asked the Minister for the Civil Service what is his policy towards the further disperal of Civil Service posts to the regions; and if he will make a statement.
There are at present no plans to extend the Government's dispersal programme beyond that announced on 26 July 1979.
The Government frequently shed crocodile tears about the high unemployment in the north. Why does the Minister not transfer some Civil Service posts to that region? Is the Minister aware that not a single Civil Service post has been transferred to the north since this Government came to power? As the decision is entirely that of the Government, would it not be a demonstration of concern for the north if they were to transfer some jobs there?
I know that the hon. Gentleman has strong views about this and has put down repeated questions on this important issue over the past few years. Our dispersal programme, which was announced in 1979, stands and has not yet been completed. The House will be aware that 4,500 civil servants have been dispersed since 1979 and another 1,400 have still to be dispersed. The northern region still has a higher proportion of civil servants than the national average.
Atkins: Is not of the decision of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to extend some of the activities of his Department an example that we ought to follow?
I agree with my hon. Friend, and I have considerable sympathy with what he said, because it comes within the existing policies of relocation of the Civil Service. Any Secretary of State considering the modernisation of his Department or offices can consider relocation in other areas. It is obviously up to the Secretary of State.
Is the Minister aware that the Government's decision when they came into office not to disperse the Property Services Agency to Middlesbrough was a devastating blow to Middlesbrough and to the whole of the Teesside area? In view of that devastating blow and the enormous vacant site in the centre of Middlesbrough which was cleared for that Government Department, and in view of the successful operation of defence establishments such as the Royal Navy spare parts depot in my own constituency at Eaglescliffe, will the Minister make representations to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, so as to get any Departments being dispersed into areas like mine?
I cannot contemplate a change in our dispersal policy. I remind the House that the previous question referred to the relocation policy which allows Departments, when they are modernising, to consider moving to other regions. That is an area that can be further explored.