HC Deb 23 February 1988 vol 128 cc131-2
1. Mr. Galbraith

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will list all current plans for relocation (a) within Greater London and (b) elsewhere of units of his Department.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Tim Sainsbury)

It is not possible to provide the detailed information sought by the hon. Member without a disproportionate amount of work. However, I can inform the House that the number of civilian staff in London has reduced by over 10,000 — that is 35 per cent.—since 1979. Moreover, we continue to pursue every opportunity to relocate defence work from London when justified in both operational and economic terms.

Mr. Galbraith

The Minister said that the number of jobs in London had been reduced, but does he agree that the number of jobs in other areas of the country has also been reduced? At the previous Defence Question Time the Minister said that only 2.2 per cent. of jobs were located in the north and that that figure had not changed for some time. Therefore, will he take definite steps to relocate jobs in the north and abandon any plans for further office accommodation in London — for example, at Thames House, which does nothing for jobs, but simply helps property speculators in London?

Mr. Sainsbury

I remind the hon. Gentleman that after the Hardman report in 1973, the Labour Government between 1974 and 1979 achieved absolutely no dispersal to Scotland. This Government have a far superior record.

Dr. Hampson

Does my hon. Friend accept that this is not just a matter of the relocation of units of the Department, but is a matter of general spending policy? Is there not a gross disparity in spending between south and north, and will my hon. Friend institute some means of scrutinising the bids from the service chiefs with a view to dispersing them elsewhere in the country?

Mr. Sainsbury

My hon. Friend is aware that there are very good operational reasons for the concentration of defence establishments in the south. However, whereas we have reduced the number of defence posts in London and the south-east by 35 per cent. since 1979 in our search for greater efficiency, the reduction in the number of posts in the northern region over the same period was only 23 per cent.

Mr. Sean Hughes

Will the Minister tell the House why it is necessary for the Ministry to take offices at Thames House? Can he not accept that if his Department located in the north, it would not only save the taxpayer money, but would provide jobs in areas that badly need them?

Mr. Sainsbury

I assure the House that there are no plans to centralise in Thames House, Millbank part of the MOD headquarters staff at present located in London. As I hope the hon. Gentleman is aware, accommodation for London-based headquarters staff is a matter for the Property Services Agency.

Mr. Dykes

As we are talking about buildings as well as jobs, will my hon. Friend say when the Ministry intends to relinquish its buildings in the Stanmore area — both the Royal Air Force and other MOD buildings? In due course that accommodation will be available for pressing housing requirements.

Mr. Sainsbury

That matter is under active review.

Mr. Cartwright

Can the Minister say when he will decide about the future location of the directorate-general of quality assurance? Is he aware that the uncertainty has continued for years and is now starting to affect morale? When he makes a decision, will he bear in mind the contribution of the people of Woolwich to that military establishment and many others, for generations?

Mr. Sainsbury

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's interest in this matter and I recognise that Woolwich has a long association with the Ministry of Defence. The issues involved in the location of the quality assurance office are complex, and further study is needed before we can reach a decision. However, I hope that it will not be too long before we can give further information.

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