HC Deb 12 November 1964 vol 701 cc1186-8
Q2. Mr. Kershaw

asked the Prime Minister what are the responsibilities of the Paymaster-General; and upon what subjects he will answer Questions in the House.

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General will carry out the duties which are assigned to him from time to time. It is a long-established practice not to specify these in detail in the ordinary way, but the House will wish to know that my right hon. Friend will answer Questions about the coordination of home information services.

Mr. Kershaw

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, of course, we all wish his right hon. Friend well in his new post, whatever it is, although he is in many ways a very unsatisfactory character himself?

Mr. Rankin

On a point of order. Is it in order for a challenge of that nature to be launched against any hon. or right hon. Gentleman?

Mr. Speaker

I do not think that it is a challenge. The nature of the unsatisfactory character alleged is so vague that I am quite unable to rule about it.

Mr. S. Silverman

Further to that point of order. Is it not within our knowledge that hon. and even right hon. Members opposite are getting more and more into the habit of making personal attacks on people under the disguise of a humbugging sense of humour, and that if this practice is continued it will not be conducive to orderly debates in the House of Commons?

Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. Bromley-Davenport

Further to that point of order.

Mr. Speaker

No. I will answer the point of order at once. I am not concerned with anybody's habits one way or the other except that I personally deprecate any such practice in any circumstances, however camouflaged, and I hope that the House will get rid of it.

Mr. Kershaw

Although the job is rather vague and looks like a job for an old boy friend, will the right hon. Gentleman sit on the Defence Council? Will he in fact have a regulation defence hat, or will it still be just a wig?

The Prime Minister

Separating the humour, or whatever it was, from the serious part of the supplementary question, and the obiter dictum, which was about worthy of the hon. Gentleman—I will not put it higher or lower than that—the position has always been as it was stated by my noble Friend Lord Attlee in 1948. I quote his words: In the appointment of a Minister either without portfolio or with small Departmental duties it is not the custom to detail, except in certain cases, the particular duties assigned to that Minister."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th July, 1948; Vol. 454, c. 26.] I have not known any subsequent Prime Minister to improve on that statement of the position. But I will give the hon. Gentleman this assurance, that my right hon. Friend will not in any way be entrusted, either on a part-time or a full-time basis, with duties of a party character as was the case with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in the late Government.

Mr. Robert Carr

The Prime Minister said that the Paymaster-General would answer Questions about the co-ordination of home information. Will he also answer Questions about the co-ordination of overseas information? If not, who will?

The Prime Minister

I have been thinking a good deal about this. As the right hon. Gentleman, who answered questions, knows, this is a very complicated point affecting a number of Departments, and it is our intention that the Foreign Office will answer in respect of the overseas information services.

Mr. Bellenger

The House, I think, recognises the nature of the duties which will be undertaken by my right hon. Friend generally, but, in view of his close connection with security matters, can my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister say whether the Paymaster-General will be specifically undertaking any duties in connection with the Defence Department?

The Prime Minister

So far as the security services are concerned, the position is exactly as was explained to the House by the Leader of the Opposition in a debate on the Denning Report. There has been no change made in that. I have thought it right to make certain changes within my own office to make quite certain that when there is a problem affecting security I am fully informed about it and will not be in the position of having to come to the House and say that no one told me. So far as defence is concerned, my right hon. Friend will have no responsibility for the Defence Department.

Mr. Kershaw

On a point of order. In view of the very unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I will raise the matter on the Adjournment.

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