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Column 510creation of regional police assessment centres from which chief constables would meet their recruiting needs. I do not know why he wants regional police assessment centres when he could have a central one which would do the job properly and better than centres in individual regions or areas.
Other hon. Members have pointed out that in Britain we have chief constables who are supposed to be in charge of large forces and that they require great management skills. Yet many chief constables have not attended senior command courses, some have not been on other courses and I dread to think that some might not even have been on a special course. Indeed, that is probably the case because of the special course timetable and the time at which it started. A worrying aspect of our policing is that we have such an enormous organisation, taking the police as a whole, and that none of those top men have been on a course on which any large body would insist. Nobody in Shell or ICI would be at the top of such an organisation without having been on a type of Harvard school of management course.
But the police, who are in management--they are managing huge resources and large numbers of people in an organisation of great importance to the nation--do not go on any substantial management course designed to give their forces the managerial skill that is required. In that sense we are still in the 19th century. We were impressed when we went to the Netherlands and saw them coping with this problem. We saw them training their managers at an early age for the great duties in their police forces that they would have to undertake. We saw that they realised the importance of that training. We must have a radical rethink of our police force if we are to bring it into the 21st century and make it the great force that we want and need.
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) : At the start of a debate such as this, as one listens to the excellent contributions that are made, one is not sure what major themes will emerge at later stages and, indeed, whether there will be a thematic balance to the deliberations. Taken with the debate on policing in London that we had last week, it is clear that some common themes have been emerging.
It has been refreshing to hear the comments on those themes because if one can describe this Chamber as a state of the art debating chamber--perhaps we will become that in November--we have today witnessed the state of the art pointed towards certain themes. We on the Opposition Benches warmly welcome many of the proposals that the Select Committee have made. The Committee did an excellent job in pinpointing some of the problems that prevent us achieving the police force that the nation needs and deserves.
Having said that, it will come as no surprise to Conservative Members to learn that I shall make some comments of a somewhat more partisan nature. I promise that they will not be too partisan. Many comments have been made on topics that are familiar to us--about efficiency, effectiveness and management--and the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) made some good points about the training of managers in the police force and the need for good management.
Column 511Comments have been made about the need for greater centralisation. That theme is touted a great deal when we talk of police matters. Although it is important to speak of efficiency and
effectiveness--rather in the way people speak of motherhood and apple pie-- when talking of efficiency and good management, I am not sure about the need for centralisation. Indeed, my hon. Friends and I prefer to dwell on some of the underlying themes, such as accountability and the tripartism that we believe has worked to a considerable degree in our police forces over many years. That healthy tripartism has brought the police authorities --that democratic element with an important role to play in keeping the police in touch with their grassroots--to focus on local opinion.
While my hon. Friends and I are pragmatic about having a degree of centralisation and about considering whether we should have this or that number of police forces, we are greatly against having a national police force, and we would not go down such a road with the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West.
Part of our review process has included the structure of regional government. It would be foolish not to consider the structure of police forces in relation to changing the nature of regional government. Accordingly, we would wish to consider the number of police forces at the same time as examining the regional structure. But no road that we went down would leave out the notion of strong democratic accountability about which we talked in the debate last week. Tripartism has served our police forces well, and we should not ignore that fact.
I have a mild criticism of the work of the Select Committee. As I read its report, there seems to be some neglect of the local authority point of view. Local authorities have a firm view and one would have expected the Committee to say more about local accountability and full participation. In other words, more notice should have been taken of evidence from the local authority angle. If that is not done, we can be out of balance in the evidence to which we listen, and our conclusions can, of course, be swayed by the evidence. That is a mild criticism, and I do not want to get it out of proportion.
