HC Deb 17 December 1990 vol 183 cc17-8
36. Mr. Allen

To ask the Minister for the Civil Service when he next intends to meet civil service trade union leaders to discuss morale in the service.

37. Mr. Skinner

To ask the Minister for the Civil Service what arrangements he has for discussing conditions with civil service trade union representatives; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister of State, Privy Council Office (Mr. Tim Renton)

I intend to follow the practice of my predecessors and look forward to meeting civil service trade union representatives whenever necessary.

Mr. Allen

I welcome the Minister to his new responsibilities. When he meets civil service trade union leaders, will he consider extending the terms and conditions that apply to their members to those who work in this House but are not members of civil service unions? He will be aware of the campaign led by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) for adequate staffing levels and payment, particularly for staff in the Refreshment Department. Will he discuss changing their terms of tenure to those which apply in the civil service, for which he is responsible?

Mr. Renton

I shall consider what the hon. Gentleman has said. He will be aware, however, that terms and conditions relating to pay in the civil service are not my responsibility but that of Treasury Ministers, particularly the Minister of State. I believe that the specific conditions in the House are more the responsibility of the Services Committee or the Commission rather than mine. I shall bring his comments to the attention of my colleagues.

Mr. Skinner

Will the Minister have a word with the Chairman of the Commission, who sits behind me, the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith)—

Mr. Beith

Mr. Speaker is the Chairman.

Mr. Skinner

I mean the one who speaks in the House. The hon. Gentleman answered the letter that I sent to him and the Lord President of the Council about people in the Refreshment Department who will be paid the paltry sum of £3.50 an hour for working on Christmas eve and new year's eve. They will get no extra payment for that work. Surely they should not have to come in here on days when no Members will be here. If they do come, they should be given unsocial hours payments. Get something done about it and knock their heads together.

Mr. Renton

One of the pleasures of my time as Patronage Secretary was to listen to business questions and I remember that the Leader of the House regularly answered questions much along those lines, usually from the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). No doubt that hon. Gentleman knows to whom to ask such a question, even if the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) does not.

Mr. Jessel

As the question on the Order Paper refers to morale, can my right hon. Friend tell us why it is that, whenever people in the public sector want to be paid more money, they always talk about their morale?

Mr. Renton

I suspect that the same applies in the private sector. I assure my hon. Friend that, from my office, I have seen no sign that there is anything wrong with morale in the civil service. The introduction of the executive agencies and, in many cases, pay related to performance and bonuses following good performance have been welcomed by the civil servants involved. I am responsible for the Civil Service Commission and applications through its competitions for fast-stream vacancies are 75 per cent. up on the same time last year. The European fast stream that we launched recently has proved extremely popular with applicants. I believe that morale in the civil service is fine.

Mr. Dickens

Does my right hon. Friend agree that morale in the civil service is extremely high? We have a dedicated staff who are courteous and efficient and who obviously represent the best civil service in the world. Does my right hon. Friend also agree that those who are asking questions and shedding tears for people in the Refreshment Department should study closely what contribution they made to the Christmas bonus fund for the staff this year because many people have given little money?

Mr. Renton

I note with great pleasure what my hon. Friend said. No doubt colleagues on both sides of the House will follow his observations and rush promptly to make certain that they have made a good contribution to the staff fund.

Dr. Marek

Why, after all these years, will official Government advice to new entrants to the civil service no longer say that they should join a union to ensure that their views are represented and heard? Surely the Minister should put such puerile, Thatcherite games behind him. Does he at least recognise that a good and efficient union is in not only his interests, but those of the country?

Mr. Renton

I do not understand the background 1 o the hon. Gentleman's question. After all, we have moved away from the closed shop. Union membership has become more and more voluntary and discretionary in the past 11 years of Conservative Government and we intend to continue in that direction in the civil service as in the private sector. There is no problem for me, because, as the hon. Gentleman might know, I have been a member of APEX—the Association of Professional, Executive, Clerical and Computer Staff—for the past 11 years. I am always delighted to meet other members of that union. The hon. Gentleman's comments are surprising, because we are not in the business of enforcing closed shops either in the public or the private sector.