Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Tim Smith : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that British Rail's capital investment programme is running at record levels? Has he been able to approve any specific additions to it recently?

Mr. Parkinson : British Rail's investment programme is running much higher in real terms than it was under the last Labour Government. When the public expenditure settlement is announced, my hon. Friend will note that those figures have increased. Unlike the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), we do not dream up schemes that will never come to fruition. Since I arrived at the Department, I have approved orders for more than £1 billion worth of new equipment for British Rail, LRT and local authorities.

Women and Transport

11. Mrs. Mahon : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what studies he has undertaken or plans to undertake into women and transport ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Portillo : The Department has undertaken, and is undertaking, research into various aspects of transport. The needs of women as one category of user are always taken into account.

Mrs. Mahon : I welcome any research into this much-neglected subject, but will the Minister give an assurance that the conclusions of the research will be properly resourced? More important, will he say why, in view of the Home Office's launch last week of a drive to make London a safer place in which to travel for women, Southern Region is cutting staff? The Dartford line may have no staff at night or at weekends. Sexual attacks have been prevalent on that line in the past.

Mr. Portillo : It is important to see the whole pattern of events. The resources of the British Transport police are being increased. Network SouthEast is lighting car parks and stations and improving the environment for its pasengers. The article that appeared in the Evening

Column 12

Standard, on which the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) leapt with such alacrity, referred to an internal consultation document that is yet to be considered even by the trade unions, let alone passengers. It was therefore premature to react to that article. There are already a number of unmanned stations on British Rail. Ticket barriers are to be phased out. Throughout the European Community, such barriers exist only in this country and the Republic of Ireland.

Mr. David Martin : Is my hon. Friend aware that if he were a woman he would find what we men find when travelling on the A3 between Portsmouth and London--unacceptable traffic jams on the Guildford bypass? I hope that my hon. Friend will do all that he can to sort this out as soon as possible.

Mr. Portillo : I am sure that my hon. Friend is right.

Ms. Abbott : Is the Minister aware that women have become not less but more fearful of travelling on public transport in London over the past few months? His recent announcements about increases in the number of London Transport police do not go far enough. What will he do to ensure a proper level of policing at Finsbury Park tube station, which many women in my constituency are frightened to use?

Mr. Portillo : I recently had the pleasure of visiting Finsbury Park station, at which a new British Transport police station has recently been established, and from where it will police the Victoria, Northern and District lines. The hon. Lady said that women have become more fearful, but I must tell her that the figures are much better. For example, for the first six months of 1989, robbery on the tube is down by 42 per cent. ; assault on passengers is down by 13 per cent. ; and total crime on the Underground is down by 8 per cent. I attribute that to the many measures that have been taken by the British Transport police in increasing its complement, and by the fact that it has set up 42 deep-level stations, from which radio systems can now operate, thereby bringing fast response to crime.

Buses (London)

12. Mr. Bowis : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what steps he is taking to ensure a more flexible approach to the planning of bus transport in London.

Mr. Portillo : The restructuring of London Buses Ltd. into separate subsidiaries will encourage further competition. London Regional Transport plans to increase the proportion of the network contracted out to 40 per cent. by 1992.

Mr. Bowis : Does my hon. Friend agree that ultimately an improvement in London bus services depends upon much greater deregulation, a tantalising example of which was seen during the bus strike when the Grey- Greens were able to run? In the meantime, will my hon. Friend urge on London Regional Transport a policy of listening to its new and excellent area managers, who are listening to the public and offering to provide services that the public want and will use, such as a minibus service through Battersea square? Will he encourage London Regional Transport to give such schemes the go-ahead?

Mr. Portillo : I think that London Regional Tranport listens carefully to its area managers. The background to

Column 13

the position in my hon. Friend's constituency is that London Regional Transport has been conducting a major survey into the services that should be provided in that area. It intends to come forward with proposals for consultation in the new year. It has also announced its intention to put the new network in Wandsworth out to competitive tender during 1990. I think therefore that in every respect that meets my hon. Friend's wishes. London Regional Transport is considering proposals from residents for a minibus service for north Battersea.


