HC Deb 05 November 1992 vol 213 cc451-512

Order for Second Reading read.

5.44 pm
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. William Waldegrave)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

It is one of the engaging aspects of this House that we can move from the highest political drama on a worldwide perspective to focus somewhat more narrowly. This is my first opportunity of welcoming to the Front Bench the hon. Members for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam) and for Vauxhall (Ms. Hoey)— to posts which we will endeavour to ensure remain Opposition posts.

This is a technical Bill of restricted scope. It is limited in three important ways. First, it deals only with the management functions of the Treasury and the Minister for the Civil Service which have been subject in the past to transfer of functions orders—essentially the powers to settle the terms and conditions of civil servants. Secondly, it deals only with those functions in so far as they relate to members of the home civil service or the Northern Ireland civil service. Thirdly, it seeks authority to redistribute those powers only to people who are in the service of the Crown.

The Bill is a technical one. Its purpose is to resolve a legal barrier to the better management of the civil service. At the moment, the Government are constrained from devolving to Departments and agencies many detailed matters concerning the management of their staff. As a result, the present legal framework requires a highly centralised degree of control of the management of the civil service which is inimical to the good management of the many different and varied businesses of Departments and agencies.

Dr. Kim Howells (Pontypridd)

Does the Chancellor acknowledge that when such powers have been devolved to what are called quangos, such as the Development Board for Rural Wales, there have been unmitigated disasters of administration resulting in large losses of public funds and cases of near corruption? There was a serious court case in Cardiff only the day before yesterday involving just such a problem. What will he do to ensure that these quangos are maintained with some degree of accountability and control by Whitehall?

Mr. Waldegrave

At the moment such powers cannot be devolved—that is the whole point. I will come to the extent to which, under so-called discretions, some devolution is allowed at present. I reassure the hon. Gentleman—he is perfectly right to raise the matter—that nothing in the Bill removes the accountability to this House of such agencies, or the ultimate responsibility of Ministers or Departments of State for them. I shall argue that it is in the interests of good management that some management accountability should be devolved, but accountability to this House and to the Public Accounts Committee must and should remain. If anything has gone wrong, it is the job of this House, the PAC and the press—and everyone else—to ensure that accountability remains.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

When authority has been transferred to agencies in the past, Ministers have been reluctant to answer letters and we have had difficulty asking questions in the House. Can we have an absolute assurance that Ministers will be answerable, both to questions in the House and to correspondence from Members of Parliament? Decisions such as that taken at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency in Swansea, which is causing a great deal of anxiety, must not be allowed as direct ministerial responsibility to the House for them would not exist.

Mr. Waldegrave

I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks. Better arrangements for the reporting of letters from the chief executives of agencies to this House will be put in place, and rightly so.

Mr. Doug Hoyle (Warrington, North)

Long overdue.

Mr. Waldegrave

I agree. Market testing, which is the issue at DVLA—

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

No, it is not.

Mr. Waldegrave

What is at stake is an examination of the framework of the agency—a three-year re-examination of the framework agreement. That can look across the board at whether full privatisation is in order or whether market testing is, or whether the work should continue to be done there—but that is not relevant to the Bill. Those are policy issues for which Ministers are rightly accountable. They cannot be devolved, and they would not be under this or any other Bill.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

I know that the Minister genuinely believes what he is saying, but if he talks of accountability, can he explain what happened recently? A chief executive of an agency was sitting beside a Minister talking to three Members of this House about the future of the DVLA. That chief executive had a proposal to dispose of 3,000 jobs at the agency. Not only did he not disclose it to the Members who were present, but the Minister sitting beside him was unaware of it, as was the Secretary of State for Wales, who is responsible for jobs in Wales. Where is the accountability in that?

Mr. Waldegrave

It is perfectly legitimate to raise these issues in the context of a potential privatisation, if that is at stake—or of market testing, if that is—but they are nothing to do with this Bill. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that whatever exchanges took place on that occasion—I was not present—Ministers remain accountable for these policies, and so they must. Ministers will rightly be called to account in the House in the way in which I am being called to account for the behaviour of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. There were many opportunities to question him.

If I made a prolonged speech defending privatisation or market testing, I would be ruled out of order, but I will go as close as possible to the bounds of order in justifying those policies. The Bill does not deal with the devolution of executive functions but with the potential to devolve from Ministers to chief executives of agencies—properly and for the first time—power to negotiate terms and conditions of service. That is sensible.

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)

I should like to pursue the issue of the DVLA. The document clearly states that the alternative to privatisation is contractorisation. One of the advantages held out for contractorisation as an alternative to outright privatisation is that there is no need for legislation. However, it removes many functions from ministerial control and leaves only discretionary functions, with officials acting on behalf of the Secretary of State. Can the Minister be more precise about the status of the document and state exactly the responsibility of the Minister in relation to an agency which had been hijacked in such a disreputable way?

Mr. Waldegrave


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

Order. I urge the Minister not to stray too far along that route. Hon. Members should stick to the terms of the Bill.

Ms. Marjorie Mowlam (Redcar)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I hope that it is indeed a point of order.

Ms. Mowlam

It certainly is. It would be useful to clarify the terms of reference and the implications of the Bill before the debate proceeds further. The Minister says that the Bill is technical, has limited scope and relates only to the delegation of powers on pay and conditions. But that is crucial because when those powers are delegated down, public expenditure will be ratcheted down. My hon. Friends have given precise examples. The manager of a contracting-out unit will be able to decide on pay and conditions for his work force and the matter will not come to the House. It is crucial to discuss those issues because if we do not, the Minister will be getting away with murder.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Lady was beginning to argue on a point of substance and not presenting an issue for the Chair. If hon. Members allow the Minister to make progress on explaining the Bill, they will be in a better position to judge and question him.

Mr. Donald Anderson

Further to that point of order. There are two interpretations of the Bill. The Minister says that it is technical and narrow but others, as came out in the debate in the other place, and trade unions see it as part of a continuum. They see in the Bill momentum towards privatisation. On Second Reading we should be empowered to look beyond the precise words of the Bill, especially in the light of what has happened in my constituency and to people in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) who work in the DVLA. The Bill can be construed as a step on the road to privatisation.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That may be so, but let us hear what the Minister has to say. When he has finished, hon. Members will have a good chance to speak because there are not many names on the list. Let us start on the Bill and see what is in store for us.

Mr. Waldegrave

I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The rules preclude me from directly quoting the Opposition spokesman in the House of Lords but I draw to the attention of the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) that that spokesman covered the whole circuit and was finally quite satisfied that none of these issues was raised. If I were allowed, I could quote the words of Lady Turner of Camden, the Opposition spokesman, who said she quite understood that none of the issues was raised by the Bill.

The hon. Member for Redcar properly spoke about a much more limited devolution. I shall come back to that. The hon. Lady asked about the effect of devolving the setting of terms and conditions and whether they would get better or worse. That matter is entirely germane to the Bill, but it has nothing to do with privatisation because nothing in the Bill affects privatisation, market testing or contractorisation. The Opposition spokesman in the Lords accepted that.

Ms. Mowlam

If the Bill delegates power to negotiate pay and conditions down to a level such as that at the DVLA, contractorisation, lower wages or changed terms and conditions are possible. Therefore, it is well within the scope of the Bill to discuss the DVLA and other such institutions.

Mr. Waldegrave

There was contractorisation and market testing for many years before the Bill was presented and before the DVLA was an executive agency. They cannot be germane to the powers sought in the Bill.

Mr. Wilson

I am making an intervention, but perhaps it should be a point of order because I do not think that it is in order for the Minister—doubtless unintentionally—completely to misrepresent the Opposition spokesman in the Lords, who accepted that the Bill was not a vehicle for privatisation but said that the Opposition objected to the manner in which it was apparently intended to hive off civil service functions to the market. The Minister is welcome to read what my noble Friend said.

Mr. Waldegrave

We are making heavy weather of this. The spokesman in the Lords said that she objected to our policy of privatisation and market testing, but the passage makes it quite clear that she accepted that the Bill does not—

Mr. Wilson


Mr. Waldegrave

If I were allowed under the rules to read the passage, I should be delighted to do so. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The House must come to order. I know that we are recovering from yesterday—

Mr. Hoyle


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I do not want any more sedentary remarks.

Mr. Waldegrave

Perhaps I may be allowed to proceed with an explanation of the Bill. The Opposition spokesman in the Lords accepted that the Bill had nothing to do with privatisation. She objected to the policy of privatisation, which is not in the Bill. The noble Lady said: We accept that the Bill itself is not a vehicle for privatisation but we still object to the manner in which apparently it is intended to hive-off Civil Service functions …"—[Official Report, House of Lords, 29 October 1992; Vol. 539, c. 1299.] I shall attempt to demonstrate that the Bill is much less exciting than the Opposition hope. At the moment, the Government are constrained from devolving to Departments and agencies many detailed matters concerning the management of their staff. As a result, the present legal framework requires a highly centralized degree of control of the management of the civil service which is inimical to good management. The Bill is intended to rectify that, while maintaining intact the principle of ministerial accountability to Parliament. It does not contain new powers—or any powers whatever—to facilitate the privatisation or contracting out of Government activities. Privatisation and contracting out, where appropriate, remain important planks of Government policy. When we need new powers to achieve our aims in that area we shall present proposals accordingly. This Bill, however, relates only to the management of the civil service and is not a vehicle for that.

Secondly, the Bill does not in itself change the terms and conditions of any civil servant in any way. I think that that issue was mentioned by the hon. Member for Redcar and I will return to it. Thirdly, the Bill affects neither the normal rights of staff in the civil service nor the usual process of consultation with the civil service trade unions at an appropriate level. I shall have more to say about that, and about the detailed operation of the Bill's powers. Having briefly outlined what the Bill is, and what it is not, it may be helpful to put it in a wider context.

I have not consulted my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, but if Opposition Members felt that the House should engage in a wider debate on the collection of issues involved in the management of the public service, I should be perfectly willing to put that to my right hon. Friend. We could then discuss issues connected with privatisation, market testing and other policies relating to our approach to the management of the public sector. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Redcar would find that an attractive offer, but in any event I should be happy to speak to my right hon. Friend.

Ms. Mowlam

Of course we welcome the chance to debate market testing and competitive tendering in Government time. The Secretary of State eventually had to give a promise to that effect in private negotiations to try to get the Bill through the House of Lords. Would it not have been better, however, if he had had the decency to debate issues of market testing and competitive tendering in the House of Commons before embarking on their implementation?

Mr. Waldegrave

Market testing has been going on for many years; indeed, I think that examples can be found dating back to the last Government. As I have said, I think that a wider debate is a good idea, and I shall put it to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)

I am now slightly confused about what the Bill will do. Whether the provisions are drawn narrowly or broadly, the Secretary of State is plainly seeking powers—hence the Bill. I thought that he was seeking the power to delegate in regard to terms and conditions of employment, and I thought that he went on to say that that would not change anyone's terms and conditions of employment. If that is so, what is the point of seeking such powers?

Mr. Waldegrave

It could lead to changes, but such changes would have to be negotiated in the normal way, as I shall explain.

Mr. Field

In his Mansion house speech, the Chancellor of the Exchequer made an important point when he said that, from now on, it would be Government policy to examine every change that the Administration might wish to initiate and to consider the employment consequences. Will the right hon. Gentleman guarantee that, if such consequences result from the Bill, his promise will be triggered at some stage?

I can see why that will not happen now, because the powers now being sought only "could" result in such consequences. Our worry is that, if the Bill confers the power to lay down terms and conditions of contract, at some stage not only pay but the number of workers may be cut. We want a guarantee that at that stage—in view of the important statement made by the Chancellor—the Government will consider the employment consequences of their every action.

Mr. Waldegrave

I will ask my officials to check, but I do not believe that the Bill has any direct implications of that kind. We do not seek to devolve the powers that have always been enjoyed by the Minister for the Civil Service —the Prime Minister—or by the Treasury, which control civil service numbers. As the hon. Gentleman will recall, they used to exercise manpower control; that obtained under both Labour and Conservative Governments. I do not think that any provision in the Bill will lead directly to a change in numbers. Of course, in management terms the need may arise for such a change, but nothing in the Bill will alter the powers available to Ministers or managers in that regard.

Mr. Donald Anderson

Is the Secretary of State denying that one of the powers to be delegated by the Bill is the power of wage bargaining? Presumably, that must of necessity lead to different wage rates in the public service in different parts of the country and in different undertakings. Such a development can only represent another step along the road to privatization—more of the preparation of turkeys for Christmas which represents the Government's current policy.

Mr. Waldegrave

I do not see how any particular outcome relating to numbers can he assigned to a Bill which devolves pay negotiation powers. I suppose that it could be argued that higher wages mean fewer employees, but that strikes me as a paradoxical argument for the hon. Gentleman to put.

Let me make a little more progress, particularly as I wish to respond directly to the questions asked by the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). Like all Governments since the war, we have inherited a civil service containing many extremely able people—I doubt if I need to convince the House of that—and has high ideals in regard to public service. Equally, however, that civil service has struggled for many years with outdated management structures. The structure of the civil service is highly hierarchical. It was designed to apply to a small civil service whose purpose would be to advise Ministers on policy. It is a Victorian structure. That, I think, is common ground between the parties. I believe that the Opposition accept the principle of the "next steps" agency, although they opposed it originally. I think that they now agree that it is sensible to try to organise the delivery of services with more devolved accountability, and more clearly specified units of managment. It is not sensible to operate a great centralised hierarchical structure. The powers conferred by the Bill are necessary to make the required change a reality—or, rather, to simplify the process that will lead to it.

So far, we have created 75 agencies under the so-called "next steps" initiative, and nearly as many executive units which are run along the same lines. All are directly accountable for achieving clear and published targets to improve the quality of service and efficiency. It is all part of a refocusing on the absolute necessity for the civil service to deliver a better value service to the public, as its customers and paymasters: I make no apology for that. There is nothing special about such proposals. I would guess that all large organisations, public and private, constantly need to re-evaluate their performance. In particular, they need to check constantly that they are continuing to achieve their aims as effectively as they can —and, under the banner of the citizens charter, we have been trying to make that possible.

To the civil service, that new emphasis on the quality of output—on measuring what we do, and establishing whether it constitutes an improvement—represents something of a challenge. The aims of the citizens charter campaign, however, also recognise that better services can be achieved only if management structures and systems are increasingly driven from the customers, patients and clients upwards, rather than operating a hierarchical top-downwards, Whitehall-downwards system. That is what I have been trying to explain.

Local staff and local managers should be given discretion, within the minimum of centrally imposed regulations, to deliver the services that their own customers need. The concept of Government as a single business with a single client—the public—is dead; it does not work. The real task is to meet the needs of the many individual customers of the Government's many different kinds of business. If we are to do that, we must increasingly enable the managers of those businesses to run their organisations in ways that represent the most appropriate and effective approach to their particular circumstances.

In the civil service, as in any other organisation, if we are to unlock the enormous potential and commitment of managers and staff, we must increasingly trust them to know what is best, and give them the freedom—together with the accountability—to achieve their objectives. It is against that background that the need for the Bill has emerged.

The management of the civil service is carried out under the royal prerogative. The power to determine the terms and conditions of civil servants—their working hours, pay, allowances, and so on—is delegated by the Crown, by civil service Order in Council, to the Treasury and the Minister for the Civil Service, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Since 1968, those powers have been transferred to and fro between the two central Departments, frequently by means of transfer of functions orders.

Mr. John Garrett (Norwich, South)

Why is the civil service regulated by Order in Council under the royal prerogative? Why cannot the Civil Service Act establish its status and, in particular, its duty to the Crown?

Mr. Waldegrave

The answer is lost in the mists of time. Since the 19th century, that has always been the case. It is, perhaps, another relic of the great 19th-century reforms; but it serves us fairly well, and it can be modified from time to time as new needs develop. I note the hon. Gentleman's desire for a great blockbuster Bill in this area. If there were a need for it, no doubt my officials would advise me of it. They are always keen to have such Bills.

The power to determine terms and pay is, as I have said, delegated to the Treasury and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Since 1968, these powers have been transferred to and fro. In the present organisation, however, the Treasury is given the responsibility for determining pay, grading, expenses, allowances, holidays, hours of work and other related personnel matters. The Minister for the Civil Service regulates the conduct of civil servants and those other conditions of service which are not allotted to the Treasury. These responsibilities relate entirely to what can broadly be called the personnel management of civil servants. They do not, for example, extend to the statutory powers of Ministers or civil servants, to policy-making, and so on.

As things stand, surprisingly perhaps, the Treasury and the Prime Minister cannot lawfully delegate those functions to the Departments and agencies; they cannot be delegated to another Minister—the relevant Secretary of State, for example—let alone to agencies which are responsible for the day-to-day management of the staff that they employ. Whether it is sensible or not—I do not think that it can be—decisions affecting the working conditions of all 560,000 or so civil servants must conform to rules laid down by the two central Departments, and those rules, like the laws of the Medes and Persians, must then be obeyed.

What the central Departments can do and have been doing is to grant to individual Departments and executive agencies discretions under which they can manage defined aspects of personnel policy, but that is a pretty poor substitute for real delegation and is hedged about by all kinds of obscure legal restrictions. Because of those legal constraints, the Treasury and the Minister have at present to grant those discretions within the framework of principles and rules, and references back to the centre for approval, however unnecessary they may be. Although, therefore, the central Departments can give operational Departments and agencies a degree of freedom over the terms and conditions of service of their staff, they cannot make them genuinely responsible and accountable for them. Accountabilities become blurred, alibis get written and unnecessary procedural obstacles can all too easily be placed, or be seen to be placed, in the way of Departments and agencies managing their affairs as effectively as they can.

Ms. Mowlam

The Minister began by arguing that accountability would not be changed by the Bill, that accountability would still be strong. The argument that he has just given as the whole point of achieving delegation rather than discretion is that it would delegate responsibility and accountability. He cannot have it both ways.

