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Civil Service Manpower

Volume 374: debated on Wednesday 29 September 1976

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2.39 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a Statement on their latest views on the size of the Civil Service.

My Lords, the view of this Government is that the Civil Service must be properly staffed to carry out the work that Parliament gives it to do. The strength on the latest available date, 1st July 1976, was 744,100, which is some 3,500 less than the 1st April figure.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reply. Is he aware that during the Recess there were reports that the Government were planning a substantial reduction in the Civil Service? I was hoping that he might be able to make a Statement about that today. If those reports are correct, can the noble Lord tell us which Departments will be most affected, or whether it is a uniform percentage reduction which is proposed?

My Lords, I think the noble Lord is aware that the Government have identified savings of £95 million in Civil Service manpower—there has been a Statement about this and, indeed, there have been Questions in another place—and other related expenditure in 1978–79 as part of the objectives announced in the White Paper Public Expenditure to 1979–80. The effect of these savings will be a reduction of about 26,000 in the originally planned strength of the civil Departments by 1978–79. To this must be added roughly 20,000 United Kingdom based posts to be given up by 1979 as a result of savings already announced in defence expenditure. I have further detail if the noble Lord would wish me to give it to him later, but I am prepared to answer a further supplementary question on this as well if that would be helpful. Perhaps I could. The planned reductions should result in a Civil Service of some 730,000 to 740,000 by 1978–79. Obviously, however, this figure could change as a result of changes in the level of unemployment and the rate of inflation.

My Lords, while endorsing the issue of being worried about the size of the Civil Service and not wanting to join in a wolf-hunt against the Civil Service or ululate against them, and while appreciating something of what they have done, may I ask my noble friend whether he is aware that, at the height of our imperial power, 120,000 civil servants did the job? Secondly, is he aware that much more important than the size of the Civil Service is for the sovereignty of the British people and Parliament to re-assert itself in altering the Constitution in so far as responsibility and accountability of civil servants to Parliament is concerned?

My Lords, I appreciate the nostalgia of my noble friend Lord Davies of Leek for the Empire—I feel so myself—but he must be aware that a number of changes have taken place. He was a member of an Administration which imposed certain duties on the Civil Service which caused us to have more civil servants. I am not going to go into that. Of course we will watch this; and we always recognise that there must be accountability and that Parliament must be in a position to check any abuses.

My Lords, returning to the original Question, would the noble Lord agree that, in curtailing the Civil Service, percentage cuts across all Ministries are not really the most satisfactory way to deal with this? If that is so, what members of Her Majesty's Government are responsible for deciding priorities in dealing with the size of the Civil Service?

My Lords, I now have a certain responsibility in my new position in charge of Civil Service manpower, but as a former Departmental Minister I understand perfectly well the problems of having an across-the-board solution. In the end, this is a decision which must be taken by Government and by the Cabinet.

Several noble Lords: Order! Order!

My Lords, let this side have a chance. Is my noble friend aware that none of these questions was asked at the time when 422,000 people were transferred from the Civil Service to the Post Office when we put through the Post Office Bill? No one complained about the reduction in the Civil Service on that occasion. Why should complaint raise its ugly head at this moment?

My Lords, I do not think there is any question of an ugly head about this. People are naturally interested in this; it is a very important part of our political life. The Civil Service are important to the Government and to everyone in the country. We want good service; but, on the other hand, we have to recognise the importance of public expenditure.

My Lords, without wishing to indulge in a further wolf hunt, may I ask the noble Lord whether he would agree that the answer to the difficulty about an across-the-board percentage cut in the Civil Service is to reduce Government and State intervention in industry, commerce and our private lives?

My Lords, that is another matter. I dealt specifically with the importance of public expenditure, and we must curb this.

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend, in order to ascertain the trend in total employment in the public service, what was the number and extent of the new intakes during this past year?

I am sorry, my Lords, I have not that figure available, but I will make certain that I get it for my noble friend.

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord how many of these civil servants are industrial civil servants, and can he say from which Departments they come?

My Lords, if I had to give it now I should have to give a very long answer. I will try to get something circulated on this.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for the statement which he made in reply to my supplementary question, and for the intention to make a reduction in the Civil Service; but can he tell your Lordships' House whether any discussions have started yet with the Civil Service unions and staff associations in that regard?

My Lords, I intend to meet the staff associations very soon. I believe we must have close consultation with the people concerned.

My Lords, would not the noble Lord agree that there is great scope for reducing the requirements for civil servants by simplifying some of our legislation, particularly in the social field?

My Lords, that is a matter to which noble Lords, in their own way, can make their contribution, and perhaps they can individually take the initiative re discussions in this House. But I myself now have Departmental responsibility, and I believe that what we are doing is right.