st bring the Home Office into the discussion when considering the common services of the police. One is in the position, as it were, opicking up a large stone in the garden and finding common police services beneath it. When one heard members of the Committee giving eloquent testimony to the appalling state of the higher police training centres and the police staff colleges, one was tempted to intervene and ask if they were still slopping out in those establishments. Mr. Wheeler : Not quite
Mr. Sheerman : The hon. Gentleman says, "Not quite," but it sounded as if the Home Office was responsible for rather genteel slums where it expected senior policemen to spend much time. If those establishments are not up to standard, it is the Home Office's responsibility. It should get its act together and provide centres of which the police can be proud and which give the right impression to the public. I believe that people react in a positive way to the right environment. It is possible that we behave in such a ritualistic way in the Chamber because, basically, we work in a museum. If we worked within a nice modern atmosphere, perhaps we would behave like civilised human beings most of the time.
Column 512The forensic science service is another stone that I must congratulate the Select Committee on turning up. It has said that the forensic science service is pretty awful in terms of the morale of its staff and its expenditure keeping abreast of other expenditure in the police service. Many hon. Members will have learnt today that the forensic science service does not suffuse the whole of the police system. I am one of those people old enough to remember Marius Goring. I cannot remember the title of the show, but he played a forensic scientist who solved every case that came into his laboratory. I believe we still live in the days when we think that someone like Marius Goring will sort everything out. The Select Committee has shown that that is an out-of-date image. The fact is that the forensic dimension is not included in every stage of the training and retraining of our police force. Like many members of the Select Committee, I believe that forensic science must be built into police training.
My hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) said that he believed that the forensic science service should be at the sharp end of police investigations. Forensic scientists should be working at the scene of the crime with the police and not waiting in their laboratories for samples and evidence to be sent to them.
I believe that we have done the great service of reminding the Home Office that it is in an indefensible position in that it has presided over a forensic science service with a lack of morale and expenditure--a disastrous combination. Some evidence has suggested that the police service and criminal detection are only as good as the forensic service. If that is the case, we have a great deal of ground to make up. I hope that the Minister will put on record his determination to make this top priority for expenditure. I hope that he will fight his corner with the Treasury and ensure that the expenditure comes through. After all, we are talking about £77 million for the whole of the common services, which is a tiny amount when the overall expenditure on the police is £3.5 billion. The other aspect that I want to highlight is that common police services are and must be accountable. I was impressed by the Select Committee's report, especially on the ACOP secretariat, which is something about which the Opposition have been concerned. To some extent there has been a misrepresentation of what we disliked at the time of the miners' strike. I am perhaps striking a discordant note, but it is one that must be struck.
What the Opposition did not like about the ACPO secretariat--it was then called the national reporting centre, and is now called the mutual aid co- ordination centre--during the miners' strike was that there was no accountability. It was obvious to everyone that it was a national police effort--a national police force--that in many senses dealt with the miners' strike. If there had been accountability, the position would have been different. However, there was no accountability. The House could not ask questions of the Home Secretary because he was not responsible.
I know that I cannot have my cake and eat it, but I do not want a police system which is too centralised. Implicit in that is the building up of the ACPO role, but I want to build up that role with an accountability dimension, for which the Select Committee has come out strongly. I hope that the Minister will respond positively to that, because it goes to the heart of the good things proposed by the Select Committee.
Column 513I do not agree with everything that has been suggested by the Select Committee. One or two of the proposals have some dangers. There are certainly dangers in setting up the new agency under which services can be charged--for example, telecommunications and forensic science services. I have said in my two interventions that I believe that there will be real problems if a charging mechanism is established before we have the forensic science service functioning correctly. After all, the Home Office has a very powerful research arm.
I have the greatest respect for the Home Office research unit. Select Committees are generators of ideas, good practice and recommendations, but they do not have all the answers. Select Committees, like any other committees, are subject to fashion and fad. However, it is the job of the Select Committee to make recommendations. It is then the job of the Home Office to take on board those recommendations and have them monitored. We must be pragmatic, but we must get the forensic science service in place and monitor how good it is before we think about ways of changing the structure and perhaps having a new kind of agency. The next task--the bread and butter task--of taking the forensic science service much more seriously, funding it properly and suffusing it with police services is a priority.
