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Mr. Wardell : Does the Secretary of State agree that it is sad that the only centre of the tinplate industry in the United Kingdom is being decimated in that way? Is it not a sign of Britain's continuing long-term decline in manufacturing employment? Does he accept that at Velindre, where the most job losses will take place, the missing link of the M4, which is an important factor in attracting investment to that site, will not be completed until the end of 1994, according to his plans? Will he look again at the matter and make sure that the link is completed earlier?
Mr. Walker : On the latter question, we shall be publishing the programme for roads with the appropriate priorities after Easter. However, the hon. Gentleman knows that it is not a matter of getting rid of the tinplate industry, it is a matter of rationalisation which will direct a considerable amount of additional investment to other locations in Wales and ensure their effectiveness. The steel industry in Wales is currently in a very strong and powerful position.
The Minister for the Arts (Mr. Richard Luce) : I welcome the aims of the London international opera festival. I will be giving a reception for Pavilion Opera at Lancaster house on Thursday 18 May, which is to be followed by a performance.
Mr. Greenway : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the London international opera festival does an excellent job in encouraging young composers, singers and audiences to participate in opera? Could not that example be emulated in other parts of the country? Will my right hon. Friend give his Oscar to that body which would be a much worthier recipient than some other recipients of Oscars yesterday?
Mr. Luce : I agree with my hon. Friend that the opera festival which takes place in May and June places particular emphasis on young people, young composers, singers and audiences. It is very valuable because it is a good investment for the future.
Mr. Tony Banks : I am glad to hear the Minister welcoming the opera festival. Precisely what funding is being provided for the festival by the Office of Arts and Libraries? May I have an invitation to the reception?
Mr. Luce : I take careful note of the hon. Gentleman's last request. In regard to money, the hon. Gentleman knows that direct funding for the performing arts is not provided by the Office of Arts and Libraries, but by the Arts Council. A number of opera companies such as the English National Opera, Kent Opera and Opera North receive direct funding from the Arts Council which decides what support it gives to such organisations.
Mr. Luce : I regularly attend the meetings of European Community Ministers responsible for cultural affairs. I will be in Santiago de Compostela for an informal meeting of Ministers under the Spanish presidency at the end of this month, when we expect to discuss audiovisual, library and book matters.
Sir David Price : My question went a little wider. Given that an important element of the common European heritage is artistic and cultural, and given that the Community now accepts a social dimension in its formulation of policy, does it not make sense to air a cultural and artistic dimension, and is it not time that my right hon. Friend took an initiative in that direction?
Mr. Luce : I accept what my hon. Friend says, except that cultural co-operation goes beyond the boundaries of the Community. I do not think that it makes sense to draw a line at the Community, although I am in favour of a measure of co-operation within the Community. Of course, this does not come within the area of competence of the treaty of Rome or the Single European Act, but that has not stopped Ministers of the European Community indulging in multilateral co-operation, and I agree with that.
Mr. Buchan : Does the Minister agree that it might be helpful in carrying out his communitaire responsibilities in relation to the city of culture--Glasgow--if he will tell us how much Government money he intends to offer? So far, it has been very little.
Mr. Luce : I admire very much the fact that since the decision was taken to give the status of cultural city of Europe to Glasgow in 1990, it has taken full advantage of it. It is attracting a large number of tourists and others to enjoy the arts in Glasgow. I believe that next year the cultural city will be a great success. With that in mind, although I made it plain at the beginning that there would be no central Government support for it, I am glad that I have been able to provide £500,000 to help in that process.
Mr. Luce : In 1986-87--the latest year for which full statistics are available--English library authorities held 115.6 million books compared with 110 million in 1979-80. That is an increase in books per head of population from 2.37 to 2.45.
Details of titles held by libraries are not kept centrally. Welsh library authorities are the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales.
Mr. Jessel : In view of the significant increase in the number of books, will my right hon. Friend comment on the whingeing, whining and falsehoods put about by the Library Campaign, the leaflets of which pretend that there has been a 4 per cent. drop in the stock of books, that issues have dropped by 7 per cent. and that libraries intend to force people to pay?
Mr. Luce : My hon. Friend is right. The Library Campaign has dented its credibility by such extraordinary distortions in the launch of its campaign. There was a 9 per cent. increase in real terms in expenditure on libraries between 1979 and 1986-87. Book stocks increased from 110 million to over 115 million in the same period and service points have increased from 14,000 to just under 18,000. Also, there has not been a staff cut as the Library Campaign suggests but a marginal staff increase.
Mr. Fisher : Does the Minister accept that there has been a net loss of over 200 libraries under this Government and that book fund spending is down considerably? If there is a distortion of figures, as the Minister accused the Library Campaign, he also is distorting and giving extremely partial figures.
