HC Deb 14 April 1981 vol 3 cc136-7
2. Mr. Neubert

asked the Secretary of State for Defence to what extent recent defence exercises and similar activities have been affected by the dispute in the Civil Service; and whether he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. John Nott)

The selective action by non-industrial civil servants has hindered some defence activities, but neither training exercises nor essential operations have been interrupted.

Mr. Neubert

Will my right hon. Friend be assured that whatever the consequences in increased disruption, his decision to send in the Navy to service the Polaris submarine "Resolution" will be supported by the vast majority of people in this country, who find it intolerable that the nation's defences should be put in jeopardy by the action of self-seeking civil servants? As the traditional loyalty of the Civil Service can no longer be relied upon, what action will my right hon. Friend take to safeguard the defence interests of this country for the future?

Mr. Nott

I assure my hon. Friend that there are no circumstances whatsoever under which we would allow the defence, including the deterrent capacities, of this country to be adversely affected in any way by such an industrial dispute. I do not wish to discuss the difficulties surrounding the dispute, but up to now they have not in any way affected operational capability in any area. I can assure my hon. Friend on that point.

Generally speaking, we can rely on the loyalty of our civil servants. I would not wish it to be felt that I do not have the highest praise for the great loyalty shown by the Civil Service to Governments of all kinds.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Is the Secretary of State seriously suggesting that the Russians may nip in while the civil servants are on strike?

Sir Frederick Burden

They nipped into Afghanistan.

Mr. Allaun

Putting aside that nonsense, would not acceptance of a 7 per cent. wage increase, when the cost of living is rising by 12.5 per cent., mean a reduction of 5.5 per cent. in the civil servants' living standards?

Mr. Nott

The people of the United Kingdom are well aware, even if the hon. Gentleman is not, that there is a great threat from the ambitions of the Soviet Union. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Sir F. Burden) said, the Russians nipped into Afghanistan. There was a danger that they might nip into Poland. If the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) believes that the Soviet Union will sit back while we allow our deterrent guard to slip, that belief is misconceived.

Mr. Buck

Is my right hon. Friend aware that what he has said will be welcomed by responsible Members on both sides of the House and that his reaffirmation that our deterrent will be maintained will be welcomed by many of those who are on strike? Is he aware that his affirmation of the loyalty of the Civil Service as a whole will again be welcomed by all hon. Members?

Mr. Nott

I thank my hon. and learned Friend.

Mr. James Lamond

If the Secretary of State is serious in his recommendation of the loyalty of the Civil Service—if he means that, and wants to show it—why does he not approach his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and tell her that two-thirds of those civil servants receive less than the national average wage and that all they are asking is that the Government go round the table and arbitrate on the claim which has been placed before them?

Mr. Nott

When one considers the settlements being made in the private sector now, one sees that this year's offer to the Civil Service is perfectly fair and proper. On this occasion it is not for me to go into the details of the present negotiations. However, the Civil Service knows well that the Government are prepared to consider with the representatives of the civil servants the long-term arrangements for Civil Service pay. With regard to the present claim, the Government's offer is reasonable and proper in the circumstances of the economy.