HC Deb 07 May 1996 vol 277 cc123-41 10.16 pm
The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service (Mr. David Willetts)

I beg to move, That the draft Contracting Out (Administration of Civil Service Pension Schemes) Order 1996, which was laid before this House on 25th March, be approved. The order is being introduced as part of the Government's drive to improve the quality of public services and to develop better, more efficient methods of delivering those services. The Government's "Competing for Quality" programme has produced a sea change in the way in which public services are delivered.

Competition has led to better value for money for the taxpayer. In the three years since the "Competing for Quality" programme has been operating, Departments have reviewed in all £2.6 billion-worth of activities, producing savings to the taxpayer of well over £500 million—in excess of 20 per cent. on average. Competition has also produced higher standards of service for the customer.

The order is to be made under section 69 of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994. It specifies administration of the principal civil service pension scheme and associated schemes as a function that external contractors may be authorised to undertake. At present, under the Superannuation Act 1972, only public servants may undertake that function.

Section 1(1) of the Superannuation Act provides that the Minister responsible for the civil service may make, maintain and administer superannuation schemes for persons employed in the civil service and related organisations. Responsibility for day-to-day administration of civil service pension and compensation arrangements is formally delegated under the 1972 Act to employing Departments and agencies. They can either perform the full administration function in house or buy in services from other providers in government.

The order will make it possible for private sector providers to compete for the business and thus extend the choice available to employing Departments and agencies. The civil service unions and the Civil Service Pensioners Alliance have been formally consulted on the draft order.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)

Have they agreed?

Mr. Willetts

The anxieties expressed by the civil service unions and the pensioners alliance focused particularly on the future value of their pensions—a subject on which we have been able to give them cast-iron assurances, to which I shall turn later.

Mr. Field

While the Government are the proper custodian of the public interest here, the whole push of Government policy is to take into account the consumer's views about public services. The consumers in this case are civil servants and retired civil servants. To what extent do those two groups support the changes that the Government propose this evening?

Mr. Willetts

There is certainly widespread recognition among pensioners that the service that they receive is in general of a good standard, but it does not follow from that that it is not possible to improve further on standards. If it is possible, of course we look to do so.

An efficiency scrutiny of the civil service pension schemes recommended: Departments should be encouraged to market test their pension operations. Approval of this order will permit Departments to test this area of activity against alternative sources in the market. The aim is to give improved quality of service to scheme members and to provide better value for money for the taxpayer. Decisions on the timing and other arrangements for market tests will be the responsibility of the individual Departments. It will be open to existing service providers to compete on a value for money basis.

Mr. John Garrett (Norwich, South)

In what areas does the Minister envisage the quality of service being improved?

Mr. Willetts

If we knew all the ways in which the quality of service would be improved, we would not need to engage in a market test. One of the purposes of a market test is to discover whether there are better ways of doing things and to take advantage of technological improvements, from which all parts of the service will be able to benefit when we bring in the new computer software package that will be available from July. The improved software package will make extra quality of service possible that currently is not possible. We shall find out which organisations can best deliver that quality of service.

Ms Judith Church (Dagenham)

What criteria will be used in determining who will administer the pension scheme in the future? On what criteria will the Minister judge the bids?

Mr. Willetts

The basic criteria will be the same as other cases in which we apply the "Competing for Quality" initiative—quality of service, efficiency of service delivery and scope for savings in the cost of administration of the public service. If existing in-service providers are as good as their defenders maintain, they should be able to win contracts as a result of the initiative. We do not rule out in-service bids.

I should explain that the order relates solely to administration of the civil service schemes. Administration covers such activities as scheme induction, calculation of benefits, answering inquiries, maintenance of personnel data, processing applications to buy added years or pay additional voluntary contributions and paying pensions.

Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)

On that basis, can my hon. Friend give me an assurance that the value of the funds invested on behalf of the civil service pensions will not be affected by the proposed order, and that we are talking solely about the administration of the scheme rather than the benefits which will be available to members?

Mr. Willetts

While the civil service pension schemes are not themselves funded, I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks on the fundamental point that the value of the pensions earned by civil servants will be completely unaffected by these changes. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that fundamental issue.

A number of hon. Members have written to Ministers on behalf of constituents and local branches of the Civil Service Pensioners Alliance expressing concern about the implications of the order for both the active and retired membership of the schemes. I can reassure the House on that, because occupational pensions for civil servants will continue to be provided under the civil service pension scheme. The pensions of scheme members will not be affected.

Competitive tendering for the administration function involves no changes in the benefits provided by the scheme and the pensions of retired members will continue to be increased annually in accordance with the Pensions (Increase) Acts. The Minister for the Civil Service will remain responsible to the House for the development of the scheme and also for the rules setting out the benefits and entitlements of scheme members. There is no pension fund, so there are no fund assets which could be put at risk. Cabinet Office Ministers will continue to account to Parliament for expenditure on the civil superannuation vote.

A contractor will not be allowed to advise civil servants on whether to join or leave the scheme or about the merits of individuals making additional voluntary contributions or buying added years. Explanatory booklets for scheme members will continue to be published by my Department. Steps will be taken to maintain confidentiality of personnel records. Computerised records will, of course, be covered by the Data Protection Act 1984. In any market test, appropriate service standards for scheme administration of the principal civil service pension scheme will be set. Any contract will require a standard of service at least as high as that under existing arrangements. Those standards will apply from the outset.

