HC Deb 21 April 1999 vol 329 c889
1. Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase)

What plans he has to review the operation of the parliamentary ombudsman system. [80292]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Dr. Jack Cunningham)

I announced to the House on 30 March that the Government were about to undertake a review of the organisation of public sector ombudsmen in England. The review, which will cover the parliamentary ombudsman system, has now commenced and is being conducted by a team in the Cabinet Office.

Dr. Wright

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that, when the ombudsman system was set up 30 years ago by a Labour Government to protect the citizen against abuses by the state, it was a major innovation, opposed by the Conservative Opposition of the day? Is it not time to review and modernise the system? Citizens should not have to go through Members of Parliament to gain access to the ombudsman system. That is not the case with the local government ombudsman or the health service ombudsman. All public bodies should be inside the scheme.

Dr. Cunningham

I agree with my hon. Friend. I recently announced the extension of the scheme to include a large number of additional public bodies. The review will be wide ranging. I am sure that the observations of my hon. Friend and others will be taken into account.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

Can the parliamentary ombudsman also investigate complaints from Members of Parliament? Many hon. Members on both sides are concerned about the fact that, although the Cabinet Office promised us a Freedom of Information Bill, we have heard nothing about it. Will the ombudsman be allowed to investigate that?

Dr. Cunningham

I did not realise that the hon. Gentleman had suddenly been overcome by political deafness. If he has not heard about the draft Freedom of Information Bill and its progress, he must be the only Member of Parliament who has not.