§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ Lord Barnett
My Lords, the debate this afternoon is about efficiency in Government and the Civil Service. I must say we have just had a devastating example of how not to plan public expenditure. I should like to begin my remarks, if I may, by joining in the congratulations offered by the noble Earl to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, in choosing this subject for debate today. I am also very happy indeed to follow him, as I have followed him both as Chief Secretary to the Treasury and as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. If I may say so, I was delighted to do so in both those roles. Like him, in both those roles my experience was that I found the civil servants who were working for me at that time were loyal, efficient and dedicated. That applied to both private secretaries and to other officials. Certainly they showed great impartiality of a political kind.
The noble Lord pointed out, quite rightly, that one of the problems for those of us who have been in Government is to recognise that Whitehall is not the Civil Service. As I think he said, Whitehall civil servants represent something around 5 per cent. of the total non-industrial Civil Service; so it is important for us to recognise, when we talk about the Civil Service, just what kind of civil servants we are talking about.
The Motion speaks of,an efficient and dedicated Civil Service".I want, first of all, to say a few words about the first part of the Motion, about the need for efficiency in the Civil Service. Few would deny the need for an efficient Civil Service, as we understand the meaning of that word. But in the context of the work of a civil servant, efficiency is not quite the same as it is in many other fields. I have pondered what might be the best definition of the word "efficiency" and how one would best define it. The best definition I could trace was one produced by the sub-committee of the Treasury and Civil Service Committee in Session 1981–82, when they said:By the effectiveness of a programme the Sub-Committee understand such matters as the definition of objectives, the measurement of progress towards achieving those objectives and the consideration of alternative means of achieving objectives. By efficiency the Sub-Committee understands, given the objectives and 1344 the means chosen to pursue the objectives, the minimising of inputs to the programme in relation to the output from it".It sounds a bit involved, but I think your Lordships will agree that it is a pretty reasonable definition of what one means by "efficiency" in the Civil Service.
I am bound to say to the noble Earl—although he was a little better today—that from time to time the Government seem to be taking, as a definition of "efficiency" in the Civil Service, simply cutting the size. I make it quite clear that I bow to no one, for fairly obvious reasons, in regard to the phrase "small is beautiful". But it certainly does not follow that "smaller" in the Civil Service necessarily can be equated with greater efficiency—
§ Lord Barnett
My Lords, I am glad to hear the noble Earl say "Hear, hear!" because that is not quite what he said, if I may quote him, in an article in The Times on 26th July, which I have here, for the sake of better reference. I shall quote the noble Earl. He said:Today's Civil Service has shrunk by 108,000 jobs since 1979, with the sharpest reduction at the top. This has lopped £750 million a year from the paybill. The reduction is also a big step towards greater efficiency".As I was saying, and as the noble Earl was saying, in his "Hear, hear!" to what I was saying, that does not necessarily follow—
The Earl of Gowrie
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? What I was saying "Hear, hear!" to was the fact that in my own opening remarks—and I hope the noble Lord will do justice to me here—I said that getting numbers and costs down was very important, but it was not the be-all and end-all of efficiency. I then went on to describe what efficiency was.
§ Lord Barnett
My Lords, I said that the noble Earl was better today, and I am delighted to have the withdrawal of his article in The Times of 26th July. Your Lordships will have noted what the noble Earl said then; but I am delighted he now accepts that just cutting the size of the Civil Service is not an answer and does not solve the problem of trying to achieve greater efficiency. I should like to make it quite clear that I do recognise that from time to time there will be a need to look at the size of any organisation. I am not opposed to that. That must apply to the Civil Service as it must apply to large corporations, whether in the private or public sectors. There will always be room for savings in large organisations, and I do not myself object to the need—indeed, I accept it—to look at them. But it is wrong to equate all cuts with efficiency or, indeed, with value for money, as the noble Earl sought to do today.
I should like to give three examples which would show your Lordships that cuts certainly do not equate with efficiency. First, one can remove a function from a department. For example, in the dockyards one could cut back the repairs done by Government staff, by civil servants, and give them to an outside body to do. Somebody is going to do those repairs. It could mean greater efficiency; it could mean a saving in public expenditure: but it certainly does not necessarily follow that it will. It could well be the case that, by doing it in another way, the cost might be much greater in terms of public expenditure.
1345 Equally, privatisation has been called in aid, and the noble Earl referred to it as common sense. It may also be the case that from time to time, by privatising certain functions, some public money might be saved; but I am bound to tell your Lordships that the Public Accounts Committee has indeed looked precisely at this area and found that it was not necessarily the case. There was no evidence whatsoever that privatising a particular departmental function led to a real cost saving or to greater efficiency.
Then there is the other area—manpower ceilings. Of course from time to time, properly used, it would be sensible to have ceilings on the levels of manpower in any organisation, but when one sets ceilings it is very important to decide what those ceilings will be and how one uses one's staff within them. Again, the Public Accounts Committee found that cutting back on Inland Revenue staff, particularly the investigation staff, was not exactly productive. Indeed, the committee found (it was when I had the privilege of being the chairman of the committee) that the Inland Revenue could easily have spent more money on additional staff and found it much more productive because it would have raised a much greater amount of money in return for that cost.
Incidentally, if I may take up the point that the noble Earl made about the excessive number of files in the Inland Revenue, if he cares to offer the Inland Revenue my file and the Inland Revenue wants to lose it, I would be happy to opt out. I imagine that many of my noble friends and many noble Lords would be only too delighted to see a reduction in the number of Inland Revenue files by the removal of theirs. But I hasten to say that that would not necessarily be a productive way of raising additional revenue or making the Inland Revenue more efficient.
I can give another example to your Lordships. In the DHSS there have been savings on the method of handling, administratively, sickness benefits. It could be argued—and I would not necessarily deny it—that there is a great deal of good sense in that. But what has happened is that a great deal of the burden of that work has now been put on the employers, often very small employers. That is not necessarily the most efficient way to have that work done in the national sense. Equally, savings have been made and are being made by the Government in this area by making a claimant to benefits wait rather longer and, indeed, often not get his claim at all, bringing about a reduction in the DHSS staff. Surely that cannot be the most efficient way to run a Civil Service in the national interest. All I am saying to the noble Earl and to your Lordships—I hope noble Lords will accept it—is that to think of efficiency in the public service purely in terms of cuts is doing a great disservice to the fine work that is done.
In the Civil Service we have a great diversity of activities. There are very large departments such as the Ministry of Defence, which has something like 300,000 civil servants and 300,000 civilian staff. The Department of Industry has only about 9,000. I should not like to suggest to your Lordships that necessarily the Department of Industry is more efficient than the Ministry of Defence. It may be, but it will not be because of the size; it will be for entirely different 1346 reasons. I do ask noble Lords and the Government not to delude themselves into thinking that simply cutting the size of the Civil Service is an answer to the problem of efficiency. I was delighted, and I am delighted to acknowledge, that the noble Earl now accepts that.
I return to the best measure or definition of what is efficiency in the Civil Service; that is, as I quoted, "minimising inputs of programmes in relation to the outputs". Of course, it is easier said than done. The noble Earl referred to some ways in which the Government can help. In the Public Accounts Committee, under the noble Lord's chairmanship, under my own and under the present chairmanship of my right honourable friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne, there is a much greater emphasis on value for money these days than applied in the past, and I am very pleased indeed to acknowledge that. I think it owes a great deal to the setting up of the National Audit Office and the strengthening of that team. But there are other ways, and I should like to put forward one or two suggestions.
One suggestion—I think the noble Earl also referred to it—is the need for greater ministerial interest. There is the word "MINIS". We are always inventing such words, composed of letters, in our public life. MINIS requires greater ministerial interest in the need for greater efficiency in the Civil Service. The problem, of course, is that Ministers, being the political animals that they are, have greater interest in political matters than in greater efficiency in the Civil Service. They may go into the department initially with the idea of transforming it into a much more efficiency body, but that soon goes. I doubt, for example, whether the present Secretary of State for Education is thinking very much today about efficiency in his department. But there is a need for Ministers to take a greater interest, because that is the only way they are going to be able to persuade senior officials in their departments to take a greater interest themselves.
Then there is the question of staff inspection and internal audit. The Public Accounts Committee has issued reports on this. This does not require cuts in the size of the Civil Service; it requires increases in the staff of both inspection and internal audit. I am happy to say that some of that is coming about, certainly in the National Audit Office. There is also the question of cash limits, which I had the pleasure to introduce. I say "pleasure", although some of my friends in government did not altogether approve of everything I was doing because they apparently equated, wrongly, cash limits with somehow meaning a cut in public expenditure. It does not mean anything of the kind. Indeed, without cash limits one simply cannot achieve efficiency. I certainly do not object to cash limits, but it is necessary to use them with a great deal of good sense; because if one uses cash limits in the public sector on incomes with no agreement on what the level of incomes should be, one gets inefficient cuts in the size of the Civil Service. That is the worst type of use of cash limits.
The noble Earl referred to the noble Lord, Lord Rayner, and the work he did. I worked quite closely with the noble Lord when he was doing that job and when I was chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. I pay tribute to the work he was doing at that time. It is a task which will have to continue 1347 permanently. I could not help agreeing with something said by Sir John Hoskyns, who was in the Government "Think Tank" and is now head of the Institute of Directors. He thought that the Rayner type work only tinkers with the problem. To a large extent I think he was right. It does not really get to grips with the major problem.
I was much taken, and I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said, with the concept of a no-strike agreement—not necessarily with all civil servants—and I would have thought that is a useful way to proceed. But again, as he rightly said, one would have to do something about salaries if one was hoping to get any reasonable agreement.
I end this part of my remarks on the question of an ideal level of efficiency in the Civil Service. It is a bit like painting the Firth of Forth bridge. One never stops—and one must never stop—seeking to improve efficiency in the Civil Service. That is what happened in the Public Accounts Committee, as the noble Lord will recall. After a few years in the job one finds oneself doing the same task one had been doing a few years earlier because it is so huge an area there is bound to be so much inefficiency. As the noble Lord said, from time to time there can be not very good management and the PAC has to be very much on its toes.
I turn briefly to the other part of the Motion moved by the noble Lord—that is, the need for a "dedicated Civil Service". He was right to join the two words "efficiency and dedication". Whilst one can have dedication without efficiency I do not believe one can get real efficiency within the Civil Service if civil servants are not dedicated in their duty to that service. The two do indeed go together. But I am bound to say to your Lordships, and to the Government, that dedication has to work both ways. An employer must be dedicated to the wellbeing of his staff. It does not mean no cuts, but it does mean recognising the problems that those cuts create for the staff. One must recognise—and I hope the Government and your Lordships recognise—that dedication, morale and loyalty is bound to be affected by substantial cuts in the size of the Civil Service.
I recently read something said by the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft. I hope he will not mind if I quote it in case he does not intend to quote it himself today. This is an article in The Times of 5th March and is from a lecture given by the noble Lord. The article reads:As Lord Bancroft, former Head of the Home Civil Service put it in a lecture in December, 'the ritual words of praise forced out through clenched teeth in public deceive no one if they are accompanied by noisy and obvious cuffs around the ear in semi-private' ".He was referring of course to the Prime Minister and not the noble Earl. I am sure he meant what he said, and I entirely agree with him. There is another quote in the same article from Mr. Julian Critchley, who is described asher most irreverent backbencher".He is quoted as saying:She cannot see an institution without hitting it with her handbag".I make it quite clear that I have some sympathy with hitting institutions with handbags from time to time; but one cannot keep doing that without having an 1348 effect on the morale and dedication of those one is hitting. It is right that the Prime Minister, and those who from time to time give her advice that she may even recognise, should understand what they are doing to the very loyal and dedicated staff in the Civil Service by the kind of statements that are made.
The GCHQ was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. It certainly applies to the thousands of loyal and dedicated civil servants in that establishment. The problem is not, and never has been, one of security. The staff there are as concerned about security as the Prime Minister herself or anyone in this House. It seems to me that security in that establishment has been harmed more by the exposure created by the Government's own inept handling than by the staff at GCHQ. The real problem there, as it is elsewhere, is not getting a loyal staff but insensitive and incompetent handling by employers.
What do the Government want from their civil servants? Do they want loyalty to the Minister right or wrong, even if that Minister is lying to Parliament? Do they want loyalty to Parliament and to the public interest? Is that what we in this House want? We cannot have a situation, speaking for myself, where a civil servant should decide for his or herself what should be the public interest. That really is quite impossible. Certainly I would not accept such a situation. But one cannot expect—and I must repeat this—dedication or loyalty from sullen, cowed staff who are constantly under attack. They then become time-servers and will never give efficient service, either to their Minister or to the state.
I should like to quote something said by John Ward of the First Division Association and reported in the Sunday Times on 23rd September. The article states:'conviction politicians' of the Thatcher administration dislike being offered the widest range of policy options. 'They have no time for objective analysis,' he says. 'So some civil servants take the view: 'Ministers don't trust me—so sod that' ".I ask your Lordships to excuse me. That is not my word. I am quoting Mr. John Ward. The article continues:William Plowden, a former government Think Tank adviser and now head of the Royal Institute of Public Administration—he is talking about the Prime Minister—thinks this has harmed the quality of Whitehall's work. 'There is a general atmosphere in which people feel dissent may rebound against you. Even if you are seen to be less than enthusiastic it could harm you. So advice is trimmed.' The more extreme reaction of course is for the frustrated adviser to leak unfavourable information to the outside world.Let me make it quite clear that I have no sympathy for leaks or extreme views. Nor do I like what might be called the intellectual work to rule. That does not help either the Government or the society in which we live. But it is not enough to condemn it. One needs to understand how the climate has created it. For my part I agree with some of the Government's actions. I agree that a shake-up was necessary including, as I have said, some cuts. I agree with the move away from what is called "Buggin's turn"; but if we do not want extremism in the Civil Service we must get away from extremism in Government; and we are not getting that. A different Government approach is needed. We need what might have been called by the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, a middle way, a consensus, a willingness to seek understanding with the staff.
1349 Those, apparently, are all dirty words to the Prime Minister; but they are not words to be brushed aside, especially in public life, because the alternative is indeed extremism. I know that some staff can make life very difficult for any employer and I certainly do not underestimate the problem. However, all Governments make it more difficult for themselves by excessive secrecy over documents that are not secret at all. There should be greater openness, as we recently heard from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, in a quite remarkable speech.
Above all, I should like to sum up on this note. As has been said already, on the whole we have a loyal Civil Service. Compared with many other countries in the world we are fortunate to have an almost total lack of corruption. But we must recognise the great strain that can arise when we are seeking to get an improvement in efficiency by cuts—some of which are inevitable—in size. Ministers in this Government, particularly the Prime Minister, by their own behaviour have put at greater risk the dedication and efficiency of thousands of decent, hardworking men and women. The remedy must now be in the Government's own hands. As I have said, dedication and loyalty work both ways. Ministers must show that they genuinely understand the real anxieties of their staff if the nation is to get the efficient and dedicated Civil Service that the vast majority of its members are desperately keen to provide.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ Lord Rochester
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, was right to bring together in his Motion the concepts of efficiency and dedication in the Civil Service; for, in my view, each has wide implications for the other. At the heart of the celebrated lectures given two or three years ago by Sir John Hoskyns and Sir Douglas Wass—and one of those lectures has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett—was the need for change. For several years I bore responsibility in a large industrial organisation for training people in the management of change. The best definition of management I ever heard was that of the late Colonel Lindall Urwick: "Getting things done through people". Much more than at the time he coined the phrase 50 years ago, today that means persuading people willingly to accept change. It also necessitates leadership through action.
While I was engaged in industrial training, there was need to analyse the qualities or functions of effective leadership, and I take leave to mention two of them now to your Lordships. The first is the formulation of objectives that are clearly defined, understood, and, as far as possible, accepted by those required to implement them. In his lecture Sir John Hoskyns said that, as a businessman, he regarded the definition and agreement of objectives as the most difficult and important task of management and that on arrival in Whitehall he had at once been struck by the fact that people were not used to governments setting objectives which were sufficiently demanding and unambiguous to act as criteria for success or failure. He concluded that the Civil Service had grown accustomed to a situation in which either there were 1350 no objectives or they were so vague as to be meaningless. For my part, as an advocate of a reformed electoral system that would afford more stability and continuity of economic and industrial policy, I would add that, in so far as there were such objectives, they suffered from the fundamental defect that they were constantly changing. However that may be, in Sir John Hoskyns' view the effect of the system was that in the Civil Service performance was always judged by conduct rather than by results.
It seems to me that the Government are to be congratulated in the extent to which they have sought to remedy deficiencies in this field. I welcome particularly the report published two weeks ago on progress under the programme of action to improve the management of people, which was announced by the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, last July. That applies especially to the emphasis placed in the programme on delegation to departmental line managers of more responsibility, and he has reiterated that theme this afternoon. I welcome also the Government's earlier declaration of their aim to match the number of Civil Service staff more closely to the necessary functions of departments.
That does not mean that I accept in every case the way in which the policy is being carried out. There are certain functions which, in my view, require for their efficient execution the employment of more staff. I think, for example, of the need to counsel the steadily increasing numbers of long-term unemployed people, particular those aged under 25. I should add that my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich will have more to say later about inadequate staffing in another particular area.
A second quality of leadership which is related to the first, and is in my view highly relevant to the Motion before us, is an understanding of what enables people to give of their best at work. In this respect, I believe that responsibility, achievement and recognition of achievement are motivating factors that have universal application. It appears, however, from the lecture given by Sir Douglas Wass that, in the Civil Service, there is another motivator which takes precedence over the rest. In his speech, Sir Douglas referred to someone who happened once to be a colleague of mine. Mr. Keith Robertson spent 10 years leading job satisfaction research projects in the service. His comment was:Throughout all job satisfaction projects in the Civil Service, it is apparent that the single most important motivating factor for staff is the opportunity to be of service to the public".He continued:It seems almost miraculous that the desire genuinely to serve the public should be born, should survive and should flourish amidst all the politics, tensions and impersonal imperatives of modern bureaucracy".I have sufficient confidence in the judgment of that man to believe that his comment was valid.
