|Previous Section||Home Page|
17. Dr. Marek : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what will be (a) the beneficial and (b) the adverse effects to farming in the proposed reorganisation of the Ruthin and Caernarfon Agriculture Department offices.
Mr. Peter Walker : The reorganisation will provide a more cost- effective administrative structure for my Agriculture Department in Wales. There should be no effect on the farming community, since Ruthin will continue to be served by a substantial area office.
Dr. Marek : Can the Secretary of State give a categorical assurance that no farmer from Clwyd, particularly east Clwyd, will have to travel to Caernarfon, that the furthest he will have to go is to Ruthin, and that he will not suffer any loss of quality because of going to Ruthin?
18. Mr. Anderson : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales whether he will discuss with the chairman of British Rail plans to prepare the rail infrastructure of Wales (a) generally and (b) to improve links with the continent.
Mr. Anderson : Are the Government prepared to invest £195 in the report by the Economist intelligence unit, published today, on the social and regional implications of the Channel tunnel? In the report, British Rail is sharply criticised for its failure to plan for the regional effects of the tunnel. Is it not clear that Wales may suffer major adverse repercussions unless the Government intervene as a matter of urgency to protect areas such as Wales?
Mr. Roberts : As the hon. Gentleman knows, British Rail has produced its plan as required, and has made provision for Wales. The hon. Gentleman will know that there will be an overnight passenger service from Swansea to the Channel tunnel and daytime services from south Wales to the international centre at Waterloo ; there will also be services from mid- Wales to Wolverhampton to connect with services to the tunnel, and from north Wales to Crewe. Freight terminal sites are also under consideration : there will be one in south Wales, one in the west midlands which will serve mid-Wales and one in Cheshire to serve north Wales.
Column 614This is a basic plan, to be reviewed and updated annually. Therefore, I cannot possibly agree that British Rail has completely ignored the interests of Wales.
The Minister for the Arts (Mr. Richard Luce) : The Government's repeatedly stated policy is that the decision whether to operate a system of admission charges or voluntary donations should be for the board of trustees responsible for each institution.
Dr. Marek : Surely the Minister now recognises, given the evidence all round him, that the introduction of charges has affected museum attendances. At the national maritime museum, for example, attendances have dropped by 35 per cent; at the natural history museum they have fallen by 40 per cent; and, worst of all, at the Welsh national museum they have fallen by 85 per cent.
Does the Minister agree with the claim by my hon. Friend for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) that the Government believe that people value only what they pay for? Does he value only what he pays for? Does he think that the public value only what they pay for, and does he believe that members of the public who now pay charges to go to museums value those museums doubly because they have paid twice over?
Mr. Luce : The hon. Gentleman may care to note that museum attendance all over the country--including attendance at a mass of independent museums, most of which charge--reached record levels last year, which was museum year. It is entirely for the trustees to decide whether the introduction of charges would bring benefits to the public and to individual museums, and it is right for us to leave that practical, pragmatic decision to them. All this must be seen against the background of a real increase in resources for our national institutions, to the benefit of the taxpayer.
Mr. Haynes : May I ask what responsibility the Minister has? He is always blaming someone else. Let me tell him in no uncertain terms that the proposed charges will reduce attendances, and let me tell him this, too : I have the backing of Nottinghamshire county council, which does a marvellous job for the arts. Let us have less rhetoric from that Dispatch Box, and let us have some action--and we do not want any charges either.
Each individual institution has its own decision to make. Evidence shows that, since the introduction of charges, attendances at the imperial war museum are up on the last full year in which there were no charges. Other museums have experienced a drop in the first year or two of charges, but it is usually temporary. If museums are to
Column 615introduce charges, however, I strongly believe that they must be linked with an improvement in services to the public, and that is what is happening in most museums.
Sir Philip Goodhart : Does my right hon. Friend recognise that the national museums in almost all the EC member countries make admission charges? Does he agree that, in France, all Louvre museum acquisitions are paid for by admission charges? If that is right on the continent, why should it not be right here?
Mr. Luce : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One is being told repeatedly that people in France are less philistine than people in this country. There is nothing philistine about making admission charges ; the vast bulk of the French museums do just that.
Mr. Jessel : Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is no reason why the trustees of museums and galleries should not be allowed to make up their own minds about this matter? Does he know that the most important thing is the quality of display? Will he congratulate the Tate gallery on its rehanging?
Mr. Luce : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I congratulate the Tate gallery on its remarkable achievement. I am glad that, in addition to sponsorship from British Petroleum, the Government and the taxpayer have been able to contribute to the very excellent rehanging and reorganisation of, the Tate.
My hon. Friend is right to say that there have been remarkable improvements in museums that have introduced charges. That is very important, but it is equally important to note that a large number, if not a majority, of museums that have introduced charges have set aside certain free, open days and hours, in addition to their concessions for school parties and for other people in special categories.
