HC Deb 10 February 1976 vol 905 cc212-4
6. Mr. Lawson

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has for reductions in the numbers of civilians employed in his Department.

17. Mr. Stonehouse

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what efforts he has made to reduce administrative staff at Ministry and defence establishments and other unnecessary staff in the interests of economy in public expenditure.

The Minister of State for Defence (Mr. William Rodgers)

As indicated in the 1975 Statement on Defence Estimates, the number of civilian staff employed in support of the Services will be reduced by 30,000 by 1st April 1979 compared with the strengths on 1st April 1974.

Mr. Lawson

Bearing in mind that nearly 40 per cent. of all civil servants are employed by the Ministry of Defence, will the Minister assure the House that that is where any necessary cuts will be concentrated in the future, and not on our fighting capabilities? Why was this not done at the time of the last Defence Review?

Mr. Rodgers

I agree that when necessary savings have to be made in defence expenditure we should look very carefully at the support and administrative side of the budget. That is what we have done. There are to be substantial reductions on top of other reductions that were made in the preceding period, between 1971 and 1974. However, we must recognise that even savings of this size involve considerable personal hardship and dislocation, and we should be sympathetic towards those upon whom these reductions may fall.

Mr. Stonehouse

Is it not the case that over the last 10 years the number of desk-bound administrative staff has increased in relation to our fighting and flying forces, and that it is now about to exceed them? Will the Minister pay special attention to reducing Ministry of Defence headquarters staffs and making his economies in that direction?

Mr. Rodgers

I am not sure that my right hon. Friend's historical review is correct, but it is certainly the case that at present we are significantly reducing the ratio between administrators and those involved in support, and the teeth arms. This will involve some reduction in the headquarters staff.

Mr. Burden

As there is to be a reduction in staff of 30,000 civilians, will the Minister tell us whether there are to be any dockyard employees in this reduction and, if so, whether any will be Chatham Dockyard workers?

Mr. Rodgers

No, not arising from the Defence Review. The figures that I have given were those which appeared in the Defence White Paper last year. The hon. Gentleman will remember that there was no suggestion in the White Paper that the dockyards would be affected.

Mr. Dalyell

Has the Minister of State seen the strong statement—understandable, in the view of many of us—from the trade unions to the effect that if these reductions are to take place it really does alter the position about moving defence employees to Glasgow? Has he any comment on that?

Mr. Rodgers

My only comment on what my hon. Friend says is that, while endorsing the Government's decision to review administrative and support costs, we ought not to minimise the real hardship that this may cause for those who have given a lifetime's work for the Ministry of Defence in one way or another. Equally, it should be recognised that the necessary decisions made by the Government in July 1974, about dispersal, involve a further disruption in the lives and work of many civil servants.

Mr. Onslow

Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify this matter? He speaks of 30,000 staff to be axed under the Defence Review of last year. There have been widespread rumours—if not leaks—that there are to be many further cuts as a result of the latest exercise that has been going on. Will he take this opportunity to tell the House at least what he has told the unions, to clarify the point about dockyards, and promise that we shall have the full facts in the forthcoming Defence White Paper, covering all the cuts in prospect?

Mr. Rodgers

I certainly promise that full facts will be forthcoming in the Defence White Paper.