HC Deb 26 January 1981 vol 997 cc637-8
31. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Paymaster General what steps he intends to take to improve the quality of official information sources of Her Majesty's Government.

Mr. Pym

I am not aware of any inadequacy in the quality of official information, but if the hon. Gentleman has any particular points I shall be glad to look into them.

Mr. Hamilton

Has it ever occurred to the right hon. Gentleman that it might be the product that is wrong, rather than the way in which he tries to sell it? For example, when we are informed tomorrow that the unemployment figures are more than 2½ million, does he intend to repeat the advice that the Prime Minister gave some time ago—that we should continue taking this medicine, even though it might result in 4 million unemployed by the end of 1982?

Mr. Pym

It would be a mistake to anticipate tomorrow's figures, but the hon. Gentleman has a point. The product as well as the presentation is important. He obviously has no particular point to raise, so I leave the matter there.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

In the knowledge that the quality of official information sources could be improved if there were a Freedom of Information Act, which both parties have promised and which both have done their damndest to smash, will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the Government will not take any action on Friday week to prevent the progress of the Freedom of Information Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley)?

Mr. Pym

What happens on Friday week is a matter for hon. Members. On the Friday before last, we were in the general territory of papers and information being produced for Select Committees. I made the point in my speech during that debate that as well as wanting to make as much information as possible available—the Government have a good record—we must always remember that the basis upon which Ministers operate requires an adequate degree of privacy between Departments and Ministers.

Mr. John Silkin

While the Paymaster General is busy trying to improve the quality of official information sources, will he do something about the quality of unofficial information sources, particularly with regard to the Prime Minister and her views on income tax?

Mr. Pym

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman's conscience is clear. He has been a Minister for quite a long time, and I dare say that there may have been occasions when he may have come close to doing what he is alleging my right hon. Friend did. However, I think we understand how the system works.