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Market Testing

23. Mr. McAllion : To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when he next intends to meet representatives of the civil service unions to discuss the impact of the Government's market-testing programme in the civil service.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. William Waldegrave) : My ministerial colleagues and I have meetings with the civil service unions from time to time to discuss the range of Government policies. Meetings on market testing take place as the need for them arises.

Mr. McAllion : When contracting out has been set up by civil service departments and agencies, will the Minister instruct them to apply the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981 to those transfers, thereby avoiding the legal mess in which Ealing council now finds itself because it failed to apply TUPE? Will he confirm that in applying TUPE to the contracting out of its photocopying services, the Central Office of Information has set a firm precedent which the rest of the civil service will follow?

Mr. Waldegrave : The TUPE regulations have of course applied since 1981--there is no question about that--and if they have been wrongly applied in any individual case it does not change the overall position, which is that application of the regulations has allowed a great deal of contracting out in the central Government and local government sectors.

Mr. Garnier : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that money saved as a result of market testing can and will be reinvested in our public services?

Mr. Waldegrave : My hon. Friend makes a very important point. We are market testing about £1.5 billion of central Government services. If the savings were to run at the rate of about 25 per cent., which we have achieved in the much smaller programme so far, we should achieve about £300 million of savings a year to plough back into services.

Mr. Benn : Is the Minister aware that the Government decided to sell to Robert Maxwell the Professional and

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Executive Register, which provides services for people with professional qualifications? The company went bust and some of the people who worked for it set up by themselves, but the Department is now setting up in competition with the people whose organisation it privatised. Is that a proper way in which to conduct a public service?

Mr. Waldegrave : I shall inquire into the particular case, but the right hon. Gentleman is perhaps ill advised to press connections between our party and Mr. Robert Maxwell.

Ms. Mowlam : Will the Minister now attempt to give a straight answer to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion)? It might enhance what little credibility he has left as Minister for open government. If the situation is as clear as he suggests in relation to the application of TUPE, can he explain why the Foreign Office has suspended programmes for market testing until further clarification is given, the Welsh Office has told its health authorities to cease contracting out while it seeks legal advice and the Health and Safety Executive has put its programme on hold because it has received contradictory legal advice? Will the Minister give a straight answer which his civil service Departments will understand and stop the prejudice that he exhibits to the effect that private is good and public must, by default, be bad?

Mr. Waldegrave : There is no need for the hon. Lady to be quite so offensive. I have tried to explain the issue to her several times and I am sorry if I failed. It is not very difficult. Each individual case must be judged against the 1981 regulations. Nothing has changed because of the Bill currently before Parliament. Obviously, it could not have done, as the hon. Lady is claiming that cases have got into difficulty under the 1981 legislation.

Institution of Civil Engineers

24. Mr. John Marshall : To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what representations he has received about science policy from the Institution of Civil Engineers.

Mr. Waldegrave : We have received a final total of about 800 responses to the consultation process for the White Paper on science and technology. Copies of the responses from organisations, including the excellent contribution from the Institution of Civil Engineers, will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses as soon as possible.

Mr. Marshall : Can my right hon. Friend tell the House whether the institution emphasised the need for the adequate teaching of science and mathematics in schools? Does he agree that the national curriculum will make that far more feasible?

Mr. Waldegrave : The submission made the point about the importance of technological and science education more broadly. My hon. Friend is right. In the medium to longer term, the national curriculum will greatly improve science and technology education. In the past five years, there has been a welcome increase again--a recovery--in the numbers reading technology and science courses at universities and polytechnics. That is welcome, too.

Mr. Miller : In considering the responses that he has received, has the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

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read the interesting report from Lancaster university headed, "Future Relations between the Ministry of Defence and the Office of Science and Technology"? Does he agree with the conclusions reached in that report?

Mr. Waldegrave : I am sorry to say that I have not read that paper, although I have a high regard for Lancaster university. I shall now read it and I write to the hon. Gentleman about the conclusions that it reaches. It will certainly be taken into account.

Charter Mark

25. Mr. Steen : To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what plans he has to extend his charter mark scheme to the European Commission.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service and Science (Mr. Robert Jackson) : None, but considerable interest in the chartewas expressed at the recent European "Service for the Citizen" conference held in London under the United Kingdom presidency of the Community and at the meeting of directors-general for public administration in European Community states which took place at the same time in London.

Mr. Steen : As the public are increasingly affected by rules and regulations from the European Community should we not use the last few weeks of our presidency to press for the citizens charter to be extended to the Brussels bureaucracy? Will my hon. Friend don the mantle of St. George to do that important job?

Mr. Jackson : I hope that my hon. Friend has noted the conclusions of the Edinburgh summit which apply the citizens charter approach to the European Community. The basic principle of subsidiarity has been recognised, reaffirmed and expanded. There is a commitment to greater openness in the Council of Ministers. The Community is to have an ombudsman. Those are all the result of British efforts and British initiatives to try to do as my hon. Friend suggests.

