HC Deb 22 February 1977 vol 926 cc1221-2
Q3. Mr. Aitken

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the rules governing the rôle of Parliamentary Private Secretaries to Ministers.

The Prime Minister

Parliamentary Private Secretaries are appointed by Ministers to assist them with their parliamentary and political activities. They are expected to act generally in accordance with their special position in relation to the Government.

Mr. Aitken

Does the Prime Minister recall that following the last occasion when he dismissed a batch of wayward Parliamentary Private Secretaries his hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) publicly described him as behaving like a stupid dictator? To avoid any repetition of such comradely language, will the right hon. Gentleman care to clarify his attitude towards those of his hon. Friends who in tonight's important Division on an issue of great constitutional principle may be intending to vote according to the dictates of their own patrotic consciences?

The Prime Minister

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I should sooner have the insults of my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) than his compliments. As for Parliamentary Private Secretaries, I have nothing to add to what I have said.

Mr. Kinnock

Might it not be a good idea if my right hon. Friend obtained some compliments from my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) before giving a judgment on the matter? Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that it is better for Parliamentary Private Secretaries to exercise influence on the Government than for people such as the hon. Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) and his predecessors to exercise the sort of influence that they have had?

Will my right hon. Friend seriously reconsider the whole position of Parliamentary Private Secretaries? I acknowledge the need that busy Ministers have for particular kinds of assistance, but should we not stop this silly throw-over from the public school fagging system and this unwanted extension of Prime Ministerial patronage?

The Prime Minister


Mr. Tebbit

Does the right hon. Gentleman think that the offence of a Parliamentary Private Secretary in voting against the Government, sometimes on a quite minor matter, is any greater than that of the Secretary of State for Energy when he claims to speak at a Press Gallery lunch as a private Member of Parliament and repudiates the doctrine of collective responsibility when discussing constitutional reform?

The Prime Minister

I have nothing to add to my original answer.

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