Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): As I understand it, the match funding is new money from the Treasury--yes? Is it also correct that one Parliament cannot commit another Parliament? Yes. Will the Minister now say exactly how much he has negotiated from the Treasury, as he will have had to do, to provide match funding for that first year? How much in pounds sterling?

Mr. Brown: I am not sure what the question is. If the hon. Gentleman is asking me how much comes on stream in the first year of modulation, I can tell him that the year will be 2001-02 and the sum will be about £34 million.

Mr. Fabricant: Thirty-four million!

Mr. Brown: That is doubled--[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is trying to shout out the answers.

Madam Speaker: Order. When hon. Members have asked questions, they ought to listen to the answers.

Mr. Brown: We anticipate the fruits of modulation to be £34 million, and therefore the match funding for the United Kingdom will be £34 million. There is match funding, pound for pound, so £34 million from modulation in the first year, 2001-02, will be matched by £34 million from the Treasury. That is a profile of expenditure rising to the figures that I gave the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) earlier.

7 Dec 1999 : Column 711

7 Dec 1999 : Column 713

Point of Order

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek your advice on whether you might extend the scope of Standing Order No. 20, on giving time for hon. Members to put points to you.

My constituents have been trying to arrange a meeting with the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill), for some time. They believe that the civil service is feeding the hon. Gentleman incorrect information about a road scheme--the brown route--and they have asked me to hand information directly to the Minister. Unfortunately, the Minister's civil servants will not allow me to see him simply to hand over the information. I wonder whether Standing Order No. 20--

Madam Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman has the wrong Standing Order. He refers to Standing OrderNo. 20, but I think that he may mean Standing Order No. 24, on the motion for the Adjournment of the House. Is that the one? Which is the right Standing Order?

Mr. Bruce: Either one, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker: I feel that it must be a rather bogus point of order if the hon. Gentleman has not even taken the trouble to find the right Standing Order. I shall proceed with the main business.

7 Dec 1999 : Column 714

Orders of the Day

Freedom of Information Bill

[Relevant documents: The Third Report of Session1998-99 on the Freedom of Information draft Bill (HC 570-I), and the Government's response thereto (Session 1998-99, HC 831); the Fifth Report of Session 1998-99 on the Freedom of Information draft Bill: The Committee's Response to the Home Office Reply (HC 925); the First Report of Session 1999-2000 on the Freedom of Information Bill (HC 78).]

Order for Second Reading read.

Madam Speaker: I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

4.33 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Calls for a freedom of information Act have been made consistently over much of the past 20 years. Unnecessary secrecy in Government and our public services has long been held to undermine good governance and public administration, and my party has long been committed to change. At the last election, our manifesto stated:

The Bill will make that promise a reality.

The Bill, by its first clause, lays down for the first time in our constitutional history that the public have a right to know about the work of Government and all other public authorities. Again for the first time, that right of access to information will be enforced by an independent Information Commissioner and an Information Tribunal with clear powers to override the decisions of Ministers or any other public authority as to whether information should be released.

Moreover, the Bill will not only provide legal rights for the public and place legal duties on Ministers and public authorities, but will help to transform the culture of Government from one of secrecy to one of openness. It will transform the default setting from "this should be kept quiet unless" to "this should be published unless". By doing so, it should raise public confidence in the processes of government, and enhance the quality of decision making by the Government.

The process of developing the Bill--

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross): I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way so early in his speech.

The culture could be changed even now. We have had this Government for two years; have the Home Secretary and his colleagues already sought, by exhortation or memorandums, to elicit such a commitment within the Government?

Mr. Straw: I am pleased to tell the right hon. Gentleman that I have gone one step further than exhortation and memorandums. I have gone beyond the word to the deed. As I have made clear in evidence to Select Committees on two occasions, my approach as

7 Dec 1999 : Column 715

Home Secretary has been far more open than those of any of my predecessors. For example, I have placed on the public record all sorts of internal operational documents--not only factual backgrounds and analyses--including all the manuals relating to the operation of the immigration and nationality directorate, save for those that cannot safely be published for reasons of law enforcement or security.

I have ensured that all research documents are published on time. As for statistics--[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman has asked me a question and I want to answer it. I have placed the issue of statistics in the Home Department at arm's length from Ministers, contrary to the way in which Conservative Ministers used to manipulate the date when statistics were to be published. I have ensured that dates are set well in advance of publication. We have brought in the Royal Statistical Society to advise us.

As for the inspectorate of Her Majesty's prisons, when I came to office, lying on my desk were more than a dozen reports of the chief inspector of prisons, some of which had been there for more than 12 months. They were still awaiting a decision on publication. I have established a protocol on publication so that they have to be published swiftly. If there is argument between the Director General of the Prison Service and the chief inspector, there is a procedure for resolving that. I am glad to have had the opportunity to answer the right hon. Gentleman's question.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw: I shall give way to both of my hon. Friends and then I shall make some progress.

Mr. Jones: Will my right hon. Friend continue with his good example and exhort his fellow Ministers in other Departments also to impart information? I have been trying for more than a month to get some information from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport about the sale of tickets for the millennium experience. I have not yet been able to discover why it is so difficult to obtain the information.

Mr. Straw: The proposed legislation goes beyond exhortation to impose legal duties on Ministers. I shall, of course, take up the point that my hon. Friend raises.

Mr. Campbell-Savours: I was astonished to hear what my right hon. Friend said earlier. Is he saying that the former Home Office Minister, who is now sitting on the Opposition Front Bench, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), left for him to pick up 12 reports on prisons which were gathering dust, on which she had taken no decision while she was a Minister? She now has the cheek to come before the House and argue with my right hon. Friend on freedom of information issues.

Mr. Straw: I say that with one caveat. I do not know--I have no access to the advice given to the righthon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald

7 Dec 1999 : Column 716

(Miss Widdecombe) and her former boss and friend, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard)--whether the reports were resting on the right hon. Lady's desk or on the desk of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, my predecessor. I can only tell my hon. Friend that some of those documents had been outstanding for more than 12 months.

We need to judge people and we need to judge the extraordinary reasoned amendment, with which I shall deal in a moment. We must judge the Conservative party not by its vacuous words now but by its deeds when in government. We know that Conservative Ministers were practising a culture of secrecy even on issues that plainly should have been in the public domain.

Next Section

IndexHome Page