With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I will now answer Questions Nos. 98, 99 and 101 together.
Following the Government's general acceptance of the Fleming Report the decision was taken to move the Post Office Savings Bank to a location out of London. This is an organisation which, technically and operationally, it is possible to move a long way from London.
The Government have considered many locations and has now decided that the national interest lies in moving the Bank to Glasgow.
While it is generally accepted that there will be great delight in Glasgow over getting this Department, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that the people on Tees-side will be bitterly disappointed? May I also ask him what regard he has had for the staff side in this transfer, because it has declared itself wholeheartedly in favour of going to Tees-side in any case? Why did the right hon. Gentleman go through the paraphernalia of seeking the views of the staff side about where this Department should go? What part has the Prime Minister played in all this? I ask that because, politically, this decision stinks.
I have seen the Staff Association on at least two occasions, and there is no doubt that the Civil Service Clerical Association, which represents a majority of the staff, has as the hon. Gentleman said, felt a strong preference for Tees-side. Great weight has been given to the views that have been expressed to me, but the paramount consideration here must be the national interest, and that is why it has been decided to send this Department to Glasgow.
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that there will be considerable disappointment on Tees-side because of that reply? Will my right hon. Friend convey to his colleagues the claims of Tees-side when any other Government Departments are moved from London?
Yes, Sir. There will be disappointment both on Tees-side and on Merseyside, but I assure my hon. Friend that the Government are not insensitive to the claims of the North-East. Indeed, the Post Office itself is in course of moving the Savings Certificate Division to Durham, where about 2,000 people will be employed. There are also two or three other very much smaller Civil Service units which are available for dispersal to the North. In choosing these locations we shall give special consideration to places that need additional employment.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that on Tees-side this will be regarded as a blow below the belt? Can he say what is the national interest in the matter of diversification in view of the fact that the proportion of clerical jobs on Tees-side is substantially lower than in any of the other areas considered?
It is true that clerical employment on Tees-side is relatively low, but I think that the principal factors to which the House ought to have regard are, first, the fact that unemployment in terms of numbers is much greater in Glasgow than on either Tees-side or Merseyside, and secondly, that the rate of juvenile unemployment there is also greater.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that his statement will give great satisfaction to everyone who is interested in achieving a better balance of employment opportunities throughout the country, and that it will give particular satisfaction north of the Border? Is my right hon. Friend further aware that those members on the staff of the Savings Bank who move to Glasgow in due course will receive the warmest possible welcome, and will find that it is an extremely friendly city?
While appreciating the disappointment of Members from the North-East, may I express the pleasure of hon. Members on this side of the House who have pressed for this decision, without a voice being raised from the other side?
Will the right hon. Gentleman draw to the attention of the Government the fact that we welcome this belated concern, in the national interest, for the well-being of the neglected areas of the North? Will he speed on the Government during their remaining days in office to disperse further office accommodation and headquarters from London?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his rather grudging appreciation. I should like to make it clear that there has been no lack of voices raised on this side of the House in support of Glasgow.
Does not my right hon. Friend agree that that last question is evidence of the fact that he will get little credit from Scotland for doing this, and that the Post Office staffs who are to be denied the pleasure of living and working on Merseyside will find it hard to understand how he arrived at that decision? Will my right hon. Friend do what he can to see that the remaining staffs of the Post Office that are to be moved from London are sent to Merseyside?
I should be the last person to discourage people from going to Liverpool or Merseyside. I assure my hon. Friend that the Government are acutely conscious of the needs of our constituencies.
On a point of order. In view of the unsatisfactory reply from the Postmaster-General, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.