Below is the text of the written answers relating to Prime Minister’s Question Time from 25th November 1996.
Records (Royal Palaces)
Mr. Mackinlay: To ask the Prime Minister what steps would be required to reclassify those records held at Windsor castle and other royal palaces that relate to constitutional events as public records; and if he will recommend such a change.
The Prime Minister: Such changes would require an amendment to the Public Records Act 1958, which defines public records. The Government have no plans to seek such an amendment.
Mrs. Clwyd: To ask the Prime Minister if he will transfer responsibility for enforcing monitoring controls on arms exports to countries violating human rights to a Department with no responsibility for promoting exports.
The Prime Minister: While the Department of Trade and Industry is the export licensing authority, responsibility for enforcement of export licensing controls lies with Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise. The issue of where in Government responsibility for export licensing should lie is one of the matters on which views were sought in the consultative document. “Strategic Export Controls” (Command Paper 3349), presented to Parliament in July by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. The consultation closed on 31 October. When the results of the consultation have been fully considered, the Government will inform Parliament of our conclusions, including those on the issue of the location of the export licensing authority.
Public Interest Exemptions
Mrs. Clwyd: To ask the Prime Minister if he will appoint an officer directly answerable to Parliament to investigate the use by Ministers of the public interest exemption.
The Prime Minister: I refer the hon. Member to the Government’s response to the Public Service Committee’s report on ministerial accountability and responsibility, published on 7 November 1996. This makes it clear that if Ministers decline to provide a full answer in response to a parliamentary question, they should give reasons in line with the code of practice on access to government information. I do not believe that it would be appropriate for an officer directly answerable to Parliament to investigate ministerial judgments on the use of the public interest test as this would cut across the direct line of accountability of Ministers to this House.
Mrs. Clwyd: To ask the Prime Minister if he will institute a procedure whereby his office is informed on every occasion that a Minister declines to give information to Parliament on grounds of public interest.
The Prime Minister: No. Individual Ministers are responsible for the answers that they give to the House on matters which fall within their area of official responsibility.
Mrs. Clwyd: To ask the Prime Minister (1) if he will make it his policy that the code of practice on Government information is legally enforceable;
(2) if he will introduce a freedom of information Act.
The Prime Minister: I refer the hon. Member to the Government’s response to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration Select Committee’s second report on open government, published on 7 November 1996. This makes it clear that the non-statutory approach taken by the code of practice on access to government information has proved an effective mechanism for ensuring greater openness.