Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Hunt : I regard the work of the Development Board for Rural Wales as absolutely vital. It forms an important part of my future strategy, and that of my ministerial colleagues, for Wales. It is important that all the different bodies work closely together. The DBRW needs to work closely with the Welsh tourist board. I know that Prys Edwards and Glyn Davies meet regularly to ensure that all the strategies are working together for the promotion of rural Wales.

Rail Service, North Wales

9. Dr. Marek : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what information he has on proposed changes to the rail service for north Wales next October.

The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Sir Wyn Roberts) : I am aware of some marginal changes to services from May 1991. I understand that there may be further changes to north Wales services from next October, if replacement rolling stock for inter-city services becomes available. The north Wales coast line may again be closed on Saturday night for track maintenance purposes.

Dr. Marek : Is the Minister aware that British Rail proposes, after the class 47 locos are retired, to service the north Wales main line either by using sprinter units, ensuring that everyone has to change at Crewe, or by introducing HSTs, not on a service direct to Euston, but via Leicester and into St. Pancras, thus making the journey at least an hour longer for anyone travelling from, say, Llandudno junction to Euston? Does the Minister agree that either of those solutions is unacceptable to the people of north Wales?

Sir Wyn Roberts : I understand that British Rail hopes to get its class 158 high-speed diesels to replace some existing stock. I understand that the option of getting inter-city 125s to run through St. Pancras is being considered and that there are certain advantages to that proposal. British Rail believes that there is a good potential market for north Wales and Irish travellers in the east midlands. There will be the Luton connection with the Thameslink services and the south coast. The proximity of

Column 718

St. Pancras to King's Cross obviously enhances the prospect of joining up with the new terminal at King's Cross which will lead directly to the channel tunnel.

Sir Anthony Meyer : Is there any change in the balance of argument for and against electrification of the north Wales rail link to Ireland, given the evident inexorability of speeding up progress towards a single European market in 1992 and also--just to be safe--of European monetary union by 1994 or thereabouts?

Sir Wyn Roberts : My hon. Friend will be aware that it is for British Rail to bring forward any proposal to electrify the line. The Government are prepared to approve investment proposals by British Rail, provided they are worth while. The case for electrification of the north Wales line has not yet been made.

Financial Services Initiative

10. Mr. Gwilym Jones : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what progress he has made on the financial services initiative ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. David Hunt : I am very happy to report that the financial services initiative is showing excellent progress, with employment up by 20 per cent. over the past three years. We look forward to further progress, particularly now that the area has been extended to cover mid-Glamorgan and the Swansea bay area.

Mr. Jones : I am glad to hear that answer. I am sure that my right hon. Friend agrees that the financial services initiative represents money well spent. Can he give the House an estimate of how many new jobs it has achieved and the total investment brought about by the initiative?

Mr. Hunt : Some 70,000 people are now employed in financial services. I am delighted to be able to tell the House that, just before I came into the Chamber, I heard the news that Europe's leading legal expenses insurance group, German-owned DAS, is to locate a new United Kingdom claims handling unit at Bedwas, near Newport. That is marvellous news. I am delighted that such an internationally prestigious company as DAS has decided to come to Wales. It confirms that Wales is becoming the favoured location for financial services.

Hopsital Closures, South Glamorgan

11. Mr. Morgan : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what factors he expects to take into account in deciding whether or not to approve the six hospital closures proposed by the South Glamorgan health authority.

Mr. Grist : My right hon. Friend will be principally concerned with the impact upon patients and staff, but will also have regard more generally to all the representations made to him.

Mr. Morgan : How does the Minister intend to resolve the extraordinary position whereby South Glamorgan based its hospital closure proposals on the idea that it could close two hospitals, sell the land and build a new hospital with the receipts? Since then, the Welsh Office has changed the goalposts, sacked the referee and changed the shape of the ball as well. It no longer allows local health authorities to keep capital receipts for future hospital

Column 719

expansion. How does the Minister intend to get out of this conundrum? Will he now tell South Glamorgan health authority what to do with its hospital closure proposals?

Mr. Grist : The hon. Gentleman goes a little far and appears to misunderstand the right of health authorities to retain their funds from capital receipts. He may be muddling this matter with the proposed changes under the new system, which will come into operation, in a phased way, after April 1991.

Telephone Service

12. Mr. Coleman : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales when he last discussed the telephone service in Wales with British Telecom.

Mr. David Hunt : I last met the general manager of British Telecom for Wales and the marches on Friday 19 October.

Mr. Coleman : May I urge the right hon. Gentleman to seek a further meeting with British Telecom and to raise with the general manager the abuse of the telephone service by pornographic so-called chatlines? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the considerable anxiety and distress that that is causing--particularly to families that are facing large telephone bills because of the use of these services, usually by young people? Will he take this matter up with British Telecom and get the practice stopped?

Mr. Hunt : Although this is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and for the director general, I should like to express my serious concern about the abuse of the service. I very much hope that the code of practice will put an end to this appalling situation.


Regional Opera

25. Mr. John Greenway : To ask the Minister for the Arts what representations he has received about the funding of regional opera.

The Minister for the Arts (Mr. David Mellor) : I have received a substantial number of representations on this matter, including a most persuasive letter from my hon. Friend.

Mr. Greenway : May I welcome my right hon., learned and--now it is official--cultured Friend to the Dispatch Box for the first time as Minister for the Arts and wish him every success? As he knows, there is grave concern about the funding and financial position of Opera North, which receives one third less from the Arts Council than the Welsh National Opera and a quarter less than the Scottish Opera, although all three companies have almost identical programme commitments and have achieved a high standard of performance. Will my right hon. and learned Friend accept the principle that equality of performance and programme should be matched by equality of funding?

Mr. Mellor : I thank my hon. Friend for his typically kind remarks. I am glad to be at the Dispatch Box in this capacity, but, like many hon. Members, I owe a great deal

Column 720

to the distinguished stewardship of the post by my predecessor, and I shall have a lot to live up to in following in his footsteps. Opera North certainly has a commendable record of success. One of the major achievements in opera over the past 10 years has been the way in which Opera North has established itself and I warmly congratulate the company on playing to 87 per cent. capacity audiences at its Leeds base. The detail of funding is a matter for the Arts Council, but I am certainly familiar with the figures that my hon. Friend has cited and I know that he will be putting them to the Arts Council with vigour.

Mr. Robert Sheldon : I welcome the thanks that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has expressed to his predecessor and I hope that he will do equally well for the arts. In considering national orchestras and opera houses that are located outside London, will he take into account the serious problems of underfunding that they will face with the present level of inflation?

Mr. Mellor : I came to this job having been vice-chairman of the trustees of a major orchestra, so I am certainly well aware of the problems that arts organisations face. But never before have arts organisations enjoyed such buoyant revenues at the box office or such a good spread of funding, with such a substantial contribution coming from the private sector in addition to the continuing contribution that the Government are committed to making and the contributions from local authorities. I repeat that there is a better spread of funding than ever before, but I do not underestimate the problems that inflation is causing and I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I am discussing them seriously with representatives of those organisations and with the Arts Council.

Dr. Blackburn : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that one of the greatest blessings that he has inherited from his predecessor is the long-term funding of the arts, which allows provincial opera and theatre to plan ahead? My right hon. and learned Friend would be well advised to continue that and foster it for the funding of the arts which is so important.

Mr. Mellor : Three-year funding is an important development, because it allows people to know where they stand. It is also dependent on estimates of future changes which sometimes require fine tuning. I hope that we may see evidence of fine tuning shortly.


26. Dr. Marek : To ask the Minister for the Arts what information he has on the level of deficits in national and regional theatres in England and Wales.

Mr. Mellor : I understand that building-based drama companies funded by the Arts Council and the Welsh Arts Council have projected accumulated deficits at the end of the current financial year of £6.57 million. There are wide variations in the performance of individual companies, both national and regional, within this estimate.

Dr. Marek : The Minister could have been more honest. For example, he could have been specific and said that the Royal Shakespeare Company has a deficit of £3 million and has just turned off the lights at the Barbican for the

Column 721

winter. What kind of Government can allow that to happen to one of our most prestigious companies which has an international reputation?

Mr. Mellor : I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman chooses to bandy about questions of honesty. If he had asked a question designed to elicit that answer, he would have got it. Unfortunately, he asked a different question and he received the answer to it. He might like to bear it in mind that had we merely index linked the contribution to the Arts Council that was current when the last Government were in office, we would have been paying it £134 million, instead of which this year we are paying it £175 million, a significant proportion of which goes to the Royal Shakespeare Company. I am of course aware of the particular difficulties facing the RSC and of the particular courage and skill with which it is trying to overcome them. I regularly discuss those matters with Mr. Geoffrey Cass and the Arts Council.

Mr. Jessel : Should not we build on our national strengths? As the Royal National theatre is a tremendous centre of excellence and a great national asset which draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to our shores annually, will my right hon. and learned Friend consider most carefully what can be done to uphold its remarkably high standards?

Mr. Mellor : A great deal is being done to uphold its remarkable standards in the sense that the grant in aid for the Royal National theatre has increased above the rate of inflation and the theatre is one of those that are not significantly in deficit at the moment. I am also delighted that it has been possible for funds to be found from a variety of sources to allow the Royal National theatre to undertake one of the longest overseas tours ever made by a British theatrical company. Having been in Japan in the immediate aftermath of its visit, I know how impressed the Japanese were with its performances.

Mr. Maclennan : Will the Minister acknowledge that the predicament of the theatre, with 30 of the 32 clients of the Arts Council in serious deficit, is critical? The theatre is one of Britain's great successes for which the Government could claim some credit, but not if they do not recognise the need to inject a considerable amount of money and not stand behind the shield of the Arts Council. Does the Minister accept that, unless the Government act, the closure of the RSC's London venues will be inevitable, as Mr. Hands has said, and that would be a national shame and disaster?

Mr. Mellor : As I have already said, substantial improvements in funds have been made available to the Arts Council and it has then made them available to a range of clients including many of the theatres that have been mentioned. I am also aware of the problems of deficits which I am discussing with various concerned parties. Obviously, a number of points about financial difficulties form part of the representations that I have made to the Treasury recently.

Sir Antony Buck : While congratulating my right hon. and learned Friend on his new appointment, will he grasp an early opportunity to get around the provinces and visit some of the regional theatres where he will see the

Column 722

excellence of the works that are produced, particularly in the Mercury theatre in Colchester, and hear of their funding problems?

Mr. Mellor : I am extremely keen to travel outside London, and, now that I have finished my labours on the Broadcasting Bill it will be easier for me to do so. Tomorrow, indeed, I have a full day in the west midlands, which will culminate in the inauguration of the Birmingham Royal Ballet at one of the leading theatres in Birmingham. I expect to spend at least one day a week out of London, doing exactly what my hon. and learned Friend has advised.

Mr. Fisher : I congratulate the right hon. and learned Gentleman on his appointment, and welcome him to his new responsibilities. The House knows that he has a genuine and deep love of classical music : indeed, he has the reputation of having the largest collection of compact discs in the whole of Putney. However, he must know that he will be judged not on the size of his CD collection, but on his ability to obtain money for the arts.

As several hon. Members have already said, the arts are facing a financial crisis. He knows that this week the Royal Shakespeare Company goes dark in London, and that the Theatre in Crisis campaign, launched today, identifies 30 of the 32 English repertory theatres as being in deficit. When we add the national theatres, the real deficit figure for the performing arts is £16 million.

Will the Minister tell the House today whether he believes--as we do in the Labour party--that the arts should receive an increase this year above the rate of inflation? On that will depend whether his time at the Dispatch Box is happy or unhappy. One thing is certain : it will be a short time before the next general election and a Labour Government who do value the arts.

Mr. Mellor rose --

Mr. Tony Banks : Sell your CD collection.

Mr. Mellor : Or perhaps my season ticket to Stamford Bridge.

Mr. Banks : No, no.

Mr. Mellor : Before we get down to the nasty business, let me say politely to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) that I wish him a very happy birthday. May he pass many happy birthdays sitting on the Opposition Front Bench.

I have already made it clear that the Government have nothing to be ashamed of in regard to the level of state funding. I have made to the Treasury the case for increases, with what effect will soon be revealed. It is also the case that a successful theatre, like any successful arts organisation, must look to others for assistance and must run its affairs properly. State funding is only one part of that. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central would speak from the Dispatch Box with much more credibility on these points if he took the matter up with some of the Labour councils which, for purely political reasons, are cutting their grants to the arts. For instance, how can he justify the position at the Lyric theatre in Hammersmith, where £100,000 of grant is to be lopped off by a council which has increased its staff by 1,000 in the past four years and does not propose to make any of them redundant, preferring to sacrifice the arts instead?

Column 723


European Community

46. Mr. Barry Field : To ask the Minister for the Civil Service what steps his Department is taking to assist and encourage more Britons to take up positions within the institutions of the European Community.

The Minister of State, Privy Council Office (Mr. David Mellor) : Last month I launched the European fast-stream, a new recruitment and training scheme, to help British candidates prepare for the Community competitions. A new unit has been set up in the Cabinet Office to co- ordinate our efforts to improve British representation in the European Community institutions, in conjunction with the European Commission, which has recognised that it shares the responsibility for tackling the problem.

Mr. Field : May I be the first to congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on his new position as Minister for the civil service, and express the hope that--as he is an avid supporter of Chelsea football club- -under his direction the civil service will behave considerably better than the Chelsea fans? Can he confirm that those Whitehall warriors who take part in the new European fast-stream scheme will be able to return to a career in the home civil service should they find the task of shooting EMUs not to their liking--or, indeed, the mission of teaching civility to Europe's most uncivil servant, Mr. Jacques Delors, an impossible one?

Mr. Mellor : I am glad of my hon. Friend's commendation of our European fast-stream initiative, the aim of which is to allow people to start off as members of the British civil service so that they have certain guarantees of employment, which would otherwise be very difficult. I am delighted to say that of the 2,600 applicants for administrative appointments in the civil service, half have asked to be considered for the European fast-stream scheme and more than 500 have stated it as their first choice. I hope that, through the scheme, we shall make a large stride towards addressing the

under-representation of Britain within institutions in the European Community.

Dr. Marek : Will the Minister check with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science that children in schools throughout the United Kingdom have the opportunity to study the appropriate number of European Community languages so that they are able to take up positions in Europe with the European Commission? It is an important question, because, as the Minister knows, the Government clearly have no influence in Europe any more, and the best that we can do now is to try to influence the European Commission through the civil servants who work in it.

Mr. Mellor : Although the hon. Gentleman has changed seats, his tone seems very much the same--alas. There has been an improvement in the teaching of Community languages in schools. I am glad to be able to say that, because--the hon. Gentleman is quite right--it is an important point. It is a traditional British failing--I certainly share it and perhaps the hon. Gentleman does as well--that there is an inability to speak a foreign language fluently. One of the things that we are making available to people who apply for our European fast-stream course is

Column 724

tuition in a foreign language. I hope that a number of them who get to the point of applying will already be expert as a result of what has happened at school and university.

Mr. Hague : Will my right hon. and learned Friend encourage a larger number of secondments of quite senior civil service personnel to European Community institutions? In particular, will he ensure that a period of secondment is treated as a positive career asset upon possible return to the home civil service?

