§ ?.—The rights of employees of local authorities in Wales to notice of termination of employment and payment in lieu of notice, whether under contract or under sections 49 and 50 of and Schedule 3 to the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978, whichever shall be the greater, shall be preserved.'.—[Mr. Morgan.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Madam Speaker
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 30, in clause 42, page 33, line 17, leave out from beginning to end of line 46.
No. 31, in clause 43, page 34, line 1, leave out from beginning to end of line 38.
Government amendment No. 62.
No. 34, in clause 44, page 34, line 39, leave out from beginning to end of line 11 on page 35.
No. 12, in page 34, line 44, after 'treated', insert either'.
No. 13, in page 35, line 3, at end insert
'or to be entitled after 1st April 1996 to receive equivalent redundancy payments from the new principal council.'.Government amendments Nos. 63 to 65.
No. 33, in clause 45, page 35, line 12, leave out from beginning to end of line 39.
Government amendment No. 66.
§ Mr. Morgan
This is one of the most important groups of amendments that we shall discuss, for two reasons. First, 130,000 people work in local government in Wales and the Welsh Members who represent them here must be aware of the need to give them some reasonable protection of their accumulated rights—or acquired rights, to use the European phrase that has come to the fore in the last week following the historic judgment of the European Court of Justice.
The second reason is important procedurally—I know you will take a particular interest in that, Madam Speaker —and relates to events after Second Reading on 15 March. The point was raised in Committee, but this is the first opportunity that the Secretary of State will have had directly to deal with the matter since Second Reading, although apologies were made on his behalf in Committee.
770 On Second Reading on 15 March, the Secretary of State recognised that clause 44 did not give adequate protection to workers in local government who might be affected directly by the Bill in terms of loss of status, loss of earnings or, ultimately, loss of jobs. He said that clause 44 would be redrafted by the time the Bill reached Committee stage. Unfortunately, although that pledge was repeated in the wind-up speech on Second Reading by the Under-Secretary of State, who I am glad to see in his place, there were no amendments to clause 44.
An apology was made by the Under-Secretary of State on behalf of the Secretary of State, who was not a member of the Committee, but we have been told by people who have an extremely detailed knowledge of the proceedings of the House that the parliamentary draftsmen deputed to prepare the amendment to clause 44, as per the pledge given by the Secretary of State, were taken off it to follow instructions given to them by a non-Cabinet Minister, the Minister of State for Social Security and Disabled People, who was in his place five minutes ago, who issued instructions to the parliamentary draftsmen—I understand that it was the same parliamentary draftsmen—to stop preparing the amendments to clause 44 and instead to prepare the dilatory amendments to help the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) spike the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill.
We have been given two unsigned letters to that effect by people whose understanding of the proceedings of the House in preparation of legislation is extremely detailed. In attempting to pursue the matter and get the full facts, I asked the Secretary of State for Wales on 23 May on what date the instructions were given to the parliamentary draftsmen to prepare the amendments to clause 44 of the Local Government (Wales) Bill, as had been promised.
§ Mr. Morgan
I received no answer from the Secretary of State. He blocked it by saying that it is not the practice to provide details of internal decisions of that kind—a totally absurd answer as I asked the question only because, just five days previously on 18 May, my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) had received an answer from a more junior Minister, the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, to his question:
on what date the Minister for Disabled People authorised his Department to instruct Parliamentary Counsel on the drafting of the amendments tabled to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill".— [Official Report, 18 May 1994; Vol. 243, c. 525.]If the Minister of State can answer that on 20 April 1994 he authorised his officials to instruct Parliamentary Counsel to draft the said amendments that caused such interest at the time, particularly from you, Madam Speaker, I cannot understand why the Secretary of State for Wales cannot tell me, the people of Wales and the 130,000 people who work in local government in Wales on what date the Secretary of State sent his instructions to Parliamentary Counsel. I was told it was before; I am now told that it was after.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. What he has said this afternoon is highly disturbing in relation to the Government's tactics on the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. He is arguing that higher priority 771 was given to drafting the 80 amendments for Conservative Members to wreck the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill than was given to the keeping of a pledge to the House of Commons about the drafting of amendments to this Bill. That must be a very disturbing revelation for people on both sides of the House. I understand that what my hon. Friend has said is very well founded. I hope that the Secretary of State for Wales will now respond. He did not respond to the request for a written answer; I hope he will respond now. It is a very important House of Commons matter.
§ Mr. Morgan
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his further elucidation, and for confirmation of the importance of this issue by the person whose private Member's Bill was affected. It may not be proper for me to ask you, Madam Speaker, whether you could command the Secretary of State for Wales to answer the question.
§ Mr. Morgan
But to stay within the rules of order of the House and to protect the public right of access to information—
§ Madam Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman wrote to me on that matter and I responded—the House did not know that. That is why the hon. Gentleman is able to raise the issue again today. It is for the Minister to respond—and if the hon. Gentleman will bring his remarks to a conclusion, the Minister may do so.
