HC Deb 10 June 1998 vol 313 cc1067-8
10. Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

When he next intends to visit the Macclesfield constituency to discuss his responsibilities for freedom of information in government. [43504]

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

Sadly, I have no plans to visit the fair constituency of Macclesfield but, if I were there, I should take great pleasure in highlighting the Government's proud record on their plans for freedom of information.

Mr. Winterton

I am eternally grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that courteous response, but if he visited Macclesfield, I am sure that he would not be surprised to learn that my constituents wonder whether his responsibilities extend to other Government Ministers, such as Baroness Symons, who failed to declare that she had been fully briefed by Customs and Excise on the activities of Sandline before she made her statement in the other place.

Dr. Clark

I am certain that the hon. Gentleman is right, and that that is all that people talk about in the constituency of Macclesfield. We already have an independent inquiry into the issue, and we have an effective Select Committee. I am happy and satisfied that those two bodies will get to the truth of the matter.

11. Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

When he expects to finalise his proposals relating to freedom of information; and if he will make a statement. [43505]

Dr. David Clark

We are making good progress in turning the policy proposals set out in our radical White Paper on the freedom of information into draft legislation. I greatly welcome the support of the Select Committee on Public Administration in its recent substantial report on our proposals. My colleagues and I are now considering carefully the Committee's detailed recommendations. When we have done so, we shall publish a draft bill, again for consultation with the general public and the Select Committee.

Mr. Canavan

Would not freedom of information be enhanced by ensuring that all Ministers and their permanent under-secretaries told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth to Parliament and to parliamentary Select Committees without having to be warned that, if they did not, they will be in contempt of Parliament?

Dr. Clark


Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

Do the Chancellor's freedom of information proposals require him to tell the House what witnesses will be called before the Legg inquiry?

Dr. Clark

No, they do not.

12. Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South)

If he will make a statement on his proposals for freedom of information legislation. [43506]

Dr. David Clark

My proposals for a radical freedom of information Act set out in the White Paper "Your Right to Know" have been widely welcomed both in public consultation and, more recently, in a report by the Select Committee on Public Administration. I am considering those views and will publish a draft Bill as soon as possible to take forward the whole process.

Mr. Chapman

I join the Select Committee in welcoming the proposals for the freedom of information Act. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the radicalism encompassed therein will be carried through when a Bill is brought forward?

Dr. Clark

The Government have a manifesto commitment to bring forward a freedom of information Act, and we shall do that. The White Paper set out our commitment to the basic tenets contained in that document, which remain the same today as when they were published last December. We are currently engaged in translating them into draft legislation so that the Select Committee may examine the Bill word by word and line by line in the pre-legislative stage. That will ensure that, when we bring forward this very complicated legislation, it will not only serve its purpose but be in line legalistically.