Mr. Waldegrave

I believe that that is precisely what one can have in this respect. A sensible Parliament will not attempt to manage in detail the things for which it is responsible. Ministers retain overall responsibility. If those to whom we delegate manage badly, we are responsible. It was very foolish of Nye Bevan to say, in that famous phrase, that if a bedpan is dropped in the health service the Minister should hear about it. That is no way to run an organisation. The attempt to continue to run organisations in that way has ended. Surely the Opposition, by accepting the agency programme, have understood that. I am disappointed if the hon. Lady wants to go back to that. If the delegation does not work or management is badly carried out, however, we are still responsible for having appointed the person concerned and for the policies within which he works, and we must take the responsibility. It would be crazy to try to run any great organisation in that old way. It would produce the kind of sclerotic organisations. which provide bad service for our people. But that does not mean that the House cannot call a Minister to account for any failure to use that delegation sensibly.

Mr. Frank Field

I believe that the Chancellor of the Duchy was in the House on Monday at social security Question Time, when we raised the question of some of our constituents who were claiming the new disability living allowance. The relevant Minister came to the Dispatch Box and said that this was something which had been delegated to the Benefits Agency, and which the agency should improve. Technically, therefore, the Minister answered questions—but only to tell us that it was someone else's function to run the service properly. Clearly that is better than saying that he would not even answer questions, the Table Office refusing those questions, but it is a different ball game from when the Minister himself had to answer to the House for initiating a new benefit and there being an enormous cock-up over it.

Mr. Waldegrave

The new system is far more honest and open. In the old days, Ministers pretended that they knew the details of the administration of great Departments. Under every Government, that was always a myth. Now, a Minister in whose Department, or in an agency of whose Department, what the hon. Gentleman referred to as a cock-up is made is still ultimately responsible for that. It is perfectly legitimate to explain which bits of the chain have failed, if failure there has been, but accountability still rests firmly with the House, and nobody can escape that.

Mr. Terry Davis (Birmingham, Hodge Hill)

Does that mean that Ministers accept responsibility for the recent failings of the National Rivers Authority and the Development Board for Rural Wales?

Mr. Waldegrave

The hon. Gentleman will forgive me for not being immediately familiar with the cases to which he refers. There is a difference between non-departmental public bodies, which was the old style of devolution, and agencies. The former are not agencies and do not necessarily have nearly such clear accountability. An agency has a framework agreement with the Department which sets out the policy, and the lines of accountability are very clear. It was one of the weaknesses of the previous model, which goes back many years to the Attlee Government, that those old-style quangos very often did not have any clear line of accountability to anybody. I do not know whether that deals with the particular cases referred to by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Davis

I was not referring to the failings under the Attlee Government—I was referring to much more recent failings which were the subject of two reports to the Public Accounts Committee. If the Minister does not know the answer, and I can understand that, will he at least give an assurance that he will look at those reports and then write to me and other members of the Committee saying whether it is the Government's considered view that Ministers accept responsibility and are accountable for these appalling wastes of public money?

Mr. Waldegrave

I will certainly look at the cases that the hon. Gentleman has raised and write to him. The very fact that the matters were before the Public Accounts Committee must mean that they were proper ones for accountability to the House.

Ms. Mowlam

On the point of accountability, the Secretary of State has just said that accountability would be back to the PAC. It is important to clarify this; otherwise, he may be slightly misleading the House as to the difference between discretions and the delegation of powers in this Bill. Under this Bill, as I understand it—I hope that I shall be corrected if I am wrong—it is not back to the relevant Minister; it is back from the delegated person—whether it be in a "next-steps" agency or a long way down the Department—back to the Treasury and the Minister for the Civil Service; and the only people to whom they are accountable are the members of the PAC. The PAC does a very effective, efficient job, but it does it post facto. Is that the only course of accountability—back through that chain of management structure—that will be available?

Mr. Waldegrave

We are again going far wider than this poor little Bill. The structure of accountability of accounting officers—normally permanent secretaries, but in some cases now the heads of executive agencies—for their financial duties runs in the way it always has run, to the Public Accounts Committee. Nothing in this Bill comes anywhere near touching any of those issues. This shows what an interesting debate we shall have when we have the wider debate which I fear that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, would rule out of order today.

Mr. Davis

I emphasise to the Minister that I was not referring to the responsibility of accounting officers to the PAC; I was referring to the accountability of Ministers. That is the question that I want him to address in correspondence.

Mr. Waldegrave

I shall be delighted to do so. There is nothing in this Bill immediately relevant to that issue.

The power of delegation cannot be achieved simply by altering the Order in Council, because from time to time all these responsibilities have been transferred between the Treasury and the Minister by transfer of functions orders. Therefore, they are all the responsibility of a named Minister and one cannot, I am told, achieve what we want to achieve by altering the Order in Council.

The Government's legal advice is that the power to delegate must be taken by primary legislation and not by the prerogative—hence this Bill.

I turn now to the Bill itself. Clause 1(1) allows delegation to take place but limits the power to delegate in three ways. The functions to be delegated must be management functions—none of the wider policy issues that we have been discussing; they must have been the subject of transfer of functions orders, as they have all been; and they must relate to the management of the home civil service.

The scope of the Bill is also limited in a most important way by subsection (2). Delegations can be made only to another servant of the Crown. "Servant of the Crown" is a functional definition covering people who are in the employment of the Crown. That means that the Bill cannot be used to transfer civil service personnel management functions outside the public service. The Bill can have no effect, therefore, in enabling the contracting-out or privatisation of Government organisations. Its provisions are circumscribed by clause 1(2) so that the central Departments will be able to delegate their management powers only to Ministers, civil servants, statutory office holders, members of the diplomatic service, the armed forces, and so on. That broad, but restricted, definition has been adopted to give the Government the maximum flexibility over delegations to people who are currently, or who may be, employed in relevant positions, such as chief executives of "next steps" agencies.

Mr. Donald Anderson

On a point of clarification, how can the fact that it is possible to delegate those powers to members of the diplomatic service be reconciled with the argument that the Bill affects only the home civil service?

Mr. Waldegrave

The functions are those of the home civil service, but if a distinguished ambassador chose to apply for a particular job or, as an ambassador, was offered a job running a particular part of the home civil service, it would seem foolish to exclude him. There was some discussion of that point in the House of Lords. Lord Russell thought that, if powers could be delegated to members of the armed forces, there was a great danger that we might move to a military dictatorship. Others thought it wrong that retired colonels should be excluded from the chance to obtain such jobs. Both suggestions are fantastic. The provisions of the Bill merely mean that people employed in the Crown service could occupy positions to which certain home civil service functions were delegated. They do not cover any of the diplomatic service's functions.

The remainder of clause 1 deals with the conditions under which delegations may be made. Subsection (2) allows the central Departments to attach conditions to a delegation if they wish. Subsection (3) allows them to require that the delegation must be carried out by the person to whom it is delegated, while subsection (4), conversely, allows sub-delegation. Those subsections therefore enable the central Departments to delegate to a Minister and require him or her to exercise the power in person, contrary to the usual position; or, for example, to delegate to an agency chief executive but to permit him to have those powers exercised on his behalf by another Crown servant. The legal background to all this is set out in more detail in the notes on clauses which have been made available in the Vote Office.

Clause 1 is the meat of the Bill, and the remaining clauses build upon it. Without wearying the House with details which might best be left for consideration in Committee, I should explain that clause 2 mimics the effect of clause 1 for the minority of civil servants whose terms and conditions are determined not under the Order in Council but under powers granted in the statutes which govern the organisations in which they work—for example, Customs and Excise, the Office of Fair Trading, the regulators of the privatised utilities, and smaller bodies. In such cases it is usual for the statutes to require the Treasury to give its consent to the determination of the terms and conditions of those staff by the head of their organisation or their Secretary of State.

Clause 2 allows the relevant central Department to create the equivalent of a delegation by waiving its powers to approve terms and conditions of service. The same safeguards come into place in this situation as in clause 1. Subsections (2) and (3) of clause 2 allow for the statutory power of approval to be waived, subject to whatever conditions seem necessary, and allow the person who waives consent to require the holder of the power to exercise it personally if they see fit. Lastly, subsection (4) covers those cases where the sanction of two Ministers is required to the determination of terms and conditions—typically, the Treasury and the sponsoring Secretary of State—makes any delegation subject to their joint approval.

Finally, clause 3 deals with Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland civil service is making progress with its own citizens charter and "next steps" initiatives with the same efficiency and quality of service objectives as their mainland counterparts.

In Northern Ireland, the Department of Finance and Personnel exercises the same responsibilities for the Northern Ireland civil service as the Treasury and the Minister do here. The Bill allows for the introduction of the Order in Council, subject to the negative resolution procedure, provided that it has the same effect on the management of the civil service in Northern Ireland as the Bill does in Great Britain.

Lest there be any doubt, I should perhaps make it clear that the Bill does not force the Treasury or the Minister to delegate anything to anyone. There is no requirement in the Bill to decentralise or delegate: the power is an enabling one. Nor could the central Departments force a delegation on an unwilling Minister or official, which would otherwise be unlikely but possible. In practice, delegations will proceed only where the parties concerned agree that delegation is appropriate. The power allows the central Departments to set any conditions on a delegation that they think fit, and to vary, extend or withdraw them depending on how things work in practice.

Equally, as regards the rights of civil servants as employees, I can assure the House that the Bill gives no powers either to the central Departments or to the recipient of any delegation to change the terms and conditions of any civil servant without conforming to the normal procedures and processes of consultation with unions and staff. Where arrangements for consultation with the unions are specified—in the national pay agreements, for example—those arrangements will continue to apply. Where, outside those agreements, the central Departments propose to delegate functions, the national unions will be given the opportunity to comment on such proposals. Where the recipients of a delegation wish to exercise the powers delegated to them to change the terms and conditions of service, again staff and their representatives will be consulted appropriately. So although the parties to any consultation may change as a result of delegations, there will be no change in the principles involved.

Mr. Garrett

The right hon. Gentleman is skating over the Bill without touching on the fundamental point about it. There was a long discussion in the House of Lords as to whether the Bill was a privatisation measure—which, of course, it is not. The big change embodied in the Bill is the end of the national civil service. That is the point of the Bill: agency employees—at present, civil servants—will be subject to the terms and conditions, employment regulations, recruitment and training policies and rights peculiar to the agency concerned. Instead of having a national civil service, we shall have a conglomerate of agencies, all with different terms and conditions.

Many of us think that the national civil service, which was set up in 1854 following the Northcote-Trevelyan report, has been one of the glories of the nation. The Minister cannot scoot through Second Reading without explaining to the House that the end of that national civil service is precisely what he proposes.

Mr. Waldegrave

The hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) has at last accepted that the real question is whether we want devolution in the civil service. That is what the Bill is partly about, and the hon. Gentleman is perfectly right to raise that question, although I shall argue forcefully that the Northcote-Trevelyan reforms, designed to allow for a tiny central policy-making civil service of a few thousand people, are quite inappropriate to the management and organisation of hundreds of thousands of people delivering services to the public. Following the acceptance across the party divide of the "next steps" agency programme, I had thought that that was now more or less common ground.

I visited Companies house the other day and asked how much movement there was between that organisation and the rest of the civil service. Apparently, there is virtually none, and there has never been much—except, very occasionally, at a very senior level. The idea that our great service agencies have been a unified structure in the sense that people have moved from one to another is a myth. That is the heart of the argument.

The hon. Member for Norwich, South is perfectly right: I believe it necessary to trouble the House with the Bill because we want to introduce—and believe it right for the people of this country that we should introduce—more variegated styles of employment in our great public service. Many agencies already come to us saying, "We have negotiated something with our people that they want, but it does not coincide with the national terms and conditions." The agencies cannot implement what they have negotiated without surmounting an immensely complicated system of hurdles set up when the Treasury was, in effect, the personnel department of a small central civil service. I argue that those arrangements are wholly inappropriate to the needs of 1992.

Perhaps I could go a little further and say what I think will happen when the Bill is enacted, because the hon. Member for Redcar and I should debate this. The central Departments will use the powers that the Bill grants them to examine areas of personnel management and establish those which may best be decided by Departments and executive agencies as a whole, or by a particular Department or agency which has a justified claim to determine some aspect of its management without reference to the centre. Personnel management matters in the civil service will be progressively devolved to the most appropriate level within the civil service. I am sure that that must be right.

There will always be a clear line of accountability for delegations made in this way. I come back to the point which was rightly raised earlier by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis). Ministers will be accountable to the House in the normal way for the exercise of powers that they receive from the Treasury or the Minister for the Civil Service. When the central Departments delegate to officials such as agency chief executives, Ministers in the central Departments can and should be challenged on the delegation and the use to which it has been put, as they can be now on matters where they have granted Departments and agencies management discretions.

I should also perhaps reassure hon. Members—this answers the point made by the hon. Member for Norwich, South—that the Bill will not hamper the maintenance of the common standards which we all wish to see protected in the civil service. I think that we would all agree that this country has been fortunate, since the reforms to which the hon. Member referred, in having the support of a civil service which is politically impartial, honest in its dealings with the public and, in the enormous majority of cases over 100 years or more, incorruptible. Those core standards will remain the basis of employment in the civil service, and they will be maintained in the form of central rules. The bath water may be disposed of, but that particular vital baby will not be.

Ms. Mowlam

Will the Secretary of State explain how he expects those core rules to be kept? If he accepts that particular agencies can negotiate deals at local level and if, as he says, he wants to continue with contracting out and privatisation, when that has happened does he expect the private buyer to have the core rules written into its company rules? That is contrary to company law. How on earth will he make it stick?

Mr. Waldegrave

We are talking here about delegations to Crown servants, and the rules stick then because they remain policy. There are other matters which are not actually in the contracts or in the negotiated agreements but which are policy matters, such as equal opportunities employment or the rather good record of the civil service on the employment of disabled people. They are not negotiated agreements, but policies that Ministers will continue to maintain as they do now, whether in agencies or not. It is essential that they do so, and I am sure that the Labour party would not have come to see the agency programme as a sensible one if we had not been willing to make it absolutely clear at the time that such matters would be retained as central policies.

Mr. Terry Davis

I should like to put two questions to the Minister before he finishes. Will he tell the House whether it is Government policy to delegate the decision on how many people should be employed in a particular agency or operation—a most important aspect of personnel management—and whether it would be a question not only of the total number of people employed but of the number by grade, a variation which can be an extremely important managerial decision? Secondly, if the Bill has no connection whatever with market testing, in what way will the Government give the House a chance to debate market testing?

Mr. Waldegrave

On the latter point, perhaps the hon. Member for Hodge Hill was not in the Chamber when I said, as part of the general discussion that we had earlier on matters going wider than the Bill, that I thought it right to put to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House the case for having a debate in Government time on those wider issues, which are controversial and which are a matter of party division in a way in which I hope to demonstrate that it is not necessary for this Bill to be. That is a fair suggestion by the hon. Member.

On the hon. Member's first point, nothing in the Bill changes the situation in relation to numbers. For many years, long before agencies, decisions about how many people were needed to carry out particular functions in particular parts of the civil service were taken, in effect, by managers themselves, although the legal power rested then with Ministers, as it does now because those actual number controls, in so far as they are still exercised centrally, are not delegated in this Bill.

Mr. Garrett

This is wrong because it was never up to managers to decide how many staff were required in a particular division or unit of a Department; it was a highly centralised arrangement—a matter of establishment officers and their staff inspection branches.

Mr. Waldegrave

I absolutely agree, but it was establishment officers in particular Departments. I was a civil servant many years ago in the Cabinet Office, and it was the Cabinet Office establishment officer—I remember that his name was Mr. Day—who was responsible for taking me on. Or it may have been the late Lord Trent or the late Lord Rothschild. But it was still not a matter to be brought to the attention of the Prime Minister of the day —it was delegated to the people running the little unit in which I worked, and the legal powers remain the same.

To summarise, the Bill represents another small but important step in dismantling the barriers which civil servants currently face and which prevent them from being organised in a way which allows them to give of their best. I put on record, although I hope I do not need to do, that I have greatly admired our civil service from both within and without. There is immense enthusiasm and commitment there and I am convinced that we must never cease to look for ways to allow their better expression and more efficient use. It is on that basis—a less fundamental, perhaps less interesting, but still important basis—that I commend the Bill to the House.

6.35 pm
Ms. Marjorie Mowlam (Redcar)

The Secretary of State began to give away the full import of this small and limited Bill in his closing words when he said that he wants the Bill to go on the statute book because it will allow civil servants to be organised in such a way that they can do their best. Of course we want civil servants to do their best, but since, as he has made clear on numerous other occasions, the Secretary of State believes that the civil service will do its best through the mechanisms of privatisation, market testing and contracting out, it shows the force of the argument that the Opposition tried to put forward at the beginning of the debate, that the Bill is a facilitator, an enabler which will make that possible. It shows that we can debate those broader issues.

However much we welcome the Secretary of State's willingness to offer a debate on competitive tendering, market testing and contracting out, his offer comes a little late in the day. Although we welcome it and we will see his strength in Cabinet in achieving that debate in Government time as soon as possible, it is a little disingenuous, having gone through years of market testing already and when part of the concern about the Bill arises because these issues have not been aired in Parliament. If the Secretary of State were serious about giving the House the chance to debate the matter, he would have done it some months ago and not introduced it almost as a sop now to keep us quiet.

Mr. Waldegrave

I do not blame the hon. Lady for not recalling this, because she was not in her present post, but there was a whole day's debate on this very subject on the Queen's Speech not long ago.

Ms. Mowlam

The chance to debate it for a day on the Queen's Speech is obviously welcome. The difficulty is that, as the Secretary of State himself has made clear with this small Bill, when we look at the complexity of the issue, many hon. Members want the chance to discuss the full impact of market testing. The Secretary of State has made it clear elsewhere that he believes that the private sector can do things better than the public sector. If we are talking about 560,000 civil service jobs going into the private sector, the House deserves more than a day of debate on the Queen's Speech.