Mr. Fisher : Is it not clear that the Government are content to sit and do nothing while admissions to national museums plummet through the floor? Indeed, are not the Government directly responsible, in that the Minister's refusal properly to fund the base budgets of national museums is forcing museums into making admission charges? Is the Minister now repeating his disgraceful remark to the conference of the Council of Regional Arts Associations a few years ago--that if a service is any good, people will pay for it?
Mr. Luce : The hon. Gentleman talks an awful lot of nonsense. He will have to make up his mind. During previous questions on the arts he was good enough to congratulate the Government on the substantial increase in taxpayers' funding for national museums and galleries. In fact, provision has been made for a 27 per cent. increase in the amount of taxpayers' resources allocated to museums and galleries. To suggest that national museums base decisions on inadequate funding when, in real terms, funding is far greater than it was under the Labour Government is absolute nonsense.
Mr. Cormack : Does my right hon. Friend agree that when the Select Committee examined this matter in 1981, it got it about right? It produced a unanimous report which said that trustees should have the ultimate discretion, but that, in exercising that discretion, they should always make provision for days free of charge and so preserve a great tradition. My right hon. Friend will
Column 616agree that if we are seduced by the latest Select Committee report we shall reach the stage of knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.
Mr. Luce : The Government will, of course, reply to the Select Committee's latest report. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to stress the importance of allowing decisions to be taken on a practical, pragmatic basis by the trustees, who are the people in charge of these national institutions. The evidence suggests that museums that have introduced charges have made a wide range of concessions, including open days and free days. Those changes are extremely important, and they follow the recommendations of the Committee to which my hon. Friend referred.
Mrs. Golding : Following the representations from many people, including constituents of mine, will the Minister reject the proposal to merge the West Midlands regional arts association with the East Midlands regional arts association, to form a massive and unwieldy regional body that would attempt to serve more than 9 million people? He will agree that that would be an impossible task.
Mr. Luce : Of course, I take note of what the hon. Lady says. She probably knows that the chairmen of the East Midlands and West Midlands regional arts associations have been to see me and expressed views similar to hers. I shall take very seriously the views of the chairmen and directors of the regional arts associations, as well as the views of hon. Members. My concern is to achieve an arrangement and a structure for funding of the arts that makes sense in terms not only of efficiency but of coherence of funding and management.
Mr. Cran : Arising from the Wilding report, is my right hon. Friend aware that there is considerable opposition in my neck of the woods to any suggestion of a merger of Humberside and Lincolnshire Arts with the Eastern arts association and that the majority opinion would seem to be that, if there is to be a merger, it should be with the Yorkshire arts association? Will he take that opinion fully into account when he decides these matters?
Column 617Mr. Heffer : When the Minister has met the delegation from the Yorkshire arts association, will he be prepared to agree with the letter that I sent to him and state that he will see hon. Members--especially Labour Members from Merseyside, but any other hon. Member, too--plus the Merseyside arts committee, to discuss the whole question of the merger between Merseyside Arts and North-West Arts? There is a strong feeling in Merseyside that there should not be a merger because we have a cultural background of our own. We agree with much of the Wilding report, but believe that a merger is not the answer to our problem.
Mr. Luce : If the hon. Gentleman or any other hon. Member wishes to express his or her views to me, I am prepared to hear them, just as I have heard the views of many other hon. Members. The report has to be seen as a whole, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman said that he accepts or supports many of its recommendations. The report contains 80 recommendations and the objective is to achieve a system of accountability and management of the arts that will serve the arts as we move towards the turn of the century.
Mr. Fisher : When the Minister next meets the unions, will he discuss with them the responsibilities and remit of the ombudsman? Will he particularly discuss with them why the ombudsman does not set standards or administer good standards in the public agencies so that the interests of the public are safeguarded? Why can the ombudsman deal only with maladministration when he could be looking into many other important matters on behalf of members of the public?
Mr. Luce : The hon. Gentleman's question relates to the ombudsman's terms of reference, which are a matter for wider debate. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the civil servants in the agencies will remain part of the Civil Service and will be under the responsibility of the Secretary of State of the day. There are no plans to change the ombudsman's terms of reference.
Miss Emma Nicholson : In the light of the report of the Hansard Society, under the chairmanship of Lady Howe, on the deficiency of women in public life that will be published tomorrow, when the Minister next meets the Civil Service will he address himself particularly to that problem? Does he have any women at senior level in his office, for example?
Mr. Luce : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to the report which, I believe, will be published this week. Of course, I and my colleagues in Government will take the report seriously. My concern is to increase the number of able women in the Civil Service to as high a
Column 618level as possible, based on merit, ability and fair and open competition. There has been an improvement in the number of women in the service and 60 per cent. of recruits into the service are now women. I am interested in ensuring equality of opportunity.
