§ 35. Mr. Tony Banks
To ask the Minister for the Civil Service what civil service facilities, and under what circumstances, are made available to former Prime Ministers.
§ The Minister of State, Privy Council Office (Mr. Tim Renton)
Civil service facilities made available to all former Prime Ministers are physical protection advice and services on the same basis as for other public figures considered to be at risk; the use of an official car; access to the official papers of their Administration. Briefing and help from local posts may also be provided in connection with overseas visits. Those facilities are long standing.
§ Mr. Banks
What a wretched and ungrateful response that is, from a Minister who owes a great deal to the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), for all the promotions that he got out of her. When Ronald Reagan can get public funding in America for a library to house his comics, why cannot the former Prime Minister get enough money to set up her own foundation, the Margaret Thatcher Institute for the Promotion of Political Humility, or whatever it may be called? Why can she not have some extra staff to mop up the tears every time she bumps into one of the back-stabbers on the Conservative Benches, to push her eyeballs back in after one of those BBC interviews, or to switch off the polygraph after she has recorded her memoirs telling us the truth about the Belgrano and Westland? The Minister could do far more for one of the great political loonies of the century. When we are in control, we shall give her everything she deserves.
§ Mr. Renton
I very much doubt whether the commitment just made by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) will be followed up by the Opposition Front Bench. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his extremely generous approach, and suggest that such generosity should also be made available to Lord Callaghan and Lord Wilson, who have not exactly been shrinking, blushing, quiet violets since they retired. The right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) might also benefit from substantially more secretarial services to help him with his speech writing.
§ Mr. Allason
Will my right hon. Friend clarify the circumstances in which access is granted for a former Prime Minister to his or her papers? Is it a privilege or a right? Does it extend to members of his or her staff? Where is he or she given access to those papers—in the Cabinet Office or elsewhere?
§ Mr. Renton
I think that it is probably correct to say that it is a privilege rather than a right. Former Prime Ministers and, occasionally, former Cabinet Ministers from time to time request—and, as my hon. Friend will know, are given—access to official papers from their Administration for research purposes. Given the nature of the papers, it is prudent as well as courteous to offer the reader a room in the Cabinet Office to read them.
§ Mr. Renton
I was referring specifically to facilities made available to Prime Ministers. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason), access to Cabinet papers is sometimes given to former Cabinet 751 members when they request it. With regard to the new facilities announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister a few weeks ago, it would be invidious for me to go into financial details in the House, but I expect that those facilities will be widely used by all five former Prime Ministers. In comparison with what is available in other western countries, the facilities here are small beer.