The Secretary of State also said that he did not want us to get too excited about the Bill because it was so little, so wee, so minor. In view of the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) that implicit in the Bill is the end of the national civil service with Whitley terms and conditions that have served industrial relations in the civil service so well for so long, we will get excited about the Bill, not just tonight but in Committee and at Third Reading because of the full implications of the system that the measure will help facilitate.

The Secretary of State began by looking for common ground and said that he was sure that there was common ground here. I am sure that there is, and the Opposition agree with some of his comments. There is always room for better management and the Government are no exception in that regard. The Opposition would like to see improved services delivered more efficiently to customers because we believe that the customers have a right to quality services. The reforms to which the Secretary of State referred will inevitably mean change. Hon. Members are aware that people do not find it easy to accept change and, in that respect, the civil service is no exception.

As the Minister said, the Labour party welcomed earlier reforms. The "next steps" executive agencies were welcomed by the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee and by the Leader of the Opposition earlier this year. However, as my colleagues have pointed out today, there is still understandably great concern about the accountability of those agencies.

The difficulties were clear with the disability living allowance. In respect of difficulties, the Benefits Agency is one of the worst. The difficulties stemmed from accountability to Parliament. The decision to print in Hansard letters from chief executives of next steps agencies was not taken as a result of open government. The Minister described that decision as a generous gift from the Government. The truth is that if my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) had not campaigned month after month for those letters to be printed, they would not have been printed. It is up to Opposition Members to improve accountability. That accountability has not been improved as a result of the efforts of the Minister or his Cabinet colleagues.

The Minister said that the Bill had limited scope. He parroted Lord Howe who, in another place, said that it was a minor measure, of limited scope and that it was a short, technical Bill. If the Bill were simply about decentralisation of limited pay and service conditions within the civil service; if it were just about pay, terms and conditions; if it were—as the Minister tried to portray it tonight—just about flexibility, improved management and decentralising decision making closer to where decisions are taken, we should in principle have no trouble with an efficiency management Bill that did not affect the nature of the national civil service.

However, the Minister and I are well aware that that is a facade and a smokescreen. As my colleagues have argued tonight, the Bill is about the end of the national Whitley conditions for negotiations. That will change the nature of the civil service.

Members of another place and the press have realised that. The 560,000 members of the civil service are also aware of that, because their jobs will be on the line as a result of the Bill. Whether the Government call this hiving off, contracting out, market testing or privatisation, we must place on the record the fact that the nature of the civil service will change.

The Minister tried to limit this small, technical Bill to the isolated issue of pay and conditions, unrelated to the other things happening in the civil service. The Minister has been body-swerving. The fact is that the Bill will be a ratcheting down mechanism on public spending, regardless of the quality of service provision. When managers have to meet financial targets and goals, they will have to act in terms of budgets set. We must bear in mind the fact that the main financial part of those budgets is pay. That is the bottom line. The result may be a lack of sick pay and holiday entitlements. It may affect pay and redundancies.

The Government tried to offer the miners a redundancy package, saying that if the miners did not take advantage of it within a certain period, it would not be available. In the same way, under market testing the Government will set the financial targets and the cuts will have to be made in-house in a desperate effort to save jobs. That is why the Bill is insidious.

The Minister referred to Northern Ireland. Many of the people to whom I spoke in Northern Ireland over the past two or three days are deeply concerned about the impact of the Bill on Northern Ireland and about the provisions tacked on to the Bill in clause 3. As it stands, apart from Committee and Third Reading, there will be no opportunity to debate the implications for Northern Ireland specifically.

The Minister tried to say that the Bill would have no impact on the fair employment provisions in Northern Ireland, particularly in terms of equal opportunities and the problems in Northern Ireland. It is important to recognise that people in Northern Ireland are very worried about the delegation of pay and conditions.

Mr. Waldegrave

The hon. Lady is right to raise that important point and I hope to still some of those concerns not just in relation to employment policy in Northern Ireland, but in a range of other employment policies. This kind of Bill can stir up anxieties, but the concerns to which the hon. Lady refers are completely unfounded. There is no need for people in Northern Ireland or anywhere else to worry about the wider employment policies. which may or may not be adequate, but which are not affected by the Bill.

Ms. Mowlam

If a Department or "next steps" agency is free to negotiate its own pay, service conditions, holiday allowances, entitlements and hours, and if that is the flexibility that the Minister is talking about, why is it not on the face of the Bill that equal opportunities and fair employment in Northern Ireland are sacred? In respect of the courts, it will be the Bill and not our debate that matters.

When similar questions were raised in the other place, instead of providing specific answers, Lord Howe referred to what may be considered areas of delegation and then recounted a list similar to that provided by the Minister tonight. The list gives a flavour of what might occur. It is illustrative, not exhaustive—hypothetical rather than definitive. If the Minister acknowledges correctly that there is much worry about the Bill, why does he not allay that concern by making it clear in Committee what is and what is not delegated?

The Minister referred to transfer of functions orders and what has been delegated in the past. Will he clarify the issue on the face of the Bill to allay what he considers to be totally unfounded worries and fears?

Mr. Waldegrave

We cannot clarify matters that are not based on statutes, but are policies. It is impossible to clarify in statutes separate policies such as equal opportunities in employment. That is not a matter for statutes, accepted in the framework of the law of the land. It is a matter for employment policy of the civil service. It has nothing to do with this Bill or any other.

Ms. Mowlam

I take the Minister's point and in the day-long debate on CCT and market testing, which the Minister has promised to use his great powers and influence in Cabinet to obtain, I look forward to hearing a commitment to equal opportunities and protection of those rights, if that is the proper forum for such commitments, so that those fears about what is happening in the civil service can be allayed.

The Minister said on several occasions tonight that the Bill is technical and has little influence. To put the Bill in context, I want to refer to a paper that was circulated to all Departments last year. That paper was entitled Selling Government Services into a Wider Market. Paragraph 2 said: The Government's policy is to restrict the size of the public sector and in general the presumption is that services should wherever possible be provided by private sector rather than public sector."— [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Conservative Members may say, "Hear, hear". However, if that is the case, the Government cannot have it both ways. If they want it primarily in the private sector, they cannot argue that there is a level playing field for the civil service to bid against external contractors. The Minister made exactly the same point when he spoke to the Institute of Directors in July and talked about the revolution that he is leading in Whitehall, introducing the entrepreneurial spirit into the corridors of power. He added: Whenever it was in the interests of the taxpayer and user the Government would prefer to privatise. If it is his intention that with market testing there will be a level playing field and fair competition in-house and outside, I am sure that we will leave that matter for another debate. However, it raises questions about the full intent of the introduction of the Bill.

The Minister explained very well the—excuse me, that sounded like a compliment. The Minister explained the structure of the Bill in terms of the delegation of responsibilities that would alter in the Cabinet and central civil service departments and what would happen when those changes were enacted. If the measure is so technical, simple and modest, why did he feel unable to consult civil service unions before he introduced it? He met them all on 3 June to discuss a number of matters.

The Bill was introduced into the House of Lords on 4 June and it was not until 8 June that the Minister considered it worth while to write to the civil service unions. That does not create a very good climate. The Minister assures us that there will be discussions at local level between civil servants and that the consultation procedure is good. However, why did he not consider it reasonable to have open discussions with civil service trade unions? If they are scared and fearful about what the legislation means, surely it would have been common sense or common decency for the Government to discuss the Bill with them before it was presented in the House of Lords.

Discussions would have made a difference to the response that the Minister received. On Second Reading, the House of Lords objected very strongly. The Minister had to meet colleagues in the other place to get the Bill through. That caused great concern to many people in the other place.

The Minister argued that the Government have already delegated functions. That is true. Under TFOs, delegations have taken place, but, actually, it is only discretions that have taken place, not delegations. The Minister's only argument for change is that it would be slightly simpler because the present structure is impractical. He seems to want to have his cake and eat it. He says that the system needs to be changed because it is impractical and needs to he simplified, but, to reassure people, he goes around saying that he is not going to use it when passed. The Minister looks confused. In a letter to the Council of Civil Service Unions of 26 June, in answer to a set of questions, he said: We are not committed to introducing any particular delegations as a result of this Bill … There is no shopping list and no work has been commissioned to provide one. The Minister cannot have it both ways. If there is a desperate need to revolutionise the corridors of power and allow the entrepreneurial spirit to come in, and if simple delegation would help to achieve that, it would be much better for the Minister to be straight and say, "Yes. We want to introduce a lot of delegations. We are going to get things moving fast." The speed with which the Government are moving on market testing and so on suggests that that is their absolute concern; to deny that they will adds to the fear and confusion.

The Minister referred to the problem of accountability. He tried to assure the House that accountability would work as well as it does now with the "next steps" agencies.

As hon. Members have pointed out, there is great doubt about the value, speed and perspicacity of the present system of accountability. As I understand the technical detail of the Bill, the Carltona principle, which has always been the basic principle of accountability, will also be changed by the difference between discretion and delegations. "A civil servant is the Minister so acting," is the Carltona principle as we understood it in the past.

As clauses 1 and 2 state, accountability will not be directly to the Minister; it will be from a "next steps" agency or an individual in a Department, back up through the Treasury to the Public Accounts Committee. That is not positive, straight accountability to the House; it is a further watering down of accountability to the House. The PAC performs a very useful function, but it is always post facto. It always looks for value for money after the money has been spent. Many of the changes that the Minister is talking about introducing—not on the face of the Bill but in terms of market testing and competitive tendering which the Bill helps to facilitate—will radically change the nature of the civil service. That means that we need to look at accountability much more than we have had the chance to do so far. The Minister has often argued that not only power but accountability has been centralised upwards to Ministers and Parliament. The Bill will enable more accountability to be decentralised. We have all those management decisions on pay and conditions being decentralised, and we now have accountability being decentralised. It is difficult to understand, but accountability to whom? If there is a fiddle in the Inland Revenue or a leak in a Ministry of Defence department that has been decentralised by the Bill, who will be accountable? The PAC will be accountable years later. That is not accountability as we have known it—directly to the Minister—in the past. That will change the nature of the civil service as a national body and decimate what we know the civil service to be.

We will certainly carefully scrutinise the Bill in Committee because it will have an impact on the future of the civil service. The Minister talked about great respect for the civil service, how valuable it is and how it has worldwide respectability. That is absolutely true. Many countries in eastern Europe have turned to our civil service for advice when setting up their own civil services. If the Bill is passed with the decentralisation of pay and conditions, linked with market testing and contracting out, we will have a very different civil service. Some of that is already happening.

We are well aware that high standards and quality of service are already beginning to decline, not as a result of the Bill but because of what the Bill would facilitate in different parts of the civil service in order to accommodate tenders for market testing. One way to accommodate tenders is to lower pay and conditions and do away with holidays and sick pay; others such as statistical requirements of the Civil Service Commission have already been lowered in the past year. The breadth and depth of the information that it is keeping has changed. Similarly, at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, statistical requirements have been lowered again, at the very time when European requirements in respect of statistical information on food safety are being raised. As a response to the decentralisation of decision making, we already have those alterations. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) mentioned the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and the 3,100 jobs that are challenged there. That is exactly the difficulty when one decentralises pay and conditions.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North)

Is the purpose of the civil service to provide a good service to the public or is it to employ large numbers of people doing rather inefficient things? [Interruption.]

Ms. Mowlam

One of my colleagues has said that the hon. Gentleman has probably outlined the purpose of the Cabinet rather than of the civil service. Clearly, the civil service exists to perform a public service. Like others, civil servants are taxpayers and consumers of services. They also have a right to decent pay and conditions and to be valued, because morale is an important part of doing a good job. With respect to the hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin), it is not a matter of if people are valued and have decent pay and conditions we will have a decent civil service. Historically, we in Britain have valued that.

Quality of service could be affected by the decentralisation of pay and conditions in another way. At present the civil service has a great deal of expertise, whether it is in taxation, European Community law or public law in general, which it is difficult to match outside the civil service. The civil service has a great fund of valuable information and well-trained people.

The impact of changes such as those in the Bill will not be that the private sector will take over different parts of the civil service; it will be that the civil service will go to the private sector. It will work in exactly the opposite way. The skill and expertise will be lost and the public will suffer as a result.

I should like to mention briefly two other possible results of decentralisation and the delegation of powers on pay and conditions. I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that impartiality has always been important in the civil service. Impartiality has been the bedrock of civil service pay and conditions, but it will not be embodied in any private company rule book. Private companies have a duty first and foremost to their shareholders. When the Government decentralise pay and conditions—the Secretary of State looks confused—as a precursor to privatisation, the first duty will be to the shareholders.

It is intended that both the consumer affairs and legal services divisions of the Office of Fair Trading will be market tested. The OFT could well face bids from the very companies that it is supposed to regulate. That is the sort of confusion which will result from decentralisation and making market testing easier.

Mr. Waldegrave

I do not wish to slow down the hon. Lady's speech, but I was not looking confused. It is just that we are on another subject again. The Bill is about the delegation of personnel matters to Crown servants, not private companies.

Ms. Mowlam

I take the point. We had that discussion at the beginning of the debate. The Secretary of State cannot divorce the delegation of powers on pay and conditions to different parts of the civil service from preparing the ground for further market testing. The Bill will enable the Government to do that. The changes will have an impact on the impartiality, confidentiality and, ultimately, value for money of our national civil service.

The hon. Member for Colchester, North asked about the costs and who the civil service was there to serve. Some of the contracting out and tendering that has taken place in the civil service has resulted in a worsening of conditions and services. That is the lesson that the Secretary of State has failed to learn.

On this measure, as on so many other policies, the Government are driven solely by ideology dogma rather than common sense and best practice. The Opposition want efficient services and flexibility of management. The Secretary of State may want flexibility of management and decentralisation of decisions, which we welcome, but it is not necessary to do away with the national Whitley negotiating conditions. Those conditions have led to good practice and good industrial relations in the civil service.

The Secretary of State is not decentralising for flexibility and improved management; he is facilitating and enabling competitive tendering and privatisation. The way in which he pretends that this is a simple Bill gives hypocrisy a bad name.

We will take the matter up in Committee and we will lobby hard during the coming months. Unless the Secretary of State changes his attitude, the Opposition will vote against the Bill on Third Reading. When I came into the debate today I received a memorandum from the Home Office which said that there had been a general circulation of memoranda asking for future works on privatisation to be presented by the end of November. That is what is going on behind the scenes. We will use the Bill to enable us to have the debate in the House now and later.

7.4 pm

Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We seek a fresh statement from the Leader of the House on the utter chaos that now surrounds the announcement of the timetable on the Maastricht Bill. When the Prime Minister made his statement in Prime Minister's Question Time today he confirmed the report that he was prepared for the Third Reading to be delayed until after the second Danish referendum in May, at the earliest. During business questions the Leader of the House made it clear that the Committee stage is unlikely to resume for three weeks, although last night the Government rejected our amendment to delay the Committee until after the Edinburgh summit in five weeks, on the grounds that thousands of jobs would be lost and an issue of principle was at stake.

Tonight we have heard that Downing street is briefing the press, although not the House, that the Bill may not complete its passage through both Houses until September or October 1993. We have also heard that the Liberal Democrats, and not this House, had advance warning of, and accepted, such a timetable, despite what the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) said last night and today about issues of principle and job losses, which required his party to support the Government last night.

It is now clear that a series of shoddy deals has been done. The House has been kept in ignorance and misinformed. We need a fresh statement on the Government's real intent.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

The Chair is not aware of that information. I am also not aware of whether the Leader of the House intends to make any further statements. I have no doubt that the Government will have taken note.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford. South)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In view of the serious nature of the information, and as the Government scraped home yesterday by three miserable votes—they were bailed out by the Liberal Democrats—would it not be a good idea, especially as the Government are denying Parliament information when they were supposedly so concerned about Parliament yesterday, for you to consider suspending Parliament while we find out about the skulduggery in which the discredited Government are indulging? The Government are at sixes and sevens on this discredited Bill.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is not really a matter for the Chair. I have no plans to suspend the House. I have already informed the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) that the Front Bench will have taken note.

Mr. Doug Hoyle (Warrington, North)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The information came about only as a result of the question that I asked the Prime Minister this afternoon. If I had not asked the question, we would not have been privy to the information or the double-dealing that has taken place between the Government and the discredited army led by the Home Guard captain.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is a similar point of order. I can add nothing further to what I have already said.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Further to that point of order. Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is clear that yesterday's vote is shrouded in double-dealing and dirty tricks. I am sure that many Conservative Members who went through the nightmare of arm-twisting, intimidation and threats by the Conservative Whips will now have cause to ponder the con tricks to which they have been subjected.

My main point is that, clearly, the Liberal Democrats have been party to the elaborate con trick that has been played on Conservative Members. I am sure that some facility could he made to the lone Liberal Democrat Member in the House to explain the exact role that the Liberal Democrats have played in the matter.

Mr. Alan Williams


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. If the right hon. Gentleman intends to raise the same point of order, I have already dealt with it and I shall deal with it no further.

Mr. Williams

On a different point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

If it is a different point I shall take it.

Mr. Williams

As you will appreciate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if what we have heard is true, it constitutes a grave contempt of the House and of the Chair. I realise that we cannot embroil you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, al this stage in wrangling between the parties, and that it is not for you to comment on the contempt that the Cabinet has shown to Conservative Back Benchers, but it would be appropriate if we asked, through you, whether between now and 9 o'clock the Leader of the House can come here to explain what is being furtively explained at the moment behind closed doors to journalists.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That was a similar point of order, even though I had informed the right hon. Member that I had dealt with it.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. If hon. Members are rising on the same point of order, I shall not accept it, as I have dealt with the matter.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Is it a different point of order?

Dr. Godman

Yes. Could I remind you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that Madam Speaker and her predecessor expressed the utmost concern about statements of that import being made at press conferences and not from the Dispatch Box. It is a scandalous state of affairs, especially where Back Benchers are concerned.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have taken note. I call Mr. Robert Ainsworth.

7.11 pm
Mr. Peter Ainsworth (Surrey, East)

I hesitate to correct you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but it is Peter.