Sir Douglas Wass went on to say that the sense of public service was closely allied with morale. What then is the state of morale in the Civil Service today? I fear that it is rather low. One way in which this can be measured is in terms of recruitment, not least in the key category of administration trainees already mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. In 1983 47 people were appointed to fill 60 vacancies. 1351 Those figures are at least an improvement on the very bad ones for the previous year. My understanding is that this year there were 66 vacancies for such people, of which 58 have been filled. Perhaps the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, will confirm those numbers when he replies to the debate. In 1984 it seems that there has been some further small improvement compared with the two preceding years, although it is still a disappointing outcome.
Industrial relations is another obvious pointer to the state of morale in the Civil Service. I shall not dwell at any length on the GCHQ affair. My fears were made plain to your Lordships last February in saying that, if the Government proved unwilling to reach an accommodation with union representatives that at the same time safeguarded both our defence capability and the freedom to belong to a trade union, the morale of civil servants would be damaged, the standing of responsible union officials diminished, and the security of the state thus placed more, not less, at risk. That, my Lords, is still my view.
A further reason for low morale in the service is that, since the Government withdrew from the agreed procedures for determining pay four years ago, rates of pay for civil servants have increased by rather less than 25 per cent. In contrast, according to the Government's new earnings survey, the pay of white collar male staff generally, excluding overtime and shift premium payments, has risen during the same period by just over 50 per cent., and that of women by 48 per cent. Moreover, pay increases outside the service are now rising at an annual rate of at least 7 per cent., compared with a projected increase in Civil service pay for 1985 of 3 per cent.
In 1955 the Priestley Commission established the principle that the pay of civil servants should be based on:fair comparison with the current remuneration of outside staffs employed on broadly comparable work, taking account of differences in other conditions of service".The present Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that he stands by the statement of his predecessor to the Megaw Committee in 1982 that:the Government as employer did not believe it should seek year after year to pitch Civil Service settlements below market rates in the private sector".I do not underrate what is obviously a highly complex problem, but in my view that principle of fair comparison, subject no doubt to certain improvements in its application, should be reestablished. The matter cannot simply be left there. It is always easier to define a problem than to prescribe a solution.
Let me therefore reiterate a view that I have expressed before. There is need to establish procedures for pay determination in the Civil Service which might later be extended to those employed in other public services. More specifically—and I was glad that there seemed to be a degree of support at least for something on these lines when the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, spoke—provision should be made for settlement of the dispute by a third party. That referee would take the form of an independent standing commission. It should be distinguished from a mere arbitrating body by being empowered to call for 1352 evidence other than that of the parties themselves. It should also be required to give reasons for the awards that it makes. Because the Government would themselves be one of the parties to such disputes, members of the commission should be chosen not by the government of the day but by an electoral college set up by statute.
I do not presume to suggest precisely how that electoral college should be constituted, and I recognise the difficulty that there would be in constituting it. But I consider that its establishment is essential to ensure that the commission is independent, that there will be continuity of office for its members and that it will be acceptable to the Government, to the main Opposition parties and to organisations representing both employers and trade unions.
In my view, only thus could civil servants be expected to repose sufficient confidence in the commission to give the necessary prior undertaking that its findings will be observed. Such an undertaking would need to be matched by a corresponding commitment on the part of the Government to accept the commission's findings, withdrawal on the part of the Government being possible only after the passing of resolutions to that effect by both Houses of Parliament—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter.
A potential criticism is that settlements of that kind would be inflationary. It stems, I believe, from failure to differentiate between arbitration and conciliation. The intention here would not be to bring the parties closer together, nor to split the difference between them. Rather the aim would be to reach a decision which would generally be regarded as reasonable because it would be made by a body whose members would be acknowledged to be independent. I fear that the alternative is for the community to suffer continuing disruption, such as that experienced in the payment of pensions this year, as the only form of protest available to people who perceive themselves to be unfairly treated.
There are other major matters at issue in this debate. One is the so-called politicisation of the Civil Service—that is, the filling of senior posts in particular not by career officials but by people sympathetic to and appointed by the government of the day. If I may say so, I very much welcome what the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, with all his experience, had to say on this point. All I would add is that if Ministers were to surround themselves with yes-men, in my view, they would be less likely to become aware of the obstacles stemming from habit, fear, and so on, impeding the change that they were seeking to effect. If trouble were then to arise, it would be too late for the Minister to say, "Why wasn't I told?". The damage would have been done.
Finally, I suggest that in this debate our overriding aim should be to increase the esteem in which the Civil Service is now held in society. In part that can be done only within the Civil Service itself; but for the rest I hope—and I am encouraged by what has so far been said in this debate—that at least a degree of consensus will emerge from what we say and that that will help the Government in discharging their heavy responsibility in the running of the service.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Lord Allen of Abbeydale
My Lords, I also am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, for initiating this debate about a service which we discuss too rarely. I know that he will not take it amiss if I point out that one of the quotations of the misuse of English with which he entertained us evidently emanated from a local government official and not a civil servant at all!
A great deal of discussion about the service tends to concentrate on what for some reason are commonly called the "mandarins", although I confess that I have never felt particularly Chinese. I think that it is one of the good things achieved by this debate that we are all reminded that these top people and their immediate staff comprise only a very small proportion of the total Civil Service, which consists of a great many people—fewer than there used to be but still a lot—who have very little in common beyond the name of their calling and the identity of their employer.
I should like to follow the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, in discussing this Motion in the two parts into which it falls. I should like first to touch on the part of the Motion referring to the need for an efficient Civil Service. No one who has been in touch with the service in recent years can deny that a great deal of effort has been put into improving the standards of efficiency needed to meet changing conditions. The service is not a bit like the one that I joined almost exactly 50 years ago, but neither is the world in which it operates.
There is still much that can be criticised. We have heard some of this already. I am looking across at the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. I expect that we shall hear more as the debate proceeds. But there is indeed an impressive tale to be told about recent developments in such aspects as career planning, clarifying accountability, allocating local budgetary targets, developments in the field of occupational health and especially perhaps management training. I think that the noble Earl could quite well say more about the development of training in response to the animadversions of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter.
As chairman of the Gaming Board, I am not permitted to talk about the operations of that board in this House. But I think I can properly say that over the years we have been very impressed by the quality of the civil servants allocated to us and, in particular, by their managerial skills which emanate from very good managerial training. I know it is only a small area, but I hope it is symptomatic of what is being achieved on a much greater scale.
Some of what is going on is, unfortunately, heavily disguised by an inevitable crop of acronyms. But there is indeed a marked change from what we found some years ago on the committee of inquiry chaired by my noble friend Lord Fulton. A little of what has been done may perhaps have received some impetus from the report of our committee; I certainly hope so. However, one painful truth we learned was that the very size and complexity of the service are such that effecting improvements and securing changes in attitude can be a pretty uphill and lengthy affair.
Next I should like to turn briefly to the second part of the Motion, referring to the importance of a 1354 dedicated service, although the Motion itself does not go on to explain to whom that dedication should be addressed. Here we run into rather greater complexities. Let me begin here by saying that I know that there are, as there always have been, a great number of hard-working and conscientious people in the service, with a very high standard of duty and complete integrity. I can say that with an assurance based on personal knowledge. All the same, having said that, I am bound to go on to say that there are indications that in some respects there may be cause for disquiet.
I am not going to say anything about leakages by officials or prosecutions under the Official Secrets Act. Leaving those aspects aside, it is a matter of considerable sadness to me to find civil servants going on strike, or taking what I agree is so inappropriately called industrial action, or initiating proceedings in the courts against the Government or, I am very sorry to say, evidently getting themselves involved in criminal charges of bribery and corruption.
Is there a risk, I feel bound to ask myself, that the old traditions of the service can no longer be taken for granted? Bound up with this, is the morale of the service all that it should be, with all its implications for efficiency and standard of conduct? From what I have heard from a variety of sources I feel dubious whether the answer to this question about morale is unequivocally in the affirmative. This is why I put down my Motion in the No Day Named list for a debate on this topic.
In looking round for an explanation I am left in little doubt that there is indeed a widely held sense of grievance. Let us take pay. Without getting embroiled in discussing complaints that the Government unilaterally tore up an agreement and refused arbitration, and all the rest of it, the fact is that there is a widely held feeling that the actions of the Government have not been such as to inspire confidence that their main object has been to be fair. Although as a member of the Security Commission the last thing I want to discuss is the GCHQ affair, it is impossible to ignore the fact that many civil servants—and not just the extremists—feel aggrieved at the way this matter was handled.
Added to considerations of this kind is the inevitable fact that cuts in staff—cuts, incidentally, which have not been matched by any noticeable reduction in the number of Ministers—have meant a slow-down in promotion prospects, to be only partly met by schemes for early retirement.
But there is something else. Here I am echoing something which has been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, and I think by the noble Lord who spoke just before me. What I am talking about is the impression that Ministers—not all of them, but some—are convinced that the service is a kind of necessary but rather tiresome appendage which has to be tolerated but need not be positively encouraged. I have no means from outside of knowing what is the truth, but the accumulation of evidence that many civil servants think it is true is rather too great to be ignored. There are persistent accounts that the traditional role of the senior civil servants of giving objective, if sometimes unpalatable, advice about policy is being whittled away; that decisions are being handed out by Ministers, or their political advisers, for 1355 implementation without the views of the professional advisers being sought or, if sought, being listened to; and that the old characteristic of mutual respect and confidence, and indeed partnership, between Ministers and officials is being eroded, with repercussions going far beyond the top officials themselves.
Let me say that I do not believe that that can possibly be a true picture overall. Many civil servants work just as hard and conscientiously as anyone ever did in my time, and derive ample job satisfaction, and I recognise that the changes in problems of government, whatever Administration is in power, are bound to affect the role of permanent staff. But at the same time, the stories I hear and read are rather too frequent and too consistent for the suspicions I have outlined to be brushed aside in toto and I find it disquieting that they are so widely believed within the service.
Perhaps at this stage I should just pause and say that, having listened to the fascinating speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Boyd-Carpenter and Lord Bamett, no one would ever suggest that any of these doubts could ever apply to a Chief Secretary. They and their civil servants have too close a bond binding them together in the face of the common enemy, the big spending departments.
How far there are real grounds for disquiet I just do not know. But it does at any rate seem to an outside observer that Ministers as a whole do not exactly leap to the defence of their servants when attacked. When it is a question of the Government publicly standing behind their own servants the trumpet is indeed heard with an uncertain sound.
Before I sit down I should just like to touch briefly on three possible implications for the future. The first has already been mentioned: the fact that there seems to be some indication that able people are more ready to leave the service than used to be the case. The outflow statistically is not all that great and the country does not lose if some of the best people move over to the private sector. However, I have encountered this issue in my experience and there is some ground for thinking that the potentialities for serious loss are not to be altogether ignored. I would not put it higher than that.
I do not quite know how best to put my second point. In a way, it is the development of a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, about political impartiality, but looked at the other way round. I think that what I am trying to say is that if the consequences of what I have been outlining result in the appointment to the higher posts of only those thought to be broadly in sympathy with the philosophy and the general approach of the Government of the day, serious problems are being stored up against the time when a Government of another complexion eventually take over. It is a point that speaks for itself.
My third point is to go back to something mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, concerning recruitment. The noble Lord has more up to date figures than I possess. But the fact that there are vacancies in the competitions for recruitment to fast stream administration trainee posts seems to me of itself disturbing. I cannot help thinking how unlike this 1356 is to life in the 1930s. I notice that in a competition for the direct recruitment of principals, only half the 36 vacancies were filled. I am also given to understand—going to the other end—that there are problems about the recruitment in sufficient numbers and quality of clerical staff. Although your Lordships may not think that the employment of typists is a major issue, the fact is that if you are running an office in central London and you cannot get typists, it does affect the efficiency of that office. And all this, as has been pointed out, at a time of high unemployment!
I am not suggesting for a moment that the points I have been touching upon are the sole causes of these somewhat disturbing symptoms. But they may have contributed. It would not be altogether surprising (would it?) if people were rather put off joining a service that tends to be treated by the media as almost an object of derision, which is the constant recipient of snide comments as exemplified in a particularly unhappy leader in The Times only two days ago, and when the service's own political masters seem content for the most part to leave the impression that they are not all that much concerned for its wellbeing and its pride in performance.
In various contexts, I have had opportunities of seeing something of the civil services of a number of other countries. It has always seemed to me that ours, with all its faults, was better than most, and taking it as a whole, not excelled by any, even the French. Any government have at their disposal a magnificent instrument if properly used. I am glad that this debate has at last given an opportunity of saying so.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, I must apologise to your Lordships that I have to leave the House early. Last week, a certain noble Lord gave as his reason for leaving early the fact that he had to attend the unveiling of a portrait. He did not actually reveal that it was his own portrait. I have no such respectable excuse other than that I have a very longstanding engagement. And yet I felt, as the first appointed Minister under the Prime Minister in charge of the Civil Service Department, an obligation to take part in the debate. I am grateful to the last Minister in charge of the Civil Service Department under the Prime Minister—namely the noble Lord, Lord Soames—that he allowed me to swap with him. His departure was to my mind symptomatic of some of the troubles that afflict the Civil Service today. It arose out of a longstanding wrangle over half a per cent. At the end of the day, a settlement that had been recommended had to be given and the Prime Minister had lost one of her most independent-minded civil servants—I beg your pardon—one of her most independent-minded Ministers. No one would accuse the noble Lord, Lord Soames, of being a civil servant.
I feel that this is symptomatic of some of the difficulties that, to put it frankly, have led to Civil Service morale being at an all-time low. One may say, "What does that mean?". It is not disastrous but morale is certainly lower than at any time in my lifetime. This is a consequence very much, I think, of Government action, praise—to use the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft—"given late, not early, and through clenched teeth". I am grateful to the noble 1357 Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, for a very balanced and admirable introduction. It is the fact, as the noble Lord says, that there is a certain lack of prestige. It is more than that.
I feel that the situation is a very discouraging one. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, referred to one of the really great values of the British Civil Service, namely its political impartiality. He gave an example. I did not know the politics of my Principal Private Secretary and I did not seek to find out although, if asked, I would have guessed that he was probably Conservative. One day, when I went into the outer office, one of the girls said of my Principal Private Secretary—I had better change his name—"Oh! Frank won't like that". I asked why not. She said "He is ever so red, much redder than you Minister". I did not know. He continued to serve another Minister. Indeed, let us note the fact that Sir Robert Armstrong was Principal Private Secretary to two Prime Ministers: first to Mr. Heath; and, secondly, to the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, or it may have been the other way round. This great strength of the Civil Service needs to be sustained at all costs.
Why is morale bad? Why is there dissatisfaction? It is that there is a strong sense that the Government have been less than fair. There has been less appreciation of the importance of public service, of the quality that we look for, and—as described in the example given in the speech that we have just heard—of integrity, of high intelligence and of devotion. It is of course absurd to talk about the Civil Service as being inefficient and bureaucratic. I spent 20 years in industry. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, spent a lot of time in industry. To see real inefficiency you have to go occasionally to private enterprise. Luckily, the shareholders do not find out.
The great strength of private enterprise, if I may give an instance, is that it is free to take decisions. Those decisions are taken. That is why it is so important to the survival of this country. But the public service is accountable through Ministers to Parliament. For that reason, it is much more difficult to introduce these concepts of accountable management. I would say to the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, that if the last debate in this House took place in 1968 I probably introduced it as the Minister at the time. I cannot remember what I said, but" many of the phrases such as efficiency, transferability and accountable management are familiar. And the drive for more training was very strong. We set up the Civil Service College.
The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, like the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, who succeeded me, will be able to speak about this. Maybe the Civil Service Department did not fulfil all the hopes. I shall not attempt to analyse this. But this sense of unfairness and mistreatment continues. The Government have still not taken any action. One noble Lord has referred to the Megaw Committee. There was a satisfactory system of pay fixing. Those of us who looked at the pay comparability unit—which I did very closely—reckoned that it was a very objective way of establishing under the Priestley proposals, the right of the judgment to enable pay to be reasonably fair. I beg the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, to understand that I am not just trying to make a party point on this. It is vital to 1358 this country that the Civil Service should be encouraged and that its role should be recognised. It will be recognised if it is treated more fairly.
There is little doubt that the GCHQ incident was a disaster. If noble Lords have read the Judgment, it is clear that the House of Lords was saying that if it was not for the fact that the Government alone can judge national security we would have said that what was decided was contrary to natural justice. It was a bad mistake, and I think that when the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, studies it he will think it was a mistake that the offer of a no-strike agreement was refused. It is no good saying, "Well, we didn't believe it". They should have tested it. If the unions had not honoured that agreement, then the Government would have been entitled to move. The difficulty in what is now happening in this policy is that it is encouraging left-wing leadership in the Civil Service unions. It is leading to more industrial strife, rather than the reverse, and I fear that so much that is valuable can be lost.
Let me say that there are some notable achievements, and I shall give credit to the Government for some of these. The number of exchanges between private enterprise and the civil servants has increased. That is something I have wrestled with, both from an industry side and a Government side, without much success. In the long run I shall add no more than that I hope the Government will recognise—I say this in all seriousness—that something has got to be done to improve morale. This applies not only to the Home Civil Service; it is very important also in the Foreign Service. Our ambassadors and our senior civil servants also suffer from this same feeling of lack of appreciation. Many of them are working very hard, and those of us in industry who have to deal with them get uniformly admirable support from posts overseas. It is very exceptional to find that we do not get that support. They are very commercially minded, and I hope this value also will be recognised. But they are being cut, and of course some of the work they are doing will now not be done and it will be damaging to our trade.
My noble friend made an excellent speech, drawing on his experience as Chief Secretary. When I was Minister for the Civil Service I was never sure whether or not I regarded the Chief Secretary as a friend; I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, on that occasion. My noble friend pointed out that of course some of the cuts that have been made in the Civil Service have been achieved simply by pushing work outside the Civil Service, so that the number of civil servants can be reduced. When I was the Civil Service Minister, or Minister in charge of the department, I used to boast that it was the one year when the numbers of the Civil Service did not go up. But new duties have to be undertaken, and although this Government have gone quite a long way in trying to reduce some of the activities of Government, inevitably new responsibilities and new duties will fall on the public service. I am sorry that I shall not be able to hear the Minister's reply. I have apologised to him. I may say that I have modified my language quite considerably so as not to be as controversial as otherwise I would have been.