Victoria and Albert Museum

52. Mr. Boyes : To ask the Minister for the Arts when he last met the director of the Victoria and Albert museum to discuss the future funding of the museum's photographic collection.

The Minister for the Arts (Mr. Richard Luce) : I meet the director of the Victoria and Albert museum from time to time to discuss current issues, but I have no plans at present to do so specifically to discuss the future funding of the photographic collection.

Mr. Boyes : Will the Minister join me in congratulating the curator of the photography section at the Victoria and Albert museum on his excellent work, especially in putting on the 150 years of photography exhibition? I understand that there is strong support in the Victoria and Albert for photography. All I would ask the Minister to do in terms of funding is to ensure that there is no fall in funding for the gallery. However, while I have his ear, may I ask him whether, given that our proceedings in the Chamber are now being televised, he will support my plea to allow still photographers to take pictures in the Chamber as well?

Mr. Luce : I shall think about the hon. Gentleman's last question. On the first, I know the hon. Gentleman's keen interest in photography. I join him in congratulating the Victoria and Albert and its curator on the work that they do. There has recently been an excellent photographic exhibition and there are plans for relocating the photographic gallery, which shows the very strong support there for photography.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as photography has a proud British heritage, it is right that the Victoria and Albert should celebrate this in its exhibition? Does he agree that the museum can rely on the Government's good will for funding, especially as the revenue funding has increased by 40 per cent. in real terms and the capital programme by 50 per cent. since the Conservative party came to power?

Mr. Luce : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. There is no shadow of doubt that there has been an overall increase in real resources. Resources for the V and A's running costs have increased by 28 per cent. in real terms since 1979-80. There is also, as my hon. Friend knows, an important centre for photography and television in Bradford, which is an extension of the national institution and which does much good work.

Column 14

National Museums (Funding)

53. Mrs. Clwyd: To ask the Minister for the Arts when he last met the chairman of the Museums and Galleries Commission to discuss the level of funding of national museums.

Mr. Luce : I meet the chairman of the Museum and Galleries Commission regularly and discuss a wide range of subjects, which have included museum and gallery funding.

Mrs. Clwyd : Did the Minister discuss with the chairman of the commission its claim that the Government are grossly underfunding our largest museums? When will the right hon. Gentleman face up to the crisis in our museums? The director of the Tate has accused the Government of making their calculations on the back of an envelope. Half the Tate's British collection is in store because the building is falling apart.

Mr. Luce : I am surprised that the hon. Lady says that there is gross underfunding and that she does not welcome the recent decision by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales to invest an extra £21 million in a major extension and redevelopment of the national museum of Wales. The hon. Lady accuses the Government of underfunding and cannot even welcome that investment. That is extraordinary. It is extraordinary also that she accuses the Government of underfunding, when in 1979-80 funding for museums and galleries was £54 million whereas today it is £158 million--a real increase of 25 per cent. If the hon. Lady thinks that the Government are underfunding the museums, what does she think that the Labour Government were doing at the end of the 1970s?

Mr. Carrington : My right hon. Friend will be aware of the drain of our artistic heritage overseas as a result of the recent rise in the price of goods at auction and the inability of our museums and galleries to bid competitively to retain those art treasures in this country. Will my right hon. Friend review that situation and consider whether to review the whole procedure for the licensing of artistic exports?

Mr. Luce : My hon. Friend is right to put his finger on the fact that the dramatic increase in the prices of works of art puts extra pressure on the available resources for saving our most important works of heritage. However, throughout the 1980s, we have had the national heritage memorial fund, which has spent well over £100 million in saving important works of art for this country. If my hon. Friend intended to put his finger on the level of the purchase grant, I must point out that I said a year ago that I would look at the way in which the purchase grant was working. I ask him to be patient for a little longer, while I try to take decisions. The first priority must be to find money for the fabric, building and maintenance of our national institutions.