A new pensions administration software package tailored to the requirements of the civil service schemes is being procured by my Department. It will become available in July. It will enable the adoption of more efficient and innovative approaches to scheme administration, such as a one-stop shop for serving scheme members. It will enable service levels to scheme members to be raised while significantly reducing cost. The software will be portable between providers, enabling new players, including small businesses, to enter the marketplace. It will make market testing particularly effective.

A series of competitive tendering exercises will offer the work in manageable parcels. That will encourage new and existing third-party administrators to compete effectively for the business and so offer Departments and agencies several alternative suppliers from which to choose. In conclusion, I quote from the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee: The quest for greater effectiveness and efficiency in the Civil Service is an unending one; the requirement to maximise the return from finite resources will not go away.

Mr. Garrett

How can it be more efficient to split the administration of the civil service pension scheme over a multiplicity of small or medium-sized contractors instead of being organised at one central point as it is now? Secondly, how many people are employed, and are therefore likely to face redundancy, in administering the existing system?

Mr. Willetts

First, the administration of the schemes is the responsibility of Departments. One possibility that results from our "Competing for Quality" initiative is for new consortia to be assembled with several Departments getting together. There is no reason why there should be any fragmentation. On the second point, the overall pensions administration, including both entitlements and payments out, involves approximately 800 staff. I am not in a position to give any figures for redundancies. We may well find that the in-house providers, if they are as good as their defenders say, win the contracts.

I believe that this proposal will raise standards of service to scheme members and secure best value for money in the administration of the scheme, while the pension entitlement of scheme members will not be affected. I commend the draft order to the House.

10.27 pm
Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland)

The order concerns the administration of the principal civil service pension scheme, which has about 500,000 active members, 520,000 pensioners and 170,000 preserved pensions. May I be so indelicate as to remind the Minister that many of those members live in marginal seats? After the humiliation of the South-East Staffordshire by-election and their severe drubbing at the local elections, a reasonable person might think that the Government would make moves to reassure such an important group of voters. Not a bit of it. They insist on flouting Lord Healey's first law of holes, "If you're in a hole, stop digging." The Government, egged on by the Minister in his ceaseless quest for more productivity, are throwing out the shovels and bringing in the excavators.

Their pensions are important investments to civil servants—next to their homes, the most important investment. The Minister told the House that the order will not affect their pensions in any way, merely the administration of the pensions. He did not quite say that civil service pensions are safe in the Government's hands but I am certain that he will when he replies. The evil Opposition and the wicked civil service unions are cruelly stirring up needless alarm.

I must tell the Minister that there is no need to stir up alarm. Civil servants are already alarmed. Why? They do not trust the Government. That should not surprise the Minister. No one trusts this Government, not even their own Back Benchers.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Oh, yes we do.

Mr. Foster

At last, a loyal Government supporter—a miracle to behold and to be congratulated.

The Minister will have seen the ICM poll published in the Observer last Sunday. It shows that insecurity has risen sharply during the 1990s and has spread to people of all ages, regions and social groups. He should know that insecurity is widespread throughout the civil service. The MORI poll is evidence, as is the recent poll of civil servants published in the Observer. In that poll, 92 per cent. believed that civil service morale was quite or very bad and 73 per cent. would not advise the next generation to join the civil service. Even Sir Robin Butler himself, in an interview in the Observer last November, admitted that the changes sweeping through Whitehall had sapped morale and created a climate of insecurity.

Since 1979, 250,000 civil service jobs have been lost. The civil service has been market tested, contracted out and privatised. Who can be surprised if there is a climate of insecurity? Civil servants know that their jobs are not safe in the Government's hands. How can they be expected to trust the Government with their pensions?

As the Minister said, the Council of Civil Service Unions, which represents the majority of people in the scheme, has been consulted, as has the Civil Service Pensioners Alliance, which has more than 70,000 members among retired civil servants. Both organisations are vehemently opposed to the Government's proposals. Why did the Minister tell us that? There is no support for the order among civil servants, civil service pensioners or deferred civil service pensioners.

Despite Government assurances, which the Minister has repeated tonight, civil servants and civil service pensioners remain concerned that the order is an early stage in the process of breaking up and destroying the principle civil service pension scheme. Already, Public Service Ministers have delegated to Departments responsibility for pensions administration. The order will allow them to contract out the work to private-sector organisations. Fortunately, as the Minister said, the order relates only to the administration of the pension scheme and not to Public Service Ministers' responsibility to make and maintain the scheme. However, with their lack of trust in the Government, civil servants fear that that will be the next step.

It is clear that the term administration of the scheme relates both to making awards and payment of pensions. Consequently, the order will remove the present statutory obstacles to the privatisation of that part of the Office of Her Majesty's Paymaster General that pays public sector pensions. Without the order, a privatised Paymaster—the Government intend to privatise it—would be unable either to undertake administration work or to pay public service pensions.

The Minister extensively quoted the 1992 efficiency scrutiny to justify the proposals, but it contains a considerable amount of information that can be used to support arguments for maintaining the status quo—for example, the cost of pensions administration. In 1991–92, that cost was £25 million compared with the then gross cost of civil service pension payments of nearly £2 billion—that is found in paragraph 7. I take Paymaster as an example. It represents the largest share—36 per cent.—of the cost of civil service pensions administration and pays pensions to 1.5 million public servants, including teachers and NHS staff.

