Disclosing ministerial meetings with pressure groups

In light of today's PMQs and the debate about whether MPs should be excluded from Freedom of Information requests, it's worth pointing out that ministers can't decide themselves whether they can or can't answer questions about meetings they've had. Norman Baker has been asking some dull questions (and, yes, I know he's a LibDem) and receiving some interesting answers. They all appear under the title of "Departments: Pressure Groups" in the relevant section of Hansard.

Norman Baker: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if she will list the meetings between Ministers from her Department and outside interest groups which took place between 1st January and 31st March. [132437]

Hilary Armstrong: Ministers and civil servants meet a large number of people and groups in the course of their official duties. It is not normal practice to disclose details of such meetings.

It is, of course, possible that different departments have different normal practices, but not when you look at this answer

Norman Baker: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his meetings with outside interest groups which took place between 1 January and 31 March. [132436]

The Prime Minister: My officials and I have meetings with a wide range of organisations and individuals on a range of subjects. Information relating to internal meetings, discussion and advice is not disclosed as to do so could harm the frankness and candour of internal discussion.

which suggests that any such discussion would be harmful. One wonders, then, why Jack Straw gave this answer:

Norman Baker: To ask the Leader of the House if he will list the meetings between Ministers from his Office and outside interest groups which took place between 1st January and 31st March. [132438]

Mr. Straw: Ministers from the Office of the Leader of the House of Commons met with representatives of outside interest groups nine times during the period specified. I have set out details of those meetings in the following table. This includes, where appropriate, certain speaking engagements.

Date of Meeting Outside Interest Group or Body M et

Thursday 15th February 2007

Ahmadiyya Muslim Association UK

Thursday 15th February 2007

Hindu Council UK

Tuesday 20th February 2007

Hansard Society

Wednesday 21st February 2007

New Local Government Network

Thursday 22nd February 2007

Public and Commercial Services Union

Thursday 8th March 2007

Trade Union General Secretaries

Thursday 15th March 2007

Patriotic Union of Kurdistan

Thursday 22nd March 2007

Muslim Council of Britain

Friday 23rd March 2007

Electronic Data System Ltd.

and why Peter Hain gave this even more fulsome answer:
Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will list the meetings between Ministers from his Department and outside interest groups which took place between 1 January and 31 March 2007. [132434]

Mr. Hain: Ministers at the Wales Office met with the following non-governmental organisations between 1 January and 31 March:

    Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research

    Post Office Counters Ltd. Wales

    National Federation of Postmasters

    National Grid

    National Audit Office

    General Dynamics

    Severn Tidal Power Group

    First Great Western

    Milford Haven Port Authority

    Narberth Museum

    The Motor Sports Association

    Institute of Chartered Accountants

    Visteon Corporation

    Local Government Network

    University of Wales Swansea

    Dragon Feeds

    National Botanical Gardens of Wales

    National Autistic Society

    Swansea Waterfront Museum

    Friends of the Earth

It does seem like the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing in the civil service.

xD.

 

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