HC Deb 19 November 1997 vol 301 c315
7. Mr. Mullin

What action he plans to take to increase openness in government; and if he will make a statement. [15097]

Dr. David Clark

The White Papers on freedom of information and better government which I am preparing will both increase openness in government.

I believe that in a modern society, open government is good government. Our proposals will change radically the culture of government in Britain and the way in which public information is handled.

Mr. Mullin

I am grateful for that reply, but who will decide what is to remain secret and what will not remain secret? Will it be the same civil servants who, as we saw during the Scott inquiry, are rather unenthusiastic about the concept of open government, or will there be an independent element in the appeals process?

Dr. Clark

It is important that any legislation on freedom of information includes a strong, fair and easy-to-use appeals system, and does not leave the individual helpless in his or her attempt to get information. There are various ways in which that can be achieved, but the Government are studying the model of an independent information commissioner.

Mr. Gill

The Government make much play about open government. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether he considers that holding a referendum before publishing the Bill to which the referendum refers is no more than a crude opinion poll, not a referendum?

Dr. Clark

We had referendums in Scotland and Wales before powers were devolved, and we have made it clear that we will use the same instrument before we introduce regional government into England.

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