Paragraph 23 of the efficiency unit report says: it thereby achieves great economies of scale"— a point hinted at by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett). Paragraph 24 goes on: the PGO's unit costs … are currently around £16, which is broadly in line with what the private sector would charge for a large scale pension paying service. Other than market testing, almost all the recommendations of that efficiency scrutiny have been or are being implemented. Already considerable benefits are accruing. Even greater efficiencies will be possible when the new information technology software, produced by the civil service pensions division, is introduced shortly. If outside organisations are allowed to take over the administration of the pension scheme, the software will be made available to them free of charge. In other words, private contractors will be subsidised by the taxpayer to take over the jobs of civil servants.

One of the recommendations of the efficiency scrutiny which has already been implemented is the delegation of responsibility for administration from central Departments to Departments and agencies. There are already a number of very satisfactory pension administration providers within the civil service. In addition to Paymaster, they include the Inland Revenue, the Department of Social Security, the Department for Education and Employment, the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office. Consequently, an internal market already exists. Departments have a choice of providers, all of whom have very considerable expertise in administering large-scale public sector pensions.

The efficiency scrutiny recognises that most large employers with above say 1,000 staff run their own employers scheme and administer it in-house. The pension consulting and insurance firms manage many schemes for employers, but most of these are schemes with less than 1,000 members. A few are between 1,000 and 2,000 members, and a very small number are larger than that. Where larger schemes are contracted out—and there are a handful of examples—it tends to be for particular reasons reflecting a strategic decision on the part of management". It goes on, in paragraph 52, to produce a draft which suggests that above about 20.000 staff-in-house operations are actually cheaper than contracting out".

Mr. Willetts

I invite the right hon. Gentleman to complete the sentence, which goes on to say: this is not, of course, a reason for not testing the market".

Mr. Foster

The Minister anticipates me; I was going to quote those very words, which I shall not now do.

Paragraph 56 of the efficiency scrutiny claims: it is thought that the efficiency of contracted out pensions administration is likely to improve significantly over the next few years as new technology is introduced"— that is under the present arrangements, of course. Civil servants and civil service pensioners object most strongly to their pensions and their pension scheme being used to allow the private sector to experiment to improve its own efficiency. The pensions of civil servants—indeed, any pensions—are far too important to be used as training aids for inexperienced contractors.

A detailed study of paragraphs 49 to 60 of the efficiency unit scrutiny develops no convincing arguments for market testing, other than that it is a central policy of the Government. The case is not made that the private sector is more efficient or more effective in administering pensions on the scale of those in the civil service. Civil servants and civil service pensioners are not dogmatically opposed to the private sector or to the proper use of outside expertise in relation to their pension scheme.

A private sector organisation, Triskels, has worked closely with civil service pensions to improve communications and to produce a new series of explanatory booklets on the scheme. This work has been of the highest quality and has much to recommend it. Again, the case is not made for there being greater expertise in the private sector in administering the schemes.

In the Government's consultations of regulations arising from the Pension Act 1995 and the Occupational Pension Scheme (Transfer Values) Regulations 1996 responses have demonstrated concerns about the efficiency of out-sourced pension administrations. I shall quote the third paragraph of a letter from the Department of Social Security dated 15 March: During the consultation process which has been ongoing since last summer, some commentators have suggested that the period proposed for providing a guaranteed statement to the member (effectively 7 working days excluding weekends) was too short. Schemes which had "outsourced" their pension administration would face real difficulties in complying with the deadline. Civil servants and civil service pensioners are content with the service that they get from the present in-house scheme administrators. They would certainly object to the administration being transferred to private sector organisations that cannot respond quickly to the demands of members.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

I am listening to the hon. Gentleman very carefully. Is he referring to organisations that have assets to manage or to the notional schemes with which the public sector is concerned? It seems to me that providing information rapidly on the basis of an entirely notional scheme is much less problematic than providing information rapidly on a scheme in which there are real assets and real investments to measure up.

Mr. Foster

I was making the point that problems have already been discovered in those companies that have out-sourced their pension schemes. This is recognised by Government Departments, such as the Department of Social Security. Clearly, existing pensioners and members of the scheme are more than satisfied with the service that they currently receive. They do not want to risk that standard of service by being contracted out to organisations that do not have the expertise or the experience of large schemes.

In preparing the efficiency unit scrutiny, the Treasury commissioned two independent surveys by the Wyatt company to ascertain the views of recent leavers from the civil service and current members of staff about the pension scheme. Of the leavers, more than 60 per cent. responded positively. They thought that the service was efficient and sensitive. I contend that the figure would be much higher now given the in-house improvements in efficiency that have been made.

None of the surveys showed any support for market testing or contracting out. However, if Ministers are so convinced that their current proposals are in the best interests of civil servants and of civil service pensioners, they should have the courage of their convictions. They should commission yet another survey, perhaps again from the Wyatt company, to test support among civil servants and civil service pensioners.

Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)

My right hon. Friend is making a most telling case. He must know that the Minister is a civil service leaver, and I wonder whether he has a preserved pension. Perhaps the Minister is not concerned about the proposal and has given precedence to dogma over common sense. I should have thought that if he were concerned, as a civil servant, about his colleagues in the civil service, he would weigh my right hon. Friend's words carefully. I should have thought that he would want to propose at the Dispatch Box those policies that have the support of his one-time colleagues instead of proposing, as appears to me from listening to his speech, a bit of dogma that has no backbone of support from his former colleagues.

Mr. Foster

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention and I am sure that his remarks have been well noted by the Minister, who may have the opportunity to reply to them when he responds to the debate.

