HL Deb 26 February 1969 vol 299 cc1084-90

3.42 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission I should like to make a Statement parallel to that being made by the Prime Minister in another place. I apologise for interrupting this interesting debate, and I apologise all the more since I fear that I have another Statement to make immediately afterwards.

On January 16 last year, the Prime Minister, as part of his Statement in another place on public expenditure, said that Government Departments will, under the guidance of the Treasury, plan their staffing so that over the year 1968–69 there is no further net increase in the number of civil servants as a whole". In fulfilment of this announcement the Treasury took, as the estimated figure for the beginning of the financial year 1968–69, 474,200, being the estimated number of non-industrial civil servants, excluding Post Office staff, who would be in post on April 1 last year.

This was the figure subsequently published on March 26 in the Financial Secretary's memorandum accompanying the 1968–69 Estimates, and it was adopted as the ceiling to be enforced by achieving reductions wherever these could be made within individual Departments. The Prime Minister gave an interim report on this matter in the debate in another place on Fulton on November 21 last. The net effect of some slight changes in classification means that, on a comparable basis, the ceiling which was set should now be expressed as 472,800. I can say now that the total of the departmental ceilings for non-industrial manpower for April 1 this year has been held at 472,800, thus fulfilling the target which we set last year.

In the event, the actual realised figure in employment last April (470,550) fell short of the estimate and therefore the 1968–69 ceiling. We cannot at this stage forecast the actual figure for April 1, 1969, but the House will wish to know that the latest figure, for February 1, is 470,300, which is not only below the ceiling we set but is very slightly below the actual figure for April 1, 1968. For the first ten months, therefore, of the financial year covered by the Prime Minister's Statement, the number of non-industrial civil servants has been held steady and indeed very slightly reduced.

I turn to the year beginning April 1, 1969. The gross figures will be complicated by the fact that, with the consequences of the Post Office Bill now before Parliament, some 15,000 non-industrial members of the Post Office staff will be employed in the new Department for National Savings and the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications and will, in future, be included in the Civil Service non-industrial manpower figures. Clearly this transfer within the public service does not affect the totals. On a comparable basis, taking the starting figure this coming April of 472,800, ceilings which are being set for the non-industrial Civil Service, excluding the former Post Office staffs referred to above, at April 1, 1970, add up to 481,500, an increase of 8,700 or about 1.8 per cent. over the year. I should have preferred to be able to tell the House that we could hold the line in absolute terms for the coming year. The screening and cutting down which has kept the total from rising in the year now ending has been continued on the estimates submitted for the year ahead, and, as a result, the increase is considerably less than the total of the figures put forward by Departments as what they regard as their minimum requirement, on the basis of the work that has to be done.

Whatever arguments we may have had, or may have, about individual policies, your Lordships will be aware of the effect on the public service of demographic and other changes outside the control of individual Governments, unrelated to policy changes of any kind. At the same time, policies accepted by Parliament as a whole have involved in the past year—and will involve in the future—additional manpower. For example, within the increase of 8,700 in manpower ceilings which I have mentioned, more manpower will have to be provided for in the Department of Employment and Productivity, some 700 in fact, in the Factory Inspectorate—to which this House has paid particular attention—the placing work of the employment services, the progressive implementation of the Industrial Training Act, the work of the rapidly expanding Government training centre programme and, most recently, the planning and development of the policies outlined in the White Paper on Industrial Relations—in particular, the creation and staffing of the Commission on Industrial Relations. Similarly, there is to be provision for an additional 1,100 for the improved manning of the prison services, and about 250 for immigration work. Examples of other tasks for which additional staff will be required are the Board of Trade's work on exports and the Ministry of Transport's work on the road programme. Against these there is an offsetting reduction in the Ministry of Defence, estimated at 450.

For these and other reasons, it has not been easy to hold the increase down to the figure I have quoted, and, while the progressive implementation of the Fulton Report will help to ensure the maximum economy and effectiveness in the use of manpower, in the early years, including the coining year, the establishment of machinery to ensure this, to improve personnel management and virtually to double the Civil Service central training programme, for which Members of both Houses have pressed, will involve some increase in the Civil Service Department itself and in the relevant sections of individual Departments.

The House is aware of the reviews of Civil Service manning, now well advanced in their work, such as those under the leadership of Sir Robert Bellinger. These were designed mainly for the longer term, and although we hope progressively to receive economy reports from Sir Robert and his colleagues no allowance has been made for this in the figures I have given for the coming year. I hope your Lordships have followed what, I am afraid, is a rather difficult mixture of numbers.

3.50 p.m.


