HC Deb 11 June 1990 vol 174 cc16-7
97. Mr. Fisher

To ask the Minister for the Civil Service what percentage of fast-stream trainees came from (a) Oxford and (b) Cambridge during the last 12 months; and what the figure was five years ago.

Mr. Luce

In 1989, 36 per cent. of candidates recommended for fast-stream trainee appointments held degrees from Oxford or Cambridge; in 1985, the percentage was 42.

Mr. Fisher

Does the Minister accept that, although Oxford and Cambridge are good universities, those figures are way out of proportion with the total supply of graduates? Does not he wish to put on record the fact that the quality of graduates from all polytechnics and universities in this country is of a high standard? What steps will he take to ensure that the civil service intake reflects the proportion of graduates throughout the United Kingdom, rather than just the proportion from Oxford and Cambridge?

Mr. Luce

Our primary concern in recruitment of such grades to the civil service is to obtain the best candidates, from whatever source, on the basis of equality of opportunity. Recruits come from a wide range of universities; some 40 universities provided recruits in 1989. Surely the hon. Gentleman must accept that obtaining the best candidates, on the basis of equality of opportunity, must be the right criterion.

Mr. Rowe

I do not know how much things have changed since I was an observer on the civil service selection board, as I was for many years. Is not it true, however, that assessors on the board make every effort to ensure that candidates from universities other than Oxford and Cambridge are, if anything, given priority over Oxford and Cambridge graduates? Might not the problem have something to do with the continuing inability of the selection board to mount an effective recruitment campaign outside Oxford and Cambridge and a limited range of other education institutions?

Mr. Luce

The Civil Service Commission undertakes a sustained campaign of liaison with schools, polytechnics and universities in the recruitment of civil servants: that is absolutely right and essential. In 1982, 71 per cent. of administration trainees—as opposed to all high-flyers who come into the civil service, including specialists—came from Oxbridge, whereas in 1989 the figure was 55 per cent: that demonstrates a change. However, I stick to the view, based on the principle of equality of opportunity, that we must go for the best people whom we can get.

Dr. Marek

Is the Minister saying that he tries to obtain the best people? Is he saying that, furthermore, he obtains the best people, and, therefore, stands by his figure that 36 per cent. of the best people come from Oxford and Cambridge? Not only the House but the country would like to hear an answer to that.

Mr. Luce

The statistics speak for themselves, although it is true that the number taken from Oxbridge—as a proportion of the total—happens to be coming down. It does not matter where they come from, but we are entitled to have the best people in the civil service. Selection must be based on equality of opportunity: that is why we have had a sustained campaign to recruit more women and members of the ethnic minorities.

Mr. Donald Thompson

Is not it true that many people who were not at Oxford or Cambridge see the civil service as a dull, dead-end job in an expensive part of the country? Those of us who work with the civil service know that that is not true, but what is the civil service doing to improve its image?

Mr. Luce

A great deal is happening to change the perception of work in the civil service. The most significant thing to change the public's perception of the civil service is the next steps reforms. I believe that young people entering the civil service want responsibility at an early age, and the reforms have succeeded in giving them that.