Mr. Fisher : It is clear that the Minister thinks that he knows better than the chairmen of the five national galleries who told him and the Prime Minister in July that unless he provided enormously increased funding for those museums and galleries, the effects would be disastrous. Did the Minister give a specific assurance to the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts in January 1988, when he announced three-year funding, that if there were exceptional circumstances, such as a rise in inflation,

Column 15

he would reopen the books for the national museums and consider their funding again? Will he now redeem that assurance to the Select Committee, reopen the books, pay attention to what the chairmen of those galleries are saying and provide the extra funding needed?

Mr. Luce : It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman does not join me in confirming the figures, which show a real increase in support for the national museums and galleries, although he knows perfectly well that there has been an increase. Having said that, it was two years ago that I introduced three-year funding. I hope that I read in the hon. Gentleman's question the fact that he does not disagree with the concept of three-year funding. It is right to say that the levels of inflation in recent months have undermined three-year funding to some extent. The Government as a whole are clearly committed to maintaining support for the arts.

Mr. Bowis : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the health of our museums is best shown not only by funding, but by the number of museums that have opened in recent years and the number of people who attend those museums? Will he also take the opportunity to reject the suggestion made recently by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) that there is a Government plan to introduce compulsory admission charges? Will he confirm that it is still a voluntary scheme?

Mr. Luce : On the latter point, it is wholly for the trustees to decide whether admission charges should be introduced. That remains our policy and it is the right policy. We should let them decide how best to proceed with that matter. The Government have a fine record in terms of the catalogue of refurbishment of our national institutions--our museums and galleries. There have been extensions, such as Bodelwyddan castle, the national portrait gallery and the Tate gallery in Liverpool, various redevelopments at the Tate gallery itself, the Clore gallery extension and many other redevelopments. In the past decade, about 10 galleries at the British museum have been refurbished.

Arts Funding

54. Mr. Haynes : To ask the Minister for the Arts when he last met the chairman of the Arts Council to discuss the level of arts funding.

Mr. Luce : I meet the chairman regularly to discuss matters of mutual interest.

Mr. Haynes : I want to know what the Minister is playing at as regards the Arts Council. He makes statements in the House and statements in Select Committees. He knows full well that inflation is running at 7.6 per cent. and that the Arts Council is looking to him for additional funds, yet he offers a measly 2 per cent. What is he playing at?

Mr. Luce rose --

Mr. Haynes : I have not finished yet. The Minister should come to the Dispatch Box and say that he is going to help the Arts Council--or else I shall be having a word with him afterwards.

Mr. Luce : I shall really miss the hon. Gentleman when he retires from the House.

Column 16

We have increased resources for the Arts Council in real terms. The Government are committed to maintaining taxpayers' support for the arts. In 1987, I introduced three-year funding for the arts for the first time ever, with a 16 per cent. overall increase for the Arts Council for that period. That is a fine record and I reiterate my statement that the Government are committed to maintaining support for the arts.


Trade Unions

72. Mr. Fisher : To ask the Minister for the Civil Service when he last met representatives of the Civil Service trade unions ; and what subjects were discussed.

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

The Minister of State, Privy Council Office (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 is raised. I met the Civil Service unions in June this year to discuss planned changes in Civil Service recruitment.

Mr. Fisher : Will the Minister give an assurance to civil servants working at the south bank complex and in the national galleries and museums that their pay arrangements will be conducted and their pay negotiated nationally, that their employers at the south bank complex and in the national galleries and museums will honour those national rates of pay and that there will be no detriment or severance of those conditions?

Mr. Luce : The hon. Gentleman is ingenious in extending arts questions into Civil Service questions. I recognise the significance of his remarks. He rightly implies that the national galleries and museums operate Civil Service pay and conditions. Of course, the national structures continue but within that context the whole Civil Service is moving to a more flexible pay system. That is being developed not only in agencies but within the Civil Service, and the same applies to the national galleries and museums.

Mr. Barnes : Was the issuing of fire certificates discussed? Has the Minister issued fire certificates or been involved in the issuing of fire certificates for all the buildings for which he is responsible, as required by the Fire Precautions Act 1971? If such certificates have not been issued, will he prosecute himself?

