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23.6.07

50,000 for devolution

Cornwall Council's Feb 2003 MORI Poll showed 55% in favour of a democratically-elected, fully-devolved regional assembly for Cornwall, (this was an increase from 46% in favour in a 2002 poll). 

Many English and other nationalities who have settled in Cornwall wish to see an assembly as some of these people identify closely with Cornwall and actually feel 'Cornish'. London, Wales and Scotland have devolved assemblies and are still part of the United Kingdom as well as the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey - why not Cornwall ? The Cornish Assembly petition was signed by 50,000 people, which is the largest expression of popular support for devolved power in the whole of the United Kingdom and possibly Europe.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and local government minister Ruth Kelly have been less than forthcoming to Mebyon Kernow under the Freedom of Information Act.

In 2005 Mebyon Kernow the party for Cornwall wrote to the then Office of the Deputy Prime Minister requesting copies of government documents prepared in the wake of the 50,000 signature Cornish Declaration which was passed to the Prime Minister on 12 December 2001.

Cllr Phil Rendle, MK's Deputy Leader (Campaigns) explained:

"We have long wondered what Tony Blair's government made of this magnificent expression of Cornish support for devolution. In 2005 we decided to use the Freedom of Information Act to find out. The result was disgraceful"

Even though, the ODPM is obliged under the Act to respond to requests promptly and in any event no later than 20 days, Mebyon Kernow's original request remains unacknowledged and unanswered. Last year, as part of their celebration of the fifth anniversary of the Declaration, MK resumed its demand, this time to Ruth Kelly's new Department for Communities and Local Government. So far, two letters have been received, although no information has yet been released and no explanation or apology given for failing to respond to the 2005 request.

"Crucially" says Cllr Rendle, "the DCLG have admitted that 'The Department holds the information you are seeking' - but getting it into the public domain is proving difficult to say the least!"

The two letters are peppered with phrases such as 'qualified exemptions', 'public interest tests' and the most tortuous reasons are given not to yield this information without delay:

"Your request, however, raises complex public interest considerations which must be analysed before we can come to a decision on releasing the information, consideration must be given as to whether or not the public interest in withholding the information requested outweighs the public interest in disclosing it, [the] balance needs to be struck between disclosing sufficient information to allow informed debate and protecting the space within which ministers are advised and formulate policy"

The second letter from Ruth Kelly's department pontificates:

"The application of the public interest balance in relation to this exemption is particularly complex. The public interest both in disclosure of some information and in the withholding of other information lies in what might broadly described as good government! "

Phil Rendle asks:

"We are just trying to find out what Government made of Cornwall's 50,000-signature petition. Why all this prevarication? Why all this legalistic mumbo-jumbo? If government holds the information [we] are seeking, why not release it to the people of Cornwall. We have received two stalling letters, but we will continue to press until all the information is released"


The Cornish Democrat also wrote to the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) requesting all documentation produced by the government on receiving the petition of 50,000. To date the DCLG has released some but not all the documentation choosing instead to withhold information under section 36(2) (b) of the Freedom of Information act. What do the government have to hide? Who was consulted and what did they say? The Cornish Democrat urges all, who consider the Cornish publics right to know more important than the embarrassment of a few politicians, to contact the DCLG and make a request under the FOI act and then to pursue this as far as possible.

DCLG: http://www.communities.gov.uk/

The Information Commissioner's Office: http://www.ico.gov.uk/

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