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Mr. Atkins : As ever, I have worked closely with the disabled persons transport advisory committee which was set up by my Department in 1985 to advise us on such matters. It has produced guidance for the elderly and disabled on the use of buses in particular. My hon. Friend will be grateful for the knowledge that I am about to impart to him : most of the advice that has been received is about simple, cheap and effective ways to help people, and they are being widely adopted. His point about London Underground is well understood. My hon. Friend the Minister of State is working hard on the matter and we shall do what we can to meet my hon. Friend's point.
Mr. Leighton : Will the Minister consider the wretched state of Stratford station in east London? Is he aware that it is a busy junction of British Rail, Central and Docklands light railway lines? The tripod barrier makes it almost impossible for anyone to pass through, whether disabled or not. Then there is almost a half-mile walk to the platform. The waiting- rooms have not been decorated since the second world war and the lavatories do not work. Such conditions would not be tolerated in a station in the west end of London, so why should the people of east London tolerate them?
Mr. Hannam : Is my hon. Friend aware that most buses and minibuses are still largely inaccessible to severely disabled people? Can he give the House an idea of the progress being made in bringing new designs into use?
Mr. Atkins : My hon. Friend speaks with considerable authority on matters relating to the disabled. He is a member of my advisory committee, and who better. I confirm that I am working extremely hard, with all the Ministers in my Department, to ensure that access for the disabled is a high priority.
Sir David Steel : That sounds absolutely marvellous. Is not the difficulty that the outgoing chairman of British Rail has given a clear warning to the Government about the levels of investment in both line and rolling stock required for 1992? Is he aware that road users want more traffic taken off the roads and put on the railways and that airport congestion could be eased if there were an improved railway system and fewer short-haul flights? That is why an integrated transport system is needed.
Mr. Parkinson : The only countries in Europe with a fully integrated transport system that we have located are East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Russia. Their electors do not seem terribly impressed with their integrated transport systems or with the people who tried to develop them.
Mr. Robert Atkins : Civil engineering consultants have recently been appointed to investigate possible route alignments for this new link road. Subject to the completion of statutory procedures, construction work could start in the late 1990s.
The initial estimated cost is £54 million.
Mr. Riddick : My hon. Friend's statement will be widely welcomed by local Members of Parliament and councillors of all political parties who lobbied his predecessor in favour of the scheme last year. Instead of building a dual carriageway to alleviate traffic congestion in west Yorkshire, may I suggest a motorway? May we have an assurance that environmental considerations will be taken fully into account when planning the scheme and that every opportunity will be provided for local residents who will be affected to have their say?
Mr. Atkins : My hon. Friend has pressed his case strongly with my predecessor and since. I am grateful, as I am sure his constituents are, for his skill in doing so. He will know, as everyone on this side of the House does, that we are highly committed to environment matters in relation to building new roads. For example, we plant more trees than any other organisation except the Forestry Commission.
Column 13Mr. Atkins : We propose to widen the M25 to dual four lanes. We shall also issue soon an action plan for the motorway following up the recent consultants' review which will propose a range of further improvements.
Mr. Marshall : Although I congratulate my hon. Friend on his proposals to improve the M25, which is Britain's longest traffic jam, may I suggest that by the 21st century they will be inadequate? Will he consider building a son of the M25, an outer M25, to relieve the congestion on that motorway?
Mr. Atkins : I am sure that my hon. Friend did not mean to suggest that somehow the M25 was bad news. It is extremely good news. It is, by definition, a victim of its own success. Many people in villages on either side of it who suffered from congestion and environmental disadvantage before it was constructed are considerably better off. My hon. Friend's points about the improvement of the M25 are well taken, but he will understand that if it passed through his constituency, he might take a different view.
76. Mrs. Golding : To ask the Minister for the Arts when he intends to meet the director of West Midlands Arts to discuss what effect the uniform business rate may have on arts funding in the west midlands.
The Minister for the Arts (Mr. Luce) : I have no plans to do so. The Arts Council is looking into the effects of the change on a sample of its clients among arts bodies nationwide and I am asking it to keep me informed.
Mrs. Golding : Is the Minister aware that many people are worried about the impact of the poll tax on the many arts buildings that do not have charitable status? Is he further aware that the main public library in my constituency faces a rate increase of 24 per cent. and that the main headquarters library in Stafford faces an increase of 55 per cent? Does he see that as a poll tax on reading?
Mr. Luce : The question is about the uniform business rate. The hon. Lady will realise that under the new law and rules an arts organisation that is a charitable body will receive up to 80 per cent. mandatory relief and that it is within the discretion of the local authority to give relief on the remaining 20 per cent. If an arts organisation is not a charitable body, it is subject to the normal law, as are all other businesses in the area. Obviously, it is impossible to have a clear picture of how the rate will affect different arts organisations in the area.
Mr. Cormack : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the uniform business rate will have a bad effect on many craftsmen in the west midlands and elsewhere, and that many craftsmen's shops and artists' studios are being significantly uprated? Will he promise to discuss this matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment?
