Does the Minister recognise the deep feeling in the Inland Revenue staff union, in which almost half of those polled in the latest round of consultations voted for all-out strike action. Is he aware that the revenue collection service is now, to all intents and purposes, at a standstill? Will the Minister confirm the newspaper report to the effect that the Government intend to bring forward legislation to alter the contracts of civil servants? Would not that be a further demonstration that the Government are not concerned with improving industrial relations, but are tempting the unions into further action?
I recognise the strength of feeling that was displayed during the consultation process with the Inland Revenue Staff Federation. With regard to the speculation in the press, the Government have no intention at present of taking that action.
Will the Minister clarify a point with regard to the 7 per cent. pay offer? Is it the case that that was brought within the cash limit on the basis that the numbers employed would be reduced below that originally intended? If so, how is that compatible with the Government's commitment to reduce the size of the Civil Service as much as possible and why was it felt that the figure should be 7 per cent. rather than a lesser or greater one?
The 7 per cent. figure is out of the 6 per cent. cash limit, which is, in effect, taking 107 out of 106, if one sees those figures in percentage increases. In the judgment of the Government that is achieved by administrative savings on pay-related expenditure and also by cuts in staff numbers beyond those which were taken into account in the estimates.
Will the Minister confirm the figures given to me in a parliamentary answer by the Prime Minister on 8 June, which showed that more than 2 million public service workers have had settlements of over 7 per cent.? If that is not so, where did the Prime Minister go wrong? Will the Minister also confirm the implication of a written answer that he gave me last week to the effect that 7 per cent. is not the highest possible figure compatible with the 6 per cent. cash limit and that the ceiling will depend on post-settlement adjustments, which in any case will have to take place in Departments? Does he not realise that in asking for more than 7 per cent., all that the Civil Service unions are doing is to follow the advice given by him and by the Prime Minister, namely, to be guided by the more than 2 million public sector workers who have already settled?
I confirm the figures given by the Prime Minister. They show that about 2 million workers have settled at around the 7 per cent. Figure—some a little over and some a little under, but within the 6 per cent. cash limit that we in Government have said must be maintained this year. In the judgment of the Government, the 7 per cent. offer to the Civil Service is the best that can be offered without breaching that 6 per cent. cash limit.
Has not this dispute sunk to a sad and appalling level when the strikers are in the process of depriving their retired colleagues, who are public service pensioners, from receiving their dues? How does the Minister assess the effect on public opinion in the light of such developments?
I agree with my hon. Friend that it is a sad and nasty twist of the dispute that the Paymaster General's computer staff at Crawley have come out, with the net result of putting at risk a large number of pensions for public servants, such as civil servants, teachers, Service men and also their widows and dependants. I believe that the vast majority of civil servants will condemn that action.