§ 42. Mr. Peter Bruinvels
asked the Minister for the Civil Service when he last met the Civil Service unions; and what was discussed.
§ Mr. Luce
I know of my hon. Friend's keen interest in civil servants, particularly scientists, since he has a considerable number in his constituency. Having just visited, with great pleasure, the arts in his constituency, I shall try to visit his civil servants at some time in the future. I should like to reassure him that we are taking corrective action to try to stem the decline in the number of scientists, and that includes improved starting salaries for new recruits and pay additions which put salaries above the level of the overall increase that the Civil Service achieved this year. Those and various other measures are designed to try to encourage scientists to stay in the Civil Service.
§ Mr. Bruinvels
Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the executive and president of the Civil and Public Services Association on arranging for a re-run of its election, which is something that I have called for on many occasions? Will he ensure that when he next meets the unions the ballot will be a secret one, controlled by the central balloting system, with people sending their ballot forms direct to the central system rather than a local ballot, because the people in Leicester were most concerned at the unsatisfactory result, electing John Macreadie, a well-known undemocratic gentleman?
§ Mr. Allen McKay
Does the Minister discuss with Civil Service unions the staffing of Department of Health and Social Security offices and the possible shortage of staff, because it would appear from the complaints in my postbag that, despite the excellence of the staff at John William House, there is a backlog and waiting list and a need to increase the staff to look after those of my constituents who are unemployed and in receipt of DHSS benefits?
§ Mr. Luce
I realise that there is a problem in some parts of the country, and it is for that reason that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services announced some months ago that the number of people in the social services departments would be increased by 5,000, which would enable more hard-pressed departments to be covered more effectively.
§ Mr. Sackville
Did my right hon. Friend have a chance to discuss with Civil Service unions the further relocation of civil servants' jobs? In these days of information technology, why do senior civil servants need to be located in expensive real estate in Whitehall? Will my right hon. Friend consider relocating the Treasury to, for example, Bolton?
§ Mr. Luce
It may be best to keep my views to myself. It is for political heads of Departments to determine whether their operational requirements mean that they can ask civil servants to move to other parts of the country. The dispersal policy has not yet quite been completed, and involves dispersing 5,900 civil servants to other parts of the country.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
Does the Minister agree with the civil service unions that an increase in the number of VAT officers would lead to a net increase in the amount of VAT received by the Treasury?
§ Dr. McDonald
Will the Minister arrange to meet the Civil Service unions about the ban on civil servants giving information to Members of Parliament in Select Committees? Is he aware that the ban can work only if Ministers are truthful to Select Committees and if Government Ministers do not name civil servants publicly? Is the Minister further aware that civil servants are well able to give a good account of themselves, if required to do so, particularly in the context of a proper code of ethics?
§ Mr. Luce
As far as I am aware that matter can be debated fully on Wednesday, in the context of the Government's reply to the Select Committee on the Westland issue. It is agreed that the job of Select Committees is to inquire into a Department's expenditure, administration and policy, but on the strict question of an individual civil servant's conduct, the civil servant is accountable to his permanent secretary and ultimately to the Minister, and it is the latter who is accountable to the House.