Dr. Marek : I welcome the Minister's statement to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) that increasing the powers of the ombudsman is a matter for wide debate. Will the Minister put away his dogma about agencies being the stepping stones for privatisation and a means of lowering the salaries of individual groups of civil servants? The public will not understand the creation of agencies unless the agencies themselves increase public confidence in them and provide a better public service. Will the Minister ensure that the creation of any further agencies is coupled with service standards for the public so that the public have a better service? Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman initiate that wider debate on increasing the powers of the ombudsman?
Mr. Luce : The hon. Gentleman appears to have muddled several points in his question. I do not know which one he wants me to answer. Whether the powers of the ombudsman need changing is an issue for separate debate. The policy on agencies is clear, and the Government's first priority is to determine whether any service would be better managed and operated if it were not privatised. If not, the second option is to determine whether it should be made into an agency. That does not preclude the agency from being privatised if, at a later stage, the Government think that that is right. It is because it has been precluded from being privatised that it becomes an agency. Strict performance targets are now set for agencies, which the hon. Gentleman must support as it will lead to an improvement in services.
Mr. Barry Field : Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that many retired civil servants earn much more than they did in employment, thanks to the indexation of their pensions? How can my right hon. Friend reassure the House and the country that the Government are receiving impartial advice on the defeat of inflation, given that civil servants have an inbuilt advantage enjoyed by no other employee in this country?
Mr. Luce : Whatever the terms and conditions of civil servants, I am sure that my hon. Friend did not mean to suggest that they do not give impartial advice. All the evidence suggests that the vast bulk of civil servants give loyal service to the elected Government of the day.
Column 619Hacker to hamstring and hogtie Sir Humphrey? If the conditions that apply to senior civil servants in their duty to the Crown are thought to be deficient, why is it necessary to change them, so as to try to restrict senior civil servants in their duty to the Government as opposed to Her Majesty's estate?
Mr. Luce : I am not sure that I fully understood the hon. Gentleman. The first duty--it is clearly set out--is that civil servants owe their allegiance to Her Majesty's elected Government of the day. The code is being adjusted and revised because of the passing of the Official Secrets Act 1989. It was necessary to do so because certain categories of civil servants, which were formerly subject to criminal proceedings if they had wrongly divulged information, are now subject to ordinary disciplinary proceedings.
Will the Minister assure the House that the interests and views of the Civil Service will be properly taken into account and that there will be proper consultations and no hasty decisions? Will he protect the interests of civil servants who found their Box taken over on Friday by a member of Tory Central Office?
Mr. Luce : The Secretary to the Cabinet--the professional head of the home Civil Service--has agreed to meet Civil Service unions to discuss that matter and a number of other issues. There should be no misunderstanding--there is no basic change in the Armstrong guidelines-- over matters of conscience for the civil servant. He can apply to his permanent secretary or to the head of the home Civil Service. These new procedures have been in operation since 1987 and they are not changing.
Mr. Richard Shepherd : I understand from what my right hon. Friend is saying about the Armstrong submission to the Treasury Select Committee that, for all practical purposes, for a civil servant the interest of the Government of the day is the national interest--the interest of the Crown. Hon. Members on both sides of the House find it difficult to say that the interests of the Government of the day are exactly synonymous with the national interest. Surely that is wrong in a free democracy and perhaps we need sunshine laws.
Column 620has always been the position and it remains the position. There are, rightly, procedures for dealing with a matter of conscience.
Mr. Conway : On the activities of senior civil servants, does my right hon. Friend think that it is wise or desirable that they should have contact with organisations involved in governmental or parliamentary lobbying? Is not that very poor practice?
Mr. Luce : I am not certain whether my hon. Friend refers to serving or to retired civil servants. There are clear rules and obligations and civil servants understand the position. Their duty is to their Minister, who is accountable to Parliament.
Mr. Winnick : Should not any new code for senior civil servants who have official dealings with the police make it clear that where there is deep public disquiet--as now, over the Stalker affair--there should be no resistance to a full public inquiry? Will the right hon. Gentleman pass on that view to the Home Secretary?
Mr. Luce : Seven of the 10 executive agencies set up so far were established in the past 12 months. A full list is given in the White Paper "The Financing and Accountability of Next Steps Agencies" (Cm. 914) which is available in the Library of the House.
Mr. Luce : My hon. Friend is right. One of the main purposes is to improve the management of the Civil Service, especially the service function. The aim is also to ensure that, by setting performance targets, services to the public or to the interests that are served are improved. There is already evidence of that in the Vehicle Inspectorate and Companies House. There is evidence that the 10 agencies are carrying out surveys on their consumer interests and taking account of the views of those whom they serve. The purpose of these reforms is to lead to a better service to the public.
|Next Section (Debates)