HC Deb 20 March 1989 vol 149 cc727-8
49. Mr. Butler

To ask the Minister for the Civil Service whether any further Civil Service agencies have been announced.

53. Mr. Thurnham

To ask the Minister for the Civil Service if he will make a statement on progress towards the establishment of the new agencies.

The Minister of State, Privy Council Office (Mr. Richard Luce)

Since I last reported to the House on 1 February, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced that he has concluded that the Central Office of Information should become an agency. In addition last week my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement announced the decision to set up the four main non-nuclear research establishments, covering 12,500 staff, as a single organisation with the intention that they should become a next steps agency by April 1991. I strongly welcome both those announcements which illustrate the importance that the Government attach to the next steps initiative.

Mr. Butler

Will the agencies benefit from an infusion of new talent? Will they be able to advertise for their chief executives from outside the Civil Service?

Mr. Luce

As my hon. Friend's question is about next steps, I hope that he will allow me to congratulate him on his own next step—his marriage later this week.

In many cases, the best way to fill top posts will be by competition, open to both external and internal candidates. My hon. Friend may be interested to know that the chief executive designate for the defence research agency will be recruited by open competition.

Mr. Thurnham

In the search for new talent, will my right hon. Friend confirm that he is doing all in his power to encourage the agencies to move to areas of high unemployment out of London whenever possible? How many more agencies does he expect to be able to announce this year?

Mr. Luce

Yes, I confirm that it is the Government's policy to seek ways in which we can encourage Departments to move to other parts of the country. Indeed, only today I announced that the occupational health service, which is part of the Cabinet Office, is planning to move its headquarters to Edinburgh in the autumn, bringing cost and operational advantages, and involving co-location with the Scottish regional office of the occupational health service. As my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General has already disclosed to the House, no fewer than 34,000 jobs are being reviewed for possible relocation elsewhere, outside the south-east.

Mr. Skinner

Can the Minister tell us whether a new agancy has been set up, such as a Ministry for looking after the Christmas mail? Is it true that the Secretary of State for Transport resigned, sending his resignation three months ago, but that it got mixed up in the Christmas mail? [Interruption.]

Mr. Morgan

Will the Minister explain whether the creation of an agency alters the status of the members of staff of the agency, and especially that of the most senior member of staff? Does that person become the accounting officer instead of that role being fulfilled by the permanent secretary of the Department, and if so, does that mean that Opposition Members can have access to the chief accounting officer of the agency, which they would not have to a civil servant? At the moment, hon. Members have access to, for example, the heads of the Welsh Arts Council, the Welsh Development Agency and the Wales tourist board, but not to the head of the National Health Service or to the permanent secretary of the Welsh Office. What will be the status of the head of an agency?

Mr. Luce

I am glad to answer a serious question—[Interruption.] I am prepared to answer a serious question. On the question of the positions of the chief executives of the agencies, the system of the accountability of Ministers remains the same, but there will have been—there is under this system—delegation of responsibility to chief executives. It is perfectly possible—not only because they are accounting officers—for the Select Committees to summon them to give evidence. The hon. Gentleman was right to ask his question about hon. Members. Access will be open to Members of Parliament. The operational duties of the chief executives will be their responsibility, not that of the Secretary of State. Hon. Members will be free to write direct and to take up issues direct with the chief executives.

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