Peter Lilley, MP for Hitchin and Harpenden, has called for a Parliamentary debate on the government?s abuse of the Freedom of Information Act and John Prescott?s refusal to publish the Inspector?s report into plans to build thousands of houses on the Green Belt between Hitchin and Stevenage.
This follows the national row about the government?s decision to release papers relating to the last Conservative government under the Freedom of Information Act while refusing to publish papers about the current Labour government?s policies.
Peter Lilley said: “I asked the Leader of the House last Thursday for a debate on the government?s selective and partisan use of the Freedom of Information Act, particularly John Prescott?s refusal to publish under the Act the Planning Inspector?s report on the proposal to build up to 10,000 houses on the Green Belt between Hitchin and Stevenage.
“We know John Prescott has already received this report. The proposal has national significance because this development ? if it goes ahead ? will be the biggest encroachment on to the Green Belt that there was have been.
“His Department admit that encouraging public debate is important, but then make the astonishing claim that publishing the Inspector?s report would not help with such debate. He clearly intends to delay any decision until after the general election which, in itself, is a cynical attempt to avoid the democratic verdict of the electorate.?
Note to editors (1): excerpt from the Business Statement, 10th February 2005
Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): May I support the request made by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) for a debate on the Government‘s selective and partisan use of the Freedom of Information Act?in particular the refusal by the Deputy Prime Minister to publish under the Act the report that he has already received from the inspector about a planning proposal in my constituency to build up to 10,000 houses on the green belt? It has national significance because it will be the biggest ever encroachment on the green belt. The Deputy Prime Minister has received that report, but apparently wants to put off publication until after the general election. He admits that encouraging public debate is important, but says that publishing the document would not help with public debate. Can we have a debate on this rather contentious matter?
Mr. Hain: I recognise the constituency point that the right hon. Gentleman raises, which my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister will note carefully. I reject the right hon. Gentleman‘s central charge that there is some kind of selective release of information?officials advise on the release of information. In the instance of Black Wednesday, no Treasury Ministers were involved in the decision on the release of information. Indeed, the former Prime Minister, John Major, acknowledged as much on the “Today” programme this morning. The permanent secretary to the Treasury is in charge of all these matters. I am sure that, as a distinguished Secretary of State himself, the right hon. Gentleman would not want to accuse permanent secretaries of any partisanship, so I am sure that he was not doing so a moment ago.
Note to editors (2): If you would like to see copies of the correspondence between Peter Lilley MP and ODPM, perhaps you could telephone 020 7219 4577 when copies will be faxed to you