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Mr. Norris : Does my hon. Friend share my concern that the constabulary is armed? If he can confirm that that is the case, will he indicate which Secretary of State of the time first authorised the arming of the authority's constabulary?

Mr. Spicer : Yes, I confirm that the constabulary does carry arms when required. The Secretary of State who, in 1976, took the decision to arm the Atomic Energy Authority constabulary was the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) or, as he then was, the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East.

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Mr. Malcolm Bruce : Will the Minister acknowledge that Liberal Members at the time voted against the arming of the Atomic Energy Authority constabulary? Will he also say whether he is prepared to give an assurance to the House that when either the authority on the nuclear industry is privatised, there will not be an upsurge of private armed police forces in this country?

Mr. Spicer : In answer to the hon. Gentleman's question, we have no plans to privatise the Atomic Energy Authority. As to the hon. Gentleman's first question, the Liberal party was ill-advised, as usual, in taking that particular decision--as in so many others that it takes.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : Does my hon. Friend accept that if the Central Electricity Generating Board persists in sending spent nuclear fuel to Morecambe, the authority will have to increase its constabulary? In view of British Nuclear Fuels' vast profits that my hon. Friend has just referred to, will he consider asking BNF to spend some of those profits on enabling each advanced gas-cooled reactor station to build stores for its own spent nuclear fuel, so that the CEGB will not try to send it all to Morecambe?

Mr. Spicer : That is a matter for the CEGB, and for planning procedures.

United Kingdom Offshore Operators' Association

13. Mr. Doran : To ask the Secretary of State for Energy when he next expects to meet the committee of United Kingdom Offshore Operators' Association.

Mr. Peter Morrison : I meet UKOOA often, but have no plans to do so currently.

Mr. Doran : When does the Minister expect to conclude his discussions with UKOOA and other operators about the installation of sub- sea emergency shutdown valves, and precisely when does he expect to publish the regulations?

Mr. Morrison : I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a specific date. Negotiations are continuing, and I am as concerned about the matter as he is.

Mr. Barry Field : I understand that the vessel that broke adrift in the North sea is soon to be replaced, and that that field will be back on stream. When he meets the association, will my right hon. Friend congratulate the field's operators on getting it back on stream in record time and in a very hostile environment?

Mr. Morrison : I assure my hon. Friend that I will do that, but I will also ensure that safety regulations are properly implemented in that and all other fields.

Aberthaw A Power Station

14. Mr. Michael : To ask the Secretary of State for Energy what discussions he has had with the chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board about the future of Aberthaw A power station.

Mr. Michael Spicer : None. I would expect Aberthaw A power station to play a useful role in the future plans of the National Power Company.

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Mr. Michael : Is the Minister aware of proposals that low-grade coal should be used in a new process that also has considerable environmental benefits for the production of electricity at Aberthaw? Is he in favour of that development, and is he encouraging it? Has he received representations from the Secretary of State for Wales about the proposal, and will he tell us about it?

Mr. Spicer : I am certainly not aware of any representations sent by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. I can tell the hon. Gentleman, however, that we are extremely interested in anything that improves the efficiency and lessens the environmental impact of Aberthaw and, indeed, of coal-fired stations throughout the country.

South of Scotland Electricity Board (Coal Supplies)

15. Mr. Douglas : To ask the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on recent initiatives taken by his Department in order to ensure that suitable arrangements are made between British Coal and the South of Scotland Electricity Board for the continued use by the South of Scotland Electricity Board of deep-mined Scottish coal.

Mr. Parkinson : My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I have made it clear to both sides in the negotiations that the Government would welcome their reaching a mutually satisfactory agreement.

Mr. Douglas : That is a fairly interesting reply. Will the Secretary of State give us an assurance that the national interest in this country, in relation to the continuation of deep-mined coal production in Scotland, will not be determined by the courts? Will he assure us that he and the Secretary of State for Scotland will use their persuasive powers with British Coal and the SSEB to ensure that contractual relationships are upheld and that deep-mined coal from Longannet and Cockenzie is used in power stations, so that we do not find ourselves in the farcical position of a Longannet project being written off the books because of a failure to reach agreement?

