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I found the hon. Lady's original question rather confusing. Is she saying that she does not welcome an initiative that is likely to deliver modern, safe and reliable
Column 12Northern line trains several years earlier than they would otherwise be available ? I believe that the vast majority of her constituents will welcome this imaginative initiative which is designed to accelerate a pace of investment that is already four times as great under the present Government as it was at any time under the stewardship of her party.
Mr. Burns : That announcement will be warmly welcomed by my constituents, because the dates are earlier than was originally anticipated. Given that it comes on top of the complete rebuilding of Chelmsford station over the past eight years, the introduction of new rolling stock on the line and the improved journey times, will not the resignalling ensure a better, more consistent service for my constituents who travel to work each day via Liverpool street ?
Mr. Freeman : My hon. Friend might find it interesting to know that punctuality on the Great Eastern line has been 91.3 per cent. over the past four weeks, which compares with the standard set by the passengers charter of 88 per cent.--a creditable performance by British Rail.
Mr. Dowd : I thank the Minister for that reply. Will he liaise with his officials to ensure that London Underground examines all the options for the extension of the East London line, beyond the modest proposal to go to East Dulwich ? In particular, will they examine the London borough of Lewisham's proposal for a circular route involving track sharing with Railtrack, through Crystal Palace and back to New Cross Gate--not only to secure the future of New Cross Gate but to bring to a part of south London that is wholly deprived of an underground service a much-needed facility ?
Mr. Norris : I am happy to arrange for any examination that is not already being done to take place, because I agree that there is scope, in the southern works on the East London line extension, for a real enhancement of the system at relatively modest cost.
Mr. Coombs : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in general principle and as far as possible, resources should be concentrated on scientific research at the sharp end ? Is he happy with the fact that as much as £3.5 million a year is being withheld by his Office for centralised activities such as the technology foresight programme ?
Mr. Waldegrave : I can reassure my hon. Friend. First, the cost of the foresight exercise is about £2 million. Secondly, the costs will come from the running costs of my Department, not from the science base, which is protected. I agree that the money should go to science, which is why the new Director General of Research Councils recently gained £7.5 million in efficiency savings from the research councils to plough back into front-line science.
Dr. Bray : Is the Chancellor aware of the danger of the erosion of support for the science base because of the need to support teaching that should be done at undergraduate level and financed by the Higher Education Funding Council and the Department for Education ?
Mr. Waldegrave : The hon. Gentleman touches on an important point. As he knows, we have put out a consultation paper about potential changes in postgraduate teaching. There is a growth of four-year courses in some of our science and engineering schools ; some of that growth is welcome, but it needs close analysis to compare its output with that of other routes.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service and Science (Mr. David Davis) : I shall resist the temptation to guess who the counterparts of the Duchy of Lancaster in the European Union are, but I have not discussed with them initiatives to reduce the number of civil servants in the Union.
Mr. Steen : Does my hon. Friend agree that there is no way that the numbers of civil servants will be decreased in the European Community as long as there emerge from Brussels daft and expensive directives such as the one being enforced in the Palace of Westminster, under which all filing cabinets will be scrapped this summer because they do not contain anti-tilt mechanisms ? What will the cost to the nation be if all our filing cabinets have to be scrapped ? Is not that a crazy example of these daft directives ?
Mr. Davis : I shall also resist the idea of a European anti-tilt mechanism. The European Commission produced a report on subsidiarity which proposed a reduction of 25 per cent. in the quantity of legislation and regulation emerging from Europe. The directive to which my hon. Friend referred may be a good candidate for that.
Mr. Skinner : How on earth can the number of civil servants in the European Union be reduced if every man and his dog, in the Tory Government and on the Tory Back Benches alike, is calling for God knows how many different varieties of referendum ? And while we are about it, will the Minister ask his right hon. Friend to tell us where he stands on the issue ?
Mr. Waldegrave : My Department co-ordinates a range of initiatives under the banner of the citizens charter that help to improve value for money in the delivery of public services. These include the "Competing for Quality" programme and "next steps", as well as the charter initiative itself. As the citizens charter second report announced, £135 million of savings have been achieved under the "Competing for Quality" programme.
Mr. Devlin : In evaluating the value-for-money initiatives that he is taking, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that the home civil service has an unenviable reputation throughout the world for its objectivity and lack of corruption ? Will he ensure that those values are enshrined in any "next steps" agencies that he establishes ?
Mr. Waldegrave : I think that my hon. Friend meant to say an enviable record, in which case all hon. Members would agree with him that that is so. My hon. Friend is right that the maintenance of those standards, which are envied worldwide, is a central objective of policy in the changes that we are making and have made in the civil service in the past 10 years.
