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Government Policy (Formulation)

Volume 955: debated on Thursday 3 August 1978

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asked the Prime Minister if he will reissue his instructions to Ministers and civil servants to release as many background papers as possible concerning the formulation of Her Majesty's Government policy.

A growing number of background papers are now being issued concerning the formulation of Government policy, and I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that as all Ministers are actively concerned to make this matter a success, there is no need for me to issue any fresh guidance.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman feel that he should have the honesty to issue more information, so that the public can see why his policies on prices, unemployment and defence have been so disastrous and why he is systematically destroying the aspirations of the British people?

I had assumed that the hon. Member was seriously concerned about this matter, so I gave him a serious reply. On the general issues that he raises, background papers are issued on all matters of Government policy where that is appropriate and where useful information can be conveyed.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, although all parties make obeisance to the idea of open government at all times, it has been very disappointing for some of us on the Back Benches that the Government have not been able to go further on this matter? Will he assure us that the present instructions to Ministers are not his last word on the subject and that when we all return with renewed vigour he will be able to look at this matter again and go a little further towards fulfilling the wording of our 1974 election manifesto?

I know that my hon. Friend and others are disappointed about this, and I should obviously like to satisfy them if I could, but if he looks at the list of papers that I published in Hansard on 18th May in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), which covered several columns, he will see the kind of material that has been published. I asked again about this matter this morning. I find. for example, that a large number of foreign policy papers has been published, as well as background briefs on Euro-Communism, on the Anglo-American proposals, on MBFR from the Soviet viewpoint, by the Ministry of Defence on the location of the tankers at Fairford and by the DHSS on the repayment of supplementary benefits, with 40 published background notes. I think that the Government have lived up to their undertakings to publish more information. Although we have not gone as far as the manifesto commitment, which would mean a whole change in the area and ambit of Government responsibilities, I think that we should be given credit for what we have done.

Yes, but the Prime Minister is responsible for a number of confidential documents, some of which might well be released before he goes off to his well-earned rest on his country estate in Sussex. Will he consider releasing some of the documents which he has no doubt handled concerning the decision that he has to make over whether to give his full-hearted endorsement to the Labour candidate at Dundee, East, who was three times a Communist Party candidate and who, what is more, left the party only eight months ago but has not left his convictions behind him?

Order. The Prime Minister may be questioned only on matters for which he is responsible, and I understand from an answer which he gave on Tuesday that he is not responsible for the choice of candidates.