HL Deb 19 January 1983 vol 437 cc1414-6

3.58 p.m.

Lord Beloff

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 whether they propose any action in relation to the shortfall in recruitment to the administrative trainee grade of the Civil Service.

Baroness Young

My Lords, the Government have taken steps to strengthen their graduate liaison arrangements, to publicise the 1983 competition more widely and to accelerate the selection process, and they are considering other ways of ensuring an adequate flow of top quality administration trainee entrants.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Leader of the House for her Answer. May I ask her whether the consideration will extend to a more imaginative and positive policy on the part of the Civil Service Commission, on the model of some major private companies which go out into the field to look for the kind of people they want, rather than remaining in London and hoping that people will come to them?

Baroness Young

My Lords, we are of course glad to receive suggestions, but I can tell my noble friend that the universities are visited in order to describe what is required by the Civil Service and to attract some of the most able graduates. As my noble friend will doubtless know, we have asked Sir Alec Atkinson to review the procedures for selecting fast-stream graduate entrants.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, may I ask the Leader of the House to ensure that, when they go out into the field, they will be good enough to travel as far as Wales, Scotland and Northern England to seek out civil servants for the future? Is it not the case that the Society of Civil and Public Servants have been very critical of what they regard as a new policy and a retrograde step?—retrograde, I think they mean, in relation to the Fulton reforms as a possible danger because this would lead to a new élitism, which I believe was the point being made by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. Will the noble Baroness be good enough to give the House an assurance that this is not going to create an élitism but that there will be a broadly-based Civil Service giving opportunities to candidates from all British universities and also to those who come up from clerical and executive grades?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I can confirm both points. Recruits are looked for in all universities and institutions of higher education. At the same time, serving civil servants also have an opportunity to advance to the highest posts; so advancement to the highest posts comes not only as a result of recruitment through the administration trainee scheme.

Lord Plant

My Lords, does the noble Baroness the Leader of the House not agree that the best way of improving recruitment to the Civil Service and particularly to the administrative class is to have an injection of morale into the Civil Service and to improve pay, which, after all, is one of the means of improving morale? Does the noble Baroness not agree that there should be meaningful negotiations quickly on the Megaw Committee report, leading to the reimposition of arbitration?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I believe that even the noble Lord, Lord Plant, will accept that pay negotiations are wide of the Question concerned. I should like to confirm to him that we do recognise that in a contracting service there may be some who feel that promotion opportunities are not as great as they once were, and that this might be one of the causes for the shortfall in recruitment numbers. I should like to take this opportunity of saying that I and my colleagues very much appreciate how fortunate we are in the very high calibre of the British Civil Service and the impartiality with which it does its work.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell me if there is any sign of something which would surely have the approval of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff: that is, whether administration trainees are heading for industry rather than for the Civil Service?

Baroness Young

My Lords, there is some evidence that industrialists as well as those looking for recruits for the Civil Service are looking for the most able of the graduates we have—and naturally the graduates are going to look round at the jobs on offer.