The Earl of Gowrie
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, since he was kind enough to give me notice that he would not be able to hear the wind-up, may I answer very quickly two points? Obviously at the end of the debate I shall be touching on the GCHQ issue. It would I think be fair to say at this point, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that the offer of a no-strike agreement that was made by the Civil Service unions was repudiated by other unions and by the TUC, as I understand, regardless of its merits. Personally I was not convinced of those merits; but that is another issue. It was repudiated by the Labour movement generally.
The other point I would seek to make to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, is that our reductions in Civil Service numbers are net figures. In all kinds of areas, whether it is in the benefits service or whether it is in Customs personnel dealing with drug trafficking, there have been substantial increases. I am talking about a net figure. These figures are in the central Civil Service. Of course I am not referring to savings in nationalised industries' personnel as a result of privatisation.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, I am very grateful for a separate reply. It will enable the noble Earl to make a shorter wind-up speech.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Lord Soames
My Lords, I have just two points to make. There are many other speakers in this debate. I am among those who are very grateful to my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter for having initiated the debate. It is high time we had such a debate in your Lordships' House.
The first point I should like to make is one that has been referred to by a number of speakers this afternoon; it is about morale. Like many others, I have certain anxieties in this regard, having served close to the Civil Service for a period of time. In 1979 it had grown to by far the largest size that had ever been known in this country. There were two reasons for that. One was a genuine reason, because in the postwar years governments began to touch the lives of citizens at an ever-growing number of points, and by 1979 they touched them at infinitely more points than was the case at the end of the Second World War.
But the second reason was not so commendable, because for some years it had been growing like Topsy and it had come to the point where the growth was, as it were, self-generating. Indeed, it had arrived at the point where it had to be in the national interest to cut it back in size over a timescale of years. But to cut it back in size should not mean that you want to cut it down to size; they are two very different matters. This cutting down in size was achieved over a three-year period. The numbers were reduced; we heard the exact numbers from my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter. It was reduced of the order of 100,000 below the 730,000 that it was in 1979. There is somewhat further yet to go.
But the deeper it is necessary to cut a service, for whatever the reasons may be, the more important does it become to sustain the morale of those who are devoting their lives to that service and who are continuing to work in it. The fact that a man or a woman works for the state does not in any way mean 1360 that they do not need to be motivated or to realise that what they do is appreciated by those they work for just as much as in the case of those who work for smaller enterprises. This is not always realised by governments. It requires therefore a conscious effort, often in terms of simple man-management by the senior ranks of the Civil Service and by governments.
It so happened that it fell to me to be Secretary of State for War in the late 1950s, at the time when the Army was being much reduced. This involved the names of many regiments of great historical significance and great honour disappearing. The Army had to be reduced very considerably in size. I must tell your Lordships that having also served as Minister in charge of the day-to-day running of the Civil Service some 20 years later I can say that the way in which the Army morale was held up at the time of the big cuts in the Army, as national service ran down, was of a totally different order from the way in which the morale of the Civil Service has been held up. Your Lordships will appreciate that it happened to coincide with a very considerable reduction in increase in pay in the Civil Service compared with those who were working in private enterprise. The combination of these facts, both of which I think were necessary at the time, had an effect upon morale and created the feeling, "Do our masters really mind about us?", coupled with some nasty incidents.
For instance, I remember being present at a conference when a woman rose to speak and in her opening remarks she said, "I am a civil servant", and there were cries from the hall, "Go and do a proper job". However, I do not agree with those who blamed mainly the media; but the media does play upon it. They play upon the mother-in-law jokes and the Civil Service jokes. But they do so because they think that it strikes a chord with the general public, but they do not originate the jokes. They write what they think will sell their newspapers.
It falls to us to make a very considerable effort to give honour and credit where honour and credit are due—and they are due to the Civil Service. Of course the day-to-day contact which civil servants have with ordinary people in their day-to-day lives is a very different contact from that which Ministers and Members of Parliament have with that small proportion—say, 5 per cent. at the most—of civil servants who work in the corridors of Whitehall. People who have contacts in the offices of the DHSS and the like inevitably run up against a bureaucracy which is a bit rigid; it has to be rigid to stop all the risks and dangers. Ministers would be the first to complain if it were not rigid and if they were asked questions in Parliament about why so much money was given to somebody to whom it was not due. There has to be a certain rigidity, and I suppose it is inevitable bearing in mind the opinions of the general public towards the Civil Service.
Whereas we would not dream of letting a year go by without discussing in your Lordships' House the health of the defence services, we heard from the noble Earl who opened the debate and who will wind it up that it is 16 years since there was a debate on the Civil Service. Does that tell us anything? Is it perhaps a sign of the degree of interest felt by this House towards the Civil Service?
1361 There is a limit to which you can cut; and when that limit comes you have to reduce the tasks as you reduce the numbers—
§ Lord Diamond
My Lords, as the noble Lord (to whom I have been listening with the greatest possible care) has now left his point about the responsibility for maintaining the integrity of the Civil Service, let me say that I have agreed with every single word that he has said. But I should be grateful if he would complete it and say (if he agrees) that in all the circumstances it is not a general responsibility; it is the responsibility of Ministers. Civil servants are directly responsible to Ministers and in return it is the responsibility of Ministers to do everything to maintain the morale of the Civil Service.
§ Lord Soames
Of course, my Lords; and that is so of every government in turn, one after the other. Has the Civil Service been taken too much for granted because it was so good? Has there been that type of feeling among Ministers of successive governments? A conscious effort has to be made by Government, by Parliament and by the people to realise what is at risk, how good this service is, and what they stand to lose if morale is not upheld.
As I was saying, there comes a point where one starts having to reduce tasks. For example, as you privatise more, so you automatically need fewer people who are—to use the generic term—civil servants. But you can cut to a point where if you do not reduce their tasks, you will lose effectiveness and efficiency. There is a good example in the diplomatic service. This debate is on the Civil Service, but I think that one might bear in mind the difficulties of the Diplomatic Service, which is constantly being reduced. I have had the good fortune to serve with the Diplomatic Service at various times in my life. You could say, "Well, you could on paper cut down so that you have just enough staff to man the number of posts abroad", but that would be a mistake. I think, for example, of the successful way in which negotiations have recently been handled with the People's Government of China over Hong Kong. That could never have happened had it not been that there were a sufficient number in the higher echelons of the Diplomatic Service who were old China hands, who had spent a great deal of their careers in China and Hong Kong; who knew how the Chinese leaders were thinking; and who could not only talk their language, but could also understand them in the wider sense.
It is necessary for the Foreign Office to have sufficient fat to be able to send young men on language courses so that they really immerse themselves in, for instance, Arabian or Chinese life. Indeed, for the future they should be able to speak Russian, and speak it well enough and understand it well enough to be able to get, as it were, inside the skin of those with whom we will be negotiating over most important matters in the future. So I would put in a plea for the Diplomatic Service.
The other point I want to make is about the relationship between Government and industry—a matter which is particularly important for those industries which are dependent on exports for their success. This concerns both Ministers and civil 1362 servants. Since the end of the war we have moved from one extreme to the other; we have moved from the extreme of what I thought was too much interventionism by government to the other extreme of almost "hands off industry", letting private enterprise do the job with the Government not interfering. I think that that has gone too far. There is a grey area which we can live in, subject to all the laws and agreements of an international character which derive from our membership of the EEC and from our membership of GATT, whereby Government can help industry to a very considerable degree. We see it in a great many other countries that are competitors. We see it in Japan, where there is MITI. There is hardly a major decision affecting Japanese industry that does not get the imprimatur of MITI before the decision is announced.
France is a country in whose life I am happy to have had some experience. I have seen industry and Government there working in very close accord, particularly in the field of exports.
In our culture and in our way of managing our affairs by the nature of things we get very few Ministers who have had effective responsibility and experience in industry. In the war we did so. In the post-war years it was tried a bit, both with those who had had responsibility for management and with those who had had responsibility in trade unions. That very seldom proved effective and the reason for that is that the other place, rather like the human body, tends to abhor what is not its own. A very important aspect of a Minister's life is being able to carry the House of Commons along with him. So we get young men going into politics in their 20s or 30s, having had very little experience of the problems of industry in the higher ranks, and hopefully staying there for their careers and becoming Ministers. So within our constitution Ministers do not have a very great knowledge of industry; nor does a civil servant. Some of your Lordships have spoken today about attachments from the Civil Service to industry, and vice versa. That is all right so far as it goes, but it is for a year or two at the most and does not fill the need that I should like to see filled.
I have said that I do not think MITI, the Japanese way, is the way in which we could proceed in this country, but I think that we could learn something from the French, who are not bad at this. The percentage of our manufactured exports on the world markets, which has been consistently dropping over the years and shows no sign of recovery, is now down to about 7½ per cent. of that of all industrialised countries, which is half what it has been since the war.
Against that background we must take some steps to remedy the situation, and the best step that I have seen in my experience would be to set up in this country something like the French ENA, the Ecole Nationale d'Administration—the School of National Administration. French graduates attend this school for three years when they leave university, and at the end of their course they are able to manage commerce, industry or, indeed, government. They spend six years in government and then five or 10 years running an industry, and then they return to government. This has two advantages. First, they know each other well, and that is one advantage which should not be forgotten. 1363 Secondly, they gain experience in both government and industry. Doubtless, in France, industry and government work together seeking, to the greatest possible extent, to stay within the regulations created by their international commitments; they manage to penetrate world markets, which we would very much like to penetrate; and in this area I do not believe that the effect of the ENA, as an élitist "grande école", is by any means minimal.
I think that this would be a good investment for our country to make. It would not be all that large; the graduates would be well-taught and interchangeable. They would not go to industry to learn about it, but to bring their experience to it; and they would not go into the Civil Service to learn about it, but to bring their experience from industry. I do not ask my noble friend to answer this point today, but I hope that others who speak who have experience of the Civil Service and of industry might give your Lordships their views on this matter, and perhaps my noble friend would take it away and, hopefully, give it some consideration.
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ Lord Hunt of Tanworth
My Lords, I also must apologise for the fact that I shall be unable to stay until the end of the debate, although I am going neither to see my portrait unveiled nor to a private dinner party. For 33 years I was a civil servant and for the last six of those, as Secretary to the Cabinet serving four different Prime Ministers from both main political parties, I was in a somewhat unique position to understand the need for the British civil servant to serve the government of the day to the utmost of his ability and with loyalty, whatever its party political complexion. Before that I had some good jobs and some less good jobs, but I was always proud to be a civil servant. I am therefore very sad that there seems to be an unease enveloping the Civil Service, or parts of it, at the present time.
I do not propose to comment on any particular episodes or rumours. I should like to get back to what I believe are some basic principles, and I do not apologise for the fact that I think some of them are rather old-fashioned principles. In theory, of course, we could have a quite different Civil Service. We could have a politicised system with a large exodus at the top, which we see in the United States. We could have a breed of inefficient, petty officials concerned only with their own importance and held in low public esteem. But I think that everyone who has spoken in this debate so far has agreed that a professional career Civil Service suits this country best.
"Commitment" seems to be the word around these days, but I would say to outside commentators who argue for commitment that there is a world of difference between commitment to deliver what Ministers want and how one votes in the polling booth in private. To my mind, the right sort of commitment is an attitude to work which is concerned more with results and less with the number of compromises that can be made to dance on the head of a pin. This sort of professional career Civil Service needs, in the words of the Motion, both efficiency and dedication, and to some extent those two things go together, but they are different and both need to be cultivated.
1364 So far as efficiency is concerned, I would agree that much progress has been made since the Fulton Report. The cult of the talented amateur, if it ever existed, has disappeared. There is more training, better career planning, less dependence on Buggins' turn, and greater managerial delegation, particularly to those areas of the Civil Service serving the public directly. Perhaps we have not always counted the cost of improved administration sufficiently, and I very much welcome the greater attention which is now being paid to objectives and to financial management.
I also agree on the need for cross-fertilisation with industry, and I pay my own tribute to what Lord Rayner and his successor, Sir Robin Ibbs, have done and are doing. But that is a long way from saying, as some people do, that top businessmen have a unique capacity to run an undertaking which cannot be based solely on profit centres but which must have regard both to the political process and to the service of the public.
However, I draw a clear distinction between improving efficiency, which I think has been happening and which we should all like to see more of, and changing the nature of a Crown service dedicated to serving the Government of the day to the best of its ability. I believe that this kind of dedication needs understanding and acceptance by all concerned of the very different roles of Ministers, parliamentarians and civil servants. Unless that understanding is there, we have a sure recipe for trouble. I think that some people are beginning to question those different roles.
Civil servants must operate, be seen to operate, and realise that they must operate within quite different constraints from those applying to Ministers. I fully accept that some constraints apply to former civil servants, which is why I shall not comment on particular episodes. I hope that no one wants career civil servants who are political neuters, because if they have no feeling for politics, they will not understand the political process and they will probably not care very much about service of the public.
On the other hand, these career civil servants who should not be political neuters have to work flat out for the government of the day. This rather British convention can work only if it is understood that it is Ministers and not civil servants who have to convince Parliament and the public about the lightness of their policies, and that it is Ministers and not civil servants who are responsible for the way those policies are presented and for how support for them is obtained.
This inevitably raises the question of "leaks" and news management. I am sure that all of us when we are taking a detached and objective view of it would say that both are always undesirable. But again I distinguish between those whose job it is to win support for a particular policy and who naturally consider how best to do this, and those who do not have that responsibility. It is no answer for a civil servant to say, "If Ministers "leak", why shouldn't I?" The answer is that he should not.
But what about conscience? This is a serious issue which I am rather afraid is in danger of being developed and devalued by being prayed in aid too lightly. I agree very much with what the noble Lord, 1365 Lord Croham, said in a lecture at Salford University recently that,those who advocate an ethical duty of civil servants to inform on Ministers while remaining in their posts have almost certainly not realised how intolerable that would be to civil servants and Ministers alike".Nor, I think, have they realised the almost inevitable consequences in terms of politicisation of the Civil Service.
Of course, we can all conceive the extreme case of a government plotting to subvert the constitution where it might well be the right and the duty of a civil servant to speak out. Of course, one can conceive not the extreme case but the rare case where a civil servant so disagrees with a policy being pursued that he asks for a transfer, or indeed resigns. But I believe that the civil servant who is so committed politically that he seeks to frustrate Government policy should be in a different profession.
But if civil servants are to be dedicated in the way I have attempted to describe, I think there are others who have to contribute to this dedication. As has been said, loyalty flows downwards as well as upwards, and I think Ministers—and Ministers of any party, let me say—need to remember that this kind of dedication we are talking about is different from either the slavish obedience which you might get from a political neuter or a petty official, or the obedience you would certainly get from a politicised Civil Service.
In those two cases you get it easily enough, but for the career civil servant I think it involves pride in his profession or, to put it in more simple terms, pride in serving the people of this country by working for the Queen's Government of the day. That pride will not be there without self-respect, and it is hard to respect yourself if other people do not respect you.
I think also that parliamentarians, the press, and the public need to remember that in the age-old struggle which will certainly go on between the executive and the legislature, civil servants are, willy-nilly, creatures of the executive and not a pawn in the middle. Certainly there is a case for greater openness of Government; certainly the less a Government do, the Jess there will be a need for secrecy; but civil servants can only properly operate within the policies established by Ministers.
The Civil Service is passing through a time—perhaps malaise is the right word—where cuts are affecting promotion prospects and where, rightly or wrongly (and it does not really matter whether it is right or wrong), there is perceived to be a diminution of status and regard. I do not myself believe that there is a crisis. I am sure that my former colleagues and the people now still in the service have no intention of creating a crisis, and do not want one. Nor am I seeking to attribute blame. I suspect that if we searched our consciences—Ministers, civil servants, former civil servants, trade unions—we would all find something for which to blame ourselves. But the morale of the service, as well as its efficiency and dedication, is desperately important, and this is the time perhaps to pause and think; and this is why this debate introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, is important.
It is time for all concerned, whether in the Civil Service or outside it. to remember the reasons for the 1366 traditional relationship and ground rules between civil servants and Ministers. It is a relationship—or should be—of mutual respect, but they have very different roles. If we do not perhaps pause and think about those traditional relationships there could be a danger of ending up with the sort of Civil Service which few people would want and which would certainly serve the people of this country less well.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, in what I have to say I defer to those noble Lords on all sides of the House who have spoken before me from a lifetime of experience of the great affairs of state. As is well known to your Lordships, I have none. I also defer in particular to the authoritative exposition of the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Tanworth, who it is my pleasure to follow.
As in the case of my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, I, too, am an admirer of the Civil Service and wish to accord it full honour and credit; but I would also wish to take up one of my noble friend's points of criticism and to expand it just a little, but not at great length. The question is, put starkly, whether recent activities of Civil Service unions are consistent with the importance of an efficient and dedicated service. The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, no doubt with his innate sense of intuition, rightly assumed that I should raise this point of criticism, because if I understand his speech aright he agrees with a great deal—but not all—of what I am about to say.
It was known that the political pretensions of many trade unions to govern the realm, albeit by remote control, would lead them to challenge the authority of Parliament and the authority of the Judiciary. This was all but inevitable. But what was not known was that unions, on behalf of their members in the employ of the Executive arm of government, would resort to industrial action to further such pretentions. At the outset, the point has to be made that the activities to which I refer have nothing whatever to do with pay claims as, on pay, Her Majesty's Government have accepted the broad proposals of the Megaw Report and are conducting negotiations with the unions to seek to reach agreement on a new pay determination system taking comparison into account.
So why were such activities on the part of the unions whose members were in the employ of the Executive not foreseen? It is, first of all, because the political aspiration to govern is alien to the ethos of the Civil Service, which is a-political. Secondly, industrial action by civil servants is a contrary concept constituting a departure from established traditions of dedication, efficiency and loyalty. And, thirdly, there are certain constitutional implications concerned with the doctrine of the separation of powers under which the Executive, as well as the Judiciary, is subject to the ultimate supremacy of the Queen in Parliament. So what, may one ask, is the meaning of dedication and efficiency when the general secretary of a Civil Service trade union, taxed by a subordinate of a former director of GCHQ Cheltenham as to the serious consequences of disruption, replies (and I quote):Thank you for telling me where I am hurting Mrs. Thatcher most"?1367 I quote from the judgment in the House of Lords.
