HC Deb 17 December 2002 vol 396 cc690-2
37. Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West)

What steps he is taking to ensure equality of opportunity in recruitment to the civil service. [85938]

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Mr. Douglas Alexander)

The Government remain strongly committed to equality of opportunity, and to creating a civil service that is fully representative of the community that it serves. Government Departments have delegated responsibility for most recruitment, but they have set themselves challenging diversity targets.

Mr. Bailey

I thank the Minister for his reply. What advice can he give to young unemployed members of the ethnic minority community in my constituency on how best to improve their chances of being recruited to the civil service, both regionally and nationally?

Mr. Alexander

My hon. Friend makes an important point. A range of community organisations is receiving direct sponsorship to encourage under-represented groups to apply for work in the civil service. One example that may be of interest to him is Black Britain—it can be found at blackbritain.co.uk—an online business that provides black communities with information on jobs across Departments in Whitehall.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

Does the Minister agree that, in talking about equality in this context, he should be equally concerned with quality? If he cannot explain today what a "representative" civil service actually means, can he give us an absolute assurance that, when it comes to recruitment to the civil service, merit will always come above all else?

Mr. Alexander

I would hope that that is not a contentious point on the Floor of the House, but it could be so for those Opposition Members who have no interest in building up the public sector and the civil service in particular. We maintain our ambition of merit and equality of access to the civil service, and we see no contradiction between drawing talent from the widest possible pool across the country, and ensuring excellence in the public realm in the United Kingdom.

Angela Eagle (Wallasey)

It is interesting to note that the Opposition seem to think that there is such a contradiction. I congratulate the Government on the work that they are doing in this area, but I ask my hon. Friend to recommit his Department to driving forward equal opportunities in respect of gender, ethnic minorities and disability—across the whole piece—in order to make the civil service more representative of the people that it serves.

Mr. Alexander

My hon. Friend makes some vital points. Of course, within the civil service there are targets not just for women and for ethnic minorities, but for disabled citizens; however, along with those targets we have also taken forward streams of work that are attracting non-traditional entrants. As the work of the civil service in relation to the new deal and modern apprenticeships shows, many new routes of access are now available to people who perhaps had not previously considered serving the public interest in the civil service.