HC Deb 18 February 1991 vol 186 cc16-8
39. Mr. Fisher

To ask the Minister for the Civil Service when he last met representatives of civil service unions to discuss the improvement of morale and conditions of service.

40. Mr. Allen

To ask the Minister for the Civil Service when he next plans to meet civil service trade unions to discuss morale.

Mr. Renton

We have not yet met to discuss civil service issues, but I intend to follow the practice of my predecessors and meet civil service trades union representatives as appropriate.

Mr. Fisher

Does the Minister accept that the working conditions of civil service trade unionists working in the national museums would be improved considerably if there were not holes in the roofs of those buildings? Let him tell the civil service trade unions that he will accept the findings of the report on the fabric of the national museums—a report which he commissioned—and will commit the necessary funds to the removal of this national disgrace. It is indeed a national disgrace that there are holes in the roofs of our great national museums.

Mr. Renton

The hon. Gentleman totally misstates the case. Having visited a number of the national museums, I cannot say that I found in any of them civil servants who are unhappy with their working conditions. Indeed, those employees are rather excited by the changes that are taking place. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have commissioned a survey by the building firm Ove Arup, which is to report to me the estimates for repairs. That report will be in my hands by the summer and I shall consider very carefully indeed the figures that it contains.

Mr. Allen

The Minister will be aware of the problems relating to over-payments, dubious payments and various other irregularities in respect of the sale of the Crown Suppliers transport section. Will he comment on the activities of Mr. Bill Pinkney in respect of the sale of that transport section, so that all these irregularities may be laid bare to the House and the public? Will he make a statement on this matter?

Mr. Renton

No. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that if he seriously wishes to pursue this matter he puts in a letter to me all the facts and figures that are in his possession. If he does that, I shall look at those facts and figures very carefully.

Mr. Holt

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the morale and conditions of civil servants would be much enhanced if many of them were to move to Teesside? Would not it be in the Government's interests to ensure that the Ministry of Defence did not renege on its promise to move 1,500 jobs to Teesside, but allowed its civil servants to take advantage of the excellent living conditions there?

Mr. Renton

As my hon. Friend knows, the policy of relocating civil servants to places outside London is being implemented vigorously. For example, the Inland Revenue is moving in a substantial way to the constituency of the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen). I shall certainly look into the point about Teesside with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. If he writes to me giving further details, I shall pursue them.

Mr. Maclennan

Will the Minister also discuss with Locate in Scotland the possibility of relocating civil service jobs to Caithness, in the light of the changing circumstances there? Undoubtedly it will have a beneficial effect on the morale and conditions of service for the select few who might be induced to go there. Locate in Scotland has not been as active as some of us would have wished.

Mr. Renton

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would like to pursue that matter with Ministers at the Scottish Office. I remember during my time at the Home Office that people in many parts of the United Kingdom suggested that we should move, for example, an immigration office or passport office to their area. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that a particular site in Caithness would be suitable, I suggest that he makes that known to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

When my right hon. Friend meets the trade union leaders, will he congratulate the many volunteers who act as shop stewards and unpaid officers of the unions? Will he also raise participation rates in the elections for national officers of civil service unions, which are among the lowest in the country? Will he consider whether it is the employers' job to draw to the attention of staff the dates of elections rather than to tell them who to vote for?

Mr. Renton

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He speaks as my immediate predecessor as president of the Conservative trade unionists. I know that he has a great interest in trade union matters. I thank him for his suggestion. I shall certainly pass on his congratulations and ensure that the matters that he raised are looked into.

Dr. Marek

Might I for the first time agree with the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) that it would, indeed, be good to move civil servants out of London? Does the Minister agree that temporary and transient help by way of bridging loans should be given to civil servants who are asked to move? Has the Minister met the unions to discuss the matter? Is he aware that the Minister of State, Treasury will not meet the unions to talk about bridging loans? The right hon. Gentleman has given me an assurance that he is prepared to talk to the unions on the matter. Does he believe that help should be given by way of bridging loans to union members who are asked to move on public service?

Mr. Renton

First, I remind the hon. Gentleman that four out of five civil servants are now located outside Greater London and that relocation of civil servants outside London is continuing. His point about bridging loans to cover moving costs is not an easy matter, as he will understand. It is always difficult to determine when the loan should be repaid. I am sure that in any major relocation the Secretary of State and the permanent secretary of the Department involved will consider carefully whether such loans could be justified and whether they should make a case to the Treasury for such loans to be made.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

No, I will take it after the statement.

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