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Earl Russell: My Lords, can the Minister say what advice the Government have received from London Underground about water penetration into underground tunnels; what plans the Government have for investment to meet that danger, and what estimates they have formed of the likely cost should they discover, to their great surprise, that they have left the investment too late?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I do not have the detailed information that the noble Earl requests, but I shall reply to him by letter and would be pleased to answer such a Question if he were to put one on the Order Paper.

Ministerial Workloads

2.57 p.m.

Lord Geddes asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord draws attention to a problem that we all have, whether in business or in public life and some of us in our private lives. However, Ministers have the support of the Cabinet system, Cabinet committees, department ministerial teams, a highly professional Civil Service and political advisers in considering the decisions which they have to take. We are prepared to be judged on the outcome.

Lord Geddes: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. If I may, I shall leave the raising of specific examples to other noble Lords. More generally, will the Minister comment on the widely held view that because civil servants keep their Ministers' diaries so full, government decisions seem increasingly to be either in the hands of those same civil servants or to be put out to formal consultative reviews, of which I am advised that over 140 are extant?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, Ministers' diaries are, always have been, and always will be a matter of creative tension between Ministers and their private offices. I do not accept the thrust of the noble Lord's separate question. The reviews that we are undertaking, many of which have reached proper conclusions, are helpful to Ministers in taking a long-term view on the decisions that they have to take. Apart from anything else, they involve very many qualified outside people in that decision-making process.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, does not my noble friend feel that the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, and perhaps his colleagues, have a bit of a cheek in asking this Question, bearing in mind the spate--indeed, the

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huge flood--of ill-considered legislation (often having to be repealed) which came from the party opposite during its 18 years in government, and which was criticised in this House not only by myself, but by many other noble Lords, including many on the Conservative Benches? Can my noble friend give an assurance that there will be no repetition of such a flood of ill-considered legislation from this Government?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I would love to be able to give that assurance but my noble friend is aware how difficult it is. The Government have been congratulated by the other Benches on the quality of some of the legislation that has been brought forward. I refer specifically to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, and his congratulations on the Human Rights Bill and the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, and his congratulations on the drafting of the Crime and Disorder Bill. There are many other examples. I remind noble Lords that we set ourselves very much higher standards for legislation than most other countries. We try to do in legislation what many other democratic countries do through ministerial decree.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, should not Ministers have used the time available to them when in opposition fully to consider these implications, as they might then have been able to avoid some of the recent U-turns, including the one reported in today's press, released through an unattributable source, about the reimbursement of single mothers for the losses that they are likely to sustain under the Social Security Bill?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, all of us who have the good fortune to be members of the Labour Party and take part in this Government know that before the election a very considerable amount of valuable work was devoted to policy making. That is reflected in the speed with which we have been able to put together an effective legislative programme. I totally reject the suggestion of the noble Lord that there has been a significant number of U-turns, as he describes them.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that the results of the 133 reviews and task forces who are to report by 1998 will undoubtedly involve a great deal of ministerial attention, but does he agree that the spate of European legislation coming into this country, which in many cases goes on to the statute book without even a senior civil servant seeing it, is itself an indication that Ministers, whatever their desires--I understand the pressures--simply have no time to read most of the important papers that come from the European Commission? In justification of that we need only look at the quality of the trash that comes before us to realise that the Government cannot possibly be associated with it.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my noble friend pursues a familiar train of argument. There is a considerable amount of European legislation to be considered. In turn that places a burden on Ministers and

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the Civil Service. But many of the subjects on which the European Union finds it necessary to legislate are matters on which we would ourselves be obliged to legislate even if we were not members of the Union. My noble friend's question gives me the opportunity to pay tribute to the valuable work of the European Communities Committee and its sub-committees of your Lordships' House in drawing the attention of this House and Parliament to the more controversial matters.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff: My Lords, is my noble friend aware of one reply given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, to the reproachful looks of a private secretary when he brought back his ministerial box unopened and unexamined after a weekend? When the private secretary asked the noble and learned Lord what he had done during the weekend his reply was, "Better fresh than briefed, dear boy".

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, what can the noble Lord say about education Ministers who today found time to hold a ritzy and very glitzy presentation, with musical accompaniment, to launch three policy documents on lifelong learning, the response to the Dearing Report and the response to the Kennedy Report? The reports and the comprehensive pack were made available to the press. I await my copy. What happened to the promise that when those reports were ready they would be brought before Parliament?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it sounds as if my right honourable and honourable friends in the Department for Education and Employment are doing a very proper job of presenting the results of their considerations, and those of their advisers, to the public generally.

Lord Geddes: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for the courtesy with which he replied to my original Question. I also thank him for his remarks about the work of the European Communities Committee. To what extent are the Government bound by the findings of formal reviews; or is my general perception correct that they are merely time exercises in order to give the Government an opportunity to think about the issues in hand?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, neither. It is very rare for the Government to be bound by the results of reviews. On the other hand, it is very rare for reviews to be simply time exercises. They form the proper degree of consultation that is a necessary part of open government and are a feature of any government, not just of this party.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, is my understanding correct that every day Ministers have a huge number of pieces of paper to sign, either letters to the public or Answers to Written Questions? As to the latter, perhaps I bear some guilt. Does the Minister agree that Ministers do not have the time to read every single piece of paper that passes over their desks? If that is so, how can they be sure that the answers that are provided

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respond to the letters that they have received, particularly from members of the public, and that responses provide the correct information?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, no doubt my noble friends Lord Donoghue and Lord Gilbert will take note of what the noble Countess has just said about her own Questions. No one has more than 24 hours in the day. From my experience in a number of departments, although not as a Minister in those departments, I am convinced that Ministers pay a great deal of attention to letters, particularly from Members of Parliament and Members of this House. How they can read every single letter from members of the public beats me.


Lord Carter: My Lords, between the two debates today my noble friend Lady Hayman will, with the leave of the House, repeat in the form of a Statement an Answer to a Private Notice Question in another place on the apparent leaking of the Access to the Open Countryside consultation paper.

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