HC Deb 21 May 1980 vol 985 cc498-9
51. Mr. Beaumont-Dark

asked the Minister for the Civil Service what is the lowest figure for the Civil Service since the war; and if he will take steps to bring down the service to a figure near to this amount.

The Minister of State, Civil Service Department (Mr. Paul Channon)

The lowest figure for the Civil Service since the war was 643,000. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the House on 13 May, we intend to bring the number of civil servants down to about 630,000 over the next four years.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Does my hon. Friend accept that there is concern that the savings will be made on the services to people while the administration still rolls on? Will he make productivity a central part of his policy, although the Civil Service is loth to discuss this matter? If we get the right productivity, we can have the savings and provide good service to the people.

Mr. Channon

I certainly agree that essential services should not be cut. We want extra productivity and that is what we shall achieve.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

Will the Minister tell us why the Prime Minister chose a figure of 630,000 civil servants? Why was it not 620,000 or 640,000 or even 500,000? Will he also tell the House how many of the 75,000 further reductions announced last week had not been announced previously?

Mr. Channon

The Government chose the figure of 630,000 because, after careful study, we decided that that was appropriate. On the question of the cuts that had already been announced, I was surprised to read the astonishing speech by the hon. Member accusing the Prime Minister of misleading the House. In fact, she made the situation perfectly clear in her statement.

Mr. Archie Hamilton

As the number of civil servants has increased since the war, does my hon. Friend believe that the quality of government has improved?

Mr. Channon

Certainly it has improved in the last 12 months.

Mr. Robert Sheldon

Is the Minister aware that it is easy to reduce the number of civil servants if, at the same time, one puts the work out to the private sector? What action is the Minister taking to ensure that, when work is put out to the private sector, there are gains in efficiency and that Ministers who are under pressure to reduce the numbers of civil servants will not just transfer the work and pay more for the disadvantage of getting the work done by the private sector?

Mr. Channon

I have not noticed that it has been easy to reduce the number of civil servants, but I am grateful to the right hon. Member for telling me. Where functions can be performed more efficiently or economically outside, it may be right to hive them off. I assure the right hon. Member that each case will be considered on its merits.