HC Deb 26 July 1979 vol 971 cc902-22
The Minister of State, Civil Service Department (Mr. Paul Channon)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement.

On 11 June the Government announced that they were going to review the programme of Civil Service dispersal. The Hardman report of 1973 had produced three possible options. Our predecessors then produced a plan which was significantly different from any of them.

When we came into office we found that it was proposed to disperse not only a further 21,000 Civil Service posts from London but 4,000 from such places as Harrogate, Bath and Didcot. Such dispersal moves from places outside London were never suggested in the Hardman report and it is impossible to see the justification for them. The present programme would cost over £250 million during the remainder of the present public expenditure survey period to 1983–84, and we should be well into the 1990s before the benefits from dispersal began to offset the costs.

Whilst I recognise that in the assisted areas the dispersal programme has been viewed as an important element in improving employment opportunities, nevertheless some of the important considerations which led to the setting up of the Hardman study no longer apply. In 1973 the Civil Service was expanding and the Government faced the prospect of providing more offices at high London rents. The Government intend to reduce the size of the Service. Moreover, the gap between office rents in London and in the provinces has substantially narrowed and the long-term financial benefits of moving people out of London are that much the less.

Having considered all these factors, the Government have reached the following conclusions. Three moves already in progress should continue. These are the moves of the Manpower Services Commission to Sheffield, the Export Credits Guarantee Department to Cardiff and the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas to Salisbury involving a further 2,600 posts. There are two further small moves which would increase the efficiency of the departments concerned at very little cost. These are the laboratory of Her Majesty's Stationery Office to Norwich and a small group of about 90 Customs and Excise staff to Southend.

The Government have also decided that some dispersal of Civil Service posts is justified to meet the particularly pressing needs of Glasgow and Merseyside. A total of at least 2,000 posts will therefore be moved to Glasgow and East Kilbride by the Ministry of Defence and the Overseas Development Administration. The Glasgow posts will be located at the St. Enoch's site. There will also be a dispersal to Bootle where there is a large building available. The full composition of this has not yet been settled but the first tranche of 250 posts will be the Home Office computer centre and a unit from the Property Services Agency. All the posts in the revised programme will be taken from the London area.

Much of the dispersal programme which we inherited from our predecessors has been so altered from the original aims of the Hardman report that it would have made no sense in terms of regional policy to proceed with those moves. In the light of all the altered circumstances, we have decided to proceed only with the moves which I have just announced. This will mean a saving in planned public expenditure of well over £200 million up to 1983–84.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that his announcement means that the 20,000 promised jobs are not to be dispersed to the regions? Is he aware that that will cause deep bitterness and resentment in the areas that will be deprived of employment prospects that the previous Government offered to them and on which they have spent considerable time, effort and resources in planning for?

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the £200 million short-term gain that he has announced will be obtained at the sacrifice of a long-term saving of about £800 million of public expenditure, a sum that accelerates the longer dispersal takes place? Does he agree that this is another hammer blow to the regions on top of those already administerd by the Government to regional policy, shipbuilding and various other areas? Is he aware that there will be sites in the areas that were to receive dispersal jobs that will be vacant for many years to come?

How much expenditure has been incurred by the Government and by local authorities in the areas where moves have now been cancelled? Will the Government pay any compensation for the large sums that have been expended by some local authorities? Is it not true that no serious consideration has been given to the real economic and social needs of the regions? Does the Minister agree that, as with other areas of real need, they are being sacrificed on the high altar of Tory doctrine?

Mr. Channon

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, that is exactly not so. I do not agree with what the hon. Gentleman said about a long-term gain of £800 million. That is much exaggerated. A great many of the purported gains would have come many years ahead. Circumstances have changed. The programme that I have announced will save £200 million or more in the next few years. We have done our utmost to proceed with elements of dispersal to Scotland and to Merseyside, which I hope will be of some benefit to those areas. In the present public expenditure situation, I think that I have done the best that I can to satisfy both sides of the House.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. The House has seen that many right hon. and hon. Members are rising in their places to seek to catch my eye. I shall do by best, as I realise the importance of the statement. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will co-operate by asking brief questions.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Will my hon. Friend accept our thanks for introducing a rational policy where previously there had been pure political gerrymandering, announced in some instances in written answers the day before the general election? His statement will be greatly appreciated in Devon.