Mr. Parkinson : As the hon. Gentleman knows, the negotiations are to be carried out by the two concerns, not by the Government. I have, however, made sure--as I said that I would when I met the hon. Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends--that the negotiations are now being carried forward at the highest level in both companies, as a matter of urgency.

Mr. Andy Stewart : Is my right hon. Friend aware that British Coal's operating profits all come from the Nottinghamshire coal field? Why should my constituents suffer job losses when we are subsidising other areas in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Parkinson : I think that what the House wants is a sizeable, economic, successful coal industry, and the Government have been making substantial investments of taxpayers' money to give the industry every chance to be successful.

Mr. Blair : I shall welcome any intervention that the Secretary of State may make in the matter. May I impress on him that the future of the Scottish coal industry is clearly at stake in efforts to ensure that the dispute is

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resolved? Does he agree that it would be absurd if the industry's future were determined in the courtroom rather than the boardroom?

Mr. Parkinson : I would not regard it as satisfactory if the courts were to make a final decision. Let me make it clear on behalf of the Government that I want both sides to get together and to reach a sensible agreement.

British Gas

16. Mr. Cox : To ask the Secretary of State for Energy when he last met the chairman of British Gas ; and what issues were discussed.

Mr. Peter Morrison : My right hon. Friend last met the chairman of British Gas plc in November when a range of issues were discussed.

Mr. Cox : While I note that reply, will the Minister assure the House when he next meets the chairman he will raise the issue of the charges that gas boards impose on people who report a possible gas leak in their home? The Minister is no doubt aware of the urgency of checking possible leaks quickly, but often the cost of doing that is £30, £40 or £50. Does the Minister accept that that cost puts enormous numbers of people off reporting such leaks? Does he agree that there should be no charge on something so important?

Mr. Morrison : The hon. Gentleman has referred to a matter that is part of our ongoing discussions with British Gas. I know that British Gas shares the hon. Gentleman's concern on this matter, but ultimately somebody --the customer--must pay.


Victoria and Albert Museum

57. Mrs. Clwyd : To ask the Minister for the Arts whether he has met the chairman of the trustees of the Victoria and Albert museum to discuss the restructuring of staff.

The Minister for the Arts (Mr. Richard Luce) : The organisation and management of the Victoria and Albert museum are matters for the director and trustees of the museum. I have every confidence in them.

The chairman and director have explained to me their plans, both to strengthen the scholarship of the museum and to improve its management of the collections. I fully support those objectives.

Mrs. Clwyd : Has the Minister seen the critical remarks of professor Martin Kemp, who has just resigned as a trustee of the V and A because he says that the Government are increasingly appointing to museum boards people who mirror their policies? Why does the Minister not admit that he wants more people who can be economical with the truth, such as the present chairman of the V and A, and not trustees who genuinely protect the country's heritage?

Mr. Luce : I deplore the way in which the hon. Lady phrased that question. The V and A has an outstanding chairman, outstanding trustees and an outstanding director. If the hon. Lady looks at the list of trustees, she will see a broad balance of interests, concerns and

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backgrounds, including three professors who concentrate on areas of scholarship, business men and people from public service. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister makes such appointments, it is important to ensure that there is a broad range of interests, which is what we have at the V and A.

Mr. Cormack : Does my right hon. Friend accept that even those who believe that he is right to have confidence in the trustees and the director, and even those who feel that the hon. Lady's slur was quite unwarranted and unworthy, feel that this incident has not been handled as well or as sensibly as it might have been, especially bearing in mind the long and distinguished service given to the museum by those who have been declared redundant? Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity of thanking them for their services?

Mr. Luce : I understand my hon. Friend's point. I, too, attach the highest importance to good staff management and good personal relations. I must reinforce the fact that I fully support the overall objectives that are designed to maintain and enhance the standards of scholarship and research, to improve the standards of maintenance and management of the objects in the collections, as well as increasing the museum's contribution to education while attracting the public. All those are important objectives. I am grateful to all the staff, many of whom have served the Victoria and Albert museum for many years.

