Open Government

Oral Answers to Questions — Duchy of Lancaster – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st November 1994.

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Photo of Mr John Gunnell Mr John Gunnell , Leeds South and Morley 12:00 am, 21st November 1994

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what steps he has taken to review the level of secrecy in government since taking responsibility for openness in government.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes:

I am continuing to implement the policy set down in the White Paper on open government.

Photo of Mr John Gunnell Mr John Gunnell , Leeds South and Morley

In that case, would the Minister explain to me why he has not been willing to place the permanent secretaries' handbook even in the Members' Library, which means that those documents are kept secret from hon. Members? Surely that cannot be open government.

Mr. Hughes:

This is a familiar question from the hon. Gentleman. As he well knows, the handbook referred to is a compendium of guidance and other documents which are mostly in the public domain. Some material, such as that on security and vetting procedures, is justifiably confidential. I would have thought that most hon. Members would have agreed with that.

Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor , Southend East

Will the Minister disregard completely the issue of the level of secrecy and concentrate on the promotion of accuracy, following the scandalous attack on one of my hon. Friends last Wednesday? He was accused of exaggerating wildly when he quoted net contributions to the European Community which were published in the Chancellor's Red Book.

Mr. Hughes:

I rather suspect that that is a matter for the Press Complaints Commission.

Photo of Bill Olner Bill Olner , Nuneaton

When the Minister looks at levels of secrecy within Government, will he also look at the levels of secrecy in quangos which, throughout the country, conduct their business in private without any remit from anyone?

Mr. Hughes:

As all hon. Members know, that is being looked at precisely at the moment.

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will make a statement on progress towards open government.

Photo of Mr David Hunt Mr David Hunt , Wirral West

I believe that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has done more to open up the processes of government than any previous Prime Minister.

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

I thank my right hon. Friend for that most true reply. Will he use the processes of open government to tell the European Commission that the British acorn is as good as the German or any other acorn? If there is any doubt about that in Brussels, let the Commissioners come to see the ceiling of Westminster Hall which is made of British oak and which has been in place for almost 700 years.

Photo of Mr David Hunt Mr David Hunt , Wirral West

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for promoting the British acorn. I promote it with enthusiasm myself, having taken the opportunity on many occasions to take my constituents around Westminster Hall and to point out the original hammerbeam roof, which is very much the pride of the Palace of Westminster.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Does the Chancellor agree that John Maples, a deputy chairman of the Tory party, has made a contribution to open government in his recent statement to Tory Members and others that it would be a good idea not to mention the national health service because the Tory party has given up on it? What is all this about setting yobbos on my leader? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that that is the new Tory party tactic? Have the Tories stooped so low?

Photo of Mr David Hunt Mr David Hunt , Wirral West

I am gravely tempted to ask the hon. Gentleman whether he would write a handbook for yobbos because I believe that the code of practice that he would lay out—

Photo of Mr David Hunt Mr David Hunt , Wirral West

Indeed, a charter for yobbos. The code of practice that the hon. Gentleman would set out would make very interesting reading indeed. Of course I do not comment on leaked or stolen documents. The hon. Gentleman should know that. He ought to scrutinise the recent survey of social attitudes, which was published last week and which demonstrated that, for the first time, the majority of people in Britain applaud the Government's national health service reforms.