Mr. Winnick : Is not it clear that this Government provide the worst possible value for money ? Did not the electorate make it clear last week that they considered that the Government were totally discredited and divided and that the sooner they went, the better ?
Mr. Ian Bruce : Should not we ensure in the European parliamentary elections that the socialists are defeated so that the European Parliament can work with this Government to ensure that we maintain good public services and the minimum number of civil servants ?
Mr. Waldegrave : All the efficiency gains made in both British Government and British industry would be lost as a result of the centralising tendencies that both Opposition parties would reinforce in the European Community.
Mr. Meacher : As the right hon. Gentleman has stated that market testing of public services is his flagship project ; as he has estimated, although he has never substantiated it, that it achieves savings of £100 million a year ; and as the Cabinet Office efficiency unit has officially estimated the cost of consultancies at £565 million last year, with savings of a mere £10 million, should not he do what any chief executive would do if his pet project turned into a field day for waste and corruption--namely, resign--or is the pay-back to the Tory party from those jobs for the boys such that even he can cling to office, like the Prime Minister ?
Mr. Waldegrave : Not for the first time, the hon. Member has completely confused himself, but he will not confuse the House. Savings of about £135 million have been achieved by market testing. The annualised cost of consultants is probably about £1 million. The total cost of consultants is about £10 million. The hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) is a distinguished management consultant and used to work for Inbucon, so perhaps he will be able to put his hon. Friend right on some of these matters.
34. Mr. Brandreth : To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what assessments have been made of the extent of the changes in efficiency and quality of public services as a result of the application of the citizens charter.
Mr. David Davis : The citizens charter second report, published in March, reported fully on improvements in efficiency and quality in public services since the launch of the citizens charter. Individual services also assess improvements and publish their performance results.
Mr. Brandreth : Will my hon. Friend confirm that the total cost of the citizens charter programme amounts to less than 2p per family per week ? Does he agree that that represents excellent value, given the improvement in services and the pressure for improvement in public services ? Is not that the reason why overseas countries are now using our citizen charters as an example of the way in which they may exert pressure for an improvement in public services ?
Mr. Davis : My hon. Friend is right. More than 30 countries--France, North America and many others--have come to see or have considered our experiences in this matter. He is right to say that there has been a considerable improvement in services. One example that leaps to mind arose from the league tables for schools, which led to significant improvements for a number of schools in the past few years.
Mr. Barnes : What changes are there in efficiency and quality as a result of the scrapping of the charterline experiment in the east midlands ? How much did that wasteful experiment cost and should not the money have been used for other purposes, such as supply to local authorities in the area to enable them to inform people of the services that they provide ?
Mr. Davis : As I have told the hon. Gentleman before, the majority of the money that was spent on charterline went into the development and research phase. That was used to create a database and to provide information for a number of other services. For example, the Royal Mail is producing a directory of all homes and services in the country at no cost to the taxpayer ; the BBC will have a telephone helpline ; and directories such as the British Telecom and Thomson directories will also use the information. That is all for the benefit of the taxpayer.
35. Mr. Peter Bottomley : To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster how the House will receive information about decisions on appeals against a Department's refusal to make information available.
Mr. Bottomley : The House and the country will understand that using the parliamentary ombudsman as a method of appeal is a far more practical and speedy way to get information than trying to use a freedom of information Bill or Act. Will the parliamentary ombudsman have sufficient resources, and will the House have an opportunity to consider a range of reports when enough experience has been gathered ?
Mr. Waldegrave : I strongly agree with my hon. Friend because I think that the system will be cheaper, quicker and more easily accessible to the citizen. We have doubled the resources that are available to the Parliamentary Commissioner to make sure that he can do the work swiftly and with the competence that we always associate with his work.
Mr. Garrett : Will the Minister confirm that the multitude of exclusions and exemptions from his code of practice on open government means that there will be no official disclosures on, for example, the arms- to-Iraq affair, about which he will no doubt be pleased, or the Pergau dam affair ? Will he also confirm that there will be no disclosures of policy analysis or of any information that the Government do not consider reliable ? Is not the truth of the matter that the code of practice is just a sham ?
Mr. Waldegrave : No. The exclusions from the code of practice are those that are found in most freedom of information legislation abroad. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) that the system will work to achieve the objectives, which I share, of those who campaigned for greater freedom of information and that it will do so at much less cost and with much greater ease of access for the citizen.
contractorisation in the public service.
Dr. Goodson-Wickes : I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that that ghastly word "contractorisation" masks an admirable concept. Does he further agree that its implementation sometimes threatens the career structure of people in the system ? I shall give an example. Technical recruitment to the Ministry of Defence may be inhibited if people do not have a proper career structure. Will he assure me that he will liaise with my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to ensure that that potential problem is addressed ?
