HC Deb 26 February 1963 vol 672 cc1078-9
Q2. Mr. Gresham Cooke

asked the Prime Minister in which Departments the Parliamentary Secretary, or equivalent, ranks below the Permanent Secretary.

The Prime Minister

None, Sir. A Parliamentary Secretary is directly responsible to his Minister.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Could it be made absolutely clear that a Parliamentary Secretary, who is a Member of this honourable House, does, in fact, deputise for the Minister and ranks next to him? Owing to the title of "Parliamentary Secretary" and the inferior salary he earns there is a certain amount of confusion in the public mind about him not being absolutely next to the Minister?

The Prime Minister

I think that there have been Questions asked on this subject before. I think, also, That this is a matter which is now very clear and it is, of course, true that the Parliamentary Secretary is a Minister; not a Minister of the Crown under the constitution because he is not appointed by the Queen. There are a few Departments where it has been the practice to print "Permanent Secretary" after the Minister, and I hope to take steps to make all the Departments follow a uniform practice.

Mr. Dugdale

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether it is still the custom in the Admiralty for the Chair to be taken when the First Lord is absent by the First Sea Lord and not by the Civil Lord or the Parliamentary Secretary?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I think that that is the case.

Hon. Members


The Prime Minister

It is a matter of custom. It always has been so.

Mr. Manuel

It is a bad custom.

Sir W. Teeling

In view of the fact that both in the Colonial Office and the Commonwealth Office the Minister of State is in the other place and that on many occasions the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Ministers of State are constantly abroad, is it not clear that the Under-Secretary in each case is entirely responsible?

The Prime Minister

Constitutionally, of course, the Parliamentary Secretary, theoretically, cannot give orders to the Permanent Secretary. If there were some division of opinion, then that must be resolved only by the Minister. Apart from that, he normally deputises for the Minister.

Mr. H. Wilson

While most Ministers lay down rules as to the functions of the Parliamentary Secretaries, would the Prime Minister make it clear that in cases where the Minister is abroad or is ill the Parliamentary Secretaries are, in fact, Ministerially in charge of the office, save only for the normal position that where a Cabinet post is involved another Cabinet Minister is designated as the individual responsible for bringing their cases before the Cabinet?

The Prime Minister

That is the normal practice but, as the right hon. Member knows, constitutionally the Permanent Secretary is responsible for the organisation and discipline of his Department and he has the right for any question to be settled by the Minister in charge of his Department.