Departmental Staff

Oral Answers to Questions — Deputy Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 17th May 2006.

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Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson Conservative, Reading East 11:30 am, 17th May 2006

How many staff will be working in his new office.

Photo of John Prescott John Prescott Deputy Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

As the House will be aware, that very much depends on the role of the Deputy Prime Minister, which varies under different Prime Ministers and Governments. I will have the support of a private office, a secretariat and the Cabinet Office, as is relevant to my role. The Prime Minister today announced the responsibilities that are being given to me in my role as Deputy Prime Minister. Those details are available in the Library of the House.

"I think the Prime Minister felt that I was able to play a role—a more central role—in Government than I could have done when I had a huge Department to run, and was deeply involved in the day-to-day activities of a Department. If I was to play a more central role then I think it was understandable that I would be removed from front-line administration of one of Whitehall's largest Departments and that is what happened."

That is not my description of the Deputy Prime Minister's role; it is Lord Heseltine's description when he appeared before a Committee of this House in 1996. I think that it is right and I endorse his interpretation of the role.

Photo of Rob Wilson Rob Wilson Conservative, Reading East

I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for that, but I am not sure that he answered the question that I laid before him. What steps will he take to ensure that staff working under him are not subject to sexual harassment or bullying?

S

Another silly comment from the MP for Reading East. Instead of trying to make cheap points on the floor of the House perhaps he should be using...

Submitted by Stuart Singleton-White Continue reading

Photo of Anne Snelgrove Anne Snelgrove PPS (Lord Warner, Minister of State), Department of Health, PPS (Andy Burnham, Minister of State), Department of Health

My right hon. Friend will know that many in the Labour party and the country are very proud of the role that he has played as Deputy Prime Minister. We are pleased to hear that his Cabinet Office responsibilities —[ Interruption. ]

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. There is too much noise in the Chamber. Remember this; I am always able to go from one question to another if I get this behaviour. That would mean that there would be no supplementary questions and that Front-Bench Members would be denied an opportunity to ask questions.

Photo of Anne Snelgrove Anne Snelgrove PPS (Lord Warner, Minister of State), Department of Health, PPS (Andy Burnham, Minister of State), Department of Health

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As I was saying, there is a great deal of pride in the party and the country about the role that the Deputy Prime Minister has played. In particular, we are pleased to hear that his responsibilities have now been defined. Perhaps he could tell us how many of his staff will be responsible for the extended responsibilities that he is taking on.

Photo of John Prescott John Prescott Deputy Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I thank my hon. Friend for her supportive remarks; any more would be very welcome today. Let me make it absolutely clear that those responsibilities are both international and domestic and include Cabinet Committees, far more of them than is the case with any other Deputy Prime Minister. The support role and the numbers are being worked out. Obviously, until that has been concluded, we are not able to give a precise answer.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Secretary of State (Justice), Shadow Secretary of State

Is not the blunt truth that the Deputy Prime Minister's principal role is, as his party chairman said, as a political broker—a sort of marriage guidance counsellor between No. 10 and No. 11? Will he assure us that the civil servants in his office will not be dragged into those squabbles, and should not the Labour party being paying the bill?

Photo of John Prescott John Prescott Deputy Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I recommend that the hon. Gentleman read the Select Committee reports from when Lord Heseltine was giving evidence on the definition of the Deputy Prime Minister's role. It was made absolutely clear that civil servants were used as cheerleaders under his office. That had to be changed. It is not the intention to use civil servants in that way. Let me be clear that the office that Lord Heseltine defined is exactly the one I accepted. He also said in his evidence that he chaired a number of Cabinet Committees. That is true, but I will be chairing two or three times as many as he did. He also said:

"I have the responsibility for the presentation of Government policy".

Within two years, we had a majority of 169—it does not sound as though his presentation worked too well.