The move to strengthening ACPO must be made by improving its effectiveness. It may be that strengthening ACPO is not the right answer and that the common services must be strengthened in some other way. However, I support the move to try to strengthen ACPO first.
I welcome the Select Committee reports. They are a little bland in places, but by and large they are not bad. However, I urge the Government to recognise that they have turned over a couple of rather large stones in the garden with some nasty things underneath which need to be sorted out.
I urge the Minister to be cautious in taking any steps towards centralisation, a national police force or too small a number of police forces.
We believe that accountability is absolutely essential. As I said in last week's debate on the Metropolitan police, we want a police force that is efficient, effective and incorrupt. In a modern democracy, however, the police force must be accountable. If we could combine such efficiency with accountability and retain some form of tripartism, we would be much happier than we are now.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg) : I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) would like, with the leave of the House, to make some concluding remarks, and for that reason I propose to confine my remarks to approximately 15 minutes. That means that I will be unable to take an overview of what has been said ; I hope that the House will forgive me for that. I shall seek to reply to a number of specific points that have been raised by hon. Members, but I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I fail to reply to them all ; certainly no discourtesy is intended.
I echo what has been said by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman). The House is grateful for
Column 514the reports before us, for the careful work that the Select Committee has put into its inquiries and for the careful way in which its recommendations and comments have been marshalled. Most certainly valuable work has been done and valuable recommendations have been brought forward. The attention of the House and of the Home Office have been focused on issues to which, perhaps, we have not always given sufficient attention in the past.
I want to refer to a number of specific questions about the police college at Bramshill, the status of ACPO and related matters. I agree with the view expressed by the Select Committee that the police college should remain at Bramshill. The House may remember that, some time ago, I had departmental responsibility for the police service. I no longer have that responsibility, but when I did I visited Bramshill on several occasions and I was greatly impressed by the fabric of the building and by the work done. It would be a pity for the police college to move from Bramshill. I can reassure the Select Committee about its location.
Two issues flow from our discussion of Bramshill, one of which is accommodation. It is true that, in some respects, the accommodation is deficient, and clearly we need to contemplate a programme for upgrading the accommodation for staff and for students.
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Dame J. Fookes) asked whether it would be possible to enhance the provision made at Bramshill for overseas students. That suggestion will be considered, but it is important to remember that, the college is primarily for this country's police service. Any increase in the provision for overseas students should not be at the expense of the provision made for our country's police service.
A further point that has been raised in a number of different contexts is whether it would be sensible or possible to use proceeds from the Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986 to finance any of the police service, in particular Bramshill. My hon. Friends the Members for Drake and for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) also raised that point. I have responsibility for drugs policy in the Home Office and that question is raised more directly in the context of that policy. We have not yet come to a concluded view upon this matter.
The House may recall that about three weeks ago we had a debate on drugs. I then raised the possibility of setting up a central fund, not financed directly from the proceeds of drug trafficking, which could be used by individual police forces in certain circumstances. We have not come to a final conclusion, but that fund is an aspect of the debate about this matter. There is a reluctance, I think rightly, to use the proceeds of a specific source of income for specific purposes. Historically, that has been the attitude of the Treasury and it is one with which I have some sympathy. The Government and the Home Office are, however, considering whether any part of police expenses could be met, at least in part, from the proceeds of the 1986 Act. We have come to no conclusion, but in the context of our consideration I shall take into account the comments that have been made today and the recommendations of the Select Committee. Some interesting comments have been made on the status of Bramshill in the context of a police career and on the status of ACPO. It is undoubtedly true that a number of senior officers of ACPO rank have reached that position
Column 515without having gone through the senior command course. As a general proposition, I believe that that is a pity, as all officers would benefit from participation in that course.
My hon. Friends the Members for Drake, for Westminster, North and for Ryedale suggested that participation in the senior command course should be a condition precedent of appointment to ACPO rank. We do not have a concluded view on that matter and we would certainly wish to undertake discussions. We are, however, giving it consideration and we shall consider it further against the background of what has been said today and against the recommendations of the Select Committee.