Let us not sweep this under the carpet, pretend it was not said, pretend that it did not lie at the basis of that judgment—and I will deal with the view of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in a moment, if I may—and pretend that it did not lie at the centre of the reasoning of that judgment. Also in the reasoning of that judgment the point was taken that it had to be borne in mind that the history of industrial action at the Cheltenham GCHQ—the one-day strikes, the selective strikes, the work-to-rule, the overtime bans—was not concerned with local problems at Cheltenham but was in support of a national trade union as sympathetic action. Again, I have quoted from the judgment.
On this occasion therefore with the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, I cannot go along with the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale; and certainly I cannot go along with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, who cast more than a hint of blame on the Government's handling of that affair. The facts, the reasoning as stated in that judgment of the Appellate Committee of your Lordships' House, do not warrant such stricture. They do not warrant a sense of grievance on the part of civil servants. The judgment of the House of Lords rightly concentrated upon that reply of the general secretary, which was shameful, and on the aspect of sympathetic action to which I have referred. If we look facts in the eye, which of your Lordships is going to say, on those facts, that consultation would have made a ha'p'orth of difference?
One might well ask: what is the meaning of "dedication and efficiency" in context with the industrial action that has been taken at the DHSS computer branch centre at Newcastle? My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter touched on this. May I for a moment consider the facts in some detail? I am sure that if your Lordships are not apprised of these facts then noble Lords on all sides of this House will be appalled. There were three unions involved: the Society of Civil and Public Servants, the Civil Service Union—and those two unions had 40 to 50 members between them—and a third union called the Civil and Public Services Association. That union had about 300 members. What happened was this. The management, in implementation of an agreement with the three unions, entered into negotiations in January 1984 on a proposed alteration of shift patterns. This arose out of an audit question followed by a management study. The object of this was not far from the wording of this debate. The object of this proposed alteration of shift patterns was to provide an efficient service to the public by full use of expensive computer equipment.
In the course of these negotiations, the three unions called a strike on 14th May 1984—a strike call which was answered by the members of all three unions. The attitude of the management at subsequent meetings was flexible while the attitude of the three unions was rigid: that the shift patterns should, so to speak, remain as if set in concrete for all time. The negotiations which had been broken off by the three unions in May were not resumed until October 1984, a stalemate period of six months. On Wednesday, 28th November—last Wednesday—the Society of Civil 1368 and Public Servants and the Civil Service Union accepted the management's offer and, at last, their 40 or 50 members have gone back to work. But the Civil and Public Services Association refused to accept the offer and their 300 members are still out on strike.
Such a situation is neither acceptable nor tolerable. However enticing may be the prospects of permanency, promotion and pensions, no one is obliged to become a civil servant. The option of resignation is always open to those who are dissatisfied, disenchanted or troubled by conscience—and here one relies again on the authoritative exposition on matters of conscience by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Tanworth. The status and privileges of civil servants are unique and not inconsiderable, and I agree unreservedly and wholeheartedly with my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter when he suggests—he did not put it this way; I have to put it my own way, but it comes to the same thing, it is the same thought—that as a quid pro quo surely it is not unreasonable that if any claim or dispute cannot be settled by the process of negotiation then there should be mandatory arbitration and a no-strike clause. Such a regime could be introduced by the Minister by amendment to the terms and conditions of employment in implementation of Article 4.2 of the 1982 Order in Council.
No one supposes that one deft thrust of a lance would dispose of a dragon which would remain dangerous even in its death throes; and it is plain that the appropriate means of terminal extinction are clearly a matter for Her Majesty's Government. It is not to the point in this debate, which is not really a debate about employment but a debate about the Civil Service, to complain about the intransigence of trades unions or the attitude of the TUC or Her Majesty's loyal Opposition. These are all facts of life, and we have to live with them. But it is to the point, in context with the importance of an efficient and dedicated Civil Service, to ask simply this: for how long shall the traditions of efficiency and dedication be flouted by those civil servants who are determined to defy tradition? And for how long shall the Government, or shall we, stand by?
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Lord Bancroft
My Lords, I shall not follow in detail the noble Lord who has just spoken. I should like to start by echoing the gratitude which other noble Lords have expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, for his measured and constructive introduction to this debate. I have already apologised to him and to the noble Earl for the fact that I shall have to leave the House before the debate ends. I now apologise to your Lordships in general.
I must, and will, be brief. Naturally I welcome most of what has been said about efficiency and effectiveness. These have been prime goals of the Civil Service since the pioneering days of the Post Office surveyors one-and-a-quarter centuries ago. And the achievements have been real, fostered—the usual paradox—by two world wars. Over just the last decade, as noble Lords have reminded us, there has been a succession of huge changes in the style, the tempo and the tone of public administration. Many of these changes have been wholly for good.
1369 I believe the Government are to be congratulated on keeping a head of ministerial steam behind the drive for efficiency, and I wish the service well in pressing forward with the existing initiatives and exploring further such areas as merit pay, which the noble Earl touched upon. It is good to have public recognition that there is some merit in the service, and I assume some resources will be found to reward it. It would also be helpful to have the Government's views, in due course, about the suggested initiative in connection with the private sector, put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Soames. Perhaps I ought also to add that it has always been a useful working rule in my public life that too many initiatives tend to strangle the prompt dispatch of essential business.
Dedication, my Lords, as has been stated by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, and others, is vital in the Civil Service; and it is also a two-way stretch. It includes, for example, the ability to listen to critical advice, given in private and at the right time. The optimum policies are on the whole unlikely to emerge from Ministers who do not have the weaknesses of their proposals pointed out to them, or Ministers who are otherwise impatient of dissenting advice. There is an honourable role for the official to discharge between saboteur and sycophant. "Yes, Minister" is a comedy, not a documentary. The good Minister and the good official should have a respect—preferably a robust respect—for each other.
Also bound up with dedication nowadays is the question of freedom of information, which other noble Lords have touched on. I have to say that I treat the right to know with some reserve. Ministers and officials must be free to argue and to disagree in private among themselves. It would be distressingly simple to make it a statutory duty to disclose the policy analysis while withholding policy advice; the two are intertwined in the real world. I suggest that unless great care is exercised, a legitimate pressure for more open government can get entangled with a doubtfully legitimate right to know and a wholly illegitimate right to leak. Trust and confidence, as has been said already, between Ministers and officials is essential; and it has declined. What remains would be wholly destroyed if officials claimed to have and to exercise a right to leak, pleading a higher accountability of some sort. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Tanworth, that it is in that way that there lies a politicised Civil Service.
Where else does this responsibility lie—this responsibility for the decline in trust? Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, I shall have a shot at distributing responsibility. It lies partly, no doubt, in the climate of the times—the service is a reflection of society—and partly in the increased militancy of some staff, to which reference has been made, notably by the noble Lord who has just spoken. I agree that the deliberate wreckers can sometimes be very influential though few in number. I accept that the militancy is deplorable. But I venture to suggest that it may be a symptom, not a disease. With effective management and a serious attempt to restore sensible staff relations, I believe it could become a relatively minor irritant.
In this connection I warmly welcome the principle of the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter; namely, that some Civil Service staff—in my view, the more, the better—should be covered by 1370 both a no-strike agreement and a recourse to binding arbitration on pay, with the Government having a parliamentary override. Devising the details would not be easy, especially if (as I believe it should) it goes wider than pay. The arbitral body would need to be influential, authoritative and tough; but the rewards to the community in terms of efficiency and dedication, if this were to be successfully brought off, would be immense.
This said, I share the view that the main responsibility for the decline in mutual trust lies in ministerial attitudes, though by no means those of all Ministers. On a personal and pleasant note, I have to say that I was undeservedly lucky in virtually all the Ministers I served; in particular, the seven successive Leaders of this House, for whom I worked when they were Ministers in day-to-day charge of the Civil Service, and many others, including the noble Lord who moved this Motion.
They used to be revered in their departments—no doubt some Ministers still are—and it is mainly in departments I think that the damage can be put right. It was good to read the other day, for instance, a Secretary of State publicly acknowledging in a parliamentary answer the efforts and dedication of his staff at all levels in reducing the impact of the deplorable strike at Newcastle.
As we have been reminded during the course of this debate. Ministers are the direct employers of over 600,000 staff. Good employers need sensitivity, and preferably experience, if they are to get the best out of their workforce. Too many Ministers, I have to say, give the impression that public service is neither an honourable nor a worthy calling and that the members of the non-uniformed services are refugees, afraid of the real world. So long as that happens, dedication will be that much harder to get and to give.
This has nothing to do with numbers and nothing to do with tasks. The Government are absolutely entitled to slim numbers and to hive off tasks in conformity with their democratic political judgment. But governments, I submit—sometimes against the evidence—are not anarchists. A need will remain for sizeable public services. What is then left should be treated positively, not as a regrettable necessity. It is these services, like it or not, which will still be responsible for helping parents to nurture the infancy, the education, the health and the security of tomorrow's private sector workforce.
In conclusion, I hope that my old service will be greatly heartened, as I feel it should be, by most of what has been said, generously and rightly, so far in the debate.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Lord Windlesham
My Lords, it is a particular pleasure for me to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, since I, like other noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, for a time had Ministerial responsibility for the day-to-day work of the Civil Service Department. When I was there the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, was Second Permanent Secretary. He was my mentor and closest official colleague and I learnt much from him.
I welcome the emphasis which was apparent in the 1371 important speech made by my noble friend Lord Gowrie on the drive for better management and higher standards of managerial efficiency in the Civil Service. In what he said he was reflecting some of the remarks made in his admirable introduction by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, to whom we are all indebted.
There is undoubtedly now a higher level of political interest in and commitment to the way in which the Civil Service works. The scrutinies carried out initially by the noble Lord, Lord Rayner, and now continued by Sir Robin Ibbs have played an important part in the drive for greater efficiency. It is highly desirable that the methods of the very successful companies with which these two advisers have been so closely associated should be brought to bear on the operation of central Government. Although one noble Lord referred to the efficiency scrutinies as mere tinkering, I am not sure that phrase is justified. If I heard him correctly the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, said that savings of the order of some £300 million per year had already been achieved as a result of these scrutinies. All that is good. There is a higher degree of interest and continued encouragement and determination is needed in the future.
I want to follow what has really been emerging as the theme of this debate: that is to discuss the people who form the Civil Service; who they are; how they are motivated; how they are recruited; how they are trained; how they conduct themselves in the responsibilities which they carry. I will refer more specifically to a matter which was touched on towards the end of the powerul speech of the noble Lord, Lord Soames. For all its virtues in the Civil Service, and in particular in the higher Civil Service which is concerned with the formulation of policy guidance to Ministers, there is a tendency towards exclusivity.
Great care is taken in the initial recruiting. It is fair and open competition and I believe it is now as broadly based as it can be. But once recruited, there is an inbred quality which manifests itself in most Government Departments. What can be done? We heard the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, speak about secondments or exchanges between Whitehall and industry. That is a subject close to his heart. But it is mainly at senior levels and the numbers involved can only be small. It is desirable, but it is not going to effect the ethos and the traditions of the Civil Service as a whole.
We have heard in the debate from several noble Lords about civil servants leaving in mid-career. The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, referred to this aspect. He said that it did not give him grounds for serious concern at the moment, but that he was watching it with interest. What the reasons are we can only speculate upon—lack of esteem may be one factor If we looked more closely I suspect the desire for professional advancement, for improved income, in some cases ill-health, and wider or more interesting opportunities, would all be found to have played a part as well. People leave the service in mid-career for a variety of reasons, although from my own observation, seldom for incompetence or inadequate performance. But on the other hand, very few enter. A flow of managerial staff, inwards as well as outwards, must strengthen any organisation. In the private sector, 1372 expansion and retrenchment of businesses provide conditions in which people are joining and leaving all the time up to the highest level. It is a two-way movement.
I have studied the annual report of the Civil Service Commission and I find that in 1983, for the first time for five years, there was open recruitment for people with managerial skill and experience. Thirty-six posts, a relatively small number, were advertised at principal level. What was the response? It was overwhelming. There were 939 applications from mature, experienced people in the age range of about 35 to 45. But out of 939 applications only 18 were appointed. The Civil Service Commissioners commented:Despite the large number of candidates, the overall quality of those interviewed was poor, resulting in a very disappointing outcome".If we turn to administration trainees, a group of younger men and women, direct entry and in-service, we find that there were 60 vacancies in 1983, and 2,884 applications. Forty-seven were appointed, and as the noble Lord, Lord Rochester said that represents a marked improvement on the previous year when only 24 were appointed. The number is likely to be higher this year. The Civil Service Commissioners commented:A rather disappointing outcome".So we have gradations of disappointment, precisely expressed.
In the case of Diplomatic Service officers at grade 5 and at grades 8 and 7, the position was more satisfactory. All but one of the vacancies were filled. What does this show? It shows that there is strong demand for positions in the Civil Service by those who have already started their careers. In the case of administration trainees some will be seeking their first appointment having graduated from university, but many will not. They will have been working in some other capacity up to the age of 30 or thereabouts. Now it is clearly right that there should be strict criteria for selection. There must also be consideration for the future promotion prospects of those who are recruited. It is also certainly right that due weight should be given to the promotion opportunities for those who are already in the service.
I should like to ask the Minister, given the very small number of vacancies which are advertised and made available to open recruitment, and the imperative need to counter the inbred habits and ways of doing things, which have already been referred to in this debate, would it not be better (whether or not this is heresy, I do not know) to say that if we have 36 places then we take the 36 best people? If the number of applicants was only slightly more than the vacant posts, there might be a case against doing so. But here we see that there were nearly 1,000 people who specifically applied for the 36 direct-entry principal posts. In almost any other field of selection the full number would be taken up on the basis of merit, from number one to number 36, and not leaving, as in this case, as many as half the vacancies unfilled.
Apart from that observation, one would need to be very self-confident to feel that the required standards were so absolute that they could be detected with such precision. We all know how difficult it is to tell how those recruited will turn out in the future. Some may 1373 be a great success, but others will not. Therefore, to leave as many as half the agreed number of vacancies unfilled seems hard to justify; although I know the traditional reply has always been that we cannot afford to drop standards. I hope the noble Earl may be able to deal with this in his reply.
My only other comment relates to training. I listened with interest to the noble Lord, Lord Soames. Clearly, he made a strong case which calls for an answer, either now or later when the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, has had an opportunity to consider his proposals. Of course, ENA is a part of a totally different administrative system. We have to recognise that, and the noble Lord did so. But if we can get more uniform training covering those from both the public service and industry then, as in France, we may look for many benefits in the future.
I note that in addition to the existing Civil Service management development schemes, next year for the first time, a Top Management programme is to be introduced. Three courses are to be held in 1985 with four a year thereafter; each to cater for 24 participants. There will be approximately 10 civil servants at or around the point of promotion to Under-Secretary—this is a key group nearing the top of the service. There will probably be two or three from local authorities or other public bodies; about three from the nationalised industries, and about nine from private sector companies. I understand there has been an encouraging response already from the private sector. Therefore, it would seem that there is a move in the direction the noble Lord, Lord Soames, and myself would like to see.
The theme underlying the debate is the decline in the public reputation, morale, and esteem of the Civil Service. Several noble Lords have spoken from long, first-hand experience. What is needed is a better spirit in the Civil Service—more confidence, more self-respect—the term used by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Tanworth. If these qualities can be restored in the future, they will lead to an improved public reputation. I believe that one way to move towards that aim, which we all share from whatever part of the House we speak, would be to do more to encourage a greater inflow from outside into the middle ranks of the Civil Service.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Lord Gridley
My Lords, your Lordships will not expect me to make a comment on the speech of my noble friend Lord Windlesham. It appeared to me that my noble friend, as a former Leader of your Lordships' House and a noble Lord of great experience, was giving advice to the Government and to my noble friend Lord Gowrie as to how he might help in making a contribution to the debate.
I am indebted to my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, as are many of your Lordships, for calling our attention to the importance of an efficient and dedicated Civil Service—a service which at one time enjoyed the admiration and envy of the world for its incorruptibility, its efficiency, its dedication and, one word I would add, its impartiality.
I am an overseas civil servant who served in that capacity for over 30 years. While I was overseas, with other officers, a great deal of what motivated us in the 1374 way we dealt with our work and the service which was rendered to Britain generally, was the enthusiasm and the lead which was given to us from Parliament. After I came home after internment in the last war, and after a short return to that country for further duty, I found when I returned to this country on final retirement that there was a huge expansion in the non-professional Civil Service at home. I express the personal view that, as a result of that huge expansion, the admiration for our Civil Service and its reputation was not as high as it used to be.
The reasons are undoubtedly many. Expansion may be one reason. Some reasons may well lie with the individual civil servants themselves. As the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, said in his speech, it may be militancy within the service itself. It may lie in the hands of government and be their responsibility to see what they can do to bring back, by reorganisation and possibly by increasing the standards of competence, a dedication by civil servants to bring the service up to the standard of admiration that the world had for us in an age which has now gone.
At this stage, and prior to the Second World War, appointments to the home Civil Service and the overseas service were somewhat restricted. Recruitment was largely confined to academic qualification but character came in for consideration. Character was an important ingredient. It was our public schools and universities which provided the greatest supply to the service. At the end of the war, in 1945, opportunities were given for advancement and promotion from within the service itself. I do not complain about that. It would be right not to deny to those who might not, in the circumstances, have had a privileged education, but had exhibited a special show of ability and devotion, that opportunity of advancement which came the way of others.
However, there is the difficulty today for Government which did not previously exist, and which is accepted by most people, that we are now in the computer age and the age of the micro-chip. In the advancement of science we find that an officer in a clerical grade may be required to handle confidential or classified documents; documents which formerly it would probably have been easier and more obvious to have confined to a restricted circle. But in the affairs of today, where documents may be more numerous—and I have no means of knowing to what extent their numbers exist—it poses difficulties for people in a clerical grade to accept the responsibility entrusted to them in the circumstances I have described.
There is another matter which creeps into my consideration and which has arisen in recent times. How is it—and in any case, how did it ever arise—that personnel employed in the Government Communications Headquarters at Cheltenham, who were employed in Government positions of vital importance to the state, came within the ambit and protection of a trade union who have the power to call a strike of people involved in the safety of the state? I am not against trade unions; I want to see strong trade unions in this country. But why should the interests of these people not be looked after as they were in former times by Whitley Councils of which I have had some experience. Can Whitley Councils not be entrusted to look after the interests of these men? Does not a 1375 similar observation apply to those civil servants of the DHSS whose strike over a very long duration was designed, but failed, to deprive the pensioners of their pensions?
