Kirsty Williams writes: A lack of transparency in the Welsh Government

At a time when the public has so little confidence in our political system, it is essential that Governments do all they can to create a more transparent system.

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 Cabinet Secretary for Education in the Welsh Government

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8 Comments

  • Good piece Kirsty. Sometimes it feels that the WLDs are the only opposition party here in Wales!

  • At a time when the public has so little confidence in our political system, it is essential that Governments do all they can to create a more transparent system.The Coalition Government in Westminster has recognised this and put in place significant changes for the good of democracy…………………….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…………….

    Like the veto by cabinet on the NHS risk register?

  • The Welsh people never cared much for the notion of another parliament. As my old neighbour Ivor said to me in the run up to the vote “why would we want to pay for another big group of politicians on top of the ones we already pay for”. The only reason it scraped through was the Welsh prolonged dismal experience of two particularly alien and unpopular Welsh secretaries coming over from England to make all the decisions in the form of Redwood and Hague.

  • Richard Dean 25th Jul '12 - 4:34am

    The First Minister’s remark about welcoming the deterrent might not be a wholly bad thing. Jobs would come with it, and there would be plenty of time later for proper consultations etc. The issue of who to complain to seems more serious. Would taking complaints direct to voters be a short-term solution, via newspapers, tv, radio, internet, etc?

  • Alistair –

    In 2011, a referendum was held in Wales with the question ‘Do you want the Assembly now to be able to make laws on all matters in the 20 subject areas it has powers for? ‘

    63.49% voted YES.
    36.51% voted NO.

    With 21 of 22 local authorities voting YES.

    I think you are right, there are a number of people who are against having the National Assembly, but the result of the most recent referendum hardly suggests the majority of people are strongly anti the Assembly.

  • Tom – in the 97 referendum – the result was something like 50.3 vs 49.7 – votes don’t get much closer than that. The 2011 referendum wasn’t asking whether the Assembly should be retained, there was no option to get rid of it. Personally I think the Assembly has done some good things – plastic bag tax, hospital parking etc, but its failed to raise educational standards as much as I would have hoped.

  • Alistair –

    Yes the 1997 referendum was incredibly close. And you’re right, the 2011 referendum wasn’t about getting rid of the Assembly, but it did show that a large majority were not ‘anti’ the Assembly (IMO). All the polls show that the majority of people think having the Assembly is a good thing, with increasing numbers wanting the Assembly to have further powers. We just need the majority (well, it’s 30:30 at the moment) to stop voting Labour!!!

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