I am tempted to say that the very short answer is yes.
I received the report shortly before Christmas. The report was a little bit late in arriving, but I looked over it. It is not just a question of publishing but a question of seeking the public's views on it, so my intention had been to find a date in January to do that. I understand from discussions that the protocol is such that you should not really be publishing during an election campaign, and I think that there is good sense in that. In part, that is because that is what the advice is on protocols for all consultation, but also this is a very serious report. It needs to be given a proper viewing. My original intention, then, was to give instructions to publish just after the election campaign to avoid that. I was then told that I cannot do it directly after that, but I have managed to find a way that will mean that I have signed off today on publication of that report on 2 March at 9.45 pm. Therefore, no one can accuse me of making a political football out of this by way of it impacting on the election. It goes to the limits of when I have the legal power to do that, and, as this is a serious report, I want to make sure that it is published and that the views of the public on this are sought. That is a route by which we can ensure that all is being done to make sure that this is fully examined by the public.
Thank you, Minister. I was sort of following what your logic was on that, but I fail to see why you cannot launch it now. Are you not afraid that, like in many other elections where important issues have come up, this will get lost at the far side and it will take many months for it to be picked up again?
There are two things in relation to that. First, I think that the danger is that, rather than it being treated on its own merits and looked at seriously, it either, on the one hand, simply becomes part of the noise of the election or, on the other hand, because no one knows precisely what the various issues will be during the election and because they will be fairly wide-ranging, it effectively almost gets put into a background situation. From that point of view, there is protocol that is suggestive of what can be done during an election period by any Minister. It lies within the Department. Part of that advice and guidance is that major consultations should not take place during an election, in part because of the danger that, whatever the consultation, people would, in some shape or form, regard it being party political and it could influence the election. I am following the protocol, but I am committed to ensuring that this published.
As I said, I have found a way within my power to guarantee that it is published, that it gets a fair examination by the public and that, as part of seeking those public views, space can be provided. Had it not been for the election, we would have moved ahead at a quicker pace, but I have to follow the protocol during the purdah period. This is a way of squaring the circle and ensuring that this very important document is put in the public domain.