Mr. Channon

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend. I never understood the logic that led some to say that we have to disperse jobs from Devon and other areas outside London. That was no part of the Hardman proposition. I am glad to have been able to help my hon. Friend.

Mr. Mellish

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Hardman report was very much out of date by the time that it appeared? Employment prospects in London were very good, but those prospects have completely deteriorated and employment opportunities in London have been seriously limited for a long time. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that I and many other London Members made representations to the Labour Government and to the present Government pleading with them not to continue with the Hardman proposals per se but to consider them on their merits? I am very concerned about Government chemists. In heaven's name, what are we thinking of in considering transferring 300 chemists to Cumbria? As far as I know, there are no unemployed chemists in Cumbria. Will the hon. Gentleman give me an assurance that the 300 Government chemists will stay in my constituency, where they belong?

Mr. Channon

Yes, I can assure the right hon Gentleman that the proposed move of the Laboratory of the Government Chemist is not to take place. It would have cost £26 million to move 360 employees. I took careful account of the representations made by the right hon. Gentleman when he came to see me and also those made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) when he came to see me on behalf of his constituency.

Mr. Chris Patten

Will my hon. Friend recognise that his excellent statement will be widely welcomed in my constituency, especially by the Civil Service unions, their members and their families? Does he also recognise that the scheme to move over 800 jobs from Bath was properly attacked by the Civil Service unions as illogical, ill-conceived and financially indefensible?

Mr. Channon

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It is due largely to the diligent representations made by him and by many other hon. Members that what I hope is a satisfactory solution has been arrived at.

Mr. Arthur Bottomley

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Middlesbrough council is committed to an expenditure of over £1 million, and that the Government are probably committed to an even greater expenditure, in making arrangements for the Property Services Agency to come to the area? Is he further aware that if the agency came to Middlesbrough it would so restructure employment in the area that no longer would Cleveland county be dependent upon heavy industry alone? Although the Government have now decided not to send the agency to Middlesbrough, will he confirm that that is only a deferment and not a permanent decision?

Mr. Channon

I should be deluding the House, the right hon. Gentleman and Middlesbrough if I were to say that it is a deferment. It is better for the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues to know that the Government have made the decision that regrettably it is not possible to send the agency to Middlesbrough. I shall explain why. By about 1986, the cost of the move would be approximately £44 million. I listened carefully to the representations made by the right hon. Gentleman, by Middlesbrough and by the county of Cleveland, but it was not possible to expend the vast sum involved.

Mr. du Cann

Is it not good regional policy to preserve jobs in the West Country as much as in any other region of the United Kingdom? Is it not a fact that the situation of these good people should never have been put at risk and that they should never have been given great anxieties in the first place? Is it not clear to the House that we need a complete re-examination of these proposals to transfer large numbers of persons from one area of the United Kingdom to the other? Will my hon. Friend consider publishing a Green Paper or a White Paper on Government policy in general on this subject?

Mr. Channon

I agree with my right hon. Friend. I was grateful for the representations that he made to me on this topic some time ago. I shall consider his suggestion and be in touch with him.

Mr. Charles R. Morris

Does the Minister recognise that his statement, slashing the Civil Service dispersal programme, will dash the hopes of hundreds of unemployed, well-qualified youngsters in the regions who saw the dispersal of Civil Service jobs as their one hope of access to administrative jobs? Is it not a contradiction that he should be making this statement at a time when there are 10,000 Civil Service vacancies in London which he cannot effectively fill?

Mr. Channon

The right hon. Gentleman knows a great deal about this topic and dealt with it in the past. He must face the fact that the programme would have cost £250 million. We have tried to help Glasgow and Merseyside, and not penalise them by going ahead with the ludicrous proposals to move people from the West Country, Harrogate and other similar places. I understand the point about vacancies in London. A great many of those are in local offices which, by definition, are not movable anyway.

