HC Deb 21 October 1998 vol 317 cc1261-2
1. Mr. Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central)

What new guidance he has issued to (a) press officers and (b) press advisers of Ministers in departments. [54712]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Peter Kilfoyle)

The values and conventions which govern the work of press officers—both permanent civil servants and special advisers—are set out in guidance on the work of the Government Information Service, published in July 1997.

As my hon. Friend will be aware, the Government are currently considering a recommendation from the Select Committee on Public Administration for further guidance.

Mr. Cousins

I welcome the Minister for the Cabinet Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) to his new position, where he will display his style, robustness and determination. When the Prime Minister created the new Cabinet Office in July, he made it clear that the head of the Government Information Service would be part of that office, and that the Cabinet Office would be responsible for the overall presentation and corporate management of government and Government policy.

Does my right hon. Friend have the power and the authority under the new regime to ensure that there is no secondary market in information and access to information; that all aspects of government—all facts, policies and debates—will be presented in a proper fashion and that there will be no question of privateering and spin in such matters? Is the ministerial team satisfied that it now has that power?

Mr. Kilfoyle

I can assure my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office will do all within his extensive powers to effect the co-ordination of the development and the presentation of policy across government under the direction of the Prime Minister.

I can also assure my hon. Friend that the head of the Government Information Service is now based in the Cabinet Office, directly answerable to the head of the home civil service. That is part of our stated commitment to make presentation an essential ingredient in the success of the Government. At the heart of our modus operandi is a commitment to ensuring that we have a co-ordinated view on policy and that it is presented robustly, and with strong political guidance.

Sir Peter Emery (East Devon)

Will the Parliamentary Secretary have a word with his right hon. Friend the Minister—whom we congratulate on his appointment—not about press advisers, but about efforts to ensure that press statements are made in this House by the Ministers responsible? Will he ensure that they are not spun out with a lot of words, as we have just heard in the Parly Secretary reply to the previous question?

Mr. Kilfoyle

I am sorry if the right hon. Gentleman considered my answer verbose. It was not intended to be—it was intended to be a full answer to a series of questions. The statements made in the House will continue to be germane to the subject matter.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)

On behalf of the Opposition, may I also welcome the Minister for the Cabinet Office, the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), to his new position and wish him well? No doubt any sadness that he feels at leaving the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will be compensated for by the pleasure that he will get from enforcing Government policies on reluctant colleagues.

To revert to the question about the Government Information Service, which the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Cousins) asked, is it not misleading for the annual report to airbrush out all references to bad news, such as the Bernie Ecclestone affair, the difficulties over Sierra Leone and corruption in local government, to name but three? Would it not be better if the Prime Minister presented his report not in the rose garden at No. 10 before his cronies, but in the Chamber before all hon. Members?

Mr. Kilfoyle

It is a travesty of the situation for the right hon. Gentleman to say that the bad news was airbrushed out. Surely the reality is that there has been so much good news that there has been no time to communicate any bad news.

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