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Volume 130: debated on Monday 28 March 1988

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To ask the Minister for the Civil Service whether he has any plans to alter the present entry or promotion exams in the Civil Service.

No, Sir. Selection for entry to and promotion in the Civil Service is on merit. I expect that to continue and shall encourage it. Procedures are, however, altered as the skills and qualities civil servants need change.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Will he tell me why, on the examination forms for entry and promotion, the ethnic origin of candidates has to be stated? Are there two standards, one for those who are indigenous, and one for immigrants? Will he also tell me why, in the Ministry of Defence, there are at present vacancies for 535 clerical officers, while in the north of England there is a desperate shortage of work? What will he do to redress the balance?

The question about the Ministry of Defence is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Let me make it absolutely plain that the Government are equality of opportunity employers. We recruit people into the Civil Service and promote them only on the basis of equality of opportunity. The reason for obtaining information from recruits about their ethnic origin is to ensure, as best we conceivably can, that a policy of promotion on merit and equality of opportunity is properly run and devised by the Government.

I wonder whether in future, when civil servants have examinations to pass, they will also have a paper before them on how to leak without getting caught. If they need any advice on that, could the Minister suggest that it should be preceded by a seminar headed by Bernard Ingham and the Prime Minister to help them out?

I am glad to say that the Civil Service does not adhere to the standards that the hon. Gentleman seems to want.