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Lord Richard: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, when we on this side hear such phrases as "partnerships with the private sector" in relation to the Civil Service College, we become extraordinarily suspicious having regard to the experience we have of the way in which the Government have handled the creeping privatisation of the public services in recent years? The noble Baroness said that the Government have considered various options in relation to the Civil Service College. Can she give us an assurance that the option of privatisation has been ruled out?
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I do not think the noble Lord should get too excited about what he has heard in the past. The noble Lord would not expect me to comment on any plan that the Government might have in the future. I repeat that we have made no proposals to make any change to the position of the Civil Service College in the public sector. However, I thought that the party of the noble Lord opposite was now quite interested in privatisation.
Lord Richard: My Lords, I am sorry to come back to this matter but it is important and it is the noble Baroness who has the official brief. Is privatisation of the Civil Service College ruled out or is it not?
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I do not think it is appropriate to assume that I shall commit this Government or any successive government indefinitely in the future. I am quite sure that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, would not expect me to do that. He may shake his head but I am absolutely certain that he would not expect me to do that. I heard one of his noble friends suggesting that the party opposite would win the election, which of course it will not. How do we know what the party opposite will do in future?
Can the noble Baroness give us one further assurance? Has the question of converting the college into a trading fund--to use the modern jargon--been completely ruled out? It is a fate which overtook a comparable education institution, the Fire Service College, with not very happy consequences to date.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, all I can say is that a number of options are being considered which will involve joint approaches with private sector organisations. Those discussions are at a sensitive stage; and I do not wish to risk prejudicing progress by being more specific.
Lord Beloff: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, at the height of the influence and fame of the Civil Service, there was no Civil Service College? Civil servants were thought to be adequately prepared by following proper courses at real universities. Would we not perhaps do better to go back to that arrangement?
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, as noble Lords know, these matters are for the usual channels. The usual channels will have an opportunity to consider the matter if the noble Lord wishes to put it to them.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, will the Minister assure the House that, in determining a balance between public and private sector use of the Civil Service College, the needs of the Civil Service rather than financial revenue to the college will be paramount? Does the Minister also agree that the Government's commitment to the European Year of Lifelong Learning involves lifelong training? Initial training for civil servants at universities is excellent, but there is a need for updated training during the professional life of civil servants.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I can give that commitment. The college provides a wide range of courses. It does its very best to look after the civil servants who attend for the courses, and others too. Noble Lords should know that civil servants do not use the Civil Service College alone, as my noble friend Lord Beloff said. Something like 35 per cent. of senior management attend there for the courses. But, overall, only 5 per cent. of the Civil Service do so. The remainder of civil servants are trained in their own departments by other civil servants.
Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, will the Minister dispel the theory that only those with a university education are suitable for entry to the Civil Service? Is the noble Baroness aware that, of the private secretaries that I had during my time as a government Minister, two had left school at 15 years of age and both were, and still are, outstanding civil servants?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, Government House is the property of the Hong Kong Government and as such will belong to the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region after the transfer of sovereignty. It will be for the Government of the Special Administrative Region to decide upon the future use of the building.
The Earl of Kinnoull: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. While it is not beyond the bounds of possibility to purchase or to lease this historic and recently listed building after June 1997, if the Special Administration has no appropriate use for it--for instance, as the chief executive headquarters--should not the concept of a British cultural centre, or some other use, be developed not only to mark the dynamic achievements of the recent past of the Hong Kong peoples but to add further to their confidence of continued British influence and interest in their future?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, what my noble friend says is interesting. We do not own the building. Like all land in Hong Kong, it is owned by the Hong Kong Government. It is quite sensible that we should have a proper functional building for the future British Consulate-General and the British Council which we are planning and working on at present.
Lord Wilson of Tillyorn: My Lords, as a past inhabitant of that historic building, perhaps the Minister will forgive me if I do not comment further on it. In terms of a cultural centre, does the noble Baroness agree that the British Council does a tremendous job in Hong Kong and deserves adequate funding in the future so that it can be one of the main platforms for a continuing association at cultural level between the United Kingdom and Hong Kong after next year?
I am also assured that that building will be properly used. It is a great tribute to the history of Hong Kong and it should be preserved as such. The British Council may well be housed in a more modern building more suitable for teaching, and for the exhibitions which the British Council puts on. However, Government House will be protected.
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I think it highly unlikely that that building will meet what the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, calls the same fate as County Hall for the simple reason that the Hong Kong Government have run that beautiful house in a way in which we only wish that the late Greater London Council had run County Hall.
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