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Baroness Serota: My Lords, does not the Minister agree that the unique decision not to accept the Parliamentary Commissioner's report is quite astonishing? Does he also agree that it is urgent that the Government reconsider their findings on the matter so that those individuals who have suffered an injustice, according to the independent inquiry, should receive some form of compensation?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I have said that the Government gave full and specific reasons as to why they rejected the charges of maladministration concerning the issue of generalised blight. Beyond that, the question of a further response should be left to our full and formal response to the Select Committee which we hope to give shortly.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, does the Minister agree that in the past no government who have been criticised by the Parliamentary Commissioner have ignored the Select Committee's upholding of the commissioner's recommendations? Does he accept that? Does he accept that any departure from that would be utterly wrong?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I agree that we are in an unusual situation, but the noble Lord invites me to pre-empt our response to the Select Committee and I fear that I cannot do so.

First Secretary of State: Responsibilities

2.48 p.m.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil asked Her Majesty's Government:

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The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne): My Lords, to none.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend most sincerely on the brevity of that Answer. What judgment has been made of the usefulness of similar appointments in the past and, in so far as they have been considered useful, why they have not been repeated more often?

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I know that the constitutional and historical memory of my noble friend is almost without equal in your Lordships' House and I know that he will appreciate that the title of First Secretary of State appears to have reached occasional currency with the appointment to that office of his late right honourable friend R.A. Butler. However, the party opposite has also been responsible for similar appointments and no doubt both that party and Her Majesty's present Government have found the use of that office extremely to the point. On the office of Deputy Prime Minister, my noble friend will be at least as aware as I am of the precedents for that. No lesser luminaries than Sir Winston Churchill and the late lamented Lord Attlee both designated people to that important position.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale: My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that The Times last week quoted a Whitehall spokesman as saying that Mr. Heseltine saw it as a prime function of his responsibilities to answer questions on the Government's relationship with their agencies? Does that mean that we should now be looking for an answer, when it eventually comes, to the First Secretary of State rather than to the Secretary of State for the Home Department to the question which has been puzzling so many of us; that is, the relationship between the Home Office and the Prison Service agency?

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I express a certain degree of surprise that the noble Lord, Lord Allen, above all Members of your Lordships' House, should find himself in some difficulty on that question. The noble Lord will be at least as aware as I am that individual Secretaries of State are responsible and accountable to Parliament for the activities of the Next Steps agencies which have been established within their departments. I thought, if I may say so, that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary gave an extremely robust explanation of the constitutional position last week. I was delighted to be able to see that the honourable gentleman, the Opposition Shadow Home Secretary, took a salutary lesson in that regard.

Baroness Seear: My Lords, will the noble Viscount explain in that case the difference between the words "activity" and "operation"? He said that the Secretary of State was responsible for activities, is not that the same as operations?

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, the noble Baroness tempts me rather wider than the Question asked by my noble friend. I would merely refer her to the full answers that my right honourable friend gave last week. I am sure that she will find them as satisfactory as I did.

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Lord Richard: My Lords, I wonder whether the Leader of the House can help us. In Hansard of the other place on 16th October, the right honourable gentleman Sir David Steel asked the First Secretary of State, the President of the Board of Trade and the Deputy Prime Minister—that secular trinity: three in one and one in three—what were the department's priorities in Scotland. The answer came from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster who, I assume, is in some ways associated with the First Secretary, the President of the Board of Trade, and the Deputy Prime Minister. The answer was:


    "As elsewhere in the United Kingdom, to promote the continuing improvement of public services and the deregulation and increased competitiveness of British industry".—[Official Report, Commons, 16/10/95; col. 17.]

What services is he responsible for, and how does he propose to improve them?

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I hesitate to quarrel with the noble Lord's theology. I was under the happy impression—perhaps he could correct me—that the present President of the Board of Trade is my right honourable friend the Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale. Therefore, I am somewhat at a loss to understand the connection the noble Lord has made in that respect. However, if I may gloss over that small degree of inexactitude, which I am sure had escaped his notice, the burden of the noble Lord's question was entirely pertinent. My right honourable friend the Member for Henley is responsible for a large number of matters, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made clear, and as I have been able to make clear in a number of Written Answers in your Lordships' House. He gives general assistance to the Prime Minister; he has specific responsibility for the competitiveness agenda, the working of government and the presentation of their policies; he undertakes the chairmanship of a number of Cabinet Committees, as do a number of my right honourable friends; and he of course has ministerial responsibility for the Cabinet Office and the Office of Public Service in which he—the noble Lord is right—is assisted by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

Perhaps I may refer the noble Lord particularly to that element of my right honourable friend's responsibilities which come under the general rubric of the competitiveness agenda. I hope that the noble Lord's interest in these matters will be directed towards the policy of his own party, which, above all, has shown in the past year at least that although it talks big on the subject of the competitiveness of British industry, virtually every policy to which it wishes to sign up will undermine that competitiveness and therefore our nation's prosperity.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff: My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that the appointment of a First Secretary has usually been to assuage injured pride or unfulfilled ambition, and that it has usually failed on both counts? Does he have any more optimism for this appointment?

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, the noble Lord is, of course, infinitely better equipped than I am to talk about unfulfilled ambition in governments.

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Lord Callaghan of Cardiff: My Lords, no, I fulfilled all mine.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, however I can only observe from my limited experience so far that my right honourable friend the Member for Henley has proved himself to be a team player of extraordinary effectiveness since his appointment to the office of First Secretary. I can therefore only conclude that my right honourable friend's sole objective is to serve in whatever capacity he is called.

Lord Richard: My Lords, the Lord Privy Seal is of course quite right. The pack has been shuffled so often that it is sometimes difficult to keep track of where the cards have immediately fallen. I am bound to say that when the noble Viscount corrected me on the trinity there is only one two-headed monster I can think of. If he would prefer Cerberus, that is entirely a matter for that side of the House. Could he perhaps answer the question I put to him? What public services is the First Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister responsible for improving?

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, those public services which are the responsibility of the OPS, with which he and my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster are associated. At the risk of wearying your Lordships, I read a long list of the responsibilities that my right honourable friend has undertaken. In parenthesis, I am also extremely grateful to be told that Cerberus had only two heads. Perhaps my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham will be able to correct me on this, but I understood that Cerberus had more than two heads.


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