Mr. John Hunt

Is my hon. Friend aware that, in spite of the sour reaction of the Opposition Front Bench, his statement will be widely welcomed, not least because, for the first time that I can remember, it shows that the needs and views of Greater London have been taken into account in a Government decision on dispersal? Will he remind the regional lobby in the House, as did the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), that conditions have changed fundamentally since Hardman reported and that there has been a dramatic deterioration of the employment situation in London, with unemployment in parts of inner London running as high as anywhere in the country? Therefore, does not the announcement today mark a significant step towards halting the drift of jobs and people from London, which has been going on for far too long?

Mr. Channon

I was grateful to receive a deputation composed of members of the Conservative and Labour Parties from Greater London. I considered carefully what they said, along with other representations, before the Government came to these conclusions. The House must recognise that in parts of inner London unemployment levels are very high indeed.

Mr. Gregor MacKenzie

Is the Minister aware that his statement, coming after the statement made by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry to cut regional assistance, will be bitterly resented by the people of Scotland? It means—he must confirm this—that 4,000 jobs that we expected to come to Scotland will not now come. It is a denial of a specific pledge made by the official spokesman of the Conservative Party during the election campaign. The plans that the previous Government made will not now go through. That broken promise is bitterly resented, especially by the many young people who looked forward to these jobs with considerable expectation.

Mr. Channon

I am astonished at what the right hon. Gentleman has said. When I met the deputation of Scottish Members of Parliament, the Scottish TUC and others, with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, it was made totally clear to us that none of them wanted people dispersed from outside London to come to Glasgow. The posts from outside London will not go to Glasgow, and 2,000 posts will go to Glasgow and East Kilbride. That is more than the London jobs that were originally proposed and more than what Hardman recommended in 1973.

Mr. Alton

The Minister was careful not to mention figures for Merseyside, apart from a brief reference to the 250 jobs in Bootle. Will he say how many of the jobs originally expected to come to Merseyside will now come? Is he aware that the Exchange station site has already been cleared and that work was to commence on 1 August on the building of premises for workers expected to come to Merseyside? The Minister's announcement will result in another gaping wound in the heart of the city.

Mr. Channon

I note what the hon. Gentleman has said. The total cost of the proposed dispersals to Merseyside, including Liverpool and Bootle, would have been about £48 million if they had all gone through. I shall check that and give the hon. Gentleman the exact figure.

We announced that we would disperse jobs to Bootle. The first 250 jobs have already been announced. There is a large building available in Bootle which can hold over 2,000 posts. I hope that a further statement will be made in due course.

Mr. Banks

Will my hon. Friend accept my warmest congratulations on and support for his wise statement? All the employees at the Royal Air Force establishment in Harrogate and their families will share a great sense of relief that they are now to remain there. Is the Minister aware that union representatives in Glasgow publicly announced the fullest support for the efforts being made by their membership in Harrogate to resist the dispersal? That was totally ignored by the previous Government?

Mr. Channon

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. The most astonishing of all the proposals was that 1,170 jobs were proposed to be dispersed from Harrogate to Glasgow. When I am criticised by right hon. Gentlemen, I must say that it was the previous Government who put forward the ludicrous proposition that got them into the difficulty in the first place.

Mr. Heffer

The Minister gives the impression that this will help Merseyside. I am grateful for small mercies. Is not it clear that the Minister is going back on the proposals of the previous Government that this would affect not only new jobs in the Civil Service but also jobs in the construction industry and spin-off jobs which would arise as a result of the dispersal? Is it not clear that, as a result of the cuts in public expenditure that the Government are now bringing forward, Merseyside once again, despite the smokescreen, will be badly affected by Government policy—in fact, worst of all?

Mr. Channon

I hope that that is not so. After receiving representations from Merseyside Members of Parliament, I considered them seriously and did what I could for the area, which was the work in Bootle. I am sorry that it has not been possible to go ahead with the full programme. The House will see that the costs involved were enormous.

