Freedom of Information

Oral Answers to Questions — Duchy of Lancaster – in the House of Commons at 1:45 pm on 30th July 1997.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North 1:45 pm, 30th July 1997

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what plans he has to introduce freedom of information legislation. [9713]

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

Does my right hon. Friend agree that many people will welcome the prospect of genuine freedom of information legislation? Will he ensure that that legislation covers all aspects of the work of the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Trade and Industry so that it will be possible to find out the true cost of the Trident nuclear missile system and the true amount of the subsidy provided for the arms industry and arms exports? Past Governments have consistently refused to reveal the real cost of the arms industry to our economy.

Photo of Dr David Clark Dr David Clark Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

It is important for us to consult as widely as possible on freedom of information legislation, but I warn my hon. Friend that there will have to be exemptions—as there are in every freedom of information Act anywhere in the world. There are issues affecting the security of our nation, and others, on which we cannot provide information freely and fully.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan Labour, Falkirk West

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will make a statement on his White Paper on freedom of information. [9715]

Photo of Dr David Clark Dr David Clark Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

As the House will know, I had originally hoped to be able to publish a freedom of information White Paper before the summer recess, but I am afraid that that simply has not proved possible.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan Labour, Falkirk West

May we have an assurance that the White Paper will end, once and for all, the scandal whereby MI5, MI6 and certain Departments—particularly the Ministry of Defence—have for years been allowed to behave like secret societies, to such an extent that people in this country have had to resort to United States freedom of information legislation to find out what is happening here?

Photo of Dr David Clark Dr David Clark Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

I think that the new freedom of information legislation will change the culture of politics in Whitehall. It will introduce the presumption that information will be available to individuals unless there are good reasons for it not to be. We will, of course, study examples in the United States and other countries along with Westminster models to get the balance right, so that the individual can have as much freedom as possible without harming our country's interests.

Photo of Keith Simpson Keith Simpson Conservative, Mid Norfolk

Will the Minister stiffen up that rather mealy-mouthed answer? Some Opposition Members—and, I hope, some Labour Members—actually believe that certain areas of national security should remain secret and should not be wide open to people who might undermine our society. Before some hon. Members turn that into a joke, let me remind the House that we are fighting terrorism in one part of the United Kingdom. That is not a joke.

Photo of Dr David Clark Dr David Clark Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

The hon. Gentleman ought to have listened a little more attentively. I made it clear that nothing would be revealed if it affected the security of our nation.

Photo of Mr Derek Foster Mr Derek Foster Chair, Employment Sub-committee

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in the wake of the Scott report, which revealed a disturbing culture of secrecy and endemic dissembling as being endemic in our system of government, freedom of information legislation became an integral part of the Prime Minister's agenda of restoring trust with the British people? If that is true, will my right hon. Friend, with the Prime Minister's full authority, root out any resistance to freedom of information legislation wherever it lies in the Government?

Photo of Dr David Clark Dr David Clark Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

I will certainly do that. I passionately believe in the legislation: it will do a great deal to restore trust between the citizens of Britain and us the Government.