HC Deb 17 March 1999 vol 327 cc1109-10
5. Mr. Paul Clark (Gillingham)

What mechanisms are available for consulting the public about specific Government initiatives. [75360]

6. Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West)

If he will make a statement on the ways in which the Government consult the public about new initiatives. [75361]

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

The Government use many mechanisms, including written consultation exercises, citizens panels and qualitative research, to consult the public about specific initiatives.

Mr. Clark

I thank my hon. Friend for that response. I have always believed that good government requires good listening skills. My constituents appreciate the opportunities to discuss and be consulted on Government initiatives. Will my hon. Friend take the opportunity to explain what the Government will do with the results of the consultation exercise and how that feeds into policy deliberations? Does he agree that the fact that the Government listen explains why they are popular and why the Tories are in opposition?

Mr. Kilfoyle

On the second part of my hon. Friend's question, he is self-evidently speaking good sense. As for the first part, we shall place the results of the research in the public domain—unlike the practice of the previous Government. The aim of gathering the information is to inform debate objectively so that we have evidence-based policy making.

Dr. Starkey

I thank my hon. Friend for outlining the methods that he is using to consult the public. Will he consider the model of consensus conferences, which have been used in Denmark and the Netherlands to consult the public on the ethical and social aspects of science policy? Is he aware that consensus conferences have been run in this country—in 1994, on plant biotechnology—and produced some sensible recommendations, which, unfortunately, were not taken up by the previous Government?

Mr. Kilfoyle

Given the overwhelming consensus behind the Government's initiatives, I can do no more than agree with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

By this time last year, the Government had set up 179 review bodies—after only nine months of government. After 18 months of government, the figure had grown to 224. When will the Government turn this year into the year of delivery, as they promised at the beginning of January?

Mr. Kilfoyle

The £19 billion on education, the £21 billion on the health service and the other measures revealed by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in his Budget statement answer the hon. Gentleman's question effectively.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

How many millions of pounds are the Government spending on focus groups and people's panels? Does the Minister agree that the people would far prefer to see that money being spent on services for the people, rather than on eliciting information to try to help the Government win the next election?

Mr. Kilfoyle

It is a mere drop in the ocean, given the £330 billion that the Government spend overall. It is well worth spending that money. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] "Refer to previous parliamentary answers" is my advice to Conservative Members. Informed policy making will be in marked contradistinction to what happened during 18 years of misrule by the Conservative party.