HC Deb 13 December 1962 vol 669 cc557-9
8. Mr. M. Stewart

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs whether the public speech of the Permanent Secretary to his Department on Tuesday, 6th November to the Ham and Petersham Ratepayers and Residents Association concerning the future of Greater London was made with his authority.

Sir K. Joseph

This was a small informal occasion when the Permanent Secretary undertook, because of personal associations with the area, to explain to a small gathering of residents the Government's proposals for the reorganisation of local government in Greater London as they had already been announced and explained by Ministers.

This required no authority.

Mr. Stewart

Is the Minister aware that it was not only a question of explaining, but of advocating these proposals, and that on the same informal occasion, which was quite fully reported in the local Press, the Permanent Secretary expressed the view that the idea of a local income tax gave her the horrors, that it was a pity there was so much politics in local government, and that councillors are not what they used to be? Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that that was perhaps unfortunate?

Sir K. Joseph

No, not in the very least. It is absolutely seemly and proper for senior civil servants to explain Government policy, including the advantages alleged for Government policy by Ministers, once it has been clearly announced by a Minister in the House.

As for the last part of the question, the comments about councillors, my Permanent Secretary was repeating to a small gathering what she had said to a large gathering of local authority representatives, to which she had been invited to give her views on local authority representation and its prospects, with the permission of my predecessor, some two or three years ago.

Mr. A. Royle

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this speech was much appreciated by the ratepayers in Ham and Petersham, and that his Permanent Secretary will always be welcome in my constituency?

Mr. Stewart

May I press this point? Suppose, for example, local councillors, including local councillors who happened also to be Members of this House, start expressing in public, here and elsewhere, the opinion that high civil servants in the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry are not what they used to be. Will the right hon. Gentleman regard that as appropriate and happy?

Sir K. Joseph

If it were true, it would be open to any Member of the House to make general observations of that sort, but I hope in no case observations on individual civil servants, particularly since the proper object of an attack is not a civil servant but the Minister who announces a policy.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I think we must leave it, and indeed that the last question was hypothetical, and therefore out of order.

11. Mrs. Butler

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs whether the statement of the Permanent Secretary of his Department to the British Waterworks Association on 14th November about consultation between the Government and the Metropolitan Water Board on reorganisation was made with his authority.

Sir K. Joseph

In the course of proposing the health of the Association the Permanent Secretary took the opportunity of assuring the representatives of the water industry present that the Department greatly valued consultation with the industry, this having been queried with reference to the Water Resources Bill. She added that there had been consultation with the Metropolitan Water Board over the arrangements proposed by the Government for water in the Greater London area; this was a simple statement of fact, both I and my predecessor having discussed—though not agreed—the Government's proposals with representatives of the Board.

Mrs. Butler

Is the Minister really supporting the view that the presentation of proposals with comments to be made within one month is consultation, particularly when the Permanent Secretary admitted that the proposals had been formulated long before they were made to the Water Board? Is not this offhand manner of replying in an after-dinner speech to reasoned objections very shabby treatment which justifies more than ever the demand for a full inquiry?

Sir K. Joseph

Be that as it may, the choice of the word "consultation" was not that of my Permanent Secretary. The word was chosen and used by my predecessor and has been repeated by me. On that occasion neither I nor my Parliamentary Secretary, because of other obligations, could be present at the dinner. My Permanent Secretary therefore spoke in my place and simply referred to what had been said by my predecessor and by me.