The hon. Member for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam) told us that Opposition Members intend to vote against the Bill on Third Reading, for reasons which have nothing to do with the Bill. That seems to be becoming a habit with Opposition Members. Last night, they voted against a motion for reasons which had nothing to do with the substantive motion. If Opposition Members spent more time focusing on the substance of what was under discussion and less time making party political points, they might do themselves and the House a service.

The Bill is a small and largely technical piece of legislation, although the Opposition seem to have vested it with a sinister significance which is wholly out of place. Having said that, the Bill is important, because at its heart lies the Government's commitment to creating a public service which truly, effectively and with the maximum attention to cost-efficiency meets the demands of the people—its customers.

We can justifiably be proud of our civil service, which in many respects is the envy of the world. As the hon. Member for Redcar suggested, it has formed the model adopted by much of the developed and developing world for the way in which they conduct their affairs.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has paid a tribute to the integrity and impartiality of the civil service. Those qualities are clearly recognised on both sides of the House, and are not in dispute.

I am sorry that some hon. Members seem to mistake this inoffensive Bill for an attack on the civil service, or an attempt to undermine its excellent work. The reverse is true. The Bill seeks to enable the civil service to develop management structures which will assist its undertakings.

As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said, the key to the proposals is delegation, which means devolving authority from centrally controlled personnel offices to departments and agencies.

I do not suppose that it is widely known outside Whitehall that the power to determine terms and conditions for civil servants, who operate across the vast spectrum of our national life in many different parts of the country, rests solely with the Treasury and with the Under-Secretary of State for the Civil Service. Decisions which affect the working lives and conditions of more than 0.5 million civil servants rests with two central Government Departments.

The measures contained in the Bill are designed to give Departments and agencies control over those matters, and that seems to be welcome. The Bill will enable—most importantly, it will not compel—the Treasury and the Minister with responsibility for the civil service to devolve authority for personnel matters to Departments, where that is appropriate.

Hon. Members who have spent time in commercial life know that people operate at their best when the lines of communication are clear and close to home. That fosters self-confidence and personal motivation. Increasingly, with the development of "next steps" agencies, senior managers in Government Departments are taking on responsibilities which were previously the preserve of the mandarins and that is right.

Nothing breeds responsibility like responsibility and nothing fosters enthusiasm and diligence more than trust. The Bill underpins the trust that we are increasingly conferring upon senior managers in the civil service. There is no responsibility without trust, and it works both ways. It is no good making people accountable if they do not have the freedom to back up their own judgment.

On a wider level, the Bill will encourage greater flexibility in the provision of public services, which is both needed and welcome. I say that it is welcome in the knowledge that the House may shortly have to consider some measures which are most certainly needed but which may not be entirely welcome. It is therefore a pleasure to be able to speak in favour of the Bill, although no one should doubt the willingness of Conservative Members to support difficult measures when they are necessary.

I am sorry that Opposition Members seem to think that the Bill is more difficult to accept than it really is. One should never underestimate the ability of some people to make scare stories out of good news.

When it was first announced that the Bill would come before the House, newspaper headlines screamed about the "privatisation of the civil service". Not for the first time, Opposition Members seem to be unable to distinguish truth from the fiction of their own creation.

The hon. Member for Redcar described the Bill as insidious and a threat to jobs. We must make it clear that the Bill in no way changes the terms and conditions of any civil servant. It does not affect the normal rights of staff or the usual consultation procedures, and it in no way affects the legitimate rights of trade unions.

I fear that the Opposition's attitude to the Bill has betrayed the fact that, once again, their commitment to reform and to improving the civil service is half-hearted at best. They pay lip service to it, but time after time they show that they are not really interested. Instead, they show a commitment to the public sector unions—I suppose that that is not surprising in view of their close relationship —which too often give precedence to their own sectional interests over the interests of the people they are there to serve.

Ms. Mowlam

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that Sir Robin Butler, in his Redcliffe-Maude memorial lecture, talked about the new generation of civil service trade union leaders being forward-looking and less dogmatic about retaining traditional and uniform patterns of management where change can be clearly shown to be in the interests of their members and the public they serve"? That is the view not just of Labour Members but of Sir Robin Butler, ex-head of the civil service.

Mr. Ainsworth

Had the hon. Lady listened to an earlier part of my speech she would have heard me pay tribute to our civil servants and the work that they do. However, there is no denying that there remain areas of activity where sectional trade union interests still come before the interests of the public. Many of the Government's reforms in recent years have gone a long way towards improving that situation.

Mr. Wilson

The hon. Gentleman has made an important statement in firm and bold terms. I am sure that he is well loaded with examples. Perhaps he can just give us one.

Mr. Ainsworth

I am talking about a general attitude, which is well known to Conservative Members and will be widely recognised in the country. I speak as someone who has served for some years on a local council in central London. I am only too familiar with the attitude of the public sector unions and the precedence that, not always but all too often, they place on their own interests at the expense of members of the public. Hon. Members recognise that well, and the country knows about it.

Mr. Quentin Davies (Stamford and Spalding)

Does my hon. Friend agree that there have been considerable differences in the attitudes taken by different trade unions, and that some have been a great deal more positive than others about the changes in the public service during the past few years? Therefore, any generalisation of the kind just made by the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam) does not fit the facts.

Mr. Ainsworth

I agree with my hon. Friend. It would be wrong if my remarks were interpreted in a generalised way, because I am talking about incidents and tendencies of which we are well aware.

Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)

I am genuinely curious. The hon. Gentleman now protests that it would be wrong to take his attitude as a general one but, when challenged to give a specific example, he said that he was referring to a general approach.

Mr. Ainsworth

That was on a different point. If the hon. Gentleman does not yet understand the point that I have been trying to make, I do not think that he ever will.

Sadly, the attitude of which I have been speaking goes hand in hand with a tendency towards centralisation. Therefore, it is not surprising, though perhaps somewhat depressing, that Opposition Members appear to deride the idea of delegation that lies at the heart of the Bill.

Mr. Garrett

The hon. Gentleman may know something about the government of inner London, but he knows nothing about the civil service. Is he aware that the agency concept, the idea that Departments should be broken up into budget and responsibility centres, originated on the Labour Benches?

Mr. Ainsworth

In that case, I am surprised at Labour Members' attitude tonight.

I am pleased to say that the confusion displayed by Opposition Members did not extend to their colleagues in another place. As has been pointed out, the noble Baroness Turner supported the principle at the heart of the Bill and made it clear that she did not regard it as a blueprint for privatisation. I am sorry to find that Opposition Members in this House seem to disagree.

The Bill is not about privatisation. Here, I quickly suppress any comment about Treasury forecasters, and merely say that the idea that the Bill will result in a wholesale abandonment of bowler hats and furled umbrellas for designer suits and white socks is utter nonsense.

As my right hon. Friend said, the Bill in no way alters the fundamental accountability of Ministers and civil servants to Parliament. The Bill clearly enables Departments to set whatever conditions they may think appropriate to the delegation that they extend to those responsible for carrying out public duties. I hope that those conditions are not set too tightly, so that the business of encouraging devolved responsibility, with the attendant benefits to which I have referred, may progress apace, although proper monitoring, which is ensured by the Bill, will continue to be vital.

Contrary to what the hon. Member for Redcar said, real benefits from the Government's reforms of public services are becoming clear. Since 1979, more than £2 billion has been saved by cutting waste and improving efficiency.

Earlier today, I was fortunate enough to attend an impressive presentation by the National Audit Office. I am only sorry that more hon. Members could not find the time to listen to what it had to say. It is doing an excellent job in bringing cost-effectiveness to our public services and institutions.

Mr. Garrett

There is something else that the hon. Gentleman does not know. The Government fought bitterly against the establishment of the National Audit Office. I was a sponsor of the National Audit Act 1983 and I know the extent to which the Government tried to stop it. A cross-party alliance of Back Benchers got that Act through.

Mr. Ainsworth

I am talking not about history but about what is happening today. I was most impressed by what the National Audit Office had to say today about its work. It gave specific examples of the real-costs benefits which are accruing from its work. I applaud its efforts and wish it well.

There is a new spirit of accountability abroad in our public departments. Opposition Members continue to deride the development of that spirit, not least through the citizens charter.

Mr. Donald Anderson

Would the hon. Gentleman care to relate that new spirit of accountability to the experience which he may have had, and which most of us have had, with the Benefits Agency?

Mr. Ainsworth

I should be delighted to spend a great deal of time discussing the new spirit of accountability in Wandsworth council, on which I served for six years, where it is applied to enormously beneficial effect. The Benefits Agency has been dealt with by hon. Members at great length.

It is becoming increasingly clear that Opposition Members have no serious commitment to improving the quality of public services in Britain. That has been fairly obvious for some time. Their attitude tonight simply confirms their negative approach. Unfortunately, they have mistaken the Bill's true purpose and, in common with recent practices, are seeking to make party political points out of a perfectly innocuous piece of legislation. It is, however, legislation which forms an integral part of our commitment to ensure that the British people get the best from our public services, which is what they deserve.

7.30 pm
Mr. Doug Hoyle (Warrington, North)

Hon. Members will not be surprised to hear that I shall not be following the hon. Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Ainsworth) down the path, whatever it was, that he trod. My hon. Friends' interruptions showed that he does not have any real knowledge of civil servants or the civil service.

I regret that the Secretary of State so hastily left the Chamber after delivering an inadequate speech, remembering that many of the problems associated with the Bill lie at his door. Much uncertainty has been spread by his refusal to consult the civil service trade unions. My hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam) pointed out that they met him one day and he did not even inform them that the Bill would be introduced in the other place the following day. It is hardly surprising that suspicion should abound when that type of treatment is meted out.

Hon. Members have referred to some remarks made in the other place by Baroness Turner. We should be clear about exactly what she said and did not say, and I shall quote from her speech. After referring to the poor handling—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member cannot do that. He can only paraphase a speech made in another place.

Mr. Hoyle

The point of my noble Friend's speech was that it was the ultimate intention of the Government to bring about the privatisation of the civil service, even though this might not be the Bill by which that would be achieved. That flies in the face of everything that the Secretary of State has said. No wonder civil servants are alarmed.

Let us not forget that the Whitley committees will be destroyed. They have represented a wonderful system of negotiation for over 70 years. They have provided a forum not only for good industrial relations in the civil service but for achieving understanding and consultation. At present, employment conditions in the civil service are the responsibility of the Treasury and the Cabinet Office.

I suppose we should not be surprised at the Bill being presented because, since the Conservatives came to power in 1979, the civil service has been messed about with in one way or another. On taking office, Mrs. Thatcher set Lord Rayner to work. We were told that the exercise was designed to increase efficiency, and we are now told that this measure represents another step down that road. Without seeing much sign of greater efficiency, many jobs have been lost.

It is claimed that the Bill is necessary because of the citizens charter. We are told that this is a small technical measure, but those with experience of such matters know that we must dig deeper and consider the enabling legislation that will result from it. Despite what the Secretary of State said, the Bill allows responsibility to be delegated away from the Treasury and Cabinet Office, which, as I say, have previously been responsible for civil servants' conditions.

Ministers will no longer need to obtain the agreement of the civil service unions even over the terms and conditions that are being delegated—a point that my hon. Friends and I are anxious to stress. Any individual agencies that are established under the measure can vary the terms and conditions of the service for which a delegated authority exists. That, too, can be done without the agreement of the Treasury, and certainly without the agreement of the civil service unions. No wonder civil servants are alarmed over what is termed a small technical Bill.

The spectre of privatization—unfortunately, we cannot discuss that tonight—was raised by the actions of the Secretary of State. We recall his speech on 1 June last, in which he referred to competitive tendering. He made it clear that the process that had been imposed on local councils for blue collar jobs such as refuse collection would be extended to central Government, with white collar jobs being affected. He went on to talk about law, accounting, engineering, architecture and science. He was not referring to a small number of civil servants, for about 130,000 jobs could be put at risk.

No wonder there is alarm and despondency in the civil service. The Secretary of State claims to be a great admirer of the civil service, but he has not been particularly helpful to the service in his past actions.

As I explained, the Bill will allow the Government or any delegated representative to vary conditions of service without the agreement of the Treasury or the unions, the only exceptions being areas regulated by law. The only such part of the employment conditions is the principal civil service pension scheme. Clearly, there are many matters about which civil servants are right to be alarmed.

For example, we are right to ask about equal opportunities. What about the possibility of sex and race discrimination? There are numerous issues to be considered, including pay, leave and hours of service. All could be swept away. They will all be subject to change as a result of the Bill. All agreements reached centrally through Whitley between the Treasury and the unions could be overturned without recourse once the measure becomes law. Yet it is described as a small technical Bill.

There will be no need for the Minister to specify to whom a delegation is being made, yet the civil service unions are having difficulty trying to obtain information about the way in which the measure will be implemented. The Minister may be able to withhold authority for certain functions from the person to whom he has delegated matters. Nor is it clear whether it will all be within public knowledge or be done by private arrangement.

Many problems have resulted from the attitude of the Secretary of State. After all, the right hon. Gentleman had no consultation with the unions before the Bill was introduced in the other place. Only pressure brought by the unions and my hon. Friends has resulted in any consultation. Much remains to be explained to those who work in what even Conservative Members agree is our great civil service.

It is a vague Bill. The future of many people is at stake, and their conditions of employment are under threat. They should be consulted, because many of them are saying that, instead of, "Yes, Minister," they should be asking, "What are you hiding, Minister?" Much alarm has been spread because of the lack of consultation. It is wrong that suspicion and despair are being caused in the civil service by the Government's refusal to show the whole of their hand in this matter.

The trade unions are showing a responsible attitude and asking reasonable questions, such as what functions will be delegated. That is a fair question, given the promises that have been made to them. I have a list that has been compiled, but we are not in a position to know whether it is a full and final list. Another important question is, to whom will those functions be delegated? Not only those who work in the civil service but all of us who may have to use the agencies need to know. When and over what period will that delegation take place? What conditions will be established by or in the agencies?

Another point that has not been satisfactorily explained by the Secretary of State is why those moves are being undertaken. Surely there should not only be consultation but a time limit should be set for those consultations. We would all feel much easier if the Secretary of State could assure us tonight about what monitoring of the delegated authority will take place.

Differing views have been expressed on both sides of the House. Opposition Members have asked about the agencies that have already been set up and about the inadequacies of those agencies. Again, the Secretary of State did not reply properly. It would help civil servants to know what formal review, if any, will be undertaken to see whether value for money is being obtained for the public. Should not a regulatory authority also look at the work of those agencies?

One of my hon. Friends has already said that what is happening is the break up of our national civil service, which is the envy of the rest of the world and to which we owe so much. I ask the Government not to hide their real intent behind a technical Bill. The Government's ultimate aim came to light in the other place. Although it may not be in the Bill, it will be achieved in other ways. It can cause only despair and a lowering of morale when we are told that the Government's ultimate aim is complete privatisation.

7.43 pm
Mr. Nirj Joseph Deva (Brentford and Isleworth)

I have listened carefully to the arguments presented by the hon. Members for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam) and for Warrington, North (Mr. Hoyle), who made some constructive points, which I have been thinking about. Although the hon. Lady's points are well informed, I am none the wiser about why she objects in principle to the Bill and intends to vote against it.

The Bill ensures better management of the civil service by allowing different parts of it to develop their own strategies on matters such as pay, grading and general conditions of service. Surely that is a laudable objective. The Bill neither changes the terms or conditions of existing civil servants' pay, grading or structure, nor does it contain new powers to privatise or contract out.

It is the job of Government to ensure that the civil service is best organised and managed to deliver a better quality and value of services to the public. From the tone of the debate so far, it would appear that only the Conservative Government have had the courage to tackle barriers that impede better value and services. The creation of the "next steps" agencies—now 75 in all—is a remarkable progression towards better services for consumers. In a previous incarnation I served on the National Consumer Council and I have had a great deal of interest in protecting consumer services.

If we take the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency as an example, much has changed—and for the better. The days are long gone when Joe public had to wait months for his driving licence. Now customers come first. All DVLA staff go on customer care courses. They now sort out their own mistakes and deal with their customers directly, rather than allocating them to a complaints committee, using vast amounts of paper. They have abolished an elaborate and inefficient structure of working parties, which they have dismantled in favour of decision-making by line managers. Buggins' turn is out and promotion is now on merit. Managers have clear targets. For example, it was recently specified that 90 per cent. of driving licences must be issued within 13 days. Last year they took 16 days and before it became an agency it took months.

Opposition Members understand that old-style civil service staff management is giving way to flexibility. Staff can now be hired on a variety of part-time arrangements, giving work opportunities to, for example, working mothers and people with other family commitments to work part time rather than on an eight-hour shift. The Bill will enable those people to find new opportunities for work.

The Efficiency Unit was set up in 1979. I understand from what I have read that more than 750 scrutinies have saved more than £2 billion—I cannot prove it—by reducing waste within the civil service.

The Government are also determined to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy. We should look at the record. We have now eliminated unnecessary form filling—27,000 forms have been scrapped and a further 41,000 revised. One begins to wonder how many forms exist. Will my hon. Friend the Minister let me know at some point?

Improved management is a keystone of the Government's policy. The Opposition cannot and should not object to civil service managers, as good managers, having a clearer idea of their objectives and responsibilities and much greater freedom to recruit their own staff to achieve those. We all believe that better quality services will be delivered to the public only if the management structures and demands are driven upwards from the customer to relate to customer demand, rather than downwards from senior managers at Whitehall issuing edicts saying what is best for us.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has reassured us that the Bill is about efficiency and localised rather than centralised control of personnel, and nothing whatever to do with privatisation, about which the Opposition are concerned. We do not want a highly centralised system of control which, as we all know, helps to perpetuate the old-boy network.

While protecting the existing terms and conditions of the civil service, the Bill gives local managers greater flexibility to offer better pay, grading regimes, working hours and disciplinary arrangements, and leaves Ministers and Parliament accountable under the new powers of delegation specified in the Bill.

Performance-related pay is a key feature of the citizens charter. Some 95 per cent. of civil service pay is now covered by performance-related criteria. Therefore, productivity improvements, speedier delivery of service and improvements in unit cost performance are vital targets. The Bill enables Ministers to delegate and ask for more local accountability, thereby removing a current legal impediment to greater accountability, productivity and performance. It is well worth supporting.

