HL Deb 18 May 1993 vol 545 cc1645-8

2.49 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

Which Minister represents Her Majesty's Treasury in this House.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Wakeham)

My Lords, it is a well-established convention that Ministers in this House speak on behalf of the Government as a whole. A number of Ministers may therefore be called on to respond for the Government on economic and financial issues including, from time to time, myself. However, as the House will be well aware, the lead spokesmen on such issues are my noble friends Lord Caithness, Lord Strathclyde, Lord Henley and Lord St. Davids.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that comprehensive Answer, is he not aware of the difficulty of a Minister replying on behalf of a department of which he is not a member, and where he has no authority, and that department is involved with really important public matters? Would it not be more in accordance with the proper treatment of this House as well as of the individual Ministers if we now had a Minister serving in the Treasury on that Bench?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, the appointment of Ministers is, of course, a matter for the Prime Minister, not for me. However, perhaps I may point out to your Lordships that there have been only two departmental Treasury Ministers in the Lords in the 20th century: my noble friend Lord Cockfield from 1979 to 1982 (I had the honour of succeeding him as a Minister at the Treasury when he moved on) and my noble friend Lord Caithness who was in the Treasury from 1989 to 1990. There was no Lords Minister when my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter served at the Treasury. As I said, however, Ministers answer for the Government as a whole and I am sure that your Lordships are pleased that 23 Government Ministers are Members of the House of Lords at present, which is the highest number since the war.

Lord Richard

My Lords, as I understand what the noble Lord the Leader of the House has told us, no fewer than four Ministers, plus himself, are responsible in this House for explaining and justifying government economic policy. On behalf of the Opposition, may I express our sincere condolences?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, if I may say so, far more than four noble Lords sitting on the Opposition Benches try to ask awkward questions and, again if I may say so, do not succeed very often.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead

My Lords, will the noble Lord the Leader of the House accept that while he is clearly right about the precedents, nonetheless as there are now so many Ministers in the Government it might now be easier to have a Treasury representative in this House than it was previously? Does he agree it is of primary importance that as we only rarely have major wide-ranging Treasury debates we should have a reply to them that is given with the authority and the flexibility which can perhaps come only from membership of the Cabinet—in other words, will he reply more often himself?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, that is a helpful suggestion from the Leader of the Liberal Democratic Party. As he will know, I did just that on Wednesday in a debate at which, unfortunately, I did not see the noble Lord present.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, having prayed on a number of occasions in the past six months for an earthquake at the Treasury, heaven forbid that it should engulf our noble Leader or his many noble friends.

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for his remarks, although I am not sure that I understood the detail absolutely.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, may I put it to my noble friend that it would help if we had a Member of this House in the Treasury? I ask that because the other day my noble friend Lord Caithness told me in a Written Answer that the highest rate of income tax was 40 per cent., whereas a week or so earlier in a footnote to an Answer to my noble friend Lord Marlesford he said that a small number of taxpayers would be subject to a marginal rate of 45 per cent. It might be helpful if we could avoid such contradictory replies.

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I certainly hope that my noble friend's second answer was the right one rather than the first. I know that my noble friend always wishes to help the Prime Minister in all matters and he will no doubt find an early opportunity of putting his own views to the Prime Minister on this if he wants to.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, while appreciating the noble Lord's difficulty in obtaining recruits for the rather hazardous occupation in modern times of answering on behalf of the Treasury, will he take all possible steps in conjunction with his colleagues—in justice to those who accept that very hazardous occupation—to ensure that they are properly briefed by the departments concerned?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I thought at first that the noble Lord's question was going to be a very subtle job application for himself. However, I certainly take the point that it is very important that all Ministers (whatever the department for which they are responsible when replying in this House) are properly briefed, and I do everything that I can to ensure that that is the position.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, in view of the questions that have been put to my noble friend from all quarters of the House and in view of the obvious importance of the Treasury and of financial and economic policy at the moment, although I know that my noble friend has no direct responsibility for this, will he see that the question of having a Treasury Minister in this House is considered at the time of the next reshuffle?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I shall certainly ensure that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister is aware of today's exchanges. However, I think that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister will bear in mind that the House of Lords is primarily a revising chamber. Scrutiny of financial and money Bills by the House of Lords is limited by both Parliament Acts and convention. Therefore, there is little call for a Treasury Minister to pilot legislation through the House. That must be a factor that he will want to bear in mind. It is, of course, a very old and long-standing convention of this House and I am a conservative in this matter as well as in many others. The modern practice in respect of Commons financial privileges is based upon resolutions of that House of 1671 and 1678. For example, until this Session consolidated funds were last debated in this House in 1907.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, could the noble Lord make one little point clear? Noble Lords often need to write to Ministers on private matters relating to their departments that are not covered by oral or written Questions. Can he say which of the four Ministers or himself should be addressed? I recently had need to write such a letter and had to write directly to Mr. Lamont.

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I am sure that a practical solution is to write direct to the Minister with responsibility for that particular subject within the Treasury. That list is published and it is possible for the noble Countess to see it if she wants to. If she has any difficulty, perhaps she will write to me and I shall ensure that the matter is passed on to the right Minister. I am sure that if she writes to any of my noble friends they, too, will see that she gets a proper answer.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, if we were to have a debate on the philosophy of and the goings on at the Treasury, who would reply in this House?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, my noble friend asks a question to which I am not sure that I have an adequate answer off the cuff. Presumably she would first have to frame a Motion which is in order for us to discuss. Once such a Motion has been framed I would look around among my colleagues to decide whom I thought the most suitable to reply—and I guess that I might end up answering it myself.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, with regard to his answer a couple of questions ago, is the noble Lord aware that I, too, am as conservative in this respect (if in no other) as he is?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, this takes me back to the days in, I think, 1966 when I was the noble Lord's opponent in an election in the south of London which, if I remember correctly, he won.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, in his last answer to his noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, the noble Lord the Leader of the House said that the matters dealt with by the Treasury were money Bills, and what have you, and were not matters for this House. However, is he aware that the Treasury has now taken over from the Department of Trade and Industry responsibilities relating to financial services, banks and building societies in which this House has a very great interest indeed? Is he further aware that Members of this House (because they are Members of this House) have no representation in relation to taxation because they do not vote at general elections? Is it not fair, therefore, that we should have the right to question direct a representative of the Treasury who works in the Treasury and with the Chancellor?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, those are all powerful points, but other points also have to be taken into account by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister when he is deciding where he will allocate his Ministers within the Government. The first factor is that the total number of Ministers is limited by the Ministerial and Other Salaries Act, so he has only a limited number to dispose of in the various departments. As I have indicated, there is not a great deal of legislation that comes before this House that is directly the responsibility of the Treasury—I did not say that there was no such legislation, but not a great deal of it comes before this House. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has to take all those factors into account. This is primarily a matter for him, and I shall certainly see that the noble Lord's point of view is put to him.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, would not the problem be solved by giving Mr. Lamont a peerage?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I am a conservative. I have considerable doubts as to whether the other place would be entirely satisfied with having the Chancellor of the Exchequer in this place. Even going back to the halcyon days of 1841 and Robert Peel's Administration, when there were nine Members of the Upper House and five Members of the other place in the Cabinet, there was no Treasury Minister in this House.