HC Deb 16 October 1968 vol 770 cc380-8
The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement about three changes in the organisation of Government Departments. They cover, respectively, the organisation of government for overseas affairs, the social services and the management of the Civil Service.

I explained in reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) on 28th March that I had asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to supervise the amalgamation of the Foreign Office and Commonwealth Office into a single office for which he would become responsible. Preparations are now complete and the merger of the two Departments into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will take effect tomorrow. My right hon. Friend hopes, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, to make a statement about the merger this afternoon.

The Queen has graciously agreed that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary should take charge of the combined Office as Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

The second change relates to the social services. I referred in an Answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Archer) on 11th April to my decision to amalgamate the Ministries of Health and Social Security. The Queen has graciously agreed to the appointment of my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council as Secretary of State for Social Services.

An Order to transfer to the Secretary of State the functions of the Minister of Health and the Minister of Social Security, and to dissolve the two Ministries, is being laid before the House in draft today. I hope that it will be possible to arrange through the usual channels for the Motion for the necessary affirmative Resolution to be debated in this House next week. Subject to this, and to approval of a similar Motion in another place, the amalgamation of the two Ministries into the Department of Health and Social Security will take place on 1st November.

I am sure that the House generally will welcome this amalgamation. I am confident that it will facilitate the working out of policies covering the whole field of the new Department which at present cut across departmental boundaries.

My right hon. Friend will continue after his appointment as the Secretary of State for Social Services to co-ordinate the whole range of social services, in addition to his responsibility for the new combined Department.

The third change relates to the management of the Civil Service. I told the House in my statement on the Report of the Fulton Committee on 26th June that the Government accepted their recommendation that responsibility for the Management of the Civil Service should be transferred from the Treasury to a new Civil Service Department under the direction of the Prime Minister as Minister for the Civil Service. The arrangements for setting up this Department are now complete. An Order has been made, and will also be laid before the House today, for the necessary transfer of functions from the Treasury to the Minister for the Civil Service to take effect on 1st November.

As I have already informed the House, my noble Friend the Paymaster-General, the Lord Shackleton, will be responsible for the day-to-day work of the new Department, under my direction.

The Civil Service Department will assume the Treasury's functions in respect of the pay and management of the Civil Service, and also for the co-ordination of Government policy in relation to pay and pensions throughout the public sector. The Civil Service Commission will form part of the new Department, but specific and formal arrangements are being made to ensure the continuing independence and political impartiality of the Commission in the selection of individuals for appointment to the Civil Service. I hope that the House will have an opportunity shortly to debate the setting up of the Civil Service Department on a Motion to take note of the Fulton Report.

These developments will necessitate changes in the arrangements for answering Questions in this House, and I suggest that discussions on this should be conducted through the usual channels.

Mr. Heath

We have already welcomed the proposed changes in the structure of Government. May I ask the Prime Minister four questions?

First, what will be the Ministerial structure for each of the new combined Departments, and what will be the reduction in the total number of Ministers involved as a result?

Second, what savings will there be in the total number in the Civil Service involved as a result of these changes, and what financial saving will there be?

Third, the Prime Minister says in his statement: The Civil Service Department will assume the Treasury's functions in respect of the pay and management of the Civil Service, and also for the co-ordination of Government policy in relation to pay and pensions throughout the public sector. Does that mean the nationalised industries, as well as the administrative side of Government?

Fourth, as the deputy Minister for the Civil Service is at present in the Lords, will the Prime Minister himself be answering Questions in this House on the Civil Service and, in view of the scope of the Department that he has described, will this be in addition to his normal Questions at 3.15 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays?

The Prime Minister

On Ministerial structure, my right hon. Friend may be able to go into this in more detail with regard to his own merger. The intention first in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will be that the Ministers appointed there, who will be, in effect, the present Ministers without the present Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs, will have a responsibility over the whole field rather than a separation between foreign and Commonwealth affairs.

With regard to the Ministerial structure for the other combined Department, the right hon. Gentleman will no doubt see what is proposed. After 1st November, there will no longer be separate Ministers of Health and Social Security. The Order provides for two Ministers of State to carry out their functions. With regard to the Civil Service Department, I think that I have already made the position clear. Savings in the Civil Service will be difficult to estimate at present.

