Civil Service (Equal Opportunities)

Oral Answers to Questions — Cabinet Office – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 19th November 2002.

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Photo of Mr Chris Pond Mr Chris Pond Labour, Gravesham 2:30 pm, 19th November 2002

If he will make a statement on progress in recruiting people from ethnic minorities into the civil service.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

What steps he is taking to ensure equality of opportunity in recruitment to the civil service.

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

The Government are strongly committed to a civil service that is fully representative of the community that it serves. Ethnic minorities make up 7.6 per cent. of the civil service as a whole, and 3 per cent. at senior civil service level, up from 1.6 per cent. in April 1998. Our target is 3.2 per cent. of senior civil servants by 2004–05. Departments have delegated responsibility for most recruitment, and have set themselves challenging diversity targets.

Photo of Mr Chris Pond Mr Chris Pond Labour, Gravesham

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, and I welcome the progress that is being made to make the civil service more representative of the community that it serves. However, is he aware that, in my constituency, as throughout Britain, many young people from black and Asian communities could do a very good job in our public services but may be reticent about coming forward? The more senior role models we have, the better those people will be encouraged and the better the quality of public services that we can provide.

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

I endorse my hon. Friend's sentiments. It may be some comfort to him to be aware that the Council of Ethnic Minority Voluntary Sector Organisations, along with the civil service, is running a series of seminars directed at the kind of challenge that he identifies in a range of communities across the country.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the best ways of improving equality of opportunity in the civil service would be to improve the nationality laws, which currently preclude one in six Londoners from even applying for the most lowly grade of clerical job? Is that not one of the real barriers to both recruitment in London and to equal opportunities?

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

My hon. Friend is aware that we have spoken in the Chamber on that issue before, and we have corresponded, too. In July, I wrote to him stating that we want to see progress to open up the civil service to selection on merit, regardless of nationality, but in a way that does not compromise our right to reserve posts for UK nationals where that is absolutely necessary. That remains the Government's position.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Shadow Minister (Defence)

Does the Minister agree that one department in which people from ethnic minorities could make a vital contribution, in the current environment, is the Security Service? Can he say whether the Security Service has succeeded in recruiting people from ethnic minorities who would be of particular value under current circumstances?

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, there is a long-standing precedent not to discuss the intelligence services in this place. If there are specific matters of relevance that I can divulge, however, I shall happily write to him on that point.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

Does the Minister accept the verdict of the Commission for Racial Equality that the current position in respect of ethnic minority recruitment to the civil service is Xthoroughly disappointing"?

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

I certainly believe that we can do better, which is why we have set exactly the kind of stretching diversity targets to which I referred earlier. I commend the actions of this Government, however, in taking seriously and driving forward that agenda, given what we inherited in 1997.

Photo of Tony Wright Tony Wright Labour, Cannock Chase

Does my hon. Friend share my disappointment that progress towards the diversity targets has seen a setback over the last year? The upper reaches of the civil service are still overwhelmingly white and male, and although 52 per cent. of the civil service are women, only 20 per cent. of senior management posts are held by women. Will he therefore make sure that the new Cabinet Secretary shows as much energy as the last one in driving forward the diversity targets?

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

I assure my hon. Friend that I have spoken to the Cabinet Secretary on precisely that point. I also assure him that, at every level of Government, it is recognised that we must do more in this area. That is why we are driving forward this important agenda.