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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Welsh Government loses the plot

For perhaps the first time since I lost the election in May 2016 today, I am grateful that I no longer have to make the long trek down the M4 and take my seat in the Senedd chamber. Not only has the row over the Welsh Government's leak report grown out of control, but it has become embarrassing. It has started to undermine the credibility of Welsh democracy.

A quick recap: following the death of Carl Sargeant a number of reports were commissioned. One of these was conducted by the Permanent Secretary and concluded there had been no "unauthorised" leak of information about Carl's sacking before he had been told. This was despite the fact that social media was reporting the sacking in advance and a number of journalists also knew. The conclusions seemed barely credible and left only one question, if there was no unauthorised leak then who had authorised it?

Naturally the opposition parties wanted the report published, redacted so as to protect the identity of the individuals concerned, but the government refused. So the Tories tabled a motion requiring the government to publish it under Section 37 of the Government of Wales Act 2006. This enables AMs to require any person to produce any Welsh Government document in their possession. However the power has never been used.

And then things really got out of control as the Welsh Government threatened the Assembly with legal action if the debate goes ahead. So much for transparency and accountability.  It was as if they were discovering the existence of the Government of Wales Act for the first time.

The saga led to angry scenes during First Minister's questions in the Senedd yesterday. One journalist says that 'political observers described it as being among the most "heated", "intense" and "angry" scenes witnessed in the 19-year history of devolution'.

And, yes, the debate is going ahead, so we face the unprecedented prospect of a government in the UK taking its own Parliament to court to try and limit the extent of its own accountability.

This is not the devolution that I voted for. Nor is the sort of name-calling on all sides that developed in yesterday's Plenary the democracy that the people of Wales deserve or want. Surely it is time for the Welsh Government to stop digging and to publish the report.

But I will leave the final word to an acquaintance and neighbour, whom I bumped into at the newsagents earlier this morning. 'They all need their heads knocked together', he said. And so say all of us.
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