HC Deb 24 February 1992 vol 204 cc679-80
38. Mr. John Evans

To ask the Minister for the Civil Service when he last met representatives of the civil service unions to discuss the operation of executive agencies.

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

I meet representatives of the civil service unions from time to time to discuss a range of issues. Union members have an important part to play in the continued success of "next steps".

Mr. Evans

Did the Minister discuss with the unions concerned the maintenance of free collective bargaining and union recognition in the agencies? Will he take this opportunity to give a categorical assurance that none of the agencies will be allowed or encouraged to derecognise any of the civil service trade unions?

Mr. Renton

Derecognition of the civil service unions is certainly not part of our policy. In the context of the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I must ask him to appreciate that one of the important matters now being examined by the chief executives of the agencies is the issue of greater pay flexibility and performance pay, so that better results can be achieved, both by individuals and in terms of customer service, from a given amount of pay. That matter was being discussed at the chief executives' conference that I attended in Harrogate on Thursday, and it is a matter of great importance to all those working in the "next steps" agencies.

Mr. Latham

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, since these bodies remain within the civil service, some of us feel that executive agencies are neither fish nor fowl nor good red herring? Will he see what can be done to improve parliamentary accountability for the agencies because, in particular since they are responsible to the Public Accounts Committee, Ministers should be prepared to answer questions about them?

Mr. Renton

I disagree with my hon. Friend about the agencies being neither fish nor fowl nor good red herring. They are an extremely important development for the civil service and for those parts of the civil service that are especially concerned with delivering service to the customer. If my hon. Friend has a chance to visit any of the executive agencies, as I do, he will be very impressed by the way that they are tackling their tasks. My hon. Friend asked about answers to parliamentary questions. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has submitted proposals in that connection which I think are being studied by the appropriate House of Commons Committee.

Dr. Marek

The Minister will know that for some years London weighting has been frozen because the Minister's policy is to pay just sufficient *to recruit and retain civil servants. Does he intend that policy to be part of the new executive agencies?

Mr. Renton

The hon. Gentleman is wrong, and I think that he knows it. Although further London spine points have been introduced and the amount of extra pay given to people working in London has therefore increased, there is more flexibility in the system than there used to be. Now, the emphasis is on pay agreements that will meet the specific needs of the civil service and of the executive agencies throughout the country, rather than on maintaining an unnecessarily rigid or uniform structure —a structure which did not necessarily produce the best results in the past.