Mr. Luce : I am not clear whether the hon. Gentleman is referring to national museums and galleries or whether his question goes wider. If he is talking about the museums and galleries, his question goes beyond the Civil Service in the broadest sense. The whole question of fire regulations is of concern. The local authorities have conducted a review of the institutions. They have given their views and they are being taken into account in the discussions.

Mr. Higgins : When my right hon. Friend next meets the Civil Service unions, will he draw their attention to his excellent response to the fifth report of the Treasury and Civil Service Committee this afternoon, which shows that

Column 17

considerable progress is being made in the "next steps" programme, which under present plans will affect no fewer than 180,000 civil servants?

Mr. Luce : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. He will, of course, have seen the reply that has now been given to the Select Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service. Since the House last discussed these issues in July, there have been further changes and more progress on "next steps". Today my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is launching the Laboratory of the Government Chemist as an executive agency, while the Historic Royal Palaces Agency was launched as an executive agency of the Department of the Environment on 1 October. Moreover, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has announced five new candidates to become defence support agencies and they will be established in due course. By July next year about 20 agencies will be established.

Mr. Holt : My right hon. Friend has had conversations with the trade unions. Does he agree that at no time has there been any truth in the rumours that civil servants do not wish to move to the north of England, and that the moving of the Departments earmarked for the north of England will go ahead?

Mr. Luce : I can assure my hon. Friend that I know of no evidence of people refusing. Of course there is an option in relocation for civil servants working in London and the south-east not to go with the job if it is moved elsewhere. Only a week or so ago I opened a new headquarters for the occupational health service in Edinburgh and that service is part of the Cabinet Office. It is important to note that 34,000 jobs are under review for relocation. That does not mean to say that they will all be relocated, but that number are under review for relocation outside the south-east.

Dr. Marek : I welcome the fact that the Minister says that the issue of fire certificates is a matter of concern. He will be aware that the Home Office has responsibility for issuing fire certificates for most Civil Service buildings outside the Ministry of Defence. He will also know that there is a four-year backlog for that. As the Minister with responsibility for the Civil Service, is he concerned about that? I hope that he is. What proposals does the Minister have to ensure that that backlog is dealt with as expeditiously as possible?

Mr. Luce : Each Secretary of State must answer for his own Department. I will look into the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised. I will take it seriously and let him have a reply. Each Minister is responsible for his Department and the standards within that Department. In reply to an earlier question, I could respond only in connection with my direct responsibilities for national museums and galleries.

Civil Servants (Discipline)

73. Mr. Speller : To ask the Minister for the Civil Service how many past or present members of the Civil Service have been disciplined for incidents of political bias or breach of confidentiality since 1979 ; and what channels of communication are in place for civil servants who wish to make representations that Ministers are making improper use of their ministerial powers.

Column 18

Mr. Luce : About 10 on average each year, but only limited information is held centrally. There are guidelines set out for civil servants for dealing with matters of conscience.

Mr. Speller : I thank my right hon. Friend for his rather partial answer. As there are two sides to the playing field, when civil servants want to make representations about a Minister abusing his power, is my right hon. Friend satisfied that there is a level playing field for them as there is for the Minister if a civil servant should abuse his basic right or obligation to neutrality?

Mr. Luce : Of course every Minister is accountable directly to the House of Commons and the House can hold every Minister to account. However, there are special rules and conditions for civil servants. Those guidelines, of which the Armstrong guidelines are the most recent, give civil servants the option to appeal first to their manager and then to their permanent secretary. There is an ultimate right of appeal on matters of conscience. They can go to the professional head of the Civil Service. No one, I might point out, has yet done that.

Mr. Rooker : How many of those incidents have involved civil servants who have refused to carry out politically biased work for their Ministers?

Mr. Luce : If the hon. Gentleman keeps a sense of perspective, he will appreciate that there have been 10 cases of breaches of confidentiality of one kind or another out of a total Civil Service membership of 567,000. We really must keep this in proportion. The vast bulk of civil servants are loyal and impartial to the elected Government of the day. That is my experience and I am sure that that was the experience of Labour Governments.

