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Column 639suffering from cancer. She is one of the millions of victims of the Government, who have pursued and cheated people relentlessly under their social security legislation. In pursuing this woman to appeal to save a few pennies, the Government stand condemned 2,000 times over of mean, pitiless theft of the widow's mite.
Mr. Scott : I believe that the hon. Gentleman has been carried away by his oratory. His description of the system is a travesty of the truth. As I have said, an important case--that of Mrs. Doreen Whitbread--is going to the social security commissioner soon : an early hearing is being arranged. I think that we should await that decision.
The Minister for the Arts (Mr. Richard Luce) : I am advised by the British Theatre Association that it has nearly 300,000 texts in its library. I attach importance to ways being found of preserving public access to this collection. The House may like to know that discussions are taking place between the BTA, the British library and the Victoria and Albert Museum, and I understand that the BTA is actively exploring possible options.
Ms. Ruddock : Does the Minister accept, then, that the library is the definitive theatre library, used by theatre companies and academics throughout the world? Does he accept that its closure would be a major loss to the country's theatres? Regardless of whatever talks may be going on, may I ask the Minister to guarantee that the Government will find the mere £150,000 that the library needs to continue to function?
Mr. Luce : I certainly accept what the hon. Lady says about the importance of the collection to the world of drama. I know that it is a substantial collection, and that is why I have called the parties together- -in particular the British library, which has considerable expertise at its disposal and has already offered the association a management consultancy advisory service free of charge, and the Victoria and Albert, which has a theatre museum--to give their advice. I am keen to find a viable solution based on value for money and the right location, and I am doing what I can with the parties concerned to facilitate that.
Sir Anthony Meyer : Is my right hon. Friend aware that many Conservative Members are extremely concerned about the future of this irreplaceable institution, and place great hopes in his determination to ensure that a solution is found to enable it to go on providing services to both the theatre and the general public?
Mr. Luce : I appreciate what my hon. Friend has said, and I am sure that he is right in stressing the importance of the collection to the drama world. I am also sure that it is right to look at every option, and to call on the expertise of the British library and other organisations to seek the best way of solving the problem. I shall continue to take a close interest.
Mr. Sheldon : I think that the whole House will accept the right hon. Gentleman's interest, but will he accept that that it is not only advice that is wanted? What we need now is some money, and not a great deal. This is an invaluable collection and it must be preserved.
Mr. Luce : As the right hon. Gentleman probably knows, about 6.5 per cent. of total resources was provided by the public sector in the last financial year. I think it right at this stage to consider what is the most viable proposition for the future of the collection. I entirely accept that it is an important collection which ought to be accessible to the drama world ; my obligation is to see what can be done to find the most viable answer, and I think that the way in which we are now proceeding is the right way at this stage.
Mr. Jessel : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the action that he has already taken is warmly welcomed? The library must be kept together, because its 300,000 volumes comprise a resource that commands respect and admiration throughout the world.
Mr. Luce : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. What he says is absolutely right. Again I stress that it is important to find a solution that is based on the best value for money and on the most viable proposition that we can find.
Mr. Fisher : Is it not the case, as I believe the Minister knows, that Victoria and Albert museum and British library officials met on the Friday before last and expressed their concern and willingness to help but that they made it clear to the Minister that without money from him they were unable to do anything? The Minister's interest is welcome, but it is meaningless unless he provides some money. He is responsible for a national resource ; his is the responsibility to fund it. Will he now stop wringing his hands and start providing money to save this institution, if he believes that it is worth saving?
Mr. Luce : The hon. Gentleman's suggestion that I am wringing my hands is far from the truth. Neither the British library nor the V and A has come to me and said that it is essential that at this stage additional public money is provided. They are trying to find the most viable answer to the problem, and that is the right way to proceed. The Government are strongly committed to the library system. We have injected an additional £300 million of taxpayer's money into the construction of the new British library. Expenditure on public libraries, in real terms, in the last two years has increased by 9 per cent. There is no lack of commitment by the Government to the library system. However, it is right to seek a viable alternative solution for the library. That is what I am doing with all the expertise at my disposal. Mr. Maclennan : Although I recognise that talks with the British library make sense, the Minister is conveying the impression that he is acquiescing in the write-off of the British Theatre Association, which has other functions than the guarding of library resources. They include valuable national advice and courses that are not provided by any other national institution. Why is the Minister not illustrating his concern in a more practical way?
Mr. Luce : The representations that have been made to me have been principally concerned with the importance of this collection, which is made up of 300,000 texts and other reference sources. I accept that it is important, and
Column 641it is right that I should be concerned about its importance. I believe that we must look at every option to ensure that we get the best value for money in the right location and in the right circumstances.
