HL Deb 19 January 2004 vol 657 cc37-8WS
The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos)

The full report of the independent review of government communications, chaired by Bob Phillis, has been published today. The Minister for the Cabinet Office is grateful to the review for its work and consideration of these issues.

The report builds on the review team's interim report published in the summer. The Government accepted the interim report's recommendations. Central to the process is the appointment of a new Permanent Secretary, Government Communications, which the Cabinet Office is currently in the process of recruiting.

Departments have the responsibility to devise and implement communications operations and strategies appropriate to their needs. Bearing this in mind, the new Permanent Secretary will take forward, in consultation with departments, recommendations relating to a redefinition of the overall role of government communications, the structures necessary to deliver this activity and the improved training and development of all communications specialists.

The Permanent Secretary will also consider whether the existing rules and guidance are fit for purpose and whether any additional clarification is required. We note the committee's conclusion on ministerial involvement in the selection processes for communications professionals, which will be taken forward in discussions already under way with the Civil Service Commissioners.

The Government also agree that they must communicate with the public in the widest possible way, including greater use of regional briefings and electronic communications. We will look at how departments' websites could be better co-ordinated and structured to encourage greater public participation in the development and communication of government policies.

The Government remain committed to the principle, reflected in the Ministerial Code, that when the House is sitting announcements of Government policy should, in the first instance, be made in Parliament. We agree that more Ministers should host lobby briefings and that these should be open and televised. The Government will now enter into discussions with the relevant public authorities, including Parliament and the parliamentary Lobby, on how best to pursue these proposals.

The Government also note the review's recommendations on the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act. A great deal of work is going on to ensure that departments are fully prepared for the legislation that comes into force on 1 January 2005 and the Government are fully committed to ensuring full and effective implementation of the Act across the whole of the public sector. The review's recommendations will be taken into account as part of this implementation process.

On the use of statistics, the Government welcome the review's acknowledgement that some important steps have been taken to reinforce the independence of the statistical service. The Government note the review's recommendations on access to pre-release national statistics. Under the national statistics code of practice and its associated protocol on release practices, issued in September 2002, there are already long-established and effective procedures in place to restrict early access to certain data to a small number of Ministers and officials, so that they are able to provide an authoritative response when questions arise at the time of release. There are no plans to change this.