HL Deb 17 July 1974 vol 353 cc1120-2

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in view of the variety of legislative subjects which members of the Government in the House of Lords have to deal with, it is the intention to increase the number of Ministers with Departmental responsibility.


My Lords, it is not the intention at this moment.


My Lords, does not my noble friend agree that it is somewhat invidious and unsatisfactory that those generally described as on the Government Front Bench have no Departmental responsibility whatever? Some of them have to undertake operations on behalf of several Departments. Is that not a highly unsatisfactory position? If my noble friend's Answer means that nothing is to be done at present, could we make some temporary arrangements so that those sitting on the Front Bench—I make no criticism of them whatever—should have some Departmental responsibility?


My Lords, naturally I am sympathetic to any pressure or suggestion from my noble friend that we should have more Ministers in your Lordships' House, and I will certainly convey these views to my right honourable friend, particularly regarding the fact that on a previous Question my noble friend volunteered to give advice free of charge. In regard to Lords in Waiting, whom I suspect my noble friend has in mind, I think it was the previous Administration which rectified this position; Lords in Waiting now have offices in particular Departments and are provided with secretarial support. This clearly means that those Lords in Waiting who speak for Departments have an everyday contact with that Department, although they may not have Ministerial responsibility as such.


My Lords, since some of us do not have an Order Paper or any printed paper with the Questions on it, due to the state of affairs with which we now live, may we ask the Minister to read out the Question so that we may know what it is about?


My Lords, I suspect that the noble Lord is probably the only noble Lord in this House who is not aware of what my noble friend is asking.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I do not want to bring pressure to bear on him or on Her Majesty's Government, and that there is nothing personal in this; I am not seeking an appointment myself. I say that to correct any possibility of misunderstanding. Is he also aware, on the matter of offering free advice to Her Majesty's Government, which I occasionally do, the only difficulty I experience is that they seldom take my advice, but if they did they would be much better off?


My Lords, I am rather relieved that my noble friend is not seeking a position on the Front Bench. I will, however, carefully consider what he has sought, which I had hoped to regard as pressure upon me to convey a certain message to my right honourable friend.


My Lords, what the noble Lord the Leader of the House has said about the position of Lords in Waiting is quite true; under the previous Administration it was possible to arrange Departmental liaison. May I ask the noble Lord, following what the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, said, whether it is not the case that the recent Ministers of the Crown Act increased by seven the total number of Ministers who can be appointed and paid? Will he do his utmost to see that at least one or two of those could represent the Government in this House?


My Lords, the Act to which the noble Lord refers was particularly needed in regard to Northern Ireland. May I say to the noble Lord that in the light of my Answer I think he will appreciate, certainly from reading the newspapers, that there may be an event in the autumn when no doubt this matter can be dealt with.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the fact that, whether or not the Lords in Waiting have Ministerial responsibility in Whitehall many of us on these Back-Benches are full of admiration for the way they have discharged their duties?


My Lords, I am glad my noble friend has said that. I have listened to a number of Bills going through your Lordships' House conducted by Lords in Waiting, and I think it has been the general view of all those who participated in those stages that the Lords in Waiting have rendered notable service to this House and this Parliament.