Mr. Luce : New sponsorship under the scheme continues to increase. It has brought over 900 businesses into arts sponsorship since 1984, but there is still room for growth. I therefore propose to allow individual arts organisations to be eligible for up to two awards next year, instead of one as at present, up to the maximum of £25, 000. This will help smaller arts organisations and encourage more businesses to support the arts.
Mr. Butler : My right hon. Friend knows that I warmly welcome the progress of this excellent scheme. Will he tell me what progress had been made in the north of England, as he knows that the regions derive particular benefit from the scheme?
Mr. Luce : I am grateful to my hon. Friend who has shown consistent support for the business sponsoring incentive scheme, which has brought, overall, an additional £23 million of extra money to the arts since its inception. There have been a number of sponsorships in the north- western area. For example, there have been recent awards to the Northern chamber orchestra, the Manchester museum, the Buxton arts festival and the Guildhall at Preston. Those are just some examples which demonstrate how widespread is the business sponsorship incentive scheme.
Mr. Pike : Does the Minister recognise how important it is to ensure that the regions and sub-regional centres get an even bigger share of the money that is available from the scheme? Many centres, such as Burnley, which makes excellent provision for the arts and the theatre as a sub- regional centre, will be unable to maintain that provision, as a result of the poll tax legislation, unless it receives more support from this type of scheme.
Mr. Luce : I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important that the scheme should be spread widely throughout the nation. I am glad that at least 70 per cent. of all the resources that have been allocated to the scheme have been for projects outside London. That is important. Sponsorship in Scotland, particularly in Edinburgh and Glasgow, has been at a faster rate than in any other area. The evidence suggests that the scheme is becoming widespread. I urge sponsors with headquarters in London to ensure that adequate attention is given to the recommendations of their regional managers.
Column 642England. He will consult the parties concerned and report to me by 31 October 1989. I shall send a copy of the press notice to my hon. Friend.
Mr. Luce : There is no doubt that, since the inception of the Arts Council of Great Britain after the second world war, and the starting of the regional arts associations, there has, in recent years, been a substantial shift of resources to regional arts. They now handle about £30 million of resources. I am concerned to ensure, with all the changes that have taken place, that there is coherence in the funding system and proper accountability to Parliament and me, through the Arts Council of Great Britain, for the use of taxpayers' money. There is no suggestion that funds are not being properly used now. I also want to ensure proper and improved structures and procedures for channelling the money, the large majority of which should go to the performing arts.
The Minister of State, Privy Council Office (Mr. Richard Luce) : Apart from reciprocal training arrangements, for a number of years there have been formal bilateral arrangements which provide for a small number of secondments between the United Kingdom Civil Service and the civil services of France, the Federal Republic of Germany, and the Republic of Ireland. Exchanges also take place outside the scope of the formal arrangements.
Mr. Barnes : Is it not a pity that there are not more arrangements for secondment, and moving in and out of Europe, of civil servants? The Civil Service in this country faces many problems. There is tremendous pressure from the Government to make civil servants operate as political hacks, rather than to maintain their former neutrality. The movement of civil servants from other countries in and out of this country on short- term secondments, might help to re-establish the neutrality of the Civil Service. I should prefer a "Yes Minister" approach to be more prevalent than the current "Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full, Minister."
Mr. Luce : Let me put the hon. Gentleman straight on the last part of his question. There is no shadow of doubt that the Civil Service today is as impartial and professional as ever. That conclusion was reached by the all-party Select Committee in 1988. To suggest that civil servants are political hacks is a gross misrepresentation of the job that they are trying to do. The level of exchanges on a bilateral basis, particularly of secondments--the hon. Gentleman is right--is fairly low. It is difficult to achieve, but exchanges between groups of civil servants within and between countries is happening on a bigger and bigger scale. The courses provided on a European scale at the Civil Service college to prepare for 1992 are becoming stronger and stronger.
Mr. Gow : Do not the British people and the British civil servants bear sufficient burdens already without adding to them by introducing civil servants from the republics of Greece and Portugal who would merely add to the confusion that already exists?
Mr. Luce : I note what my hon. Friend says. It is not particularly easy to facilitate exchanges on the basis of secondments that last for several months. Clear criteria are laid down for entry into the Civil Service, which impose strict controls. The best way to proceed if we want better knowledge of how different systems work, is to have exchanges of delegations. That occurs from time to time within the Civil Service.
Mr. Luce : The next steps initiative gives added emphasis to the training Departments already provide in the delivery of services to the public. In addition, the Civil Service college has introduced a new course on service delivery.
Mr. Arnold : Does my right hon. Friend accept that any steps taken to improve the Civil Service's service to the public are to be welcomed? Will he say what proportion of training for such civil servants is given by the private sector, particularly based on the example of major retailers?