Mr. Emery

Does my hon. Friend realise that this is the first time we have had a statement on dispersal from a Minister which was comprehensive enough to cover all sections of the country and take into regard such places as the West Country, Harrogate and those areas that were always ignored by the Socialists when they dealt with this matter? Does he accept that there will be great pleasure among my constituents who were to have been moved to Glasgow much against their will and at considerable cost?

Mr. Channon

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He represented those views to me forcefully in the past few weeks.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

Is the Minister aware that there is a net loss of 4,000 jobs to Scotland as a result of the policy he announced and that his decision represents a defeat for the toothless wonders of the Scottish Conservative Party who, in the election, promised to fight and bring pressure upon the Minister, but who are now confounded by their own Government, who represent England?

Mr. Channon

I do not agree with the hon. Getleman. The number of jobs going from London to Glasgow has gone up, not down. The ridiculous proposal to move jobs out of London to Glasgow has gone.

Mr. Tinn

Does the Minister recognise what a savage disappointmet to Teesside is the loss of the Property Services Agency in an area of high unemployment heavily dependent on capital-intensive industries and basic industry to which this project would have made a major contribution? Is it not entirely wrong to save £44 million in the short term when these areas could have benefited so much from such development in the future and the Government themselves would have economised over the years?

Mr. Channon

I entirely understand that point of view, and my right hon. Friends and I considered it most carefully. In fact, £44 million is not a small sum of money, and the benefits would not have come for several years—indeed, not for quite a long time—and very reluctantly we had to come to the conclusion that it did not make economic sense to send the Property Services Agency there.

Sir William Elliott

Will my hon. Friend recognise that on the Conservative Benches, too, there is disappointment that the Property Services Agency is not to go to the North-East, but will he none the less accept that those of us who have carefully studied the Hardman report and tried to encourage dispersal to the regions realise that there is common sense in his present decision?

However, will my hon. Friend recognise that the establishment of the national insurance office in the North-East has been a considerable success and it is a great blessing for employment? Further, in the knowledge that the leadership of British Shipbuilders complains that its executives are constantly in the train between Newcastle and London, will my hon. Friend accept that we recognise that this is a problem of communication, and will he not close the door to further research on dispersal to the regions?

Mr. Channon

I certainly do not wish to close the door on anything, and I note what my hon. Friend says. I well recognise the difficult nature of the problems and the decision which had to be taken about Middlesbrough, and I appreciate what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Mulley

While expressing satisfaction at the confirmation of the decision to move the Manpower Services Commission to Sheffield, I must ask the Minister to recognise the great anxiety and frustration caused to the staff of the MSC and all those concerned with the move in Sheffield by the unnecessary delay when the plans were so well advanced. Is the Minister aware that his statement today will be regarded with great disappointment by all regions north of Watford?

Mr. Channon

I very much doubt that what the right hon. Gentleman says is true. As to the first part of his question, one reason why I particularly wanted to make the statement before the recess was in order to let the staff of the Manpower Services Commission know what was going on. We have not been in office very long, and the right hon. Gentleman is a little ungracious in expecting us to make these difficult decisions even more quickly.

Mr. Graham Page

Will my hon. Friend accept further congratulations from these Benches on his sensible policy? I come now to a detailed question regarding Merseyside. From what he said, do I take it that the building which is to hold 2,000 will eventually be filled by Civil Service posts? It is nearly completed now. Next, I ask my hon. Friend about the building at South port which is proceeding and was to be filled by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys with some 500 posts. Is that to go ahead?

Mr. Channon

It is not proposed to move that particular Government Department to Southport. The question of what will happen to that building is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, who is considering it.

Mr. John Garrett

Why on earth does the Minister prevaricate on the dispersal of 500 computer staff jobs from his own Department to Norwich when the plans are made, the accommodation is much cheaper and staffing costs are much cheaper than in London? The move is popular and the jobs are desperately needed to compensate for the decline in the city's staple industries.

Mr. Channon

I have the figures here but I do not have them immediately to hand. The cost of making that move seemed to outweigh the benefits of going ahead, and the decision was taken for that reason.