On the subject of libraries, will the Minister join me in congratulating Mr. Holmes a Court in coming to the aid of the British Theatre Association library? We welcome his generosity but we deplore the Minister's failure to act. How much longer can he go on ducking his responsibilities and hoping that the private sector will bail him out of his refusal to act on important national issues such as this?
Mr. Luce : It is astonishing that the hon. Gentleman and Opposition Members find it impossible to welcome support for the arts when it comes from the private sector. In their judgment it always has to come from the taxpayer. To suggest that the funding should have come from
Column 726another source is rather silly. The hon. Gentleman should welcome wholeheartedly and without hesitation the remarkable support that Mr. Holmes a Court has now announced. I am glad that the executive committee of the British Theatre Association library has accepted his offer to provide premises for the association in central London. The premises will enable the library to continue its operations with a firm financial base, underwritten by Mr. Holmes a Court. I should like to pay tribute to his generosity. I am contributing £25,000 to the transitional costs of the association.
Mr. Smith : Will the Minister join me in congratulating the Southern Arts Association and the other regional associations on their role in fostering community arts? In the light of that, will he assure the House that the Wilding inquiry will not be permitted to undermine the autonomy of the associations or to weaken their links with local authorities in a further act of centralisation for which, sadly the Government have become known?
Mr. Luce : I welcome the role played by the regional arts associations. There has been a substantial shift of resources to them in the past few years, to such an extent that today they handle about £30 million of taxpayers' money. It is for them to decide precisely how they disburse that money. The important point about the Wilding inquiry is to examine the relationship between the regional arts associations, the Arts Council and central Government, to seek greater accountability, to examine the coherence of funding policy and to see whether the structure and procedures can be improved. The inquiry will also study administration and that is needed in view of all the changes that have taken place. There is a principle of arm's-length policy in the allocation of funds. Decisions about artistic freedom and merit are for the Arts Council and the regional arts associations.
Sir David Price : Does my right hon. Friend accept that local authorities of all political persuasions in the Southern Arts Association area are strongly behind that association's work, but that there is a strong feeling that the Arts Council is not giving the Southern Arts Association a fair share of the money allocated to regional arts associations? It is important to resolve the issue reasonably soon, otherwise the initiative about which he has spoken may go a bit sour in the south of England.
Mr. Luce : I take my hon. Friend's point. The Arts Council has devised a new formula for disbursing money between the regional arts associations. The Southern Arts Association has received an 11.4 per cent. increase in resources to recognise the fact that it has been relatively underfunded over the years.
Mr. Luce : There are no proposals to change the position of the Welsh Arts Council which, incidentally, under the formula for disbursing funds, receives relatively more per capita than the English regions.
Dr. Marek : Has the Minister consulted the Welsh Arts Council about a picture gallery in north Wales? Will he take a grip of the spending at Bodelwyddan by Clwyd county council? There are many of us who want to see a proper arts gallery there, but money must be spent wisely and properly.
Mr. Luce : That is largely a matter for the county council, but if the hon. Gentleman is referring to the national portrait gallery at Bodelwyddan, I hope that the House will welcome the extension of a national body to north Wales.
The Minister of State, Privy Council Office (Mr. Richard Luce) : Since I last reported to the House on 1 February, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced that he has concluded that the Central Office of Information should become an agency. In addition last week my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement announced the decision to set up the four main non-nuclear research establishments, covering 12,500 staff, as a single organisation with the intention that they should become a next steps agency by April 1991. I strongly welcome both those announcements which illustrate the importance that the Government attach to the next steps initiative.
Column 728In many cases, the best way to fill top posts will be by competition, open to both external and internal candidates. My hon. Friend may be interested to know that the chief executive designate for the defence research agency will be recruited by open competition.
Mr. Thurnham : In the search for new talent, will my right hon. Friend confirm that he is doing all in his power to encourage the agencies to move to areas of high unemployment out of London whenever possible? How many more agencies does he expect to be able to announce this year?
Mr. Luce : Yes, I confirm that it is the Government's policy to seek ways in which we can encourage Departments to move to other parts of the country. Indeed, only today I announced that the occupational health service, which is part of the Cabinet Office, is planning to move its headquarters to Edinburgh in the autumn, bringing cost and operational advantages, and involving co-location with the Scottish regional office of the occupational health service. As my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General has already disclosed to the House, no fewer than 34,000 jobs are being reviewed for possible relocation elsewhere, outside the south-east.
Mr. Skinner : Can the Minister tell us whether a new agancy has been set up, such as a Ministry for looking after the Christmas mail? Is it true that the Secretary of State for Transport resigned, sending his resignation three months ago, but that it got mixed up in the Christmas mail? [Interruption.]
Mr. Morgan : Will the Minister explain whether the creation of an agency alters the status of the members of staff of the agency, and especially that of the most senior member of staff? Does that person become the accounting officer instead of that role being fulfilled by the permanent secretary of the Department, and if so, does that mean that Opposition Members can have access to the chief accounting officer of the agency, which they would not have to a civil servant? At the moment, hon. Members have access to, for example, the heads of the Welsh Arts Council, the Welsh Development Agency and the Wales tourist board, but not to the head of the National Health Service or to the permanent secretary of the Welsh Office. What will be the status of the head of an agency?
