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Civil Service (Ethnic Monitoring)

8. Mr. Vaz: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what steps he is taking to ensure ethnic monitoring in the civil service. [526]

Mr. Kilfoyle: All Departments and agencies are required to monitor the ethnic origin of their staff and applicants. My Department publishes an overview in the civil service data summary.

Monitoring data are used to identify where barriers exist and action is required. Information on resultant initiatives is published in the equal opportunities progress report.

Mr. Vaz: I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend on his appointment. He will know from the statistics that have been published by his Department during the past few weeks that there are no black and Asian people in senior positions in the civil service, and we are talking about hundreds of such posts. What does my hon. Friend intend to do to tackle that apparent cultural discrimination in the recruitment and selection procedure of the British civil service?

Mr. Kilfoyle: We are monitoring the civil service equal opportunities policy. Indeed, there is a requirement to monitor it. I have to make a comparison with the working population at large. Ethnic minority representation in the civil service, at 5.5 per cent., compares very favourably with that in the economically active population in Great Britain as a whole, which stands at 4.9 per cent.

Citizens Charter

10. Mr. Gunnell: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when he expects to reply to the third report of the Public Service Committee on the citizens charter (HC 78 of Session 1996-97). [528]

Mr. Kilfoyle: As I told my hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Mr. Bayley), we will relaunch the charter programme. We will respond to the Committee at a time agreed with the new Chairman, after he or she has been appointed.

Mr. Gunnell: The Select Committee called for genuine dialogue between providers and users of public services in order to carry forward the charter process. May I be assured that my hon. Friend will include dialogue between providers and users for each charter that is developed

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further? Will he ensure that such dialogue will inform the award of charter marks so that they bear some relation to the experience of users of services?

Mr. Kilfoyle: I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that we will consult widely and properly with all interested stakeholders, including the users of services and those who offer advice, such as the National Consumer Council and citizens advice bureaux.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin: In the interests of accountability to the citizen, will the hon. Gentleman conduct a review of the number of policy reviews that are being undertaken by the Government? He will, I think, find that endless policy reviews are a recipe for governmental paralysis, not proper government of the country.

Mr. Kilfoyle: The number of reviews that are having to be undertaken by the new Government is a reflection of the inertia displayed by the previous Government, particularly towards public service.

Freedom of Information

11. Mr. Martyn Jones: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when he intends to publish a freedom of information Bill; and if he will make a statement. [529]

Dr. David Clark: I intend to publish the White Paper on freedom of information before the summer recess.

Mr. Jones: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer and I welcome him to his position on the Front Bench. Will he ensure that when he publishes the White Paper and produces the Bill, which will bring about tremendous change for the people of Britain, the legislation will be retrospective so that people can see what the previous Government did during the past 18 years? They will then never vote for the Conservatives again.

Dr. Clark: I thank my hon. Friend for his interesting comment. He can rest assured that there will be the widest consultation on the White Paper. That is not, however, all that we are doing in respect of openness. In their manifesto, the Government made clear their commitment to the regeneration of our democratic process. Central to that was the White Paper on new government I announced yesterday. It will set out how we shall deliver accountable, accessible, responsive and efficient government to the people of Britain. Those proposals, alongside our freedom of information Bill, will bring an agenda of openness to government which we have never seen before.

Mr. Nicholls: Will the agenda of openness extend to the publication of the contents of the Excalibur computer so that Labour Members can understand what information is held on it? In this spirit of openness, might it not also be an idea if the information was published in the press so that we could all read it?

Dr. Clark: All the information contained in that computer is published information and it is available under the Data Protection Act 1988.

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Release of Documents

12. Mr. Baker: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what plans he has to change the criteria determining the release of documents under the 30-year rule. [530]

Dr. David Clark: We will publish shortly a White Paper on freedom of information. I hope that we shall see a considerable extension in the release of public records under the 30-year rule.

Mr. Baker: Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many people regard the operation of the 30-year rule as a farce? When documents are released at the beginning of each year, all we tend to find out is what kind of tea and biscuits the Prime Minister consumed 30 years ago. Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to ensure that far more documents are released, to release them before 30 years and to review all documents currently held to find out whether they can be released?

Dr. Clark: I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's view. As an historian, I know the frustrations involved. The emphasis under this Government will be on releasing, not withholding, information. We have just announced, as evidence of our good faith, that we hope to release a tranche of information relating to the security forces during the first world war.

Mr. Mackinlay: As part of the review, will my right hon. Friend consider with the royal household whether documents held at Windsor and Buckingham palace should be subject to the same rules of disclosure as documents kept in the Public Record Office? Some very important historic public documents relating to public policy are kept in the royal household.

Dr. Clark: In the spirit of openness and transparency in historical records, I shall certainly look into that point.

PRIME MINISTER

Earth Summit

Q1. Mr. Dafis: To ask the Prime Minister what are the Government's main objectives for the United Nations General Assembly special session--earth summit II--in New York in June. [547]

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): I shall be attending the earth summit in New York on 23 June, along with my right hon. Friends the Deputy Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary and others. We shall be pressing for action across a range of issues at that summit, including a commitment by this country to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent. by the year 2010. That is based on 1990 levels. That is a challenging commitment and demonstrates the Government's commitment to a more green world.

Mr. Dafis: May I suggest that the commitment shown by the Government at earth summit II will be a very important test of the seriousness with which they take the sustainable development issue? May I also suggest that

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success at the summit depends on the developed world setting an example on sustainable consumption and its willingness to transfer resources in terms of technology and funds to the developing world? Will the Prime Minister at least give a commitment that he will ensure the reversal of the decline in development aid given to third-world countries that, very ironically, has occurred since the earth summit in 1992?

The Prime Minister: As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are committed as a Government to raising the levels of overseas aid, but it has to be done in a way that is compatible with the limits on public expenditure that we have set ourselves. I should say that we shall not simply be undertaking action on carbon dioxide emissions at the earth summit. We shall also be supporting the new convention on forests, which will do an immense amount to reduce the destruction of rain forests. We shall also be pressing for measures against pollution more generally and measures in respect of oceans as well.

I should say, too, that measures are already being announced by the Government in relation to domestic policy, which will have a dramatic impact on the environment in respect not just of an integrated transport strategy but of the new environmental task force, which will enlist the support of young people in cleaning up the environment in parts of the country.

Helen Jackson: Four out of every 10 primary school children in my constituency started the school year in a class of more than 30--

Madam Speaker: Order. The substantive question is about the earth summit and supplementary questions must relate to it.


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