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'WALES LEADS THE WAY ON OPEN GOVERNMENT'

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Welsh first minister Rhodri Morgan has reaffirmed his commitment to open government and says that he wants Wales to...
Welsh first minister Rhodri Morgan has reaffirmed his commitment to open government and says that he wants Wales to be ahead of the game in implementing the Freedom of Information Act.

Mr Morgan was speaking at a special roadshow in Cardiff arranged by the lord chancellor's department designed to outline the practical implications for public authorities of the Freedom of Information Act.

'When I became first minister in 2000 one of my first priorities was to put into action my views and principles on freedom of information.' Mr Morgan said. 'I have said on several occasions that we should govern in the sunshine and not behind the curtains and that greater openness should be at the heart of our business. The Welsh assembly government has adopted its own Code of Practice on Public Access to information which has subsequently been updated to take in the most important features of the Freedom of Information Act well in advance of its implementation. We have made considerable progress in making the assembly government open and transparent and, I believe, we are setting the pace here in Wales.'

Since April 2000, cabinet minutes, cabinet papers and press briefings are published on the internet exposing the inner workings of cabinet government to public scrutiny for the first time in the UK.

A revised Code of Practice on Public Access to Information has been adopted by the assembly reflecting the principles of the Freedom of Information Act but also improving on them in certain areas. For example:

* The assembly considers that it is in the public interest to disclose information unless it can be clearly shown that it is in the public interest not to do so ie that disclosure would cause substantial harm, breach confidentiality or any other legal provision;

* We provide information free of charge except where costs exceed£500;

* There is a dedicated helpline for members of the public to ring for advice on access to information;

* There is a target of 15 working days to respond to requests for information - the target for public bodies is 20 days under the Freedom of Information Act;

* The assembly has an information register so that people can identify information produced by the assembly in the course of its business.

* The approach to openness set out in the Code of Practice is one which assembly sponsored public bodies are also required to follow wherever possible.

Mr Morgan said: 'Major changes are coming for the whole UK through the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act and I believe Wales is already ahead of the game. I am determined that the Welsh assembly government will continue to exceed the minimum requirements of that legislation and we will press on with this agenda.

'Part of this commitment is to be as accessible as possible and this is why we will, for the first time, hold an 'open cabinet' session in North Wales in May when the whole cabinet will be there to answer questions from the public. I believe this is an innovation in the democratic life of the UK.'

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