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Civil Service

Volume 979: debated on Wednesday 20 February 1980

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asked the Minister for the Civil Service how many retired civil servants and other public servants received, at the last increase in their public pension, a rise of more than £50 a week.

Figures for the public services as a whole are not available centrally. As to the Civil Service in particular, the number is 18, out of a total of 348,000 pensioners.

Is this not yet another example of one law for the poor and another for the rich under the present Government? Is the Minister aware that the Government are refusing to increase unemployment benefit in line with inflation—an insurance benefit paid for by contributions—and that that act will push millions into poverty? Is he aware that at the same time they are paying out huge, fully inflation-proofed increases to former top civil servants who receive pensions of over £15,000 a year? Does the Minister not agree that a limit must be imposed upon the rich before the poor are made to suffer more?

Whatever the merits or demerits of inflation-proofing it is ridiculous to launch a campaign against 18 people. The hon. Member is basing a campaign on about .005 per cent. of the 348,000 people involved.

What progress has my hon. Friend made in the search for a new and improved mechanism to check on the computations of the Government Actuary in arriving at the real value of index-linked pensions in the public service?

The Government are continuing to study this matter with urgency. I hope that we shall be able to come to conclusions and make announcements before long.

How many of the 18 former public servants have highly paid jobs such as bank managers and directors because of their Civil Service experience? How many of them are in the other place receiving £16.50 expenses which is worth another £100 a day if one takes tax into account?

I cannot answer questions about individuals. The hon. Member has been kind to me in the past, but I have to say that that is a typical question for him.

Has my hon. Friend any plans for obliging those who are in receipt of index-linked pensions to pay substantially more in the course of earning those pensions?

The Government are looking into the whole question of inflation-proofed public service pensions. The issues are extremely difficult. We hope to be able to ensure a stystem which is acceptable to the public servants and the taxpayers.

Is the Minister aware that his answer to the hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) will be deeply disappointing to many retired public servants and to the Civil Service staff side because for about a month he has been unclear about how the investigation is to be carried out, and, indeed, why it is to be carried out? Did he not say a few months ago that he had the utmost confidence in the Government Actuary's figures? Why is the investigation necessary and who will carry it out?

It is interesting that the hon. Member should be so against an investigation into public service index-linked pensions when there is such disquiet about the issue. I have the greatest confidence in the Government Actuary but the question of index-linked pensions goes far wider than the Civil Service. It goes through the whole of the public services. That is why the question is not relevant to the issues at stake.

Staff Side (Meetings)


asked the Minister for the Civil Service when he expects next to meet representatives of the staff side.


asked the Minister for the Civil Service when last he met representatives of the Civil Service trade unions and if he will make a statement.

Do the Government intend to settle this year's Civil Service pay claim within the framework of the national pay agreement?

The normal processing of pay evidence is proceeding. No decision has been taken. The reports were received only in the last week or so. It is far too early to announce a decision.

Computer Maintenance


asked the Minister for the Civil Service what savings in Civil Service expenditure he has identified from changes in computer maintenance.

Arrangements have been made with International Computers Limited to maintain certain computers in use beyond the life originally planned for them. An estimated saving of some £40 million up to 1985 is expected from this life extension programme.

May I congratulate my hon. Friend on making such savings in his Department? Does he agree that there is further scope for the use of computers in Government Departments generally, in view of the ever-increasing complexity of Government business and the reductions in the cost of computer hardware?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I shall pursue this matter as vigorously as possible. I am grateful for his question.

Redundancies (Scotland)


asked the Minister for the Civil Service how many persons at present employed in Scotland in offices which are under his control will be made redundant under the proposed public expenditure cuts for the current year; and if he will identify these by region and by numbers involved.

Before redundancy is declared, the agreed procedures provide for a number of measures to be considered, including the redeployment of surplus staff to other Departments. Until all this has been completed, it will not be possible to say whether there will be any redundancies in the Civil Service as a result of public expenditure reductions. We intend to keep redundancy to a minimum. It is most unlikely that there will be any in the current financial year.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that it will be welcomed in Scotland where unemployment is 8·9 per cent? When he comes to consider redundancies, will he take that unemployment rate into consideration?

I shall certainly take anything that my hon. Friend says into consideration. I take his views seriously, especially those about dispersal. I have no reason to believe that the chance of Civil Service redundancies in Scotland is worse than elsewhere.

Does the Minister expect to see any further transfer of Civil Service jobs from Southend to Scotland?

That is an interesting thought. I shall have to consult Mr. Edward Taylor about that.

Since the Minister is still saying that he is in favour of public service dispersal to Scotland, will he be supporting his former colleague, Teddy Taylor, in his by-election campaign in Southend, East?

With vigorous enthusiasm. I am looking forward to a convincing victory.

Staff Side (Meetings)


asked the Minister for the Civil Service when he expects next to meet the national staff side of the Whitley Council.

I refer the hon. Member to the answer that I gave today to the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw).

In view of the speculation about further cuts in public expenditure and Civil Service manpower, will the Minister explain, the next time he meets the national staff side of the Whitley Council, when further cuts are to be made and when a definitive announcement will be made to clear up the anxiety in the minds of civil servants?

If there were a further announcement about cuts I would naturally tell the national staff side at the earliest opportunity. I refer the hon. Member to my statement of 6 December. There has been no significant change since then.

Can my hon. Friend assure the House that work is still proceeding with all possible urgency on the options of 10, 15 and 20 per cent. economies?

My hon. Friend knows that those figures were not targets. In my statement on 6 December I said that a number of studies were being conducted in the Departments, notably in the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Health and Social Security and the Department of the Environment on further savings, which, I hope, will be in addition to what I believe to be the largest programme of savings announced at any one time.

Departmental Expenditure


asked the Minister for the Civil Service what progress he is making in cutting expenditure in his Department.

Expenditure by the Civil Service Department in the current financial year—1979–80—will be contained within the revised cash limits announced by my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury on 26 June 1979, which took account of a 3 per cent. reduction in the pay component. A further reduction of £2·3 million—10½ per cent.—is planned by the end of the fiancial year 1983–84.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Will he accept that one of the more effective ways of reducing Civil Service expenditure is to reduce the duplication of jobs carried out by central and local government? Will my hon. Friend encourage his right hon. and hon. Friends to extend the removal of controls along the line suggested by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment?

I most certainly agree with my hon. Friend's remarks I am grateful to him for drawing my attention to the matter. It is an issue about which I shall continually press my colleagues.