The "next steps" initiative continues to make excellent progress; 34 agencies have now been established, and we expect that number to rise to 50 by this summer. By the end of the year we expect "next steps" will apply to about half the civil service.
My right hon. Friend has made great efforts to achieve this progress, whereby half the civil service will be involved in "next steps" agencies. That is welcome. Most Conservative Members would welcome management of Government services according to private sector discipline. Does my right hon. Friend recognise that it is important that many of these agencies are placed in parts of the country other than the south-east, particularly in areas where unemployment is high? Will he do all that he can to achieve that target?
I thank my hon. Friend for his opening remarks and I fully agree with the second half of his comments. We have a vigorous programme for relocating civil service departments, whether they are moving into agencies or not, in other parts of the country. I was involved in that when I was a Home Office Minister and I shall aim for its continuation while I have my present responsibilities.
When I asked the Minister a question three weeks ago, he answered me courteously, but he answered a completely different question. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to concentrate his mind and to let the House know whether he will meet representatives of the civil service unions to discuss the morale and finance problems in the present lacklustre housing market of civil servants who have been compulsorarily relocated because these "next steps" agencies have been set up.
If the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) had turned up this afternoon, I would have specifically answered that question. Of course, I should be delighted to meet leaders of the civil service trade unions at the appropriate time if they wish to see me. I have already met certain representatives of the Institution of Professionals, Managers and Specialists. I shall continue to meet such representatives at the appropriate moments when we have something to discuss.
At this stage, I can tell my hon. Friend only that the Liverpool passport office is trying out team-working arrangements which may lead to an increase in the number of staff at that office, that the resettlement agency, working with Knowsley council, is developing alternative hostel facilities and that Companies House has opened a satellite office in Manchester. All those developments are very close to the area in which my hon. Friend is interested and I hope that there will be further developments.
Would not "next steps" status be better for the transport section of the Crown Suppliers? Will the Minister assure me that that section will not be sold to a civil servant who has been the subject of a full investigation by the Crown Suppliers and who has been found to have committed three disciplinary offences? Can the right hon. Gentleman assure me that that person will not be allowed to buy the transport section of the Crown Suppliers?
Will my right hon. Friend examine carefully all the agencies that we now have in south Dorset? The Admiralty research establishment is to go into the defence research agency. He should also consider the Atomic Energy Authority, the dockyards and various other developments. Will my right hon. Friend try to ensure that if the organisations are passed over to individual managements, care is taken to ensure that they do not all decide at the same time to relocate 8,000 jobs in two years from the very small Weymouth and Portsmouth area? I should be most grateful if my right hon. Friend would examine that matter carefully.
I fully understand my hon. Friend's point, and it is a good point. Naturally, he does not want a lot of employment to move out of his area quickly and all in one go. In my experience, relocation in the civil service does not exactly happen overnight. It happens over a great many years, allowing plenty of time for the local Member of Parliament to make full representations about the effect of relocation on his constituency. I hope that, with his customary assiduity, my hon. Friend would do that if there were any likelihood of all the civil service departments or agencies moving in one go.