I am inviting the Minister to conduct another survey to test the opinion of civil servants and civil service pensioners. After all, the Government readily concede that members of pension schemes have rights. That principle should apply as much to civil servants as to former employees of Robert Maxwell.

On behalf of the Opposition, I join the civil service unions and the Civil Service Pensioners Alliance in challenging the Government to let civil servants and civil service pensioners decide the future administration of their scheme. Perhaps the Minister will respond to that challenge when he replies to the debate.

I must ask what the order is for. Why are the Government so determined to make themselves so unpopular with so many people, for so little return? The current scheme is efficiently administered, as admitted in the scrutiny report. The members of the scheme are perfectly content with the current arrangements. If the Government's intention was to squeeze further efficiency from the administration of the scheme, they could do that within the internal market now operating. So why is the Minister bothering to create all that hassle for his Government? Is not the real reason the Government's wish to privatise Paymaster? Without the order, a privatised Paymaster could not tender for the contract. Without that substantial contract, Paymaster would be a far less attractive proposition for privatisation.

So here we go again. I think that Ministers have become privatisation junkies. As they stumble from crisis to crisis, beating the retreat towards the general election, they scorch the earth as they go. They are completely in the hands of the ideologues who are now running the show. They are appeasing the right; they are ignoring the view of 1 million floating voters, who perhaps more than any other group represent middle England.

The Conservative party, that once formidable vote-gathering machine, is now incapable of addressing the concerns of the British people. Its unpopularity is richly deserved. For those who have created so much job insecurity for others, there is some justice in the fact that perhaps the most insecure jobs of all are those of the Prime Minister and those on the Government Benches. I therefore urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to oppose the order in the Lobby.

10.48 pm
Sir Edward Heath (Old Bexley and Sidcup)

The debate gives me the opportunity to say a few words that I have long wanted to say about the position of the civil service.

I must immediately declare an interest that I had long before Nolan decided to treat us all as criminals. When I left the Army, in 1946, I decided to enter the civil service if possible. I therefore sat the administrative examination, and I have always been rather proud of the fact that I came top of the whole administrative service. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad to know that my party appreciates it—it has taken 50 years, but it is nevertheless very gratifying.

I entered the civil service, and I was there for a year. I found that I could not get anything done, so I left and entered politics. I will not make a comparison between the two—that might be invidious—but, at that time, those of us who had been at university before the war regarded it as one of our main objectives to get into the administrative civil service because it was so highly respected, in this country and elsewhere. The civil service was certainly the envy of the whole of the English-speaking world, and of what were then the colonies.

What is the position today? The morale of the civil service has never been lower—never. One knows that full well from all one's contacts with the civil service. Is that healthy? Of course not. Therefore, one should pay attention to every possible factor that affects the civil service.

The right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster) rightly mentioned the political impact in our country at the moment. I am not putting it in the forefront of the argument, but it is a very important political factor for my constituency and others like it on the outer ring of London. It certainly will not help the Government to recover from the position in which they found themselves last Thursday.

In the past 15 years, too many people have tried to gain credit by discrediting the civil service; the only thing they have done is to decry the number of people in the civil service and claim great victories when the number went down. That was mostly bogus, because people were moved out of the civil service into other organisations that do the same job. The number was not greatly diminished, but great uncertainty in the civil service was produced. The exercise has therefore achieved nothing.

The hard facts of the case are that, if one wants to reduce numbers in the civil service, one must provide not some outside organisation, but an alternative means of tackling the problems that the service must handle every day. That means that one must have some mechanisation—newer developments in equipment and so on—to enable fewer people to do the job. At the moment, jobs are simply not being done.

I do not know the experience of other right hon. and hon. Members, but I have done an analysis of the first three months of this year, and time and again I have waited two months before receiving a letter from a Minister in response to a constituent's problem. I have now received such a letter after a wait of three months. If I may say so very humbly, if it takes two or three months to answer my letters, I do not know how long it is taking to answer those of other hon. Members. That is the situation the Government have to deal with, and it is another reason why our voters are entirely disillusioned with the service that Government and Ministers give them regarding their day-to-day problems.

The issue of pensions is crucial for civil servants. Again we are told, "Privatise it!" Of course there has been a major field for privatisation, but we must acknowledge that the position regarding the services is quite different, and dogma to the effect that they should be privatised is causing much trouble.

The job—the intention—of privatisation is not to provide a service but to make profit. In the process, privatisation may provide a service for some, but not all. That is the automatic result of any economic analysis. When it comes to pensions, private providers are not interested in providing a service: like any insurance company, they are interested in how they will make money for their shareholders. That condemnation may be levelled at all moves by my hon. Friend and by the Government to allow services to be provided by those who are not service providers. Such people simply seek to make money for their shareholders.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton)

You must be joking—weren't you a Conservative?

Sir Edward Heath

If my hon. Friend denies that fact, he is not a sound Conservative economist. I am prepared to argue that point. In pursuing the privatisation path, particularly regarding civil service arrangements, my hon. Friend the Minister is making a grave mistake.

I hope that the Government will reconsider their attitude and distinguish between the privatisation sphere and the sphere of services that can be provided only by organisations such as the present civil service. I know that my hon. Friend will not take any notice of my suggestion, and I am sorry that I cannot stay to listen to his refusal to do so, but I am quite prepared to read his comments in Hansard tomorrow and see on what grounds he repudiates my request.

