Better Government Programme

Oral Answers to Questions — Duchy of Lancaster – in the House of Commons at 1:40 pm on 4 February 1998.

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Photo of Ben Chapman Ben Chapman Labour, Wirral South 1:40, 4 February 1998

Which Government Departments are involved in his better government programme. [25360]

Photo of Peter Kilfoyle Peter Kilfoyle Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

All parts of Government are actively involved in the preparations for the better government White Paper. This includes local as well as central Government.

Photo of Ben Chapman Ben Chapman Labour, Wirral South

I thank my hon. Friend for that response. I warmly welcome the better government initiative, which will allow us to implement that part of our manifesto to rebuild people's hopes for politics. In that context, the use of information technology will be important. It will allow us to deliver services more efficiently and more quickly. What are my hon. Friend's plans for the use of new technology in the better government initiative?

Photo of Peter Kilfoyle Peter Kilfoyle Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

We have many plans to use information technology—although it is not the only answer. It is only one weapon in an armoury that is designed to deliver better services. The armoury includes an electronic dimension to the vanguard project, which combines the Contributions Agency, Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise. We also have the direct access government project, which has already put more than 600 forms and pieces of Government information on to the internet. The central information technology unit ranges across Government, finding appropriate ways in which to use information technology. My right hon. Friend has already instigated work on the use of smartcards and electronic signatures to that end.

Photo of David Ruffley David Ruffley Conservative, Bury St Edmunds

In the context of improving his Department's performance, will the Minister tell us whether those inquiring into the disgraceful leaking of the freedom of information legislation have personally interviewed the Minister without Portfolio and/or his associates? A simple yes or no answer will suffice.

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion Labour, Dundee East

As part of the better government programme, do the Government intend to do something about the concentration of civil service departments and quangos in relatively few population centres? For example, Edinburgh and Glasgow have twice as many civil service and quango jobs per head of population as Dundee—and God knows how the figures for London compare with those for Dundee. What are the Government's plans for a people's civil service which is dispersed across the entire country, and therefore in touch with what those of us who live outside the greater metropolitan areas think?

Photo of Peter Kilfoyle Peter Kilfoyle Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

As my hon. Friend knows, individual civil servants are chosen on the basis of merit. Some areas of the civil service will obviously be responsible to the future Scottish Parliament. The better government project aims to ensure that we deliver better services to the people by whatever means. That is the yardstick against which we shall measure where it is appropriate to locate individual civil servants or Departments.