§ Mr. Morgan
I will not bring my remarks to a conclusion just yet. The Secretary of State does not seem anxious to answer, but the Minister is rising in his place, so I will give way to him.
§ The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Sir Wyn Roberts)
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in his reply to the hon. Gentleman, it is not usual for the Government to announce the dates on which instructions were given to counsel. However, I am prepared to tell the hon. Gentleman that the date when final instructions regarding this particular matter were given to parliamentary draftsmen was 25 May.
I apologise to the House for the delay that occurred and for the fact that we were unable to produce amendments for the Committee stage as promised on Second Reading. The reason was that there had to be consultations within Government, and in particular with my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and for the Environment, because similar provisions have to apply in Scotland and England, in respect of local government reorganisation, as in Wales.
§ Mr. Morgan
I am grateful to the Minister for going as far as he did, even though it would have been preferable for the Secretary of State to have answered, because he was not a member of the Committee and this is his first opportunity to apologise to the House for breaching the principle that if a Secretary of State, as a member of the Cabinet, makes a promise at the Dispatch Box on Second Reading to produce amendments in time for the Committee stage, it is kept. Such a promise is not meant to be like shortcrust pastry and easily broken, but is supposed to be of a cast-iron character.
772 I noticed that the Minister's answer was heavily qualified, for he used the words "final instructions". He said that they were given after the Committee had finished dealing with clause 44 on 17 May. Perhaps the Secretary of State can say when parliamentary draftsmen were first instructed to produce amendments to clause 44.
§ The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Redwood)
I unreservedly apologise for not meeting the commitment that I gave. I agree with all right hon. and hon. Members that one's duties to the House are most important and that one should always endeavour to meet one's undertakings. I did my best. It is not always possible to get busy colleagues together as rapidly as necessary to secure collective agreement on important matters. I tried, I failed and I am extremely sorry. My right hon. Friend the Minister gave the truthful reason why we were unable to meet quickly enough to obtain the agreement needed, but we did so as soon as we could.
§ Ms Liz Lynne (Rochdale)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I would like the Secretary of State for Wales to confirm—
§ Madam Speaker
Order. The point of order should be to me, not to the Secretary of State. It must concern a breach of the Standing Orders of the House or our rules of procedure.
§ Madam Speaker
Order. I cannot give a ruling on anything that the hon. Lady is about to say. If the hon. Lady seeks to intervene, she can enter the debate—but she must not involve me in the debate.
§ Madam Speaker
Order. The hon. Lady should not use a point of order in that way. Obviously she has something to say, and she is perfectly entitled to intervene. If she wishes to do so, she must seek the consent of the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan).
§ Mr. Morgan
I will first make the point that the Secretary of State has still not answered my question. Given the qualification in the Minister's response that "final instructions" were given on 24 May—which I am happy to accept—may the House be told whether earlier instructions were given, pertaining to the drafting of amendments to clause 44, as appears to be the case according to information that I received? If not, why did the Minister qualify his reply with the words "final instructions"?
§ Sir Wyn Roberts
The simple point is that one assumes that the draftsman reads Second Reading debates, and he would have seen from what was said on Second Reading that there would be changes.
§ Mr. Morgan
I am sorry, but I hope that before we finish this debate the Minister of State will rethink that answer, because it is totally inadequate. Is he saying that there was no contact other than that passive one, with the Office of Parliamentary Counsel being expected to read Second Reading debates and then request the draft amendments from the Minister? Is that the way in which 773 the Welsh Office works in respect of drafting amendments? If it is, it is not surprising that a more junior Minister than the Secretary of State for Wales was able to get priority in the queue.
§ Ms Lynne
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that I received an answer from the Secretary of State for Wales on 25 May in response to a written parliamentary question, in which I asked:on what occasions since April 1992 Ministers from his Department have (a) requested Parliamentary Counsel to assist in preparing amendments to private Members' Bills on behalf of other private Members and (b) authorised officials to instruct Parliamentary Counsel to prepare amendments which were subsequently passed to private Members.The Secretary of State for Wales replied:I am advised there have been no such requests or instructions since April 1992."—[Official Report, 25 May 1994; Vol. 244, c. 176–177.]I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would comment on what he feels about the timing of that answer.
§ Mr. Morgan
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for supplying that information, which I will have to digest. Clearly, she has asked similar questions of many other Ministers. What is astonishing is that on Second Reading the Secretary of State gave an undertaking, which was breached, and that there was a procedure—I am informed —which meant that the Secretary of State for Wales appeared to be in the slow lane and the Minister of State for the Disabled, in tabling the dilatory amendments—which, of course, do not assist the legislation, which is why the taxpayer pays the salaries of the Office of Parliamentary Counsel—was put in the fast lane and given priority over the preparation of genuine and constructive improvements to legislation which were promised at the Dispatch Box.
