HC Deb 15 October 1991 vol 196 cc132-4
2. Mr. Barry Field

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what was the ratio of civil servants to active service personnel in 1966, 1976, 1986 and projected after "Options for Change" has been implemented.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Tom King)

The ratio of United Kingdom-based civil servants to active service personnel on 1 April each year was as follows: in 1966, there were 65 civilians for every 100 service personnel; by 1976 it had risen to 72; in 1986 it had fallen to 53 civilians for every 100 service personnel; and the projected ratio after options in 1996 is down to 48 civilians.

Mr. Field

My right hon. Friend will appreciate the concerns of the older generation in this country, who saw the events of the 1930s unfold and develop into the second world war. Can he assure the House that the pen pushers and paper shufflers have not saved their jobs at the expense of the teeth arms? Does he agree that it is hypocritical for the Liberal Democrats to criticise our defence policy when their policy is for a 50 per cent. cut and they would never have built Trident submarines to act as the nation's nuclear deterrent?

Mr. King

I give my hon. Friend the first assurance that he sought. There will be a significant reduction, as there has been in the last 10 years; there has been a 28 per cent. real reduction in civil servants and civilians working in the Ministry of Defence as against a 3 per cent. reduction in the armed services. There will be a further 20,000 reduction, to which I have referred, in the civilian sphere.

The lesson that we have learnt from the 1930s is that if we face conflict, it is our duty to ensure that our forces are fully equipped and that we do not repeat what happened in 1939, when we were so ill equipped. That is very much at the heart of our new proposals.

As for the policy of the Liberal Democrats which I understand they are in the process of changing yet again —I believe that they are to have a review of their last review—they would make a 50 per cent. reduction across the board.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

Would the Secretary of State care to say what percentage reduction will occur, if the Conservatives are still in power, in the year 2000, bearing in mind the existing defence budget?

Mr. King

We are making a reduction of 21 per cent. in numbers across the board and I have said that, looking to the next three years, we envisage a reduction of about 6 per cent. in real terms. I do not think I was misrepresenting the hon. and learned Gentleman, since I understand that he has owned up to recommending the policy of a 50 per cent. cut by the year 2000. I have no objection to people holding views genuinely, but they must come forward and state them honestly to the House—or are we stuck with a review of a review of a review?

Mr. Viggers

First, can my right hon. Friend confirm that those who leave the Ministry of Defence, be they civilians or service men, will be given retirement terms that fully reflect the loyalty of their service? Secondly, can he confirm that it will be a cardinal point of his defence review that the armed forces will, in the longer term, continue to provide a good career structure?

Mr. King

Very much so. We must make some painful decisions now on the latter point—which will involve some redundancies—precisely to ensure that, in the smaller structure, the promotion opportunities continue as they are at present. We must make certain that there is a proper structure at the different ranks and ages. As for my hon. Friend's first point, we are most anxious to ensure that we deal fairly with people who may have given long service, both in the armed forces and in the civilian sections of the Ministry of Defence. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces will have more to say about that later today.

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