The Coalition Government in Westminster has recognised this and put in place significant changes for the good of democracy. It was only as a result of the UK government’s decision to publish all departmental spending over £25,000 that the Welsh government followed suit. Sadly, this is not the norm when with regards to the Welsh Labour Government, who have consistently resisted Welsh Liberal Democrat calls for a more transparent system.
Only very recently the Welsh Liberal Democrats called for the Welsh Government to start publishing details of its meetings with lobbyists and external pressure groups. The people of Wales, after all, have a right to know who the Welsh Government is meeting on their behalf. The Welsh Government refused to implement this relatively simple change.
However, the unending resistance of the Welsh government to be transparent and allow scrutiny has gone from irritating to downright arrogant.
Recently the First Minister made a remark about how the UK’s nuclear deterrent, currently based at Faslane in Scotland, would be welcome in Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire should Scotland vote yes to independence. I asked the First Minister what discussions there had been in cabinet about the siting of nuclear weapons in Wales. He said he had nothing further to add, it is not a devolved matter. I asked him what business case had been put together, he said he had nothing further to add, it is not a devolved matter. I changed tack, submitting written questions asking the same thing, the answer remained the same, nothing further to add.
Outrageously, we have had to resort to submitting a Freedom of Information request simply to scrutinise this evasive Labour Government.
This opens up a whole new line of scrutiny, because as far as I am concerned, the First Minister has not just been cunning in his answers, he has decided that he will flat out refuse to answer them. In a healthy, open and transparent democracy, this is simply unacceptable.
So who to complain to then? Well in other parts of the UK, complaints about Ministers can be referred to an independent adjudicator. I’m sure none of us had heard of Sir Alex Allan before the Jeremy Hunt saga, but now many of us will be familiar with the man who advises the Prime Minister on the Ministerial Code. So you would assume that there is a Welsh equivalent, as there is in Scotland. Alas no. So who watches the watchers here in Wales? Well here the First Minister is judge, jury and executioner for complaints about his Cabinet colleagues or indeed himself. As I am sure you can imagine, the jury rarely delivers a guilty verdict.
Time and time again the Welsh Labour Government has declined attempts made by the Welsh Liberal Democrats to encourage further transparency within our democratic system. Whether it be shining a light into the lobbying world, or ensuring greater access to parliamentary documents, the Liberal Democrats in Government have been a driving force in ensuring a more transparent political system. I only wish the Welsh Labour Government would follow Westminster’s lead and start opening up the system here in Wales.
* Previously published in Lib Dem News
* Kirsty Williams AM, is Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats