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My hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam) admirably put the Labour party's view. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has said that the problems of Northern Ireland and the peace process will be right at the top of his personal and party political agenda in years to come. That applies to all hon. Members. The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady), the right hon. Member for Chelsea and the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) talked about a commitment based on respect for all traditions. That has been recognised by the British and Irish Governments and by all hon. Members. To that end, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) for all the work that they have done over the past few months to start the reconciliation.

I also thank the Irish Government and, of course, the British Government. As my hon. Friends the Members for Hammersmith and for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short) pointed out, the work of the British Government, in particular the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, has been exemplary. Without their efforts in respect of the settlement, today's debate would not have been as good or as sensible as it has been. All of us, whatever our party views, express our thanks to the Prime Minister and to those responsible.

It is easy for those of us who live in Great Britain to talk; it is difficult for those who represent Northern Ireland to talk because it is a different world altogether. I appreciate the misgivings of the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross), although the hon. Members for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) and for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) perhaps demonstrated extreme pessimism, if I can put it as strongly as that.

At the Labour party conference this year, we emphasised the need for agreement and reconciliation, leading to a new political framework founded on consent. We entirely agreed with the Secretary of State when he referred to the three strands in his speech today. There must be arrangements that encompass relations between Ireland and Britain, between the north and the south and between the two traditions in Northern Ireland.

It is for the people of Ireland alone to exercise the right of self- determination. We welcome the Irish Government's recognition that agreement on constitutional status is possible only with the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland. That has been emphasised strongly today by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh and by my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith.

How do we find out what consent is? Who measures it? What measures it? The opinion polls referred to by the hon. Member for Belfast, East might not be as reliable as he thought. Any opinion poll that says that one out of 10 supporters of Sinn Fein does not support a united Ireland must be suspect. A referendum, which the Government are proposing, is obviously the answer to find out what the consent is, and the feelings of the people of Northern Ireland.

Labour supports the referendum proposal. Generally, I am sceptical about referendums, but on certain constitutional matters, they are helpful, and indeed, in this case, vital. We had them on the Common Market and on devolution for Wales and Scotland in the late 1970s. On

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the question of devolution, the hon. Members for North Down (Sir J. Kilfedder) and for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) referred to the need to emphasise devolution in Northern Ireland much more than has occurred in the past.

It is certainly Labour's view that devolution should occur in Scotland, in Wales, in the regions of England and, of course, in the Province of Northern Ireland. That is especially important when we see it as part of Europe of the regions, which is fast becoming a reality. The right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith talked about the need to emphasise the European dimension. The Republic of Ireland has benefited considerably, both financially and in other ways, from its membership of the European Union, and that will be important to the north in the years to come.

One staggering figure that I read in the past two days is that more than 3,000 people have been killed in political violence in Northern Ireland since 1969. If, proportionately, we were to bring that figure into a British context, the equivalent carnage in Britain would mean that every man, woman and child in my south Wales constituency had been murdered. That is the extent of the problem, and it is something that hon. Members must bring to the attention of everyone of good will in Britain.

The right hon. Member for Strangford told us that he is more optimistic about the future of Northern Ireland now than he has ever been in 30 years' experience of government in Northern Ireland and in Britain. It is the duty of all who are involved in public affairs in this country and in Ireland, certainly to acknowledge the past, but to concentrate on the future and guarantee a better world for the children who are now growing up in Northern Ireland. The past quarter of a century has been characterised by despair. We have a responsibility to ensure that the next 25 years are characterised by renewal but, above all, by hope.

9.44 pm

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Michael Ancram): I welcome the hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) to his new responsibilities. Having heard him speak tonight after such a short time in the job, we look forward to hearing many more speeches from him in the future. If he finds his responsibilities as fulfilling as I find mine, he will end his time in the job a very fulfilled man. I think we would all agree that this has been an extraordinary debate: there has been an enormous amount of unanimity throughout the House. Since I began my period of service in Northern Ireland some 17 months ago, many significant steps have been taken--although I make no connection between those two facts-- each of which has increased the chance of creating a new beginning for the people of Northern Ireland. The pace of events has quickened even further in recent months, and it is only right that we have had the opportunity to discuss those developments.

We have had a very good debate. I know that not every hon. Member who wished to speak was able to do so. I pay particular tribute to the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady), who has been present throughout the debate: I know that he will give me his views, although he was not able to give us all the benefit of his wisdom.

