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Civil Service

Volume 116: debated on Monday 11 May 1987

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Drug Addiction

60.

asked the Minister for the Civil Service if he will make a statement on measures to combat drug addiction within the Civil Service.

All the evidence presently available suggests that drug misuse in the Civil Service is on a very small scale. But we do not feel we can be complacent. A group of officials from my Department and others will shortly be meeting representatives of the Civil Service trades unions to review the evidence, draft policy guidance to Departments and offer advice to Civil Service managers.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Does he agree that, as there are between 60,000 and 100,000 known drug addicts in this country, it is not unreasonable to assume that some of them are to be found in every large organisation? The Civil Service employs over 600,000 people. What is my right hon. Friend doing to ensure that adequate counselling and help are being provided for those who may take to drugs? He will agree that it is one of the most intractable problems that is facing every part of this country.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He should know—perhaps he does know—that the level of drug misuse in the Civil Service is extremely low. Last year there were only six reported cases of drugs misuse. That shows how small the problem is. However, as it is a widespread problem, it is right that the management of the Civil Service should have guidance at its disposal to make sure that we can deal with these problems as they arise.

Northern Region (Job Dispersal)

61.

asked the Minister for the Civil Service if he has any plans for the transfer of Civil Service posts to the northern region; and if he will make a statement.

The DHSS proposes to centralise certain benefit work in Newcastle from local offices. This relocation will increase its work force in Newcastle by at least 300 posts. The needs of the regions will continue to be taken into account whenever the question of location of new work or relocation of existing work arises.

Is it not a fact that for the eight years that this Government have been in power they have shed an ocean of crocodile tears about the high unemployment in the northern region? Their hypocrisy has been demonstrated by the fact that during that period they have deliberately decided not to transfer a single Civil Service post to the north. Will the Minister take down from the shelf the Hardman committee report and see just how strong is the case for dispersal to the northern region?

I know of the hon. Gentleman's persistent interest in this question, and I had hoped that he would be pleased by the announcement that I have just made of 300 additional jobs. The hon. Gentleman knows that our dispersal policy is very nearly completed and that 6,000 posts are being dispersed to other parts of the country. I acknowledge that they have not gone to the northern area; they have gone to Scotland and to other parts of the country, because the northern area, compared with other areas, has a high proportion of civil servants to the total number of the working population. Our dispersal and relocation policies mean that other jobs will be going both to his area and to other areas.

Recruitment

62.

asked the Minister for the Civil Service what measures he is taking to ensure the adequacy of recruitment methods of civil servants for the 21st century.

Methods of recruitment to the Civil Service are revised as the tasks required of civil servants and the skills and qualities they need change. Within the Civil Service Commission, the recruitment research unit is actively engaged in reviewing the effectiveness of existing procedures and developing improved procedures. Underlying these changes is a continuing commitment to the fundamentals of fair and open competition and selection on merit.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. However, is he aware that concern has been expressed about bias in Civil Service recruitment procedures? Can my right lion. Friend assure the House that there is no bias—for example, that the Oxbridge syndrome does not come into play? Can he give us an absolute assurance that that does not apply to what I believe is known as the fast track?

I think that the commission goes out of its way to get across to all sections of the community the opportunities available in the Civil Service. On my hon. Friend's last question, he will be interested to note that the proportion of Oxbridge graduates who enter the highflying part of the Civil Service decreased from 75 per cent. in 1982 to 46 per cent. in 1986. That indicates that we are getting an intake of civil servants from a much wider background than previously.

Is the Minister aware that, to ensure good recruitment to the Civil Service, the Government must appear to be a good employer? Is he further aware that after eight years of mismanagement including the dismantling of the pay research unit, low pay and under-staffing, and capped by the abolition of trade union rights at GCHQ, the Government cannot convince anyone that they will be a good employer of civil servants in future? Is that not a further reason for the rejection of the Government at the polls on 11 June?

I think that the hon. Lady is indulging in a little wishful thinking. Our record of managing the Civil Service is remarkable. There has been a great improvement in the efficiency and professionalism of the service. Its staff has been reduced to fewer than 600,000, but it is a streamlined, dedicated and loyal service.[Interruption.]

Women (Public Appointments)

63.

asked the Minister for the Civil Service what steps he is taking to ensure that a large proportion of women are appointed to public bodies.

The public appointments unit is currently processing the list of more than 600 women compiled by the campaign for women into public life. The unit will put these names forward to Departments whenever suitable opportunities arise, together with names of other women received following recent publicity for the work of the unit.

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the number of women in the Civil Service is increasing? Does he share my hope that the number of women in the Civil Service and in public life will continue to increase after the next general election?

I am glad that the public appointments unit, which puts names forward for non-departmental public bodies, has received an increasing number of women's names, thanks to the co-operation of a number of sources, including hon. Members. Clearly, the Government will continue to support all the efforts being made to increase the number of women able to serve in public life

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that only 14 per cent. of the Prime Minister's appointments to public bodies have been of women? Es he further aware—although this is not his direct responsibility—that Britain has only two women ambassadors throughout the world? Does that not show that the Prime Minister and the Conservative Government have betrayed women, just as they have betrayed all other categories of our society?

The more questions the hon. Gentleman asks, the more excitable he becomes. The proportion of women in non-departmental public bodies is now 19 per cent. and not 14 per cent., and thanks to the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister last autumn to raise interest, the public appointments unit now has far more women's names.

Top Jobs (Report)

64.

asked the Minister for the Civil Service what action he proposes to take following the report of the Royal Institute of Public Administration on top jobs, a copy of which has been sent to him.

I welcome the RIPA report as a useful contribution to the continuing debate about the work of central Government. It mirrors in a number of respects the conclusions reached by the Select Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service a year ago, to which the Government's response was presented to Parliament last July.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is of great benefit to civil servants that they should enjoy the process of interchange on secondment with outside bodies, particularly with industry? Will he confirm that that remains, and will remain after the next general election, the Government's policy? What is the rate of inward secondment to the Civil Service?

My hon. Friend is right to attach importance to inward and outward secondments to the Civil Service. That is very much at the heart of the Government's policy on the Civil Service. I am pleased to be able of announce that in 1986 outward secondment has gone up from 229 to 280 people and inward secondment has gone up from 157 to 189 people. That shows that we are building on our policy of secondment.