HC Deb 25 March 1981 vol 1 cc922-6
47. Mr. Kenneth Lewis

asked the Minister for the Civil Service what progress has been made in discussions with the Civil Service unions on establishing a formula for future regulation of salaries and wages within the Civil Service.

49. Mr. Chapman

asked the Minister for the Civil Service if in future negotiations on Civil Service pay, the drop in numbers of non-industrial civil servants will be a factor in determining the increase in pay.

The Minister of State, Civil Service Department (Mr. Barney Hayhoe)

My right hon. and noble Friend the Lord President of the Council and I told the Civil Service unions on 23 February that the Government intend to review the present arrangements for determining the pay of non-industrial civil servants with the object of establishing as soon as practicable an agreed and ordered system. Further meetings have been held since then, and we have been able to assure the unions that the review will cover matters of concern to them such as independent fact finding, comparisons with outside terms and conditions, and arbitration, as well as all other relevant factors. Future arrangements for negotiating and determining non-industrial Civil Service pay will, of course, depend on the outcome of the review.

Mr. Lewis

Since the Government have already increased the original offer to the Civil Service, does my hon. Friend recognise that it is important that this should be the final offer and that it should not be increased? Does he also recognise that the public do not appreciate strike action by civil servants? Will my right hon. and hon. Friends bring together the leaders of the unions and ask them to consider whether it is not in their interests, as well as those of the country, that they should have a new formula for next year and that they should accept that?

Mr. Hayhoe

I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that the 7 per cent. offer is the most that can be found from the Civil Service cash limit this year, and that the Government will stand clearly upon that figure. The unions have been told that there is no more money this year. Settlements generally in outside industry have been falling into single figures, and it is only right that the Civil Service should play its part in this general restraint. I do not believe that there is public sympathy for the claim being made by the leaders of the Civil Service unions for a higher increase this year.

Mr. Chapman

Has there been complete co-operation by civil servants in the Government's planned reduction in their numbers from 730,000 to 630,000 by 1984? Will my hon. Friend reaffirm that the pay of a civil servant ought to be based upon the skill and importance of the job and upon what the country can afford, and should in no way be measured by the numbers of people working in any particular Department?

Mr. Hayhoe

I can assure my hon. Friend that the Civil Service has been co-operating with the Government in reducing the numbers, both by finding more efficient ways of tackling work and by giving up work which is no longer necessary. Of course, my hon. Friend is right to say the pay of the Civil Service, as of others, should be commensurate, not with the numbers in a Department but with the work being done.

Mr. Alan Williams

May we have a categoric assurance of the Government's intention to return to an agreed system of pay for the Civil Service for the next pay round? Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that the arbitrary and unilateral abandonment of the PRU was a major factor in making many civil servants decide to support a strike? In view of the damage being caused by the disruption, and in view of the Chancellor's appeal on Monday, is there not an appalling lack of urgency in coming forward with firm and specific proposals for an alternative system? Will the Minister confirm that there is within Whitehall a dilatory working party which is dawdling along meeting only once a week?

Mr. Hayhoe

It comes extraordinarily ill from the right hon. Gentleman, sitting as he does on the Labour Benches, to criticise us for suspending the pay agreement. In the past 10 years that agreement has been operated on five occasions—four times under Conservative Governments, and only once under Labour. So we on the Conservative side will accept no criticisms or strictures from the Opposition on that matter. I can confirm that it is our intention to return to an ordered and agreed system as soon as practicable. I hope that it will be possible for 1982. The sooner there is a return to normal working the sooner discussions on these matters can proceed and the faster the new agreement can be made. There can, however, be no certainty at this stage that it would be available for 1982.

Mr. Chris Patten

Are the Government prepared to discuss with the Civil Service unions the negotiation of "no-strike" agreements in return for indexed pensions and for an agreed form of arbitration backed by the force of law?

Mr. Hayhoe

I have seen the extremely interesting letter from my hon. Friends the Members for Bath (Mr. Patten) and Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave) in The Times to-day, with the suggestion that they made. Certainly the subject of "no-strike" agreements and any possible linking is not excluded from the discussions which can be held.

Mr. Woolmer

Does the Minister accept that in no sense are the civil servants indulging in a political strike? Is he aware that it is action by a large group of workers which is deeply and genuinely angry at the unilateral way in which the Government have acted as employer? Will he confirm that the unions would be prepared to go to arbitration tomorrow, and that it is the Government who are refusing to do that? Does it not come ill from Conservative Members to suggest "no-strike" action and other ways of overcoming problems when the solution is in the hands of the Government, who have unilaterally broken the agreement?

Mr. Hayhoe

I do not believe that this is a political strike. As far as I am aware, no one from the Conservative side has suggested that it is. What a sorry day it would be for the country if the civil servants or any other group indulged in industrial action purely for political ends. I hope that that would be condemned on the Labour Benches as firmly as it would be on the Conservative Benches.

50. Mr. Cryer

asked the Minister for the Civil Service how many civil servants receive pay which is below the national average wage.

Mr. Hayhoe

About 356,000 or 67 per cent. of non-industrial civil servants are currently paid below the latest estimate of national average earnings for full-time adults of £120.80 per week for last November.

Mr. Cryer

Does not that reply demonstrate the strength of the civil servants' case and the reason for their strong feelings about their wages? Is it not true that, in the wake of the miners' settlement, civil servants must take the view that the Government understand only the strength of industrial muscle which they now have to demonstrate in order to bring the Government to the negotiating table? What does the Minister feel about the example afforded to civil servants receiving less than the national average wage by the chairman of the National Westminster Bank who has been awarded a 31 per cent. increase? Will he condemn that increase in the private sector as well as condemning the civil servants' claim?

Mr. Hayhoe

I shall instead point out to the hon. Gentleman that when his Government were in office a rather higher percentage of civil servants were receiving less than the average wage than are now doing so.

Mr. Neubert

Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be entirely appropriate to raise the question of "no-strike" agreements when determining the Civil Service pay? Can he give a more urgent response than the one he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Patten) and remember the damage that was done at the time of the Post Office dispute when £100 million of public revenue was lost as a result of this kind of action?

Mr. Hayhoe

I said in an earlier answer that the question of "no-strike" agreements was not excluded. However, the Civil Service unions have not said that such a proposal would meet with their approval.

Mr. Alan Williams

Has the Minister seen the letter which was sent from the present Prime Minister's office during the election, in which it was said that the Conservative Party could see no reason why the restored and revised research system should not continue to provide the basic data for pay settlement in the Civil Service? Why was that commitment given when votes were needed and abandoned as soon as the votes were received?

Mr. Hayhoe

That commitment was subject to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for Employment, who, after approving the use of pay research, said: Naturally, we cannot give blanket approval in advance to the way the new Pay Research Unit is working, nor an unqualified promise to implement its future recommendations. No responsible Government or Opposition can make commitments of that kind. We are implementing the statements which we made before the last election concerning Civil Service pay research.