Mr. Fisher : Will the Minister explain the nature of the Government's interference, which was quoted by professor Martin Kemp as one of the reasons for his resignation from the trustees? Does he accept that, with so many of the staff voicing their concern and lack of support for the restructuring plan, all is far from well at the Victoria and Albert museum and that he could best fulfil his responsibilities by setting up a committee of inquiry into the running, the curatorial and administrative structuring and the funding of the museum?

Mr. Luce : I must reconfirm that there is no question of any Government interference in the management of the Victoria and Albert museum. I believe--I have made this clear repeatedly--that the Government should delegate responsibility for the management of the museums to the director, trustees and the chairman of the trustees. I am sure that that principle of devolution of authority is right. As I have said, I support the general objectives of the restructuring which, incidentally, are in line with the changes made some months ago by the national maritime museum. The hon. Gentleman asked how that restructuring will take place. As I understand it, the changes will take between two and three years to be completed. I have been told by the director that she will undertake to review carefully the progress of the changes as they happen.

Mr. Jessel : How has management restructuring worked out in other museums such as the national maritime museum at Greenwich, the natural history museum and the science museum? Have they been able to retain the services of their top experts and scholars? Can my right hon. Friend throw any light on what differences there may be between what happened at those museums and what happened at the Victoria and Albert museum?

Mr. Luce : My hon. Friend is right to point out that over the months and years there have been a number of

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management changes to modernise the administration of our great institutions. He is right to draw attention to the fact that the science museum and the natural history museum have experienced changes. The national maritime museum has experienced changes broadly in line with the concept behind the changes at the Victoria and Albert museum. They have relieved the scholars--to whose research work I attach the highest importance--of day-to-day management. The concept has been successfully implemented at the national maritime museum, from which we should learn a lesson.

British Theatre Association Library

58. Mr. Winnick : To ask the Minister for the Arts what further representations he has received over the funding of the British Theatre Association library.

Mr. Luce : I have received many representations from organisations and individuals. I am hopeful that a solution will now be found to enable the continuation of the main services offered by the British Theatre Association in a suitable location.

Mr. Winnick : Is the Minister aware of the tremendous loss that would result if the association and the library were forced to close? How optimistic is the Minister that a solution will be found in the very near future? Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that tremendous anxiety is felt, not only in the theatre world--where, as he must be aware, it certainly exists--but more widely? Scholarship is at stake, and one hopes that a solution will be found in the next few weeks.

Mr. Luce : To my surprise, I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman said. I certainly accept that the library and information services provided by the British Theatre Association library have been valuable, not only to professionals in the theatre, but to amateur dramatic societies around the country, for which they provide an important information service. I have instructed the British library to work intensively with the British Theatre Association library and other organisations with a view to seeking a viable solution. I have recently had meetings with the director, chairman and president of the British Theatre Association library, as well as British library officials, and I am confident that a viable solution will be found from one of the options that are being considered.

Ethnic Minority Arts

59. Mr. Baldry : To ask the Minister for the Arts whether he will make a statement on the results of the Arts Council symposium on ethnic minority arts.

Mr. Luce : I was able to attend this particular symposium with my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten). The council reaffirmed its determination to pursue equality of opportunity across all areas of the arts.

Mr. Baldry : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply and I am sure that he and the rest of the Treasury team are doing all they can to promote opportunities in ethnic minority arts. Does my right hon. Friend agree that one purpose of promoting opportunities in ethnic minority art is to achieve a greater understanding

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and tolerance of each other's cultures? If we do not learn to understand, tolerate and live with each other's cultures, we shall return to the dark ages.

Mr. Luce : I must agree with my hon. Friend. There is no shadow of doubt that Chinese, Asian and Afro-Caribbean cultures all have contributions to make to the culture of this country. The Arts Council is right to promote these policies, provided that they are based on the principle of equality of opportunity, which they are, and provided that any funds directed towards artistic organisations are based on the artistic merits of those organisations.

Live Theatre

60. Mr. Michael Marshall : To ask the Minister for the Arts what assessment the Office of Arts and Libraries has recently made of the health and well-being of live theatre in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Luce : Evidence from the public and private sectors shows that the theatre is in a healthy state. There are more than 600 venues in Great Britain, and about 350 separate drama companies. Attendance is around 50 million a year. The variety and quality of Britain's theatre make it the best in the world.

