HL Deb 13 December 1999 vol 608 cc4-6

2.45 p.m.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have to provide adequate accommodation for the Prime Minister's official staff.

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton)

My Lords, the Government have no plans to change the current accommodation arrangements for the Prime Minister's Office.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for that Answer. I can think of no one more skilled or better suited to present it. Is it true that the rather bigger staff that the Prime Minister is said to require today is bursting out of No. 10 and looking for better, bigger and newer accommodation? If that is true, why is so much money being spent on what I may call "old No. 10"? Perhaps the noble and learned Lord, with candour, can tell the House whether that pressure is due to the need to accommodate a large image making staff, which is the busiest and most successful department in the Government?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, the Prime Minister's staff are not bursting out of No. 10. There are no plans to move the staff or to increase the size of the accommodation. On the expenditure referred to, first, the state rooms have been improved for the first time in 10 years, and, secondly, the top floor of No. 10 Downing Street has been brought back into commission as offices following a terrorist attack that occurred some years previously. The number of staff has been increased, as the Labour Party made it clear before coming into office that it would have a strong centre, which it has.

Lord Lipsey

My Lords, does my noble and learned friend agree that it is amazing, given the range of responsibilities of a modern Prime Minister, not that the number of staff at No. 10 is so big, but that it is so small?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I agree with much of what my noble friend says. The size of the staff is appropriate to the responsibilities.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, will not the Prime Minister's staff require more accommodatior in order to employ more people to look after the Scottish Executive, which last week managed to get itself into a total shambles resulting in Mr Donald Dewar sacking his chief adviser, despite the desires of Downing Street to keep him? If more staff are needed, can the Minister give the House an absolute assurance that the Secretary of State for Scotland will not be evicted and that Dover House will not be taken over by the Prime Minister?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, first, it is absolutely clear that the Prime Minister will stay in No. 10 Downing Street. Secondly, I note the noble Lord's reference to "shambles". I wonder how the Conservative Party feels at the moment about their choice for London mayor. As I understand the position, the No. 1 candidate dropped out and No. 2 has been barred despite the fact that he was allowed in the race the first time round. But perhaps that is straying too far from the Question.

Noble Lords


Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, obviously there is a misunderstanding in relation to that. Thirdly, I do not believe that the Question has anything to do with Scotland.

Earl Russell

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House the cost of the Prime Minister's official staff? How does that cost compare with the cost for the last year of John Major's prime ministership and how are those costs divided between public funds, party funds and the Prime Minister's private funds?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I cannot give the House the precise costs. The difference in terms of the number of staff is that as at 1st April 1997, the number of staff in No. 10 was 130. The current figure is 199. However, I shall write to the noble Earl about the costs.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether a nanny would be classified as part of the Prime Minister's official staff? If so, will extra accommodation be required for him or her?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I should have thought that the question about a nanny would be entirely a matter for the Prime Minister's private arrangements.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, if the number of people in the Prime Minister's staff increases by 50 per cent, can the Minister explain how they are not over-crowded? Indeed, were they all floating around like ducks in a bath beforehand?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I should have thought that the description of the previous government's staff at No. 10 as "floating … ducks in a bath" might be an appropriate portrayal of what was going on before. However, I cannot tell. The noble Earl is better placed than I to judge that. As far as concerns the present position, the top floor has been brought into commission as offices. Modern methods of space planning are used and there is no difficulty.

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne

My Lords, given the Prime Minister's overall responsibility for the Civil Service, would the Minister like to congratulate the Civil Service College on its part in securing the contract to train civil servants of the European Union? Given the size of that task, does the Minister agree that No. 10 Downing Street is likely to be denuded of civil servants for some time to come?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

Yes, my Lords. I should like to join the noble Baroness in congratulating the Civil Service College on its training generally and on securing the contract to which she referred.