7.51 pm
Mr. John Garrett (Norwich, South)

On a superficial level the Bill is simple enough: it allows the delegation of civil service personnel management from central Departments—the Treasury and the Minister with responsibility for the civil service in the Cabinet Office—to departments and agencies. It was introduced with such confusion and lack of consultation in the House of Lords that it led to a chaotic debate. The Lords who spoke for the Government appeared to have only the most tenuous grip of the subject. There was confusion throughout their Lordships' House, where the legislation was seen as a privatisation measure. In fact, it has nothing to do with privatization—Government organisations can and have been privatised without the legislation.

However, the Bill raises important issues. It involves the delegation of personnel management to agencies. Although the Government say that power will be delegated to departments and agencies, it will move to agencies. It is unlikely that the Treasury or the Minister with responsibility for the civil service will allow delegation to a central Whitehall Department. The Bill tries to establish the autonomy of agencies in order to enable the agency chief executives to depart from national civil service rules of employment, and terms and conditions of service.

As agencies cover more of the civil service—the late-lamented project manager for setting up the "next-steps" agencies forecast that 90 per cent. of the civil service would be covered by agencies within a decade—the Bill will mean the end of a national civil service. That is at the heart of the debate. Most Crown servants will join an agency, not the civil service or a national service. They will be employed within the rules of the agency, not national civil service rules. The Bill's ultimate objective is to have Government services in a conglomeration of agencies, all with their own terms and conditions.

I cannot see why the agency concept requires that fragmentation. In a large corporation there can be profit centres and subsidiaries, but employees can still be on common terms and conditions. I have worked for large multinational companies that had a multiplicity of profit centres and subsidiaries with common terms and conditions, and a common grading system. The virtue of such corporations is that they ensure a common corporate identity and ease of movement from one part of the business to another. A collection of agencies—which is what our civil service will become—will not have a public service identity or ethic, which will cause substantial problems.

The result would be a Government consisting of a number of separate businesses. I must confess that my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) and I first proposed the agency concept in a 1972 Fabian tract "Administrative Reform—the Next Steps"—and I am glad that the agencies are called "next steps" agencies. However, we were fresh from the Fulton committee, which developed the idea of delegation within departments to responsibility and budget centres. It was a natural progression for the two of us to extend the concept to a Department that was a collection of agencies. But the crucial point was that it was still a Department. We envisaged departmental agencies within Departments, operating on the personnel and management system of the parent Department, with career opportunities for moving from the agency into the central, policy-making divisions of a Department.

The problem with the agency concept as developed by the Government is that it separates technical and executive grades in an agency from the mandarin administrators in the policy divisions. That policy flies in the face of all the experience gained since the Fulton committee. The separation of mandarins from managers is the biggest single problem in our civil service—and always has been. The Fulton committee put its finger on that problem, which has never been addressed.

The losers will be the staff. An agency management can tear up national agreements with trade unions and impose its own. There will be no obligation on agency management to consult the staff on changes in terms and conditions or business plans. Agencies already exist that do not consult trade unions on business plans or forecasts. There will be no public service standard for the treatment or development of staff. It will mean the end of the civil service as a model employer.

Under the Bill, all civil service-wide conditions and guarantees could be swept aside—pay, leave, hours and equal opportunities. There would be no guarantee of consultation on aspects such as recruitment arrangements, and training or promotion procedures. Those matters will be delegated to chief executives, who are paid performance pay to cut costs. It is a crucial factor that the chief executives who are paid to cut costs will take the money out of the quality of terms and conditions of the agency employees.

I have not heard a Minister address the fact that there is now a fundamental contradiction within the Government policies on agencies—agency chief executives are beginning to say so. The Bill embodies the principle of chief executives having greater autonomy. However, compulsory market testing and contracting out, as outlined in the "Competing for Quality" White Paper, contradict the responsibilities of those chief executives. A chief executive has no autonomy if he or she is made to contract out a major part of the agency's activities.

The Government override the autonomous powers of agency chief executives by demanding that some of the agency's functions must be contracted out. Agency chief executives will find themselves running a rump of services. The concept of the executive agency will be negated if the executive functions are compulsorily contracted out.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Eight hon. Members hope to catch my eye and I understand that the Front-Bench teams wish to start their winding-up speeches at 9.20 pm. If hon. Members co-operate by limiting the length of their speeches, I may be able to call all those wishing to speak.

7.58 pm
Dr. John G. Blackburn (Dudley, West)

The debate has been enhanced by the speech of the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett). That is particularly true of his opening remarks, stating in clear and honest terms that the Bill was not about privatisation. He is absolutely right. He continued to describe how the Bill legislated on an agency basis. I have no difficulty in agreeing with the hon. Gentleman's concept of the Bill.

I pay a warm and generous tribute to civil service staff. There is not one hon. Member who does not owe them a great debt for the work that they do on our behalf, as we in turn work for our constituents. In 1979 the civil service employed more than 730,000 people. By November last year, that figure had been reduced to 553,000. I do not applaud that, in itself. With staff reductions on that scale, anyone in public or political life would want certain quality criteria to be met as a result. I suppose that we would all say that we want a good service—there is no dispute about that. I also happen to believe that we are getting a good service.

I have spent a lot of my life searching for value for money—indeed, I even wrote a book about it. I am a dedicated disciple of the idea. I think that the civil service bears wonderful testimony to value for money in the public sector. I can say as firmly and as surely as I have ever said anything that the savings resulting from these exercises have amounted to more than £2 billion. I am sure that all hon. Members have their own ideas about how we might use that money in our constituencies—on health, and so on. I value those savings immensely.

Three times this evening I have heard Opposition Members say that, as a by-product of this Bill, contracts would be torn up and conditions of employment abandoned. I want Ministers to know that the allegations that I have heard three times this evening—that holidays will be abandoned and that sick pay will be taken away from civil servants in these agencies—are intolerable. In Committee and on Third Reading, I want to hear an absolutely positive statement from the Government that none of this will happen.

Several hon. Members have mentioned Earl Howe's speech in another place. Interestingly enough, having looked through it, I did not find that he said that this was a tiny, technical Bill. I will check again in the next 24 hours, but I have read his speech, delivered on 29 October and reported at column 1298 of the House of Lords Hansard. When Members read it at their leisure, they will find that he did not say the words that they have attributed to him.

I believe that the service given to the public by the civil service has been a success story. I am quite happy to shout that out loud and clear. It came about because of a new spirit in the civil service. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Warrington, North (Mr. Hoyle) that morale in the service is at an all-time low. On the contrary, a fine spirit is alive in it. It was encouraged by the introduction of the citizens charter, and management techniques have also improved. Clause 1(2) is all about management procedures.

The civil service can only be as good as the managers who run it. A great many secondments take place now; managers go and learn in the private sector from national corporations like those that the hon. Member for Norwich, South mentioned. There, they obtain new skills for their jobs and become better managers. I am sure that agencies will provide a better service. I may be accused of prophesying here, and I confess that I do not know whether what I have said will come true, but I sincerely trust that it will.

My next point will be of interest to all Members of this honourable House who represent constituencies in the provinces. Along with the delegation of powers and improved management techniques, we want more and more of the civil service to be located outside the metropolis. Four out of five civil servants are already employed outside it. With the grace of God and a fair wind, quite a number of them are coming to heaven—by which I mean the black country. A further 700 civil servants have just arrived, with a newly-equipped centre.

I am not here only as a representative of my constituency; I am also here to tell the truth. The truth is that I am angry about a letter that I received from the Home Secretary, dated 3 November. I have been fighting a battle to have the prison service headquarters relocated to Derby, but it has not happened. Nevertheless, we shall continue to seek the relocation of civil servants and their managers to our area.

I believe in private enterprise, in market forces and in value for money. I am very pleased, for instance, that the meteorological office has at last started to believe in those things too. In the past two years it has generated 17 per cent. more revenue by selling its services. That is marvelous— [HON. MEMBERS: "Selling more weather?"] Certainly.

Time and again I have had dealings with the passport offices because constituents have had difficulties getting their passports, but I am pleased to note that the Peterborough office which serves my constituency can now deal with applications in only seven days.

The Bill is worthy of consideration and of being passed. If we approach its few clauses in the right spirit in Committee and on Third Reading, I believe that it will improve the civil service in ways of which the House will be proud. I commend the Bill to the House.

8.9 pm

Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro)

The hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Blackburn) suggested that some of the Government changes to the civil service are responsible for the weather. If that is the case, Conservative Members in Cornwall and other tourist areas should be worried about the weather last summer. However, I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman's claim will stand up to much scrutiny. The Bill is unlikely to have such far-reaching consequences.

I have some sympathy for Ministers who say that some of the concerns expressed by Labour Members have been outside the scope of the Bill. The Bill's scope is narrow but I understand why Labour Members have raised issues such as the management and future of the civil service, because the Bill inevitably raises such questions. The Minister failed to give adequate assurance about the Government's intentions on how the Bill should be used. I hope that at the end of the debate we shall hear more about what change the Government envisage.

The hon. Member for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam) said that the Labour party was in favour of decentralisation and that the Bill paved the way for the break up of the civil service as we know it, but the hon. Lady cannot have it both ways. Decentralisation of the civil service and the delegation of management powers is a move away from the present centralised structure. That is the choice confronting hon. Members. Some Labour Back Benchers clearly said where they stand on that choice but the hon. Lady did not make clear where the Labour party stands.

The Liberal Democrats in the other place and in this House have always made it clear that we support the principle of decentralisation contained in the Bill. It is ironic that the Government should lay so much stress on decentralisation when so much of what they do in other areas is centralisation. The Minister should blush when he speaks about the Government's commitment to decentralisation. We welcome the delegation of powers. That change in the public and private sector reflects modern ideas about how people work best and how organisations are best managed. In an organisation as large as the civil service that is especially relevant.

Mr. Wilson

Being in favour of decentralisation is rather like being in favour of good weather. Is the hon. Gentleman also in favour of fragmenting pay, grading, holiday arrangements and conditions of service within the present national civil service? In line with recent events I expect that he is in favour.

Mr. Taylor

Decentralised power has to include pay and conditions. We have made that clear in our policies and some Labour Members have attacked us for it, but one assumes from some of Labour's policies, not least its devolution policy, that it holds the same view. Labour's position on that must seem peculiar to Scottish Labour Members. Labour attacks those who argue for decentralisation and devolution of power and attack us for admitting the logical conclusion, that decisions on pay arid other structures will be taken at local level. It is hard for Labour to argue its measures for Scotland and Wales and, ultimately, for the regions of England while at the same time maintaining a monolithic structure for delivering those measures. That is peculiar and does not seem to make sense.

I hope that the Minister will address some of the concerns that are raised by the Bill. Some of them were addressed in the other place, not least as a result of Lord Russell's contribution. Changes welcomed by the civil service unions have been made and the legislation has been clarified. It is deeply ironic that the Minister charged with responsibility for the citizens charter should introduce a Bill with so little notice and consultation because that is wholly contrary to the principles that he is in office to espouse. The trade unions and the staffs involved have some justification for making that complaint. Ministers acknowledge that, because we understand that in the other place and in dealing with the representatives of those staffs they have accepted that the matter was not well handled. I hope that lessons will be learned from that. If the Government paid more attention to what their rhetoric means that mistake would not have occurred.

We need detailed reassurance from the Minister about the role of the recognised unions in the Government's plans. Will local management have to deal, as it should, with the recognised union representatives? The Bill does not mention that but refers to staff and representatives, although one would expect reference to recognised trade unions. There is some concern that the rights of representation will be changed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Jones) knows, the Government's record on GCHQ has not been good.

Mr. Nigel Jones (Cheltenham)

I represent many thousands of civil servants at GCHQ. They are magnificent people at management level and throughout the structure. I am sure my hon. Friend agrees that the banning of trade unions at GCHQ remains a scar on the Government that should be removed at the earliest opportunity.

Mr. Taylor

I agree, but I had better not pursue the matter or I shall be called out of order.

The Government's plans about representation are not clear and there is no reference in the Bill to recognised trade unions. I hope that the Minister will reassure us about that because if he does not the concerns will be much greater. How will consultation be managed? How will the staff know what is being proposed, the time scale and the scale of the measures, and how and in what form will the staff affected be able to present their point of view and make sure it is taken into account?

I should like to ask the Minister about accountability to the House. Many hon. Members hold the view that the changes to the executive agencies and the way in which hon. Members can hold Ministers to account for what is happening in their Departments has not worked effectively. It is not just a matter of putting on record the replies from executive agencies. Constituents often raise issues that go to the root of policy and its effective implementation, but my letters to Ministers have been referred to the executive agency for reply as a matter of day to day management. I have often felt that that was not right—that the issues that I was raising were issues for the Minister. It also creates complications for any Member of Parliament who is trying to deal successfully with his constituents' problems. I think that the process should be reviewed.

I do not see why Ministers should not seek advice about what is happening from those who are responsible, but I feel that they should be aware of the problems and of the response to those problems, and should draw some conclusion about whether their general policy guidance and the decisions that they have made are being applied effectively.

The Liberal Democrats have no difficulty with the principles espoused in the Bill. We agree with the proposals for decentralisation in what the Minister has described—and I agree with him—as a limited piece of legislation. Nevertheless, I feel that it is incumbent on the Minister to go into more detail about the changes that are envisaged, and the effect that they will have. It is scarcely conceivable that Ministers have—as they claim—put in hand the assumption of a power without having any plans, views or even notions about where that power will apply, whom it will affect and how those people will be affected.

8.21 pm
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North)

It does not surprise any Conservative Member that the official Opposition have chosen to oppose the Bill. Inherent in every Labour speech that we have heard is the fact that the party does not understand the concept of producer dominance—the concept that a service can be ruined by the fact that it is dominated by the producers, rather than by the customers or clients. At the risk of deviating from Government policy, I rather welcome Labour's opposition to the Bill; it gives new boys like me an opportunity to have a go, and thus provides Labour Members with the chance of a little sport.

I approved very much of the speech made by the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor). I am delighted that he and his hon. Friends are again riding to the Government's rescue. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman must make an effort to reveal some daylight between his colleagues and Conservative Members. I therefore appreciate his point about timing and consultation. Let us be practical, however. The Bill does not change the pay or the conditions of employment of one civil service employee; it merely delegates certain authorities in respect of those matters. The idea of embarking on a long period of consultation with trade unions exemplifies what is currently wrong with the civil service; it is impossible to decide anything, or to make the service respond quickly to the changing circumstances of the modern world.

Mr. Wilson

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the legislation which led to compulsory competitive tendering in local authorities did not change the conditions of even one employee, but led to the present circumstances in which tens of thousands of people throughout the country —people who formerly worked in low-paid jobs in relatively secure conditions—now work for slave labour rates, enjoying very few conditions of that kind? Does the hon. Gentleman welcome that development?

Mr. Jenkin

The hon. Gentleman should be ashamed of himself. He knows that competitive tendering in the health service and in local authorities has saved millions of pounds.

When I fought the 1987 general election, one of the problems experienced by the Conservative party in Scotland—particularly in Glasgow, Central—was the fact that, although a huge amount of competitive tendering had proved very beneficial for English voters, competitive tendering had not begun in Scotland. It was thus very difficult to explain its benefits to the Scottish people. Since 1987, competitive tendering has been widely introduced in Scotland, saving millions of pounds, and I am pleased to say that at the last election we started to win back Scottish seats. [Interruption.] I should be interested to know whether the Opposition are suggesting that it was ever possible for the Conservatives to win Glasgow, Central, but that is a separate point.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Bill is not about competitive tendering.

Mr. Jenkin

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The philosophy behind the Bill is surely about better enabling the best practices of business and the private sector to be brought to bear on the problems of the public service. The civil service—by no means all of it, as was suggested earlier, but the generality of it—used to offer only three real perks: virtually total job security, complete anonymity and protection from the customer, and an index-linked pension at the end. In exchange, employees used to accept low status, low pay, poor morale and the dissatisfaction involved in providing a relatively poor service. In contrast, the private sector, when successful, demonstrates freewheeling dynamism instead of bureaucratic sclerosis. I pay tribute to those who work hard in the civil service, and who provide a good service. Nevertheless, when I hear people say that our great civil service is what has made the United Kingdom such a great country, I sometimes wonder whether they are aware of the irony of what they are saying.

The philosophy behind the Bill is concerned with transforming public services: first, by increasing efficiency; secondly, by improving accountability; and, thirdly, by enhancing cost control. I do not apologise for that last item. Running an efficient civil service is all about effective cost control. It is extraordinary that some Opposition Members should complain that the whole exercise is aimed at reducing costs, as though that were a sin.

To achieve efficiency, we must first accept the reality that Ministers cannot possibly be accountable and manage everything for which their Departments are responsible. The Bill accepts that reality. Good managers manage mostly by exception; that is what allows Ministers to decide overall strategy, and to target specific areas of concern. The Bill enhances that capability. Ultimately, management is about finding the right people, not just about making strategic decisions. It is about deciding priorities, allocating resources and leading, motivating and inspiring. That is what is so often lacking in public services. The key ingredient in its achievement is the delegation of responsibility. Whatever job is involved, the higher the degree of self-motivataion that is required for that job, the more satisfying it will be when it is done well.

Managers often fail to recognise that the best talents for a task are usually just waiting to be discovered in the person who is already doing the job. That is the philosophy that the Bill seeks to apply, not just to the formal top structure of the civil service but right to the grass roots. It seeks to establish, in place of management accountable to the lowest common denominator of talent or intelligence, management which raises motivation, expectations and aspirations to bring out the natural talents of employees at every level. That can be found in any really successful business. Such businesses contain people whose work enhances their own sense of well-being and purpose.

Although the Bill is not about privatisation, Conservative Members should not be bashful. We have seen a dramatic transformation of management and efficiency in privatised companies such as British Telecom, British Gas and the water companies. We need the same cultural change in parts of the public service which cannot be privatised. Again, the private sector provides the experience and examples on which the public sector should draw in terms of accountability.

