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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office (Mr. Jim Murphy): Significant progress has been made in delivering high-quality public services throughout the UK. Record levels of investment in public services have been crucial, but the drive to reform services so that they are more responsive to customers' needs is increasingly important.
Andrew Mackinlay: Has the junior Minister noticed that the post of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has been vacant for more than a week, which is a cause for concern because either a lot of work is piling up or there is not enough work to do? I have not relaxed and have carried my mobile phone around with me all week in the hope that I might get the call. In the spirit of "gissa job", will the junior Minister indicate to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that, if I am invited to take up the post, my first counsel on co-ordinating delivery and reform in our public services will be that restoring direct grant schools, which we abolished, and dismantling primary care trusts, which we created, are not sensible reforms and will not be conducive to our radical programme in England?
Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend failed the job interview with his second question. If he were successful, however, he would liven up Cabinet meetingsnot that they need livening up, given recent comment in the press.
We will continue with our reforms to ensure that public services are increasingly personal. Such public service reforms have cut waiting lists in my hon. Friend's constituency, reduced crime and decreased unemployment by almost 18 per cent. We must ensure that those reforms are delivered to an increasing number of people throughout the country, regardless of their socio-economic background. On public service delivery, we want to ensure that the choices and rights that we, as Members of Parliament, take for granted are available not only to the well-off, but to all of our constituents.
Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell)
(Con): It is a huge vote of no confidence in the Cabinet Office if the Prime Minister does not think it important to replace the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. I can only assume that he thinks it more important to have teams of special advisers working in the Cabinet Office than to appoint a Minister to get involved in their work.
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Mr. Murphy: The savings in the Gershon review are continuing apace throughout government. The Government are committed to stripping down the cost of national and local government to ensure that as much investment as possible goes into the delivery of services rather than back-office supply. The transformation in government strategy was launched last Thursday, so it did not attract as much publicity as might reasonably have been expected. Information technology is crucial to delivering the modernisation of government and making the appropriate savings throughout government.
Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): The day that my right hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton), the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, slipped out of the Cabinet Office, he published an important document on transforming e-government. Can we be assured that the principles espoused in the foreword by the Prime Minister, which is an extremely important document that everyone should read, will be delivered by every single Department?
Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. He chairs the all-party group on information technology and takes a keen interest in the subject, as do many Members on both sides of the House. The vision that underpins the strategy extending choice to all throughout the country, having shared services in local government and national Government, and, crucially, ensuring that public servants have IT professionalismwill be seen through. An estimated 50,000 IT professionals work in public services, but too often in the past they have had a series of jobs and no clear career path. The IT strategy published last week aims to bring that anomaly to an end.
Can the Under-Secretary confirm that the Prime Minister has moved from his Department a senior civil servantthe architect of the rather unpalatable views that he has espoused on incapacity benefitto work alongside, in some indeterminate role, the former Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in the Department for Work and Pensions? Is it a new policy for the Government to have somebody working in each Department to second guess its civil servants, to bamboozle the Under-Secretary's hon. Friends, and to ensure that Ministers toe the Downing street line?
I do not know the details of what the hon. Gentleman is suggesting. The Liberal Democrats are again asking about welfare reform in the context of an individual civil servant's movements across Departments. The hon. Gentleman can ask the Department for Work and Pensions about that directly. However, there is a much wider issue here. Too many people are languishing on benefits and are denied the opportunity to get off them and into meaningful employment. We are not a dole partywe do not want
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there to be an aspiration of allowing people throughout generations to survive on benefit. There is a need for radical reform to support those who genuinely cannot work as well as those who want the opportunity to go out to work, thereby enlivening their lives, contributing to their family's lives, and paying taxes rather than just taking benefits. The Government will persevere with that determination despite the Liberals' opposition to that and every other meaningful reform.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office (Mr. Jim Murphy): As the former Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, my right hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton), made clear in his evidence last week to the Public Administration Committee, of which my hon. Friend is Chairman, we are considering the responses received to the Government's proposals for legislation for the civil service, and we will make a statement in due course.
Dr. Wright: I am grateful for that. The problem is that this proposal was first made 151 years ago; it is not as though we have been short of time to consult on it. The Government have said that they are in favour of doing it and have issued a consultation paper and a draft Bill. Can my hon. Friend at least tell me that the Government will introduce a Bill some time during this Parliament?
Mr. Murphy: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and his Committee for their work. He is right that this has been mooted for more than 150 years. We waited 149 years even for a draft Bill, as successive Governments on both sides did not even provide that. My hon. Friend will have to be patient for a little longer. As he knows, the Government have a packed legislative agenda, and the proposed legislation will take its place in the competition for very limited time. The decision will ultimately be made not by me but by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Labour promised to introduce this Bill in 2001 in its election manifesto, and the Deputy Prime Minister promised to do so in 2002, yet there is no sign of it. Is it not hardly surprising, given that this is the party that gave us the likes of Jo Moore and Alastair Campbell, that it does not want legislation to entrench the impartiality, objectivity and independence of the civil service to go on to the statute book?
There has been remarkable change in the regulations in recent years. A code of conduct and a
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model contract for special advisers have been published. For the first time, there is an annual list of the numbers, names and costs of special advisers. None of that happened under the previous Government.
On the civil service Bill, we had 18 years of a Conservative Government with no draft Bill and no Act. When we published our draft Bill, we wrote to Conservative Front Benchers. At that time, the relevant position was held by no other than the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis). We waited for an answer for four months but have still received no reply from Conservative Front-Bench Members. Under the Tories, we had no draft Bill and no Act; later, they could not even summon up the enthusiasm to offer a written response. Is it any wonder that people believe that Conservative support for the measure is, at best, lukewarm?
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