Des Browne's Dual Ministerial role questioned by Lord Boyce

Des Browne's Dual Ministerial role questioned by Lords Tebbitt & Boyce

Lords Hansard: 10 Dec 07, Cols.7-9

Government: Dual Ministerial Roles

Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Why they did not answer Lord Tebbit’s Written Question concerning the apportionment of the time of Mr Des Browne MP between his duties as Secretary of State for Defence and Secretary of State for Scotland, tabled on 9 October and due for answer on 23 October, before Prorogation on 30 October; and why they have not written to him on this matter.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence and I apologise that a holding response to the Question, tabled on 9 October, was not sent to the noble Lord. The Defence Secretary has now written to him to explain the situation.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I should thank the noble Baroness for that reply, and extend to her my sympathy for having to answer two questions running from totally indefensible grounds.

Two matters arise. First, why did it take more than seven weeks—from 9 October to 30 November—for the Secretary of State for Scotland to tell me that he could not tell me how much time he spent on each of his two jobs? Why did he tell a different story to a newspaper reporter of the Mail on Sunday on 23 November? Secondly, could the Minister confirm that Mr Browne is a lawyer? Can she say whether he found difficulty as a lawyer in apportioning the time that he spent on the affairs of his various clients, and that therefore he never billed them at all?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I shall steer well clear of legal matters that certainly predate the time when my right honourable friend was Secretary of State. I take the noble Lord’s comments about sympathy for me in the way in which they were intended.

In fact, the letter that my right honourable friend sent to the noble Lord explains the delay. In it, he said:

“If it is any consolation, I and my officials have been exploring further whether a sensible factual answer could be provided to your question, and I have concluded that it is impossibleâ€.

The Secretary of State went on to say that he would be happy to meet the noble Lord to explain that. Perhaps I should point out that whether my right honourable friend is meeting the noble Lord or working on other matters, he is the Secretary of State 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year.

Lord Boyce: My Lords, I do not doubt that Mr Des Browne, the Secretary of State for Defence, is both hard-working and extremely conscientious, but this is not a matter of clearing one’s in-tray or managing one’s diary. We are at war, and this is about leadership. Does the Minister accept that the perception of our soldiers, sailors and airmen—I meet many of our servicemen and servicewomen—is that their commitment, which sadly sometimes involves the ultimate sacrifice, is not matched by this Government in a number of ways, not least by their extraordinary unwillingness to have a full-time Secretary of State at these times of high levels of war fighting?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, if the role of the Secretary of State for Defence was simply to clear his in-tray, I suspect that a figure could be put on the number of hours he spends doing that, but it is clearly much more that. There is never a day, an hour or any time when the Secretary of State is not fully conscious of his very significant responsibilities. At the moment, my right honourable friend is in Afghanistan visiting the troops there yet again. I think that this is his fifth visit to Afghanistan. He has made seven visits to Iraq, which makes his visits at least once every two months into theatre. That commitment is extremely high and shows how seriously he takes his responsibilities. I also reject the idea that he has not delivered in other ways through welfare packages and compensation for those with multiple injuries, and in tackling some of the legacy problems that have been around for many years involving such issues as housing and accommodation generally. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has a record of which he can be proud, which shows his full commitment to the responsibilities that he holds.

Lord Addington: My Lords, as the Secretary of State for Defence has on several occasions said publicly that the job for Scotland does not take up much time, would it not be appropriate if someone else did that job?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, that is a matter for the Prime Minister.


Lantern Swinger
Re: Des Browne's Dual Ministerial role questioned by Lord Bo

Is he really so silly that he thinks it was acceptable for him to say that the time he uses to be SoS for Scotland was the time he should be spending on his consitituency business?

His constituency party should have binned him on the spot!!!

Minor diversion up a side street, but how come John Reid "Oh FCUK - not Defence" can be an MP, and still find time to be Chairman of Celtic FC.

My boss would need sedating if i suggested an early bath any day but a Friday.

Why do we let these people take the p!ss?
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