Mr. Luce : I acknowledge the importance of the growing number of craftsmen in this country. A considerable number are classified as business people and to that extent will be subject to the new rules and regulations. I will
Column 14discuss this issue with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Evironment, but if they are classified as businesses they should not be treated as exceptions.
Mr. Tony Banks : The Minister should not be so complacent. He should examine the position in the west midlands and elsewhere. It is not good enough to come to the Dispatch Box and say that he is not sure how the uniform business rate will affect the arts. He should find out. That is his job and he should do it.
Mr. Luce : The Department of the Environment estimates that, after the introduction of the uniform business rates, small businesses and businesses as a whole in the west midlands will pay less rate. Of course, it is impossible to be precise. Some arts organisations that are businesses will find that the amount they have to pay has declined, whereas others will find that their charge has increased. The important point about which we have to be absolutely clear is that organisations that are classified as charitable bodies will be in no worse a position. Indeed, with local authorities having full authority to give complete relief, they should be in a better position.
Mr. Luce : It is very important that we continue to support authors through the public lending right for their contribution, through the library system, to public reading. In 1988-89 I was able to increase the budget by 27 per cent ; in 1991-92 I should be able to increase it by 29 per cent ; and in the following year, under the three-year funding rule, I shall be injecting an extra £250,000. The fund remains very strong and is making a contribution to authors whose work is of much value to the public.
Mr. Haynes : Is the Minister aware that this kind of money goes to people whose faces fit? There is something that I should like him to consider seriously. Many of the people who were made redundant from the mining industry in Nottinghamshire have become writers. Those people need some encouragement, so the Minister should get off his backside and put some money in their direction. He should stop looking after Front-Bench Members who are writing books.
Column 15It is impossible to be precise about the varying effects. Some will gain, whereas others will lose, but it is absolutely clear that those with charitable status will not lose.
Mr. Beaumont-Dark : Does my right hon. Friend agree that one author who will benefit from this measure is Mr. Salman Rushdie? Is it not time for everyone in this country and elsewhere to accept the ancient saying :
"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."?
Mr. Luce : My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that matter. I join my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in condemning most strongly the threat to Mr. Rushdie, which has been renewed recently. I endorse every word that my hon. Friend has said. One of the cardinal principles of our democracy is freedom of expression. It is a principle which we must uphold to the last.
Mr. Luce : In July 1988, the Arts Council, in conjunction with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, issued guidance on section 28 to arts organisations and other voluntary bodies. At the same time, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment issued guidance to local authorities.
Mr. Hughes : Is it possible for one company to act within the law by being funded by local authorities to perform a play with a homosexual theme, and at the same time act against the law in the sense that the local education authority decides that the play is unsuitable for showing in its schools? If not, can the Minister have a word with his colleagues in Tory- run Kent county council, who, when offered the chance to host Britten's "Death in Venice", played by the publicly funded Glyndebourne touring company, decided that it was unsuitable for showing in the Kent and Sussex schools
festival--possibly because it breached section 28? Other Tory authorities do the same. Surely the principle needs to be established, and everybody should be allowed the most liberal interpretation of it.
Mr. Luce : The only basis upon which section 28 can be flouted is if a local authority sets out an intention to promote homosexuality. I have no evidence that Kent county council in any way demonstrated that intention and there is no evidence to suggest that it was flouting that law.
Mr. Luce : The funding of arts organisations is a matter for the Arts Council. In 1990-91 its grant to East Midlands Arts will increase by 10 per cent. and, taken with its direct spending in the region, amounts to a total of nearly £5 million.
Mr. Vaz : Is the Minister aware that last week the board of directors of the Haymarket theatre announced losses of £500,000 in the past year? Is he also aware that the board will be meeting tonight and that it will make 13 employees of the theatre redundant? Will the Minister arrange for his officials to speak to the directors of the theatre to see whether the Government can provide funding to enable those jobs to be saved?
Mr. Luce : I am aware of the important role of the Haymarket theatre in Leicester and the surrounding area, and in 1988 I had the pleasure of visiting the theatre. It has a high reputation, but I realise that it has acquired a deficit of some size. It is up to every management to cut its coat according to the cloth available. I understand that the Arts Council has increased its financing for that theatre next year by 7 per cent. and, of course, funding comes from local authorities and other areas. Once the management has cut its coat accordingly I hope that it will be possible for it to ensure that the theatre moves forward to produce its normal high- quality work.
Mr. Gow : Is my right hon. Friend aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) and I believe in the innate superiority of women? Do not the figures given by my right hon. Friend show that no rebuke should be delivered to the Minister for the Civil Service? Is my right hon. Friend further aware that those figures could equally well have been achieved without the equal opportunities legislation?
Mr. Luce : I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is right to pay tribute to the ability of women in the Civil Service as much as anywhere else. Given the total size of the Civil Service, it is right and good that nearly half our civil servants are women. However, at the senior levels--in the top grades--only 6 per cent. are women. But an increasing number of women are coming in under the high fliers scheme--just under 50 per cent. are now recruited from that scheme. I am sure that in the 1990s, with full equality of opportunity--I believe that that is what my hon. Friend is stressing as so important--more women will come to the top.
