HC Deb 10 March 1986 vol 93 cc664-6
48. Mr. Soley

asked the Minister for the Civil Service when he next plans to meet the Civil Service unions to discuss pay, conditions of employment and trade union rights.

Mr. Luce

Pay and industrial relations are a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. However, I maintain informal contacts with the trade unions on Civil Service matters within my area of responsibility.

Mr. Soley

When the Minister next meets the unions, will he discuss with them the extensive nature of the Official Secrets Act 1911 and the way it affects them? For example, I understand that, unless clause 47(1) of the Building Societies Bill, which is going through the House, is changed, they could face prosecution under the Official Secrets Act. Will the Minister consider that clause and the draconian effect that the Official Secrets Act has on the Civil Service?

Mr. Luce

The specific point which the hon. Gentleman has raised seems to apply to one of the Ministers who are dealing with the Bill. Of course, I shall draw his attention to it. On the broader question, the Government are anxious to impart as much information as is helpful to the pursuit of Government policies.

Sir John Biggs-Davison

Would it not be contrary to the traditions and interests of the public service if a Civil Service union were to set up a political fund in support of one political party?

Mr. Luce

I agree with my hon. Friend that, in the view of the Government, political funds are needed only if a union proposes to participate in party political activities or to campaign for or against political parties. Therefore, that point has to be considered carefully when unions are considering the future of political funds.

Mr. Winnick

Will the Minister take the opportunity to congratulate the Inland Revenue Staff Federation on its overwhelming majority in favour of a political fund? When it was decided to have such ballots, can the Minister tell us whether the Cabinet and those like him who are responsible for the Civil Service believed that such a decision would be reached in due course?

Mr. Luce

I believe that the vast majority of civil servants wish to maintain a neutral Civil Service. It is very important to make that point. Let me make absolutely plain the Government's view that we continue to believe that trade unions need political funds only if they propose to participate in party political activities or to campaign for or against political parties or candidates. At the end of the day, the decision must be for the unions.

Mr. Latham

Will my hon. Friend discuss with the Institution of Professional Civil Servants the concern of scientists who work for the British Geological Survey, and who are my constituents, about the operation of the British Nationality Act 1981 on their service overseas? That is a serious matter which has not been satisfactorily resolved.

Mr. Luce

I should be happy to pursue the matter if my hon. Friend would give me more details.

Mr. Haynes

The Minister is fully aware that the Government favour ballots. Why do they not keep their noses out when the Civil Service wants to have a ballot on a political levy? It is time the Minister told the Cabinet to to keep its nose out.

Mr. Luce

As I have already said in answer to an earlier question, at the end of the day the decision must be for the unions. That was the decision that was taken by the IRSF.

Mr. Bruinvels

When my hon. Friend meets representatives of the Civil and Public Services Association, will he express to them the feeling of people in Leicester attending Department of Health and Social Security offices, which are CPSA-run, that the staff are more concerned about improving their own conditions and getting more pay rises than about delivering the goods—in other words, paying out to my constituents unemployment and other social security benefits?

Mr. Luce

I note what my hon. Friend has said. My experience as I travel round the country visiting various Civil Service offices is that the Civil Service is trying to do its utmost to provide a good service to the public. I think the evidence is in that direction. Where there are particular strains—for example, in the social services—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services has just announced that he will be prepared to increase staffs marginally to cope with the problems.

Dr. McDonald

Is the Minister aware that the Inland Revenue Staff Federation achieved a 90 per cent. response to its ballot, despite all the difficulties that the Government tried to place in the way of its conduct? Is he also aware that the 82 per cent. vote in favour of setting up a political fund accords with the legislation and should be welcomed by him? Will he give such a welcome to a clear demonstration of the democratic feelings of the members of that trade union? Is he further aware that there must be a message in the result for the Government? Will he tell us from the Dispatch Box what he thinks that message is?

Mr. Luce

I have already made it plain that the decision on political funds is for the unions. That is what we said before the ballot was conducted. Of course I noted the decision and the fact that 82 per cent. voted in favour. The point that I and my hon. Friends have stressed is that political funds are needed only in unions that plan to indulge in party political activities. They are not needed for the ordinary activities of trade unions. That point must be stressed again.