Mr. Marshall : I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer ; he knows that I fully support all that he has just said. Will he take this opportunity to reassure those who work in the theatre that he recognises now, as he has done in the past, the continuing role of Government through other Departments--the Treasury and the Department of Trade and Industry-- in encouraging private investment by so-called angels in future productions of the theatre?

Mr. Luce : I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who plays a prominent role as adviser to the Society of West End Theatres. I have repeatedly made clear my willingness--past and future--to hear the society's views on the health of the theatre in the West End. I am certainly keen to follow up my hon. Friend's suggestion.

Royal Opera House

61. Mr. Fraser : To aks the Minister for the Arts whether he has discussed the redevelopment of the Royal Opera House with the chairmen of English Heritage and the Arts Council ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Luce : The redevelopment of the Royal Opera House is, at this stage, a matter for the Royal Opera House development board to discuss with interested parties.

Mr. Fraser : How much truth is there in The Guardian allegation that there will be a major departure from the plans originally put to English Heritage? Will the Government ensure that there are sufficient funds for redevelopment in the interests of Covent Garden, so that the board of the opera house does not have to turn to short-term commercialism to achieve a lasting monument in London?

Mr. Luce : To answer the hon. Gentleman's first point--if this is what he was referring to--the suggestion of a wholly new concept known as opera in Disneyland is quite false, and the Royal Opera House has no such concept in mind. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it has for some time

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been working on redevelopment proposals for the longer term--proposals devised for the 1990s--to modernise the institution, to bring it up to date and to ensure that it matches other great opera houses around the world. That will be done entirely with private sector development, and I wholly support the Royal Opera House's objectives in that direction.


Trade Unions

90. Mr. Allen : To ask the Minister for the Civil Service when he next plans to meet with officials of the Civil Service trade unions ; and what topics are on the agenda.

The Minister of State, Privy Council Office (Mr. Richard Luce) : I have no plans at present to meet officials of the Civil Service trade unions.

Mr. Allen : What pre-testing of coastguards' eyesight and hearing takes place, and what continuous assessment is there of their eyesight and hearing, given that more of them work at VDUs and listening stations, often, I am told, for 12 hours at a stretch? What breaks do they have during the day and throughout the year, so that their eyes and ears can recover? I know that that is a detailed question, but I should appreciate it if the Minister were to write to me with his thoughts and some accurate information.

Mr. Luce : I shall, of course, draw that question to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, who is responsible for coastguards. If the hon. Gentleman expects me to answer his question off the cuff, he thereby ensures that I am the Minister for everything.

Mr. Holt : My right hon. Friend usually trots out the answer that four fifths of civil servants work outside the south-east triangle when I ask questions about the movement of civil servants to the north of England. His answer earlier was disappointing : he does not appear to have plans to talk to the Association of First Division Civil Servants to ask why none of its members want to go to the north of England, and why so few are there. What is his Department doing to encourage other Departments to see that senior civil servants take their Departments with them to the north of England?

Mr. Luce : I am entirely sympathetic to my hon. Friend's views. My right hon. Friend the Paymaster General is responsible for the overall policy of relocation of civil servants. I have repeatedly made it plain that four out of five civil servants work outside Greater London, that in the past nine years another 12,000 have moved outside Greater London through dispersal and relocation and that my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General has identified a review of 34,000 civil servants who could possibly be moved. It is not certain whether they will be, but the review is under way. I hope that that encourages my hon. Friend.

91. Mr. Harry Barnes : To ask the Minister for the Civil Service when he last met Civil Service unions ; and what matters were discussed.

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Mr. Luce : I have meetings from time to time with representatives of Civil Service trade unions both centrally and during visits to Civil Service establishments. A wide variety of matters are raised.

Mr. Barnes : Has the Minister given further consideration to the demands of the Civil Service trade unions that interviewers for the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys should be included in the principal Civil Service pension scheme, as contributions towards that scheme are already deducted from their salaries?

