HC Deb 11 March 1991 vol 187 cc667-8
41. Mr. Fisher

To ask the Minister for the Civil Service if he has any plans to meet representatives of the civil service unions to discuss morale within the service.

Mr. Renton

I had the pleasure in February of meeting some of the civil service union leaders informally.

Mr. Fisher

Is the Minister aware of the low morale among civil service staff at the British Library? Because of the Government's refusal to back the wonderful new investment in the St. Pancras site with adequate money, the 3,000 new reading room places which are planned will have to be reduced to 1,100. More crucially, the transfer to that site is underfunded to the tune of £8 million. Cannot the Minister understand that the opening of the new British Library should be a cause of great civic pride? Why cannot the Government back success? Will the right hon. Gentleman look at what his equivalent in France is doing and see his commitment to and support for the Bibliotheque Nationale? Our much more impressive and comprehensive British Library is liable to open less satisfactorily than it should because of the Government's meanness.

Mr. Renton

The hon. Gentleman is very myopic. He is incapable of seeing the good parts in the curate's egg which, in the case of the British Library, are very good. Will he give credit for the fact that the Government are investing £450 million in the project, which will bring together, for the first time in many years, most of the British Library components in London? It will provide two new specialised reading rooms on a single site. It will provide vastly improved facilities and better conservation. The shadow Minister for the Arts should be blowing a trumpet in praise of the fact that we are developing the exciting new British Library site at St. Pancras.

Mr. Holt

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one thing that upsets morale more than anything else is dithering? As the Government made a firm promise some 18 months to two years ago to move the Ministry of Defence quality assurance unit from Woolwich to Teesside, but are now having second thoughts and vacillating, does my right hon. Friend understand that morale in the civil service unions would be much improved if the Government put into practice their promise to the people of Teesside?

Mr. Renton

My hon. Friend has raised this matter with me before at Question Time and I understand the seriousness that he attaches to it. As he knows, it is a matter for my colleagues at the Ministry of Defence, but I shall ensure that the points which he makes so strongly are passed on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.

Mr. Skinner

Does the Minister realise that an additional reason for the low morale in the library service to which my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) referred is that civil servants realise that cuts are occurring in libraries throughout the country because of the Government's detestable poll tax? The right hon. Gentleman said earlier that he would get in touch with someone about the cuts in Derbyshire. Will he send someone with some money so that the authorities can operate the library service properly, instead of imposing poll tax capping, resulting in cuts in the library and music services?

Mr. Renton

The hon. Gentleman has not read his brief well in terms of cuts in the library service in Derbyshire. Derbyshire county council has talked about closing 11 libraries. My libraries adviser has been to Derby. In his judgment, some of the cuts may not be proportionate to the cuts in expenditure by the local authority. He submitted a detailed report to me and I am considering what further action to take.