This is not to be dogmatic. There is a huge variety of examples and experience in the private sector. For example, a company for which I worked—Ford—is a unitary single generic product company, in contrast with Hanson Trust, where there is a huge variety of subsidiaries achieving a multiplicity of things. The scope and nature of delegation remain very important in both circumstances, but accountability in both cases is in doubt. Good government of both companies rests in the hands of the directors, just as good government of Government Departments and all their responsibilities rests in the hands of Ministers.

Setting the hare running on such matters as the dilution of the Carltona principle or the exact detail of pay negotiating machinery misses the point entirely. We want accountability which is flexible and effective and which works—accountability as much to service users, clients and customers, as ultimately to Ministers and Parliament.

Hon. Members have complained about the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, for example, but we are now light years ahead of the chaos and inefficiency of that agency. So we have efficiency and accountability, both leading to better cost control. The Audit Commission and the Public Accounts Committee will still be able to expose the inefficiency where services fall short of the required standard.

With such a beneficial transformation of public services in progress, the only possible complaint can be that the Bill does not go far enough. What about those hoary old red chestnuts, Labour's notorious local authorities—it would be too boring to name them—which have become bywords for extravagance, waste and ineptitude? How can we frame different legislation to tackle the inefficiencies there? No wonder so much cynicism regarding this measure is expressed from the Opposition Benches. They pick away at the sawdust in our eyes because of the motes in their own. One would take their criticisms more seriously if they appeared to care one jot.

8.32 pm
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

The hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) has said that we are light years away from the inefficiency at the DVLA, or DVLC, which is within my constituency. That sentiment puts him at odds with his own Front Bench Members, who are ever ready to compliment the centre on the quality and efficiency of its work.

Mr. Jenkin

The agency status of DVLC in Swansea has transformed the management, and I totally agree with what the hon. Gentleman says. But it is the agency status that has achieved that.

Mr. Anderson

The agency status came into being in April of last year. No one can seriously claim that there has been any increase or decrease in the quality of the product since that time. There were teething problems in the 1970s, but the quality of the product has been very high -indeed since the mid-1970s.

One other matter that puts the hon. Gentleman at odds with his Front Bench is his suggestion that the philosophy behind the Bill is the transformation of the public service. Surely the whole essence of the selling of this Bill by those on the Government Front Bench is that it is really a rather unimportant Bill. I noticed that the Secretary of State, in opening, called it a "poor little Bill". He talked about "a technical Bill of limited scope", not the transforming Bill which the hon. Gentleman suggests.

In another place, it was suggested that the Bill was an exercise in good management and delegation, an exercise in decentralization—hardly the hallmark of this Government's policies, certainly if we look at local authorities.

There has clearly been a wish on the part of the Government to down-sell this Bill as technical and of little consequence. Indeed, one wonders why they found it worth while to bring this so little, so poor Bill before the House at all. On the other hand, we on the Opposition side and those in the other place see that this Bill could pave the way for privatisation.

One reason why we are a little alarmed and suspicious is that, on 1 June, the very day before the Bill was introduced in the other place, the Secretary of State gave what is known as The Sunday Times speech, in which he talked about a revolution in the organisation and delivery of our public services, a revolution that would affect both users and their providers. That was the context within which the Bill was introduced. Perhaps it is simply the practice of this Government, as was seen so dramatically over the Maastricht Bill, to speak to different audiences with different tongues. So the Government can hardly be surprised that we are suspicious of the motives behind the Bill.

We note, for example, that the Efficiency Unit envisages not less than a quarter of our civil service being privatised. We know that there has been little debate on this, but I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State has given an undertaking to the House that he will put pressure on his own business managers to ensure an adequate debate in the House on that theme.

So what is the true interpretation? Is it a little Bill, a Bill of little consequence, the Minister's "poor little Bill", or is it something which, although technically on the strict reading of the words is indeed that, has much larger implications? We clearly have much scope for suspicion about the motives of the Government, and they have only themselves to blame because of the nature of their rhetoric —the bonfire of controls, the rolling back of the frontiers of the state, and so on. As they press on dogmatically against the public service with an unchecked wish to destroy the public service as we know it today, they can hardly be surprised if we seek to oppose them.

I make no apology for seeking to illustrate the dangers created by this Bill by taking an example in my constituency, the DVLA, because I am confident that, as I hope to show the House, a number of lessons can be learnt about the dangers of setting off along this route.

Last Friday, for example, I, together with all my colleagues from West Glamorgan, including my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell), who is present now, and two of my colleagues from Dyfed, attended a remarkable meeting called by the civil service unions over the future of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency in my constituency. There were more than 600 civil servants there, all anxious about their jobs and the clear threat to their jobs provided by the Government's proposals.

The Government now seek to put a gloss on a leaked document from the chief executive saying that it was all part of a routine exercise and perhaps should not be taken too seriously; that it was one of several options and it was premature to criticise it; and indeed that Ministers had not yet made a decision on it. The effect of the position envisaged in that document—the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) will know how important this agency is to the employment structure of an area of high unemployment—would be the loss of more than 3,000 jobs. He and the House will understand the anxieties of the work force there because of the uncertainties raised.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

I fully appreciate what the hon. Gentleman has said about the DVLA, and, having lived in that area for many years, I realise that the loss of the DVLA from his constituency would greatly increase unemployment. But I believe that the hon. Gentleman has clarified the position by saying that there is no Government proposal to do what he has stated. There is a continuing policy of looking at various agencies and Departments and, as has been said, far more civil servants have moved from London to the various districts than the other way round.

Mr. Anderson

I invite the hon. Gentleman to read the document, and to note its terms and tone. If the proposal is adopted, and as the chief executive has properly admitted that there is no way in which jobs would remain in Swansea following contractorisation, it would mean a complete reversal of the policy of dispersal of civil service jobs to areas of high unemployment. There would be no way in which the Government could have control over the siting of those jobs once they had been put out to the private sector. That is the stark reality of the effect of the Government's proposals.

Let me briefly cover some of the broader issues that arise from the chief executive's proposals. I invite the House to consider the tone of the document. We are talking not about someone setting out options but about the clear advocacy by the chief executive of a particular solution—contractorisation—which can lead to one outcome alone: the moving from Swansea of the 3,000 jobs. The social effects are mentioned only in a rather sad aside— something to be considered for a public relations exercise rather than to be treated as fundamental. When I give the Minister a copy of the document, he will no doubt see the reason for the profound anxiety to which it gives rise.

The Bill can be seen as a step along the road towards privatisation, just as the internal reorganisation of Government Departments towards company status is a step in that direction. Matters of considerable constitutional and legislative importance and of accountability arise. I invite hon. Members to consider examples such as the vehicles inspectorate, the very integrity of whose system is under threat. If the testing of heavy goods vehicles were taken away from the civil service, something of much value would be destroyed.

The chief executive's document considers how best to avoid legislation—and, in effect, parliamentary scrutiny —by keeping a residue of perhaps 150 jobs at the centre and sending the rest to the private sector; who knows where?

The threat to a unified public service has already been referred to, and I shall not develop the arguments advanced by my hon. Friends on that subject.

Standards of pay—regional pay and the downgrading of pay in areas such as mine where market forces are less strong—are also a cause for concern. The whole pay structure may be downgraded in Northern Ireland, for example.

Another worry is the politicisation of the civil service as a result of the process. The chief executive's document is not the product of a neutral civil service. We are talking here about civil servants who have adopted the Thatcherite political culture and who know that, if they dance to the tune of their political masters, they will get what they want. In their eyes, that is the way to promotion. I make no apology for criticising Stephen Curtis, the director of the DVLA, because, in writing the document, he stepped outside the civil service and became a quasi-politician, thus laying himself open to the criticism to which all politicians are subject.

There is a conflict with social objectives. The Secretary of State for Wales was unaware of the contents of the document. As happened with the mines, he will be brought in after the event even though the matter is so important to the Welsh economy.

Finally, the document is in profound conflict with the dispersal policy of previous Governments. The DVLA was sited at Swansea by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), who was then in a Labour Government, precisely to bring a major job creator to an area that had become an area of high unemployment because of the pit closures. If, as is envisaged in the document, those jobs go to the private sector, they cannot and will not be kept in Swansea, as is readily acknowledged. They will go we know not where —probably to an area which does not need them quite as badly as Swansea. The proposals drive a coach and horses through the proper view of Government that such jobs should be dispersed.

That is the nature of the anxiety affecting the city of Swansea. I hope that the Prime Minister will allay that anxiety by repudiating the document, even though it is very much the product of the philosophy that has wreaked such damage in the country as a whole. I hope that 'we shall have a debate on the document, which shows the extent to which the Government are out of touch. I believe that we have every reason for being suspicious of the Bill. In line with their previous record, the Government are fattening the service for market. The Bill is a step along the road to privatisation and away from the unified public service that has served the country so magnificently over the years.

8.45 pm
Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

Time is short, so I shall confine my remarks to two matters of concern and one point of complaint.

The first matter of concern is accountability. We are told that the Bill relates largely to "next steps" agencies and, as the Minister knows, our experience of those agencies' accountability has not been good. I hope that the situation will improve. The Bill facilitates the delegation by Ministers of certain functions to the heads of agencies and further down the structure. Clearly, we should be concerned about the degree of accountability to the House not just as regards fiscal rectitude but on policy matters. How will that accountability be secured and what steps will be taken to ensure that the House is fully informed about the agreements and arrangements that are made below ministerial level by the chief executives of the agencies?

The second matter of concern is that, although the Bill facilitates the delegation of certain functions, we are not told exactly what functions may be delegated. A number of functions were mentioned in another place. I believe that arrangements for performance pay and starting salaries of new staff were referred to. It is clear that a large range of functions can be delegated, excluding only pensions and so on.

As the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) said, the Bill opens the way for the break up of the unified civil service. If full advantage is taken of the scope of the Bill, it will result in the break up of the unified civil service. It will lead to a structure whereby different agencies deal with different functions and operate as almost self-sufficient units with different terms and conditions of employment.

That will give rise to regional variation, and to my hon. Friends, my constituents and me that is a very sore point. As the Minister knows, Northern Ireland has the highest unemployment in the United Kingdom. We have a low-wage economy. We are the poorest part of the United Kingdom and, relatively speaking, we have been getting poorer. The Bill opens up an appalling vista. The extent to which we have been relatively disadvantaged under the present Government will now be used as a basis on which to disadvantage us yet further through regional agreements that will reduce the pay of a significant number of people in the public service. That is a matter of very great concern. I ask the Minister to tell the House whether the Government intend to use the Bill as a way of moving towards regional rates of pay. When he has dealt specifically with that, I should like him to address further the question of accountability to ensure that new arrangements for terms and conditions made by persons to whom the Bill enables delegation to be made can be raised and debated in the House.

That brings me to my point of complaint. It relates to clause 3, which authorises legislation for Northern Ireland by negative resolution. As the Minister knows, that means that the Order in Council, which will be the Northern Ireland equivalent of this Bill, will not be debated in the House at all.

Strictly speaking, Mr. Deputy Speaker was very kind to me: the comments that I made earlier about Northern Ireland were not in order, since the Bill does not itself make changes in regard to Northern Ireland. So one is not in a position, strictly speaking, to debate the detailed effect of the Bill, because it does not affect Northern Ireland; it is a question of the Order in Council, which is not only unamendable but undebatable. It is a shoddy way of legislating, and the Minister ought to be ashamed of himself for having any part of it. It degrades the House.

I would have liked to take up some specific matters with regard to Northern Ireland, but obviously the Minister cannot reply. I cannot complain about that, because I know that Northern Ireland Office Ministers had intended to be on the Front Bench this evening but were unavoidably prevented from being here.

8.50 pm
Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)

Given the nature of the Bill before the House, I must declare an interest as parliamentary adviser to the National Union of Civil and Public Servants. Since the Minister looks interested, I ought also to explain to him that the very reasonable fee that the union pays for my services is donated in its entirety to the Dundee Labour party, so I have no personal gain whatever from my relationship with NUCAPS. I wish that were the case with every hon. Member.

No one on the Opposition Benches has been in the least convinced by the arguments from the Government Benches that this is an inoffensive Bill or simply a technical one with a relatively restricted scope, because it is only one piece of a much larger jigsaw that the Government are steadily putting together—a jigsaw that includes market testing, contractorisation and, as the Minister admitted, full-blown privatisation.

It is important that the House sees the Bill in the context of all these other measures—that it does not simply shrug the Bill through but sees it for what it is: another important step on the road to the privatisation of the civil service. Although the Bill may not say that directly itself, it is part of a move in that direction.

I listened carefully to the Minister when he introduced the debate but he did not really set out the Government's case for bringing the measure forward. If one wants to find out the Government's case, one must look at the record of the debate in the other place, particularly in Committee, when the Government spokesperson explained why the Government believed the Bill to be necessary.

It was explained that there is, for example, no existing statutory authority for transferring functions or responsibilities from Ministers down to heads of Departments or agency chief executives, and that the Bill now creates the statutory authority for that transfer of responsibility and functions to take place.

It was pointed out that the Government had identified a need to delegate selectively, either by function or by Department or indeed by agency. It was explained that so many of these transfers will be taking place in future that the existing transfer of functions orders would be unable to cope, so there was a need for a statutory basis on which transfers could take place.

It was also pointed out in the other place that Ministers' existing discretion partially to pass power down the line does not properly decentralise responsibility, because always in the end there is a need to refer back to the Minister for the Civil Service or to the Treasury; the Bill means that, in the delegated areas, there will now be no need to refer back either to the Minister for the Civil Service or to the Treasury, and the chief executives in agencies and departmental heads will be free to get on with it—free to manage, as the Government describe it, when what they really mean in delegated areas is that they will be free from accountability through Ministers to the House. — There has been some debate over which functions are to be delegated, but according to the Government's own notes on clauses, these are the functions relating to the management of the civil service. The notes on clauses go on to explain that these management functions will now be delegated to the extent, and subject to the conditions, thought appropriate by the Treasury and the Minister for the Civil Service.

The Minister said tonight that powers to determine manpower levels would not be delegated, but we have only his word for that, because the Bill says that they may be delegated to the extent and subject to the conditions which are thought appropriate by the Minister and by the Treasury. So if some Minister in the future decides that it will be appropriate to delegate the determination of manpower levels in the civil service, the Bill will give him the right to do it.

There is no point in Ministers giving us assurances from the Dispatch Box about what they will and will not do; even a paper like the Tory Daily Telegraph says that it can no longer take what the Government say at its face value, because there is always a U-turn the next day and the Government do something different from what they said originally.

So it is not good enough to have assurances from the Dispatch Box. If it is not written into the Bill that certain powers cannot be delegated, we must assume that all powers can be delegated if Ministers feel it worth while doing so.

There will be no debate about which functions will be delegated immediately: they relate to recruitment, pay, working hours, holidays and so on. Once responsibility for those areas is delegated, certain consequences are inevitable. The Minister claimed at one point that none of this would change the terms and conditions of civil servants in any way, but those national agreements which have previously been arrived at between Ministers and the civil service unions are now completely undermined. Individual Departments and agencies will be able to vary any condition of service for which a delegated authority exists without the agreement of the Treasury or the civil service unions. That must inevitably affect recruitment, promotion, pay and any other conditions of service outside pensions.

If the Bill becomes law, Ministers are giving themselves the power to tear up national agreements which they have previously reached with the civil service unions.

In the other place, fears were expressed that the Bill was a privatisation measure, and the answer was that this was not so, because the Government had only changed the way in which staff were managed. It was explained that, although the terms and conditions of staff in Departments and agencies might increasingly differ from some abstract civil service norm, they would still remain civil servants. But one can still be a civil servant and work under very different terms and conditions from those one enjoyed previously under a national agreement in a national civil service.

The Government are driving towards the breaking up of the national civil service and agreements arrived at, and ensuring that there is a reduction in pay and conditions for many individuals.

The Minister has said that chief executives and departmental heads have no powers to change the terms outwith normal procedures; he stressed that the normal procedures included the national agreements which made provision for consultation with unions, and he assured us that, before anything changed, the unions would be consulted.

The two Liberal Democrat Members who took part earlier in the debate staged a touching scene between them. One of them asked whether banning the unions was not a scar on the record of the Government. I agree with him that it is, in the way in which they have banned trade unions at GCHQ. But equally, what the Liberal Democrats are supporting in the Bill, along with the Government, undermines trade unions throughout the civil service.

It is not enough to consult trade unions about local agreements; they are national unions, which seek national agreements for all their members wherever they happen to work, and the Bill completely undermines this. So it was a case of crocodile tears by the Liberal Democrats to say how much they cared for trade unions when they support a Bill which undermines the position of the unions in the civil service.

We are also told that the Bill has no direct connection with contracting out. It may have no direct connection, but the indirect connection is obvious. The management of departments and agencies has been delegated down to chief executives. The responsibility for recruitment, appointments and terms and conditions of service has been transferred from Ministers to chief executives. National agreements with trade unions have been torn up. One does not need to be Sherlock Holmes to discover what will happen next because it is already happening in the "next steps" agencies in the civil service.

I will be writing to the Minister about the situation in the Central Office of Information, where the chief executive has recently taken up the market testing initiative. He put the print section office in Lambeth out to tender. Eight bids were received, the lowest from a company called Williams Lea, which was duly awarded the contract. The unions insisted that, under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981 and the acquired rights directive, their members must transfer to the new employer on existing pay and conditions.

The COI took legal advice and had to agree with the trade unions. The new employer was informed, but its reaction was astonishing. The new employer agreed to pay the existing wages and observe the conditions, but only if it was allowed to increase by a significant amount the bid which had won the contract. Even more astonishing was the fact that the chief executive agreed to that proposition, and the company was allowed to up its low bid and add on significant sums to meet the requirements of the European directive on wages and conditions for workers.

