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Mr. Tyrie: Does not the right hon. Gentleman grasp that there is a fundamental difference between the two cases? Sir Bernard Ingham never transgressed into party politics. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] It is important that Labour Members read the evidence. He was a former Labour supporter--a Labour candidate, as it happens.

The fundamental difference is that Alastair Campbell attends Labour party conferences. Sir Bernard Ingham never attended Conservative party conferences. The Prime Minister himself said that his press secretary does a good job of attacking the Conservative party. The attribution of

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such remarks to Sir Bernard Ingham would be absurd. There is thus a fundamental difference between the two cases.

Dr. Clark: There is indeed a fundamental difference. It is that we in government made it quite clear where Alastair Campbell stood and where he came from. There is no misunderstanding. To try to spin the argument that Sir Bernard Ingham did not transgress into party politics is futile and laughable.

We felt that it was right to abandon the charade, which is what we did. Even then, we took the matter forward. We set up the Mountfield committee. May I say as an aside how delighted I was to see Robin Mountfield get the KCB in the new year's honours? It was well deserved. The committee produced proposals to ensure the political integrity of the Government Information and Communications Service. As my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office, made clear, that report is available in the Library of the House. The monitoring report is also available in the Library and I urge hon. Members to look at them both.

We are at a stage in our history when the concept of representative democracy is being debated and challenged, and must be changed. The way that we use information is a critical aspect of that. I would argue that the freedom of information legislation is crucial.

I empathise with a great deal of the motion moved by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) on freedom of information. I acknowledge, and am grateful for, the support that I received from those on the Liberal Benches in our campaign for that.

There is agreement across the House on the matter. I was disappointed that it was not in the Queen's Speech, but I was reassured this afternoon by my right hon. Friend the Minister telling us that good progress was being made on the draft Bill. Even if he were present--I understand why he is not--he could not give a commitment that it would be in next year's Queen's Speech, but from what he said, it would be amazing and the House would be astounded if that Bill did not appear then. That is extremely encouraging.

Let us be bold when we introduce the Bill. Something struck me over the Christmas recess as I watched the television reports about the release of Government records under the 30-year rule. We heard Lord Callaghan discussing the Race Relations Act 1968. He said that one of the mistakes that he made when that legislation was enacted was to listen too attentively to soundings and views from the Police Federation about excluding the police.

I do not want to do anything, and the Government should not do anything, that inhibits the catching of criminals and the pursuing of prosecutions. Nobody wants that. However, we must not repeat the mistake with freedom of information that we made with the Race Relations Act.

Mr. Baker: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, under freedom of information legislation, the security services should be subject to the test of substantial harm, rather than being excluded entirely?

Dr. Clark: I should prefer to wait and see the draft Bill. We have rehearsed all the arguments in the past.

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We do not have to wait for a freedom of information Act before we make more information freely available. That was a message that I kept hammering home to my former Cabinet colleagues, and I was encouraged by their response. Under this Government, much more information has been made available to citizens and to Members of Parliament. We have seen the Government moving slowly into the IT age. We have seen also increasing use being made of the internet by government and by Members. That must be good. A good example of use of the internet and disseminating Government information arose from the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on the Yemen issue on Monday. An Opposition Member said that travel agents and people travelling abroad often use the internet to obtain the latest Foreign Office advice on whether it is safe to go abroad. That is a good use of Government information.

There is, however, a down side. I offer this message to civil servants: it is critical that Government websites be kept up to date. I was appalled at times by the Cabinet website when I was in charge of it. As a result, we appointed a webmaster to ensure that the websites were up to date; otherwise, everything depended on a civil servant having a quiet Friday afternoon, when it might be raining, to update a website. That is not good enough.

As soon as White Papers are published, we have seen the Government putting the information on the internet. That is the right way forward. I was amused when we were wrestling with the problem of the millennium bug, way back 15 months ago. I had written to all Government Departments asking about their plans. I had decided that I would publish those detailed plans as we received them and make them available on the internet. I called in a number of journalists to brief them. They were suspicious, as always. In effect, they said, "Well, you are just telling us this, you are just telling us that."

I said, "I will give you the whole lot." I gave them 1,200 pages each on which were set out the plans. They wrote nothing about the millennium bug. Certainly there was no criticism. There is a message and a moral in that. We have a culture of secrecy and, because of that culture, people become far too suspicious. They have a bit of information and therefore, as Jill Rutter says, they feel that there are nine tenths or eight ninths of it still under the water, and they want to get hold of it. If we are co-operative in releasing information, we shall be able to communicate much better with the citizens of this country.

An important example of providing information is trying to find new ways of extending democracy. I think especially of the people's panel, which I considered to be an underrated experiment in government. There would be a legitimate complaint against us if we did not publish all the information that the panel produces. If we failed to do so, the information would remain the preserve of the Government, and that would not be healthy. That is why we took the decision to publish all the information produced by the people's panel.

I shall bring my remarks to an end by expressing a few thoughts about the White Paper and making a few points about background information. There is much raw material or information held by government and other public bodies that is kept secret unnecessarily. It is incumbent on Governments to produce that raw information. It may sometimes be produced after the decision has been made but it is still useful. I was pleased

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that, a few weeks after we produced the White Paper, we produced also, for the first time, all the background information and raw data upon which the White Paper had been constructed. There should be much more of that sort of activity.

To the Government's credit, there was a move to have a national statistical service. That was a step in the right direction, which removed from the political arena the debate, discussions and slanging matches that went on in the past.

I wonder whether the Government could be a little more proactive in the release of Government statistics. Often, statistics get treated, and they are 12 months out of date. It would be helpful to our country, our industry, our commerce and our democracy if statistics were available in raw fashion much sooner. While the Government's statisticians are still working on the data, independent and business statisticians could also be using them to the advantage of the country.

We are moving not only into a new millennium, but into a new age. We are moving from the age of the industrial society towards a new information society. That gives all sorts of opportunities for more information to be made available to citizens. It will allow us to rebuild the relationship with our citizens. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, debating the Queen's Speech in November, said that Britain had a unique opportunity to take advantage of the English language, the foremost spoken language in the world.

We shall go through many upheavals as we move into a new society, and access to information is critical. Just to show how on-message I am, let me once again quote the Prime Minister who, in arguing for a freedom of information Bill, said:

Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley): I served on the Select Committee that considered freedom of information before the proposals were produced. We travelled around the world, to Canada and Sweden, which have had freedom of information for many years. Everywhere we went, the proposals were given accolades as being far reaching and advanced. Does my right hon. Friend believe that the Bill will come out in the form it would have taken when he was in charge of it, or will it be watered down?

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