HL Deb 16 October 1968 vol 296 cc1363-8

3.45 p.m.


My Lords, with permission I should like to repeat a Statement which my right honourable friend the Prime Minister is making in another place about changes in the organisation of Government Departments. These changes cover, respectively, the organisation of Government for overseas affairs, the social services and the management of the Civil Service. My right honourable friend's Statement continues:

"I explained in reply to my right honourable friend the Member for Easington on the 28th of March that I had asked my right honourable 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 to-morrow."

My Lords, with permission, I intend to repeat slightly later on a more detailed Statement on that subject which has been made by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary in another place.

The Statement continues:

"The Queen has graciously agreed that my right honourable 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 honourable friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton on April 11 to my decision to amalgamate the Ministries of Health and Social Security. The Queen has graciously agreed to the appointment of my right honourable 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."

Here again, my Lords, I am sure that we can consider through the usual channels the possibility of a debate in your Lordships' House on the necessary Affirmative Resolution.

The Statement goes on:

"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 November 1. 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 present departmental boundaries.

"My right honourable friend will continue after his appointment as 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 June 26"—

and that Statement was repeated in your Lordships' House—

"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 to-day, for the necessary transfer of functions from the Treasury to the Minister for the Civil Service to take effect on November 1. 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"—

that is the House of Commons—

"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."

My Lords, some of those remarks are not appropriate to this House because we have already had a lengthy debate on the Fulton Report.


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord the Leader of the House would now read out the other Statement. He has read half the Statement about the new Ministries. I think it would be convenient if he took both together. Would this be possible?


My Lords, I wonder whether it might not be better to keep the Foreign Office and Commonwealth Office Statement until the end and to have any questions directed to the merger of the other Departments a: this stage, so that we do not muddle up the two matters. I wonder whether this would be agreeable to the House?


My Lords, in that case it falls to me to thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for reading that Statement and to welcome at any rate that part of it which referred to the amalgamation of the Ministries of Health and Social Security. It has for a long time been a cardinal part of Conservative policy in this field that the administration of cash and care Within the social services should be the responsibility of one Minister.

There will remain the difficulty of deciding in which Minister the responsibilities that arise out of the implementation of the Seebohm Report are finally to be vested. A large part of the Seebohm Report covered the Children's Department, which at present is normally the responsibility of the Home Secretary. Perhaps it is premature to ask the noble Lord to say anything about that at this stage. But in so far as the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of social Security are merged, it is certainly welcomed from these Benches.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for ropeating that Statement. There are only two points that I wish to raise. We welcome the streamlining of these arrangements; but may I ask whether, apart from the increased efficiency which should result, there will be a saving in manpower? Secondly, what is to be the position of the present Offices of the Minister of Health and the Minister of Social Security? Are they to be downgraded? Will it be possible not to lose the services of so competent a Minister as Mr. Kenneth Robinson?


My Lords, I am obliged to noble Lords. The fact that this is in accordance with Conservative policy does not mean that it is wholly wrong. It is certainly different from the concept of "overlords" from which certain noble Lords on that side of the House may have suffered in the past. The noble Lord put his finger on a very crucial area. He was good enough to say that it might be difficult at the moment to answer the question relating to the consequences of the Seebohm Report. The noble Lord will have noticed that my right honourable friend's title goes rather wider than that of Social Security and Health. He will co-ordinate the discussions with local authorities and other interests on the Seebohm Report on Local Authority and Allied Personal Social Services. It is really too early yet to say whether any changes in departmental organisation will flow from this Report. I must say that I should be rather nervous to start speculating on that.

The noble Lord, Lord Byers, asked whether there would be any saving in manpower. I shall have something to say about that in relation to the Commonwealth Office and the Foreign Office; but these two Departments are only about to be merged, and although some of the work will have been done it is a little early to speculate on particular savings. For instance, on the Civil Service Department it may well be necessary—although the Government are anxious, indeed determined, to keep within the ceilings they have set themselves—in order to make economies sometimes to invest; and some manpower will be needed within the Civil Service Department. But I take the noble Lord's point.

Of course the object of increased efficiency is either to provide better and more services (and some of the increases in manpower that have come about in the past have been made in order to provide increased services) or to make economies and save manpower—which is either a net saving or the manpower can be used more profitably elsewhere. On the question of the present Offices, I echo the noble Lord's sentiments about the Ministers concerned but I think I ought not to speculate on a matter which is so much within the Prime Minister's prerogative.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether they are going to remain or are going to be downgraded?


My Lords, I think it would appear to suggest that the two posts of independent Departmental Ministers will disappear; but I hesitate to use a word like "downgraded". Indeed, I hesitate to speculate at all. I do not know the answers.