HC Deb 22 May 1973 vol 857 cc219-20
Q3. Mr. Arthur Davidson

asked the Prime Minister if he is satisfied with the co-ordination between various Government Departments for the ensuring of open government.

Mr. Barber

I have been asked to reply.

Yes. Sir. It is the Government's policy to provide as much information as possible in the form of Green Papers and in other ways so that public discussion can influence major Government decisions. All Departments play their part in this.

Mr. Davidson

That is a much longer answer than the Prime Minister normally gives. Nevertheless, in order to ensure that the sleazy and squalid events surrounding American Government cannot happen here, does not the right hon. Gentleman feel that the time has come for a long-overdue radical reform of all measures, such as the Official Secrets Act, which can make Governments feel that they can operate as a charmed closed circle, which itself can lead to an ultimate abuse of power? Will not the Chancellor follow that by saying that we shall have a debate on the Franks Report?

Mr. Barber

In view of what the hon. Gentleman has said, I shall not make that last point. Open government means giving the public all relevant information in time to allow them, where possible and appropriate, to have public discussion in order to influence major Government decisions. Indeed, if I may refer to my experience as Chancellor, since I have been at the Treasury we have issued Green Papers on corporation tax, value added tax, the tax credit scheme and the taxation of capital on death. But what open government does not mean is allowing incomplete information or information in a partial state of preparation to leak out from Government Departments.

Mr. Wilkinson

In view of that undertaking, will my right hon. Friend ensure that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry issues a directive to the Civil Aviation Authority calling for a national survey on airports policy—not a survey for the South-East and not a separate survey from the Tees to the South Midlands—in view of the grave disquiet, in terms of the environment, of national expenditure and of regional development, involved in these decisions?

Mr. Barber

Answering on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, I think that my safest course is to refer that point to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Thorpe

In view of the admirable precepts contained in the Question and the Chancellor's reply, will he accept that open government is not synonymous with vacuous government? Will he look at what happened yesterday afternoon and ask the Prime Minister whether he does not think that there is a case for having the Leader of the House on the carpet and giving him a good wigging? An admirable debate was started by the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) on industrial injuries. A Minister then rose, without listening to any of the argument which had been put forward, and announced that the Government would be introducing a Bill, the contents of which were not divulged and the date of introduction of which was not disclosed. We were then expected to have a Second Reading debate on that Bill, which certainly is not a good way of having open government.

Mr. Barber

I was unable to be present myself after making a statement on public expenditure, but from what I heard I thought that the debate had gone rather well.