That is an absolute scandal. If that sort of thing happened under a local authority, the officials would be sacked and the councillors thrown out of office and surcharged. However, no one is doing anything about the situation in the COI. The chief executives in "next steps" agencies should be subject to even greater parliamentary scrutiny, not less, as will happen under the Bill. That is why it is very important that we consider such matters.

9 pm

Mr. Terry Davis (Birmingham, Hodge Hill)

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion), I am a parliamentary adviser to a civil service trade union. In my case, it is the Inland Revenue Staff Federation. Like my hon. Friend, I derive no personal benefit from that work, but the IRSF contributes to the salary of my secretary at the House of Commons.

I am also a member of the Public Accounts Committee. I was very interested to hear tributes to the work of the National Audit Office from no fewer than four Conservative Members. I wish that they had been present during our debate last week about the work of the PAC. However, they paid handsome tributes this evening to the work of the NAO.

I must make three points, the first of which has already been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett). He reminded the House that the National Audit Act 1983, which created the NAO, was opposed by the Conservative Government. Secondly, I must point out that the NAO is not an agency. The NAO, which has done sterling work in making savings for the taxpayer, is a department of the House and has nothing to do with "next steps" agencies. Finally, the fact that the NAO can point to savings of £2 billion is a measure of the Government's waste of taxpayers' money.

The NAO is much less enthusiastic about "next steps" agencies than are some Government supporters. If Conservative Members want proof of that, they need only look at the NAO report on the vehicle inspectorate, the first "next steps" agency, and examine the proceedings of the PAC earlier this year on that subject.

The hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) and Government spokesmen have told the House that the Bill does not change pay or conditions for civil servants. Frankly, that is disingenuous. If it is not the purpose of the Bill to change the pay and conditions of civil servants, what is its purpose? The Bill is obviously intended to do that, and that is the reason for delegating the authority to chief executives and other managers in agencies and possibly in Government Departments.

The Minister was anxious to assure the House that the Bill is not concerned with privatisation or market testing. It is not a question of what is in and what is not in the Bill. What is important is what is behind the Bill. What is behind the Bill is the Government's policy of market testing and privatisation. That is accepted and understood by civil servants.

The Bill is a paving measure for market testing. The Minister said that we can have a debate on a date as yet unknown. He also said that we have already had a day's debate on the issue in the debates on the Queen's Speech. He is being disingenuous again. A debate on the Queen's Speech is a debate about the Government's policy for the coming year. It is no substitute for a debate on a particular policy, any more than it is a substitute for a Second Reading debate.

I would have expected the Government to arrange a debate in Government time about their policy of market testing before they proceeded with it, but they are proceeding with it anyway. There is already a drive towards market testing without any debate or authority from the House. Only last week The Times carried an advertisement inviting tenders for typing, secretarial and office support services in the Inland Revenue. That is happening without hon. Members being given any opportunity to debate the very important policy considerations that are involved in that advertisement. There has been no opportunity to debate the effect on the confidentiality of taxpayers' records of the privatising of the Inland Revenue's typing services. Indeed, there has been no opportunity to draw to the attention of the Government the noose into which they are putting their own heads.

I represent Birmingham, Hodge Hill. Adjacent to my constituency is Solihull. There are several Inland Revenue offices in Solihull, including the office where staff do typing for policy reviews, and the office—some of my constituents might be employed there—in which they type press releases in advance of the Budget. If those press releases are typed by the employees of private companies, how can the Chancellor of the Exchequer guarantee the total confidentiality that is given to Budget contents?

Not long ago, a Chancellor of the Exchequer was forced to resign as a result of a leak of Budget contents, yet the Government are now going to privatise that essential typing service. I do not think that they realise what they are doing, but they have not given Opposition Members who understand what they are doing an opportunity to tell them before tonight, and it will be too late when they arrange a debate at some unknown date in future.

Mr. Nigel Evans

The hon. Gentleman is saying that if each agency is privatised we will have to watch out for leaks, but in the same breath he says that leaks are already happening. I do not understand.

Mr. Davis

The hon. Gentleman is probably too young to remember that, in the 1940s, a Chancellor of the Exchequer gave an inadvertent leak to a journalist which was printed and which led to his resignation. It had nothing to do with civil servants; he was a Member of the House—a Minister. I am drawing attention to the opportunity in future for leaks, because the essential service of typing and secretarial support services will be privatised.

I listened to the contribution from the Liberal Democrats with great interest. I was not aware that their policy of devolution involved breaking up the civil service —by devolution, decentralization—or that they plan to have local departments of social security, local tax gatherers, local customs and excise, and, no doubt, local rates for VAT. They tell us that it is all going to be local and there will be local pay and conditions to go with it. I must tell the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) that if we have local pay and conditions for civil servants in Devon and Cornwall, experience does not tell us that they will get higher wages; experience tells us that there will be lower wages. The Northern Ireland spokesman, the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), was absolutely right to draw attention to the effect on civil servants in the Province if the Government are allowed to go ahead with the Bill.

The Bill will break up the civil service, as many of my hon. Friends have said. It is designed to ensure not only delegation to departments and chief executive agencies but local pay arrangements. Local pay arrangements will inevitably mean a drive to reduce wages and introduce worse conditions for civil servants not only in Ulster but in Scotland, Wales and the regions of England. It will be a case of driving down the wages at a local level of civil servants who, at the moment, enjoy higher wages as a result of the solidarity and unity that come from being members of a progressive trade union.

The Bill is about doing to clerical jobs in the civil service what the Government have already done to dirty jobs in the health service.

9.7 pm

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Govan)

I shall raise several small points, as many major points have been covered by my colleagues. The Minister stressed the difference between policy and strategy on the one hand and implementation on the other hand. Of course, it is not quite so simple as that. Very often, implementation creates policy. Because of new technology, many of the activities of the civil service are essentially footloose and could effectively be located anywhere. I am not sure whether it is intended to delegate to chief officers of agencies the power to decide a location—not necessarily the location of an entire unit, but the balance of staffing between locations.

Hon. Members heard that it is not intended to allow chief executives of agencies to determine staffing levels, but presumably it will be left to them to determine the location of staff. That could run counter to the dispersal policy followed by Governments, although insufficiently vigorously, over the years. It would be helpful to have clarification of the balance to be struck between that policy, regional policy and this new policy.

The Minister said that it was possible for any conditions that the Government saw fit to be imposed on any delegation. To allay the anxieties that we have been assured are unfounded, it would be helpful if the Minister could outline the conditions that he intends to impose on any delegation to agencies. Delegation can be extremely creative and helpful in liberating the talents and abilities of staff.

However, there is a danger that delegation will not liberate. Labour Members are anxious that the Bill is simply a cost-cutting exercise. If terms and conditions are to be addressed, there will be a great temptation simply to seek the cheapest possible alternative. I should like to know whether the Government intend directors of agencies to be genuinely free to strike their own deals. I and many of my hon. Friends have been lobbied today by representatives of the universities, which were under the impression that they were free to strike wage deals with their staff. However, when the universities struck a deal that they could afford they were told by the Government that it was not acceptable. We must be told whether chief executives will have freedom in such circumstances.

I have also been told by some national health service staff in Scotland that if they get trust status they will not be obliged to put services out to competitive tender; they will be able to retain them in-house. Will chief executives of agencies be free to decide not to contract out some elements of their activities? Again, we should have some knowledge of the Government's intention.

The logic of delegating implementation is that chief executives will be free to construct their own reward systems. If they construct their own reward systems, there is an obvious logic in allowing separate cultures to develop. If agencies are allowed to develop their own cultural systems, that will inevitably lead to the break up of the ethos of the civil service.

It is accepted by the Opposition, though the Government seem to be unwilling to accept it, that there is a difference between the ethos of a privatised organisation and that of a centrally directed civil service. I should like to see some changes in the civil service. There is an over-cautious element to the civil service ethos, but the civil service values service above economy. The balance between equity and economy will need to be addressed by the Government and by directors of agencies. At present it is not clear how the Government want that balance to be struck.

Presumably, the Government want to give directors of agencies the power to determine their own structures. That could lead to the abolition of existing hierarchies and systems of promotion. It would diminish the extent to which staff can be transferred between departments and would change the comparability of area-based systems.

Moving to a completely decentralised subcontractual system is an interesting idea. I am not sure whether that move is the Government's intention, but it was certainly suggested by some Conservative Members tonight.

I do not want to give the impression that Opposition Members are dominated solely by the producer interest. I do not believe that the civil service exists simply to employ people, but many people in the civil service are genuinely worried about the future and the direction in which the Government are moving. Creating anxiety is not the best way to encourage good results.

The Government must clarify the extent to which decentralisation and deregulation will go. We are dealing with the potential destruction of a unified civil service. Part of the strength of the civil service is the commonality and shared culture of its members. I seek clarification from the Under-Secretary of State about the extent to which there will be abdication of responsibility, as distinct from decentralisation. I should be keen to hear the shopping list of activities to which the Bill is intended to apply. Until we know that, it is difficult to judge how far the Government intend to take it and how far we ought to react.

Finally, I want clarification of the parameters within which delegation is to be exercised. The difference between delegation and abdication is that the former gives powers downwards, within a clear framework. It is not clear from the Bill what that framework will be and whether there will be any rules. The Chancellor of the Duchy said that he had proposals in mind. I should like to hear what they are.

9.15 pm
Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)

My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (Mr. Hoyle) complained about the absence of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster from the Front Bench. I must make it clear that the right hon. Gentleman informed us that he would have to leave early to take part in "Question Time", and I assure the House that the Opposition are delighted that the right hon. Gentleman is representing Conservative party interests on "Question Time" tonight.

Equally, I have no complaints about the fact that the Liberal Benches have been gloriously deserted for some time. I understand that they have gone back to their constituencies to prepare for crucifixion.

Another matter may need to be clarified. There have been references to the Earl Howe, and I could see some puzzled brows as hon. Members wondered whether the dead sheep had made a comeback. The Earl Howe is Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the House of Lords. It is something of a puzzle why the Bill, which impinges on many subjects but not on agriculture and fisheries, should have been in the hands of that Minister. I can only think that it is because he is probably the best-qualified Minister to sell a pig in a poke, or a wolf in sheep's clothing.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster referred to the view taken by Baroness Turner, our colleague in the House of Lords who dealt with the Bill. He shamelessly misrepresented what she said. Our little exchange earlier apart, it is important to put it firmly on the record that she said that she accepted that the Bill itself it not a vehicle for privatisation"— I would put in parentheses, "in itself" but she added: we still object to the manner in which … it is intended— I put the emphasis on the word "is"— to hive-off Civil Service functions to the market. She rightly said that "We"—the Opposition— do not believe that … the functions will be any better performed—on the contrary."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 29 October 1992; Vol. 539, c. 1299.] I hope that that puts beyond any doubt what Baroness Turner did and did not say on the matter.

I recommend hon. Members to read the speeches in the Lords by Lord Houghton of Sowerby, whose experience was most impressively brought to bear. I do not think that anyone who reads the debates, or who considers what underlies the legislation, could for one moment accept the dismissive and almost self-deprecating tone of the Chancellor of the Duchy, who told us what a pathetic little measure this is. I do not know whether we were supposed to feel sorry for him because he has been left to mop up legislative trivia, after having been in charge of great affairs of state. When Tories are self-deprecating they are often at their most devious.

What ever else it is, the Bill is not a modest technical measure; it is fundamental to the operation of the civil service and therefore of Government. The Earl Howe—it sounds a bit like an American jazz singer—was rather more lucid in spelling out what the Bill was about. He said: But the time is past when it was right, if it ever was, for the Treasury and the Minister for the Civil Service to regulate in detail the personnel arrangements ("— he probably said "open brackets"— pay, grading, recruitment ages and qualifications, holidays, hours of work, appraisal systems and so on) for half-a-million civil servants. This Bill will enable the central departments to delegate that responsibility to others who are, in relation to their individual businesses,"— "businesses" is an interesting choice of word— better placed to take such decisions."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 15 June 1992; Vol. 538, c. 12.] Earl Howe was spelling out how, as a result of the Bill, pay, grading and conditions would no longer be negotiated—an important point—far less apply on a national basis, but would be broken down into the individual businesses. There is nothing modest or technical about that move. It is deeply fundamental.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby immediately identified the seriousness of the matter. He said: The Government are proposing reforms which are equal in significance and importance to those made over 100 years ago in an entirely opposite direction by Sir Stafford Northcote. That was then the basis: centralisation, uniformity, standardised recruitment, stopping log-rolling and all that kind of thing. The Civil Service has been built on the traditions that were then laid down. Now the Government believe that there is an opportunity, and probably a need in certan ways, to do something drastic in order to try to revitalise, if you like … What the Government are doing is so indefinite and imprecise, yet full of potential threats to jobs, that your Lordships' House cannot expect those of us who are deeply concerned with the Civil Service"—[Official Report, House of Lords, 7 July 1992; Vol. 538, e. 1064.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman should not be quoting from speeches made in the other place other than those of Ministers.

Mr. Wilson

I need not pursue the point. Lord Houghton of Sowerby, with his tremendous experience in this area and as a former holder of the position held by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, recognised the fundamental nature of the Bill and was deeply offended by it. Moreover, he was deeply offended by the fact that a Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, which I understand is historically a non-political position in terms of controversial legislation, should be putting such a measure through.

I find it offensive that a deception should be practised on Parliament by a Minister telling us that something as basic as this is a modest technical measure, a poor little thing of a Bill. It is not. I might accept it if it came from the used-car wing of the Conservative party, because they have no understanding of history or historical precedent within the civil service or of traditions that go back 100 or 150 years, but I do not believe for one moment that the toff wing, represented by the Chancellor, suffers from any such delusions. If he does not suffer from such delusions, what he told the House was an intended deception.

Mr. Waldegrave

That is a little bit out of order and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw it. We can have a perfectly legitimate argument about this, but no one is attempting to deceive anyone else.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that, on reflection, the hon. Gentleman will wish to withdraw that.

Mr. Wilson

I shall, with pleasure, withdraw it. I hope that the Minister and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will find it acceptable if I say that to call it a poor little thing and a modest technical measure is a misrepresentation of the Bill. It is neither of those things.

What problem does the Bill seek to address? Is there some great wave of corruption in the civil service or some terrible ill within it that needs something as drastic and fundamental as this? The Earl Howe told us quite the contrary. He said that there is no political jobbery and that the Civil Service Commissioners ensure that appointments are won on merit. He reassures us about all the standards of the civil service in which all of us would want to believe. Therefore, there is no problem of that nature for the Bill to address.

The problem is to match the "next steps" agency with administrative devolution. Again, none of my hon. Friends finds a great problem with that concept. As my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) and others have clearly said, not only do we not oppose fundamentally, but we have had much involvement with and responsibility for, the concept of the devolution of the civil service into agencies and to the whole "next steps" programme.

To achieve administrative devolution, which is what is nominally intended, there is no need to break up the national civil service. We do not have to destroy Whitley council terms of pay and conditions. The reasons for doing that are to fragment, compartmentalise, isolate and break down the civil service into free-standing businesses—the phrase used in the other place—and we know what the next step is from that accomplishment.

The next step is precisely what is happening now at the DVLA in Swansea. Let us not be disingenuous about it. Written on the face of the Bill are the precise consequences that can flow from what is in the measure. It cannot privatise, it cannot contractorise and it cannot of itself produce market testing. But as my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) and others rightly pointed out, the Bill is a necessary part of the jigsaw. It is the forerunner of various other measures and the sort of thing that is now happening in Swansea.

Let us examine the Swansea situation. In my experience, relatively limited though it is, I have never seen a document such as the one before us about Swansea. We are used to treachery, to thousands of jobs just being cast aside and to the hidden agendas that result in closure announcements. But the concept of a man who is responsible for the employment of 4,600 people sitting down and putting pencil to paper in such terms is monstrous.

Let us first define the problem that calls for such a draconian solution for the DVLA in Swansea. Above the name and a not very striking photograph of Mr. Stephen Curtis we are told of the success of 1991–92 by the public sector DVLA: We broke new ground by winning the contract to licence small ships against fierce competition from the private sector", he claims. In a tribute, he goes on: Meeting our customers' needs could not be achieved without the committed efforts of our staff. They should put that on the walls as a testimonial to their efforts and as an interesting commentary on Mr. Curtis's concept of loyalty.

The document is required reading for this debate and to know what underlies the legislation. Mr. Curtis was then charged with the task of setting out the future framework for the DVLA. It is done with astonishing crudity, even if it was not meant for other eyes. The idea that anyone in that position could write such material and not believe that, even at levels of senior management, people would make sure that it reached the public domain is as naive as it is contemptuous of the people who work in that establishment.

Having outlined the virtues or joys of contractorisation —one of which is that it does not need legislation, as opposed to privatisation—Mr. Curtis concludes: It would therefore be necessary to make most staff at DVLA redundant. He goes on to give the costs of doing that and adds: In addition to these costs, the Swansea buildings would be likely to become a white elephant.

Mr. Donald Anderson

My hon. Friend might care to ask how a man who so lightly penned such a document, envisaging the destruction of 3,000 jobs, could hope to retain the loyalty of the work force.

Mr. Wilson

My hon. Friend's question is rhetorical. The views of the work force are probably unprintable. I shall not try to describe them.

Mr. Curtis goes on to find that there remains a role for Government, the Secretary of State will be pleased to hear. That role is to pay indemnity money to the contractors for the costs that they would incur in making 3,000-odd people redundant.

Mr. Rod Richards (Clwyd, North-West)

Has the hon. Gentleman ever visited the DVLA in Swansea? I come from the area and recall the time when it was the DVLC under a previous Labour Government. In those days, the carpets were stripped out every two years and new carpets put in when they were not needed. The building was decorated when that was not needed. Does the hon. Gentleman know—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Interventions should be brief and to the point. They should not be speeches.

Mr. Wilson

I am sorry that we did not hear the end of the story. I am sure that it was good news for the carpet manufacturing industry in its day. The account that the chief executive gave in his foreword to this year's annual report scarcely squares with the horror stories detailed by the hon. Gentleman. I must admit that I have not visited the DVLA, but I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman, who is obviously deeply concerned about those matters, has managed to visit the debate at 9.30 at night. With his interest and awareness, he must have known of the topicality of the Swansea issue, which has been discussed by hon. Members throughout the debate.