My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North, among others, suggested that the ACPO secretariat should be strengthened. The Government have accepted that Select Committee proposal in principle and we are now considering the financial questions that flow from such a decision. My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North also suggested that ACPO ranks should be a Home Office central grade--that suggestion was supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale. It is an interesting proposal, which would represent a major change of policy.
Mr. Hogg : I gather from that that there is not only support for a major change of policy, but a recognition that it would involve a major change of policy--both things must be kept in mind. We have not yet come to a concluded view on that particular recommendation.
The Select Committee recommended two things regarding the status of ACPO and in particular of its committees : first, that it should be given formal status, and secondly, that it should be made accountable. Such accountability would be different from the existing accountability to which the officers are subject. The component officers of ACPO are already accountable, although they are accountable not to some central agency but to the individual forces from which they come and the police authorities that preside-- Mr. Worthington indicated dissent.
Mr. Worthington : I find it difficult to see how they are accountable, when each chief constable is a law unto himself and is responsible for the operational policing of his area. In that respect, there is no accountability.
Mr. Hogg : The hon. Gentleman takes too narrow a view. ACPO contains not only chief constables, but deputy chief constables and assistant chief constables, and those lesser ACPO ranks--if I may so describe them in shorthand--are accountable to the chief constable. In a broad sense, the chief constable is accountable to the police authority. He is not accountable in a detailed, operational sense, but in a broad sense he is, because the authority--subject to certain provisions, checks and balances of which the hon. Gentleman knows--has the power to dismiss him.
Column 516Officers in ACPO are accountable to a variety of different authorities, and the question is whether that accountability is adequate. That question must be considered and that was recommended by the Select Committee. However, the proposed change--that we should recognise what is now a staff association as a formal body, and make its component parts responsible and accountable to a central agency--is a dramatic one, upon which we have not yet come to a concluded view.
When I was involved in the police service in the Home Office, I was troubled by the fact that participation in Bramshill did not always advance a police officer's career. I sometimes felt that there was a reluctance on the part of officers within forces to come to Bramshill, either to participate in courses or as instructors, because they feared that doing so would not receive sufficient recognition from their sponsoring force, and particularly from their sponsoring chief constable. We must come to terms with this matter, and police authorities, particularly chief constables, must recognise that the experience of Bramshill plays an important part in a police officer's career development. I attach a high importance to Bramshill. The forensic service, quite rightly, figured largely in the debate. Charging has been the subject of much debate. The Committee recommended that the funding of the forensic service should be switched from common police services to a charge on individual police forces, based partly on capitation and partly on direct charging. The arguments for that were eloquently put by my hon. Friend the Member for Drake. I recognise that the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) does not wholly subscribe to them, but, on the whole, I find them persuasive.
Charging is a better way of determining the allocation of resources, both financial resources and the forensic facilities available. In addition, a chief constable who, under the revised system, would have to fund the process of charging, should have that discipline imposed upon him when he has to decide how best to conduct an inquiry. However, I also realise that there are a range of problems involved ; accordingly, work is now in hand to discover to what extent, and how, we may carry the plan forward. We intend that any new funding arrangement should be in place within the next three years, if possible by April 1991.
Manpower is a subject which has been much debated this evening. As the House will know, we are already committed to bringing the service up to complement. It is now about 23 under complement, and over the next two years we shall recruit an additional 28 officers. The Committee took the view that a greater expansion in manpower was required. We shall certainly consider that recommendation. We need to come to an assessment based on cost benefit and the financial implications.
On the subject of agency status, the House will know
Mr. Worthington rose --
Mr. Hogg : I am anxious to complete my speech, as I would like to let the Chairman of the Committee make some final remarks. The House will know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has announced that the service is a suitable candidate for agency status.
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) raised the issue of the working party report
Column 517on pathology. I am pleased to say that it will be produced later this month--I think that phraseology will be acceptable to the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell).
