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Civil Service

Volume 895: debated on Monday 7 July 1975

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Employment Relocation (Consultation)


asked the Minister for the Civil Service whether he is satisfied with the consultation procedures for Civil Service personnel who are being asked to change their place of work.

Yes, Sir. The Civil Service Department has a joint committee with the national staff side for the discussion of dispersal problems. Dispersing Departments similarly are in close touch with their departmental staff sides.

Does the Minister agree that there are certain specialised skills in the Civil Service which often have limited alternative opportunities in the private sector, and that it seems very unfair if such people are forced to relocate when it might be inconvenient for them to do so for family or personal reasons? Is he aware that they are then in a position of having to resign from the Civil Service without redundancy benefit and without adequate alternative employment?

Non-mobile grades—clerical officers and grades below and their equivalents—will not be required to disperse but may volunteer to do so. As for mobile grades of staff above the executive officer and equivalent level, it is the Government's intention that where possible they should be transferred only on a voluntary basis, but in some cases there will be no work of the same type left in London after dispersal. This is a fact of life which the Government are seeking to deal with.

Has my hon. Friend consulted the staff of his Department and of Her Majesty's Stationery Office in Norwich about the apparently obstructive attitude towards the expansion of public service opportunities in Norwich by the Norwich County Council?

The issue to which my hon. Friend referred is a matter of concern to the Civil Service Department. We were grateful for the action which my hon. Friend took in drawing public attention to this particular difficulty.

What is the point of consultation if the Government do not intend to pay the slightest heed to the wishes of the people consulted? Is it not clear that the Government intend to move the directorate of Overseas Surveys to Glasgow although the people who work in it wish to stay in London?

I do not wish to give the impression that the Government as an employer are impervious to the wishes and understandable domestic difficulties which civil servants in London who are subject to dispersal are likely to encounter as a consequence of the dispersal policy. However, the Government have a responsibility to the nation in relation to the dispersal of Civil Service posts. Their policy is to disperse 31,000 Civil Service posts over the next 10 years.

As the Government are committed within the fairly near future to setting up an Assembly in Edinburgh, what consultation is going on about the rundown of the London Civil Service in that event? Is it intended that personnel should be transferred from London to Edinburgh?

Any final arrangements for the creation of a separate Civil Service in connection with the establishment of the Assembly in Scotland will have to await the working out of the constitutional framework.

There is an obvious solution to the points raised by the hon. Members for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie) and Twickenham (Mr. Jessel), and that is to provide Civil Service job opportunities in Scotland, particularly Glasgow. The people of Scotland will not be too happy about the remarks of the two hon. Members because Scottish families have been unrooted for decade after decade.

It is because we are concerned about the unemployment situation in Glasgow, Merseyside, the North-East and elsewhere that we are determined to honour our commitment to disperse the Civil Service to these regional locations.



asked the Minister for the Civil Service if he will consider introducing amending legislation to the Pensions (Increase) Act 1974 to allow special supplements on lump sums for those public servants who retired after December 1972.

No, Sir. The purpose of the 1974 Act was to ensure that those retiring after December 1972 on salaries affected by the 1972–73 counter-inflation measures did not, as a result of the Pensions (Increase) Act 1971 arrangements, receive for the rest of their lives pensions below those of colleagues with the same pattern of service who had retired immediately before the introduction of those measures. Lump sums were not affected in the same way. No one retiring in the period in question would have received a smaller lump sum than a predecessor with the same pattern of service.

Does the Minister agree that those living on fixed incomes and who retired during this period comprise one of the sections of society which are most vulnerable to the adverse effects of inflation? In this respect does he not agree that the Government have a responsibility to their former employees?

I do not disagree with the hon. Member about the difficulties facing those living on fixed incomes. However, conceding supplements on lump sums would involve accepting the principle of notional rates of pay, which is something that successive Governments and the Inland Revenue Department have been reluctant to do.

Many of my right hon. and hon. Friends would be outraged if the Government took the steps suggested by Conservative Members at a time when we are seeking to curb public expenditure. Is my hon. Friend aware that this suggestion comes very low in the order of priorities for public expenditure?

Will the Minister review the Pensions (Increase) Act 1971? Is he satisfied with the way it is working? Is he aware that it gives all former public servants inflation-proof pensions which no private pension scheme could possibly afford to give? Does he agree that the capital value of these pensions for some civil servants runs into six figures, which is far in excess of what was originally intended?

The hon. Member is suggesting that the inflation-proofing of Civil Service pensions was not intended. I can tell him only that the legislation was put on the statute book by the Conservatives. As for whether the Government are satisfied, we recognise that we have an obligation to retired civil servants in this regard.

Government Departments (Relocation)


asked the Minister for the Civil Service what steps are being taken to redress the imbalance in the number of civil servants of central Government Departments employed in the various economic regions of England outside the South-East.

As my hon. Friend knows, we announced last year an intensive programme for the relocation of Civil Service work away from the South-East involving some 31,000 posts, nearly 90 per cent. of which will be located in the assisted areas. It is our policy to continue to look for opportunities to disperse Government work from London and the South-East and to set up any new work in other regions whenever possible.