Mr. Kershaw

Is this not a further recognition by the Goverenment of the realities of life, and would it not have been extremely inefficient over the years if these dispersals had taken place?

Mr. Channon

It would certainly have cost a great deal of money, and I wonder whether that could have been justified.

Mr. John H. Osborn

Can my hon. Friend say whether the dispersal in Sheffield will be on the scale that was originally envisaged, bearing in mind that, while we welcome that the process should continue, it has, I believe, gone too far? Is there not a danger that drastic changes in dispersal and cutbacks in the Civil Service could be as dangerous as the cutting of the TSR2 programme?

Mr. Channon

The question of the size of the Manpower Services Commission is not for me. It is a matter for my right hon. Friend and I shall see that he hears what my hon. Friend has said. The present plan is for this move to be completed to Sheffield, and I know of no change in it.

May I be allowed now to answer the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett)? I think that the cost of the move of the Civil Service Department would have been about £4 million.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

I hope that the Minister will not mind too much if I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) in congratulating him on his statement, bearing in mind that for once London is considered. Will he take it that I, at least—and I believe that other hon. Members join me—appreciate the way in which he has listened to deputations from both sides and has come to a decision in the light of those representations? Nevertheless, if he has to consider this matter further, will he bear in mind that the London dock area should be considered in the future?

Mr. Channon

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that unexpected tribute.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

I see that a number of hon. Members are still rising to put questions. I propose to call each one of them, if they will be brief. I make that statement now to save a lot of frustration which I can see building up.

Mr. Sproat

Does my hon. Friend realise that his announcement of 2,000 more jobs for Scotland will be warmly welcomed by everyone in Scotland not blinded by party prejudice? Is it not spectacular hypocrisy for the Opposition to complain when their record is that in five years they did not bring a single dispersal job to Scotland, and my hon. Friend has brought 2,000 in a mere 10 weeks?

Mr. Channon

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend, and I am deeply indebted to him and others of my hon. Friends for the energetic representations and powerful arguments which they have put forward in favour of this dispersal.

Mr. Millan

Is the Minister aware that there is a unanimous feeling in Scotland that there should be a dispersal of 6,000 jobs to Scotland, as promised by the Labour Government, and that the Scottish people well remember that in the recent election campaign Conservative spokesmen in Scotland specifically stated that those 6,000 jobs would go ahead? Why has that election pledge been grievously betrayed by the Minister in his announcement today?

Mr. Channon

What the right hon Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends will not get into their heads is that of the Glasgow jobs 3,880 were supposed to come from outside London.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

It does not matter where they come from.

Mr. Channon

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but all the representations that we have had from Scottish organisations, including hon. Members on both sides, agreed on this one point, that they did not want jobs that had already been dispersed to be further redispersed. If 4,000 of the 6,000 jobs which the Labour Government proposed were from outside London, it is their fault, not mine.

Mr. Hannam

Will my hon. Friend accept the thanks of the Civil Service Union and its members who have spent some two years, at great expense, moving into the Army pay offices in my constituency? Is my hon. Friend aware that the loss of the military presence in that part of the country would have meant that there would be no military presence left in what is a high recruitment area? Will he also take account of the fact that the cost of moving these offices to Glasgow would have imposed a great financial burden for administering the needs of nine corps of the Army which would have been mostly in the South of England?

Mr. Channon

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has put forward those views very forcefully.

Mr. Lambie

Will the Minister realise that he talks nonsense when he says that Scottish Members of Parliament were interested only in jobs from London? Scottish Members were promised 6,000 jobs by the last Labour Government—[HON. MEMBERS: "And did not get them."]—and the Scottish electorate was promised 6,000 jobs at the last election by Teddy Taylor and the present Secretary of State for Scotland. We are now to get 2,000 jobs. Is it not about time that the Secretary of State for Scotland spoke up for Scotland in Parliament or resigned?

