HC Deb 08 July 1998 vol 315 cc1062-3
10. Mr. David Amess (Southend, West)

What recent representations he has received on his Department's open government proposals. [47928]

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

I recently received the report of the Select Committee on Public Administration in response to the White Paper, "Your Right to Know". I am studying that report and its 44 detailed recommendations.

Mr. Amess

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain how he can reconcile his Department's proposals for open government with the practice of arranging meetings between Ministers and the general public to discuss policies, when the only members of the public who are invited to such meetings are those who are soppy about the Labour party? How can he reconcile his proposals on open government with the practice of leaking sensitive material before it is reported to the House? Is that not taking openness a bit too far, and is not the truth about the Government that they are open to no one other than Labour party supporters?

Dr. Clark

I simply have no idea of what the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question was about. In answer to the second part of his question, we and the Government have made it quite clear that we deplore the leaking of all Government documents. In terms of the recent assertion about the leak of a defence document, the Prime Minister has announced that there will be a leak inquiry to ascertain how that came about.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross)

I welcome the Prime Minister's announcement of a leak inquiry into the appearance of a defence document before selected journalists. The Government's proposal on open government is to ensure that, under the process of democratic discussion, everyone—and not just the chosen few—is equally informed.

Dr. Clark

The right hon. Gentleman is right to draw the House's attention to the need for freedom of information legislation that will provide the hyphen between the Government and the people. I passionately believe that more freedom of information in the genuine and true sense will obviate the occurrence of young whippersnappers leaking and bragging to the press about how they can get access to Ministers and influence Government decisions.

11. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

What steps he has taken to make his Department more open. [47929]

Dr. David Clark

Openness is intrinsic to good government. In addition to my proposals for a radical and robust freedom of information Act, which will be the flagship for openness, much more is being done. We do not need to wait for the Act to provide our citizens with more and better information, as I have shown in my quarterly reports to Parliament on the year 2000 problems. Our proposals are to open up quangos and to ensure 50:50 representation on them for men and women. The Government have been open in providing information to their citizens on the internet, and we shall continue to do that.

Ann Clwyd

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his commitment to openness in government. I know from his strong freedom of information proposals that he believes that it is essential to our democracy to have that openness. I hope that he may long continue in his present post; despite the malign briefing against him, he has done an excellent job. However, some other Government Departments are not as committed to openness as his Department. For example, too many answers start with the words, "Because of disproportionate cost," and, despite the fact that we spend £32 million a year on Chevening scholarships, Departments are not prepared to say even to whom we award those scholarships. It is essential to a Government who are committed to openness in government that we have that freedom of information legislation in the next Queen's Speech.

Dr. Clark

This Government are committed to freedom of information legislation. We had the declaration in our manifesto and we shall deliver on that manifesto commitment. We believe that, if we are going to rebuild the trust between Government and the people, we must empower people by giving them information. That is precisely what our new Bill will do; that is precisely the new Bill that this Government will introduce.