Civil Service (Dispersal)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:01 am on 11th December 1979.

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Photo of Mr Frank McElhone Mr Frank McElhone , Glasgow Queen's Park 1:01 am, 11th December 1979

I am thankful for the opportunity of debating the important subject of Civil Service dispersal to Glasgow. When a previous Mr. Speaker granted me a debate on this subject on 18 April 1973, the Minister responsible for the Civil Service stated that it was the first debate on the dispersal of Civil Service jobs. Sadly, that means little since 13 years will elapse between then and when the jobs go to Glasgow in 1986. That is disgraceful by any standards and is the main reason why I raise the matter tonight.

It is right that I should place on record my personal tribute to the many people in the west of Scotland from the local authorities, the Churches and the trade union movement and others who have campaigned vigorously in support of the dispersal programme. The campaign has been led ably by the Lord Provost of Glasgow, Mr. David Hodge, and the Convener of Strathclyde region, Mr. Charles O'Halloran.

There is growing resentment and anger at the way that the Tory Government are treating Scotland. The substantial cut in Civil Service jobs, the savage cuts in public expenditure and the decision to delay the dispersal of jobs to Glasgow until 1986 is not without significance, coming from a Tory Government, which, according to the election results, have no real political base in Scotland.

The Government have only to examine the male unemployment figures for October this year to understand the gravity of the situation. The figures are appalling. In the central office of employment area, male unemployment is 26·7 per cent.; in the Easter house area, 21 per cent.; in the Ruther glen area, 26·8 per cent.; and in the Govan and Springburn offices,12·5 per cent.; and 13·7 per cent. respectively. Those figures are even more appalling when compared with the 4·4 per cent. male unemployment in the south-east of England.

I trust that the Government will not look on the figures solely as statistics. They represent human misery and suffering. They make one think of the Jarrow and Clydeside marches period. This Government must understand that the people of west-central Scotland will not stand by and watch while large parts of their country are condemned to dereliction, decline and decay. Therefore, the Government have a duty to act in a bold and decisive manner by giving the kiss of life to this area and by declaring that the promised 1,400 jobs will arrive much earlier than 1986.

I take no pleasure in saying that in the city at present there is a growing catalogue of despair because of the closure of such companies as Prestcold, Singer and Goodyear, together with the redundancies in the shipbuilding and steel industries. There is also the announcement by Sir Charles Villiers in today's press that 50,000 jobs will be lost in the British Steel Corporation. That will affect Scotland substantially, as well as the rest of this country. These redundancies and closures are creating a crisis of confidence about job prospects in the city that can be alleviated only by urgent Government action.

I now put some questions to the Minister which I hope that he will be able to answer tonight. He will be aware that I have asked several parliamentary questions on this subject over the years. Will he confirm, first, that the answer that I received to a question on 20 July 1979, which said that Glasgow was one of four areas in the country still to receive Civil Service jobs under the dispersal programme, is still accurate?

The Secretary of State for Scotland was quoted in the Scottish press on 29 November 1979 as saying that he promised to examine with his ministerial colleagues the feasibility of an earlier move to temporary accommodation. Will the Minister give that same promise at the Dispatch Box tonight? Is he aware that the local authorities have assured me that suitable office accommodation will be made available until the St. Enoch site is ready?

Will the Minister also give an assurance that a forward planning unit will be set up as early as possible to assure the people of Glasgow of the Government's good intentions about the 1,400 jobs? If the Minister has been properly briefed, he will be aware that the Ministry of Defence was on target to send 1,500 jobs to Glasgow by 1983–84. That figure is referred to in column 1008 of Hansard of 20 July 1978. Therefore, it should not be a problem to meet that number of posts, especially when the Labour Government were planning to send more than 5,000 posts to Glasgow.

There is deep concern among local authorities that they have committed themselves to substantial expenditure in preparing the sites in Glasgow. Having heard the dismal and depressing news about the cutbacks, we may be asking questions about compensation. Is the Minister able to tell us whether any claims have been made by the local authorities at this stage for compensation for lost expectations? What agreement, if any, has been reached so far?

The Minister knows, perhaps better than anyone in the House this evening, that he, together with the Secretary of State for Scotland and his colleagues, campaigned strongly before, during and after the general election for the full implementation of the dispersal programme. Is it not politically dishonest, therefore, for him meekly to accept the Government's savage cutbacks in the programme as applied to Scotland? What is more galling is that, according to press reports, the Minister is claiming credit for the topping out of the East Kilbride building to which the Overseas Development Adminstration is to go, when the credit should go to the Labour Government.

The good will of the Civil Service is essential to any dispersal programme—indeed, it is essential to the efficient working of the Government. That good will will surely be strained to the limits by the substantial cuts in the Civil Service that were announced last week. Indeed, the Minister of State, Civil Service Department, stated in the House on 6 November 1979–somewhat proudly, to my dismay—that the Government had reversed the major expansion of jobs that was begun under the Labour Government.

Nevertheless, because of the special circumstances of the city of Glasgow, which were always recognised by the Labour Government, I look to the Minister to indicate that this Government, even after eight months of inflicting misery and hardship on the citizens of that great city, might have a special conscience and that dispersal to Glasgow will be delivered at an early date. To do otherwise would only confirm my opinion that, as far as the problems of Scotland are concerned, this Government are already frozen in the ice of their own indifference.