Mr. Channon

Whatever the last Labour Government may or may not have promised, I do not think that a great many jobs came. This is the first time that I have heard a Scottish Member seriously suggesting that jobs from outside London should be redispersed to Scotland. That is not what anyone else has suggested.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Is the Minister aware that the saving of £200 million will be welcomed by those who are concerned with other aspects of Government spending? Can he say whether the defence codification authority at Mottingham is one of the establishments to be transferred?

Mr. Channon

I regret that I cannot give my hon. Friend the answer to that question. Perhaps he would be kind enough to get in touch with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.

Mr. Armstrong

Will the Minister give very serious consideration to the fact that there will be cynicism and anger as a result of his statement this afternoon, with its concentration on short-term financial benefits and no reference at all to the effect on families, on the prospects of school leavers, and on young people who over the years have been compelled to come to the South-East in order to follow a career? Is he aware that there will be serious consequences for this country? Will he bear in mind, further, that regional policy for 50 years has been designed to prevent this country from pursuing a two-nation course? Will he accept that the statement of the Secretary of State for industry, followed by his own statement this afternoon, will cause bitterness among those who are very concerned about this division in the country?

Mr. Channon

I always take seriously anything that the right hon. Gentleman says, and I am sorry that he felt it necessary to say what he has said. I can assure him that, with the decision the Government had to take, it was impossible to please everybody. We adopted what we hoped and thought would be the best solution in all the circumstances.

Mr. John Browne

Is my hon. Friend aware that there was considerable concern about this subject in the Winchester constituency and that his statement will be very welcome, not only in this respect but because it illustrates an interest in human beings and in individual freedom, rather than in mere numbers and in State direction?

Mr. Channon

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Dormand

Is the Minister aware that it is once again the Northern region that is being hit for six by the Government? I am referring not simply to the decisions about the Property Services Agency and Middlesbrough, or the Government Chemist in Cumbria, but specifically to the long-term importance of this kind of dispersal. Does he not realise that in the Northern region it is crucial to have these kinds of jobs in order to obtain the diversification that the Northern region so urgently requires?

Is the Minister further aware that nothing he has said today—indeed, his statement was extremely superficial—refutes the fundamental arguments of the Hardman report and the more recent report by Strathclyde university?

Mr. Channon

I have studied the Strathclyde report. I am afraid that I cannot accept all the conclusions in it. It is an interesting report, but I do not think that it goes too far in its conclusions. I take note of what the hon. Gentleman says, but the only proposals concerning the North were the ones that I have described, and they were extremely costly.

Mr. James Callaghan

I have waited until now Mr. Speaker, for the convenience of hon. Members. May I ask a constituency question? The position in Cardiff, as I hope the Minister knows, is extremely serious. Nearly 6,000 jobs were to come to Cardiff. As far as I can tell from the figures that the Minister has given, the number will now be reduced to 800. That is a loss of over 5,000 jobs.

When the East Moors steelworks was closed down last year, nearly 4,000 jobs were lost. It was said frequently that this would be made up, over a period of four to five years, by the transfer of the 6,000 jobs to which I have referred. The Minister is abandoning that prospect by reducing it to 800. What hope do the Government offer to my constituents and others in Cardiff that they will be able to find work?

Mr. Channon

Naturally, I thought that the right hon. Gentleman would wish to take this point, and I have done my utmost to study the position in Cardiff very carefully, because it is a very serious one. The proposed moves that were outlined would have cost the country nearly £70 million over a period of years. In the circumstances, it seemed to my right hon. Friends that, although the right hon. Gentleman has a very strong case, the cost implication of going ahead with the Cardiff moves was such that it was not possible to sustain it.

Mr. James Callaghan

Will the hon. Gentleman tell me how much it will cost to have these men and women unemployed for the same length of time?

Mr. Channon

The whole purpose of dispersal is to transfer posts, not people. That is surely the intention that the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues also had in mind.

Dr. Mawhinney

Will my hon. Friend indicate whether the planned move of the Land Registry to Peterborough is to go ahead? If it is not, could we have an assurance that the Secretary of State for the Environment will bear this in mind when he announces the review of new towns soon after the House resumes after the Summer Recess?

Mr. Channon

I have no proposals before me about the move of the Land Registry to Peterborough. I will write to my hon. Friend, if I may.