Mr. Davis : As my hon. Friend says, market testing and contracting out are designed wholly to improve value for money and the quality of service that the public services, including the Ministry of Defence, provide. In specifying projects, the Ministers who are involved in making decisions obviously take into account matters such as recruitment, which my hon. Friend mentions. I will, of course, speak to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence on that matter if my hon. Friend so wishes.
contractorisation of the fireworks safety campaign from civil servants to a private company, which resulted in a doubling of the cost, in the production of useless information and in a record number of firework accidents ? When will the Government realise that our civil servants are still the most efficient, the least corrupt and the least politicised in the world and stop handing over their jobs to cowboys ?
Mr. Davis : One part of the hon. Gentleman's question was correct-- our civil service is entirely commendable. But that is not to say that some of the things that it does cannot be done better, as has been demonstrated by the market-testing programme. The in-house team won the bid in 60 per cent. of market tests, and in practically all those cases significant savings, sometimes down to about 25 per cent., were made.
37. Mrs. Anne Campbell : To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what plans he has to implement the recommendations of the efficiency scrutiny report into the Government research laboratories.
Mrs. Campbell : Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that 90 days represents a ludicrously short time scale for the scrutiny of the efficiency of 53 Government research laboratories ? Is not it likely that the scrutiny team will produce simplistic rationalisations and cuts, which could only damage the Government's research base ?
Mr. Waldegrave : I do not believe so. We will all see the report when it is published, and then we shall consult carefully. There is no reason why the Government should not examine carefully research overhead costs. As my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) says, we want the money to go to science. If we can find ways to save money by dispensing with unnecessary overheads, we should do so.
Mr. Dickens : Is not it a fact that the Government have no money of their own--only taxpayers's money ? Should not we review research laboratories sensibly and regularly so that money spent on behalf of taxpayers is applied efficiently and effectively ?
Mr. Waldegrave : My hon. Friend must be right when he suggests that it is the duty of any Minister to ensure that taxpayers' money is spent as efficiently as possible. We shall do that through the study and we shall do it right across the board.
Mr. Dafis : When considering the report, will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind the fact that a recent parliamentary answer that I received showed that research funding for Wales is absolutely disgraceful ? Will the Chancellor of the Duchy discuss that matter with the Secretary of State for Wales, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales and other organisations involved in scientific research in Wales ? Will he consider also devolving to Wales--to the Welsh Office--the function of research councils, together with at least 5 per cent. of funding ?
Mr. Waldegrave : It would be a bad idea to devolve research council funding to Wales or to Scotland. Vice-chancellors and most of the research community--in Scotland, at any rate--are strong supporters of maintaining a national system. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there is concern. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales recently took steps to reinforce research excellence in Wales, which will enable research contracts to be won on merit more freely, perhaps, than in the past.
Dr. Spink : Does my right hon. Friend agree that Government research laboratories should enjoy state-of-the-art management and organisational structures and should apply their resources as effectively as possible ? Is not it essential that the review is carefully considered ?
Mr. Waldegrave : As we are supporting through the Economic and Social Research Council good research into organisational theory and proper management, it would be paradoxical not to apply them to the science base itself.
Mr. O'Brien : Is not it the case that the code, which came into effect on 4 April, will not allow the public to become fully aware of the growth of scandals such as Pergau and Matrix Churchill ? Until we have a Government who are prepared to be open with the electorate about the way in which they run their affairs, scandals such as Pergau and Matrix Churchill will continue and the Government cannot claim to be open or to seek an end to secrecy.
Column 19and handed to the hon. Gentleman. The truth is that the code's exemptions are just about exactly the same as those in freedom of information legislation around the world. If the hon. Gentleman is seriously interested, he will discover that the new code of practice policed by the ombudsman will be a major step forward.
Lady Olga Maitland : On behalf of amateur and professional historians, may I congratulate my right hon. Friend on persuading his colleagues to release confidential Government information ? Does he agree that that is a step forward in open government ?
Mr. Waldegrave : I was grateful for the thanks that were delivered to the Government the other day by the Institute for Contemporary History. We have made major steps forward : I commend to the House for example the Farm Hall transcripts and many other things that have been released in the past year, from which the institute might learn something.
Mr. Enright : But does the Minister agree that the citizens charter is totally incapable of stopping Departments throwing away taxpayers' money ? For example, how could it possibly get back the £200,000 that was lent to Unicorn Heritage plc and a gang of failed business men ? How does it help that ?
Mr. Davis : That is a disgraceful use of parliamentary questions. The "Competing for Quality" initiative, of which the charter is a part, achieves an enormous amount of improvement in value for money--as has already been said, £135 million gross in this year alone.
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