Mr. Allen : I thank the Minister and his colleagues for their intervention in the relocation of the Inland Revenue to Nottingham. Will the Minister commend the efforts of the county council in securing that relocation, particularly the chairman of its finance committee, Councillor Paddy Tipping? Will the right hon. Gentleman keep an eye on liaison and co- ordination between Government Departments and public bodies during relocations so that the difficulties that arose in this instance between British Rail, the Inland Revenue and landholdings do not recur?
Mr. Luce : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks and glad that a sizeable number of civil servants are moving to the Nottingham area--including not just the Inland Revenue, with more than 2,000, but the Driving Standards Agency headquarters which is to open in, I think, April with about 100 staff. I note what the hon. Gentleman says and I am glad that the pace of relocation from the south-east to other areas is quickening, and that larger numbers of civil servants are moving to other areas.
Mr. Field : Why, of the 12 competitions held for the agencies set up by the Government, has only one outsider been appointed, Mr. David Beeton, to the Royal Historic Palaces Agency? There are also two directors- designate who will come from outside the Civil Service. Conversely, how many of the First Division Association have been seconded to industry?
Mr. Luce : I cannot give a precise answer on the latter point. In the past 10 years the number of exchanges between the Civil Service and the private sector and commerce has almost doubled. In addition, there have been 500 exchanges between the Government and the non-commercial sector, including local government. We want to encourage that. The Government's policy is to encourage open competitions for the appointment of chief executives of agencies. We want to select people on their merit and get the best possible people to serve in those posts. There have been a number of open competitions but, as my hon. Friend said, only one non-civil servant been selected for the job. That does not mean that others may not be selected in the future.
Mr. Fisher : When the Minister next meets union representatives, will he give them a guarantee that those agencies which there is no immediate intention to privatise will remain in place for a minimum of five years to provide both stability and prospects for those working in them?
Mr. Luce : Although I do not know whether it is right or wrong to set a time scale--I shall reflect on that point--the Government's policy is clear. Our first priority is to assess whether a service of Government is better suited to privatisation. If the Government decide that that is not so, the next option is to consider whether it should be an agency. It must be assumed that, in most circumstances, it will remain an agency for the foreseeable future. However, that does not preclude privatisation in the longer term.
Mr. Taylor : Is the Minister aware of the huge uncertainty and concern of people who are notified that their jobs are to disappear in Southend and be transferred to Liverpool or who are told that their services are being privatised? Does the Minister agree that it would be helpful and in the interests of good industrial relations if everyone so affected was issued with a sheet of paper explaining what will happen to their pension rights and security of employment and what employment rights they have? Should not the Government set an example to private employers to tell employees about their rights and obligations if their jobs are affected because of Government policy?
Mr. Luce : I am very much aware that a considerable number of officials--particularly in Customs and Excise--work in my hon. Friend's constituency. I will convey to my noble Friend the Paymaster-General, who is in charge of relocation policies some of my hon. Friend's views. I shall reflect carefully on his points. Several movements are taking place in Customs and Excise. Some headquarters are being moved out of London to Southend, and a greater number of staff are moving to areas outside the south-east. As my hon. Friend knows, that is part of the Government's policy to encourage relocation wherever possible.
Dr. Marek : When the Minister reflects on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) will he also reflect on the advisability of giving a guarantee to all civil servants who find themselves in agencies that are liable to be privatised that they will be retained in the Civil Service by being transferred to another part of it?
Mr. Luce : The hon. Gentleman always misunderstands what the agency system is about. If the Government decide to establish an agency rather than privatise an organisation, the officials in that agency remain part of the Civil Service. There is no question of a change in their status. The hon. Gentleman's question is misleading ; I am glad to have this chance to reaffirm the position.
Column 19him on the first high promotion of a female part-time civil servant, and, secondly, on the introduction of two days' paternity leave for civil servants whose wives have babies?
Mr. Luce : I am glad to tell my hon. Friend that the number of women part-timers in the Civil Service has risen to 12 per cent. of the complement. The fact that we have much more flexible employment policies and encourage part-timers is attracting more able women to serve. Over the past few years I have been surrounded by very able female advisers, many of whom have been part-timers.
Mr. Skinner : As the Minister has been discussing the privatisation of parts of the Civil Service, would it not be a good idea if the Government, for the first time, allowed the Civil Service unions to hold a ballot on whether their members want to take part in a privatisation scheme?
Mr. Luce : The hon. Gentleman must agree that the most important factor is how whatever service we are considering can be most effectively managed for the country. If the Government take the view that it can be more effectively managed through privatisation, that is one road. If the hon. Gentleman wants a better use of our resources--it is taxpayers' money- -he will accept that the other route to more effective management is to create agencies. Both routes are based on the criteria of good value for money and the best use of resources.
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