Secretary Jack Straw's decision to censor the minutes of a crucial cabinet meeting on devolution:
The justice secretary has blocked the release of minutes of a 1997 cabinet committee meeting on devolution.

Jack Straw said he believed disclosure would put the convention of collective cabinet responsibility for decisions "at serious risk of harm".

The UK's information commissioner said he would "carefully consider" Mr Straw's reasons for using his veto.

The only other time he has used it was to block the release of cabinet minutes relating to the Iraq War.
Well, as reported on English Parliament Online, the information commissioner has now delivered his verdict:
We also consider that the exemption in s28 is engaged because it is information held by the United Kingdom government on matters which concern the Scottish Administration and the Welsh Assembly Government, the disclosure of which would, or would be likely to, prejudice relations between those those devolved administrations and the United Kingdom government. The documents you have requested contain discussions between then Ministers, including individual and divergent views, and the disclosure of these minutes would prejudice the UK government's current dealings with those administrations.

We acknowledge, as I explain above, the public interest in the development of policy on devolution. However, in addition to the public interest arguments in favour of protecting the convention of Cabinet collective decision-making, there is a public interest in ensuring effective administration in Scotland and Wales. The issues discussed in the minutes are of current importance; are of particular interest to the Scottish Administration and Welsh assembly Government; and contain discussions between Ministers about those issues, the disclosure of which could adversely affect the government of the United Kingdom's current dealings with those administrations. The release of material that would damage those relationships could not be considered to be in the public interest. We therefore conclude that the public interest in withholding the information outweighs the public interest in disclosure.
So effectively two reasons given for the continuing censorship:

1. Publication of these minutes would undermine "Cabinet collective decision-making".
2. Publication would "jeopardise" relations between the UK Government and the Scottish and Welsh administrations, and so undermine the UK Government.

Point 1) indicating a split cabinet on the topic of devolution, but surely this is not the only topic on which there was a divergence of opinion and yet the only other time Straw decided to use his veto was on debates relating to the Iraq War.

Point 2) why? We now have a different parties in control at Westminster, Edinburgh and partly Cardiff; the present personnel took no part in whatsoever those dangerous discussions. Whatever the Labour dignitaries in 1997 discussed is a problem for Labour, not the Conservatives, Plaid Cymru or the SNP and it's Labour's interest not that of the public's which has been served in this case.

No comments: