HC Deb 04 July 1994 vol 246 cc15-6
30. Mr. Enright

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what surveys he has made of the morale of the civil service.

Mr. Waldegrave


Mr. Enright

Is not the Secretary of State aware that the continual privatisation and quangoisation of the civil service has reduced it from being the envy of the world to being something like a south American banana republic? Does not he realise that in some of the semi-public bodies dishonesty is ticking away like a time bomb and that it is about time he did something about it?

Mr. Waldegrave

The hon. Gentleman is talking rubbish. The reforms to the British civil service that are being carried through maintain the quality of service but also develop new and much more flexible ways of getting value for money for the taxpayer. That is why people are coming here from all over the world, including the United States, to consult us about taking forward similar reforms.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the civil service code expressly prohibits civil servants from taking part in surveys that reflect their attitudes or opinions of political and policy matters? Is not it right that those rules have been in existence for successive Administrations and that they are essential to maintain the integrity and independence of the civil servant?

Mr. Waldegrave

I believe that my hon. Friend is right and that the rules, which have been maintained by Governments of both parties, should be respected and maintained.

Mr. Meacher

But is it surprising that morale in the civil service has now slumped to an all-time low when, for example, only in the past few weeks, it has been reported that there is to be a political crackdown on the Home Office research unit because its research findings do not square with the prejudices of the Home Secretary; when 10,000 jobs are likely to be lost by the administrative transfer of the job seeker's allowance from one Department to another; when consultants are brought in at a cost of £500 million to the taxpayer, because Ministers no longer trust their civil servants; and when senior civil servants are now expected to compromise their neutrality by advising on the political network to rebut criticism, for example, of the Government's Green Paper on homelessness? Are not those the real and shameful reasons why the right hon. Gentleman will not allow a survey of morale and attitudes in the civil service? Is not he making an absolutely farce of his role as Minister for open government?

Mr. Waldegrave

As on the occasion when he brandished a leaked letter demonstrating the superior confidentiality of the public sector, the hon. Gentleman seems to me to have demonstrated in what he said exactly why the rules, which were originally set out by a Labour Government, are wise, because he would not have the good sense not to exploit any results for party political purposes, thereby putting the civil service right in the middle of the political firing line. He is the exact embodiment of why we are right to stick to the rules that were laid down originally by a Labour Government.

Mr. Matthew Taylor

Does the Minister nevertheless agree that fundamental changes are taking place in the role of civil servants and the role of appointed bodies in the way in which the Administration is now run in this country? Is not it time for a commission of some sort to be set up to look at the relationship between those areas and Ministers, the political nature of that relationship and its accountability to the House?

Mr. Waldegrave

I do not think that we need another quango to do that. The Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee is looking at those matters. It is no secret; we have announced that the Government are about to publish a White Paper that will cover some of the same issues. The House and the Government can deal with the matter without setting up new commissions.

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