In conclusion there is no greater service-particularly within the Civil Service—that an individual can render than service to the Crown and his country. Anyone who does not feel that way, should not enter the Civil Service. I have asked myself what it was years ago that fired me, as it did so many others, to enter the Civil Service. There was of course the excitement of adventure. It seemed an honourable opportunity then; but now, in a shrinking empire which has come about in recent times opportunities for that may not be so available as they were. But with the ever-increasing speed of air travel and, as it appears, decreasing boundaries between nations, will that not bring us in ever more contact with the peoples of the world? Here will lie the opportunities for our youth to serve our country either in the Foreign Service or in some other capacity, and they will succeed if their motive is service in the traditions of the service of a former time.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Lord Lindsay of Birker
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, for giving us the opportunity to discuss this very important issue. It is interesting that a little over a century ago Karl Marx described the United Kingdom as a country in large measure without a bureaucracy. Now the growth of the bureaucracy has changed the nature of British society.
I should like to quote a passage from the works of Confucius in which he discusses what is most important for a state and concludes that the trust of the people is more important than either the army or the economy. He ends by saying:People without trust, not stand"—"(Min wu xin, bu li.)It is quite clear that in this country there has been a decrease of trust in the government. A very interesting indication is the portrayal of the Civil Service in popular fiction. If one looks at the stories by John Buchan, which were published about 60 years ago, civil servants invariably are portrayed as men of wisdom, integrity and courage. If one reads the modern stories by William Haggard, who had the same background of actual experience in government, one finds civil servants almost always appear as stupid and cowardly. Again, if one looks at science fiction works by John Wyndham or Fred Hoyle, civil servants are always bumbling incompetents. Clearly these sweeping condemnations are unfair, but I think that they have some real basis.
Perhaps to explain just why I am saying this, I may describe the episode which destroyed my own personal trust in the Civil Service. This happened in 1975. Our family wanted to rebuild an old water mill, restoring the original outside appearance and turning the inside into a home. The Lake District Planning Board turned down our application, saying that it did not approve the construction of new dwellings on isolated sites. This seemed a highly capricious judgment because it had recently approved the building of a new cement block house on an even more isolated site only three or four miles away.
1376 People advised us to appeal, and said that we could be absolutely certain that an inspector from the Department of the Environment would give a fair verdict. The inspector came, held a public inquiry and inspected the site. He eventually issued a report backing the Lake District Planning Board with ridiculous arguments. The argument of one paragraph depended on the premise that it was impossible to repair a road. It said that the access road was so bad that emergency vehicles could not reach the site. Now the National Trust has repaired the bad section of this road and given it a tarred surface. The argument of another paragraph depended on misreading the architect's plans, on misremembering the topography of the site and on refusing to believe what several witnesses had said at the inquiry. Those are only the worst examples.
Many local people had attended the inquiry, and a common reaction to the inspector's verdict was to say that both the Lake District Planning Board and the Ministry of the Environment were crooked. I do not believe that the inspector was crooked. The hypothesis which best explains his report was that he believed that his primary duty as a civil servant was to protect and support other people in government service.
The noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, recently expressed his disagreement with Dr. Johnson's definition of patriotism as "the last refuge of a scoundrel". What Dr. Johnson should have said was that an appeal to patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. The scoundrel will claim that his behaviour should be condoned because to punish him would damage the good name of the country. If people once start accepting this kind of appeal, the results are disastrous.
A really extreme example was what happened in Japan in the 1920s and 1930s. The emperor and his advisers did not like the behaviour of the army, but they were never prepared to resist the argument that to punish a high-ranking officer for crime would damage the good name of Japan. The end result was that large sections of the army became involved in drug trafficking and other forms of crime. I have seen the same kind of results in other organisations; for example, in Australian university politics.
I do not think, however, that this kind of thing has gone very far in the British Civil Service, though there is some evidence that it has started, with the result that there has been some decline in standards. I have heard and read of cases where a Minister has given false information to this House because a civil servant has lied to him. The remedy for this should be fairly simple. Ministers should refuse to accept responsibility if they are not told the truth, and should say that telling lies to a Minister is professional misconduct justifying dismissal from the service.
A more general remedy is publicity. Group solidarity can only cover up wrong conduct if it can be concealed. I am glad to see that many people, including the noble Lord, Lord Scarman, are now willing to call for a repeal of the Official Secrets Act. I think there should also be a change in the libel law.
To change to a different point, the officials serving the Emperor Charles V had a saying:What is not in the records, is not in the world"—"Quod non est in actis, non est in mundo.1377 I think that bureaucrats prefer to operate in terms of a system that accords with their conventional procedures, even though it ignores important aspects of the world. People with a bureaucratic mentality do not ask themselves, "What action is most likely to produce the results we want?" Instead they ask, "What can be done within the limits of conventional procedures?"
In China under Japanese occupation between 1937 and 1940 I saw a very interesting contrast between conventional and unconventional diplomacy. The French had less real power than either the Americans or the British, but were more successful in defending their interests against the Japanese army. It was official British and American policy to react conventionally through diplomatic protests. These were futile because the Japanese foreign policy was powerless against the army. The French reacted unconventionally by retaliating. If a French ship had trouble in Qingdao, there would be trouble for the next Japanese ship that put in at Marseilles. In Shanghai and Tientsin, where there were a few French troops, they relied on the unwillingness of Japanese officers to take responsibility for starting a major international incident.
At that time the British Foreign Office had in China some men of outstanding ability, but there were also men who were intelligent and hard-working but completely inhibited by convention. I wish to give one simple example. In the darkest days of 1940 the man in charge of the embassy branch in Shanghai said to the local leader of the Free French movement, "I cannot have any dealings with you because you represent a rebel government". I heard that from M. Egal's son.
I can also give a contemporary illustration. My brother wrote a letter to the Prime Minister about the miners' strike in which he suggested that, instead of closing collieries, the Coal Board should give them to the National Union of Mineworkers; that would challenge the NUM to prove its contention that those mines could be operated without a huge subsidy from the general public. He soon received a polite reply from the Department of Energy, which commented on that part of his letter by saying that the NUM had not approached it with a suggestion of taking over the mines but that it would be glad to discuss such a proposal if it were made. When my brother wrote to say that that misrepresented his actual suggestion, he received no reply. Apparently the idea of challenging critics of official policy to prove their case by giving a practical demonstration was so unconventional and so shocking that civil servants could think about it only after they had changed it in their minds to something more conventional. It is just possible that they may also have been afraid that the NUM might have been able to demonstrate that it could manage the mines better than the Coal Board.
That lack of imagination comes from the normal structure of bureaucracies. This is hierarchical, with promotion depending very largely on reports from superiors. Ideally, promotion should go entirely by merit. In practice, there is a preference for people who avoid mistakes and act to please their superiors. There is some discrimination against people with imagination and original ideas, who will be regarded as 1378 trouble-makers if they suggest changes in existing practices. Promotion goes on until people reach a level at which they become incompetent and start to make mistakes. That defect is very much worse in the American foreign service and armed forces because of a rule that people who are not promoted must resign. American writers have praised the British Armed Forces for allowing people to continue useful careers at the level at which they are competent.
One can make some suggestions for reform. A great deal could be learnt from Japanese business organisation which is obviously efficient. One feature is a divorce between authority and status. Businessmen dealing with Japanese companies have told me that they wasted a lot of time by trying to work through the managing director. It took them months to discover that the man who could make decisions was three or four steps down in the table of organisation. In a Western organisation a junior man with outstanding ability can get authority only by displacing people of higher status, who will naturally resist. The Japanese organisation can give authority to the person best qualified for the job, without hurting the careers of others.
Another feature is that important decisions require a long process of discussion in which people quite far down in the organisation can participate. In a Western organisation the man at the top can make a decision very quickly, but it may take a long time to put it into practice because people at lower levels do not understand it or do not like it. In the Japanese organisation, once a decision has been made, it can be put into practice very quickly because everyone understands it and has participated in making it.
The simplest way that I might make some other points is to suggest possible reforms in the Foreign Office. There could be an objective test of merit, which I think is unusual. Suppose that near the end of a tour of duty abroad members of the foreign service at all levels wrote a confidential report trying to predict future developments in the country in which they were serving. Those reports would be opened and read in the Foreign Office several years later. Someone who had made accurate predictions would be marked for rapid promotion; someone whose predictions were widely wrong would be considered unqualified for a responsible position.
Again, there is no real substitute for detailed local knowledge. I knew the man who was the last Japanese service officer in Tokyo. He said that his job was very interesting. He knew that he could never become ambassador, but every ambassador who came to Tokyo had to use him for local contacts and local knowledge. Such people no longer exist.
I think that it would be very sensible to offer two different types of career. One would be for the present generalists and the other would be for people specially interested in some area who could become fluent in the local language and get to understand the local culture and society. Embassies would be under a two-man team of the generalist and the local specialist. Each could rise to the same level in salary and status. The idea of two-man teams may shock some people, but the Roman republic worked fairly well with power shared between two consuls.
I can give another instance of potential gains from 1379 an untidy table of organisation. One of my good friends was for a long time an NCO in the United States Air Force, working on repair and maintenance. He said that the Air Force did not have enough good repair men because one could get promotion beyond a limited point only by shifting into administration. The contribution of a really good repair man to the fighting ability of the Air Force may well be as great as that of the average colonel. It would make sense to have a separate line of promotion through which a really first-class mechanic could rise to the salary of a colonel. There may quite likely be cases in this country where the same principle would apply.
As I have said something about the "Peter principle", by which bureaucracies promote people to the level at which they become incompetent, I should also mention Parkinson's law, that bureaucracies always tend to proliferate. I know that this is an extremely serious problem in the United States. I used to teach evening classes in which many students came from the government service. One evening I was talking about the Chinese Cultural Revolution. I read out a report from the New China News Agency in which a provincial government claimed that it had reduced the number of its officials by 90 per cent. I asked what I thought was a rhetorical question: "How many agencies are there in Washington that could function effectively with one-tenth of their present number of employees?" I was slightly shocked when several students laughed and said, "We could tell you of quite a number". I think that that is a slight exaggeration, but other people we know in government service say that most of the work in their agency could be done by one-third or one-quarter of the actual number of people employed.
Clearly things are not nearly as bad in this country. People have had some success in reducing the numbers in the Civil Service, as we have heard today, but I think that there must still be some things wrong. When we discussed local government last month, the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, mentioned a case in which a number of civil servants in London busied themselves over the lease of a fish and chip shop in Yorkshire. I think that a Civil Service which can waste its time on that kind of problem must clearly be somewhat over-staffed.
The noble Earl, Lord Gowrie's, speech near the start of this debate shows that the United Kingdom has been much more successful than the United States in reducing proliferation and raising efficiency. I hope there will be further progress that will also tackle the perhaps even more difficult problems of trying to get at the top people who will show imagination and willingness to make experiments.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, many of your Lordships will have had the experience of being asked, "What is the House of Lords like?" After this afternoon's debate, I think my future reply will be, "It's like a rock pool: you throw something in and you cannot tell what will come scurrying to the surface". When, some months ago, I had the idea that it would be nice to have a debate on the Civil Service, I could not have foreseen the course that this debate would take or the amount 1380 of miscellaneous information which would be vouchsafed to us—from the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, disclaiming the title of mandarin, to the last speaker quoting from Confucius in the original.
The general impression, though, that I have gathered from this debate is somewhat depressing. Although the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, pointed out the very considerable advances in efficiency which have been made in the Civil Service and are in progress, and although there was general agreement on all sides of the House that we have a very efficient service carrying out very heavy burdens entrusted to it, there was yet this undercurrent of anxiety about Civil Service morale, which I must admit I had not expected would figure so largely.
One wonders really whether civil servants are quite as thin-skinned as they would appear to be because, apart from the fact that all of us have our morale damaged when we do not get the financial or career awards that we would like, they in particular seem to suffer, so we are told by many speakers, from the unwillingness of Ministers and, to some extent, the general public, to lavish upon them the praise which their efforts have earned.
I hope they are not as thin-skinned as that because I think that civil servants have to realise, in all periods, that they are, of necessity, caught between two demands upon them which are very largely irreconcilable. One is to be mandarins, to be a caste apart, framed in a particular way to perform a function which is extremely difficult, standing between political Ministers and the general public. In this they have to have dedication to a non-political approach to their work, to which several speakers referred. On the other hand, they are constantly being reminded, and quite rightly, that it is also their business to be sensitive to what the general public requires and needs of them. They require considerable imagination and experience in order to enter into the preoccupations of those aspects of society with which they will deal.
Most of the references have been made today, not unnaturally, to their need for a greater understanding of the demands of industry. But there are other aspects of life, where also some ability to enter into the preoccupations of other people and other professions is demanded. As I say to some extent these demands are ultimately irreconcilable. The more you accept the need for civil servants to live a life apart and to have a prescribed set of values, the more difficult it is to envisage a close interaction between Government departments and the rest of society.
The question must always be this. At any particular stage in the long development of this institution of ours—and after all, we are talking about a Civil Service which is at least 700 years old—the longer we have looked at this in any particular period the more we may have been swayed in one direction or the other. My inclination at the moment is to say that we have not a very precise picture of all that the Civil Service is doing to correct the imbalance in favour of isolation.
Mention has been made of secondments to industry or the commercial world. There are or have been, I know, also secondments to periods of research in universities. However, it would be nice to know the number of civil servants, at any rate above a certain 1381 grade, who have had, or who are likely to have, in the course of their careers experience of this kind. My own impression—and it is only a very fleeting and external impression—is that on the whole the Foreign Service has been more aware of the possibilities of getting experience of this kind, of broadening the interests and experience of members of that service, than has the home Civil Service. That certainly was the case when this kind of thing began a quarter of a century ago. I do not know whether it is true any longer.
The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, certainly made much of the need for recruitment at levels which would imply that those coming into the service had experience—in some cases quite prolonged experience—of another walk of life before they became Government servants. I must say that I was not altogether moved by the fact that the first 36 entrants should have been taken irrespective of merit. I suspect that those who interviewed these mid-level recruits were careful, understandably careful, and that the fault may well lie in the fact that, as anyone who advertises a post of almost any kind knows, there will be a large number of applicants who do not come up to the required standard. Nevertheless, I think in spite of the disappointment of this attempt, there probably is now a very good case for saying that quite a proportion of those recruited for a Civil Service career should not be direct entrants from the universities.
Against that, one has to ask if one is not likely, then, to lose very able people because they would want their first career to be the one in which they stayed. Would they not feel, by the time they had reached the age of 30, and perhaps done well in commerce, in industry, or in one of the professions, that they would rather see it out? So here again is a genuine dilemma. One would like to know ministerial and departmental thinking on this matter.
A much more radical suggestion was advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Soames, who, I think not for the first time in discussions on this question, produced the old adage, "The French do these things better". Certainly the achievements of ENA in colonising both the public and private sector in France have been very remarkable. The idea that Britain is the country of the old school tie would hardly survive a close look at the careers of those, in almost all French political parties, as well as in the administration and the private sector, who now govern that country. But one wonders whether this particular kind of exercise—the training together in a school of administration which varies very academic study with postings outside for practical experience, for ENA is a sort of super sandwich course, if I may use a phrase from another branch of education—would, in fact, have the same impact in this country, where we have a rather different and perhaps rather less academic attitude to training for action. But it is an interesting idea.
It is, I think, worth remembering—this is another question upon which perhaps my noble friend the Minister could throw some light—that when the Civil Service College was created (I remember discussing this with the late Lord Armstrong) it was thought that it would play a far greater role, and something much closer to ENA, than has turned out to be the case. It was not thought that it would confine itself, as it certainly did in its early years, very largely to training 1382 in rather specific skills of a managerial or statistical kind. It was also thought, if I remember rightly, that not only would it be a centre for training at a very high level but also a centre in which civil servants and others would come together to pursue the kind of examination of government and its efficiency which we have now seen conducted in quite different ways through the Rayner inquiries, and so on. I think people would find it very interesting to learn from my noble friend the Minister what are the thoughts about the future development of the Civil Service College. Is it likely that it will turn out, if not to be the British ENA, at least to occupy a rather more central position on the general stage?
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, I hesitate to speak in such august and such male company, but I want very much to follow up briefly what has already been said about morale and about motivation. I base what I say entirely on current and very recent experience in working with civil servants in the Manpower Services Commission and in the Scottish Office. It seems to me that the public at large, and indeed many of us in Parliament, simply do not appreciate what we have been asking of our civil servants during these last few years of great change. Nor do we appreciate the initiative, the flexibility and the skill with which the vast majority have responded.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, I believe that we have recently been taking too much for granted in this respect. My noble friend Lord Soames did, I think, say that. At one time it may have been fair to take the Civil Service for granted: now it is manifestly unfair. Indeed, it is ultimately counter-productive as well. The traditional skills of civil servants (what we used to mean by Civil Service efficiency) were the skills of the administrator of systems—systems which were largely unseen by the public. They were the skills of guardians of an ever-expanding public purse as well as the skills, also unseen, of putting together and proposing policy options, of supporting and protecting Ministers and the like.
Civil servants were people who were expected to get it right, not to get it wrong; people for whom never making a mistake was the best way to promotion. It was recognised that their role behind the scenes was crucially important, that their trustworthiness was absolute. They were much admired from afar. Many of the most able of graduates competed strongly for entry, moved quietly through a comparatively predictable career, remained virtually unknown throughout their career, and received some accolade from the Queen at the end. Some of what I have described is still the case: but much, it seems to me, is not. Cash limits and limits on the number of staff mean, so far as is possible in Civil Service terms, production targets, productivity targets, for the delivery of services, for processing consultation exercises and for writing and publishing documents.
As several noble Lords have said, management skills are demanded at many levels and people are now left, so far as is possible, certainly in the Manpower 1383 Services Commission, free to manage within the limits set by Parliament. Innovatory action is demanded; new thinking; entrepreneurial projects. The Rayner-type studies have changed the question, "How can we administer this better?", to, "Why do we need to do this at all?". All this means that sometimes risks have to be taken, experiments have to be made; and public answerability for a public experiment can mean public admission of mistakes.
In the case of the Manpower Services Commission and of some other areas, civil servants in the higher grades—some of the 5 per cent. we have been talking about—nowadays find themselves face to face with the public as never before. They meet industrialists, trade unionists, educators, consumer groups of all sorts. They have to consult, explain, persuade, influence. Sometimes they are helped by the ability to offer available grant aid. Sometimes they are armed only with their own powers of tact and of advocacy. The media, too, brings some top civil servants face to face with the public. Articles appear on particular personalities; there are television appearances. The balance between the invisible man or woman and the visible one has to be very carefully struck.
There is the change, too—I think no noble Lord has mentioned it—wrought by the Select Committee system. Whereas a civil servant's public answerability used to take place by way of Ministers and used to be unseen and unheard in the dimly-lit corridors of power, now the windows and doors, as it were, are flung wide open. The lights and the people stream in. The public can hear with their own ears over the radio answerability in action as their elected MPs question their public servants about the policies of the day.
Lastly, there is the effect, as elsewhere in the public sector, as other noble Lords have said, of the Civil Service unions, who. like their members, are still feeling their way to a new role in the new situation and who know very well that if they get it wrong with the public they may well do their members, and indeed the public whom their members serve, more harm than good. These changes bring great challenges to the Civil Service. My experience is that most civil servants welcome that challenge. They are glad to match their efficiency and commitment to the best in the private sector, although they are frustrated to an extent by the fact that of necessity their production is often not in their control because it is demand-led. The criteria for their success are subject to the vagaries of politics. Those who are the managers are not in a position, as they might be in the private sector, to turn improved productivity into improved pay for their junior colleagues.
I would maintain that in my experience much has been and is being achieved. It is easy to talk about efficiency and dedication, but the problems that have to be overcome are complex and demanding of all concerned. But to be efficient and to be dedicated, one must be motivated, one must believe in the importance of one's job and believe the public appreciates that importance. That motivation, in turn, attracts high-quality entrants for the future. I hope this debate, despite the moments of depression to which the noble Lord who has just spoken referred, and the ripples emanating from it, may do something to cause 1384 Parliament and the public outside to appreciate afresh the way civil servants have been and are responding to the huge changes they are having to meet. I for one should like to salute them for what they have achieved during these last few years. I hope the House, in the company of the noble Earl the Minister, will salute them, too.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Lord Moran
My Lords, the Motion introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, in his admirable speech this afternoon covered, I am sure, the public service as a whole and not merely the home Civil Service; because when people talk about the efficiency and dedication, or lack of it, in the Civil Service, I am sure that they are thinking of the public service as a whole. So I make no apology for talking primarily, but not exclusively, about the problem as it affects the Diplomatic Service. I said something about the relationship of the home Civil Service and the Diplomatic Service when I spoke last month in the debate on the gracious Speech.
I shall deal first with efficiency. I have seen something of other public services during my career and I think that on the whole the efficiency of our own public service stands up pretty well. I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, made the point about our Civil Service being wholly free from corruption. It is very important that we can take that for granted, certainly in regard to the central Government. But in my experience efficiency, when it does suffer, suffers very often because of shortage of funds. For example, I found that one of the administrative departments in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was having to send its typing—any letters it wanted typed—down to Southport, whence they returned some three weeks later. It did not do this because it wanted to but because no funds were available for a typist in London and this was the only expedient that could be adopted. But that is scarcely efficient.
On the much more important question of dedication, I would say that in the Diplomatic Service life today for most British diplomats is no longer what it was. It tends to be rough and unpleasant. They have to encounter tropical diseases, microphones in the bedroom or the bathroom, ever-present bodyguards for the head of mission; and pay which was never brilliant has often been reduced in real terms year after year. It is therefore kept going by dedication and loyalty; that is why people go into it. But dedication and loyalty ought to be a two-way street. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, mentioned an article in the Financial Times of last Thursday. That article referred to what it called the present Government's apparent disdain for the race of civil servants. I do not know how that disdain is expressed—perhaps through leaks or Lobby correspondents—but I think it is thoughts of that sort which cause damage to the morale of the Civil Service as a whole.
Another point I should like to make is that when the Government are planning reorganisations or new departures in the public service very often they call in management consultants to do this job, at a high cost. A senior management consultant costs about £600 a day. But. after all, the Civil Service contains a lot of 1385 extremely able people and also specialists—lawyers, statisticians, economists; all sorts of specialists—and I do not think it should always be necessary to call in outside bodies. It suggests sometimes to me that the Government have more confidence in the views of management consultants than they have in their own civil servants.
But the Government expect very high standards—rightly, I think—of their civil servants; in some respects even more exacting than they do of Ministers. For example, all senior civil servants have to be positively vetted, and any departure from the highest standards of behaviour will result in their losing their positive vetting certificates, in which case their careers will effectively be at an end; whereas there is no positive vetting for Ministers.
I should like to say a word about cuts. I have always believed myself that what we need to have, certainly in the Diplomatic Service, is small numbers of first-class people, and we should give them the resources to do the job properly. I am against big battalions. But the fact is that in recent years the Diplomatic Service has had to take on greatly increased tasks. There are, to start with, a great many more new independent countries than there were. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has to cover altogether about 164, and in the last 20 years we have had to create 19 per cent. more embassies and high commissions, though a number of countries are covered by nonresident representation. I say that having myself once conducted the cheapest British embassy in the world, which operated between London and Chad. It involved going there four times a year, taking a typewriter, a radio, and a flag to put on my car. It can be done at very minimal cost, but very often, of course, with countries with which we have more substantial relations it is a good deal more costly.
The job to be done increases year by year. The Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary said in another place last month that the number of British visitors overseas had increased four-fold in the last 20 years. In 1968 it was only 5 million; now it is over 20 million a year; and many of them expect to be helped and looked after. So the burden on the service increases steadily. The Diplomatic Service, however, is small. It is only a quarter of the size of the Metropolitan Police Force. Its overseas staff totals half the overseas staff of Shell. Its home staff here in London is only slightly more than the staff at the headquarters of Marks and Spencer.
It has been drastically cut. It was cut by 10.7 per cent. between 1968 and 1979 and by a further 10.1 per cent. between 1979 and 1984; in other words, it has been cut by a fifth in the last 16 years. On seven occasions since 1950 these public expenditure cuts have compelled the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to close five or more posts. I repeat: that has happened on seven occasions. Many of these cuts are damaging. I remember, for example, that when there was a demand that all government departments should cut by 5 per cent. two senior officials had to come to Canada and demand a contribution towards the cuts. They ended up by cutting altogether our representation in Winnipeg. At just the same time the Japanese, who do not usually do things without good reason, were establishing a Consulate General in 1386 Winnipeg. If your Lordships look at the trade figures you will see that ours have gone down and those of the Japanese have gone up by an almost similar amount.
The strain on the service is beginning to tell. I have noticed that my friends who are still in it work extraordinary hours. When I was newly-entered into the service we used to work reasonable hours, and when there was a crisis it was naturally all hands to the pump. But now people seem to work all the time, very late in the evenings, and that gives them no reserves to deal with the crises that inevitably arise.
The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs in another place has pointed out that in their view the service is already cut to the bone and cannot be cut any more without damage. Yet the Government have just announced further cuts, and because of anxiety about aid to Ethiopia many of those cuts will fall on the operations of the service itself. This constant series of never ending cuts must have a serious effect on morale. It would be better if the Government could make up their mind what type of diplomatic service they want, how large they want it to be, and then stick to that for a period of years, rather than constantly cutting it, and therefore creating great uncertainty.
In my view, it is absurd that the diplomatic service is made, as it is at present, to absorb the results of the falling pound. I found that when I went to Canada the pound stood at 2.80 Canadian dollars, while now, of course, it is far less than that. These differences in exchanges are nothing to do with the diplomatic service; it is impossible to forecast them accurately; and they are not a real addition to its costs.
I also think that the practice of having cuts across-the-board in all departments bears quite unreasonably on a department like the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It is what is known as the policy of equality of misery, which I would regard as generalised swipes. It is devastating to a department like the Foreign and Commonwealth Office where some 70 per cent. of its costs are in manpower. If you are the Ministry of Defence and have a huge budget you can, perhaps, secure your contribution to cuts by postponing a weapons programme for a short time. But in the diplomatic service the cuts can only be achieved by cutting posts and cutting people. I do not think that any business would operate with such a blunt instrument. It would be better to examine specific functions—for example, should we cut our own operations or should we decide that we can no longer afford to take part in peace-keeping operations in Cyprus or something of that nature?
It is of enormous importance that young people coming into the service should be treated properly. We ought to treat them well and expect a great deal from them. I do not believe that we always use them as effectively as we should. They come with fresh ideas, and in the past it has always been the interaction of the fresh ideas of the young people coming into the service and the experience of the more senior people operating together which has produced good results. But in order to get good people we must offer them good prospects. How can we do that if we are constantly cutting the size of the service?
When I spoke to your Lordships last month I mentioned Ernest Bevin. I shall mention him again because he was a man who always stood up for his lads 1387 and received in return a legendary loyalty from the diplomatic service. I hope that the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary and his successors will in future be equally robust in standing up for their staffs.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
My Lords, I think that this has been a notable debate and that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, must be gratified about its character. It has had a number of special features, not least that four senior former civil servants have spoken: the noble Lord, Lord Moran, a former senior member of the Diplomatic Service; a former Secretary to the Cabinet; a former Permanent Secretary at the Home Office; and a former head of the Civil Service. For those reasons alone it has been important. While mentioning retired members of the public service, I should perhaps add that there are few Legislatures in the world that have the advantage of having among their members so many senior retired civil servants who take an active role in the day-to-day activities of the House. We derive considerable benefit from their expertise, and in saying that I must add the following point. I very much regret that so far there has been no indication that the last Permanent Secretary to the Treasury and the last head of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are going to join us. I can recall no recent occasion when senior civil servants of that calibre have not been invited to join this House, and I very much hope that that matter will be speedily rectified.
Before coming to the substance of what I have to say, I should like to raise a question with the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, right at the outset. It arises from one or two sentences that he slipped in—and I say that in no critical sense—at the end of his speech. I should be grateful if he would be good enough to clarify them in rather greater detail when he comes to reply. The noble Earl made reference to some kind of bonus for good work. He indicated that some form of announcement has been made today. Frankly, I am not aware of any such announcement, but nevertheless I am sure that one has been made. I wonder whether the noble Earl would be good enough to deal with two or three questions which arise from this matter, because it is a very important announcement, which carries with it substantial implications. I know of no previous occasion when this type of action has been taken, but that is not in itself an argument against it. Nevertheless, it does need some explanation.
First, what are the principles of this scheme? Who will decide who gets the bonus? Secondly, how much money is to be made available for this purpose? Will it be new money—money that will be added to the Civil Service wage bill—or will it come out of the total Civil Service wage bill itself? Have any particular ranks been defined by the Government as those which will receive this bonus? I should be grateful if the noble Earl could go into detail. I think that there will be considerable interest in the Civil Service about this whole question and I should be grateful if the noble Earl would go into the matter rather carefully, adding perhaps at the same time whether the Civil Service unions have yet been consulted, and whether they have had the principles of the scheme explained to them.
1388 I now come to the substance of what I want to say. In some respects—and in this regard I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Beloff—this has been a rather uncomfortable debate, not because it has been other than important, but because we all (or I think very nearly all of us) are aware of one unpalatable truth, which is that relations between Ministers and the Civil Service have deteriorated sharply. The only point on which I might differ from some of those who have spoken earlier is that I think that this has been a trend which has taken place over a number of years. It would be unfair to say that this is a problem which has arisen only in the lifetime of this Government. I think that it is a far more substantial question than that.
I believe that there are a number of possible explanations for this. I think that the principal one lies in our country's extremely poor economic record during this period. As one government have followed another, each pledged to improve upon the record of their predecessor, but each always accompanied into office with policy commitments made to satisfy the zealots in the constitutencies who have made such objectives impossible to realise, public confidence in our political institutions has been to some degree eroded. The public has become accustomed to economic failure, and inevitably the collective reputation of politicians has suffered; and, just as inevitably, when governments have lost office there has been an enthusiastic hunt for scapegoats.
Sometimes of course the quarry has been a former ministerial colleague, such as Mr. Callaghan or Mr. Heath. But increasingly it has become fashionable to attach the responsibility for failure to the Civil Service. Certainly this is the opinion of many members of the present Government. But in my view they are not alone in holding this opinion. One only has to re-read the memoirs of Mr. Richard Crossman, to take one example, to see the extent to which they were shared by some former members of Labour Governments: when things went well it was as a result of the exceptional ability of Ministers; when they did not, it was due to the incompetence or to the obstruction of the Civil Service.
I do not propose to weary the House by attempting to analyse the extent of these fantasies indulged in by politicians of different political persuasions, or to go to the other extreme and to argue that the Civil Service bears absolutely no responsibility at all for the poor performance of our country since the end of the Second World War. Clearly, as principal advisers to Ministers, they must share some of the responsibility.
However, having worked in a number of Government departments during this period—for 18 months in the Foreign Office, for two and a half years in the Treasury and for five years as a Home Office Minister—I find this shrill campaign of denigration directed against the Civil Service both distasteful and damaging to the interests of this country. Certainly I have had to deal with civil servants who, in my view, were less than competent, and on occasion I believed that one or two officials were not working as tenaciously as I felt they should to implement policies which had been decided by Ministers.
However, the idea that there was a settled determination to frustrate the policy of Ministers is I believe absurd. Let me give just one example—indeed, 1389 the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, who has much greater ministerial experience than I, as does the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, could I am sure give many himself. But I should like to give this example to illustrate the character of the relationship and what, in my view, it should be.
In 1964, just after the election of the Labour Government, my late noble friend Lord Gordon-Walker, who was then Foreign Secretary, was advised by officials that we were about to become involved in joint naval manoeuvres with the South African Navy. He was told that the Royal Navy favoured them and he was strongly advised by his officials that the consequences of calling them off at the last minute might seriously jeopardise British interests. He listened to the advice. The matter was argued out and he decided that, despite the advice which he had received, the manoeuvres must be cancelled. That was done. There was no acrimony, no obstruction and no disloyalty.
That is my experience of what has happened when Ministers and officials meet, discuss a problem and sometimes disagree. I am bound to say that I can recall no occasion when I believe officials were endeavouring to undermine, in a calculated manner, the policy objectives of Ministers. Indeed, if I were to criticise officials, it would be entirely for the reverse reason. I believe that there were some occasions when officials were only too ready to agree with opinions which were expressed by Ministers. I fear that there are officials who are sometimes slightly too eager to please their Ministers. They are not normally the most self-confident and are rarely the most able.
Therefore, I find it rather depressing to hear suggestions that the best way of determining who should be promoted to the most senior positions in the Civil Service is for Ministers to ask themselves one question: is he one of us?
The Earl of Gowrie
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. There is not a shred of evidence that that is taking place or has taken place.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
My Lords, I rejoice to hear what the noble Earl has just said. I hope that it receives substantia] attention in the media because I have read—as I think all of us have read—substantial accounts in the media, which appear to come from extremely well-informed sources, which suggest that there are just such considerations in the minds of some Ministers. Indeed, although the words I have used this evening are my own, I hope that the noble Earl paid particular attention to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, which did not appear to conflict in any particularly direct fashion with what I have just said.
The sort of official who is prepared to hint to a Minister or to his political adviser or to a journalist who is friendly to the government of the day, that he is in full sympathy with the government's political objectives, is almost by definition an unsuitable person for senior appointment in the public service. Not only does that sort of conduct dishonour those few who practise it, but it is rarely, if ever, sincere. The Curates of Bray who are prepared to indulge in this type of behaviour will be off as soon as there is a swing in the 1390 public opinion polls, making exactly the same sort of noises to the government's political opponents.
I very much hope that we shall hear less of this constant suggestion that this question, "Is he one of us?" is one of the determining features for appointment to senior ranks in the Civil Service. I believe that it undermines public confidence in the Civil Service and also the morale of the many able men and women who have entered the service and want to be, and deserve to be, judged exclusively on the basis of their ability, and not their presumed political views.
I turn now to an issue which I know the Government regard as being of the highest importance, and that is the issue of the size of the Civil Service. Indeed, the noble Earl devoted a great deal of attention to this matter in a speech which he made earlier this afternoon. Let me say at once that I have some sympathy for the Government's view that when they came to office the Civil Service was too large. I am therefore in no sense at all an opponent of what they have attempted to do.
But a price must be paid for making heavy cuts in the size of the Civil Service. Unless the total workload of officials is cut, and as the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, said, unless functions are cut, and dramatically cut, all that will happen is that standards will slip, some important work will not be performed at all, and the burden on the more devoted and responsible officials, who are prepared to work prolonged hours without any expectation of additional financial reward, will increase immeasurably. Of course in some areas the Government have, as a result of policy decisions, succeeded in cutting the overall workload in the public sector. The abolition of exchange controls is an obvious example of this. But in other areas the Government have increased the burden of work on the public service.
I think we all welcome—I certainly do and my noble friends do—the emergence of the specialist departmental committees in another place, but these have imposed a heavy burden on government departments at a time when Ministers have been simultaneously demanding substantial cuts in manpower. The increasing trend of interventionism in the affairs of local government, with the consequence of rate-capping about to fall not only on local authorities but also on the Department of the Environment, is hardly consistent with the Government's declared objective of reducing the pressure of work on Whitehall departments.
Sometimes the effects of cuts in staff numbers pursued with doctrinaire enthusiasm and without any regard for the consequences can be extremely serious. Let me give just one example, one of which the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, will be aware of for a number of reasons: first, he gave me some Written Answers on this matter on 20th November; second, he dealt with the matter in his speech, and also dealt with the question at Question Time today. I am referring to the alarming increase in drug trafficking in this country.
During the period in which I was a Home Office Minister responsible for the police, the problem of heroin addiction in this country was relatively marginal. There was some trafficking in heroin but it was fairly well under control. In five years the situation 1391 has been transformed. There is now a serious heroin problem in a number of urban areas in this country, including both south and east London and parts of Scotland. No one who has seen the speed with which heroin addiction has grown within this country, promoted as it always is by sophisticated professional criminals, can fail to be disturbed by the evidence.
The extent of the problem was disclosed in the noble Earl's Answer. In a period of only five years heroin seizures by Customs and Excise had risen from 40 kilograms in the first 10 months of 1979 to 257 kilograms, with a street value of over £31 million, in the first 10 months of 1984. The noble Earl seemed to take the view this afternoon when he touched upon this matter—I hope I do him justice; if I do not no doubt he will correct me when he replies—that he was really rather encouraged that seizures had gone up. Of course, they have gone up. The reason that seizures have gone up is that there has been a massive increase in the overall level of the trade into this country. Of course, the Customs and Excise do everything they can to minimise the flow of heroin into this country, but the noble Earl's answers only reflect the true extent of this situation.
He pointed out, as I reminded the House, that seizures rose by no less than 600 per cent. in a period of only five years. But how much more flooded through into this country without the authorities being aware of it? From all the evidence of our inner-city areas the answer is a great deal indeed. The American Customs are believed to intercept somewhere in the region of 10 per cent. of the heroin that heroin dealers are trying to get into the United States. Let us assume that we are three times more efficient than the American Customs—and that is being pretty generous. It means that in this period, the first 10 months of this year, no less than £70 million or more of heroin has been illegally imported into this country. That gives one an indication of the gravity of this situation.
What has been the Government's response to this crisis, because crisis it certainly is? In the same period of five years they have, to be fair to them, increased the size of the investigation branch of the Customs by around 150 men and women. But, of course, part of the staff of the investigation branch of Her Majesty's Customs and Excise have nothing whatever to do with the traffic in narcotics. The noble Earl has told us that there is to be a further increase of 100 officials in this overall area. But at the same time the Government have cut the uniformed strength of the Customs and Excise, who are our first line of defence against heroin traffickers, by over 1,100 men and women; 25 per cent. of the total uniformed strength of the Customs service. And yet every law enforcement officer knows perfectly well—the noble Lord, Lord Molson, touched on this earlier this afternoon—that the heroin traffickers are moving through those green channels at Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, and at the port of Dover in the most alarming fashion. That is why we are seeing those disastrous repercussions in many inner-city areas in this country.
On this matter I find the Government's behaviour quite remarkable. It throws a strange light on the statement made by the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, in his 1392 interview in the Guardian on 10th November this year. Then he told his interviewer, Mr. Coleman, that the Government were providing the same service with 100,000 fewer civil servants. I wonder whether the noble Earl really believed that? Did he, or does he, believe that the same service is being provided by the Customs at the points of entry into the United Kingdom? Today he appeared to veer away slightly from that statement in the Guardian. He indicated, as I understood it, that he would not suggest that the Government had maintained exactly the same standard of service that they had inherited in 1979. But if I do the noble Earl less than justice he will no doubt explain what he really meant when he comes to reply.
I do not believe that any sensible Government should take risks of this kind with the safety of the public by pursuing their objectives with such single-minded doctrinaire relish. For the noble Earl to suggest, as I think he did in that interview in the Guardian, that in this area, as in a number of others, it is possible to provide precisely the same quality of service despite savage cuts in staff" numbers is not altogether worthy of him.
The Earl of Gowrie
My Lords, may I intervene? This is a detailed point and I want to deal with the debate generally when I wind up. I said in my opening remarks that it is not precisely the same service. It is improved in some areas and it is probably done at a less admirable level in others. But overall the mix of public services on offer to the public are the same as they were in 1979. That was the point I sought to make in the Guardian.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
My Lords, in that case I do not think the noble Earl did it with his customary skill. He may recall that he received a letter from the secretary of the First Division Association, Mr. Ward, challenging him on this matter. No doubt when he comes to reply—I understand that so far he has not done so—he will explain what he really meant in his article in the Guardian in rather more detail than he has had the opportunity of doing this evening.
There is an issue of even greater significance that lies behind the debate we have had this evening. It is the whole attitude of the Government towards those who work in the public sector. There are a number of Ministers, such as the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, who maintain civilised relations with their civil servants, but other Members of the Government seem, I fear, on some occasions to regard those who work in the public sector as being infinitely less worthy than those who work in the private sector. It is reflected, I believe, in their general attitude to pay (as my noble friend Lord Rochester touched on earlier today), but I think it goes rather wider than that. I think that the Government must accept not only that their relations with their staff are poor—and they are—but that they have been getting a great deal worse. And this affects not just junior staff—and that is a serious matter in itself—but also some of their more senior staff.
There has been the crude and inept handling of the GCHQ affair. I do not propose to go into the matter in any great detail; I spoke in the debate on it. My position and that of my noble friends is abundantly 1393 plain. But I would say this. I agree very much with the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, when, at the beginning of the debate, he said that he favoured no-strike agreements in certain parts of the public service. I agree with him. Indeed, soon after the return of the present Government, after the "winter of discontent" in 1979, I wrote to the then Secretary of State for Employment, urging precisely such a course.
But I am bound to say that I believe that the way in which the GCHQ affair was mishandled by Ministers has made the attaining of that objective a great deal more difficult. But that, I am afraid, is not an isolated example. Let me give just one other brief illustration. There has been a recent statement by a colleague of the noble Earl, Mr. John Gummer, who is not only the chairman of the Conservative Party, but is as we know, a member of the Government, as well. He made a speech referring to what he described as,falling moral standards of civil servants".I say very seriously to the noble Earl, and, indeed, to his colleagues, that I wonder whether they always appreciate the degree of anger felt by civil servants (many of whom work long hours and unpaid extra hours on behalf of the public) when they read this sort of stuff which is produced by Ministers. As a recent survey carried out by the First Division Association showed, a substantial number of their members were working 10 hours a week more than their conditioned hours.
I think that that sort of thing indicates the degree of dedication we have in a very large number of our public servants. I think, that being so, that it might be rather better if Ministers tried to avoid making provocative statements of the kind that I have just quoted from Mr. Gummer, I hope also that they will reply to letters from the First Division Association when they are written to by the association.
I hope that the noble Earl and the Prime Minister, in the light of the debate that we have been having today, will demonstrate that they understand the seriousness of the present situation and that they will do their best to rectify it; because the British Civil Service is not the private property of any passing Government. In a real sense it belongs to all of us. I hope that, by their actions, Ministers will recognise this.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ Lord Ennals
My Lords, I am sure that the House owes a great debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, for introducing the debate. We may be thin on the ground at the moment, but the debate has attracted not only the Minister, but eight former Ministers, three former heads of the Civil Service Department, and two other very senior officials within the Government service. They have all expressed themselves with great clarity.
I myself want to say that I believe that in this country we have over the years good reason for pride in the impartiality, the dedication and the incorruptibility of both our borne Civil Service and our Diplomatic Service. I was glad that the noble Lords, Lord Soames and Lord Moran, reminded us that we were talking about the Diplomatic Service as 1394 well as the home Civil Service. Our concern (all of us, whatever our views may be) must be to ensure that these high standards continue.
Personally, I have no time for those Ministers or former Ministers, who, in their memoirs or speeches, or by innuendo, somehow or other blame civil servants for their own mistakes. Ministers are responsible for decisions; civil servants are responsible for advising them, and, when Ministers have taken their decisions, for helping to ensure that those decisions are carried through.
The noble Lord, Lord Soames, told us that this is the first time for 16 years that there has been a debate in your Lordships' House on the Civil Service. He may well have asked himself why this is so. I think the reason is that there is now a very deep sense of concern about the relationship between Ministers and civil servants, and that is a concern that affects all those who have been civil servants and are civil servants, and I believe it affects a very large number of those who have been Ministers as well. This has been very widely reflected, my Lords, in the debate.
I think that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Tanworth, referred to a sense of malaise. The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, in opening this debate, said that all is not well. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, referred to the fact that there is low morale, and the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, said much the same. So, too, did the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, from his point of view. I think that to me perhaps the most moving speech—though I was impressed by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, who spoke from the Liberal Benches—and, in a sense, the most courageous, was that which was delivered by the noble Lord, Lord Allen, who, as a former Permanent Under-Secretary at the Home Office and a servant of the public in so many ways since then, expressed very clearly the sense of concern and malaise and the low level of morale which I believe has been a theme which has run through most of the speeches in this debate. I was about to say, "Having served under Lord Allen as a junior Home Office Minister" and I guess that that is just about right. He was the Permanent Under-Secretary and I was very new as a Minister. My respect for him was heightened today.
I am not going to deal very much with the question of efficiency, though not because I do not think that it is vitally important. It is partly because of my noble friend Lord Barnett. Any debate that brings he and I together in warmth and agreement is, of itself, a remarkable debate, bearing in mind the conflicts that we have had in the past; and this is one of the advantages of being in Opposition. I want to deal not so much with the question of efficiency—though I must say that I ought to give a warning, as the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft did, not today, but in a debate that took place on the Second Reading of the Rates Bill. He then referred to the provision that had been made in the Civil Service to cope with those local authorities that were affected by rate capping. He said on 9th April—and I quote from column 1000:I note the number of extra staff needed in the Department of Environment"—He had already said what an enormous role it was and how difficult it was for Whitehall to decide what expenditure was to be required. He said: 1395I note that the number of extra staff needed in the Department of the Environment is estimated at 45. If 20 local authorities are designated, that averages two and a quarter staff per authority to check, know and argue about those authorities' spending policies and decisions. Even taking into account the quality of the DoE staff, two and a quarter seems flippantly low".That comment would still be apt if the number were doubled.
So my warning on this to the Minister and to the Government is that if they are to take unto themselves responsibilities which have not been the responsibilities of central government, then they must provide the staff to enable those tasks to be fulfilled as best they can. That does not mean that I agree with the decisions that they are taking. But if they are going to take those decisions, they have to enable those decisions to be properly carried out.
As I have indicated, I want to deal with what I believe is a most disturbing trend in Ministerial-Civil Service relationships. I believe, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, that this is something that has occurred during not the last five years, but I would say the last two or three years: I do not recall a time in my political life, except perhaps during the Suez crisis, when the morale of the Civil Service was as low as it is at the present time.
The noble Lord, Lord Allen, said that members of the Civil Service felt a widely held sense of grievance, and he listed some of the reasons. My noble friend Lord Barnett quoted from John Ward, who is an official of the First Division Association, which, after all, represents civil servants in a salary range from £13,000 to £35,000 a year. He said:The public may be getting a bit sick of bleating about Civil Service morale, but there is no doubt that there is a strong sense of disillusionment at the top level".Clearly there is something significant about the number of recently retired persons of senior rank in the Civil Service who have aligned themselves with the cause of curtailing secrecy. The panel of advisers to the 1984 Campaign for Freedom of Information, headed by Sir Douglas Wass (already referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Harris) includes no fewer than four onetime permanent secretaries and two under-secretaries.
Their concern for freedom of information is no doubt based on the absence of freedom of information that has applied in recent years. Yes, there have been an incredible number of leaks in recent times, and I am not here to argue in favour of those leaks at all. But the more a Government keeps their information secret, the more likely it is that information will be leaked. It does not justify the leaking of it, but it does partly explain it. I think that this Government have to take some lessons from precisely that.
Of course, there is more to it than mere leaking or than mere security. I believe the central issue is what I consider to be the traditional partnership between Ministers and civil servants. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, described that quite admirably. In my view (and I was a Minister for 11 years) the partnership is an essential part of the role of not only the Minister, but also the civil servant; and the Minister who does not ask for advice from his civil servants, but says simply, "This is what I have decided to do, do it" and then expects dogged loyalty is asking 1396 for trouble. It is the job of a civil servant to indicate not only the range of options that a Minister has, but also the pitfalls that lie before him if he takes certain courses of action. In the end it is the Minister who must decide and it is the civil servants who have the responsibility of carrying out the decision. But once Ministers ignore the process of consultation, take their civil servants for granted, expect them to do what they are told without there having been a fair and proper method of consultation, there will be a sense of grievance, a sense of concern, a feeling among civil servants that their role has been underrated and sometimes denigrated—as I believe has happened in statements that have been made from time to time.
Senior civil servants are not paid only to implement Ministers' diktats, as I have said. I do not believe that civil servants have failed to point out, for example, the problems implicit in the decision to abolish the GLC. No one could imagine that the civil servants did not say to the responsible Minister, the Secretary of State for the Environment, what traps there were not only in the Bill which is now before another place and which will come before your Lordships' House, but also in the paving Bill. I am sure they indicated the dangers, and the Minister chose to ignore those dangers. I am sure that advice was given to the Secretary of State for Education as to the dangers inherent in the decision he announced only 10 days or so ago about student grants. He was forced to make a new Statement today because he had ignored the advice that had been proffered to him.
Ministers must be prepared to listen to civil servants if they expect the total loyalty of the Civil Service to which they are entitled. I believe that Ministers who do not see this basis of partnership display an arrogance. At the same time they sometimes display an obvious disdain of Civil Service advice, which is very damaging to this relationship which I believe has developed over the years and which is a very important part of our national life and our system of government.
It was said by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, that there are a significant number of senior and middle-rank up-and-coming civil servants who are leaving the service. Some of them are leaving because of a sense of dissatisfaction; that means a lack of job satisfaction. I can give many examples of the past two or three years, though I shall not do so. But too often, of course, it is the most able civil servants who take the decision to leave. It is therefore the less able who are left in the Civil Service, unable perhaps to see for themselves the job opportunities in the private sector that are seen by those who, in a sense, take the plunge. Why are civil servants voting with their feet—
The Earl of Gowrie
My Lords, the noble Lord has made a series of allegations without a shred of evidence whatsoever, and I really think he should start, even if he delays the House, to give chapter and verse for some of these most astonishing statements.
§ Lord Ennals
My Lords, I do not know what statements I have made might be called astonishing, 1397 but I shall now quote, since the noble Earl has asked me to do so. There is a former civil servant who now works for an industrial company. He said that he did not want to give his name; why should he give his name? He said that increasingly now officials are not expected to have a view or to give advice to Ministers. He said:They are merely expected to take orders. No civil servant objects if a Minister listens to his advice and then rejects it. That is a Minister's right and you accept before you join that it is not your job to make that final decision.A statement was made by someone who did identify herself; a lady called Jenny Page, who was involved with the privatisation of Britoil and with the selling of some British Rail subsidiaries during her Civil Service career, as well as having been seconded to a post in connection with the London Dockland development. She made a statement which was very similar to the one which I have quoted. May I just finish, and then of course I shall give way to the Minister. He knows that there have been a significant number of such cases. We will not say that it is a massive number. The question is: what is going to happen in the future? My submission is that if more and more first-rate officials leave because they are worried about promotion prospects or, perhaps more importantly, because their jobs do not give them enough responsibility and satisfaction, then we will finish up with a Civil Service the quality of which will be lower than it is at the present time. Yes, of course I will give way to the Minister.
The Earl of Gowrie
My Lords, a number of speakers during the debate have made the point that it is a thoroughly good thing that people should go in and out of the Civil Service and into other activities in the economy. Personally I would seek to encourage that. The noble Lord is drawing heavily from one piece in the Financial Times, and it really will not do to make these very generalised allegations from three or four individuals, two of whom will not give their names.
§ Lord Ennals
My Lords, it has also been said in this House by noble Lords who have given names that the number of those who are coming forward to join the Civil Service and who see this as a prospect for them of a rewarding career is significantly decreasing—
§ Lord Windlesham
My point, if the noble Lord had followed me closely, was the opposite. The numbers applying are extremely large. It is the number of applicants who are being selected which falls short of the total number of vacancies in certain grades.
§ Lord Ennals
My Lords, be that as it may, it is clear that those who are now in the Civil Service are, by one means or another, expressing concern. When the noble Lord, Lord Allen, who, after all, has had a lifetime of public service—if the noble Lord wants to write me off, let him do it, but he will not write off the noble Lord, Lord Allen, whose experience is far greater than mine and whose knowledge, and I would say wisdom, too, is greater than mine.
My final point has been raised in his usual pungent style—not in this debate—by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, who was perfectly prepared that he should allow his name to be attached to it because
1398 he made a statement about the concern he felt about the allegiance of civil servants to the Government. He asked a series of questions. These are questions which I think Ministers must ask. One noble Lord asked, "What do they do with a civil servant who gives false information to a Minister?" That is a good question. I suppose, sack him. The reverse question is asked, "What does a civil servant do when he is required to put into a parliamentary statement information that he knows is incorrect?" What does he do? This was the question that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, was asking. He was saying, "Is the responsibility just to the Minister? Is the responsibility of a civil servant in any way to Parliament; is it to the country?" I am not arguing that one can say what "the country" is, or what "the public interest" is; but civil servants are asking these questions. I know this perfectly well because I meet civil servants frequently and they are asking precisely these questions. They are asking these questions in a way which was never, in my knowledge, done before. They are asking what they should do if they are required to give evidence which they know is not correct. I will not go into the particular case in point because that case is well known to the House.
Civil servants are facing a dilemma. They are facing uncertainty. I will not say that they are facing crisis; that would be a gross overstatement. They are facing a serious dilemma. The noble Lord, Lord Allen, himself said that the numbers involved are still moderately small. The question we ask is, "What is going to be the future?" This is why I say that the Government need to make a concentrated effort to regain the confidence of the Civil Service in themselves as Ministers.
I believe that the prime responsibility lies on the Minister who is principally responsible for the Civil Service—that, of course, is the Prime Minister herself. I believe that she and her Government have a very important responsibility to try to undo some of the damage, as I believe it to be, that has been done between Ministers and civil servants. If it is not done we shall not find ourselves with an efficient Civil Service. We might find ourselves with a Civil Service that is less dedicated than today's. The situation could get worse rather than better.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I apologise for intervening but this is a matter of some importance. Leaving aside anything that is subjudice, has the noble Lord any evidence to support his assertion that some Ministers of the Crown has asked a civil servant to do something or write something which he knows to be false? If so, will the noble Lord say what it is?
§ Lord Ennals
My Lords, I will not mention names; I will mention the situation, which of course I did not intend to do but the noble Lord has asked me. The Prime Minister made it perfectly clear that statements were made in another place concerning the sinking of the "Belgrano" which were known to be untrue.
§ Lord Ennals
My Lords, I did not raise that myself. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell, asked me to give an 1399 example and I have given an example, which he will know because he has readlhe reports as well as I.
As we well know, senior civil servants are now talking about—they were discussing it at the conference which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, was opening—a code of ethics for senior civil servants. I think that this may be very important. But in my view there is an even more urgent need for a code of ethics for Ministers in handling a service of which the nation has always had a reason to be proud and of which I hope it will always have a reason to be proud.
§ 8.55 p.m.