Charter Proposals

26. Mr. Martyn Jones : To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what progress is being made under his charter proposals.

Mr. Robert Jackson : Excellent progress is being made. More than 90 per cent. of the initial 150 commitments in the programme of action in the 1991 citizens charter White Paper have been met or are in hand. More than 80 further policy commitments were set out in the citizens charter first report which was published on 25 November.

Mr. Jones : I welcome the initiative. I should be pleased if, in the spirit of Christmas, the Minister could extend the initiative to the homeless and the unemployed. May we have a charter for the homeless and the unemployed this Christmas?

Mr. Jackson : I greatly appreciate the hon. Gentleman's comment on the citizens charter. There is a charter for the Employment Service, and in my previous ministerial job I was responsible for it. The Employment Service is doing its best to apply charter principles to improve the quality of the service that it offers to unemployed people.

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Service to the Citizen

27. Mrs. Browning : To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what methods his Department has used to judge how the public sector is meeting its targets for improved service to the citizen.

Mr. Robert Jackson : The citizens charter commits all public service providers to setting specific levels of service and to measuring and publishing details of their performance against those standards. The way in which this is done will obviously vary from service to service.

My Department is responsible for driving the charter initiative forward across the whole public sector and for reporting, in publications such as the White Paper of 25 November, the details of performance against standards.

Mrs. Browning : Does my hon. Friend agree that monitoring standards in public services and publishing the results is vital? Is the Prime Minister keeping a watching brief on progress?

Mr. Jackson : I can confirm to my hon. Friend that the Prime Minister is keeping a close eye on progress. He will host the third seminar on the citizens charter on Wednesday 17 February 1993. There have been several important developments covering the whole spectrum of public service reform since the Prime Minister's previous seminar in June this year. We have now published the first progress report on the citizens charter. My right hon. Friend and I consider it to be of the utmost importance that we regularly review progress in implementing the charter. The seminar will give us a further opportunity to do so at the highest level.

Citizens Charter

28. Mr. Skinner : To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what response he has had to the report on the citizens charter.

Mr. Waldegrave : We have had a very encouraging response to the citizens charter report.

Mr. Skinner : Instead of the Minister talking as his belly warms about things like charters, why does he not listen to the people who are really shouting out--the unemployed people who want a full employment charter and the people who do not have roofs over their heads who want a homeless charter so local authorities can build houses? Why does he not listen to the pensioners who are crying out for an extra £20 a week so that they can keep warm this winter? Those are the policies that the people out there are shouting for, not these tinpot charters.

Mr. Waldegrave : As the hon. Gentleman is, I suppose, the greatest partisan of lost causes in the House, I regard his attack on the charter as rather a compliment to it. The work to improve performance in local government and central Government to meet the needs of people is reinforced by the work that we are doing on the charters.

Mr. Mark Robinson : Is not the success of the citizens charter demonstrated by the interest taken in it by European Governments and also by the interest now being expressed in the United States?

Mr. Waldegrave : That is entirely right. As the recent conference that we held in London showed, there is tremendous international interest in the citizens charter

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principles. The president-elect of the new American Government has made it clear that he regards this kind of campaign, which is derided by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), as very important.

Mr. Matthew Taylor : The Minister has previously told me, and states again in the report, that he intends that customers should give a view about the quality of service that they are receiving and that customers should be heard in relation to how charters are being met. How does he intend to involve the customer in setting charters in future instead of consulting them only after charters have been set?

Mr. Waldegrave : The hon. Member makes a good point. We announced in the first report that we would be conducting regular surveys of customer needs. That is a useful first step. However, the principle that the hon. Member states is absolutely right. In every case the service provider should sets objectives and standards after consulting the public and users of that service very widely.

Alcohol and Drugs

30. Mr. Michael : To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what proposals he has to improve the co-ordination of Government policies on alcohol and drugs.

Mr. Waldegrave : Cabinet sub-committees, bringing together all relevant Government Departments, co-ordinate Goverment policy on alcohol and drugs. These are chaired respectively by me and by my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council.

Mr. Michael : Does the Minister recognise that there is a need for all Government policies, including the application of the law, education, social services, housing provision and residential treatment, to be drawn together if we are to tackle those two misuses? Will he have a word with the Secretary of State for Health, who seems most obstinate in regard to listening to advice on the issue, and with her junior Minister, the Parliamentary

Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo), and persuade them that the arrangements that are to come in from 1 April will greatly damage the provision of residential facilities for alcohol and drug misusers? Will he persuade his colleagues to find a new arrangement quickly before the threatened closures start to apply, from as early as February, so as to ensure that those facilities continue to be available?