I believe that it is a basic consideration. The Government must decide to draw the line and stop carrying on in a dogmatic manner, believing that whatever they do in that sphere is correct. The public have come soundly to the conclusion that it is not correct, which is why the Government are suffering in many ways—including this way.

10.56 pm
Mr. David Rendel (Newbury)

It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), not least because he echoes the comments that we on these Benches have made for much of the Government's tenure of office. I am delighted to welcome him to our point of view. Given that the Government's majority has been reduced to one, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take the opportunity—which he obviously did not have in the civil service—to do something really dramatic and join us in the Lobby to defeat the Government tonight. I look forward to that moment with considerable pleasure.

The Liberal Democrats are not dogmatically opposed to market testing or to contracting out—we have never said that and we never shall. On the contrary, we believe that such matters should be considered individually on their merits. Benefits may be derived from market testing or from contracting out. We may benefit from outside expertise, knowledge and new ideas or opportunities. The competitive process may lead to an increase in the number of new choices which may lead, in turn, to a better solution, but that is not an inevitable consequence and there are points to be made on the other side of the argument. I believe that, in this case, the points against outweigh any advantages that may be gained.

The first point that we must make is that administration of a pension fund is not a negligible matter, as the Minister seemed to imply in at least part of his speech. We are talking about those who will not be the investors in pension funds, but that does not diminish the importance of their work—particularly for the pensioners concerned. The fact that a pensioner may be paid the right sum, but paid it three months late due to an administrative error, is crucial for that pensioner. For example, a pension might be paid into the wrong bank account and the money might not reach its rightful recipient for some time. Good administration of a pension fund is just as important as good investment or getting the sums right.

The Minister skated lightly over the problem of confidentiality which is immensely important to some civil servants. Those who work in the Ministry of Defence or the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are obvious examples of civil servants who may not wish their private affairs, their addresses and their financial details to become public knowledge. Of course there is some risk of that, and those people fear that there will be a greater likelihood that their affairs will be more widely known, if their pension fund is administered by a private contractor instead of a civil service organisation.

Mr. Nigel Jones (Cheltenham)

Can my hon. Friend think of any way in which my constituents who work at GCHQ could benefit from the order and protect the confidentiality of their pension arrangements?

Mr. Rendel

No, indeed. My hon. Friend has raised an important point. His constituents are at the heart of the problem of confidentiality because of the work in which they are involved and the risks that they will take if their whereabouts or personal details become known in the private sector.

Moreover, the Government have failed to dispel the suspicion that the process has been driven by a dogmatic desire to extend the amount of private involvement in the public sector. In his opening remarks, the Minister said that steps would be taken to maintain confidentiality, but that was all he said about it. I do not consider that a sufficient guarantee that confidentiality will be properly maintained.

There is a further concern that the Government seem to be driven by dogma rather than by a rational consideration of what is needed. The Government may be moving towards a greater break-up of public service pension funds than they have so far admitted.

The current service is well received by civil servants and those who have recently retired. Recent enhancements, some of which have been described, have been made to the current service. The efficiency scrutiny that has been mentioned accepts that, for a very large number of employees and pensioners, in-house administration is almost always more efficient and cost-effective than going to an outside contractor. That is almost common sense, so it is difficult to see why the Government do not accept it.

The most important objection to what the Government are doing brings me back to the point made by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup. Civil service morale is so low that to give it a further blow, as the Government are doing tonight, is no way to proceed.

The main reason why the measure will be a further blow to civil service morale is the lack of consultation with those covered by the scheme. Although those involved may have been formally consulted, their views were not taken into account and that makes the consultation rather superficial. The Government have talked about the need for private sector businesses to improve communication with their employees. That is an important consideration for all businesses, following numerous examples of bad practice, yet the Government are ignoring their own advice and the right of current and former civil servants to have a real say in the administration of their pension scheme. If it is right that that should happen in the private sector, it must be even more right that it should happen in the public sector.

Because the Government are not governed by company law, they are better able to take into account the real needs and desires of former and current employees rather than simply to take into account the bottom line. What they are doing tonight is an example of bad government. Civil servants have had to put up with enough in recent years, working in an increasingly tense public sector with falling morale. To ignore further their views, as the Government threaten to do tonight, will make it likely that their morale will fall still further. That will have a damaging impact on the conduct of government. The Government should not get the order through the House tonight.

11.4 pm

Mr. Willetts

The right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster) complained about insecurity in the civil service, then went about stirring up insecurity with a series of lurid claims about the future of the civil service pension scheme that bear no relationship to reality. The right hon. Gentleman accused us of having a plan to break up and destroy the principal scheme, but that is simply not the case. We are talking simply about creating the opportunity for competitive tendering for the administration of the scheme, which will have no effect on benefits.

The proposal is, in the best sense of the word, permissive. It simply creates a new opportunity for Departments to invite the private sector to tender for the business of administering civil service schemes—something from which they are stopped by law from doing. We are removing that obstacle.

The right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland made great play of the efficiency scrutiny. I am perfectly willing to accept all the quotes that the right hon. Gentleman gave, provided that he will accept the point made at the beginning of the report: The scrutiny has established that there is a range of services which the private sector could offer with advantage, including pensions administration. It recommends that market testing should proceed as soon as the legal position has been resolved. We are now implementing that proposal.