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I especially welcomed the speeches of hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies. I salute hon. Members who have continued to uphold the principles of democracy throughout the past 25 years, despite the actions of those from both sides of the community who sought to achieve their political objective by violent means. I also salute the courage of their constituents, many of whom have either suffered themselves or shared the suffering of others. As the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) said on another occasion,

"The will of the greater number of solid, law-abiding citizens has prevailed . . . democracy has finally won".

He and his fellow Northern Ireland Members have all played their part in the search for peace. Of course, I also welcomed all the speeches made today by hon. Members representing other parts of the United Kingdom.

Numerous points have been raised; I shall try to deal with as many as possible. Let me begin generally by thanking all hon. Members on both sides of the House who congratulated my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State on bringing the process this far. I know that those words of encouragement are very welcome, and will help to ensure that we continue the process in the future.

It was important for us to hear the speech of the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor), who speaks with a great depth of experience not only of politics in the Province but of the direct results of terrorism. His statement that he had never felt so optimistic sent an important message to the House: I hope that it is heard by many more than those who were able to attend today's debate. His is a genuine voice of hope, and I know that it will encourage perhaps even those whose speeches were less than hopeful. I congratulate the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam) on her new appointment. We listened to her speech with great interest, and will want to study it in detail. The hon. Lady raised the question of finance-- as did a number of hon. Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott), the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) and the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Dr. Hendron). Let me quote to them what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in Belfast on Friday:

"So let me assure you that the Government will take full account of Northern Ireland's special needs in setting future levels of public spending for the Province. We want to help the Province to enjoy higher levels of economic growth and much greater prosperity throughout the community in the years that lie ahead."

I hope that that demonstrates--not only to the hon. Member for Redcar, but to other hon. Members who raised the issue--that the Government are committed to ensuring that one of the benefits of peace is an increase in the economic prosperity of all who live and work in Northern Ireland.

As always, the hon. Member for North Down (Sir J. Kilfedder) made an interesting and encouraging speech. I was grateful for his words of support. He, and a number of other hon. Members--so many, indeed, that it would take a long time to read out the list--mentioned the important question of the surrender of weapons. I appreciate and share the concern that has been expressed

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during the debate in relation to arms, but our position is well known. It is quite simply that no one should hold illegal weapons, and that we shall continue to uphold the rule of law.

In that context, we intend to consult the Irish Government on a considered approach to the depositing and decommissioning of guns and explosives, and officials from both Governments have been asked to draw up a strategy setting out the logistics and mechanics of a surrender of arms to underpin the peace process. In any event, one purpose of the preliminary exploratory dialogue which we may enter into with Sinn Fein within three months is to examine the practical consequences of the ending of violence, and the surrender of illegal weapons would provide some of the most convincing evidence of good faith in that regard.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) mentioned punishment beatings and intimidation, and I associate myself with his remarks about the tactics indulged in by certain paramilitaries in recent weeks. Such attacks are, of course, wholly unacceptable. The policing role is for the proper policing authority. That authority is the RUC--not self- appointed vigilante groups--and I hope that we can make that patently clear.

The hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) raised a number of interesting points once again. He referred to the "working assumption" which the Government have announced to begin the process by which we can, I hope, in the end bring Sinn Fein to the negotiating table. The whole purpose of having a working assumption is that one cannot make an assumption based on certainty, and that assumption by definition is contingent on the assumption proving to be true over a period.

That is why the process has certain stages. There was the declaration of the working assumption by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister last Friday in Belfast. Then there must be a period to be gone through, which we have said is there to allow us to confirm the commitment to peace of Sinn Fein and the IRA. If we have gone through that successfully, we shall get to the exploratory dialogue. That dialogue is dealing not with political matters but with the consequences of the cessation of violence, and with how Sinn Fein can be brought back into the democratic process and, ultimately, to the negotiating table to talk about the political future of Northern Ireland. We did not need certainty, because we have adopted a system which, if we are proved wrong anywhere on that road, allows us to reverse the situation and go back to where we were before. My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) voiced his real fears, as I know he has done previously, in relation to an amnesty for prisoners. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said previously, there will be no secret deals for peace. Criminal law will continue to be applied vigorously with the intention of bringing those responsible for terrorist crimes before the court, and those who are convicted of crimes must expect to serve their sentences in accordance with the law.

