HL Deb 03 June 1992 vol 537 cc893-6

2.58 p.m.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe asked Her Majesty's Government:

How they propose to accommodate civil servants presently employed in Marsham Street in the event of the demolition of the existing premises.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Strathclyde)

My Lords, the Secretary of State for Transport is at present considering his department's long-term accommodation needs. In the case of the Department of the Environment, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State announced yesterday that he had decided to move the majority of his department's HQ posts to Docklands.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether, before these decisions were made to move thousands of civil servants to an already congested South-East, any evaluations were made in financial and social terms of the possibilities of moving civil servants out of London and to the regions? Does this indicate a complete abandonment of the Government's commitment to any regional policy?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, of course careful evaluation is always done to move the maximum number of civil servants away from the congested South-East. Perhaps I can tell the noble Lord that in fact 40 per cent. of DoE staff are already based out of London, with a thousand staff now placed in Bristol.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, as we are discussing the use of government property, will the Minister tell us whether the substantial building at this end of Victoria Street which was the former Department of Trade and Industry and which has lain dormant and empty for some months will be brought into use for the benefit of the taxpayer or will it be allowed to rot away as it is at present?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, different departments are evaluating their requirements in central London. The DoE, the Department of Transport and the DTI are all looking at alternatives around London.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, what is the number of the 60 per cent. of staff remaining in London, and how many are being sent to the Isle of Dogs?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I do not have the exact figure, but it is our intention to relocate some 2,000 DoE staff in Docklands.

Lord Marsh

My Lords, was the decision to transfer the civil servants to Docklands taken before or after the collapse of Olympia & York?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, my right honourable friend the previous Secretary of State for the Environment announced that he was looking at alternative sites for DoE staff when he announced that Marsham Street was to be demolished. That decision was taken before the change of administration of Olympia & York.

Lord Shepherd

My Lords, will the Minister please answer the question put to him by the noble Lord, Lord Marsh? When was the decision taken to send the civil servants to Docklands? Was it before or after the collapse?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment confirmed yesterday in a Statement in another place that he would move staff to Docklands, but Dock lands does not necessarily mean Canary Wharf.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the Minister aware that those civil servants are not like pawns on a chessboard? They cannot be moved without consultation. Will he give the House an assurance that full consultation is taking place with their representative trade unions?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, of course.

Earl Russell

My Lords, further to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, will the Minister tell us what representations the Government have received on the subject from the Association of First Division Civil Servants?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, it too will be consulted fully so that we can make the move from central London to Docklands as quickly, efficiently and effectively as possible, with the full support of all the civil servants who will be required to make the move.

Lord Sefton of Garston

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the statement made by the Foreign Secretary in supporting the Prime Minister's proposal of opening up government to the public, that unless there are compelling and substantive reasons in the national interest to withhold information, then the information should be freely given? If that is still government policy, will they now change their mind about the publication of the report which calls for the demolition of Marsham Street?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, the decision not to publish the report is because it includes commercially sensitive information on the commercial value of the property in question.

Lord Sefton of Garston

My Lords, does the Minister believe that commercially sensitive information is a compelling and substantive reason of national interest? If he does, no one else does.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I do.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, is it not curious that of all departments it should be the departments of Environment and Transport which are now being moved to a part of London to which there is no adequate transport access? Is that not evidence of the fact that the transport infrastructure should have been put in place before public money was put in to the private developments?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, the reasons for it being the departments of Transport and Environment are plain: it is because those departments are the ones in Marsham Street which it is not commercially viable to repair or refurbish.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, the Minister has assured the House that evaluations of alternatives and of the disposal of civil servants to the regions have been made. Is it possible for the House to have sight of those evaluations so that it can measure the economic as well as the social justification of rehousing in Docklands as against dispersal?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, the Government are not a profligate government. I should have thought that it would have been obvious to the noble Lord that we would be seeking the most cost-effective solution, and that is what we have done. I said in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Sefton of Garston, that we were not publishing the appraisal because of the commercially sensitive information it contained. The same answer goes for the noble Lord, Lord Taylor.

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