HL Deb 26 July 1984 vol 455 cc397-400

3.14 p.m.

Lord Sandys

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is the present total membership of the Civil Service and how this compares with the figure for 1979.

The Minister of State, Privy Council Office and Minister for the Arts (The Earl of Gowrie)

My Lords, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced in another place on 8th May, there were 623,972 staff in post in central Government departments on 1st April 1984– the latest date for which figures are available—compared with 732,275 on 1st April 1979. This reflects a reduction in the size of the Civil Service of more than 108,000 or 14.8 per cent. since the beginning of the last Parliament. This is a considerable achievement. A key pledge has been fulfilled.

Lord Sandys

My Lords, while I thank my noble friend for that most welcome Answer and recognise the achievement that it represents, may I at the same time thank my noble friend for the article in today's issue of The Times on this subject and ask him one further question? Will he consider the possibility, as he specifically mentioned the name in his article, that a return to the principles of Sir Ernest Gowers is indicated in this general achievement?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, in a number of fields we are trying to build on the work initiated by my noble friend Lady Young, not least on the question of forms and making them easier for all of us to understand.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl whether he has seen another article in The Times which claims that there are now 40,000 heroin addicts in this country? In view of this, will the Government do something to reconsider their policy about cutting down the numbers of Customs officers so that the controls of imports of this drug will be more strictly regulated?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I am glad to be able to tell the noble Lord and the House that Customs and Excise have been carefully ordering their priorities so as to maximise the deployment of resources on the investigation and prevention of drug traffic. This year, a further 60 staff are to he deployed at ports and airports to enhance preventive control.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, two years ago the noble Earl acknowledged that there was a shortfall in the recruitment of administrative trainees and this was underlined, I think, by the Civil Service Commissioners at the time. Is he satisfied that there will be adequate recruitment this year?

The Earl of Gowrie

Yes, my Lords, I see no sign of recruitment not being satisfactory in view of the lower manpower targets that we have now achieved and the manpower targets that we are still aiming to achieve.

Lord Wells-Pestell

My Lords, is it not true that when the Minister says that 60 more Customs officials have been employed elsewhere, they have, in fact, been drawn from other ports and therefore they are understaffed?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, the Customs and Excise are very seized of the urgency of the investigation and prevention of drug smuggling. There is no question of resources being denied to them for this end.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, can the Minster say how many of the staff that he mentioned who have been dismissed or got rid of relate to the Inland Revenue and what is the reduction there in the number of civil servants who are combating the evil of the black economy in this country?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, there have been some increases of staff in a number of fields—not least in the Customs and Excise, as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, and in the Inland Revenue in respect of investigation of the kind in which the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, is interested. The figures that I was using are net reductions. They include substantial increases of personnel in key areas.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether he will convey to the Civil Service our very high regard for the work that they do and can he inform me whether he thinks there is any loss of morale because quite often they seem to be under public attack?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I am grateful for what my noble friend has said and I am glad to use the opportunity of her supplementary question to remind the House that these very substantial savings have been achieved by civil servants themselves. In my experience after a year as Civil Service Minister, morale is high and the programme is being carried forward with a will.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that applicants for naturalisation as British citizens are being kept waiting more or less indefinitely even for an interview and that the section of the Home Office which is responsible for this made a profit of £6 million out of the applicants last year because they have to pay in advance for a service they may wait months to receive? Does he think that this is a satisfactory position or that the persons concerned with this work ought to be increased in number?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I will draw the points that the noble Lord has made to the attention of the Home department.

Lord Walston

My Lords, will the noble Earl inform us of whether any of the work formerly done by the civil servants who are now no longer employed is being done by private firms; and, if so, how many people are employed in that work?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I cannot give the noble Lord numbers once people have left the Civil Service or are engaged in the private sector; but it is certainly the case that the net savings of some £600 million in a full year as a result of the manpower exercise is a net figure and takes into account the costs that have been transferred to the private sector.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, as the noble Earl is responsible for the welfare, recruitment and numbers of the Civil Service, can he tell the House what has happened to these over 100,000 civil servants? Have they just been added to the dole queues? Has he any information as to what will be their future prospects and what are the prospects of young recruits into the service?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, these staff savings have been achieved in the usual way by voluntary retirement or natural wastage. As I said in answer to an earlier supplementary, the quality and calibre of young people coming forward as applicants to the civil service are very good and we shall of course take as many as we are able to afford.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, would the noble Lord care to say how much direct Government action has added to the unemployed total by reducing the number of civil service jobs, by cuts in the education service, by cuts in the Health Service, by closing naval dockyards. by closing railway workshops to which I referred during an earlier Question, and so on?

The Earl of Gowrie

My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord is well aware that the problems of unemployment cannot be solved by swelling the public sector. In fact, the result would be the very opposite.

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