The Earl of Gowrie
My Lords, I imagine it is almost a duty of the speaker who winds up for the Opposition, after a debate which has been excellent but nevertheless quite long, to try to jazz things up a little. The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, certainly did that. I imagine that most of the House enjoyed his speech. I must confess to a slight irritation because it seems to me that he produced little evidence—one piece from the Financial Times—the by now extremely stale and I would dare to say barely controversial issue of the "Belgrano" affair—on which to build a great superstructure of accusation about the relationships between government and civil servants.
I can only give my own experience. I cannot of course speak for the Labour Government; but like others I have read articles and diaries and I certainly endorse some of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich. I was a very junior Member of the Government of Mr. Heath. Although a very junior Member, I worked very closely with a very senior Member—no less a person than my noble friend the present Leader of this House, when he was Secretary of State for Employment during the miners' strike. I saw the workings of a major department of state during a very exciting and deeply contentious period—the period which ultimately led to the coming to office of the Government of which the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, was a distinguished Member. I have been a fairly senior Minister throughout the life of this Government at Minister of State level, and a very junior Minister at Cabinet level. My experience is that the relations between the Government and civil servants were not very different in the two cases. There were some general phenomena of change. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Harris—although I was far from agreeing with everything he said—put his finger on the fact that a great deal has taken place in the past 10 years, and that the Civil Service, Government, Ministers, Parliament, Oppositions, unions, whether militant or unmilitant, have all in varying degrees been affected by the changes. I would not expect the Civil Service to be immune from those changes. But I do not think that the central issue of relationships between Ministers and civil servants, which in this context overwhelmingly means senior civil servants—senior management in Whitehall—have changed at all, and it seems to me that these relations are very good.
We have had a long debate and I do not think that I would be very popular in the Civil Service, let alone with your Lordships' House, if I had a second bite at a Second Reading speech. I am simply going to whistle 1400 through at great speed the specific points that have been made. My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter—and I endorse all the congratulations to him on attracting a splendid list of experienced speakers—asked me about no-strike agreements. It would be difficult, as the Megaw Report pointed out, to conclude a "no industrial action agreement" at a price acceptable to all parties including the tax-payer, but that may be considered further in the light of whatever long-term pay agreements may emerge from discussions with the Council of Civil Service unions. I shall have a word or two to say about those long-term pay agreements in just a moment.
On my noble friend's question about raising the age of retirement, 60 has been the usual age of retirement of civil servants for more than 100 years, although many staff in the lower grades, notably among industrial staff, stay until the age of 65. Given the recent reductions in the size of the Civil Service and the current climate of unemployment, I do not think it would be right to block opportunities for those coming in or indeed the promotion prospects of our able and talented younger staff in the Civil Service, which are already difficult as many noble Lords have said. Therefore as Minister I must say that I should like to try and establish 60 as a very general retiring age.
The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, made an elegant and relatively—by contrast with his noble friend who, as I said, is to some degree paid to raise the temperature at this late hour—
The Earl of Gowrie
Well, my Lords, he is encouraged to do so, and not least by me, because I enjoy a knock-about parliamentary debate. In a characteristically restrained and elegant speech the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, itemised some of the issues raised about morale to which I shall refer at the end of my speech. Before doing so, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, as the founding father of cash limits—would that his progeny paid rather more heed to him, as he will note we do.
Mention was made of the Prime Minister and the influences on her or her influences on other people. I once asked the Prime Minister if she had read the book, Inside the Treasury by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. She said that she kept it by her bedside. Many of my right honourable friend's ideas about the Civil Service no doubt stem from the things uncovered by the noble Lord.
On a serious note, Labour's programmes, whatever we on this side of the House think of them, will certainly be expensive—even more expensive than our expensive programmes. There is little evidence that the electorate will easily be persuaded to will the means at their own expense to pay for increases in public provision. I therefore argue that Labour will have an equally urgent—logically a rather more urgent—need to cut Civil Service costs and to emphasise value for money, as we do. It was a remarkable feature of the last election that the public—I think almost for the first time since the war—displayed a doorstep interest in costing political programmes. It was the Labour Party which paid the price. My argument here is that all administrations and potential administrations therefore have to take a 1401 great interest in reducing central Government costs and providing value for money, as I have argued.
The noble Lord, Lord Rochester, asked for confirmation of his figures on the administration of trainee recruitment. As he said, the recruitment figures for trainees in 1982 were disappointing: 24 appointments were made when 44 vacancies had been declared. The situation has improved in the past two years, as my noble friend Lord Windlesham acknowledged in a very interesting speech. In 1983, 60 vacancies were declared and 46 applicants took up duties. This year, 66 vacancies were declared and 58 have taken up duty. As I said in my opening remarks, the Civil Service continues to offer a thoroughly worthwhile, interesting and rewarding career for our most able graduates. I shall most certainly look carefully at the sensible observations of my noble friend Lord Windlesham on whether we have been too rigorously selective in the present climate. Obviously we want to keep up the high quality to which successive noble Lords have paid tribute tonight; but I shall consider his point.
The noble Lord, Lord Rochester, talked about recruitment and retention of key staff and this was echoed again in a notable speech by the noble Lord, Lord Allen. In recent years the Civil Service has generally been successful in recruiting and retaining the staff it needs in both numbers and quality, except perhaps for those specialist skills where there is a national shortage. Where national shortages are reflected in the Civil Service, the law of the market applies to some degree to the considerations in the noble Lord's mind of pay issues. These shortage areas are electrical and electronic engineers, the oil industry, communications advanced data processing specialists as well as in the more traditional areas such as accountancy and the legal profession. These difficulties are exacerbated in some geographical locations; especially in London and in what is now known rather inelegantly as the M.4 corridor. The kind of disquiet which the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, mentioned, and which he based on one article in the Financial Times, would better be laid at the door of those market phenomena rather than on any great discontent among civil servants generally.
The noble Lord, Lord Rochester, again echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Allen, did not shirk the issue of pay, and nor must I. The 1984 pay negotiations are now over. The Government believe that the awards were both fair and reasonable to all concerned. It is of course too early to talk about next year's negotiations. The 3 per cent. pay assumption for 1985–86 which was announced on 12th November is a global planning assumption. It is not a norm, nor will it predetermine the level of individual settlements and variations within settlements. Civil Service pay settlements have in each year since 1980–81 been higher than the pay assumption. In these days when we are all anxious about unemployment we must bear in mind the relationship of our public sector costs to high levels of unemployment. So, the Government are hopeful of reaching a responsible and sensible negotiated settlement.
I was very interested, like everyone else in the Chamber, in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord 1402 Bancroft. May I say to him even in his absence that future arrangements for settling pay are, of course, under discussion with both the industrial and non-industrial unions. I note what he said about arbitration but I must also note that successive governments have consistently reserved the right, on policy grounds, to refuse to go to arbitration. The structure offered by the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, for our consideration—and I shall consider it most carefully—allowed that that would be the case. But as we know, successive Governments run into counter-inflationary priorities and it would certainly sour relations with the arbitrating body or with the unions if these considerations were allowed to over-ride too often. That is why I still believe that direct negotiation between employers and employees on the basis of what employers can afford is the best method.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Tanworth, referred to freedom of information, leaks and loyalty; and many other speakers have also dealt with those aspects. I certainly welcome and thoroughly endorse the statement made with all his authority by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, when he said that "civil servants can only operate within the policies established by Ministers". I agree with that.
A fair amount of nonsense is talked about the so-called secrecy of British Government. Yes, we have an Official Secrets Act and it is, as most people agree, not wholly a satisfactory piece of legislation. However, the Official Secrets Act simply prevents the unauthorised disclosure of Government information. What it demonstrably does not do is put a cloak of secrecy around the daily workings of government. You have only to read the reports of the proceedings of this House or of our Select Committees, or the reports of the new departmental Select Committees of the other place, or even the daily newspapers, to see that there is a vast quantity of information available about what is happening in government; certainly as much as you will find in other Western democracies. As one who hails from another Western democracy—the Republic of Ireland—who has lived and worked in America for many years and who is married to someone who comes from Germany, I would say that we beat all those countries hollow on this issue.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
My Lords, by way of a question on that, is the noble Earl maintaining that, in fact, the amount of information available from official sources in this country is as great as it is in Washington? Is that his argument, or am I misunderstanding?
The Earl of Gowrie
No, my Lords. What I am maintaining is that the amount of information available generally to interested people in this country is greater than anywhere else that I have ever lived. I myself learn a great deal of what is going on in central government by reading the newspapers and watching the television, despite having access to Government papers. Of course, one cannot release every single bit of Government information, and no Government could work if they did. Freedom of information, if I may very respectfully say so, is something that Oppositions are immensely keen on but tend to backtrack on a little when they come into office.
Certainly, we could do things differently. We could have a statutory right to information on the lines of some other countries. But I must say that I doubt 1403 whether a statutory system—which would have to be enforced by the courts or by some other body outside Parliament—would fit our parliamentary democracy as well as the present system, in which Ministers have to make information available to Parliament and are accountable for so doing and for their decisions.
I do not think I will go into the issue of leaks, because the last word on that seemed to me to be said by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Tanworth, and I have quoted him already. I must say, however, that if a civil servant should feel a clash of conscience in relation to what his or her Minister is requiring them to do—and I know of no reason why any should—then before he goes to the Guardian it would be only a prudent measure, I would have thought, to consult his Permanent Secretary. There are all sorts of ways in which these issues could be raised.
The next question, of GCHQ, I do not think is something which I should resurrect at this late hour, particularly because we have now had a unanimous judgment in favour of the Government from the highest court in the land saying that the revised terms and conditions of service introduced at GCHQ are valid. The Government hope that the work at GCHQ, which is vital to national security, will now be allowed to continue without further distraction. I must say that I found myself agreeing with much of the trenchant speech of my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway. In general, I have to say that I doubt whether Civil Service trades unions are in every respect as representative of their members in this as in many other issues.
The noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, and my noble friend Lord Gridley deplored the new militancy in some unions in the most measured terms. I can assure both noble Lords that we will resist the demands of militancy in this and other fields with all the power available to us. In respect of militancy, I am thinking particularly, of course, of the dispute at the Newcastle Central Office, which has been raised. Your Lordships will know that the strike is affecting the payment of pensions as well as child benefit and national insurance. Contingency arrangements to minimise the effect of the strike on individuals and families and to prevent hardship are working well, and provide for payments to be made as nearly as possible in the normal way. I am pleased to tell your Lordships that, thanks to a great deal of effort by DHSS staff, the increased pension rates and the Christmas bonus will be paid on time. As I say, we have to hit militancy hard wherever we find it.
My noble friend Lord Beloff, who has given a great deal of thought to this issue over the years and has been very influential, I think, in forming opinion, talked about secondments and outside experience. I am glad and proud to be able to say that my admirable principal private secretary is a graduate of a course, if not of the full treatment, of the ENA that my noble friend Lord Soames mentioned in his remarkable speech. I, myself, hope very much to have an improving visit to the ENA, outside Paris before too long.
I passionately believe in moving civil servants in and out, and attachments with industry and commerce, and in much of what my noble friend Lord Soames said about the political culture of this country, 1404 including the culture of the permanent level of government and industrial culture; his points were well taken, and we shall do what we can to improve the situation.
The Civil Service is certainly anxious to learn from overseas practice and has a number of exchanges with other countries, including France. I am sharply aware of those because the only time that I am allowed to indulge in what Mr. Dennis Skinner calls, "Snout-in-the-troughing", and entertain at Lancaster House is when I am giving meals to foreign civil servants; and they come over in great droves. No doubt that reflects the quality of government hospitality.
My noble friend Lord Beloff asked about the college. Although in 1983–84 the Civil Service College mounted some 1,100 courses which 22,000 or so people attended, it must be remembered that it provides only about 5 per cent. of all Civil Service training. Most training is undertaken by departments themselves. However, the Civil Service also very much appreciates the value and necessity of external training and of sharing the experience and knowledge of managers outside the Civil Service. For example, external training in business schools now accounts for 20 per cent. of total training and is growing in importance. I am sure that most noble Lords will welcome that. We greatly value the cross-fertilisation with commercial and industrial experience that that provides. I take every opportunity that I can to visit the Civil Service College.
In the last minute or so of my speech—without wishing to raise the temperature too much, I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, that what he said about one of us is, I think, a terrible insult not simply to Ministers but to the present head of the home Civil Service. I know the present head of the home Civil Service very well and so do many noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, I am sure that they would echo my saying that he would not stand for such a thing for a moment.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris, asked me about the announcement which was made today about performance-related pay or performance bonuses. We think it right to introduce with effect from April 1985 an experimental scheme—and I stress that this is a pilot and experimental scheme—under which staff graded between grade 3 (which used to be called under-secretary) and principal and equivalent grades will have the opportunity to earn a bonus for particularly good performance. The experiment will last for three years and its operation will be very carefully monitored. A total of £4 million is being made available to fund that initial experimental scheme in each of the three years.
This will not come—if I could say this directly to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, and to the House—from existing provision for Civil Service pay and related expenditure. It will be additional to existing departmental allocations and will be met from within planned public expenditure totals overall. The Government will enter into immediate consultations with the Civil Service unions. They are also prepared to enter into discussions with the unions about the possibility of conducting further experiments at other grading levels. The method, timing and finances for such further experiments would all be for future 1405 decisions, but any schemes identified and approved will be introduced as soon as is practical.
I believe that the steps now announced will provide a basis on which the value and operation of performance-related pay can be tested. This will enable decisions to be taken in the light of the experience gained as to any long-term arrangements. Finally on this point, I hope that I can satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, and the House by saying that Ministers will have no say whatsoever in who gets the performance bonuses. That will be a matter for the heads of departments.
Again, may I remind the noble Lord, Lord Harris, and the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, that in my opening remarks I commented on the success that we have had in reducing the size of the Civil Service over the past five years. I suggested that this would be at least as important to an incoming Labour or other Administration as to ourselves. But these reductions have been made—and I stress this most strongly—by improving efficiency (about 55 per cent.); by dropping or materially curtailing functions (about 20 per cent.); by privatisation, including contracting-out (about 10 per cent.); and by hiving off to new and existing public sector bodies (about 2 per cent.).
I have had a good go in both my opening speech and at Question Time about the drugs issue. I take it very seriously indeed, perhaps more seriously personally than even the noble Lord, Lord Harris, and the House are aware, as I have had some family experience of this. In fact, the number of specialist drug investigator complemented posts has been increased by some 75 per cent. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, whose sincerity and concern on this issue is well known, as I hope is mine, must recognise that a complete disruption of the present flow of people through our airports—the green and red channel system—would still be a very serious change indeed. But I will, of course, keep the situation carefully under review.
My last point is the substantive point of the debate. Nearly everyone has talked about morale in the Civil Service. There were remarkable speeches from the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, my noble friend Lord Soames and others who have had longer experience than I, as I fully recognise, in ministerial roles in this field, as well as from those who have had very great experience—and again congratulations to my noble friend for attracting them—at official level.
Concentration upon crisis news in the press of course distorts public perception of work and morale in the Civil Service. The quiet, effective and efficient delivery of services to the public is, I believe, a more typical but often overlooked picture of the service. We do have an enormous number of talented and highly trained managers in the Civil Service. This Government have done a great deal to recognise and promote the value of their contribution.
However, the Civil Service is in the middle of probably the most profound change for a century. Its chief Minister, the Prime Minister, is not interested in what a former head of the Civil Service, the late Lord Armstrong called, in a chilling phrase, "The orderly management of decline". We are engaged in reversing decline and that does mean hitting institutions of all kinds—and not just with a handbag—I think this point 1406 was recognised in an interesting speech by the noble Lord, Lord Lindsay. So it is not surprising that civil servants from time to time feel uncertain, vexed or upset by these changes, so that morale may sometimes seem low and grumbling at a premium.
Nevertheless, the Civil Service is well on course to being an organisation which, while retaining the old virtues of dedication and freedom from bias and corruption, is also demonstrably modern and efficient and demonstrably engaged in itself arresting the decline of our place in the world. I, for one, have no fears for its commitment to doing so and, therefore, for its overall morale.
§ 9.21 p.m.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, as several noble Lords have observed, this has been a remarkable and a memorable debate. It has also been yet another example of the fact that in this House, on almost any subject you care to choose, we are able to find Members who speak with the authority of long, practical experience. The contributions which we have had to this debate and to the discussion of this problem, particularly from those distinguished former heads of the Civil Service, have been, I have found, of remarkable interest and value. Until we reached the winding-up speeches, it was a debate, too, which was wholly free—and I have sat through it all—of any party acrimony at all. In regard to my noble friend's reference to the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, jazzing-up the debate, I should only remind both noble Lords that jazz is now very much out of date.
I was a little startled by my noble friend Lord Soames telling us that this is the first time this House has debated the Civil Service for 16 years. Several noble Lords have said that the Civil Service feels there may be a lack of concern for it and its interests in many quarters. Therefore, I hope I may be allowed to express the hope that the next debate on this subject may be after a considerably shorter interval. The comparison of the care with which this House and another place consider the position and interests of the armed forces is perhaps a little sharp if one allows intervals of this kind to develop.
The debate has also been remarkable for my noble friend's announcement of this quite remarkable new development of performance-related pay. Experiment though it may be, I think it is an experiment of very great interest and, if I may say so, a very bold and interesting innovation to which I personally should like to wish the best of good fortune.
The only other thing I should like to say before I formally withdraw the Motion is this. Again, picking up a remark of the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, he referred to the lightness of a partnership between Ministers and civil servants. If your Lordships will allow me to drop into anecdotage, I have a personal recollection which precisely fills that bill.
In the days when I was a Minister of so-called Cabinet rank—which, as noble Lords know, means not a member of the Cabinet but attending the Cabinet for one's own business—many years ago, I attended a Cabinet on departmental business of my own. The then Prime Minister was not very interested in social security, which was the business, and the discussion 1407 was desultory and indecisive. As I went out—as one had to at that stage of one's life and position, having finished one's own business—I was stopped by the Deputy Secretary of the Cabinet, who is now the noble Lord, Lord Trend, and Rector of Lincoln College, Oxford, whom I knew, and I said to him, "Burke, have I won?" He looked at me with a smile and said, "No, I don't think you have. But when you see the minutes it will be all right". And it was. I hope that this is the kind of partnership that the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, was advocating.
Without more ado, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion—particularly a Motion on this subject, which, if not withdrawn, might result in a considerable avalanche of documentation falling on my innocent head.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.