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Civil Service

Volume 130: debated on Monday 28 March 1988

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Government Management

71.

To ask the Minister for the Civil Service what representations he has received about the implications for the implementation of the White Paper "Improving Management in Government: The Next Steps," of the recent leak of a letter from Mr. Paul Gray to Mr. Tom Jeffrey about educational testing; and if he will make a statement.

I have received no representations about the matter.

Was it proper for Mr. Ingham's office, a Civil Service office, to give authority for the leak? Will there be a leak inquiry, and if not, why not?

Mr. Ingham must be very flattered by the amount of attention that he receives from the hon. Gentleman. The position remains quite clear. The Prime Minister stated on 14 March that it is not the usual practice to give information on such matters.

Will the Minister say why millions of pounds of public money are being spent in bringing management and computer consultants into various Government Departments to do jobs that could be done perfectly well by civil servants?

If bringing in consultants is designed to improve the management of the Civil Service and get better value for money for taxpayers, that is the right thing to do.

Examinations

72.

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.

Civil Service Reform

73.

To ask the Minister for the Civil Service what are the implications for the Office of Arts and Libraries of the proposed reforms of the Civil Service.

Like all other Government Departments, the Office of Arts and Libraries will be considering how to apply the recommendations of the "Next Steps" report to its own operations, though most of the functions which it funds are carried out by non-departmental public bodies.

Knowing the meticulous care that my right hon. Friend brings to his Ministry, will he tell the House whether he has yet had discussions with his other half, the Minister for the Arts, and what was the outcome?

I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts has a mind of his own. He is quite difficult to get alongside, but I will try.

In the light of the opportunities now offered by the reform of the Civil Service, may I enlist the support of the Minister in pressing for a Cabinet post for the arts in recognition of their importance in the United Kingdom?

I think that we are going a little beyond the Civil Service questions. However, I am flattered by the hon. and learned Gentleman's suggestion.

Agencies

74.

To ask the Minister for the Civil Service when he expects to meet the Civil Service trade unions to discuss the proposals for agencies for the Civil Service.

I have no plans to meet the Civil Service unions at present but the head of the Home Civil Service has made it clear that he is open to consultations.

Is the Minister aware that one of the largest Civil Service regional centres is in Nottingham, in my constituency of Nottingham, North, where the Government buildings at Chalfont drive have the Land Registry, the district valuers, the Property Services Agency, the Wages Inspectorate and the Ordnance Survey section? Will he, or one of his colleagues, meet the trade unions representatives on that large site and reassure them that by this time next year they will not be added to the list of Nottingham's 14,000 unemployed?

I am glad that there are such a large number of civil servants in the hon. Gentleman's constituency and area. In fact, four out of five of all civil servants are well outside the London region. That policy is one that the Government are encouraging. Meetings with the unions are for the Departments concerned.

Does the Minister recognise the widespread anxiety among civil servants about the effect that the agencies will have on nationally negotiated wage rates? What can he say to the House today to reassure those civil servants, many of whom are long-standing civil servants who have made career decisions over many years, that their position will not be eroded by the Government's policies?

There is no doubt about the importance of the agencies and the wide welcome that they have received from many people in the Civil Service. They will devolve more responsibility on to the shoulders of managers and that is more likely to lead to a better use of Government and taxpayers' resources. On the matter of terms and conditions of service, they remain civil servants within the agencies. It is a matter for negotiation between the Departments concerned and the agency being set up as to the exact terms and conditions of service. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the unions concerned will be fully consulted if there are any proposals for changes in terms and conditions.

75.

To ask the Minister for the Civil Service if he is yet in a position to give the definitive list of those organisations which will be the first to be formed into agencies, as part of the implementation of the recommendations of the recent efficiency unit report, "Improving Management in Government: The Next Steps".

An initial list of possibilities was published on 18 February. These and other candidates will be considered on their merits.

I welcome the report and the Prime Minister's statement that the Government intend to implement the establishment of agencies. As the proposal has been widely welcomed, both outside and inside the Civil Service, will my right hon. Friend seriously consider keeping up the momentum and encouraging the establishment of agencies as a topmost priority?

Yes, of course I will. The project manager, Mr. Kemp, is now fully settled in the Department and we are working on drawing up the first list for implementation as soon as possible with the Departments concerned. As my hon. Friend knows, there is an initial list of 12, and we shall make an announcement as soon as we have one to make.

Is the Minister interested in efficiency a bit nearer home? Did he notice that earlier this Question Time a messenger arrived, bewigged from the Lords, and handed a bundle of documents done up in red tape to the Serjeant at Arms, who handed the bundle to the Attendant who normally marks up the times of debates, who handed it to the Doorkeeper, who brought it round via the No Lobby to behind the Chair and handed it to our Clerk? Surely there is a more efficient method for bringing messages from the Lords and carrying them the last 25 yards to our Clerk.

I have to answer for the Civil Service and not for procedures in this House, which are a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. But the more that can be done to get rid of red tape, the better.

Ex-Civil Servants (Employment)

77.

To ask the Minister for the Civil Service how many former civil servants have taken up employment with companies in a contractual relationship with Her Majesty's Government in the last five years.

I am glad to report that the system for dealing with these cases continues to work well. Comprehensive information is not available centrally. However, applications which have been referred by Departments to the Cabinet Office in accordance with the business appointment rules show that, between 1983 and 1987, 519 civil servants have sought approval to join companies with which they had had contractual contact.

Is the Minister not aware of the concern that exists about the number of people leaving the Civil Service to do precisely what he has just described? It seems that in the Ministry of Defence a large number of contracts are resulting in the British taxpayer being ripped off by private contractors. Would it not be better for the Ministry to prohibit civil servants from going to work for any organisation that has had any contractual relationship with the Government for a period of at least 10 years?

If I may say so, the hon. Gentleman takes a very limited view, although not necessarily a very surprising one. Just as business men have a contribution to make in periods of secondment to the Civil Service, so civil servants have a contribution to make to the outside world. All that matters is that they should take up jobs that do not conflict with their previous appointment. That is why adequate procedures have been provided to deal with the matter, through the Diamond committee.