Mr. Parry

The Minister's statement today is another kick in the teeth for Liverpool from the Tory Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) pointed out that in addition to jobs we need a moral and psychological boost. The Exchange station site, situated in my constituency, would have provided four or five years' work for the construction industry on Merseyside, which has the highest level of unemployment in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Channon

I note what the hon. Gentleman has said. He has said it to me very forcefully in the last few weeks. We did what we could to try to help Merseyside with the dispersal to Bootle. I am sorry that it has not been possible to go as far as he would like.

Mr. Allan Stewart

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the last Government not only failed to disperse a single job to Glasgow but that they also failed to do anything about setting up advanced training facilities for the recruitment of local labour? Will he confirm that this will now be done as a matter of urgency?

Mr. Channon

That is not strictly my field. I am sure that my hon. Friend is right, and I will draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend who is responsible.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Is the Minister aware that tomorrow afternoon a delegation of the local authorities in my constituency, including the Cumbria county council, is due to meet the Secretary of State for Industry to discuss the dispersal programme as it affects Cocker-mouth? Does he not feel that a statement should be made as to whether it is worth while for that delegation to come to London, at very great public expense, only to be informed by the Department that the dispersal is not to take place? Perhaps the Minister could tell me whether there is any chance that these decisions are negotiable.

Will the Minister comment on a recent statement by the Home Secretary? He said: I understand that the decision to move the Government Chemist to Cumbria is a firm one and I hope it will be implemented".

Mr. Channon

Perhaps the hon. Member will take up any such statement with my right hon. Friend. It would be misleading for me to say to the House that some of these decisions were negotiable. If I did that, it would cause even more uncertainty to communities and people than exists at the present time. That would be unfair. I listened very carefully to the hon. Member. It seemed to me that an expenditure of £26 million to move 360 people, and with an outstation still left in London, would be an extraordinarily large amount to spend on a dispersal of this kind. It is certainly not what the Hardman report recommended.

Mr. Peter Fraser

I recognise the reasons why my hon. Friend was unable to extend the dispersal of jobs to Scotland. Will he confirm that in the future the Government will keep in mind the great necessity to continue the dispersal of jobs not from elsewhere in the United Kingdom but from London? Will he also recognise that, if we bear in mind the unity of this kingdom, what we have to look to eventually in terms of dispersal is not just the relative levels of office rents in London and elsewhere but rather more fundamental matters if we are to remain together as a nation?

Mr. Channon

What my hon. Friend says is extremely important. I hope that he will feel, in view of the representations made by him and other hon. Members from Scottish constituencies, that we have done what we could to try to secure a firm programme of dispersal to Glasgow and to East Kilbride, which I hope will be reasonably successful.

Mr. Maxton

Is the Minister aware that the answers that he has given to my right hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen (Mr. MacKenzie) and my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Lambie) are totally unsatisfactory? It is not only a question whether the dispersal is right. It is a question also of political honesty. Is the Minister aware that the Conservative Party in Scotland, through its spokesman, Mr. Teddy Taylor, made quite clear that there would be no diminution of the dispersal programmes of the Labour Government when the Conservatives came to power. That was the promise made at the time. Does the Secretary of State for Scotland intend to make an announcement today concerning his resignation from the Government?

Mr. Channon

All I can tell the hon. Gentleman is what I have been told by Scottish Members in the House, and that is that the previous Labour Government fouled up this whole programme by introducing these ridiculous dispersal plans for outside London.

Mr. Lang

In the light of the sour and embarrassed comments from the Opposition, who so dismally failed in this issue over a period of five years, can I reassure my hon. Friend that his announcement as it affects Scotland will be warmly welcomed, not least by my hon. Friends the Scottish Conservative Members of Parliament who campaigned intensively, and as one united body, to achieve this dispersal? May I congratulate my hon. Friend on achieving more—2,000 times more—in under three months than the Labour Party achieved in five years?