Mr. Luce : I am glad to answer a serious question-- [Interruption.] I am prepared to answer a serious question. On the question of the positions of the chief executives of the agencies, the system of the accountability of Ministers remains the same, but there will have been--there is under this system--delegation of responsibility to chief executives. It is perfectly possible--not only because they are accounting officers--for the Select Committees to summon them to give evidence. The hon. Gentleman was right to ask his question about hon. Members. Access will be open to Members of Parliament. The operational duties of the chief executives will be their responsibility, not that of the Secretary of State. Hon. Members will be free to write direct and to take up issues direct with the chief executives.
Mr. Luce : I launched the bridge scheme with my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on 1 March. The scheme aims to encourage secondment and exchanges between Government and business, and I hope businesses as well as Government Departments and other areas of the public sector will take full advantage of the opportunities available.
Mr. Jack : May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the excellence of the advertising of the bridge scheme? Will he confirm that its success will be ensured if the right example comes from the top? How many people are currently on secondment at the Cabinet Office?
Mr. Luce : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. If the scheme is to succeed in encouraging secondment both ways, it is important that people at the top of industry, as well as in the Civil Service, should encourage the process. Between 1977 and 1987, secondment quadrupled, which is a considerable improvement. I confirm that 24 people are on secondment at the Cabinet Office--10 out and 14 in. There are 1,600 staff in post in the Cabinet Office, and at grade 7 and above 64 per cent. are on loan from other Government Departments.
Mr. Tony Banks : Is that what the Americans call the "revolving door" with which John Tower had so many difficulties? What safeguards are in place to ensure that cosy relationships do not develop between senior civil servants, Ministers and defence and other suppliers to the Government through contracts?
Mr. Luce : I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not welcome the idea of more exchanges between civil servants and the private sector. Surely it is healthy for both the Civil Service and the private sector to learn how the Government work and for the Civil Service to learn how commerce and industry work. I think that the Civil Service will welcome a breath of fresh air from the outside.
Mr. Soames : Is my right hon. Friend aware that morale in Civil Service offices in my constituency is extremely high, particularly in the DSS, because the civil servants do an exceptionally good job? Does my right hon. Friend agree that we are now moving towards a time when regional pay would make an enormous difference to the performance of civil servants and Government agencies? Will my right hon. Friend see what he can do to achieve that laudable aim as quickly as he can?
Mr. Luce : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for paying a tribute to the work of the DSS in Crawley. I include also the excellent work done by the 900 or so staff in the office of my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General. It is now
Column 730very much the consistent policy of the Government, in terms of flexible pay, pay additions, performance bonuses and so on, to take into account the requirements of a particular area or a particular skill that may be in short supply. I agree with my hon. Friend that that policy should do a lot to help recruitment and retention in the Civil Service.
Dr. Marek : Is the Minister aware that one of the ways in which morale could be improved is to put into operation the recommendations in the consultation paper "Service to the Public"? That paper clearly implies extra staffing in social security offices, especially in London. What representations will he make to the relevant Secretary of State?
Mr. Luce : I am glad that the hon. Gentleman referred to the paper about the quality of services. It was placed in the Library of the House of Commons. Everything has been done under our training schemes to encourage civil servants to provide the best quality service, given the resources that they have. I am certainly glad that, in that paper, there are signs of the kind of job that is being done by a number of Ministries to improve the quality of their services. Staff numbers are for my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State.
Mr. Holt : Does my right hon. Friend agree that performance often goes with morale? In that case, the morale of DSS officers in Blackpool must be at an all-time low. Performance in relation to the general public is abysmal. Is it not time that a management audit was carried out to ensure that attendance and mobility allowance departments are given a thorough shaking-up from top to bottom?
Mr. Luce : I am concerned to hear what my hon. Friend says. I will certainly draw that point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security so that he can give my hon. Friend a full reply.
Mr. Luce : As part of its general programme of raising awareness of issues of public interest, the college is holding a briefing session for senior civil servants on the greenhouse effect on 22 March, in collaboration with the Committee for the Public Understanding of Science.
Mr. Dalyell : Added to a session on the greenhouse effect, which one welcomes, could there be a similar seminar at the college on issues-- climatological and otherwise--arising from the botanical and biological holocaust that is taking place in the rain forests of the world? Given world weather patterns, it could affect us in a most severe way.
Mr. Luce : I admire the hon. Gentleman for the persistence with which he pursues this important matter. I should point out that training at the Civil Service college is principally geared to training for better management. Clearly, if there are opportunities such as the one that I have demonstrated to bring in wider environmental issues, the college will take them.
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