HC Deb 02 July 1997 vol 297 cc280-1
3. Mr. Miller

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what measures his Department is taking to improve openness in government. [4929]

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Dr. David Clark)

I hope to publish a White Paper on freedom of information before the summer recess.

Mr. Miller

I am grateful, as I am sure that the entire House will be, for that answer. Will the Bill ensure that quangos are more open and accountable?

Dr. Clark

My hon. Friend has a long record of trying to promote openness in government. I well recall his successful efforts to ensure that Hansard went on the Internet. He has my assurance that we are determined to make quangos more accountable and open. That will certainly be covered by the Bill. In the meantime, my colleagues and I are keen to encourage the appropriate bodies to take heed of that and to consider ways of making their activities more open to the general public.

Mr. Forth

Will the right hon. Gentleman extend his support for openness in government to openness with the House? Does he expect to set a personal example in that regard?

Dr. Clark


Mr. Mackinlay

In his review of open government, will my right hon. Friend contemplate considerably reducing the embargo on public records from 30 years? We should like to scrutinise the records to find out whether, during their negotiations in 1982, the Conservative Government contemplated handing over the Falkland Islands this year. Some openness on the stewardship of government by the Tories in the past 18 years would be most welcome.

Dr. Clark

We shall certainly look at the possibility of opening up more of the Public Record Office and reducing the 30-year rule. Those matters will be covered in the White Paper.

Mr. Maclennan

I welcome the information that the Chancellor of the Duchy provided at the beginning of his answer. Does he favour greater openness in respect of the budgetary process so as to open up for responsible fiscal debate the options that the Government are considering? While recognising that certain price-sensitive information cannot be published, does he agree that much of the rigmarole that we have today is fuddy duddy, archaic and unhelpful?

Dr. Clark

It is my intention that when we introduce a freedom of information Bill we should exclude as little as possible. The issue of advice proffered to Ministers must be weighed up, but I intend to ensure that factual and analytical information is made available as widely and openly as possible.

Mr. Sutcliffe

My right hon. Friend will know that under the previous Government a fifth of all public spending was in the hands of 70,000 quangocrats. Will he make sure that his review examines the position of the Tory place men and women?

Dr. Clark

We are currently looking at the position of quangos and I hope to deal with that issue when we produce our White Paper on better government later this year.

Mr. William Ross

As so much of Northern Ireland is controlled by quangos, the right hon. Gentleman will understand that we have a particular interest in openness in government. Given also the statement yesterday by Mr. Ray Burke, the Foreign Minister of the Irish Republic, that if a parade were forced down the Garvaghy road, there would be serious implications for matters in this island", will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to publish all the minutes of meetings of the intergovernmental conference and the secretariat?

Dr. Clark

I think that we are straying somewhat off the point of the question. We want to try to achieve as much consensus and openness as possible. If the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues would like to discuss their views on the issues of freedom of information, we shall happily listen to them.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard

In the interests of open government, would the right hon. Gentleman be kind enough to describe to the House the nature of the inquiry into the allegations by the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) announced by the Prime Minister last Wednesday? By whom was the inquiry conducted? Who was interviewed and by whom?

Dr. Clark

I very much welcome the right hon. Lady to the Dispatch Box in her new capacity. I hope that her tenure there will be long and happy. Her question is not within my responsibility and she must pursue it through the appropriate channels.

Forward to