Recently a decision made by the information commissioner to disclose copies of minutes relating to the Cabinet Sub Committee on Devolution to Scotland and Wales was vetoed by Jack Straw. To put this into context it’s only the second time that the ministerial veto has been used to stop minutes becoming public knowledge. The only other time was relating to cabinet meeting in the run up to the Iraq war.
That just makes me wonder what must contained within those minutes? Why would Jack Straw bother to stop publication unless something was said and or done that is really juicy. The reasoning behind Mr Straw’s decision is that disclosure of the notes would be “damaging to the doctrine of collective responsibility” and whilst he felt that disclosure would ” improve the public’s understanding of the committee’s work and devolution issues” ultimately public interest was best served by non-disclosure. He also felt that the case was “exceptional” and so fell well within his remit and allowed him to veto.
If the case was “exceptional” then there must be some real juice tucked away in those minutes! Especially given that most MPs outside the nations find devolution a boring hum-drum issue, so something must have been said to make Jack Straw sit up, take notice and lock the minutes away.
It’s a decision that has frustrated some. Not least Christopher Graham the Information Commissioner himself who says in his report:
“Laying this report before is an indication of the Commissioner’s concern to ensure that the exercise of the veto does not go unnoticed by Parliament and, it is hoped, will serve to underline the Commissioner’s view that the exercise of the ministerial veto in any future case should be genuinely exceptional.”
Plaid Cymru are also annoyed with the decision, Elfyn Llwyd added:
“This must be deeply embarrassing for the Government and by refusing to publish suggests there must be some dynamite in those minutes. I cannot see how it is in the public interest to refuse to let the public see the process and thinking behind how the devolution settlement was put together...
It appears that we will be unable to discover what happened in the discussions on devolution in 1997, despite the Information Commissioner’s initial decision that the public interest in disclosure was greater than that in refusing publication.”
You can read the whole report here and make up your own mind as to whether or not the minutes should have been hidden or not.
It does make me wonder, what’s in those minutes?