HC Deb 04 February 1969 vol 777 cc208-11
Q6. Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

asked the Prime Minister what further proposals he has for reducing the size and cost of his administration.

The Prime Minister

I have nothing to add to my reply to the hon. Member on 5th December, 1968.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Is not this the first Government in our history whose size is dictated by the need to vote down their own back benchers? Is £600,000 a year not a grossly excessive sum for the taxpayers to have to pay for this army of placemen? Will he recall telling the House a year ago that the number of civil servants must be frozen? In view of the increase of 3,000 since then, was that a lightly given promise?

The Prime Minister

I did not quite hear every refinement of the joke in the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question. It sounded suspiciously like one that I made 12 years ago from the benches opposite, though, I thought, not quite so felicitously expressed.

With regard to his reference to the size of the Civil Service, there is a Question down about that with regard both to the current year and the future year. I think that it is due to be dealt with next week, and I am looking forward to answering it. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will look forward to hearing it.

Miss Herbison

Since the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) represents a Scottish constituency, can my right hon. Friend tell him how many of the extra civil servants are doing a useful job in attracting new industry to Scotland, and how many of them are being used to help old people in Scotland as they have never been helped before?

The Prime Minister

I would require notice of the question to give details, but an element in the increase in the number of civil servants over recent years has been the reforms carried through by my right hon. Friend when she was Minister of Social Security, with special reference to the abolition of the National Assistance Board and the introduction of a scheme for supplementary benefit.

As for attracting jobs to Scotland, I have noted some alarming statements by Opposition spokesmen both in the House and outside which suggest that they might secure a marginal saving in the number of civil servants as a result of a very sharp reduction in the effort to bring work to Scotland.

Mr. Younger

Can the Prime Minister tell us how many of these extra civil servants are employed in taking S.E.T. out of the pockets of the people of Scotland?

The Prime Minister

Not without notice, Sir. But, even without notice, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the Opposition's alternative to that—a variant of the value-added tax—would mean the addition of 23,000 tax inspectors and Customs and Excise officers, most of them of a highly skilled level, with the certainty that there would be a much bigger increase in the cost of living than has been promoted by the Selective Employment Tax.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

In view of the correspondence that the Prime Minister has had with the hon. Member for West Ham, North—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"]—can he explain why hon. Members are now having to wait five, 10 and in some cases 12 weeks for replies to letters when they used to get them answered in two or three weeks?

The Prime Minister

For the answer to his question my hon. Friend might look at the correspondence that I have been having with the hon. Member for West Ham, North. I should make it clear that his assiduity in correspondence is equal to his assiduity in putting down Questions. However, I might perhaps inform him that, despite that, it has not led to an increase in staff. It has led only to an increase in overtime.

Mr. Shinwell

I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the original Question about the size of the Administration. Has it occurred to him that it might save him a great deal of trouble—and even the Parliamentary Labour Party—if he increased the size of his Administration?

The Prime Minister

I am very well aware of the views of my right hon. Friend and other young members of the Parliamentary Labour Party on that matter. But my right hon. Friend, who follows these matters with very great care, will have noticed that in the mergers of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Colonial Office, two successive mergers, we now have, excluding our representative at the United Nations, seven Ministers compared with ten in the three Departments under my predecessors.

Sir Knox Cunningham

Has not this Administration achieved a world record for size and for pay?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. The hon. Gentleman will be glad to know that it would not need a single extra Minister or a single extra civil servant to ensure one man, one vote in his constituency.

Sir Knox Cunningham

On a point of order. Is it in order for the Prime Minister—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."]—who is elected on the same universal adult franchise as I, to query my position when the only difference between us is that I have twice as many electors as the right hon. Gentleman?

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is interesting, but not a point of order.