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Civil Service Training Arrangements

Volume 416: debated on Monday 26 January 1981

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2.41 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many departmental training establishments are used by Government departments; what facilities are provided for residence and subsistence during courses and seminars and who pay for them; and what allowances are given in addition to the facilities provided.

My Lords, most Government departments have their own training arrangements to help meet the need to equip their staff to do their jobs well. There are nine residential establishments, including the Civil Service College at Sunningdale, which provide courses for staff from all departments. Both residential and non-residential training are financed by the departments concerned. The residential establishments provide board and lodging free of charge to students, who do not therefore receive separate subsistence payments, but may claim a residential course allowance of £2·75 per day to reimburse incidental expenses.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for that Answer. It is his last point, on the allowances, which worries me. Is the noble Lord aware that a four-day course was held this year, starting at lunchtime on Monday and finishing after lunch on Friday, during which the people attending the course were provided with colour television sets in their rooms, and radios, with facilities for making early morning tea or coffee and with a three-course breakfast, a three-course lunch and a three-course meal in the evening? They were also given a subsistence allowance of £11 for the four days. It seems to me that that £l1 subsistence allowance is extravagant.

My Lords, it sounds to me a very agreeable course. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Spens will let me know where it is. But as to £11 subsistence over a four-day period being extravagant I think I should need to look at that to be absolutely sure that the noble Lord was right in what he said.

My Lords, if I may raise a separate point, may we take it that in addition to the courses to which the noble Lord has referred it is the practice of departments—and particularly a department like the Foreign Office—to provide special courses in other public institutions, such as universities and, particularly, polytechnics, where applied language studies can he given?

Absolutely, my Lords, and I must apologise to the House for the flippancy of my reply to the noble Lord, Lord Spens. This is a very serious matter and the courses are absolutely necessary. I have "mugged up "this subject for the purpose of these replies and it may interest the House to know that there were in fact 320,000 civil servants who went through some form of course or other as they were moved from one place to another, and of those a very small proportion actually went on residential courses. Where the Foreign Office is concerned, not only the language courses but also the courses to prepare them with knowledge of British industry and the like, which is necessary when they are posted to foreign countries, are, I think, invaluable to this country, and on the whole they are well done.

My Lords, is the noble Lord the Lord President aware that the information and the statistics which he has given will reassure those of us—they are not very many—who have the impression that these courses are a kind of holiday? In fact they cater for 320,000 learners and they are applied very seriously to the requirements of a wide-ranging field of public service.

My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that many progressive companies in the private sector organise similar residential courses and believe that they derive much benefit from them?

My Lords, I am grateful also to the noble Lord and I know this to be true. Probably training is one of the last things in which we should try to make extravagant cuts.

My Lords, can the noble Lord give an estimate of the cost of the hotel facilities aspect of these courses, as opposed to the cost of the actual training?

My Lords, it was for this reason that it sounded to rue much more like a hotel than a residential training establishment to which the noble Lord, Lord Spens, was referring. I was not aware of this particular one and that was why I asked him if he would be so good as to provide me with the details. Most of the residential courses are in colleges like, for instance, the Civil Service College at Sunning-dale, which is not run like a hotel and does not have these facilities, either in the bedrooms or in the breakfast room.

My Lords, would the noble Lord the Leader of the House agree that it would be quite wrong if the result of this exchange was that people thought that the conference allowance was excessive? In my view it is not excessive and I hope that that impression will not be left.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I do not think that £11 over a four-day period would be thought excessive by the country at large for people on a course away from home, albeit with their major bills for board and lodging paid.

My Lords, can the noble Lord the Leader of the House say whether in suitable courses, particularly those dealing with industry, a certain number of places are allowed to senior men in industry in the same way that many industrial courses welcome civil servants?