Other than informally, I have met the unions on six occasions in the last 12 months. The last occasion was at a meeting on 30 April held by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment to discuss the question of arbitration with the general secretaries of four Civil Service unions in relation to their 1985 pay claims.
My right hon. and noble Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster most recently met representatives of the Institution of Professional Civil Servants on 2 April to hear their views in favour of extending unified grading in the Civil Service.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the pressure of work in some local Departments, especially the Department of Health and Social Security and Customs and Excise, is probably greater now than ever before? In view of the rather low morale of the Civil Service, will my hon. Friend make it abundantly clear at his next meeting that the Government fully appreciate that Britain has an extremely loyal and efficient Civil Service, which is one of the best in the world, and the least corrupt?
A civil servant wrote to me this morning stating that, during the past 60 years, access to arbitration had been turned down by the Government 10 times, three times by the present Government. Civil servants feel very sore about the Government's denial of arbitration, but I do not know whether my information is right. Can my hon. Friend say whether it is?
Post-war Governments of all persuasions have maintained that access to arbitration can be refused by the Government on grounds of national policy. I can confirm that the Government have refused access to arbitration.
As it is the Government's view, as stated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his predecessor, that pay awards in the Civil Service should not fall consistently below awards in the private sector, what steps does the Minister propose to take in the forthcoming year to rectify what has happened in this year's pay award and other recent ones in which civil servants have fallen a long way behind the private sector?
I confiim that both the present Chancellor of the Exchequer and his predecessor made such clear statements to representatives of the Civil Service unions. The hon. Gentleman will know that in the context of this year's pay negotiations the Government have made it clear once again that they are very anxious and willing to proceed to negotiations, with the aim of establishing an agreed pay system which will have long-term implications for the determination of future pay settlements.
Has the Minister considered the answers given by each Department of State to my question about the ethnic origin and sex of its equal opportunities officer? In each case the reply was that the equal opportunities officer is white and male, except for the Secretary of State for Transport, who replied that his equal opportunities officer is a British citizen and that he does not understand the relevance of sex.
As ever—no, not as ever, but as so frequently happens—the hon. Lady has got it wrong. I have here the text of the letter that was sent by the head of the Inland Revenue to his staff. It begins:
The first point I must make is that there is not, nor has there been, a ban on the promotion of those who have taken industrial action.
He then went on to make the points that I covered in the House when I answered questions on 18 February. I refer the hon. Lady to the answer that I gave then.