Dr. M. S. Miller

Will the Minister make it quite clear that what we are talking about is not the movement of thousands of people but the dispersal of posts? That is the first point. Secondly, will the Minister refrain from using the smokescreen of Scottish Members wanting dispersal of posts from Gloucester, Didcot and Bath? Most of us agreed that that was not on. Will the Minister accept, therefore, that what he is perpetuating is the total imbalance of the Civil Service career structure which is completely based in London and the South-east of England? Neither I nor anyone else is averse to jobs coming to London, but it is not Civil Service jobs that London needs.

In order to complement what we already have—the Post Office savings bank, the Inland Revenue and the National Engineering Laboratory—Scotland requires further dispersal of posts to enable it to develop a proper Civil Service career—

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is unfair of the hon. Gentleman not to ask a question when others are waiting.

Mr. Channon

I am glad to have the hon. Gentleman's confirmation that he does not want jobs from outside London. However, I think that he might at least have thanked me for the jobs that I have brought to his constituency. I have done my utmost to help East Kilbride. I did not notice a great deal of thanks coming from the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Henderson

Will my hon. Friend ignore the humbug of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) when he, a Scottish nationalist calling for the break-up of Great Britain, is quibbling over the number of United Kingdom Civil Service posts to be dispersed from London to Glasgow? Will my hon. Friend accept that we are very satisfied with what he has been able to do? What he has done will be widely welcomed not only in East Kilbride but in Scotland as a whole.

Mr. Channon

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Craigen

When may we expect that a planning unit will be set up in Glasgow for the recruitment of staff locally?

Mr. Channon

I shall have to discuss that with my right hon. Friend who is principally concerned. I take note of what the hon. Member has said.

Mr. Michael McGuire

May I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he will publish full details of how he arrived at the decision not to transfer posts that were decided by the Labour Government as a saving in the national interest? I think that the Minister will agree that we are at some disadvantage, in that he answers a question by saying "Yes, the saving in that direction is £X million". Will he promise to publish and give us more details?

Will the Minister also recognise that many of us in the House—certainly on the Opposition Benches—regard the Civil Service jobs and these great Departments of State as a national resource to be shared out in the national interest? That being so, will the Minister tell us whether this is a final decision or whether it is likely to be amended? If it is amended, will he take into consideration the needs of the new town of Skelmersdale, the only new town in England, Wales and Scotland which has an unemployment rate amongst males of 18 per cent. and yet does not have the smallest Government Department? Will he consider its needs in the national interest?

Mr. Channon

To be fair to the House, I must say that this announcement is the end of this round of dispersal. However, the question of dispersal will always be open and I will bear in mind very much what the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) has said. I will certainly also consider the point he made about publication.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. May I just say to the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) that I believe there is a saying that we keep the best wine until last. It is unfortunate, but somebody must always be last.

Mr. Michael McGuire

Could I just say a word on that point, Mr. Speaker? You are the protector of Back Benchers and I have always been led to believe that you were a particular protector of those hon. Members who, for one reason or another, are not making a maiden speech once a week or even once a fortnight. I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, quite sincerely—I do not know whether I am in order—that you have helped by recording those hon. Members who have been trying to catch your attention. I believe that it has always been the custom that Mr. Speaker will try to balance those who are called, in that if there were three speakers from the North-West you would not call three more from that area but would try to get a geographical balance. I think that this time that went a little awry. Whether that was because of your decision I do not know, but I would like, next time, to be put a little higher up the list. Leave it to another hon. Member to present the best wine last, as you so kindly put it.

Mr. Graham Page rose

Mr. Speaker

Just before I call the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), may I say that, in view of the fact that we are going into recess tomorrow, I made tin my mind that I would call everyone. I therefore did not feel it necessary to be worried whether I called three hon. Members from the North-West followed by three from the Midlands. However, I still wish the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) a happy recess.

Mr. Graham Page

What I have to say is, I think, relevant to the point you have made, Mr. Speaker. May I call your attention to the fact that I had already given notice to raise this matter on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill later in the day? I am sure that any hon. Members who are dissatisfied with the shortness of their questions will be welcome to catch your attention in the early hours of the morning.

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