Mr. Waldegrave : After my useful meeting with the hon. Gentleman and the all-party committee on alcohol abuse, I passed on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health the representations that were made to me on that occasion. My right hon. Friend is clear that the community care new arrangements will meet the needs, but I have passed on the feelings of the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues on that matter.

Citizens Charter

31. Mr. Streeter : To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what proportion of the commitments in the original citizens charter White Paper have been met, or are in the process of being met.

Mr. Waldegrave : More than 90 per cent.

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Mr. Streeter : I thank my right hon. Friend for his most encouraging reply. Is he aware that, despite the efforts of some courteous and hard- working staff, the British Rail service from Plymouth to Paddington remains at best patchy and at worst downright unreliable? Can he assure me that under his watchful eye standards will increase?

Mr. Waldegrave : I can confirm, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear in a speech last week, that it is our intention to drive up standards on British Rail. The standards that we set this year were merely the starting point.

Mr. Barnes : Why are unemployment, homelessness, and the plight of pensioners described by the Secretary of State as "lost causes"? If they are lost causes by this Government, it is time this Government went.

Mr. Waldegrave : The hon. Member gives me the opportunity to clarify exactly what I meant. It was not those important issues which are lost causes. A lost cause is anything that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) supports. This Government have done and are doing much more for those causes, which are close to our hearts, than the Labour Government ever did.

Research Councils (Budget)

32. Mr. Simon Coombs : To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will make a statement on the budget of the five research councils.

Mr. Robert Jackson : The science budget in 1993-94 will be £1,164.6 million. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will be announcing its distribution shortly.

Mr. Coombs : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer, which I suspect shows an increase in cash terms on the total budget for the five research councils, four of which have their headquarters in my constituency. What reassurance can my hon. Friend give the House that the budgets of the individual research councils will not be at the mercy of international currency fluctuations in so far as they affect the cost to Britain of its membership of such international organisations as CERN?

Mr. Jackson : I can confirm that my hon. Friend is right. The sum represents a 4 per cent. increase in cash terms, which is significant in what has been a difficult public expenditure round.

My hon. Friend asked about CERN and international subscriptions. It is a long-standing problem, although we have recently renegotiated our arrangements for CERN subscriptions to make it a little easier. The Advisory Board for the Research Councils will offer advice to my right hon. Friend shortly about how the increases will affect different councils. My right hon. Friend will then have to consider that advice to see what action we should take.

Dr. Bray : Will the Minister confirm that although the total for all Government expenditure remains as planned for next year, the science budget for research councils has been cut from that which had been previously planned? Does he acknowledge, therefore, that the effect of the creation of the Office of Science and Technology has been to reduce the priority given to science by the Government?

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Mr. Jackson : I do not accept that at all. The hon. Gentleman is completely wrong on that point. This year has been difficult for public expenditure. It has obviously had implications for every part of public expenditure, but we think that it is an important achievement to have safeguarded a 4 per cent. increase in cash terms.

Dr. Spink : Will my hon. Friend consider increasing the importance of near-market research, relative to fundamental research, as one of the mechanisms for improving our industrial strategy?

Mr. Jackson : My hon. Friend's question is pertinent to the White Paper on science and technology which we are developing. That White Paper will be published early in the new year. Both science and technology are important. They feed through into the industrial development of the economy. Fundamental science provides the background of ideas and opportunities for training the people who will take forward science and technology throughout the economy.

Constituents Charter

33. Mr. Tony Banks : To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he proposes to implement a constituents charter.

Mr. Waldegrave : I have no such plans. Constituents already enjoy competition and choice--and the right to demand redress--through the ballot box.

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Mr. Banks : That seems to be a great lost opportunity. Would it not be an imaginative extension of the charter principle if constituents-- electors--were able to get some recompense from a Government who break promises that they made at the general election? To take one example from many-- [Interruption.] the Prime Minister has come in on time--I refer to the promise made by the Prime Minister when, just before the election in April, he said, "Vote Conservative on Thursday and the recovery continues on Friday".

Mr. Waldegrave : So far as I remember, the deputy Leader of the Labour party has already withdrawn all the proposals made at the election, so the hon. Gentleman's suggestion seems rather foolish. He has had the opportunity to put the arguments to the electorate three or four times now, and he has always been rejected.

Mr. Nigel Evans : Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we had a constituents charter there should be regular testing, as there is at general elections? In the past four general elections our constituents have had their say on how well we have behaved and performed. In 1979 they voted Conservative. In 1983 they voted Conservative. In 1987 they voted Conservative. In 1992 they voted Conservative. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman has his answer on consumer testing of what policies our constituents prefer--those of the Labour party or those of the Conservative party.

Mr. Waldegrave : I would only complete the prospect by saying that it is likely that our constituents will do the same again in 1996 or 1997.

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