The right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland asked why we are not balloting members. I am not aware of any precedent for balloting members of any pension scheme, public or private, on its administrative arrangements—that would be an extraordinary and unprecedented step.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) for remaining in his place for the remainder of the debate. He raised important questions about the civil service as a whole. My right hon. Friend spoke as a former civil servant; I shall reply to him as a former civil servant myself.

I was in Oxford last Friday, and I asked the dons whether they remembered the days—which I am sure my right hon. Friend remembers—when undergraduates used to sit in serried ranks to take the civil service entrance examination. I asked whether undergraduates still did so, and the answer was an unambiguous yes. Undergraduates are still trying to enter a career in the civil service because of the job satisfaction that the service offers, enhanced by our reforms which aim to give more managerial responsibility and discretion to civil servants, who should not suffer under the elaborate hierarchies under which the service operated in the past.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup feared bogus reductions in civil service staff numbers. Of course we must be wary of bogus reductions, but I assure my right hon. Friend that the reduction from 732,000 staff in 1979 to fewer than 500,000 today has been achieved not by statistical manipulation but by precisely the sort of changes that my right hon. Friend recommended. One example is the use of automation in fundamentally improving the way in which services are delivered.

Mr. Derek Foster

If the situation is as the Minister says, why did the ombudsman draw particular attention in his latest report to the deterioration in the quality of service given and make the point that it was due to staff reductions? The ombudsman stated that staff numbers have so reduced that the service is not able to give the same quality of service, and he is receiving far more complaints.

Mr. Willetts

I have studied the ombudsman's latest report carefully and I cannot find in it evidence to sustain the assertion that appeared in the press notice. We take careful notice of anything that the ombudsman says, as he is an officer serving the House, but I do not accept the assumption that the way to measure the quality of output is by measuring the input. The challenge for the private sector is to improve the quality of service that it offers customers while not spending more on overheads and running costs. We should expect the same of the public service.

Mr. Rowe

I am sure that my hon. Friend would remove a miasma of anxiety if he were able to confirm that, if a private sector provider won the contract and made a horlicks of it in some way, the cost of making that mistake would not fall on the scheme but on the company providing the administration.

Mr. Willetts

I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks. Nothing in the proposals will in any way affect the benefits payable to civil servants. That leads me to the short speech from the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel).

Mr. Rendel

If what I gather is nowadays described as a horlicks were made by the company concerned, that might include problems such as I mentioned in which somebody was paid very late. Does the Minister agree that late payment would affect the pensioner concerned?

Mr. Willetts

The hon. Gentleman, while he has protested great concern about this subject, does not seem to understand the basic elementary points of what we propose. The proposals cover the administration of the scheme for current civil servants. That has nothing to do with the payment of pensions to former civil servants. The proposals in the order concern entirely the administration of the scheme for current civil servants and are nothing to do with Paymaster's function of paying out benefits and pensions to retired civil servants.

On the basis of the clarification that I have been able to offer tonight—in particular, the fundamental assurance that the order contains no change to civil servants' pension rights—I invite the House to approve the order.

11.11 pm
Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)

I am sorry to speak now, but I honestly thought that one or two Conservative Members would rise to support the Minister. Alas, I fear that that is not the case. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), in a well-meaning way, tried to put the Government back on the rails. I agreed completely with the right hon. Gentleman because he got to the nub of the problem. I dissent from the conclusion that he drew, because he was trying to guide the Conservative party to a line that would enable it to remain in office. As an Opposition Member, I cannot agree with that, but if the Government insist on continuing with their dogma—the word has been used on several occasions by different right hon. and hon. Members—it is likely that they will be turfed out at the next general election, whenever they have enough courage to call one.

The issue centres on providing service rather than profits. I concur with the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup because, for a substantive reply from some Government Departments—not all—I now have to wait not two or three months, except on rare occasions, but two, three or four weeks. In the Department of Social Security, for example, the time that civil servants have to give care to their answers and to work out the arithmetic about individual claimants is minimal, the result of which is that the number of mistakes made in that Department multiplies from day to day. That is a sorry state of affairs. The country should expect accuracy and efficiency from civil servants, and they should reply to letters in a reasonable time.

It is all very well having charters for this and charters for that, but if replies are not accurate, if the figures are wrong, and constituents have to go to their Members of Parliament, who then have to write again to the social security department or to the Secretary of State for Social Security, that is not good for the country or for my constituents, because of the extra work and administration.

That is the nub of the problem. I expect the civil service to be staffed sufficiently to be able to produce accurate, proper and quick answers to my constituents' questions. I fear that, during the past six or seven years, with cuts—another per cent. here, or another per cent. there—they have not been receiving that service.

The Minister made a glib speech. I hope that he will not mind my saying so—I do not mean this in any rude way—but he did not address the questions that the proposal raises. He talked about the civil service scheme and the fact that the benefits that civil servants receive would not be affected, regardless of whether the scheme was hived off to the private sector for administration purposes. What he did not talk about—not once—was the effect that it would have on the taxpayer, the ordinary member who pays taxes in the United Kingdom.

If the scheme was hived off to the private sector and a mess—I do not want to use the word horlicks—of the scheme was made, and if the civil servants did not lose any of the pension entitlements as, rightly, they should not, the country would have to foot the bill. I am not sure that the computing system for the scheme is ready yet—there are questions about whether it is in place.