On the overseas side, my right hon. Friend intends to give a lot more attention to commercial and export promotion. We believe that, within the existing numbers, at any rate, it will be possible to get a great deal more done in that and other directions. The struggle that successive Governments have had has been to hold down the rise in the Civil Service over a period of years—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—which began in about 1959 or 1960. The House is aware of the decisions announced last January about this year, and I have given instructions to the Civil Service Department that its first task will be to make that effective.

With regard to the public sector, I would like to check in greater detail about the delimitation. I was referring to Civil Service, ex-Civil Service and Service pay and pensions rather than the nationalised industries, some of which follow an industrial pattern. As he said, the Minister in charge of the day-to-day work of the Civil Service Department will be in another place. It was precisely because of that that I felt that there should be discussions through the usual channels about Parliamentary Questions. It will be my suggestion—and we can discuss this—that while, obviously, I will be ready to answer the more important strategic Questions about the Civil Service, it would not be approved by the House if my normal Tuesday and Thursday Question times were to some extent diluted by Questions about the Civil Service. Other arrangements will have to be made.

Perhaps the answer would be to have a series of Civil Service Department Questions added to the list that we all carry round in our pockets. I would have to have discussions about how often that would be. Possibly I could share then in this House with another Minister.

Mr. Steele

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Secretary of State for Scotland is the Minister in charge of health in Scotland. Will the new arrangement of the combination of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Social Security cover the whole of the United Kingdom? What will be the situation concerning the Secretary of State for Scotland under the new arrangement?

The Prime Minister

There will be no change concerning my right hon. Friend's responsibilities for health in Scotland.

Mr. Thorpe

The Prime Minister is aware that there is much logic in the coordination of Commonwealth and foreign affairs and health and social security, which we welcome, but I would ask two questions.

First, can the Prime Minister give an undertaking that there will be no reduction in the total time available for Questions by right hon. and hon. Members of this House concerning any of those departmental responsibilities?

Secondly, as the Civil Service is particularly the responsibility of this House, which alone has the power to vote money, is the Prime Minister aware that the fact that he has delegated his responsibilities to a Member of another House, which has no responsibility for finance, is something which constitutionally we regard with some reservation?

The Prime Minister

The first question raises the sort of problem which ought to be dealt with by discussion through the usual channels.

On the second question, I am taking a very keen interest in the organisation of the new Civil Service Department and keeping a close eye on what is being done. But I do not think this derogates from the control of this House over the voting of expenditure.

Mr. Moonman

The Prime Minister has referred to the co-ordination of the social services. First, does this mean that the new Secretary of State will be responsible for implementing the findings of the Seebohm Committee's Report?

Secondly, whilst welcoming the reorganisation of the Civil Service, may I ask the Prime Minister whether there will be an urgent and speedy debate on the Fulton Report, which has not yet taken place in this House?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend will be responsible for coordinating discussions with local authorities and other interests on the Seebohm Report. But it is too early to say whether any changes in departmental organisation, other than that arising from the merger of the two Departments, will flow from this Report.

A debate on the Fulton Report has been promised and is being planned. I think that discussions are still going on about it through the usual channels.

Mr. Dean

Can the Prime Minister say whether the new Ministry of Social Security will take over some of the functions concerning children which at present are performed by the Home Office?

The Prime Minister

No, there is no plan to do that. My right hon. Friend, in addition to being in executive charge of the new Department, will have a wider responsibility for coordinating the social services and will have responsibility for seeing that everything is done in the matter of co-ordination of the Children's Department and other functions relating to children.

Mr. J. T. Price

Whilst I strongly support the proposals which the Prime Minister has submitted to the House, and also the main recommendations of the Fulton Report, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware that on the reorganisation of the hospital services, which is implicit in the proposals now submitted, I am continuing to receive many anxious representations from my part of Lancashire about certain proposals submitted in the Green Paper in which a radical reconstruction of that service is ventilated for discussion? Has the Prime Minister any further comment to make on that aspect of the matter?

