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Volume 983: debated on Wednesday 23 April 1980

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asked the Minister for the Civil Service if he is satisfied with the progress being made in the Government's policy of reducing the number of civil servants.

No, Sir. But we have made a reasonable start.

Is the Minister aware that, in spite of all the publicity and ballyhoo about this populist policy, there has been a reduction of only 4 per cent. in the number of civil servants? Will he confirm that many of those who have gone are highly qualified specialists, some of them expensively trained by the Government, and that there have been no reductions in the higher echelons of the administrative hierarchy?

I am glad to tell the House that the numbers in the Civil Service have fallen to 705,100, a reduction of over 27,000 since we came to office. It is approximately of the order that the hon. Gentleman stated. I do not think that such an achievement is too bad for the first 10 months. We are pressing ahead. The hon. Gentleman is right. I do not think that there has yet been a sufficient reduction, proportionately, in the higher structure of the administrative Civil Service. I am looking at that matter.

Is my hon. Friend aware that Conservative Members will be satisfied that the trend is downwards rather than upwards? It was upwards under the previous Government. Is he further aware that we are especially pleased about progress in the Department of the Environment, where staff has already been reduced by 7·4 per cent.?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has, I agree, set a fine example. Figures are getting down to the levels of the last Conservative Government. I hope that by this time next year we shall have done even better.

Will the Minister say whether the report in the press that the Government are planning to cut the Civil Service by a further 70,000 is correct? If so, what was the source of that report?

Goodness knows what was the source. It was not me. I do not intend to comment on speculative press reports. The Government are naturally considering their manpower policy for future years. I am in discussions with all relevant people.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that there is only one way in which a 25 per cent. increase in wage costs and 14 per cent. cash limits can be reconciled, namely, by substantial reductions? Will he assure the House that, this afternoon, unlike the last time he answered questions, Sir John Herbecq will not be going along to a Committee upstairs to tell it of a projected increase in civil servants in one Government Department?

No. I read my hon. Friend's article with great interest that Sunday. For once and, I am sure, for the only time, he got the matter slightly wrong. It was very unusual. I assure him that there is a distinction between complement and staff in post. I have announced today new figures showing that staff in post on 1 April were 705,000. As a result of the 2½ per cent. reduction I announced on 14 March, the Civil Service will be well below 700,000 by the end of 1980–81.

Despite what the Minister has told the House, will he make clear exactly what are the Government's intentions on the cuts in Civil Service manpower? Is he aware that this House asks for certain services for the community to be provided by the Civil Service? It is not good enough to be talking in terms of 70,000 further cuts in manpower without saying which services will be affected. Will he also comment on reports that he and his Department will be abolished by the Prime Minister? Is there any truth in that report?

If my position is to be abolished, that would, no doubt, be a great relief to everyone. The hon. Gentleman will have to put that question to the Prime Minister. Questions on the organisation of government are a matter for the Prime Minister. The figure of 70,000 is the hon. Gentleman's. It is not one I have ever used. I assure the House that when the Government come to any conclusions about future manpower policy, the House will be kept informed and the trade unions consulted, as is proper in a situation of this kind.


asked the Minister for the Civil Service if he is satisfied with the changing proportion and numbers of non-industrial to industrial civil servants in recent years; and if he will make a statement on future Government policy on total numbers.

The proportion and numbers of non-industrial to industrial staff reflects the tasks which are undertaken by Government Departments. As to the Government's policy on total numbers, I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave him on 19 March.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that over the last 20 years, until recently, whereas the number of civil servants has increased by 100,000, the number of non-industrial civil servants—those most people know as civil servants—has increased by no less than 180,000? Is not one concealing a great increase in the other? When my hon. Friend gives these figures in future, will he always give the total number of non-industrial civil servants?

Yes, certainly. My hon. Friend is broadly right The number of non-industrial civil servants today is 547,600. The number has gone down considerably, by about 18,000 in the past year or so. Numbers of industrial civil servants have fallen by about half that number, although I am speaking from memory. My hon. Friend is broadly right. Numbers in the industrial Civil Service have fallen while those in the non-industrial have increased. That is a matter about which the Government are concerned.

What progress has been made in the dispersal of civil servants, as recommended by the Hard-man report? What progress has been achieved in regional dispersal to the extent of placing more jobs on Merseyside?

The hon. Gentleman may recall that I made a statement last July. There have been no changes in the situation since then.