HC Deb 13 May 1991 vol 191 cc16-7
35. Mr. Fisher

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

Mr. Renton

I meet civil service trade union representatives from time to time to discuss a variety of issues.

Mr. Fisher

When the Minister next meets representatives from the civil service trade unions, will he tell them whether it is true that the Prime Minister's new policy unit, headed by Ms. Sarah Hogg, is drawing up a secret agenda for selling off large parts of the civil service? Is that the case? What is to be sold off? Will the Minister be sold off as well?

Mr. Renton

If there were a secret agenda, I would not know the answer to the question, would I? The hon. Gentleman is trying to make castles out of shadows and nightmares. It is perfectly right that the policy unit at No. 10 should look at the further applications of the "next steps" agency process. I was pleased that the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), the shadow Chancellor, spoke favourably about the "next steps" process during his speech last week.

We have never said that "next steps", turning a large part of the civil service into agencies, is necessarily the end of the road. It is right that some parts of the civil service should be considered for contractorisation and that other parts should be considered as candidates for privatisation. I hope that the hon. Gentleman would support that thesis in the interests of better service for the customer and of a better career structure in the civil service.

Dr. Marek

If there is no secret agenda to privatise large parts of the civil service, should the Government win the next election, why is the Minister planning the abolition of the central rules for staff appraisal and reporting? If he is doing that, can he assure the House that any changes to staff appraisal will be introduced only after meaningful consultation with the trade unions representing civil servants?

Mr. Renton

I have no doubt that there will be close consultation with civil service unions on the subject. If we move to greater flexibility in pay determination within the "next steps" agencies—we want to do that, as has been said many times in discussions about the "next steps" process—it is only right that staff appraisal should also be delegated to a greater extent to the chief executives of the agencies. That will mean that the agencies will not follow a wholly uniform pattern at every stage.