HC Deb 01 April 1998 vol 309 cc1243-4
5. Dr. Starkey

What provision he has made for people with disabilities to contribute to the consultation process on the freedom of information White Paper. [35805]

Dr. David Clark

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me an opportunity to answer this question. Freedom of information is a right that should be enjoyed by all our citizens. The White Paper "Your Right to Know" is available in Braille and large print formats. We have also produced a freedom of information summary leaflet, which is also available in Braille and large-print formats and on audio cassette.

Dr. Starkey

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. I know, from speaking to disability organisations in my constituency in Milton Keynes, that they very much appreciate the ability to participate fully as citizens in consultation procedures such as this. What responses has my right hon. Friend received from disability organisations and what provision is he making to provide information in accessible formats?

Dr. Clark

I have received formal responses from the Royal National Institute for the Blind and from the Greater London Association for Disabled People. Their views are very welcome and will be fully taken into account as we develop our proposals. Under our proposals, wherever possible, applicants for information will be able to specify the form in which they would like the requested information or record to be supplied. Of course, that provision will extend to people with disabilities.

Mr. Fabricant

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the situation that existed a few years ago when journalists were finding themselves gagged, unable to report on issues that were in the public interest, such as the dreadful affair of Robert Maxwell? Will the right hon. Gentleman consider including in a freedom of information Bill a freedom to allow journalists to investigate those things which are in the public interest rather than just matters of public salacious curiosity?

Dr. Clark

Having heard the earlier complaints from the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends, I thought that that was exactly what the press were doing.

Mr. Robert McCartney

Is the Minister aware that the entire population of Northern Ireland suffers from the disability of being excluded from membership of the British Labour party? Is he aware of Government policy in a recent document whereby the Government will suppress information about opinion polls that might influence Government policy? Is he aware of a policy to suborn leading public figures to support Government policy without their knowledge? If he is, what steps will he take to allow the people of Northern Ireland to have full freedom of information about Government policy?

Dr. Clark

I am certainly not aware of that point. It seems a far cry from the question, which is about disability, but if the hon. and learned Gentleman writes to me, I will look into it.