I welcome the action taken to situate the Manpower Services Commission in Sheffield, but is the Minister aware that the number of nonindustrial civil servants in Yorkshire and Humberside is 23,000 compared with 33.000 in the Northern Region, 44,000 in the South-West and 47,000 in the North-West? Will he bear this in mind when considering future redeployment programmes?

Clerical Officers (Pay)


asked the Minister for the Civil Service if he will consider shortening the number of increments on the pay scale for clerical officers.

The present incremental scale for clerical officers is agreed with the staff associations concerned, and does not fall to be reviewed until 1976.

There is general support for the principle of incremental scales. Is my hon. Friend aware that there is hope that these will not be restricted by the current discussions between the Government and the TUC but that the increments in the clerical officer and clerical assistant grades are so long that it takes almost a decade to reach the top point of the scale and that they are therefore almost meaningless?

I understand and appreciate the concern my hon. Friend has expressed, particularly since I was once a civil servant in a grade which at that time had 18 points on the incremental pay scale. I appreciate the irritation and frustration felt by civil servants in such grades.



asked the Lord President of the Council whether he will move for the appointment of a Select Committee into the workings of Parliament.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Edward Short)

I am planning a major review of parliamentary procedure in the autumn. Whether this should be done by Select Committee or in some other way is still to be decided.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his answer will be warmly welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House? Will he accept that Parliament's rôole as a check on the executive and also as a forum for national debate needs re-examination in the light of modern conditions? Will he also accept that we need to look at the servicing and working conditions of Members of Parliament, including late parliamentary hours?

I agree with my hon. Friend on both points. The first point is the fundamental one. The relationship between the roles of the executive and of the legislature has rather changed in recent years. I agree that this is fundamental to parliamentary democracy. The second matter is the kind of practical problem with which a radical review of this kind should be concerned.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect that he gave an assurance recently to find time for debating the valuable report of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) on the preparation of legislation? As this deals with a substantial aspect of the working of Parliament, can the right hon. Gentleman say when that debate may take place?

I pay tribute to the excellence of the report by the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton). I hope that we can debate both this report and the report from the Select Committee on Procedure before the end of the present Session.

Will the right hon. Gentleman, in the review of the working of Parliament, take into account the changing nature of the composition of the House of Commons and the fact that it is now a multi-party Chamber, whereas many of our procedures are still geared to the outdated two-party system?

Certainly I should welcome the views of hon. Members over the next few weeks on the scope of the review.

May I take up a slight ambiguity in my right hon. Friend's remarks and ask whether he is aware that this House and the other place are masters of their own procedures, and that a Joint Committee would be better than any such body as a Royal Commission or anything of that sort?

I rule out a Royal Commission, which would take much too long, but there are a number of other possibilities. One is a Joint Committee and another is whether we should bring in one or two people from outside to help us. I think that the public have a point of view here, too.

Is the right hon. Gentle man aware that his remarks ruling cut a Royal Commission are wholly welcome to everyone on this side of the House? It is pleasant to be able to agree with the right hon. Gentleman for once. May I ask whether he is aware that while the Opposition would welcome a review of the working of Parliament we would want to be assured that not too much influence would be exerted by those who have succeeded in gumming up the proceedings of the House of Commons with the present congested legislative programme

I think that the gumming up, as the right hon. Gentleman rather inelegantly calls it, is due to a number of factors. That cited by him may be one, but there are others that I could mention. The right hon. Gentleman started his supplementary question in a harmonious way, and I shall not disturb the harmony.

Political Parties (Subsidies)


asked the Lord President of the Council when he expects to receive the report of Lord Houghton's committee on the proposal that Government subsidies should be made available to political parties for their work outside Parliament.

The terms of reference of Lord Houghton's committee are:

To consider whether, in the interests of parliamentary democracy, provision should be made from public funds to assist political parties in carrying out their functions outside Parliament: to examine the practice of other parliamentary democracies in this field, and to make recommendations as to the scope of political activities to which any such provision should relate and the method of its allocation.
The committee met for the first time on 19th June. It is too early to say how long it is likely to take.

Will the right hon. Gentleman please look at this again in the present situation? At a time when so many voluntary organisations are fighting for their lives against inflation, would it not be a scandalous abuse of power if political parties were to give themselves special protection by voting themselves subsidies from the public purse?

That is a point of view, but it is not the only one. I believe that political parties are an essential part of the machinery of democracy. Many parliamentary democracies have done this, including such countries as New Zealand, Sweden and so on, and all that this committee is doing is inquiring into this and making recommendations to us. It has no recommendation before it, and it is open to anybody to submit evidence. The committee has welcomed this. I believe that the hon. Gentleman has submitted evidence to it, and any other hon. Members may do so.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that this matter must be treated with the greatest of care because many hon. Members on this side of the House, and on the other side too, believe that unless we are very careful this could undermine the type of democratic system that we have? The idea of payments to political parties could lead to the sort of situation that exists in some of the European parties where there are lists of candidates, kept members who have little independence. Therefore, will my right hon. Friend note that many of us who passionately believe in the democratic process feel that in certain circumstances this could undermine the democratic process?

That, too, is a point of view, and it is the kind of consideration that Lord Houghton's committee, which is a balanced one, will take into account.