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Public Services: Remuneration

Volume 387: debated on Wednesday 30 November 1977

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2.48 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 when deciding on the right levels of remuneration in the public services they will have more regard to the question whether in a particular service the strength and recruitment is below the establishment considered essential for the efficient discharge of its functions.

My Lords, the practice on salary determination in the public services generally, subject to the requirements of any national pay policy, is to fix rates of pay which will fairly remunerate employees and should enable those services to recruit and retain sufficient staff of the right quality to undertake efficiently the work required. However, if the noble Viscount has a particular area of the public services in mind perhaps he will write to me.

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord to accept that I am not setting a trap for him this afternoon, although in general I am always ready to do so on an appropriate occasion? Will he agree that, when in contradistinction to a service which has no recruiting or manning problems, an essential national service is seriously under-staffed, it is a sign that something is seriously wrong? If that is so, will he not agree that the distinction is something that merits more consideration than it seems to be receiving in some cases today?

My Lords, I accept what the noble Viscount has said. This is why I hate to be political in many ways, but the Party opposite wishes to cut down public expenditure which will mean endangering jobs in many public services.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, as I read it, the Question asked by my noble friend did not warrant the interpretation that the noble Lord has put on it? If a service is important enough to serve the nation and to have an establishment fixed, and it cannot reach that fixed establishment, my noble friend seemed to be saying that we ought to look to see whether or not the remuneration was one of the causes for not carrying out efficiently this essential service. There is no Party point on this. The defence and policing of this country are very important, and we ought to look at all their aspects. It could well be that remuneration is one of the reasons why they are not up to strength.

My Lords, may I say to the noble Lord, with all his long experience, that I believe that the pay settlements which I have negotiated in relation to the Civil Service have been fair and have been basically welcomed by the staff. All I did say was that it is all very well to talk about public expenditure cuts—like many noble Lords I hope not in this House, but other politicians in another place—but in the end it means a reflection on the numbers and will harm the Civil Service.

My Lords, can I ask my noble friend whether or not we can deal in special terms rather than in hypothetical terms? The terms "Civil Service" and "public service" as a whole have been applied to particular sections of those services.

My Lords, that is absolutely true. For example, the Fire Service, et cetera, are a matter for the local authorities. I accept that.