HC Deb 20 February 1976 vol 905 cc831-4W
Mr. Dan Jones

asked the Secretary or State for Defence what manpower cuts he plans to make in order to achieve savings on the defence budget of £177 million in 1977–78, £193 million in 1978–79 and £164 million in 1979–80.

Mr. Mason

Service strengths will remain substantially as announced after the defence review, but there will be a reduction of some 7,500 to 10,000 civilian jobs. We shall do what we can to avoid civilian redundancies but there will undoubtedly be some; these staff reductions are in addition to those found from the defence review and should largely be completed by 1st April 1978. There are likely to be more non-industrial than industrial reductions.

There will be a reduction in staff of Ministry of Defence Headquarters in London and in related establishments, and in the MOD Police. In some cases we shall be able to give up tasks and in others we will have to accept that work will be done more slowly. There will be a reduction in the standard of civilian administration and a lowering of the standard of service generally. Staff savings will be about 1,300–1,400.

We shall be making economies in the naval support area and will be closing the armament depot at Bandeath, the oil fuel facilities at Llanion, Llanreath and Lyness and the Royal Naval Aircraft Yard at Wroughton. There will be a reduction in local stores support at Chatham and in the Marine Services organisation. There will be some rephasing of plans for management improvements in the dockyards. Staff savings will be about 1,500, but the timings have yet to be decided.

There have been substantial civilian staff savings already identified in the Army area under the defence review. Together with the latest exercise, which accounts for about an additional 2,000 posts, the total savings will be around 11,000. Economies are being made by reorganisation—for example, in B vehicle driver training, pay and records offices, and in the rationalisation of logistic support; proposals for the closure of a number of installations are now under discussions with the Staff Side and trade unions concerned.

The merger of the RAF Support and Training Commands has already been announced and additional savings are being sought in other support areas; about 1,500 staff will be affected.

Some 3,000–3,500 savings will be found by reductions in the HQ and R and D and other establishments of the Procurement Executive—an additional cut of 5 per cent. on defence review levels. We shall also be reducing our expenditure on capital facilities and on extra-mural research contracts, with particular emphasis on longer-term work. We are reviewing the future levels of R and D on defence against chemical and biological warfare carried out in the Porton establishments—CDE and MRE—with the object of making significant economies.

Various proposals for the second stage of rationalising the R and D establishments are now in the final stages of consultations with Staff and trade union representatives. In order to bring forward savings in manpower and running costs while improving the effectiveness of scientific and technical teams, decisions will now be taken during the next two weeks leading to the closure in due course of a number of sites.

Mr. Ogden

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the implications for defence of the Public Expenditure White Paper (Command Paper No. 6393).

Mr. Alan Lee Williams

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the effects of the proposed cuts set out in Command Paper No. 6393 on United Kingdom forces commitments to NATO.

Mr. Mason

Public expenditure to 1979–80, as set out in Command 6393, involves reductions at 1975 survey prices of £177 million in 1977–78, £193 million in 1978–79 and £164 million in 1979–80 below the defence budget programme reflected last year in Command 5976. They are, therefore, in addition to the reductions identified by the defence review, and to the reduction of £136 million for 1976–77 announced by the Chancellor in his 1975 Budget Statement.

The defence review identified the level of forces needed to meet Britain's essential defence commitments. Since then there have been no changes in the political and military relationships between NATO and the Warsaw Pact which would justify a reduction of these commitments. We shall, therefore, maintain the same level of front line forces and their direct support, and these will have the first call on the available resources. As a result, the further economies in the defence budget have been sought almost wholly from the administrative and support structure not directly associated with front line units. The defence review left scope for further detailed studies in this area.

The Government of Hong Kong will be paying more of the share of the cost of the garrison, rising to 75 per cent. in 1978–79.

Apart from manpower savings, on which I am answering a separate Question today, the following are examples of the measures I shall be taking.

The Navy will be cutting back its level of fuel consumption and there will be reductions in naval support and stock levels.

The Army will be making domestic fuel economies and will be cutting down the provision of Service clothing; and there will be minor reductions in the equipment programme.

The Air Forces will be making minor equipment reductions and cutting back on spares and other support.

These reductions have been concentrated on Ministry of Defence support services but, in the industries serving defence, they will nevertheless result in the loss of some 3,000 job opportunities.

There will be reductions in works expenditure for all three Services and for the Procurement Executive. Improvements in living and working conditions for both Service and civilian personnel, and in support facilities, will be deferred and there will be some reduction in maintenance and a quicker release for sale of surplus married quarters.

A large number of establishments will be affected, and many civilian jobs will be lost. Nevertheless, the framework of the future defence programme remains unchanged; the front-line contribution to NATO has not been reduced; the major re-equipment programmes will continue; and there will be no significant changes in support of our front line.

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