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Volume 929: debated on Monday 4 April 1977

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asked the Minister for the Civil Service how many representations he has received to date opposing the dispersal of the Civil Service; and what is the estimated up-to-date cost of this dispersal.

Since the Government's announcement of the dispersal programme on 30th July 1974, I have received a total of 51 representations opposing the programme. These have come mainly from Members representing constituencies in or near London. By contrast, dispersal is keenly welcomed in the receiving areas. The costs are being reassessed in the light of the current review of the dispersal timetable.

Does the right hand of this ambidextrous Government know what the left hand is doing? In the light of changing economic circumstances, does it make any sense to shuffle 15,000 people and 30,000 jobs out of London when the Department of the Environment is trying to get offices and factories to reopen in London? Is it not likely that the Civil Service Department will spend £300 million on this dispersal of the Civil Service, which the Department of the Environment will then re-spend on getting people and jobs back here again?

There is no contradiction in the Government's policies in this regard. The London situation ought to be kept in perspective. London still has a much greater share of office employment than any other part of the country. The Government's dispersal policy is designed to help ease the structural unemployment which exists in the Scottish, Welsh and English regions.

Is not dispersal of civil servants from London long overdue? It was first suggested by a Conservative Government, and this Government have carried out the policy. Does not my hon. Friend realise that, unless there is dispersal of civil servants, those in other parts of the country who want promotion within the Civil Service will always have to uproot their homes and come to London? That is wrong.

I accept my right hon. Friend's point about the career development prospects for civil servants in the regions.

Does the Minister realise that his words do not match his deeds? Does he recall that in a recent parliamentary answer to a Question of mine he revealed that the total number of civil servants moved to the assisted areas in the last year was 0·02 per cent. of the total? If he really believes that the dispersal of civil servants has a contribution to make to regional policy, why does he not get on with it? If he does not believe it, why does he not scrap the whole thing?

There is no contradiction in the answer I gave to the Question tabled by the hon. Gentleman on a previous occasion. The Government's dispersal programme is phased over a period of 10 years. The programme is to disperse 31,000 Civil Service posts from London and the South-East during the period 1974 to 1984. The timing is under reconsideration, but the Government remain firmly committed to that programme.

Does my hon. Friend accept that as long as he adheres to the policy of Civil Service dispersal he will have overwhelming support from this side of the House? Will he consider, in relation to the projects for the Glasgow area, not necessarily waiting for the full buildings to be constructed but starting on the movement now, particularly of civil servants in the Ministry of Overseas Development?

I assure my hon. Friend that the Government remain firmly committed. However, as he will appreciate, and as has generally been acknowledged, the Government have imposed a moratorium on capital building during the next 12 months. This might conceivably affect the time phasing of the dispersal programme.

Do the Govern-men really mean business? When will the Minister give us a new date for starting work on the building of the Ministry of Defence in Glasgow and of the Directorate of Overseas Surveys office in East Kilbride? Is he aware that he told us at the end of last year that the programme had been delayed and that he hoped to announce new dates very soon? In fact, no new dates have since been given. Is he aware that people in Glasgow are becoming increasingly worried about the strength of the Government's commitment?

I can understand the interest which all Scottish Members have shown in the dispersal of Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Overseas Development jobs to Glasgow. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall announce the new timetable as soon as is practicable and possible.