HC Deb 30 July 1974 vol 878 cc482-93
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Edward Short)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the Government's decisions on the recommendations of the Hardman Report on the dispersal of Government work from London.

The report recommended the dispersal of some 31,000 posts. Over one-third of these would have stayed in the South-East Region; little more than half would have gone to assisted areas. The Government regard such a distribution as unacceptable, because it undervalues the importance of the opportunities for administrative work that dispersal can provide where they are most needed. We have deferred decisions on two of Sir Henry Hardman's proposals owing mainly to organisational changes since we came to office, but in reaching decisions on the remainder we have tried as far as possible to provide new office employment in places where it will do most good. I am circulating full details in the OFFICIAL REPORT, but the main features are as follows:

Some 7,000 posts from the Ministries of Defence and Overseas Development will go to Glasgow. A similar number from the Ministry of Defence and other Departments will go to Cardiff and Newport. Some 4,500 posts will go to the North-West Region, the bulk of them to Merseyside, including elements of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Home Office. The headquarters of the Property Services Agency, some 3,000 posts, will go to Teesside, while the Laboratory of the Government Chemist will move to West Cumberland and 500 posts from the Department of Health and Social Security will join its units already in Newcastle. The number of posts to go to places in the South-East Region will fall from the 12,000 recommended in the report to 850.

The proposals on which we shall take decisions later concern the Board of Inland Revenue and the Department of Employment—the Manpower Services Commission and the proposed Health and Safety Commission. In the former case, it has been necessary to review Sir Henry Hardman's recommendations in the light of proposed changes in capital taxation, but it is expected that the resulting disposition of Inland Revenue work will benefit the assisted areas and will include the relocation of a substantial number of London posts. In the latter case, the Government wish to consult the new commissions before taking a final view on the siting of their headquarters.

The programme is the biggest dispersal exercise undertaken in peace time and has major implications for staff as individuals and for local authorities. The Government wish to pay particular attention to the welfare of staff. I am glad to take this opportunity of reaffirming that there will be no redundancies among non-mobile staff in London as a result of the dispersal and that the Government, so far as possible, will select staff to fill dispersed posts on a voluntary basis. I would also add that improved transfer terms have already been agreed. Before reaching decisions, the Government had consultations with national and departmental Staff Sides. The Government recognise that, while the decisions will in general be welcome to staff serving in headquarters offices already outside London and to others, not all the moves will at once commend themselves to the staff affected in London, many of whom are not yet convinced that all the moves can be achieved without undue hardship to individuals or loss of operational efficiency. The Government believe, however, that the programme is manageable and that the problems can be overcome. They will now make it their business to do everything possible, in consultation with staff through the Whitley Council machinery, to ensure that this is the case.

I would emphasise that dispersal will not take place all at once: the programme will be carefully phased and will be spread over a period of up to 10 years. The Government will now get in touch with the local authorities concerned to discuss timetabling and related matters.

The distribution I have outlined improves considerably on that recommended by the Hardman Report. Nearly 90 per cent. of the dispersed posts will be located in assisted areas. Inevitably, it has not proved possible to provide work for all the places which have offered to receive it. The Government expect to reap major benefits in terms of better recruitment than in London, improved working conditions for staff and a reduction of the cost of their office estate. Such is the importance of these benefits, and of the creation of new employment in the assisted areas, that, although the present programme is a major new contribution to dispersal policy, the Government will continue to look for further opportunities to disperse headquarters work from London and, wherever possible, to site in the assisted areas such new organisations as may from time to time be established. Opportunities may thus arise to place work in parts of the country which have argued for dispersal in the new programme. The Government are particularly anxious that such places should understand that their arguments have been considered and that this announcement does not mean the end of an active dispersal policy.

In conclusion, I confirm the siting of a large administrative centre in Washington New Town. Subject to Parliament approving the scheme, we shall establish there the headquarters of the Family Endowment Scheme. Including this work, for which a precise total cannot yet be given, and the deferred decisions mentioned above, the programme on which we are now embarking will result in the location of more than 31,000 jobs outside London, the great bulk of them in the assisted areas. This will do much to widen the career opportunities open to qualified boys and girls in some of our biggest cities and will thus go some way towards redressing the imbalance between the South-East and other parts of the country. It is a practical expression of our determination to achieve a more equitable distribution of job opportunities throughout the country and I am sure that it will commend itself to the House.