The hon. Member for Hammersmith asked towards the end of his speech whether I could assure him that the strand 1 paper and the joint framework document would be taken together. I would like to take the opportunity to make it clear that that has always been the intention. The

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reason why the strand 1 document is to be published at the same time as the framework is that, if one were published without the other, the overall package would be unbalanced and the chances of it achieving its purposes would be very much minimised. I like to describe it as a three-legged stool, in which one of the legs is being manufactured separately. Unless it is attached to the stool when it is completed, the stool will be unbalanced.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea made an important speech. He was right to remind the House that, although a lot has happened recently, this has been a long process and goes back a long way. Tribute should be paid to many other people who have not had tribute paid to them tonight, including those involved in the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the processes following that. From my experience, I certainly know that many of the advances which we are making now have been built on the back of work that was done by my predecessors. I pay tribute to all those who have been so involved. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea also cautioned us against moving too fast. It is the Government's purpose to move at the pace that is most likely to achieve success. Negotiations of this sort tend to have their own momentum. If one tries to force them to go too fast, they derail. If one moves them too slowly, they lose momentum. I can assure my right hon. Friend that we shall look at matters as we go along, with a careful eye to trying to ensure ultimate success.

Mr. McGrady: In the euphoria and the joy that are evident among the people of Northern Ireland because of the ceasefire and the absence of killing and atrocities, there is an urgent expectancy of a new beginning, of new structures and of new political dialogue. The Minister has used careful phraseology, and has said that he will hasten slowly. Will he take on board the fact that the people expect the political parties to get together to work out mutually satisfactory institutions?

Mr. Ancram: I very much accept that. I believe that much of the momentum has been created precisely because people are asking their political representatives to move. We certainly want to build on that. Equally, I am sure that the hon. Member appreciates that, if one moves too fast, one sometimes loses out of the train the people one needs on board if one is to have a successful conclusion. I found the remarks of the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) and his colleague the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) distinctly depressing. They took a negative approach. They know that we are not seeking peace at any price and that we have to have a peace that is broadly acceptable in its form and in its structures to the people of Northern Ireland. That is why, as I said, we have a working assumption at present in terms of negotiations with Sinn Fein. That is why we have a process of dialogue which must be gone through, followed by a referendum, before any solution can be achieved in Northern Ireland.

I find the litany of unmitigated despair very discouraging. I hope that, one day, the hon. Members for Belfast, East and for Mid-Ulster will raise their eyes a little. I hope that they will begin to look forward, and that they will try to take a constructive approach. I assure them that, if they do, they will be welcomed by me and by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State back into the process, where I believe they should be.

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I am sorry that I shall not be able to deal with all the other points raised in the debate. A number of suggestions have been made by hon. Members on both sides, which the Government will wish to consider. We meet today in a mood of cautious hope. It is cautious because history, especially the history of Northern Ireland, teaches us to be cautious.

There is hope because we now have a chance to achieve what many of us thought impossible--peace and political stability in Northern Ireland. We have a chance to achieve a society in which women and men from all parts of the community are able to play a role in the public life of the Province, taking responsibility for their own decisions, a society in which everyone, whatever his political persuasion, is treated with respect and a society in which all have equality of opportunity, equity of treatment and parity of esteem. I hope that those remarks will be heard by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), who particularly asked that that should be the case. Already, the atmosphere in Northern Ireland is different. There is now a real feeling of peace abroad, and we are determined to build on what has already been achieved. We now need to move forward with the aim of resuming negotiations with the various parties, with the object, in turn, of achieving an overall settlement which is widely acceptable in Northern Ireland. No one will be asked to forgo his fundamental principles, but there will need to be flexibility, as there always is in negotiations. At the end of the day, we have made it clear that there is no slippery slope in what we are about, and that the Government will continue to uphold the principles of democracy and consent.

It is worth remembering that, just one year ago, Northern Ireland was coming to the end of a week of unmitigated horror. It was a week that had begun with the horrific carnage of the Shankill bomb, which continued through vicious sectarian killings, and which ended with the terrible massacre at Greysteel. It was one of the darkest times in Northern Ireland's recent history, and it was hard to see any light to relieve that darkness. Yet here we are tonight, a year later, talking of hope in an atmosphere in which the guns and bombs are silent.

The two periods are not unrelated. Out of that horror was born an even stronger desire for peace, an even more insistent call that enough was enough, and an even greater demand that an answer had to be found. In turn, that gave greater impetus to the process that has led to where we are today, not least in the courage and vision of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, which has played such a central part.

The way ahead is not easy. It will need further courage and vision, not just from the Government but from everyone who must be involved in this vital process. The people of Northern Ireland are looking to us all to provide it, and we must not fail them now.

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Mr. Michael Bates (Langbaurgh): I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn .



That, in respect of the Drug Trafficking Bill [Lords] , notices of Amendments, new Clauses and new Schedules to be moved in Committee may be accepted by the Clerks at the Table before the Bill has been read a second time.-- [Mr. Bates.]



That Sir Paul Beresford be discharged from the Education Committee and Mr. Graham Riddick be added to the Committee.-- [Mr. MacKay.]



That Mr. Sebastian Coe be discharged from the Employment Committee and Mr. Warren Hawksley be added to the Committee.-- [Mr. MacKay.]



That Mr. Robert B. Jones be discharged from the Environment Committee and Sir Irvine Patnick be added to the Committee.-- [Mr. MacKay.]



That Mr. Rod Richards be discharged from the Information Committee and Mr. Timothy Wood be added to the Committee.-- [Mr. MacKay.]



That Dr Liam Fox be discharged from the Scottish Affairs Committee and Mrs. Jacqui Lait be added to the Committee.-- [Mr. MacKay.]



That Mr. Rod Richards be discharged from the Welsh Affairs Committee and Mr. Warren Hawksley be added to the Committee.-- [Mr. MacKay.]

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Mrs. Helen Tinney

10 pm

Mr. Mike Watson (Glasgow, Central): I beg leave to present a petition on behalf of many people in the city of Glasgow, following the tragic death of Mrs. Helen Tinney on 12 September 1993. Her death followed the demolition of large multi-storey block in the city in circumstances that have given rise to considerable concern to many people in Glasgow.

The petition has been signed by 2,158 people, whose names have been collected mainly from the Gorbals district of Glasgow, but also from further afield within that city. Earlier this week, a further 3,000 names on other petitions were presented to the Prime Minister at 10 Downing street.

The concern of the people of Glasgow has been occasioned by the fact that the procurator fiscal has chosen at this stage not to prefer charges or identify someone as responsible for the death of Helen Tinney. Her family-- specifically her widower, Mr. Eddie Tinney, her daughters Maureen and Elaine Tinney, and her son John--and many other people are very concerned about this matter.

I therefore present this petition:

Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your Honourable House will do all in its power to ensure that those persons responsible for the death of Helen Tinney are identified and duly prosecuted.

And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. To lie upon the Table.

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Civil Service (Redundancies)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Dr. Liam Fox.]

10.1 pm

Mr. Peter Mandelson (Hartlepool): The debate arises from the announcement last week of a radical transformation of the role and staffing of the Treasury. I record my interest as secretary of the parliamentary Labour party's treasury affairs committee and as a parliamentary adviser to the First Division Association of Civil Servants.

No Opposition Member opposes good housekeeping, but the Treasury is already small, given the job that it does at the heart of Government. Its running costs represent only 0.4 per cent. of total Government running costs. So the downscaling of the Treasury cannot be justified on the ground of its financial burden to the nation. The Treasury's size has already been reduced dramatically under this Government. Only 1,400 people now work in the central Treasury, compared with 3, 000 in 1982. Many top jobs were cut less than a year ago. Yet it is now proposed to remove as many as one third of the senior posts, with others to follow. In time, a quarter of the entire staff of the Treasury is to be axed.

It is right to ask why that is being done and with what consequences for the ability of this and future Governments to run economic policies. It is also necessary to ask what wider motivation Ministers have for running down the civil service. A real fear is now growing within the Labour party that the current reforms will have such an impact on the whole government machine that there might hardly be a civil service worth its name, not only in the Treasury but throughout Whitehall, to implement the programme of an incoming Labour Administration if we have a change of Government at the next election.

I ask the Minister to describe clearly the way in which staff cuts will be implemented at the Treasury. By what process will individual civil servants be selected to stay or go, and will that process comply with European law? Will there be compulsory, as well as voluntary, redundancy? What severance terms will be provided, and at what public cost? How will individual civil servants' pension arrangements be safeguarded?

What criteria will be used to select individual civil servants for redundancy? How can the Minister assure the House that those criteria will not include, directly or indirectly, considerations of political suitability? Can he assure us also that there is no hit list of those individuals whom the Government want to remove? The civil servants involved, as well as Parliament, are entitled to answers to all those questions.

Let me suggest to the Minister that, in the approach that the Government are taking, they are in danger of creating the worst of all worlds as a result of the job insecurity that those changes are generating in the civil service.

