HC Deb 28 January 1981 vol 997 cc924-5
55. Mr. Christopher Price

asked the Minister for the Civil Service when he intends to update the Croham directive on openness in Government.

Mr. Hayhoe

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) on 16 January.

Mr. Price

That is rather inconvenient as I do not have the text of that question in front of me. When the hon. Gentleman takes responsibility in Committee for the Freedom of Information Bill, which is coming up, what attitude will he take to a properly established code of conduct governing the release of documents, to which his Conservative colleagues committed themselves while in Opposition?

Mr. Hayhoe

My predecessor made clear to the hon. Gentleman on 20 June 1979 that a code of practice was not appropriate. I am not quite sure to which Committee the hon. Gentleman is referring. In my experience in the House, which extends back only 10 years or so, it has always been the custom that Bills should obtain a Second Reading before they are considered in Committee. Hurdles have to be jumped one at a time.

Mr. Stokes

Is my hon. Friend, whom I congratulate on his appointment, aware that a lot of nonsense is talked about openness in Government? Quite apart from the essential secrecy in Cabinet, surely advice from civil servants to Ministers, many defence matters and all foreign diplomacy must be handled in secrecy.

Mr. Hayhoe

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. However, putting that in the balance, it was also necessary—my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister stressed this in her directive to Ministers—that Ministers should give close personal attention to ensuring that as much information as possible is made available, especially to the House. The Government's record on making information available to Select Committees is better than that of any other Government this century.

Mr. Straw

As the Government are so committed to the Croham directive and to openness of Government, will the Minister confirm that the Scott report on index-linked pensions in the public sector will be published in full and without delay, notwithstanding that leaks from the Government suggest that it is highly embarrassing to the Prime Minister's prejudices?

Mr. Hayhoe

I understand that it has been made clear that the report will be published soon. As far as I am aware, it will be published without any change being made in it.

Mr. Budgen

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a vital distinction between information on matters of fact and information about the opinions of various people?

Mr. Hayhoe

As so often happens, my hon. Friend has elaborated an important distinction. It would be wrong if the confidential advice made available to Ministers were to get into the public domain. That would upset an important relationship to which all previous Governments have rightly attached considerable secrecy.

Mr. Alan Williams

Would not more open Government be helpful to the Prime Minister? Would it not enable her to avoid the embarrassment of having to sack fellow Ministers for the sin of leaking information when she is the worst culprit in the Government? Will the hon. Gentleman explain why the Government have refused to publish the findings of the Pay Research Unit and why we are still waiting for the Scott report on pensions, although it was promised to the House before Christmas by the Prime Minister? Is that because, as rumoured, both items fail to confirm the preconceived conclusions that are sought by the Prime Minister?

Mr. Hayhoe

My right hon. and noble Friend the Lord President made it clear to the Civil Service unions towards the end of last year that pay research could not play any part in the determination of Civil Service pay increases in 1981. It is not the case, contrary to the hon. Gentleman's suggestion, that the reports of the unit are available to the Government but not to the unions. They are available neither to the Government nor to the unions. They are being retained by the Pay Research Unit. As I indicated, the publication of the Scott report will take place as soon as possible. The part of the right hon. Gentleman's supplementary question that referred to leaks has nothing to do with me. The Government have a good record—

Mr. William Hamilton

Of leaking.

Mr. Hayhoe

—on openness and the presentation of information to Select Committees.

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