HL Deb 26 June 1995 vol 565 cc521-2

2.35 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why they have rejected the findings of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration that the Department of Transport was guilty of maladministration concerning a number of claims for compensation for blight caused by the Channel Tunnel rail link, and whether they will review this decision.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen)

My Lords, the Government's position is set out in detail in the letter written by the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Transport which responded to the commissioner's draft report and was published with it. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State and the Permanent Secretary have both given evidence to the PCA Select Committee. We are now awaiting the outcome of the committee's deliberations.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, may I ask the Minister how, against the finding of unquestionable maladministration—because that was the finding of the Parliamentary Commissioner—he would feel if he were one of those householders whose homes have been blighted for a period between 1990 and 1994, when the Government resist the conclusions that are independently reached, and in an almost unprecedented way? How would he feel if he were in the position of such a householder denied any remedy?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, the fact is that we do not accept the findings of the Parliamentary Commissioner in regard to maladministration. We gave evidence fully to the Select Committee. The Select Committee has been through the report and has taken evidence on it. I certainly would not want to pre-empt the response of the Select Committee or the Government's response to that committee.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

My Lords, if Ministers are going to deny redress recommended by the Parliamentary Commissioner simply on the ground that they would have found differently about their own administration, what is the point of having a Parliamentary Commissioner?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, there is a clear point of having a Parliamentary Commissioner and that is to investigate these matters fully. Nonetheless, it remains the case that we maintain our line. We reject the finding of maladministration for the clear reasons laid out in our response to the commissioner's report, which are too long for me to rehearse in full detail at the Dispatch Box this afternoon. Nonetheless, they are clearly laid out in terms of our response to the accusation of maladministration in the areas concerning, for example, generalised blight. The Select Committee has taken evidence from the Government and we await its report.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, the noble Lord in his first reply to the Question referred to the Parliamentary Commissioner's draft report. Is that the precise status of the document? Is it Her Majesty's Government's practice to refer to a report by an ombudsman which they do not like as a draft report?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, at that stage it was a draft report. I believe that with the inclusion of the Permanent Secretary's letter it became a final report.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, does the Minister realise that he has not really answered my question, which was to put himself into the position of one of these householders? Does he accept that there must he a considerable measure of resentment, not only on their part but on the part of their Members of Parliament, who have expressed decided views about the matter? Does he accept that there must be that resentment?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, I could not possibly follow the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, down that line and put myself in that position. This was a report by the Parliamentary Commissioner, which we take extremely seriously. We have been through it in the greatest possible detail. The charges relate to maladministration concerning generalised blight and the redress for that. We have given our full response, and that response has been examined by the Select Committee. When the Select Committee comes forward with its response, we shall consider that carefully.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, what happens if the Select Committee disagrees with the Government's excuses?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, we shall have to read carefully what the Select Committee says.