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Principals And Assistant Secretaries

Volume 76: debated on Monday 1 April 1985

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asked the Minister for the Civil Service whether he intends to take any action in the light of the number of principals and assistant secretaries who have left the Civil Service in the past two years.

The number of assistant secretaries who have resigned has remained roughly constant over the past five years. The number of principals who have resigned has increased slightly. Those resigning represent a very small proportion of the overall numbers employed in those grades. Resignations at that level will continue to be carefully monitored, but no special action is considered necessary at present.

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's reassurance, because the trend could become worrying. However, will he now use that information as further ammunition to press forward with the introduction of merit pay within the service and also further delegation of decision-taking down the hierarchy in the service?

I am glad that my hon. Friend has recognised that the numbers resigning are very small. For principals under 40 the figure is about one in 50 and for those over 40 it is well under 1 per cent. I agree with my hon. Friend that the experiment that we are conducting on merit pay may well be helpful. I also agree with his comments about extending merit pay if the experiment that we are now conducting proves its worth.

Is it not a fact that there has been a marked fall-off in the quality and quantity of graduates now applying for posts in the Civil Service? Is not that reduction in applications the consequence of the continuous public campaign of contempt to which the Prime Minister has subjected the Civil Service?

Neither the first nor the second part of the right hon. Gentleman's question is correct.

What has happened with regard to the amount of overtime worked by civil servants in those grades recently? Has it not increased substantially? Is that not wrong at a time when people are searching for jobs and when morale in the Civil Service is so low?

Overtime is not taken particularly into account for assistant secretaries and principals. They work the hours that are necessary to carry out their duties. In my experience of people of that grade, they are very dedicated indeed in the service that they give.

Is not the Minister's reply rather too complacent? Is he not aware that there now has to be competition for post at principal level, which is a key grade? Is he not further aware that, looking to the future for the fast-stream graduate entry, it is now much more difficult for the Civil Service to obtain the lawyers, accountants, economists and statisticians who are needed? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that that is due to the unprecedentedly low level of morale in the Civil Service brought about by low pay and the autocratic style of management, coupled with the attack on trade union rights of civil servants? Is it not time that the Minister was much less complacent?

I do not believe that the hon. Lady's exaggerated language is justified, but I agree that there are certain specialist recruits whom we have some difficulty in attracting. Equally, however, it is important that the Civil Service should not be seen to take more than its fair share of the bright young talent available to the country.