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Departmental Staffing Levels

Volume 974: debated on Monday 19 November 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade when he expects the review of staffing levels in his Department to be completed.

I am reviewing a number of functions of the Department with a view to reducing Civil Service work and will announce the outcome as soon as possible.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that assurance. Will he give an equally strong assurance that his review will make quite sure that the net figures produced will take account of the amalgamation between his own Department and the now defunct Department of Prices and Consumer Protection?

I am endeavouring to eliminate unnecessary functions. There is not any particular determination on my part to get numbers down for the sake of getting numbers down. I am looking at the general efficiency of the Department. Where we can eliminate functions, or improve the way in which we do our work, we may, as a byproduct of that, obtain reductions in staff.

I am conscious of the fact that two Departments have been merged into one. Both are now working very much better under the Conservative Administration than they were before. I hope that we can achieve some savings of the sort that my hon. Friend proposes.

On a day when this House is reminded of the courage and skill of our air-sea rescue personnel, will the Secretary of State assure us that in his review he is not considering a cutback in the marine division, particularly in the coastguard services or the marine survey office? Any such cutback would inevitably reduce safety for our seafarers.

I am very well aware of the vitally important work done by the marine division and by the coastguard service. There is no question of our reducing in any way the role that we play in this area. That could not be so. However, if some reorganisation is found to be desirable within, let us say, the marine division, we must be free to make that reorganisation. We are looking at how we can make the Department more efficient, and not at how we can get numbers down just for the sake of it.

How can my right hon. Friend justify the near doubling of the airport security levy on air passengers next spring when manning levels—for example, four people are assigned to each X-ray machine—appear to be higher than is the case elsewhere in the world?

This function must pay for itself. It would be quite wrong, in my view, for the general body of taxpayers—many of whom have never travelled on air transport and will never do so—to be subsidising this function. We shall look into the efficiency with which the operation is conducted, but it must cover its own costs.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give the House an undertaking that he will not delegate essential survey work from the survey department within the marine division to the independent classification societies?

I am not giving any undertakings to the hon. Gentleman. I shall give undertakings about the organisation of the Department when we have fully completed our study of all these matters.