I am conscious that I have not answered all the questions raised, and apologise for that. However, it was not possible to do so because I, and I am sure the House, would like to let the final word rest with the Chairman of the Committee, who has presided over such a valuable series of reports.
Mr. Wheeler : With the leave of the House, I would like to bring this important debate to a conclusion. May I say on behalf of the Home Affairs Committee that this has been a valuable three hours which has enabled us to explore in greater detail on the Floor of the House some important issues and to discover the consensus which exists in the Chamber as a whole.
The Committee fully understands that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under -Secretary of State was unable to be definitive in his reply to some of the points raised in this debate and to many of the recommendations that the Committee has presented to the House and the Home Secretary. We fully appreciate that some of those recommendations are substantial--even controversial--and require careful consideration. But we are grateful to the Home Secretary and to the Home Office for the work which they are doing in analysing our recommendations and the evidence which supports them.
In this debate this afternoon, no fewer than five Committee members have had the opportunity to present their own points of view and to discuss the Committee's reports. Three other hon. Members, whom I might describe as outsiders to the work of the Committee, have been able to make a very worthwhile contribution, for which the Committee as a whole is most grateful.
In the one or two moments which I have left, I shall simply touch upon some of the key points. I imagine that for us all, the central theme of this afternoon's debate has been effectiveness, efficiency and accountability. It is common to both sides of the House that we wish to see those three cardinal principles in our police system in the United Kingdom and, particularly in England and Wales. Therefore, I share many of the views of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) who spoke for the official Opposition. We found that there is much in common, although there are differences--perhaps about the nature of the structure of the police service in England
Column 518and Wales. As is well known, I tend to favour central services through the common police services which are accountable and well organised, and I see the development of a regionalised police system in England and Wales. There may be differences here, but there are also common strands.
I thought that the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington), who is such a fine ornament upon the Committee, made a splendid comment when he suggested that research was essential to analysing the value of the forensic science service, which is a point that the Committee has made.
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Dame. J. Fookes) made an admirable contribution about charging for the forensic science service and put that case in a nutshell, for which I was most grateful to her. She also emphasised the value of Bramshill to overseas students. This is of particular importance in our fight against international drug trafficking, because we are able to bring people from other police services into our police college to understand our philosophy and the advantages that go with it. My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) made a memorable contribution when he analysed the role of ACPO and its work. He raised the interesting proposition of a central support committee--something to which I am sure we would wish to give further consideration.
The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) raised the issue of disaster planning for emergency services. It is possible that the Committee may want to give further thought to that, too. On the whole, this has been a valuable debate and the House has greatly profited from it.
It being three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Madam Deputy Speaker-- interrupted the proceedings. The Question necessary to dispose of the proceedings was deferred, pursuant to paragraph (4) of Standing Order No. 52 (Consideration of Estimates).
1. Control of Pollution (Amendment) Act 1989.
2. Water Act 1989.
3. Wesleyan Assurance Society Act 1989.
[Relevant documents : First Report from the Trade and Industry Committee of Session 1988-89 on Information Technology (House of Commons Paper No. 25), the Government's White Paper on Information Technology (Cm. 646) and the Minutes of Evidence taken before the Committee on 26th April 1989 (House of Commons Paper No. 338-i).] Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a further sum, not exceeding £322,022,000 be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund to defray the charges which will come in course of payment during the year ending on 31st March 1990, for expenditure by the Department of Trade and Industry at its research establishments (including the National Measurement Accreditation Service) and on the running costs of certain of its headquarters divisions, in its radiocommunications division and the Patent Office, support for industry (including industrial research and development, education, training, design, quality, marketing, management best practice and standards, business development and aircraft and aeroengine research and development), space technology programmes, protection of innovation, international trade (including export promotion, trade co-operation and international exhibitions), enterprise and job creation (the inner cities initiative and city action teams), miscellaneous support services, grants in aid, international subscriptions, provision of land and buildings, loans, grants, and other payments.-- [Mr. Forth.]