If the scheme were to be hived off, is the advantage anything other than saving money? If it is, when the market testing goes ahead, will the Minister set parameters that at least assure some hon. Members that standards of service will be met? The Minister did not mention that. He may not have wanted to. Some standards of service could be identified to ensure that the civil service pensioner will receive the same service as now, when the scheme is being administered by the civil service. I am talking, for example, about acknowledgements of a pensioner's letter by return of post, about substantive replies being given within two or three weeks and, more important, some statistics about the accuracy and helpfulness of those replies.

The simple straightforward question, which addresses directly the problem raised by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, is whether there is a possibility of marrying the desire of a private company to make profits for its shareholders with the ability to provide standards of service that can be guaranteed and in which civil service pensioners can have confidence when the specifications for the market testing are produced. I do not know. I rather doubt it. This is a matter of service as opposed to profit. Administration of the scheme should be left in the hands of those who have administered it extremely well over the past decades. That is an important question and I am sorry that the Minister has not answered it.

I come now to the second point—[Interruption.] Conservative Members are fed up with me. [Interruption.] Some hon. Members are not even in the Chamber. They should keep quiet or move into the Chamber, because that is the way in which we do things in the House of Commons. Half a million civil servants are interested in who will administer their pension scheme. It is a great pity—I see that my own Whip is now telling me to wind up my speech, but I shall make an important point before I do. It will not take long. If hon. Members pay attention, I hope that they will learn something, or at least have something to think about.

My second point is straightforward but important. In the private sector, there has recently been a spate of conversions of mutual societies to banks and so forth. People are balloted before any change is made in their mortgage arrangements and, following Maxwell, before any change has been made in the administration of private sector pensions, all pensioners have been balloted on whether they agree with the change.

My challenge to the Minister is very simple: is he prepared to ballot civil servants after the changes have been agreed, or recommended, to find out whether those who will be affected accept the changes? That is a straightforward, simple question. Unfortunately, the Minister has not answered it. There are two points there—[Interruption.] I am asked what the third point is, but there is no third point. We must get on.

First, there is the question of service. Can the Minister assure the House that standards of service will be set if the administration passes to the private sector? Secondly, will he have the guts, the decency and the respect for civil servants to ballot them before the provisions are enacted?

Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 261, Noes 240.