Those officials with the most marketable credentials and contacts in the private sector will be the most tempted to take voluntary redundancy and go --and CVs are probably being brushed up in every corner of the Treasury as we speak. All too often, that group will contain some of the brightest and best, because they have been pushed into aspects of work, such as privatisation, that have been

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a high priority for the Government. On the other hand, the people with the strongest commitment to the public service, but who have not had such glamorous roles and have not had the same chances to develop, will be eager to stay.

Those people who want to get out but are refused will be disappointed and demoralised, which will affect their future work. Others, who are wanted at the top of the range, will have to be paid more to tie them in. That is not a happy or productive environment in which to work in the most crucial Department--or in any Department--in Whitehall.

What is the purpose of the disruption? The Government's justification is to de-layer management, devolve responsibility, focus on key objectives and move away from the "command and control" style of management, as the permanent secretary, Sir Terry Burns, put it in a lecture earlier this year. At one level, it is hard to argue with all that, and no one would if that was the whole story and the only motivation, but it is not. The Government have decided to swing their axe now because they desire to shred the civil service throughout every Department in Whitehall, and the Treasury is going first, to set an example to the others.

The Department of Health and the Department of the Environment are rumoured to be next in the firing line. Sweeping staff cuts in those Departments are predicted, regardless of the needs that those Departments serve and the services for which they are responsible--but the public's needs never have been the Government's priority. What supposedly started as a cost-driven exercise is in danger of ending up as an ideological vendetta against the public sector, in which notions of quality, performance and standards of work in the civil service barely figure in Ministers' minds. The staff axe is being wielded not for the cause of better government but simply in aid of less government.

Dramatically scaling down the machine itself is the ultimate application of the Tory philosophy that the Government should withdraw--that they should take less responsibility and that they should intervene less. In other words, the radical downsizing of the Treasury is the logical outcome of the laissez-faire policies that have produced the shrunken economy for which the Treasury, under its present leadership, is responsible.

If one examines the proposed new, leaner, directorate structure proposed for the Treasury, its bias is clear to see. It is not proactive or interventionist; it is not pro-industry. It is barely engaged in the real economy--in what is happening among firms and companies, where Britain's true economic success lies. The Treasury's objectives, apparently, are only to maintain affordable public expenditure, improve the efficiency of markets, maintain a framework of Government accounting, maintain the financial regulatory regime, deliver permanently low inflation and promote United Kingdom interests abroad. Those are all laudable aims, but what about the United Kingdom's other interests at home?

The most important influence any Government have is through the money that they spend--44 per cent. of gross domestic product. An active Government who understand how the power of public action can be used creatively to strengthen the supply side in the economy and help create opportunities for every individual in society need a strong Treasury to co-ordinate that effort. Under the new regime,

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the Treasury will not only be failing in that task but its other important role--to manage public spending--will be weakened. The withdrawal of the Treasury's detailed control over other Departments' spending, which is proposed in the changes, will have bad consequences if it leads to a relaxation of financial discipline throughout Whitehall and to a green light being offered to all the special interests that breed in the spending Departments. One has only to think of the Agriculture and Defence Ministries to recognise the dangers. The Government will have less ability centrally to enforce spending priorities throughout Whitehall. Whitehall needs a strong co-ordinating Department to bang the table and sort out priorities when departmental priorities conflict. That requires detailed knowledge that will be jeopardised by the proposed staff changes.

Ministers may think that in their quest for less government and a smaller public sector the morale and motivation of the civil service is a reasonable loss to incur; if so, they are making a big mistake. The loyalty and dedication of civil servants and their desire to give a lifetime of service to the good government of their country constitute a priceless asset that should not be squandered in the cause of endless fragmentation of that service--contracting out and buying in from outside consultants and numerous special political advisers. When the Prime Minister talks of the problems of maintaining standards of conduct in public life, he should understand that those problems would be much larger without the standards of integrity, independence and political neutrality that are the hallmarks of the British civil service.

There is a further constitutional as well as practical implication of what the Government are doing in the Treasury and elsewhere in Whitehall. It must be asked whether, as a result of the rundown of the civil service, the very machine that will be left behind will be adequate to administer the policies of an incoming Labour Government. It is true that the newly enshrined objectives of the Treasury could easily be "unshrined" or at least "reshrined". But a properly staffed, managed and equipped machine has to be in place to do that. Such consideration is too much to expect from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He has a record of undermining public service in each Department in which he has served. From doctors to teachers, from the police to the Treasury, he has destroyed public servants' pride in what they do.