Our reason for selecting this subject stems from a decision in December 1987 to inquire into information technology. It was in particular the hon. Member for Warrington, North (Mr. Hoyle), who apologises for not being able to be with us, who conceived the idea of the debate, based on the growing worry about this country's trade deficit in information technology goods. It was big then, it is bigger now and it is growing remorselessly larger.
The subsequent hearings that we held throughout last year culminated in a report published in December ; three months later we received a White Paper from the Government.
The White Paper was eagerly awaited. Unfortunately, when it arrived it was somewhat misleading. I am sure that my hon. Friends who served on the Committee will enlarge on the problems that we encountered. We were aware that the DTI had misunderstood the report's axes of argument, and its acceptance rate for our 52 recommendations was only 28, which is not as high as we are usually awarded when we place a report before Parliament to which the DTI then responds. Perhaps the Department would have preferred us to consider petrol prices at the pumps--we considered that as a subject for
Column 520debate--or shipbuilding : the Government seem to give aid to private shipyards which is not available to the nationalised yards. Or we might have called for a popular debate on beer and the tied houses, but we stuck to information technology because I had called for a debate on it in Government time, but unfortunately the Leader of the House could not see his way to giving us one.
It is interesting to read in The Independent today that its technology correspondent, Mary Fagan, draws attention to a document which came from inside the DTI which states :
"Internal briefing papers told DTI officials to resist a Commons debate"
on information technology.
We have this debate in our time now and we look forward to exploiting the two hours and 48 minutes that are left--
Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel) : I fully understand my hon. Friend's point about the importance of the debate. On behalf of the parliamentary information technology committee I may say that we greatly value the thorough work that went into this report, and I assure my hon. Friend that we shall continue to help him in any way we can to further the debate in the coming weeks.
Mr. Warren : I am most grateful for that support from the chairman of the parliamentary information technology committee which does so much useful work on behalf of the House and the industry. We have had tussles with the DTI before on tin and on Westland, when we held inquiries, but in general it may surprise the House to know that we reached broad agreement on the proposals that we made on British Steel, on the Rover Group and on trade with China, eastern Europe and so on. Unfortunately, the information technology problem remains, and our unanimous proposals have been misinterpreted. These proposals were arrived at after a year--long presentation of the most skilful evidence from across the industry, collected by the Committee in Europe, Japan and the United States.
I could not resist bringing to the attention of the House a quotation by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs, who waited until the Select Committee was safely over the border in Scotland to look at financial services for 1992 before saying :
"This old-fashioned idea of the gargantuan dinosaur of Government, directing the sector by procurement policies, is ... typical of Select Committee members but not modern Government policy."--[ Official Report, 19 April 1989 ; Vol. 151, c. 385.]
It is a pity that my hon. Friend said that, because I am sure that he has since had a chance to read the report--clearly he had not read it at the time. No doubt he will be pleased to know that the Select Committee is eagerly looking forward to the chance of welcoming him with its usual courtesy, as soon as it can.
We also welcome my hon. Friend's self-announced appointment to his post. Our right hon. and noble Friend in another place said that there would be no Minister of information technology but at a recent press conference, our hon. Friend the Minister told us :
"I am your friendly Minister of IT".
Column 521We did not ask for a Minister of information technology, and the noble Lord did not expect one to be appointed. We hope that this self-appointment will survive any future shuffle.
I have always regarded my hon. Friend in good heart as a man who can be relied upon to pour oil on troubled waters. I note that he is not wearing his usual admirable watch chain, perhaps knowing that it has a dry tinder box attached to it. Nevertheless, I could not let the moment pass without telling my hon. Friend that the Committee was not happy with his view, which I am sure he will want to amend if he catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The report contains two main themes. No one knows better that my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General, whom I welcome to the debate, that Government as a business operation need information technology on a scale that they do not yet appreciate. Secondly, the United Kingdom trade deficit is the cause of growing national concern and it cannot be wished away by selective statistics.
