HC Deb 12 February 1980 vol 978 cc1248-50
6. Mr. Douglas

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the expected reduction in industrial and non-industrial staff within his Department.

Mr. Pym

I aim to reduce by April 1982 the number of United Kingdom-based staff in my Department by 15,000 from the provision at1 April 1979. Half of this reduction is expected to come from the recruiting ban imposed by the Government last summer. That reduction has been made permanent. The remainder will come from those measures announced in the House on 6 December 1979 by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Civil Service Department, as part of the review of the size and cost of the Civil Service.

In addition, I have commissioned studies to establish whether there is scope for saving in the Royal dockyards, research and development establishments and supply management. I am determined to ensure that my Department's business is carried out in the most efficient way.

Mr. Douglas

Will the Secretary of State concede that part of the supposed reduction is likely to be cosmetic as a result of the Government's desire to reduce numbers in the Civil Service? Will he ensure, particularly in relation to the naval dockyard at Rosyth, that the allocation of overheads, the screening of personnel and the security risks involved in employing outside contractors, are reviewed?

Mr. Pym

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's interest in and knowledge of Rosyth. I am aware of the points that he has raised. It is possible that some posts may be saved. However, that depends upon the tenders that have now been put out. I shall certainly bear in mind those important points.

Mr. Viggers

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is great concern in Portsmouth and Gosport about the un-intentional rundown of Portsmouth dockyard, as a result of the lack of skilled manpower? Will my right hon. Friend give special flexibility to the management of Portsmouth dockyard, so that it can recruit the necessary men?

Mr. Pym

I am acutely aware of the problems that have arisen in that dockyard and in others due to the rundown of skilled manpower. A number of those in skilled grades have left to take better paid jobs. That is a cause of great anxiety. I assure my hon. Friend that that is one reason why the whole subject is being reviewed. I am expecting the result of the study at the beginning of April. Having received it, I hope to make decisions that will result in more efficient productivity in the dockyards and better service to the Royal Navy.

Mr. John Evans

How many of the 15,000 jobs to which the Secretary of State has referred will be transferred from the public sector to the private sector with the result that there will be no real savings?

Mr. Pym

I cannot give a specific answer to that question at the moment. I have never made a secret of the fact that a number of jobs will be transferred from one sector to the other. The question is whether that can be done at a more economic cost. That is an important element of the argument.

Mr. Snape

Can the Secretary of State assure us that any redundancies will be spread fairly between industrial and non-industrial staff? With reference to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Evans), in what areas is it possible to increase defence expenditure and yet reduce staff?

Mr. Pym

If it is possible to fulfil our responsibilities at a more economic cost, a change should be considered. Indeed, if there are no strong objections to it, such a change should be carried through.

Mr. Burden

Does my right hon. Friend not agree that Chatham dockyard is now equipped to carry out work on the most up-to-date vessels? There are no manpower problems at Chatham. Will he, therefore, give an undertaking that Chatham dockyards will not suffer from cutbacks?

Mr. Pym

I have no such intention at the moment. I shall obviously consider the study before I come to any final conclusions. Obviously, the Royal dockyards fulfil a crucial function on behalf of the Royal Navy. It is in the interests of all that that work is carried out as efficiently and as effectively as possible. That is why the study is in hand.