Plain English

74. Mr. Hague : To ask the Minister for the Civil Service what progress has been made in his campaign for plain English in, and ease of completion of, Government forms.

Mr. Luce : Since 1982 we have saved about £14 million on our review of Government forms. We have made them easier to understand and we regularly win awards from the plain English campaign. We are keeping up this pressure.

Mr. Hague : The fifth progress report on Government forms states that 40,000 Government forms have been reviewed, 15,000 have been redesigned and 9,000 have been scrapped. Will my right hon. Friend undertake to continue the momentum of that excellent work, and be particularly vigilant with the Inland Revenue and the Department of Social Security whose forms must be completed by the public?

Mr. Luce : My hon. Friend is right and the figures to which he referred show what we have achieved in the past 10 years in redesigning or scrapping forms. We regard that task as a relentless obligation. I am inclined to follow the advice of Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne when Pooh said, "Long words bother me." That is good advice when considering Government forms.

Mr. Vaz : I support the Minister's campaign for plain English in Government forms. When can we look forward to a campaign for plain Gujarati, plain Punjabi and plain

Column 19

Urdu in Government forms? Many people speak those languages, but they are not, unfortunately, spoken by the Minister.

Mr. Luce : I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman in that I cannot speak evey language under the sun. I am a great believer in keeping to plain English. That is our objective. There is a plain English campaign and we should make forms as simple as possible. We should keep the words and the language simple. That is our objective.

Mr. Cormack : Is my right hon. Friend aware that, although long words may bother him, many of his ministerial colleagues do not suffer in a similar manner? Only last week we had an extraordinary array of words--for example, "hospitalisation"--and we heard "level playing field" this afternoon. Could every member of the ministerial team be supplied with a copy of Sir Ernest Gower's "Plain Words" and be asked to use it, mark it, learn it and inwardly digest it?

Mr. Luce : I still stick to the view of Winnie the Pooh that "Long words bother me." If everyone follows that advice, we will be much better off.

Mr. Dalyell : Does the Minister agree with the plain English of Lord Hailsham, who said that it was no business of the press office of the Prime Minister to undermine the authority of Ministers? Does Civil Service discipline apply to Mr. Ingham?

Mr. Luce : I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman asked that question about Mr. Ingham, of all people, who served the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) with great distinction in a former Government, as well as serving my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. If anyone could have shown his impartiality to an elected Government today, he has done just that.

Ambulance Service

3.30 pm

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you had any request from the Government concerning a statement yesterday by the Secretary of State for Health in The Sunday Correspondent to the effect that the Army has been put into preparedness, in case "some hothead somewhere" starts putting public safety at risk in the ambulance men's dispute? I am sure that you will be aware that such a move by the

Column 20

Government would be extremely dangerous, particularly when the ambulance men's union is merely asking for the dispute to be referred to arbitration, and that at no stage, at no time and nowhere have the ambulance men refused to answer 999 calls and undertake 999 duties. I am sure that you will agree that it is important to have a statement on this matter.

Mr. Speaker : I have had no request for a statement, and I do not think that much has changed since we had a statement on this matter last week.

Statutory Instruments, &c.

Mr. Speaker : With the leave of the House, I will put together the two motions relating to statutory instruments.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(5) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.).

Northern Ireland

That the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 (Amendment) Order 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 1501) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

Customs Duties

That the Customs Duties (ECSC) (Amendment No. 5) Order 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 1610) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. -- [Mr. Garel-Jones.]

Question agreed to.

European Community Documents

Mr. Speaker : With the leave of the House I will put together the three motions relating to European Community documents.


That European Community Document No. 8819/89 relating to gas appliances be referred to a Standing Committee on European Community Documents.

That European Community Document No. 8446/89 relating to nutrition labelling be referred to a Standing Committee on European Community Documents.

That European Community Document No. 5032/89 relating to public takeover bids be referred to a Standing Committee on European Community Documents.-- [Mr. Garel-Jones.]

Next Section (Debates)

  Home Page