Mr. Luce : I note what the hon. Gentleman says, and I know that discussions are continuing. This is principally a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I shall make a point of ensuring that the hon. Gentleman receives a specific reply on that issue.

Mr. Jack : My right hon. Friend will be aware of the great disappointment shown by many members of the Civil Service trade unions when his Department had to transfer to the Treasury my question on Civil Service relocations to the Fylde coast. Will he take this opportunity to endorse the Fylde coast as a suitable place for civil servants to work, and will he provide such information as is necessary to show that the Fylde coast is suitable to my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General when he makes his decisions on the matter?

Mr. Luce : I understand my hon. Friend's sense of frustration, but there is a clearly laid-out division of responsibility between my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and myself on Civil Service matters. Where I can, I try to give a broad Government reply on Civil Service matters, even if they do not directly concern me. As for my hon. Friend's specific point, I shall draw my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General to the importance of attracting more civil servants to the Fylde area and ensure that he takes that point on board.

Mr. Madden : To revert to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) about OPCS interviewers, has the Minister seen the leaflet issued by the Institution of Professional Civil Servants entitled, "Would you do this job?" Is the Minister aware that those 500 interviewers, who are mainly women, are badly paid and have no holiday or sick pay, no job security and no promotion prospects? They have been struggling for 10 years for a pension. Is it not high time that that injustice was remedied by the Minister and that those women, who often work irregular hours alone, at night and in dangerous circumstances, were given justice and a proper pension?

Mr. Luce : Although it is not my direct responsibility, I shall certainly draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to the hon. Gentleman's points.

Sir Peter Hordern : Is it not the case that the Paymaster General's office is in Crawley? Does my right hon. Friend know whether the Paymaster General considers that to be the best place to deploy his resources rather than the north-east or the north-west?

Mr. Luce : It is only fair that I do not give a direct answer on behalf of my right hon. Friend. But he made it plain in a recent statement that we are reviewing the

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position of 34,000 civil servants to see whether it is possible to relocate them. I hope that my hon. Friend realises the importance that the Government attach to relocation.


93. Mr. Fisher : To ask the Minister for the Civil Service if he has any plans to alter the terms and conditions of employment of civil servants in those units of administration and Government work that may be proposed for privatisation.

Mr. Richard Luce : No, Sir.

Mr. Fisher : Will the Minister confirm or deny the rumoured existence of a proposed Privatisation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill which would remove the pension rights of civil servants?

Mr. Luce : I know of no such Bill. But let me make it plain that the policy on privatisation remains clear and consistent, as it has for the past 10 years. It is for each Government Department to review whether any of its operations could be more efficiently managed by means of privatisation. Failing that, there are other ways of dealing with the matter. If privatisation is an option, it is of course important to treat civil servants fairly and properly. Each case must be reviewed, and the Secretary of State for the Department involved will be accountable to the House.

Mr. Barry Field : If my right hon. Friend has no plans to alter the terms and conditions of employment of civil servants before privatisation, does he plan to introduce alterations to allow for regional pay, thereby saving the British taxpayer a considerable amount of money?

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Mr. Luce : My hon. Friend has put his finger on an important point in terms of not only the location but the recruitment and retention of civil servants. Recent agreements reached with the Civil Service unions have led to greater flexibility in the arrangements, allowing for flexible pay to take into account people's skills and the area in which they work. That is the direction in which we are going, and I think it makes entire sense in terms of proper recruitment and retention policies.

Dr. Marek : The Opposition welcome the Minister's statement that he has not heard of the Privatisation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 1990, and that at present he has no plans to change the existing pension entitlements of civil servants prior to privatisation in any area for which the Government may have such proposals. May I ask him to go a little further and say that is his view, and that in future he will oppose any changes in, for example, the pension entitlements of civil servants before any privatisation?

Mr. Luce : Each case has to be treated on its merits according to the circumstances. If we are talking about the Civil Service and our proposals for privatisation, clearly the options available to the civil servants who are involved will have to be set out--whether they stay in the Civil Service, or whether they have an option to transfer, in which case they will probably have the option to transfer their pension as well. Clearly, it is important to ensure that, so far as terms and conditions are concerned, civil servants are treated as fairly as possible.

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