Mr. Prior

Is the Leader of the House aware that we warmly welcome dispersal of jobs from London, particularly because it is the fruitful outcome of the Hardman Committee, which was set up by a Conservative Government in 1971, and is the second such dispersal set on foot by a Conservative Government when in office? Could the right hon. Gentleman be more precise in his figures in respect of the Defence Ministry dispersal to Glasgow, in view of the Minister's footnote at the bottom of the page to the effect that this will depend on the defence review which is not yet completed? May I ask why this process will take 10 years? Is that not a very long time indeed to carry out what in any business activity would have to be carried out a great deal more quickly? Will he set up a special transfer unit in London to deal with civil servants who do not want to move and for whom a transfer in London will have to be arranged? Furthermore, will he undertake to ensure that nobody will be forced to move unless he wants to go?

Mr. Short

Dealing with the right hon. Gentleman's first point, this is taking account of the defence review. We propose to send about 6,000 posts from the Ministry of Defence to Glasgow, and the other 1,000 in Glasgow are from the Ministry of Overseas Development.

On the right hon. Gentleman's second point, the previous Government in January of this year negotiated new transfer terms with the unions—if I may say so, extremely generous ones—and these will be operated.

As for redundancies, I have given an undertaking—and I have reaffirmed it—that among non-mobile staff there will be no redundancies. As far as humanly possible, we shall avoid redundancies among mobile staff.

Mr. Bottomley

I thank my right hon. Friend and the Government for at long last recognising the need to send a sizeable number of civil servants to Teesside. Will my right hon. Friend assure the Property Services Agency's employees that a warm and friendly welcome awaits them? In view of the amount of land available on Teesside and in view of our present economic difficulties and the high costs of defence, can my right hon. Friend say why it was decided to go to a great city instead of using that land?

Mr. Short

I am grateful for what my right hon. Friend has said. There will be a very large number of civil servants on Teesside, in Darlington, in Durham and in Newcastle. The presence of those civil servants will create career prospects for civil servants in the North-East which will be much better than ever before.

My right hon. Friend asks about accommodation. This will be discussed with local authorities. In some cases, accommodation will have to be built. In others, accommodation will be available for letting in the area. But this matter has now to be looked at.

Mr. David Steel

May I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the principle of dispersal will be welcomed warmly from the Liberal benches? Can he say how many jobs will be in the top decision-making bracket, because we regard that as having some importance? When he talks of sending 7,000 posts to Glasgow, does that mean the city alone? Is not there a case for dispersal to Scotland generally? Finally, as the announcement about the Oil Development Corporation came after the publication of the Hardman Report, can he say how many jobs there will be in respect of that corporation and where they will be?

Mr. Short

The Glasgow jobs will be in the Glasgow area but not all of them in the city.

As for the Oil Development Corporation, I cannot say how many jobs this will involve.

As for top jobs, in the Departments to be dispersed there is a high policy-making content. There will be many more too jobs dispersed this time than ever before.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Chair is in obvious difficulty. I cannot possibly call everyone. It might be much fairer if I did not call anyone. Mr. Cledwyn Hughes.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his proposals will be widely welcomed in the reception areas, especially in those which are development areas? Can he say whether any of these dispersed units will be coming to North Wales—a most attractive area where there is a high level of unemployment and where a small unit would benefit the area out of all proportion to its size? If my right hon. Friend has no proposals of this kind, will he look at the matter again with a view to seeing that some unit comes to the area?

Mr. Short

My right hon. Friend made representations about North Wales, as did a number of other hon. Members. I am afraid that on this occasion it has not been possible to include North Wales. We have tried to avoid putting small numbers of civil servants in isolation in the country. The one exception is the Laboratory of the Government Chemist in West Cumberland, which is unique. With the object in mind of creating a better career structure for civil servants who are dispersed into the country we want large concentrations in a number of places. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will welcome the jobs which we are creating in South Wales.

Sir William Elliott

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that his announcement about additional jobs for the North-East, especially for the future Washington New Town, will be welcome in the region? Does he appreciate that there will be considerable disappointment on Teesside over his announcement about the dispersal of defence posts since it is a heavily industrialised area and was hoping very much for dispersal there in order to create for younger people in the region, where there is still double the national average of unemployment, a better career structure?

Mr. Short

The hon. Gentleman is getting a little convoluted when he says that there will be disappointment on Teesside. We are creating 3,000 very good jobs there.

