HC Deb 21 May 1973 vol 857 cc32-4
32. Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

asked the Minister for the Civil Service what consideration he has given, in the course of his review of the central machinery of Government, to the establishment of a Department for the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

We have no plans to establish such a Department.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply, notwithstanding the fact that the present incumbent clearly needs assistance from any quarter for which he can get it. But, on a broader philosophical point, does not my hon. Friend agree that any incoming Government need all the determination they can muster to move the civil servants one iota from their entrenched positions, and that if the civil servants were enabled to get in on that determination before an incoming party came to power there would be small hope of moving them at all?

Mr. Baker

There is something in the latter part of my hon. Friend's question. Regarding the first part, I agree with him. I do not know quite what such a Department would do. I suppose that it could provide the Leader of the Opposition with a degree of loyal support—and that would certainly be a novelty on the Opposition benches.

Mr. James Hamilton

Does the hon. Gentleman concede that Questions of this nature are an abuse of parliamentary time? Does he also recognise that if the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce Gardyne) wants to tangle with the Leader of the Opposition, he should do so in a parliamentary fashion.

Mr. Baker

By no means. There has been a considerable degree of interest in this matter. The right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) wrote an article advocating the establishment of such a Department. I dare say that that is good reason for believeing that the chances of its being adopted by the Opposition as official policy are about 10 to 1 against.

Mr. Adley

If this suggestion is taken seriously, will my hon. Friend consider having discussions with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to see whether we can have a Leader of the Opposition's Question Time, as many of us would like to question him about such things as former consultancies?

Mr. Baker

I think that the Leader of the Opposition can look after himself at Question Time.

Mr. Sheldon

Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that the events of the past two and a half years have shown that the country pays a very high price for the education of its Government and that the U-turns undertaken by the Government are direct consequences of their isolation from the Civil Service? If that is so, is it not possible to have some sort of arrangement whereby the Opposition can maintain a rather better contact with the Civil Service, so that, without injuring their reforming zeal, they will at the same time be able to produce policies more relevant to the situation than the present Government have so far been able to produce?

Mr. Baker

No, I do not agree with that. The hon. Gentleman raises a fundamental question, namely, the financing of the Opposition and Opposition activities—and, possibly, research activities. That raises the fundamental issue of using public funds for political purposes. It is completely new to our constitution. It needs a great deal of thought on both sides of the House, and a great deal of public discussion.