Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Which governor-general is telling the truth?

The new Secretary of State for Wales, Cheryl Gillan, was asked at Welsh Questions in the Commons today what progress had been made in framing the question for the referendum on law-making powers for the Welsh Assembly. She informed the House that there had been none, prior to her taking office. The former Secretary, Peter Hain, MP for Neath, then came as close to House of Commons rules permit to calling her a liar.

However, he prefaced his request for an apology with the proviso that she may not have been shown all the papers by the Welsh Office civil servants. Now, there is a convention, which the civil service takes seriously, that records of policy discussions between senior permanent staff and ministers are treated as confidential. They are not destroyed, but are locked away on a change of government to resurface again only when the same party returns to office. (I wonder if Ms Gillan took as bedtime reading the minutes of the interchanges between Gwydr House mandarins and William Hague, Redwood and Peter Walker; in a sad coincidence with Ms Gillan's first Welsh Questions, the death of the latter was announced this morning.) At least, that used to be the case. Freedom of Information legislation may have shortened the period for which non-sensitive papers are sequestered, but not to the extent that incoming ministers would immediately made privy to their predecessors' confidential transactions.

So both Rt Hon Members may have been telling the truth as they saw it, but the inference must be that Mr Hain's thoughts on the question never got beyond consideration of the political implications. He had ample time to put at least a draft question on the record. If I understood Ms Gillan correctly, she has already sent, or will within days send, her proposal to the Electoral Commission.

1 comment:

Edmund said...

The draft question was announced today.