Dr. Mabon

While I join in the congratulations to my right hon. Friend, may I ask him about the two proposals which are postponed? How many jobs are involved in them? Does he agree that 10 years is a very long span and that it would be better if we could know how many of the jobs being dispersed—for example the 7,000 to the West of Scotland—are likely to materialise? Does he accept that the argument submitted on behalf of the West of Scotland by my right hon. and hon. Friends to the previous Government was for at least 10,000 jobs and not 7,000, which means that these two postponed projects are very important to us?

Mr. Short

At a very rough guess, the two postponed Departments would provide about 2,000 jobs. That is the nearest that I can get. It is somewhere near that.

As for my hon. Friend's second question, I cannot say what the date will be for the start of the dispersal to Glasgow. The whole process will be spread over 10 years. By the end of 10 years, it will be done. Some will start immediately, and some will go on throughout the decade. It is a complex operation, especially in the case of the Ministry of Defence.

Mr. Emery

Can the right hon. Gentleman say why aid has been given to Scotland, Wales, the North-East and the North-West when the Government have again refused to give aid to the assisted area of the South-West?

Mr. Short

This is the kind of area that we have to look at in the new dispersal proposals which we shall be beginning to consider. As I said before, we have tried this time to create large concentrations in provincial areas so that there are career prospects for civil servants in the provinces, instead of having small numbers here and there. I agree that we must now look at the South-West.

Mr. Wigley

Further to the very valid point made by the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes), does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that we are concerned about career prospects in areas like North Wales as well as about having civil servants in a few centres? It is difficult for many people to appreciate how career prospects will necessarily be better in a few centralised areas rather than in dispersed posts. Can the right hon. Gentleman look at this again in order to help such areas?

Mr. Short

Obviously, I cannot look at the Departments that I have announced. They are now firm decisions. But North Wales and the South-West are areas to be borne in mind. I remind the hon. Gentleman that parts of North Wales will benefit from the Merseyside dispersal.

Mr. Duffy

Why has my right hon. Friend not dispersed a single job, no matter how modest, to Yorkshire and Humberside? Is he not aware that it is an assisted area, that it has a general unemployment problem, and that in respect of office employment there is only one area, the East Midlands, which is worse off? Is he not aware also that it has 9 per cent. of the national population and only 1½ per cent. of headquarter civil servants, that it sends almost as many Labour Members to this House as Scotland, and that if it goes on being treated in this way the support of some may come under the same kind of strain?

Mr. Short

Further dispersals are coming along. My hon. Friend's points will be borne in mind. But I remind him that there are already very large numbers of civil servants in Yorkshire.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

Why has Peterborough been left off the location list? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that when the late Richard Crossman persuaded Peterborough, an ancient city, to accept the designation of a new town, he virtually promised that, to balance the upheaval that it would cause, this kind of work would be sent there? Why is it not on the list?

Mr. Short

The Government had to use a number of criteria, one of which I have already mentioned—the need to have large concentrations. The unemployment rate is another of the criteria. The power of absorption locally is another. A number of factors have to be taken into account. Peterborough simply did not qualify under those criteria.

Mr. Guy Barnett

I declare an interest as a consultant to the Society of Civil Servants. Whatever the attractions of many parts of the country, may I put the point of view of the civil servants by asking the Lord President whether he can give an absolute assurance that, so far as possible, dispersal will be voluntary? While recognising the special problems relating to professional and scientific civil servants, may I ask whether he will try to ensure that general service civil servants have a choice in this matter? Does he agree that the main object is to disperse jobs rather than people?

Mr. Short

I have already given an absolute assurance that there will be no redundancies among non-mobile civil servants. Dispersal will be purely voluntary. For the rest, as far as humanly possible dispersal will be undertaken by volunteers, but there may be odd cases here and there where that is not possible. However, we shall do that as far as possible.

Mr. Waddington

Will the Leader of the House recognise that his announcement will be greeted like a smack in the face by people in the North-East Lancashire intermediate area? Does he recognise that a number of decisions which have been made recently have steadily eroded the position of the intermediate areas? With this announcement following the decision to double REP, which gives a vast new incentive to development areas and further weakens the relative position of the intermediate areas, does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that there will be great dissatisfaction that no promises whatsoever have been made to North-East Lancashire?

Mr. Short

I know that there is a problem in North-East Lancashire. This is one area which must be looked at in future. It is the kind of area to which newly created bodies could be sent. But I repeat the problem that I have mentioned two or three times already—namely, the need to have large concentrations of civil servants in provincial areas instead of fragmentation. However, I will bear in mind what the hon. and learned Gentleman said about North-East Lancashire.

