HL Deb 08 June 1995 vol 564 cc1460-1

3.17 p.m.

Lord Dubs asked Her Majesty's Government:

How long they intend to maintain the recently established Cabinet committee charged with the presentation of government policy.

The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne)

My Lords, the committee will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the Government gave as the reason for their disastrous showing in the recent local elections that they had not adequately presented their policies? Can the Minister explain to the House which of the Government's policies will benefit from better presentation?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, we do not live in a perfectible world. The policies of any government are always susceptible to better presentation. It seems sensible therefore that the Government should establish a Cabinet committee in order to try to reach ever nearer perfection in this matter.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there is a certain irony in this Question coming from the party opposite? As far as anyone is able to ascertain, it has no discernible policies whatever. Does not my noble friend think it would be a kindness to provide the party opposite with a similar committee in order to help it present its policies?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, my noble friend is entirely right. We are aware from the proceedings in yesterday's debate that the parties opposite would like to use public money to try to get them out of the hole my noble friend describes. I am glad to say that a number of people on this side of the House thought that that would be an even greater waste of public money than some of the policies the parties opposite advocate.

Lord Richard

My Lords, is the Leader of the House aware that we wish this Cabinet committee well in its endeavours? Judging from recent election results, the more government policies reveal, the less the people seem to like it.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, the noble Lord cannot have it both ways. Either government policies are being well revealed or they are not being revealed well enough, as his noble friend Lord Dubs suggested. I will be perfectly confident if the committee is able to do its job as well as it is beginning to do it. The more the Government's policies are revealed, the more the contrast with the policies of the Opposition will show to the Government's advantage.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, in his Answer the noble Viscount said that the committee will remain in place for the foreseeable future. Can he say at which point the Government would consider that they were too close to a general election and that selling the Government's policies might be in breach of using taxpayers' money to convince people for election purposes?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, the rules are perfectly clear about when a government have to cease acting as a government and when they enter into the electoral arena. Those rules are set out. But the noble Baroness poses an entirely fair question by implication. I should emphasise that it is important for the committee to draw a clear distinction, and to make sure that a clear distinction is drawn, between the proper functions of presenting government policy and party political presentation. We are fortunate in having an explanation in paragraph 3 of what have come to be known as the Armstrong rules, which were issued on 1st February 1993.