Division No. 121] [11.21 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Duncan, Alan
Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan Duncan Smith, Iain
Alexander, Richard Dunn, Bob
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Durant, Sir Anthony
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Elletson, Harold
Amess, David Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Arbuthnot, James Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Atkins, Rt Hon Robert Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Evennett, David
Baldry, Tony Faber, David
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Fabricant, Michael
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Fenner, Dame Peggy
Batiste, Spencer Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Bendall, Vivian Forman, Nigel
Beresford, Sir Paul Forth, Eric
Booth, Hartley Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Boswell, Tim Fox, Rt Hon Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Bowis, John Freeman, Rt Hon Roger
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes French, Douglas
Brandreth, Gyles Fry, Sir Peter
Brazier, Julian Gale, Roger
Bright, Sir Graham Gallie, Phil
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Gardiner, Sir George
Brown, M (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Garnier, Edward
Browning, Mrs Angela Gill, Christopher
Bruce, Ian (South Dorset) Gillan, Cheryl
Budgen, Nicholas Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Burns, Simon Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Burt, Alistair Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Butcher, John Grant, Sir A (SW Cambs)
Butler, Peter Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Butterfill, John Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln) Grylls, Sir Michael
Carrington, Matthew Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Carttiss, Michael Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archibald
Cash, William Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hampson, Dr Keith
Chapman, Sir Sydney Hanley, Rt Hon Jeremy
Churchill, Mr Hannam, Sir John
Clappison, James Hargreaves, Andrew
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Haselhurst, Sir Alan
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif) Hawkins, Nick
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Hawksley, Warren
Coe, Sebastian Hayes, Jerry
Colvin, Michael Heald, Oliver
Congdon, David Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Conway, Derek Hendry, Charles
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st) Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Hill, James (Southampton Test)
Couchman, James Horam, John
Cran, James Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire) Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon) Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Davies, Quentin (Stamford) Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)
Day, Stephen Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)
Deva, Nirj Joseph Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Dicks, Terry Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Hunter, Andrew
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Dover, Den Jack, Michael
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Jenkin, Bernard Robathan, Andrew
Jessel, Toby Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Jones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr) Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Sainsbury, Rt Hon Sir Timothy
Key, Robert Scott, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
King, Rt Hon Tom Shaw, David (Dover)
Kirkhope, Timothy Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Knapman, Roger Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Shepherd, Sir Colin (Hereford)
Knight, Rt Hon Greg (Derby N) Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n) Shersby, Sir Michael
Knox, Sir David Skeet, Sir Trevor
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Soames, Nicholas
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Spencer, Sir Derek
Lang, Rt Hon Ian Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Spicer, Sir Michael (S Worcs)
Legg, Barry Spink, Dr Robert
Leigh, Edward Sproat, Iain
Lennox-Boyd, Sir Mark Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Lester, Sir James (Broxtowe) Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Lidington, David Stephen, Michael
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Stern, Michael
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Stewart, Allan
Lord, Michael Streeter, Gary
Luff, Peter Sumberg, David
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Sweeney, Walter
MacKay, Andrew Tapsell, Sir Peter
Maclean, Rt Hon David Taylor, Ian (Esher)
McLoughlin, Patrick Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strgfd)
Madel, Sir David Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Maitland, Lady Olga Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Malone, Gerald Thomason, Roy
Mans, Keith Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Marland, Paul Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel) Townend, John (Bridlington)
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Mates, Michael Tredinnick, David
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian Trend, Michael
Trotter, Neville
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Merchant, Piers Viggers, Peter
Mills, Iain Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Walden, George
Waller, Gary
Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants) Ward, John
Monro, Rt Hon Sir Hector Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Neubert, Sir Michael Waterson, Nigel
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Watts, John
Nicholls, Patrick Wells, Bowen
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Whitney, Ray
Norris, Steve Whittingdale, John
Oppenheim, Phillip Widdecombe, Ann
Ottaway, Richard Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Page, Richard Wilkinson, John
Paice, James Willetts, David
Patnick, Sir Irvine Wilshire, David
Patten, Rt Hon John Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Pawsey, James Wolfson, Mark
Porter, David (Waveney) Wood, Timothy
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael Yeo, Tim
Rathbone, Tim Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Redwood, Rt Hon John
Renton, Rt Hon Tim Tellers for the Ayes:
Richards, Rod Dr. Liam Fox and Mr. Michael Bates.
Riddick, Graham
Abbott, Ms Diane Alton, David
Adams, Mrs Irene Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Anger, Nick Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Armstrong, Hilary
Allen, Graham Ashton, Joe
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Godman, Dr Norman A
Barnes, Harry Godsiff, Roger
Barron, Kevin Golding, Mrs Llin
Battle, John Graham, Thomas
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Bennett, Andrew F Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Bermingham, Gerald Grocott, Bruce
Betts, Clive Gunnell, John
Blunkett, David Hain, Peter
Boateng, Paul Hall, Mike
Bradley, Keith Hanson, David
Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Harman, Ms Harriet
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Harvey, Nick
Burden, Richard Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Byers, Stephen Henderson, Doug
Caborn, Richard Heppell, John
Callaghan, Jim Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Hoey, Kate
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Home Robertson, John
Canavan, Dennis Hood, Jimmy
Cann, Jamie Hoon, Geoffrey
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomery) Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Chisholm, Malcolm Howarth, George (Knowsley North)
Church, Judith Howells, Dr Kim (Pontypridd)
Clapham, Michael Hoyle, Doug
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Clelland, David Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Coffey, Ann Hutton, John
Cohen, Harry Illsley, Eric
Connarty, Michael Ingram, Adam
Corbett, Robin Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)
Corbyn, Jeremy Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Corston, Jean Jamieson, David
Cousins, Jim Jenkins, Brian (SE Staff)
Cox, Tom Johnston, Sir Russell
Cunliffe, Lawrence Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE) Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Dalyell, Tam Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)
Darling, Alistair Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Davidson, Ian Jowell, Tessa
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral) Keen, Alan
Davies, Chris (L'Boro & S'worth) Kennedy, Charles (Ross, C&S)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Khabra, Piara S
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Kilfoyle, Peter
Denham, John Kirkwood, Archy
Dewar, Donald Litherland, Robert
Dixon, Don Livingstone, Ken
Dobson, Frank Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Donohoe, Brian H Llwyd, Elfyn
Dowd, Jim Lynne, Ms Liz
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth McAllion, John
Eagle, Ms Angela McAvoy, Thomas
Eastham, Ken McCartney, Ian
Etherington, Bill McFall, John
Evans, John (St Helens N) McKelvey, William
Fatchett, Derek Mackinlay, Andrew
Faulds, Andrew McLeish, Henry
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) McMaster, Gordon
Fisher, Mark McNamara, Kevin
Flynn, Paul MacShane, Denis
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Madden, Max
Foster, Don (Bath) Maddock, Diana
Foulkes, George Mandelson, Peter
Fraser, John Marek, Dr John
Fyfe, Maria Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Galbraith, Sam Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Galloway, George Martlew, Eric
Gapes, Mike Maxton, John
Garrett, John Meacher, Michael
George, Bruce Michael, Alun
Gerrard, Neil Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Milburn, Alan Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Miller, Andrew Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Moonie, Dr Lewis Short, Clare
Morgan, Rhodri Simpson, Alan
Morley, Elliot Skinner, Dennis
Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon) Smith, Chris (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Mudie, George Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Mullin, Chris Snape, Peter
Murphy, Paul Soley, Clive
O'Brien, Mike (N W'kshire) Spearing, Nigel
O'Brien, William (Normanton) Spellar, John
O'Hara, Edward Steinberg, Gerry
Olner, Bill Stevenson, George
O'Neill, Martin Stott, Roger
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Strang, Dr. Gavin
Parry, Robert Straw, Jack
Pearson, Ian Sutcliffe, Gerry
Pendry, Tom Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Pickthall, Colin Timms, Stephen
Pike, Peter L Tipping, Paddy
Pope, Greg Touhig, Don
Prentice, Bridget (Lew'm E) Trickett, Jon
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Turner, Dennis
Prescott, Rt Hon John Tyler, Paul
Quin, Ms Joyce Walley, Joan
Radice, Giles Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Randall, Stuart Wareing, Robert N
Raynsford, Nick Watson, Mike
Reid, Dr John Wicks, Malcolm
Rendel, David Wigley, Dafydd
Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Roche, Mrs Barbara Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Rogers, Allan Worthington, Tony
Rooker, Jeff Wray, Jimmy
Rooney, Terry Wright, Dr Tony
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Young, David (Bolton South East)
Rowlands, Ted
Ruddock, Joan Tellers for the Noes:
Salmond, Alex Mr. Joe Benton and Mrs. Jane Kennedy.
Sedgemore, Brian

Question accordingly agreed to.


That the draft Contracting Out (Administration of Civil Service Pension Schemes) Order 1996, which was laid before this House on 25th March, be approved.