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22. Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): What assessment he has made of the effect on public expenditure of the decision to separate his post from that of the Minister for the Cabinet Office. [220423]

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Alan Milburn): I have made no such assessment. Any such costs will be published in the Cabinet Office annual report and resource accounts for 2004–05, which will of course be laid before the House.

Mr. Brady: Is it not patently obvious that if the Department is to assess the cost of keeping a separate office at the end of the financial year—and we are a few weeks away from that—it must have estimated the cost
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by now. It is absurd for the Chancellor of the Duchy to claim otherwise. His colleague the Minister for the Cabinet Office has written to the Chairman of the Public Administration Committee to that effect—

Mr. Speaker: Order. That is enough.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): He thought he was introducing a ten-minute Bill.

Mr. Milburn: I am always grateful for my hon. Friend's advice.

I think that the hon. Gentleman is well aware of the position. The accounts will be published, and I understand that they will be more detailed than before. They will be laid before the House in due course. As the hon. Gentleman knows, however, expenditure on private offices varies according to the number of Ministers in the Cabinet Office at any one time.

If it will help the hon. Gentleman, I can give him some historical figures relating to the current Government. [Interruption.] I do not know what those other figures are yet because we are not at the end of the financial year. It is self-evident that we are not at that stage. When we are, the figures will be published and, of course, they will be given in more detail than ever before.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab): Could I appeal to Ministers of State to apply their minds to the thoughtful memorandum that they have had from the distinguished retired Scottish Office civil servant Ronald Cramond and in particular his concerns about political parties not influencing the job prospects of civil servants?

Mr. Milburn: I am not aware of the correspondence to which my hon. Friend refers, but I will, of course, look into it.

Matthew Taylor (Truro and St. Austell) (LD): In the light of the issue of the costs of his employment and office, has the Minister given any thought to how much more time he will be able to put—post possible general election, when he no longer will have his role for the Labour party—into the job of Government and to how much more cost-effective his office may then be?

Mr. Milburn: I am absolutely delighted that the Liberals are making a prediction about the outcome of the general election. Well done.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): It is quite obvious that the Chancellor of the Duchy would not like the country to know how much his office is costing until after the election is over, so may I try to assist him? May I advise him that, according to my reckonings, he has spent at the Dispatch Box since his appointment somewhat less than the 45 minutes for which this dodgy Government will ever be remembered? It works out at about £2,000 a minute at the Dispatch Box. Does he think that his special friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, would regard his record as good value for money?

Mr. Milburn: What I regard as remarkably poor value for money is the Opposition Front-Bench team. In all
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my time at this Dispatch Box, given my responsibilities for the co-ordination of Government policy—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman could have asked me a question about education, but I have not had a single question about it. With my responsibilities for the wider co-ordination of Government policy, he could have asked me a question about health policy, but we have not had a single health question. We have not had a single question on jobs, on child care, on pensions or on the economy. I think that I know the reason for that: the hon. Gentleman has precisely nothing to say and his party's policies would damage the economy, damage our public services and cut investment by £35 billion.


The Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—

Civil Service (Fast Stream)

24. Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab): What steps he is taking to ensure that entry to the civil service fast stream is representative of society as a whole. [220425]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Mr. David Miliband): There is a wide range of initiatives in place to encourage applications from diverse groups to the fast stream, including outreach and work experience programmes. The recruitment and assessment process is constantly reviewed with a view to achieving a fast-stream graduate programme that is representative of society as a whole.

Mr. Chapman: The British civil service has traditionally been one of the highest regarded in the world because we have traditionally recruited the best,
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rather than necessarily the representative. How does my hon. Friend intend to square that circle in the upcoming fast-stream recruitment round?

Mr. Miliband: I think that, by opening the civil service to as wide a range of talent as possible, we can boost excellence in the civil service. [Hon. Members: "Dumbing down."] The Opposition say, "Dumbing down." That is revealing. We believe that, if we reach out to all sections of society and encourage them to apply to the civil service, we will raise standards. I would have thought that the whole House welcomed the fact that the targets for ethnic minority recruitment to the senior civil service have been met; more than 3 per cent. of the senior civil service are now from ethnic minorities. I would have thought that the whole House welcomed the fact that 700 members of ethnic minorities went on a summer experience programme in the civil service with a view to being fast-stream recruits. I would have thought that that is something that the whole House should welcome. It is something that my hon. Friend for Wirral, South has campaigned on for a long time and I think that he will be pleased with the developments that we were seeing.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): But will the Minister give us an absolute assurance that the sole basis on which people will be recruited to the civil service, particularly the fast stream, will be merit and ability, and nothing else?

Mr. Miliband: The answer is yes, yes, yes. Of course entry to the civil service is based on merit. The idea that a question about opening up the civil service to the whole of society—[Interruption.] Just a minute. The idea that the policy of opening up the civil service to all sections of society should prompt questions about dumbing down says more about the Opposition than about the programmes that are in place.

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Points of Order

12.30 pm

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Bearing in mind what the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has just told the House—that in future it will be possible for us to question him on a range of wider issues—will you ensure that the Table Office no longer refuses questions on such issues? Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would ask why Labour Members have failed to ask him such questions.

Mr. Speaker: It seems that we are extending Question Time. Those in the Table Office are Officers of the House of the highest standard. They reject questions only if they go against the rules of the House—[Interruption.] Order. I am not responsible for the Minister's reply, which is the last thing for which I want to be responsible.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster listed a range of subjects—education and almost every other subject on which a question could be asked. Will it be in order for us to ask him questions about any Government brief, or should we concentrate on the co-ordination of policy? What is your ruling, Mr. Speaker?

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