Mr. Mellor : There is no doubt that a period of secondment to the European Community has been a great asset to my hon. Friend. Certainly we are alive to all the various ways of trying to ensure that our present under-representation ceases.


47. Mr. Beith : To ask the Minister for the Civil Service if he will make a statement about progress and future plans on the creation of agencies.

Mr. Mellor : On Wednesday we intend to publish the Government's response to the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee's recent supportive report on next steps. On the same day we will also be publishing the first annual review of next steps.

Mr. Beith : Does the Minister agree that, if we are to get the best out of the useful programme of reform, there should be a unit in the Minister's own Department to oversee the effectiveness of the way in which the programme is being carried on and that Select Committees of this House must exercise their responsibility to scrutinise committees? Will he see that the first step is taken? Does he agree that it would be difficult to take the second step while we have no Scottish Select Committee and no Select Committee overseeing the work of legal Departments?

Mr. Mellor : On the hon. Gentleman's second point, as the recent report of the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee makes clear, there is ample scope for a constructive analysis of what is happening. Indeed, there is a great deal of useful material in the report to which we can respond on Wednesday.

On scrutiny within my own Department, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that one of the key elements of the next steps strategy--indeed, it is a fundamental base of it--is setting the agencies a set of tasks and rigorously monitoring whether those tasks have been achieved. Indeed, the performance-related pay of senior staff depends on it. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no shortage of monitoring. It is of the essence that we not merely change certain of the frameworks of work activity but actually improve performance.

Mr. Hanley : Is not the next steps programme proving popular to the civil servants who work in it and also delivering better service to customers?

Mr. Mellor : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend.

Column 725

Conditions of Service

50. Mr. Skinner : To ask the Minister for the Civil Service what representations he has received from the Civil Service trade unions about conditions of service ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Mellor : From time to time I receive representations from the civil service trade unions on a wide range of issues.

Mr. Skinner : When the Minister meets trade union representatives, will he tell them that he looks forward to the day when he will be able to negotiate civil servants' pay in a mark-dominated European currency?

Mr. Mellor : That will not be part of my presentation.

Mr. Holt : My right hon. and learned Friend may recall that not very long ago an announcement was made in the House that the Ministry of Defence would transfer many of its jobs to the north-east of England and to Teesside. However, it was announced in the north-east last week that that project may well be knocked on the head as a result of representations that have been made by the trade unions of the civil servants who do not wish to move to the north-east of England. Will my right hon. and learned Friend take this opportunity of saying that he will not allow such recalcitrance to stand in the way of a worthy project?

Mr. Mellor : Like the whole House, I note what my hon. Friend has said and I shall certainly pass his remarks on to the Ministry of Defence, which is responsible for the move. It is not one of my responsibilities. However, I am proud of the fact that under this Government four out of five civil

Column 726

servants work outside Greater London. That is a significant and important development, to which we remain committed.

Special Advisers

52. Mr. Tony Banks : To ask the Minister for the Civil Service what is the current number of special advisers in the civil service ; and what was the figure 12 months ago.

Mr. Mellor : Thirty-three currently ; and 31 twelve months ago.

Mr. Banks : That is a significant increase in the number of special advisers. May I congratulate the Minister on his job and express the hope that, despite having two additional jobs, he will still find the time to kick up a bit of dust down at Stamford Bridge? Does he agree that it is now time to consider the issue of the politicisation of the civil service, given that there have been a number of senior appointments, not only in the special adviser area, but elsewhere, that suggest that we should either become honest and decide that we are going to operate a spoils system or the Government should pull up the stumps and stop appointing people who, under the Prime Minister's dictum, are clearly "one of them"?

Mr. Mellor : Thirty-three out of 500,000 is not a substantial proportion. I note what the hon. Gentleman has said about other political appointments and should be interested to know chapter and verse on that. As far as I am aware, appointment to senior ranks of the civil service is entirely on merit. The hon. Gentleman might need further to particularise the charge that he has made before any of us can evaluate it fully.

Next Section (Debates)

  Home Page