When the Minister next meets union representatives, will he give them a guarantee that those agencies which there is no immediate intention to privatise will remain in place for a minimum of five years to provide both stability and prospects for those working in them?
Although I do not know whether it is right or wrong to set a time scale—I shall reflect on that point—the Government's policy is clear. Our first priority is to assess whether a service of Government is better suited to privatisation. If the Government decide that that is not so, the next option is to consider whether it should be an agency. It must be assumed that, in most circumstances, it will remain an agency for the foreseeable future. However, that does not preclude privatisation in the longer term.
Is the Minister aware of the huge uncertainty and concern of people who are notified that their jobs are to disappear in Southend and be transferred to Liverpool or who are told that their services are being privatised? Does the Minister agree that it would be helpful and in the interests of good industrial relations if everyone so affected was issued with a sheet of paper explaining what will happen to their pension rights and security of employment and what employment rights they have? Should not the Government set an example to private employers to tell employees about their rights and obligations if their jobs are affected because of Government policy?
I am very much aware that a considerable number of officials—particularly in Customs and Excise—work in my hon. Friend's constituency. I will convey to my noble Friend the Paymaster-General, who is in charge of relocation policies some of my hon. Friend's views. I shall reflect carefully on his points. Several movements are taking place in Customs and Excise. Some headquarters are being moved out of London to Southend, and a greater number of staff are moving to areas outside the south-east. As my hon. Friend knows, that is part of the Government's policy to encourage relocation wherever possible.
When the Minister reflects on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) will he also reflect on the advisability of giving a guarantee to all civil servants who find themselves in agencies that are liable to be privatised that they will be retained in the Civil Service by being transferred to another part of it?
The hon. Gentleman always misunderstands what the agency system is about. If the Government decide to establish an agency rather than privatise an organisation, the officials in that agency remain part of the Civil Service. There is no question of a change in their status. The hon. Gentleman's question is misleading; I am glad to have this chance to reaffirm the position.
When my right hon. Friend last heard from the Civil Service unions, were they able to congratulate him on the first high promotion of a female part-time civil servant, and, secondly, on the introduction of two days' paternity leave for civil servants whose wives have babies?
I am glad to tell my hon. Friend that the number of women part-timers in the Civil Service has risen to 12 per cent. of the complement. The fact that we have much more flexible employment policies and encourage part-timers is attracting more able women to serve. Over the past few years I have been surrounded by very able female advisers, many of whom have been part-timers.
The hon. Gentleman must agree that the most important factor is how whatever service we are considering can be most effectively managed for the country. If the Government take the view that it can be more effectively managed through privatisation, that is one road. If the hon. Gentleman wants a better use of our resources—it is taxpayers' money—he will accept that the other route to more effective management is to create agencies. Both routes are based on the criteria of good value for money and the best use of resources.