Mr. Gourlay

While welcoming the dispersal of over 7,000 staff to Scotland, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend is aware that there will be great disappointment in Fife and other parts of Scotland that the Government have seen fit to transfer from the largest conurbation in England to Glasgow, which is the largest conurbation in Scotland? This cannot be sensible economic planning. Will the Leader of the House therefore consider allocating the Overseas Development Department to Fife or some other part of the East Coast of Scotland?

Mr. Short

On the criteria that I have mentioned, Glasgow has the greatest capacity in Scotland for absorbing civil servants. That is why we have sent a large number there. As I said last week, it is an extremely desirable place in which to work and live. I am sure that when the civil servants move there they will enjoy working and living there.

Mr. Carlisle

Whilst welcoming the right hon. Gentleman's statement, may I ask how many, if any, of the jobs coming to the North-West are coming to the Runcorn new town, which already has a successful civil service unit? Secondly, will he bear in mind that dispersal of this nature is of greater help to areas such as Runcorn and Merseyside as a whole than necessarily the doubling of the REP, which, although it helps my constituency, creates an imbalance in the North-West and areas like North-East Lancashire?

Mr. Short

We may disagree about the definition, but roughly 5,280 jobs will be coming to the North-West. I agree that this is the kind of employment that areas like the North-West and the North-East of Scotland need.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

While welcoming the number of jobs that will be coming to Scotland, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman what proportion of those jobs will already be filled by staff who will be transferred from London and elsewhere? Secondly, in view of the dissatisfaction which was experienced at the time of the transfer of the National Savings Bank over housing arrangements, will the right hon. Gentleman indicate whether any special provision will be given for housing in the Glasgow area?

Mr. Short

It is difficult to answer the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question. At a rough guess, I should have thought about half, but, of course, there will be a succession of jobs available from then on.

On the second point, as I pointed out before, we will begin discussions with the local authorities about housing, accommodation, and other arrangements that can be made.

Mr. Roy Hughes

I thank the Lord President of the Council for his statement. Is he aware that the people of South Wales appreciate that it was the last Labour Government that established the Motor Taxation Office at Swansea, the Royal Mint at Llantrisant and the Business Statistics Office at Newport. The announcement of new jobs for Cardiff and Newport will again be particularly welcome. I assure my right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett) that any civil servants who are dispersed there as a result of this announcement will be made particularly welcome.

Mr. Short

I am sure that is correct. Everyone is welcome in South Wales. We are sending 7,400 jobs there. There are a great many qualified young people in South Wales, and these jobs will provide them with the kind of employment opportunities that they need.

Miss Fookes

Will the Leader of the House confirm that not one of the 5,000 jobs recommended in the Hardman Report is to go to Plymouth? Will he explain more fully why the South-West is so shabbily treated?

Mr. Short

It is true that in this dispersal no new jobs are to go to Plymouth. However, the hon. Lady will recollect that there are a large number of civil servants in Plymouth already. [Interruption.] Indeed there are. I have lost the figures for the moment, but there are large numbers there. As a matter of

Department Approximate number of posts Location
Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food 1,250 Merseyside
Agricultural Research Council 160 Merseyside
Civil Service Department 360 Norwich*
300 Basingstoke*
50 Sunningdale*
H.M. Customs and Excise 500 Southend*
Ministry of Defencet† 5,000 Cardiff
6,000 Glasgow
Department of the Environment 1,160 Bristol
Countryside Commission 90 Cheltenham
Property Services Agency 3,000 Teesside
1,000 To be decentralised to Regional Headquarters
Foreign and Commonwealth Office 500 Merseyside
Department of Health and Social Security 500 Newcastle*
980 Blackpool*
Home Office 1,000 Merseyside
Natural Environment Research Council 190 Swindon‡
Ministry of Overseas Development 1,000 Glasgow
Office of Population Censuses and Surveys 500 Merseyside (Southport)*
Science Research Council 380 Swindon‡
H.M. Stationery Office 380 Norwich*
Departments of Trade and Industry 1,600 Cardiff and Newport*§
Laboratory of the Government Chemist 360 West Cumberland
Export Credits Guarantee Department 800 Cardiff
Manpower Services Commission 750 To be decided
Health and Safety Commission To be decided
Inland Revenue To be decided
* Existing Dispersal Centre for the Departments concerned.
† The numbers given may be affected by the result of the Defence Review and must be regarded as no more than estimates for the time being.
‡ Confirms decisions announced by the last Administration in 1973.
§ Includes some 1,000 posts in part of the Companies Registration Office, already announced.