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Civil Service (Recruitment)

4. Mrs. Gorman: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what plans he has to review the method of recruitment of civil servants. [9709]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service (Mr. Peter Kilfoyle): I have no such plans.

Mrs. Gorman: Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that among the many achievements of the previous Government was the reduction by 35 per cent. in the number of civil servants by natural wastage? Will he also confirm that the Government's plan to break up the United Kingdom and establish new Assemblies and Parliaments all over the place will inevitably lead to an increase in the number of civil servants--100 more for the Welsh Assembly and 500 more for the Scottish Parliament? Will he tell British taxpayers that those recruits will be obtained by closing the Scottish and Welsh Offices in London because they will not be needed any more?

Mr. Kilfoyle: I can assure the hon. Lady that there are no plans to have other than a unified civil service, that there are no plans afoot either to shed members of the various Departments--

Mrs. Gorman: They have to be shed.

Mr. Kilfoyle: The hon. Lady has to make up her mind whether she wants people to be sacked or retained to make the kind of contribution that we would expect them to make, as the majority of civil servants do. The hon. Lady referred to the previous Government. She knows that they managed to transfer 388,000 civil servants to agencies.

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We are concerned to maintain a professional civil service that is recruited on the basis of fair and open competition. That will apply to the recruitment of civil servants in the future, as it has in the past.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan: One civil servant, the Cabinet Secretary, is to retire at the end of this year. Will the Government look closely at the best methods of recruiting a new Cabinet Secretary, whether it be by the use of headhunters, by advertising or by the traditional method of appointing from within the civil service?

Mr. Kilfoyle: The recruitment of the new Cabinet Secretary is a matter for the civil service and the Prime Minister. We have no objection to using headhunters to advise us, in addition to open advertisements for jobs.

Mr. Hogg: With reference to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), may I put it to the hon. Gentleman that he should have calculated how many civil servants will be retained in the Scottish Office as now is, and how many will be transferred to the departments that will be responsible to the Scottish Parliament? My hon. Friend would like to know what the numbers will be both ways. Surely the House is entitled to an answer.

Mr. Kilfoyle: The House will get the answer at the appropriate time when the calculations have been made.

Electronic Information

5. Mrs. Anne Campbell: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what plans he has to permit individuals to supply information to the Government electronically. [9710]

Dr. David Clark: Information technology will revolutionise the way in which citizens relate to government. I am conscious of the success of the child benefit scheme promoted by my hon. Friend in Cambridgeshire. We intend to expand such imaginative schemes. It is a matter of great regret that the previous Government did not have the guts to pick up such projects and run with them.

Mrs. Campbell: I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply and I am grateful for the interest that he has shown in the project that I pioneered in Cambridgeshire. If we look forward a little, there will be a time quite soon when people will expect to make their tax returns or even their benefit claims through information technology. It would be nice to know whether the Government have any plans to develop those areas.

Dr. Clark: Yes, indeed. One can look at information technology in three ways. First, we use it to modernise our Departments and make us more efficient. Secondly, we have tried to use it to provide information on public services. Thirdly, there is scope for the delivery of public services by electronic means. If the technology moves apace, as it has in the banking world, a large percentage of Government services could be dealt with by electronic means in the near future. One or two pilot schemes are in operation and we hope to put them into full service within the next two years.

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6. Mr. Hanson: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what steps he is taking to reform the programme of charters. [9711]

Mr. Kilfoyle: As we announced in June, we are relaunching the programme as part of our wider initiative to improve government. We have already begun a series of visits and meetings to discuss with ordinary people--both users and service providers--how we can make the programme more meaningful and help to ensure the delivery of better public services.

Mr. Hanson: Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the failures of the Conservative Government's citizens charter programme was that it was essentially a top-down process without any involvement from local people at local level? Will he outline his plans to ensure that real people have real discussions about what those standards mean and that they have real, enforceable rights?

Mr. Forth: Real focus groups.

Mr. Kilfoyle: We intend to introduce a people's panel, which will, indeed, use focus groups. It will also use citizens juries, deliberative polling and telephone interviews. We want to find out what ordinary people want, not what the self-appointed great and good want. The previous Government--that lot over there, who do not use public transport and who use private education and private health care--told others what they ought to have rather than giving them what they wanted.

Mr. Rowe: As the Government claim that their priorities are education, education, education, can we now look forward to a seriously enforceable contract with schools obliging them to deliver something that the public really need and want? Education must be one of the last remaining sectors in which there is an implied contract with the public but absolutely no obligation on schools to deliver.

Mr. Kilfoyle: The hon. Gentleman will know that an increasing number of the 645 charter mark holders are schools. There are 944 applications in the pipeline, including many from schools that see the benefits of obtaining charter marks and assessing their ability to deliver a wider service in their communities.

Freedom of Information

7. Mr. Corbyn: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what plans he has to introduce freedom of information legislation. [9713]

Dr. David Clark: I plan to publish a draft freedom of information Bill in the new year.

Mr. Corbyn: Does my right hon. Friend agree that many people will welcome the prospect of genuine freedom of information legislation? Will he ensure that that legislation covers all aspects of the work of the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Trade and Industry so that it will be possible to find out the true cost of the Trident nuclear missile system and the true amount

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of the subsidy provided for the arms industry and arms exports? Past Governments have consistently refused to reveal the real cost of the arms industry to our economy.

Dr. Clark: It is important for us to consult as widely as possible on freedom of information legislation, but I warn my hon. Friend that there will have to be exemptions--as there are in every freedom of information Act anywhere in the world. There are issues affecting the security of our nation, and others, on which we cannot provide information freely and fully.

9. Mr. Canavan: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will make a statement on his White Paper on freedom of information. [9715]

Dr. David Clark: As the House will know, I had originally hoped to be able to publish a freedom of information White Paper before the summer recess, but I am afraid that that simply has not proved possible.

Mr. Canavan: May we have an assurance that the White Paper will end, once and for all, the scandal whereby MI5, MI6 and certain Departments--particularly the Ministry of Defence--have for years been allowed to behave like secret societies, to such an extent that people in this country have had to resort to United States freedom of information legislation to find out what is happening here?

Dr. Clark: I think that the new freedom of information legislation will change the culture of politics in Whitehall. It will introduce the presumption that information will be available to individuals unless there are good reasons for it not to be. We will, of course, study examples in the United States and other countries along with Westminster models to get the balance right, so that the individual can have as much freedom as possible without harming our country's interests.

Mr. Keith Simpson: Will the Minister stiffen up that rather mealy-mouthed answer? Some Opposition Members--and, I hope, some Labour Members--actually believe that certain areas of national security should remain secret and should not be wide open to people who might undermine our society. Before some hon. Members turn that into a joke, let me remind the House that we are fighting terrorism in one part of the United Kingdom. That is not a joke.

Dr. Clark: The hon. Gentleman ought to have listened a little more attentively. I made it clear that nothing would be revealed if it affected the security of our nation.

Mr. Derek Foster: Does my right hon. Friend agree that in the wake of the Scott report, which revealed a disturbing culture of secrecy and endemic dissembling as being endemic in our system of government, freedom of information legislation became an integral part of the Prime Minister's agenda of restoring trust with the British people? If that is true, will my right hon. Friend, with the Prime Minister's full authority, root out any resistance to freedom of information legislation wherever it lies in the Government?

Dr. Clark: I will certainly do that. I passionately believe in the legislation: it will do a great deal to restore trust between the citizens of Britain and us the Government.

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