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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

No laughing matter

Liberal Democrats AM, Jenny Randerson, has published the most unlikely response yet by a Government body to a Freedom of Information Act request - "we cannot tell you in case you laugh at us."

In response to Jenny's request for disclosure of documents relating to the budget of the Assembly's economic development and transport division, official Geraint James wrote saying some material would be withheld.

His letter stated, "The convention of collective responsibility of Cabinet is a well-established principle of government that has been adopted by the executive of the Welsh Assembly Government.

"It is vitally important that Ministers feel free to be able to debate fully all possible angles before coming to an agreed position.

"This process is one in which Ministers and officials are encouraged to be imaginative and consider innovative ideas.

"The exposure of some of these discussions to the public domain, via a freedom of information request, may lead to individuals, or Cabinet, being targeted for ridicule through the media.

"Such a prospect would, or would be likely to, inhibit the free and frank exchange of ideas.

"The result of this, in our view, would ultimately undermine the convention of collective responsibility and result in poorer decision making and thus poorer government for the people of Wales."

As Jenny says: "Exposing politicians to ridicule is not an exemption under the Freedom of Information Act allowing public bodies not to release documents. I find it extraordinary that the Assembly Government is using such an excuse.

"Once again, Labour's claim to run the most open administration in the western world itself looks ridiculous."

N.B. By the way I thought that the Western Mail was most unfair to Jenny today in publishing a photograph of her signing Christmas cards in the chamber, whilst Nick Bourne was on his feet speaking. Assembly Members often bring constituency work and other official business into the chamber so as to maximise their time. Some have even been seen reading a broadsheet newspaper. Needless to say that Jenny Randerson was not the only AM signing Christmas cards in the chamber on that day.
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