The business of Government is labour-intensive--it is probably the most labour-intensive business in the country. Two of the tables in the report show the number of civil servants with computer workstations, and how many will have them in 1993. Table 12 shows that the major Departments of State have about 0.3 workstations per civil servant. By 1993, that will have risen to an average of 0.5. The best current practice is between 0.5 and, in the most advanced offices in private enterprise, 1 per person. The Government need to bring in a lot more technology because they face a major problem that they have not yet dealt with. Between now and 1993 the total number of people in the 18 to 24 age group, which is 6 million now, will drop to 4.8 million--a fall of 20 per cent. in potential recruits. Although I trust that the Conservative Government will continue to prosper through those years, I fear that they will not find themselves the most attractive employers for young people who will be the subject of intense competition in efforts to drag them away into highly paid jobs in other industries which can afford to pay more than the Government.
The only solution, with which the Government must come to grips, given the labour-intensive nature--
Miss Emma Nicholson (Torridge and Devon, West) : Why is my hon. Friend concentrating so hard on the under-24-year-olds? Information technology is eminently suited to the recruitment of middle-aged people, particularly women who work from home or part time. Government are part- time employers of notable success, and they offer job sharing and good working practices. It would be easy to train those over 24 in modern IT, which is so user-friendly, so why does my hon. Friend concentrate so heavily on the younger age group? I am concerned that the percentages to which my hon. Friend has referred may be slightly misleading. I refer especially to computerisation within Government and workstations. My hon. Friend will recall the central head office technology system which is being introduced to the Ministry of Defence, which is commonly known as CHOPS. With its introduction there will be 75,000 terminals. There will be a terminal on each senior manager's desk. My hon. Friend will--
Mr. Warren : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her intervention, and especially for the information about the Ministry of Defence. When the Committee asked it how many computer workstations it had, its first response was to tell us that it did not know. Secondly, the Minister told us that it could not give us the information because it was secret. I was inclined to think--
Mr. Warren : If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I shall proceed with my speech. I am sure that she will be able to catch the eye of the Chair later in the debate. As I have said, I am delighted to have the information about the Ministry of Defence to which she drew our attention. I still feel, however, that it did not know how many computer workstations it had.
I accept my hon. Friend's argument about the age group that I have selected, but I want to illustrate a problem that must be regarded as inevitable. There will not be enough people entering the labour market in the next five years to take up the job opportunities that will be available. I accept, of course, that there are job opportunities that involve the use of information technology throughout the age ranges. I wish that I could stand with my hon. Friend and believe that IT is all user- friendly. My experience is that it is usually antagonistic when I am using it. That is probably the result of bad luck over the years.
I draw the attention of the House--I hesitate to do this after my hon. Friend's intervention--to yet one more table in the report. It will be the last table with which I shall burden the House. It sets out the number of personal computers that are available in the home. It shows that Britain has much greater experience of the use of personal computers, whether they be for home use, for a hobby, for business or for scientific work, than America, Spain, France, West Germany, Italy and Sweden, for example.
That takes me again to the 18 to 24-year-olds and the problem that the Government will have in recruiting young people to fill the job opportunities that they will have. The people in that age group will expect information technology to be commonplace. They will be used to playing around with keyboards and screens and they will expect to be well equipped with information technology when they take up employment. I believe that the Government will have an even more difficult recruiting task than perhaps they have appreciated and identified so far.
It is true that we do not work at home, and I do not suggest that any Member of this place, let alone my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, would wish to do so. I ask the Government, however, to examine more closely and severely the communications systems that are available in the market place and to bear in mind those that will be coming forward. The Macdonald committee, the members of which were not in business or in industry, advised the Government on communications. It even stated in its report that it did not choose to discuss the matter with those who are in industry or in communications.
That is disappointing. It is communication systems in which the greatest use of information technology must be found and developed over the next 10 to 20 years. I have