HC Deb 04 June 1997 vol 295 cc380-1
6. Mr. Hanson

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when he expects to issue the White Paper on freedom of information. [524]

Dr. David Clark

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

Mr. Hanson

I thank my right hon. Friend for achieving a Labour party manifesto objective so early in this Parliament, in producing the White Paper. Will he ensure that there is full consultation of all interested parties on this document, but ultimately that it leads to more open, more effective and more accountable government in the form of legislation at an early date?

Dr. Clark

The freedom of information Act will change profoundly the whole governance of Britain. It is important that we get it right because it will be a landmark Bill. There will be the fullest consultation possible at every level, not only on the White Paper, but on the draft Bill which we hope to publish early in the new year.

Mr. Fabricant

If the Labour party is indeed the party of open government, why is the Minister not sticking to his manifesto commitment to publish the Bill this Session?

Dr. Clark

It is very important that we get the Bill right, because, I repeat, it will change profoundly the whole of the political culture of this country. If we are to get it right, if we are to have an all-singing, all-dancing Bill, it is right and proper that we have the fullest possible consultation from all parts and from all opinions in the country. By following that process, I believe that we will get a very wise and sensible Act of Parliament.

Mr. Derek Foster

I welcome my right hon. Friend to his post and welcome very much his robust statement about freedom of information. Does he agree that the Scott report revealed not just a few Ministers behaving badly but a culture of secrecy and dissembling endemic in the system, and that freedom of information legislation is absolutely essential to deal with that? Will he undertake to bring that forward in the next Queen's Speech?

Dr. Clark

I thank my right hon. Friend for his kind remarks and for the benefit of his considerable knowledge of this subject. We have a clear manifesto commitment to openness and transparency on arms exports and that will be reflected in our freedom of information Act.

Mr. Burstow

Given the Government's commitment to comprehensive rights for disabled people, in drafting the White Paper will the Government give due regard to the needs of disabled people in terms of access to information?

Dr. Clark

Yes, I can give that commitment. One reason we wanted a decent period of consultation was so that we could hear the views of the widest cross-section of people.