HC Deb 21 October 1998 vol 317 cc1262-3
2. Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)

What plans he has to increase awareness of civil service careers among the ethnic minority community. [54715]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Dr. Jack Cunningham)

The Cabinet Office and other Departments participate fully in workplace development schemes such as the Windsor fellowship, exhibit at careers and other fairs and undertake outreach work with universities. Nine Whitehall Departments, including mine, will next month be promoting civil service careers at the Mega Mela Asian festival at Birmingham, which is expected to attract more than 100,000 visitors. I will shortly be launching with Sir Richard Wilson, the head of the home civil service, a charter for action to redress under-representation of ethnic minorities in the senior civil service. That initiative has been jointly agreed with the civil service unions.

Mr. Vaz

May I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend to his new position and also welcome the initiative undertaken by the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Richard Wilson, including the appointment of Mr. Suma Chakrabarti, who becomes the most senior Asian person in the civil service? Can I tempt my right hon. Friend to go a step further and take a leaf out of the Home Secretary's book by considering the possibility of initiating a system of targets, so that the civil service is truly representative of modern Britain?

Dr. Cunningham

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind remarks and good wishes. We shall soon publish guidelines on the mainstreaming of equality throughout the Government. I can assure him that, as Minister for the Cabinet Office, I will play an important role in taking that forward.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

Although I welcome the initiative that the right hon. Gentleman has taken to make job and career opportunities in the civil service as wide as possible, and known about by as many people as possible, will he take this opportunity to stress that people will be appointed on merit?

Dr. Cunningham

It is one of our guiding principles that people are always appointed on merit, and that will continue to be the case. Nevertheless, we also need to take more effective action to ensure that the under-representation of people from Asian and ethnic communities in senior civil service posts is redressed.

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre)

Will the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster accept my sincere congratulations on his new appointment? One of the great joys of the city of Lancaster is its diverse range of people from different cultural backgrounds. At this stage, can my right hon. Friend tell me what part he intends to play in the celebration in that glorious city of the 600th anniversary of the Duchy of Lancaster? Also, will he please reconsider his use of the description, Minister for the Cabinet Office, as it is certainly no less opaque than Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and it lacks a great deal of style as well?

Dr. Cunningham

That would never do. First, I must thank my hon. Friend, who represents the wonderful and ancient city of Lancaster, for his kind remarks and good wishes. Perhaps I should point out to him and the House that I have the honour and privilege of two titles: Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. It is only in the interests of brevity that I use the former and not both when addressing the House.

As for the celebrations for the 600th anniversary, I hope to play a part in those, too.