My Lords, your Lordships will be most grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for the Statement he has just made, and will of course welcome the fact that in the current year it has proved possible to hold the manpower at the ceiling which had been announced. Another point that arises from the noble Lord's Statement is that in the coming year it is not expected that it will be possible to hold that ceiling. If I understand correctly what the noble Lord has said, it is expected that in the coming year there will be an increase of something like 1.8 per cent. Your Lordships will of course always regard any increase in the number of civil servants with misgiving, but at the same time we welcome the steps that are being taken to ensure that manpower is used economically and effectively. As emerges from this Statement, the difficulty is that whenever one sets out to make economies one invariably sets up a Department to secure those economies, and once that is done it is very difficult to carry them out.

I have no doubt that from time to time we shall be able to ask the noble Lord for figures. May I ask whether it is contemplated that figures will be put out in the near future to show exactly what has happened in the various Departments? Further, may I ask the noble Lord whether it is possible to say what economies have been made and what increases have taken place while holding the ceiling as it is in the various Departments? I am sure your Lordships would like to know where the economies have been made and where the increases have come about. Without that information, it is very difficult for your Lordships to form any estimate of what the impact of this effort to secure more economical and effective use of manpower in the Civil Service—in other words, greater productivity in the Civil Service—really is.


My Lords, we on these Benches have obviously not had more than a moment to consider these very interesting figures, and therefore we should not like to pronounce definitely on them at all. But on the face of it, it looks as though the Government are to be congratulated both on holding the existing figure, and even reducing it slightly, and on contemplating what is after all a very modest increase in the coming year—more especially, I think, in view of the great number of additional projects which have been recommended strongly on all sides of the House and which, after all, have to be catered for in terms of manpower. There is only one question I should like to ask, and that is this. As I understand that there is to be a considerable reduction in the expenditure on defence next year, would it not be possible to reduce the number of civil servants in that enormous Ministry by a little more than 450?


My Lords, I am much obliged to both noble Lords, and particularly for the congratulations of the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn. It is quite a striking achievement to have held a nil increase when one takes into account the admitted very large increase of the last few years. And, of course, the new increase is still a good deal lower than previous ones. Indeed, if I recollect aright, in 1962–63 the increase in non-industrial civil servants under the Conservative Government was 15,000. But I do not wish to start comparing records because I feel a certain vulnerability, and I know that the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, always studies his figures very closely.

On the details for which the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, asked, figures will of course be given in the Votes. I agree that it is exceedingly difficult to judge without analysing them in a great deal of detail. I have given certain information, but I shall look to see whether it is possible to say anything further. But the difficulty then is that one has to explain the changes, and one finds oneself going into a great deal of detail. We have, I think, given rather more information, as has indeed been the practice of the present Government. We always give much more information than our predecessors, but consequently always get asked for even more. I think that is a healthy development. But if there is more information I can give, I shall. On the functions of the Civil Service Department, I hope that it will be possible fairly soon—I hope even before the House rises—to give a good deal of information on the progress of implementing the Fulton Report. This is essentially a long-term search for efficiency, but I think it will be found that the progress is not at all discouraging.


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord will devote his lively mind to economising in the Civil Service by getting them to take some notice of the work of a very distinguished civil servant, the late Sir Ernest Gowers, and to reduce the length of documents they produce and make them much clearer by observing some simple rules that he laid down. I think I heard the noble Lord say in his Statement that they were "fulfilling a target by holding a ceiling". Those words, I think, we have had before, but I think there is one new bit of jargon which I confess I had never heard before—that is, that we were "meeting a ceiling".


My Lords, let me say to the noble Lord that Sir Ernest Gowers is constantly borne in mind by the Civil Service, although I must admit that when it comes to Statements in Parliament Sir Ernest Gowers seems to disappear. But I have noted what the noble Lord has said, although I think he perhaps made it sound a bit worse than it was.


My Lords, while I do not want to press the point unduly, will the noble Lord look into the possibility of reducing the staff of the Ministry of Defence?


I take the noble Lord's point. I think we shall be having a debate on the Defence Department. There is, of course, a very big rundown generally in civilian manpower, as well as in military manpower, in the Ministry of Defence; and the Ministry of Defence, as the headquarters, may not be as large as some noble Lords think. But, nevertheless, as the rundown continues I do not doubt that further economies will be made. We are very anxious, and there is a real determination, to try to establish a proper control over our manpower.


My Lords, without wishing to be at all acrimonious about this, because it is rather outside my field—at least, the Civil Service aspect of it is—may I ask the noble Lord whether he is aware that the Civil Aviation Department of the Board of Trade, which used to be the Ministry of Aviation, appears on the face of it to have proliferated somewhat during the last year? In particular, may I ask whether he is aware that the Director of Aviation (Safety) was replaced by three men when that particular incumbent retired last April; and whether that is really in keeping with the Government's policy on this matter?


My Lords, it may mean that safety has been increased three times.

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