HL Deb 21 May 1991 vol 529 cc101-3

Lord McCarthy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they intend to maintain a separate Department of Employment with its existing responsibilities, under a separate Secretary of State who is a member of the Cabinet.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Waddington)

My Lords, the organisation of the machinery of government is a matter for the Prime Minister. The Government constantly review their organisation to meet changing priorities. There are no current plans to reorganise the employment department or change its existing responsibilities.

Lord McCarthy

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that extremely vague reply. Will he explain why there have been so many stories lately in very respectable newspapers like the Sunday Times, The Times and the Financial Times suggesting that the Government intend to blow the Department of Employment all over Whitehall in four equal parts? Is that not explicable given the fact that the Government have no policy whatever as regards the labour market?

Lord Waddington

My Lords, I do not believe that my reply was at all vague; it was straightforward. Perhaps the noble Lord will not object if I remind him that he should not believe all that he reads in the newspapers.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, will the noble Lord the Leader of the House agree that the Department of Employment is one of the most crucial of all government departments and that it is of special significance at present when unemployment is rising to most unacceptable levels? In those circumstances, while it was good to hear that there is no plan to do away with the Department of Employment, will he give an undertaking that on behalf of this House he will continue to pursue that point within the Cabinet?

Lord Waddington

My Lords, the Government attach great Importance to the functions of the Department of Employment, which makes a vital contribution to the country's future economic prosperity. The department plays a vital role in helping unemployed people to obtain jobs.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, I appreciate that, but will the Minister explain why reports which appeared in reputable newspapers like the Sunday Times and the Financial Times about the Department of Employment were not repudiated at the time by the Government?

Lord Waddington

My Lords, if every rumour which appeared in the press was repudiated by the Government, there would not be much space to put anything else in the newspapers. I can only repeat what I said before.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, will the Minister give the House an assurance that there is no intention to privatise any section of the services provided by the Department of Employment, and in particular the employment service, which is of such great importance to the country at present?

Lord Waddington

My Lords, I have made it absolutely plain that the Government attach the greatest importance to the functions carried out by the Department of Employment. Quite clearly, reorganisation of government is a matter for the Prime Minister. I am sure that I was correct to state the matter in the words that I used.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, my noble friend on the Front Bench referred to the Government's proposals. Will the Minister give us an undertaking that they have no plans either to privatise the Department of Employment or to make provision for the local employment exchanges to opt out?

Lord Waddington

My Lords, I give the noble Lord the assurance which I gave in my original Answer. The organisation of the machinery of government is a matter for the Prime Minister. There are no current plans to reorganise the employment department. Therefore, the question posed by the noble Lord cannot possibly arise.

Baroness David

My Lords, has there been any plan to amalgamate the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Employment, as yesterday Statements were repeated from both departments covering a very similar area?

Lord Waddington

My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness that there is the closest co-operation between the Department of Employment and the Department of Education and Science. That was well evidenced yesterday by the production of the White Papers.

Lord McCarthy

My Lords, if the noble Lord cannot give a commitment of the kind sought, will he give a commitment that at last the Government intend to introduce an alternative to the community programme to do something about the long-term unemployed?

Lord Waddington

My Lords, this is an extraordinary time to raise the subject of the long-term unemployed. If any evidence were necessary of the Government's commitment to tackle the problems of unemployment, that evidence was produced yesterday. A very warm and friendly reception was given to the two White Papers by this House and by another place. The proposals put forward by the Government are markedly in contrast with the proposal put forward by the Labour Party, which is no more than a plan to increase unemployment by introducing a national minimum wage. If anybody doubts that for one moment, it is only necessary to look at a publication produced recently by the Fabian Society which states that the Labour Party's proposals would result in an increase in unemployment.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, given that in this House Ministers answer for the Government and not for colleagues, is it not wholly wrong to ask my noble friend to give undertakings which, by definition, he cannot possibly be expected to give?

Lord Waddington

My Lords, my noble and learned friend is right to point out the difficulty of giving the kind of undertakings asked for. However, I cannot object to any question addressed to me in this House. All I can do is to answer truthfully, and that is precisely what I have done.

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