HL Deb 26 February 1975 vol 357 cc808-10

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what action the Government propose to take on the Report Civil Servants and Change.

The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord Shepherd)

My Lords, action on most points was being taken prior to the Report's publication; for example, the £7 million allocated to the improvement and humanisation of office accommodation. There is also the extension of flexible working hours and the recent agreement with the National Staff Side on facilities for Staff Association representatives.

The Civil Service Department is now working on measures to improve communications, to strengthen line management, to review the administration of staff rules and to improve inter-Departmental promotion opportunities. Departments, with the full support of their Ministers, have been preparing detailed domestic follow-up programmes, and most are already starting discussions with their Staff Sides about them. I am in urgent consultation on how we can expedite improvements.


My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that this is a very worthwhile Report published after 18 months of study? Besides the need for the pay research system to operate without undue delay, have the Government noted the statement that Ministers should duly consider what it is possible for the Public Service properly to carry out? While the administrative ability of the Service is the envy of the world, may I ask whether it is not important that inappropriate tasks should not be heaped upon it?


Yes, my Lords, it is a very useful Report. It is a self-analysis, a review conducted by the Civil Service into itself. Pay research, of course, was not a question for the Wider Issues Review. In regard to Ministers, I think that the phrase was "mucked about"; I think that this was an apt phrase used by the Civil Service for Ministers of all Governments. I accept that there is a major problem when there is a change of policy and special burdens are placed upon the Civil Service. My experience is that the Civil Service appreciate this, and when it is explained to them their service is given with the greatest possible co-operation.


My Lords, are the Government aware that within the Social Contract it is quite impossible to main tain the purchasing power of the higher ranks of the Civil Service?


My Lords, with absolute respect to the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, I would think that that was an entirely different question from the one on the Order Paper.

Viscount SIMON

My Lords, can the noble Lord expand on the reference to humanisation of accommodation? Is the implication that at present accommodation is more like stables and dog kennels?


My Lords, I have been appalled at some of the accommodation in which our civil servants operate. This can be dealt with only by a vast expenditure of money, and it will take time. But there is much that can be done by removing the drabness of offices, having different coloured wall paper, curtains and furniture, as opposed to the dark grey steel colour that we have seen in the past. This is what I meant by humanisation of office accommodation.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that there are many trade union leaders in the Civil Service today —and one from 50 years ago—who are glad to see that at last some of these things are beginning to come through.


My Lords, we who have been involved with the Civil Service recognise that the trade union movement and the Staff Side of the Service are something that one can only admire and be thankful for. I am glad to say that the Staff Side are co-operating with this effort to improve the general standards of work in the Civil Service that arises from this Report.