The Government are to engage in indemnity for redundancy costs under the programme envisaged by the chief executive of that agency. At this point, we come to the Secretary of State's role as Minister with responsibility for open government. Mr. Curtis, chief executive of the DVLA, has strong views on open government. He says: For the present, while we are considering the issues … there is little we could say to unions and staff that would be helpful. Uncertainty … is a strong stimulant to unease and industrial action. Also"— this is classic—

given the close links between unions at DVLC and local MPs, it would be likely to lead to Parliamentary Questions and requests to meet Ministers.

Mr. Donald Anderson

Let there be no doubt that there are close links. There must be if we are to guard our people against wishes of people like that chief executive and the dangers that will flow from Government policies.

Mr. Wilson

Again, I am grateful to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Curtis therefore recommended that the whole exercise should remain confidential. Were it not for some public spirited public servant ensuring that the document did not remain confidential, nobody in the DVLA, the House, the media or south Wales—certainly not the Secretary of State for Wales—would have had any idea what was going on.

The Minister must comment tonight not only on the content of that document, the fate of 3,000 people in Swansea and the whole concept of regional policy as opposed to the privatisation programme. He must comment again on the attitude underlined in the document and the contempt for any apology, for open government or for consultation with those affected. That is what is at stake in the document and the Minister should say tonight, without further consultation or messing about, that the uncertainty for those people and their families' lives and for the south Wales economy should be ended now. The document should be consigned to exactly where it belongs —the bin—and Mr. Curtis should be sent along to put it there in person.

The document is supremely arrogant, written by a man who believes that he is licensed to make such proposals. That is the direct link between the Bill and that document. If those freestanding businesses are established, with the power to negotiate wages and conditions of staff down to the last jot and tittle, and if, as the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) so rightly said, they are entitled to discriminate on a regional basis to achieve the lowest common denominator of wages, we are entitled to believe that they will also have the powers mentioned in the document to close down, strip bare, asset-strip, privatise, and flog off to their friends in the private sector. That is the document's significance in the context of the Bill.

It is not a purely Welsh matter, although it is obviously mainly a Welsh issue, and a deeply important one. I shall not take the time of the House by reading the list of other jobs affected. However, jobs are affected in smaller but significant numbers as follows: 44 in Birmingham, 47 in Chelmsford, 150 in London, 46 in Manchester and about 100 in Scotland. Many other Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency centres throughout the country will be affected. In all those places the duplicity of the chief executive of the DVLA towards his own staff has implications and ramifications.

There have been some good contributions to the debate and some illuminating ones—not least from the hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin). He informed us that in a previous parliamentary foray he had been the Tory candidate in Glasgow, Central. It must be a relief for him to have ended up in Colchester, North, where there are 35,213 Tory votes, which must provide a contrast with his last electoral outing.

He was able to be frank on the subject. He said, in a self-effacing way, that we should not be bashful and that the legislation was about privatisation. Of course, the legislation is a move towards privatisation. I read in "Dod" that the hon. Gentleman is indeed as precocious as he sounds—it says that he was born in 1959 and was president of the Cambridge Union in 1962. He has been progressing ever since, via Glasgow, Central.

The hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Blackburn) made an interesting speech. He rightly said that it was not a technical Bill, but contained something much more substantial. He said that if it meant interfering in the wages, conditions and the reasonable expectations of civil servants, he would object to it. That is to his credit.

I strongly agree with the hon. Member for Upper Bann on both regional pay rates and the treatment of Northern Ireland in the legislation. As a Member with a Scottish constituency, I often take exception to the way that Scottish business is treated in the House, but we are well treated compared with the way in which Northern Ireland legislation is handled, which is a disgrace. As there is a separate Northern Ireland civil service and separate legislation, for the issue to be lumped in a clause in the Bill without any opportunity to debate it is wrong. That is no way to treat the jobs, careers and structure of government in Northern Ireland.

We shall oppose the Bill, although not tonight, as we shall give the Government the opportunity to answer some of our objections to it. We shall work on it in Committee and explore not merely what is on the face of the Bill, but what underlies it. If no improvements have been made by Third Reading, we shall oppose it.

I think it fair to ask the Minister to deal specifically, firmly and in plain language with the points raised about Swansea. That is a fair request in the light of the importance of the subject in today's deliberations. On top of everything else that is happening in this country, the idea of holding the axe over the heads of such a large number of people in a part of the country that has suffered so much economic recession, depression and loss of jobs is intolerable. The document is in the public domain and the Minister has the opportunity tonight to say that it has, and will have, no standing in Government eyes.

9.38 pm
The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service and Science (Mr. Robert Jackson)

It is not often that the House has the opportunity to debate the civil service, and today we have had a vigorous and wide-ranging debate. On behalf of the Government, I am grateful for that, and I shall try to respond as briefly as possible to the wide range of issues raised by colleagues.

It has emerged clearly from the debate that there is common ground on our commitment to an effective and efficient civil service. We all believe that to be of great importance. We all stand on the constitutional ground —the need for a professional civil service serving all Governments with the same dedication. That is fundamental to the British system of administration, and experience of other countries and other times shows that we cannot take it for granted. The Government, like all parties in the House, are wholly committed to continuing that tradition. I welcome the words of my hon. Friends the Members for Surrey, East (Mr. Ainsworth) and for Dudley, West (Dr. Blackburn) in support of that commitment and I congratulate them both on their excellent speeches.

We cannot and must not be complacent about the civil service, however. It employs a great many people and costs a lot of money. That is a simple matter of fact, not a criticism. Provision for the civil service in 1992–93 was about £19.4 billion. It is the duty of the Government and this House—through, for instance, the Public Accounts Committee, and I see the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis) in his place—to ensure that we get the best possible value for money from this expenditure and the best possible quality of service for our constituents who use the services provided by the public service.

I should like to take this opportunity, since I have been given the information, to answer the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Deva) about forms. His question was perhaps rhetorical, but I have the answer: the total number of forms in the main Departments in 1989 was 86,982. That sounds an awful lot, but there was a reduction of 36,004 between 1982 and 1989, so a great deal has been achieved. Nevertheless, we are still an active and perhaps sometimes intrusive organisation.

The Government have a clear agenda for the public service. There is certainly no hidden agenda for public service reform. The Chancellor of the Duchy gave a full explanation of the Bill in his speech. The Government are just as open on other matters—on our view of "next steps", on the citizens charter, on market testing, and on contracting out. It is the worst-hidden agenda in history. The Opposition may not like some of the ideas that we propose, but they are being broadcast loud and clear.

Some reference was made to my right hon. Friend's speech to The Sunday Times conference. It offered a clear exposition of the Government's policy, but the Bill has nothing to do with privatisation or contracting out. It is about delegation within the public service, not outside it. It builds on the great success of the "next steps" initiative, which has enjoyed welcome bipartisan support.

I was delighted, as was the whole House, to learn of the claim to authorship of the "next steps" concept by the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett). He certainly seems to have used the language before anyone else. We have had good reports from the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee. In addition, I should like to quote the words of the Leader of the Opposition, delivered when he was shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am grateful to the hon. Members for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) and for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Davidson) for reinforcing what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said at that time. He said that it is obviously very much in the public interest that the delivery of public services is carried out with the greatest efficiency and effectiveness". Next comes an important sentence, the truth of which I am glad that the hon. Member for Govan acknowledged again today: It should certainly be our priority to ensure that services are run in the interests of consumers and that any injection of public resources results in a commensurate improvement in the service to the customer". That stress on the importance of the customer is fundamental, and it is good to hear that it is common ground.

In the same speech, the Leader of the Opposition talked about continuing with "next steps": I do not think there would be merit in a new Government seeking to uproot all the plants in the garden … and then expect them to grow well" — so the Opposition endorse the "next steps" agency concept.

I think that the House recognises the limited scope of this Bill. It was explicitly affirmed by the hon. Member for Norwich, South, who has told me that he could not stay for the wind-up speeches. He speaks with great experience of these matters, and this is indeed a Bill of limited scope, as was recognised in the other place.

Our position on market testing and contracting out is controversial, but it is accepted that this Bill is a technical measure with no direct impact on such policies. I hope and believe that good management is not a partisan issue.

The hon. Members for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam), for Warrington, North (Mr. Hoyle) and for Truro (Mr. Taylor) spoke about consultation with staff on the Bill. They exaggerated the importance of what did or did not happen. However, in retrospect we regret that we did not discuss the Bill more fully with staff before it was introduced in the other place. In mitigation, may I say that we have always seen the Bill as highly technical and limited, although I think that in retrospect we underestimated the scope for misunderstanding.

I emphasise that strong steps have been taken and that we have frequent and exhaustive consultation on the matter. There have been detailed written replies to twenty-two questions asked by the unions. There were two long, late-night meetings in the interval between Second Reading and Committee in the other place, and another high-level meeting in the interval between Committee and Report. We have provided additional written information to the unions, a further meeting is planned on 13 November, and officials have responded to every point raised by the unions, which have recognised and appreciated the steps that we have taken.

Before dealing with larger questions about pay discretions and accountability, I should like to deal with the matter of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. We all respect the constituency concern of the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) and it was appropriate that he should raise the matter. I repeat what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy said—that all possible options for the future of the DVLA have to be examined as a normal part of reviewing its framework document, which expires in April 1993. The trade unions will be invited to give their views on the matter. It is worth bearing in mind—this is perhaps a new point—that a similar process was undertaken before the DVLA became an agency and the current framework document, with all that it implies, was agreed. No decision has been taken; consultation will, of course, take place before any decisions are made; and local employment conditions will naturally be a relevant consideration in reaching decisions.

Mr. Donald Anderson

This is not an academic exercise because in the document the chief executive advocates, in effect, the closure of the centre with the loss of about 3,000 jobs. To avoid uncertainty and anxiety, will the Minister give a clear undertaking that the chief executive's conclusion will not be implemented and that those jobs will remain at the centre in Swansea?

Mr. Jackson

It is appropriate for the Government and the agency to look at all the possible options for its future. Any anxiety and distress is attributable to those who leaked the document. It is perfectly appropriate for such matters to be considered and it is right that they should be considered confidentially until it is appropriate for people to be consulted about the proposals.

Mr. Wilson

It is rather sad that the Minister blames the people who leaked the document rather than the person who wrote it. Has he any comment about the person who wrote it and, more particularly, about the terms in which it was written? Will he address the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Mr. Anderson) that the document is not a neutral appraisal but contains a degree of advocacy, that it is deeply disturbing and that it casts a shadow over the jobs? Does the Minister feel any responsibility to give any reassurance to the thousands of families in south Wales who are deeply worried?

Mr. Jackson

It is appropriate that there should be a careful look at all possible options for the future of the DVLA and other organisations. I repeat assurances that my right hon. Friend and I have given, that no decisions have yet been taken, that consultations will take place before any decisions are made, and that local employment will be a relevant consideration in reaching decisions.

Dr. Kim Howells

Does the Minister understand that those of us on the Public Accounts Committee understand that the new London police computer will be programmed in either the Philippines or Indonesia because it is much cheaper to do it that way? We are not debating options, but the removal of huge sections of civil service work to countries where there is cheap labour. That is not just a qualitative but a quantitative change in the amount of available work.

Mr. Jackson

I must press on. I cannot comment on what the hon. Gentleman has said, because I am not informed about it, but I feel that he should bear in mind the importance of achieving a balance between value for the taxpayer's money and the effectiveness of the service.

The hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) raised a point about the use of the negative resolution procedure. The orders in question will be used as a technical and enabling measure, like the Bill itself. In itself, the procedure will have no direct effect on the terms and conditions of staff. The principles will be discussed fully during the Bill's passage, and the orders must conform to the powers contained in the Bill. The operation of all delegations which take place in Northern Ireland will be subject to consultation with the relevant staff interests.

Pay discretions have been a central issue, raised by the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion), for Norwich, South, for Warrington, North and for Redcar. All of them supposed that the Bill would make a difference to the pay and conditions of staff. Let me tell them—and the hon. Member for Hodge Hill, who spoke especially strongly—that the Bill is not needed to implement discretions on pay, a number of which are already in place. What it allows is the formal delegation of authority to determine pay.

It has long been Government policy to give Departments and agencies more responsibility for pay when that is cost-effective. My hon. Friends the Members for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) and for Surrey, East were especially strong on that point, and stated the underlying philosophy very well. The Bill will not affect the rate at which the process takes place.

The hon. Member for Warrington, North was wrong in what he said about the position of the trade unions under the new arrangements. All the new long-term pay agreements that are concluded with the civil service unions contain provisions for consultation and negotiation on the introduction of alternative pay arrangements, and those arrangements will continue under delegation.

Mr. Hoyle

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Jackson

I will, but I am running out of time.

Mr. Hoyle

I interrupt the Minister only because he referred to something that I said. Is he now saying that the conditions negotiated centrally under Whitley will continue?

Mr. Jackson

I am saying that national agreements will continue in force, but some of those agreements already provide for local negotiations between the agency chief executives and the trade unions. Many terms and conditions are not subject to national agreements at all. That has long been the case, and I think that it must be right to ensure that the details of pay and conditions fit the needs of what have been described as businesses—that is, I think, appropriate language for what are often very business-like organisations—and enable them to deliver services effectively to users, while providing value for money.

Staff are already aware at all times of who settles terms and conditions. That is already done with discretions, and it will be the same with delegations. At national level, we shall inform the unions of proposed delegations and give them an opportunity to comment; at local level, we shall consult departmental trade unions on the use of any delegated power to change terms and conditions. Nothing in the Bill will directly affect the terms and conditions of civil servants. Delegating has no effect on the legal rights of staff or, indeed, on the normal processes of consultation. This is a Bill that enables, not a Bill that determines.

Let me deal briefly with the issue of market testing which, although it is not directly raised by the Bill, has been raised by a number of hon. Members. Market testing is outside the scope of the Bill, but we do not see it as an ogre sent to destroy the civil service, as some Opposition Members seem to—at least, that is what their language implied. It is part of the Government's duty to ensure that the citizen and the taxpayer receive the best value for money, and the highest quality of service. That need not be a partisan point, and I am sorry that it has to an extent become one today.

I quote from a speech made by Councillor Jeremy Beecham, the Labour leader of Newcastle city council. This is what he said about the experience of market testing and compulsory competitive tendering in local government: The purchaser-provider split and the development of service level agreements between the provider of central services within authorities and client departments have caused a re-examination of performance, with generally beneficial results. He said in the same speech: Local government has to recognise that the public is not intrinsically interested in who is providing a service but in what kind of service they receive. Those are very wise words from the leader of Newcastle city council. They are in the spirit of what was said by the Leader of the Opposition in his Royal Institute of Public Administration lecture about the importance of always maintaining a clear eye on the consumer-customer perspective. Those points were well made by those people and also by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North.

The question of accountability has been an important theme in this debate. It was raised especially by the hon. Members for Redcar, for Norwich, South, for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) and for Upper Bann.

I think that the hon. Member for Redcar slightly misunderstood the position. For the "next steps" agencies there are two channels of accountability. First, there is the channel of the agency chief executive to the Minister and, through the Minister, to the House of Commons. I have direct personal experience of that from my previous job in the Department of Employment, where I was the Minister responsible for the Employment Service. I very often met hon. Members from all parts of the House to talk about the business of the Employment Service and to exercise that parliamentary accountability for the activities of the service. The other channel is that of the accounting officer—where appropriate, the agency chief executive—to the Public Accounts Committee.

The hon. Lady seemed to think—perhaps I misunderstood her—that the effect of these developments is that only the latter channel remains. That is not correct; both channels will remain. On the broad issue of accountability, I believe—I speak with some personal experience in this—that the "next steps" agency programme will help to enhance accountability. That point was well recognised by the hon. Member for Truro, speaking from the Liberal Benches.

The hon. Member for Norwich, South evoked—but did not, I think, support—the old monolithic concept of the civil service: the idea of a uniform, unified organisation employing hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of people all on the same pay and conditions arrangements, with strong central control driven on the one hand by the Treasury and on the other by the idea of the accountability of Ministers to Parliament for everything, including, in Bevan's words, the fall of the bedpan in the hospital.

We are bringing forward a new concept of public service which I think is generally supported. The hon. Member for Truro was speaking in that sense. That concept recognises the diverse nature of the many functions—the many businesses—which exist within the civil service, breaking those down into functional units, delegating responsibility as close as possible to the customer and enabling relocation to take place. That point was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West, and the hon. Member for Govan. Delegation, to answer the latter's specific point, tends to lead to relocation. Delegation of responsibilities, bringing things closer to the public and then setting the relationship between the centre and the agencies within the terms of a contract, a framework agreement, monitoring, annual reports to Parliament, I believe will in practice strengthen the accountability to the House of those institutions and organisations in the civil service.

The hon. Member for Truro raised a point about the boundary between policy matters and operational matters and I want to take up the specific details of what he said. There has been some debate about whether the shift from the monolithic concept to the devolved concept constitutes the break up of the civil service. Many hon. Members stressed this point. To pick up the phrase used by the hon. Member for Norwich, South, I do not believe that the civil service identity depends upon uniformity of pay and conditions across the whole of the service. The hon. Member for Truro said some sensible things about that. The hon. Member for Swansea, East, on the contrary, used some rather over-heated language. It is not merely a uniform set of terms and conditions of service which defines the civil service. The civil service is bound together by the nature of its work in support of the Government of the day and by professional and behavioural standards and duties which derive from the nature of its business as a Crown service. Nothing in the Bill detracts from that fact. The guiding principle is ministerial accountability to Parliament, and that remains. We shall, of course, publish details of delegation for the benefit of the House.

We have had a useful debate, which has afforded us a rare opportunity to consider the future of the civil service. I hope that there will be further opportunities. The Bill is a technical enabling measure and, although there may continue to be differences of opinion about the broad question of the future of the civil service, I believe that there is, and should continue to be, common ground as regards the details of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).