Mr. Luce : A large proportion of training for the Civil Service is provided by the private sector. Of course, there are a whole variety of ways in which training can be provided in the Civil Service. Some of it is done by Departments themselves. The Civil Service college provides 5 per cent. of the training, with special emphasis on senior civil servants. I am setting aside an additional £1 million this coming year for challenge funding training to improve still further the standard of management in the senior echelons of the Civil Service, in preparation for the creation of the agencies.
Mr. Luce : The "Service to the Public" occasional paper is the result of a management study by a team of my officials and has been published to stimulate debate on this import subject, to which I attach great importance. Part I sets out the team's views on the essential elements of a service to the public strategy ; part II provides examples of good practice. I am placing copies in the Library of the House, and the paper is on sale to the public through Her Majesty's Stationery Office.
Mr. Luce : The important thing, is that, about all else, civil servants are anxious to ensure that the best possible service is provided to the public. The creation of agencies within the Civil Service is another way of strengthening the quality of service to the public, because performance targets and performance measurements will be provided. But one of the purposes of the paper is to highlight the best practices in the Civil Service, particularly in respect of such things as access by telephone, communications, the use of plain English, giving personal names, and ensuring that reception areas are adequate. All these and other things are being done in the Civil Service to make sure that the quality of service to the public is as good as possible.
Dr. Marek : Can the Minister confirm the existence of the Privatisation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 1990, as revealed by Touche Ross to the staff at the national engineering laboratory, and can he, further, confirm that the purpose of the Bill is to strip employees and civil servants of their rights.? How can the Minister get the best possible service from civil servants for the public and say that he wants that, and, at the same time, plot with his right hon. and hon. Friends to deprive loyal civil servants of their jobs and pensions? The moral character of Britain is changing for the worse, as his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science said yesterday, but it is led by an immoral Government. When is he going to stand up for morality?
Mr. Luce : The hon. Gentleman appears actually to believe what he reads in an article in a newspaper. His imagination appears to be running rather wild--rather unusually so. All I can say is that his question appears to be one for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.
Our policy on privatisation remains absolutely consistent : if we think that certain operations within the Civil Service would be better performed, with a better service to the public, by privatisation we will take that course. Otherwise, in terms of other services to the public, we regard agencies as a very good way of moving forward and of providing a better service.
Mr. Butler : Sometimes it is very difficult to get through on the telephone to Government Departments. The passport office is particularly bad. Will my right hon. Friend expand on the improved access by telephone that he mentioned.?
Mr. Luce : The point about the passport office should be addressed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department, as my hon. Friend will no doubt do, but there are a number of experiments going on to improve telephone contact between various Departments and the public. For example, there is a freephone service in the Department of Social Security at Newcastle, and there is a telephone queuing system at Her Majesty's Stationery Office. There are a number of ways in which the system is being improved for the benefit of the public.
Mr. Luce : More than half the staff in grades 1 to 3 are able to speak a second European language. Information on other grades is not held centrally and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.
Mr. Fisher : Is it perhaps the case that the Minister does not have figures for other grades because they are very poor and because, throughout the Civil Service, there is some complacency which is based on the idea that, if one shouts loud enough, foreigners will understand? Is it not a matter of courtesy that our civil servants should learn other languages? Would it not make good financial sense for the Government to invest in helping them to learn other languages?
Mr. Luce : I am not sure of the standard of foreign languages in the House. It is important that 50 per cent. of the top grades in the Civil Service speak another language. It is for each Department to say what proportion of its employees speak a foreign language. A range of courses is now available at the Civil Service college, at universities and through the diplomatic service which attempts to ensure that we are better prepared for 1992. Priority is being given to this matter.
Mr. Luce : There are no formal recommendations in the "Service to the Public" occasional paper. The views expressed in it are those of the officials who undertook the management study. The resources devoted to service to the public are a matter for Ministers of individual Departments. The paper is about how best to improve services within a given level of resources or how most cost effectively to provide a specified level of service.
Mr. Colvin : Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that the courtesy shown by civil servants when dealing with hon. Members' problems and those of their constituents is second to none? It is not always so, however, when it comes to responding to the general public. Does my right hon. Friend agree that being a civil servant means providing a service and being civil? What can he do to improve the manner in which civil servants treat members of the general public?
Mr. Luce : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of what he mentions. There should be good relations between civil servants and the public. It is interesting to note that 95 per cent. of civil servants deal in some way with the provision of services, whether to the public or to specialist groups. A wide range of training courses is available to help civil servants achieve a good relationship with the public. We should be in no doubt that civil servants want to be able to provide a service--it provides much more job satisfaction. It is right to give priority to better training facilities.
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