Briefing Policy

Oral Answers to Questions — Wales – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23rd May 1988.

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Photo of Mr Brynmor John Mr Brynmor John , Pontypridd 12:00 am, 23rd May 1988

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what is his policy on briefing of outside organisations by officials of his Department.

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

The response to requests for outside briefing depends upon the nature of the briefing required. The main objective is to provided factual background and to preserve the neutrality of the Civil Service.

Photo of Mr Brynmor John Mr Brynmor John , Pontypridd

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the report—which no doubt is accurate—in the Western Mail of 28 April, in which Mr. John Davies, the under-secretary at the Welsh Office, is purported to have told a farming conference, regarding sheep quotas, "I for one will fight the proposal tooth and nail."? Is that not a gross violation of the political neutrality about which the Minister has spoken and without which the Civil Service cannot properly function? Will he therefore ensure that Mr. Davies understands that he is being undesirably partisan and, if the Government make as abrupt an about face on sheep as they did on milk quotas, undesirably foolish as well?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

I shall certainly look at the quotation mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. The intention of Mr. Davies was to give factual briefing. If he made a remark of that nature, obviously I shall have words with him.

Mr. Alan Williams:

Will the Secretary of State confirm that in his latest bout of petulance, unlike other Ministers and shadows, he has instructed his private office to give no replies to any questions from me, except in answer to parliamentary questions or to letters? In view of that, will he given an assurance that in future he will answer the parliamentary questions that are asked, not those that he wished had been asked, and that he will answer them on time, instead of giving holding answers, which happens all too often, even when the eventual substantive belated reply is the single word "No"?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

In the many years in which I have had the privilege of having numerous shadows, including the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and others, I have not previously had the experience of the shadow's researchers telephoning staff in my private office and using quotes from civil servants in future political remarks. As a result, I have said that I would prefer to see the replies to the right hon. Gentleman. That will continue. I shall decide on the replies to parliamentary questions. I realise that quite often the replies are not liked by the right hon. Gentleman.