The Prime Minister

The reason it was a Green Paper was to get comments of the kind referred to by my hon. Friend. It would have been wrong to publish a White Paper with a cut and dried take-it-or-leave-it plan. It is valuable that we should all be getting representations about the proposals in the Green Paper. My hon. Friend will be aware that the report of the Royal Commission on Local Government is expected in the fairly near future. That will have a close bearing on other aspects of the organisation of health and social services.

Mr. David Howell

Will the Prime Minister say something about the Treasury's relations with these new Departments? Is he planning any review of the methods by which the Treasury intervenes in the detailed spending decisions of this or other Departments? Does the Prime Minister think that shuffling round with Ministries will achieve anything very radical in modernising the structure of Whitehall, unless he looks at the problem of financial control which is central to it?

The Prime Minister

There is no proposal for any change in the relationship between the Treasury and the spending Departments.

Mr. Archer

Can the Prime Minister say whether the opportunity will be taken to look at the problems of co-ordination of issues of a social welfare nature in other directions, for example, co-ordination of projects for the elderly and for the handicapped?

The Prime Minister

Yes. That is one of the main purposes of this reorganisation. As my hon. Friend will be aware, among the problems which cut across the departmental boundaries of the two Departments at the present time, especially the boundaries between the Ministries of Health and Social Security, are problems affecting the elderly, the very young and the long-term sick and disabled.

I think that to combine these two Departments will help in the co-ordination of these matters. My right hon. Friend's responsibility for broader co-ordination of the social services will enable him to help bring together the handling of these problems, even though other Ministries are affected.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Can the Prime Minister tell us why the considerations which dictate a merger of health and social security south of the Tweed do not obtain north of the Tweed?

The Prime Minister

They are already co-ordinated. But, as the House knows, it has traditionally been the position that the Ministry of Social Security and its predecessor Ministry is a Great Britain Ministry, not an England and Wales Ministry. That is not the position with the Ministry of Health. We have considered this and decided that it would be wrong to go in for a policy of greater centralisation in this matter, as one of my hon. Friends was fearing might be involved. We are continually looking at the question of the organisation of the Ministry of Social Security to see whether greater decentralisation will be possible.

Mr. Woodburn

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the bringing of the Civil Service under himself will repair a long-standing grievance in other Departments about being over-shadowed by one Department and that this has encouraged resistance to any auditing of efficiency in the Departments by the Treasury? Is my right hon. Friend proposing to put the Organisation and Methods Department for the auditing of efficiency over the whole Civil Service under the supervision of the new Department?

The Prime Minister

I think that perhaps my right hon. Friend underrates what has been achieved under Treasury control of Civil Service management. For example, over the past few years a great deal has been done about organisation and methods and the supervision of efficiency of individual Departments. But it is the intention to transfer the O & M Department of the Treasury to the new Department.

Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles

Will the new combined Foreign and Commonwealth Ministry look afresh at the problem of appointing a proportion of ambassadors and high commissioners from ranks outside its own Ministry; in other words, from businessmen and other walks of life?

The Prime Minister

Successive Governments have never been rigid about this matter. There have been some very distinguished appointments filled by ex-officers of the Armed Services, and there have been others appointed under successive Governments even from the ranks of this House, the most recent being the very important appointment of Her Majesty's Ambassador in Paris.

Mr. Roebuck


The Prime Minister

There will be no change in this. But I think—and I go back to some remarks of Mr. Ernest Bevin, more than 20 years ago—that if we reserve the top jobs in the diplomatic service for outside appointees it will have a bad effect not only on morale but on recruitment and prospects of promotion for those who come into the career diplomatic service.

Mr. Rankin

Now that one Minister will be answering for two different Departments, will this affect Question Time in the House? Is there not a possibility that the time devoted to Questions may possibly be reduced?

The Prime Minister

I am not aware of any proposal to reduce the time devoted to Questions. I am not sure whether that question relates to the merger of the social service Departments or to the overseas merger. In both cases there will be one Minister in charge of the merged Departments. He will be assisted—and this will apply at Question Time as well as in other ways—by Ministers of State and others appointed to help him.

Several Hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We have a lot of business to get through.