HC Deb 04 March 2003 vol 400 cc674-5
20. Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

If he will make a statement on the Public Administration Committee's third report, on ombudsman issues, with special reference to the role of the Cabinet Office. [100197]

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Mr. Douglas Alexander)

We will study the Committee's report and respond in the normal way.

Mr. Robathan

This report deals, first, with the Hinduja cover up and, secondly, a less known cover up, which was described by the ombudsman as the only occasion on which the Government have refused to accept the ombudsman's findings on a matter of access to Government information. We hear a great deal about freedom of information from this Government, but when it comes to reality there is no freedom of information and one cannot find anything out because they are so secretive.

The report's second recommendation is: We recommend that the Government reconsider its decision to refuse to accept the Ombudsman's findings in the case of Mr Robathan and publish the required information. Will the Government accept the findings of the Public Administration Committee, which is dominated and chaired by Labour Members?

Mr. Alexander

As I have made clear, the Government will consider the Committee's recommendations and respond formally in the usual way. In the first place, that will, of course, be to the Select Committee.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West)

I am one of the Members who "dominates" the Public Administration Committee. Will the Minister take note of the fact that the new ombudsman is appearing before us this week? We might want to ask also about press reports that the Government are resisting releasing information on gifts to Ministers, so will he perhaps enlighten us further as to Government policy on freedom of information regarding gifts to Ministers?

Mr. Alexander

The final decision on what is in the report is obviously a matter for the ombudsman, Ann Abraham. I should point out that I had a constructive meeting with the new ombudsman last week in which we discussed the evolving role of the ombudsman. There is the basis there for an extremely constructive relationship.