The permanent secretary to the Treasury, however, has a personal responsibility, independent of the Government of the day, to secure the Treasury machine for subsequent Administrations. He has shown some dereliction of duty by not consulting the Opposition about the changes that he proposes. He should have considered whether they would be adequate for the needs of a different, Labour

Administration. Upon a change of Government, the Treasury will need to shift radically and quickly to new priorities and ways of working, and there will be no time to waste.

The permanent secretary should not only fully consult the Opposition about the changes already under way--others' views have been sought--he should also, long before the next election and with the agreement and consent of the head of the home civil service, call on the

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shadow Chancellor to be fully briefed on Labour's plans so that the Treasury will be ready to implement them from day one.

As the civil service White Paper reminded us earlier this year: "The Government recognises that the Civil Service is not the property of any single Administration but will continue to serve Governments of whatever party."

I hope that Ministers will think again about what they are doing to the civil service and about the consequences of that for government and for our public life. In implementing any reforms, they have a duty to ensure that there remains a unified, properly staffed and motivated civil service to pass on to succeeding Administrations. I hope tonight for an unequivocal commitment from the Minister to that end, and that, on behalf of the Treasury, he will give me the undertakings that I have sought.

10.14 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service and Science (Mr. Robert G. Hughes): I congratulate the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) on securing this Adjournment debate and on his promotion to the ranks of the Opposition Whips Office. I am sure that serving as a Whip, as much in opposition as in government, is a valuable role; and that the hon. Gentleman, like anyone else who has served as one, will learn a great deal about government. Having heard his speech, however, I suggest that a period of silence on his part would be welcomed by many--especially by the people about whom he has been talking.

The hard-working civil servants whom the hon. Gentleman has attacked this evening have every right to resent his attack. As a Minister responsible for the civil service I certainly resent it on behalf of all the civil servants, of every grade, with whom I come into contact.

I am glad to have the opportunity to debate redundancies in the civil service and to set out clearly the true picture. There has been much ill- informed speculation of late, which I am pleased to have this chance to refute. The hon. Gentleman has tonight repeated some of the ill-informed exaggerations produced by the media and the trade unions.

This occasion allows me to discuss redundancy in the correct context of the reform of the civil service. This is an issue to which the Government attach the highest importance and on which, I believe, we have an excellent record. Our aim was well expressed in the citizens charter first report in 1992:

"New management structures are being developed, competition is being introduced or extended; arrangements for pay are changing rapidly. All these changes are in pursuit of a single, worthwhile cause: the safeguarding and improvement of our public services, for the benefit of those who use them, at a cost which the nation can afford."

The hon. Gentleman said twice that he wants there to be enough civil servants in place to implement the programme of an incoming Labour Government. Repeating an argument does not make it true. The fact is that civil servants are there to carry out the functions of the civil service. Although he only alluded to this in his speech, it is common for the hon. Gentleman, the First Division Association and other Labour party spokesmen to say that there has been a change in the civil service's

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code of ethics and that it will not be capable of serving a Labour Government. That, too, is an insult to civil servants--

Mr. Mandelson indicated dissent .

Mr. Hughes: That was certainly the tenor of the discussion in which the hon. Gentleman took part at the seminar held by the FDA--and it certainly represents the burden of what the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) said in a speech last week.

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) has done us all a favour. When I became a departmental Minister in the reshuffle, I was still in the middle of reading his excellent book, "How to be a Minister". In it, the right hon. Gentleman had some interesting things to say, among them the view that Labour politicians have of the civil service. He writes, on page 45: "Some officials will just suggest one course of action, for you to take or leave. Others, more cunning, will attempt to confuse you with a choice, while carefully steering you in the direction they want you to go. The key of course is not necessarily to accept any of the courses of action they recommend, but to come up with some others yourself. The really inventive Minister will even reject the very problem posed to him, and map out another and more politically attractive scenario."

That is the sort of contempt with which the hon. Member for Hartlepool has spoken of the civil service.

The White Paper entitled "The Civil Service: Continuity and Change", which was published in July, was the first comprehensive statement of Government policy on the civil service since the Fulton report of 1968. In that document the subject of job losses was specifically and realistically addressed. It stated:

"On the basis of experience so far, recognising the challenging nature of running costs targets, and allowing for further opportunities for outsourcing and privatisation, the Government would expect Civil Service manpower to fall significantly below 500,000 over the next four years."

Incidentally, that fall is from a total at 1 April 1994 of 533,350. The White Paper continued:

"The Government does not intend to set specific manpower targets either globally or for departments; it firmly believes that control should continue to be exercised through running costs rather than staff numbers."

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