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Civil Service Trade Unions

Volume 177: debated on Monday 23 July 1990

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To ask the Minister for the Civil Service when he last met representatives of the civil service trade unions to discuss conditions of work.

I meet the civil service unions from time to time to discuss a range of matters.

Is there any truth in the rumour that civil servants get a special supplement for drawing up lists of sacked Ministers for the Prime Minister? If so, can we assume that Charles Powell receives the biggest bonus payment of all? When he gets the poke, will this Minister send him a letter of congratulation, or one of complaint?

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has the capacity to imagine himself as a civil servant. The mind boggles at the very thought, but if he put himself in the shoes of a civil servant—those of Mr. Powell, for instance—he would realise how utterly unreasonable it is to attack a civil servant who cannot defend himself.

Let me say without hesitation, that Mr. Powell—like every other civil servant in the country—serves the elected Government of the day with great distinction.

What would be the reaction of the Inland Revenue to its working conditions if it had to revalue every property in the country as part of a policy of reintroducing domestic rates?

I know that I answer questions on more than one subject, but I do not think that I have direct responsibility for that one.

I do not know whether there are any rumours about the Minister leaving his responsibility for the civil service, but if he is, I wish him well. Before he goes, however, I hope that he will spare a thought for the incompetence and bungling of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, his hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope), who has destroyed morale at the Crown Suppliers and also destroyed its trade. A trade surplus of £6·3 million two years ago has become a £12 million loss now and its value of £100 million has been turned into a £4 million deficit. The Minister has deprecated attacks on civil servants who cannot defend themselves. Will he therefore join me in defending the interests of those civil servants and ensure that, whatever happens at the Ministry, integrity is reintroduced into government and morale restored to the Crown Suppliers and the civil servants who work for it?

The hon. Gentleman is wrong to suggest that morale in the civil service needs to be restored. As I go round the country, I see civil servants in different sections of the service doing a marvellous job with great enthusiasm. The Crown Suppliers is specifically a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. There is a clear question of deciding whether it is best to manage services through privatisation, through the creation of agencies or by some other means. The Government's sole concern is to ensure that the resources that we have are managed to the benefit of the public.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the most important conditions of work is a reasonable work load? Will he join me in utterly condemning those trade unions, particularly the National Union of Mineworkers, which have put an unreasonable work load on to our loyal civil servants by mismanaging their finances? Civil servants and the NUM are now busily trying to find out where all the money has gone. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that civil service trade union finances are much better managed than those of the NUM, where it is clear that they cannot count beyond 10 unless they take their boots off?

My hon. Friend makes an effective point. I have a high regard for the civil servants in this country. Compared with almost any others in the world, they do an outstanding job.