HC Deb 24 June 1974 vol 875 cc978-80
35. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Minister for the Civil Service what progress has been made in the decentralisation of Government Departments and other public bodies from London to the regions.

39. Mr. Harry Ewing

asked the Minister for the Civil Service when he expects to announce the Government's proposals in respect of the dispersal of Civil Service jobs.

40. Mr. Wiley

asked the Minister for the Civil Service if he will make a statement on the implementation of the proposals made in the Hardman Report.

42. Dr. John A. Cunningham

asked the Minister for the Civil Service when he expects to announce a decision on the Government's attitude to the proposals contained in the Hardman Report.

The Minister of State, Civil Service Department (Mr. Robert Sheldon)

In order to achieve a distribution of Civil Service jobs to the areas of greatest need we have had to review the Hardman proposals. This is naturally taking some time, partly because of the large number of competing claims. I am conscious of the need to make an announcement as soon as possible.

Mr. Hamilton

Will that announcement be made before the House rises for the Summer Recess? There has been considerable delay in making the announcement. Will my hon. Friend give an assurance that the number of jobs to be transferred to Scotland will be much greater than the figure proposed in the Hardman Report? May I ask him not to rule out decentralisation to parts of Scotland other than Glasgow, such as Glenrothes New Town, which I think is the only new town in Scotland which does not have a Government or other public department?

Mr. Sheldon

The main reason for the delay is that the Government are reviewing the policy extending beyond the Hardman proposals, and we have been dissatisfied with the regional solutions that have been put forward so far. As a result there will be a greater need for consultation than was previously the case. This is obviously causing the delay to which my hon. Friend referred. The other matters that my hon. Friend raised are matters for consultation with both the receiving locations and the Departments concerned.

Miss Fookes

May I press the claims of Plymouth, which according to the Hardman Report is able to take up to 5,000 jobs? Will the Minister bear in mind that the level of wages in the South-West is fairly low and that such a number of new jobs would be an excellent injection?

Mr. Sheldon

The hon. Lady will be pleased to know that the Government have taken on board the case made for the area for which she speaks. This will be considered in the light of other possible receiving locations.

Mr. Willey

Is my hon. Friend aware that his re-examination of the Hardman Report is welcome but that it is now more than a year since we received the report and in that time an unanswerable case has been made for a substantial dispersal of civil servants to the Northern Region?

Mr. Sheldon

The House was obviously fully aware of the interest and concern expressed by my right hon. Friend for the area which he represents. I am sure he can rest assured that these points have been fully taken in consultation and discussion. When the announcement is made, at the earliest possible moment, I hope that he will be quite satisfied with what the Government have done in this general direction.

Mr. Waddington

Will the Minister not be too ready to heed the blandishments of Scotsmen, and will he bear in mind that there has been great annoyance in North-East Lancashire at the fact that none of our towns there was mentioned as a possible place to which civil servants could be dispersed?

Mr. Sheldon

The hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware that blandish ments have been coming from all quarters of the British Isles. These are among the problems which have to be considered.

Dr. Cunningham

Is my hon. Friend aware that many of us who are interested in regional development regarded the Hardman proposals as being rather timid in terms of the number of jobs involved in dispersal? Does he recognise that we on the Government side of the House should gauge the earnestness of the Government's intentions by their proposals under Hardman? Does he not also recognise the strong case of West Cumberland in seeking to have the laboratory of the Government Chemist re-established there?

Mr. Sheldon

The problem concerns not only the number of jobs but also, in particular, where they should be going. My hon. Friend can rest assured that the representations that have been made concerning West Cumberland are being fully taken into account by the Department.

Mr. Peter Thomas

I appreciate that the Minister cannot at this juncture give figures, but will he give an assurance that the figures for dispersal to Wales will not, in the ultimate, be less than the figures suggested by the Hardman Report?

Mr. Sheldon

As the right hon. and learned Gentleman has pointed out, no specific undertakings can be given at present during the period of consultations. Obviously, however, the Principality is clearly one of the most important areas under review.