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Non-Industrial Civil Servants

Volume 981: debated on Wednesday 19 March 1980

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asked the Minister for the Civil Service if he has any longer-term plans to reduce the total number of non-industrial civil servants by a fixed amount over a specific period.

I refer my hon. Friend to the statement I made in the House on 6 December. I then announced savings of 39,000 posts; of these some 28,000 will be non-industrial. There are further studies going on in a number of Departments which will result in savings, and, in addition, I told the House on 14 March that there would be a further 2½ per cent. additional saving in manpower costs in 1980–81.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the annual turnover among non-industrial civil servants is currently running at 11½ per cent? If that is the figure, is it not true that the numbers of non-industrial civil servants, if Parliament so willed it, could be reduced sub- stantially without causing redundancies or forced resignations? If that is so, will my right hon. Friend encourage a national debate about how many civil servants we should have?

My hon. Friend is broadly right. Wastage is approximately 11 per cent. The approximate figures are 8 per cent. wastage and 3 per cent. retirement. I confirm that savings of the kind that I have announced can be achieved, I hope, with few redundancies. We are certainly not looking for redundancies.

Is the Minister aware of a reply I received from the Treasury on Monday which indicates huge reductions in staff in the Inland Revnue? Is it not an interesting reflection on the priorities of this Government that they are employing 1,000 additional social security snoopers whereas the number of people available to tackle the much greater problem of tax evasion is being seriously reduced?

I am sure that the House would like to see fewer people employed both in the Inland Revenue and in the Department of Health and Social Security.

In that case there is a difference of opinion between the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) and me —not for the first time. I am glad to tell the House that the latest figures show that the Department of Health and Social Security employs 3,000 fewer staff than last year. The hon. Member's question is therefore based on a false premise.

When the Minister next examines the long-term plans for making savings in the Civil Service will he, in the light of the answers he gave to a question about the numbers of Government information officers, bear in mind that there has been no shrinkage, either in the number or the salaries of those information officers? The only shrinkage has been in the amount of information that has come forth.

I noted what the hon. Member says and I shall discuss it with those of my colleagues who are principally responsible.

Notwithstanding the excellent reply that my hon. Friend gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman), will he take his suggestion seriously? Is it not the case that in this, as in other spheres, there is something to be said for a long-term target, if only as a check on the activities of the Government?

I am against long-term targets because I believe that it is better to proceed in specific areas in an attempt to get numbers down. However, both my hon. Friends have a point and I will reexamine it.

In the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Thornaby (Mr. Wrigglesworth) may I ask the Minister whether it is not time that the Government stopped using the Civil Service as a scapegoat for all their ills? Will the Minister give a straight answer to a simple question? If the Civil Service staff side unions accepted the 14 per cent. pay offer made to them, within the cash limits, would that mean no additional cuts in the Civil Service?

It is not true that the Government are making the Civil Service a scapegoat. I am doing my utmost to achieve the smaller Civil Service which I believe is in the national interest and also in the long-term interest of the Civil Service, while at the same time trying not to damage any individual. I believe that a reduction in the size of the Civil Service is a high national priority and we are working towards that.