That is an extremely unsatisfactory procedure when the futures of 140,000 people in local government are at stake on the one hand and the interests of 6 million disabled people are at stake on the other. Both have been shafted by a very shabby bit of dirty tricks at the Dispatch Box.
§ Mr. Redwood
That is a most unfair allegation. I have apologised to the House for the delay. I have given an honest explanation of the delay. It was a question of getting colleagues together and getting agreement on a general policy that would be relevant in Scotland and England, as well as Wales, to ensure that what we were doing was sensible or compatible, one with the other. My right hon. Friend gave a sensibly cautious reply about contacts with Parliamentary Counsel because neither he nor I usually undertake those contacts; they are undertaken by officials on our behalf, and we do not have the detailed knowledge of every contact that they have. But I now have advice to say that there was contact throughout April and May with Parliamentary Counsel, as one would expect, and they discussed options, but they were not able to give final instructions, because Ministers had not settled the policy. It is nothing to do with fast and slow lanes, or disagreements between ourselves and another Bill and another Minister. It is to do with settling our policy for this Bill to get it right.
§ Mr. Morgan
I do not think that we want to spend hours and hours on this issue, but on a like-for-like basis the Secretary of State has still not given the answer that is 774 comparable to that given by the Minister for the Disabled. He is talking about continuous contacts, as though it were impossible for any Minister to specify a single date on which instructions are issued. Yet a more junior Minister —the Minister of State for the Disabled—was able to do that, albeit under enormous pressure, which was exerted by you, Madam Speaker, by other hon. Members and by people outside, in relation to the disgust that people generally felt about the way in which the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill was shafted, at taxpayer's expense and in an extremely illegitimate procedure. It was an abuse of the purposes to which the Office of Parliamentary Counsel is constitutionally put, and an unconstitutional method was used to shaft that Bill. What made matters much worse was the displacement of the proper use of the Office of Parliamentary Counsel to produce the amendments that had been promised.
I consider Government amendment No. 62 inadequate. Any member of the 140,000 staff who work in local government in Wales will still encounter difficulties in the event of redundancy or any other detriment arising from the Bill. The amendment does not appear to give local government staff any right to sue a new authority through an industrial tribunal, claiming unfair or constructive dismissal or other detriment. Although they could sue the old authority, that authority will not be able to pay up if it no longer exists, and there appears to be no guarantee that the new authority would carry the obligation to meet any claim for damages if a tribunal found in favour of a staff member whose case was not considered until after 1 April 1996.
It seems that there is to be no transfer to the new authority of the full legal liability in regard to such cases. It takes some time for constructive dismissal cases to be dealt with by tribunals. Would staff be able to sue the new authority? If it is the old authority that they must sue, how would they get that authority to pay up?
There is another reason why the Government amendment is not as good as our new clause 17. The right to consult and the right to proper collective representation appeared to be at the heart of last week's ruling by the European Court of Justice, which conferred the continuation of rights acquired in previous employment when there is a legal transfer to a new employer. The amendment, however, does not seem to cover that.
It could be said that, until that ruling by the European Court, the Government could not have known that such a provision would have to be incorporated into the Bill. However, the matter has been in progress since the Government introduced their 1981 legislation, and they have had a fair bit of time to consider the implications of the acquired rights directive.
The Welsh Office, and many Welsh local authorities, have been at the heart of many of the most interesting test cases involving the directive and the continuation of workers' rights after their transfer of employment. We need only think of the Dyfed school cleaners test case, and a case that directly involved the Welsh Office's own lawyers—the South Glamorgan health authority case, in which the Welsh Office was involved as a party. That case concerned the potential privatisation of cleaning and catering services at four of the authority's hospitals; the authority was responsible to the Welsh Office.
775 I should have expected those test cases to have taught the Welsh Office lawyers a lesson—that they must cover the point arising from the acquired rights directive, particularly the right to consultation and collective representation, in legislation that will transfer 140,000 people. As far as we can tell, our new clause complies with both the spirit and the letter of the directive; more important, it will leave local government staff no worse off than they are now in terms of rights acquired through length of service, employment contracts and so forth.
It would save us a good deal of time and trouble if the Government were willing to accept today that their amendment may not be as up to date as they would like, although it has taken them three months—since Second Reading—to produce it. As the Government are already on the back foot on this issue, it would be helpful if, before the Bill goes to another place, they would further improve it, after taking on board some of the points that have been made since the path-breaking judgment of the European Court of Justice last week and after perusing new clause 17 and some of the other amendments.
§ Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)
I must confess that, due possibly to my ignorance and despite the Secretary of State's genuine promises on Second Reading, I found it difficult in Committee to understand where the staff stood in terms of the law and the way in which Government would handle the problems. As Opposition Members represent so many constituents who serve in local government, we should not allow the Bill to be enacted without a most thorough examination of how the Government intend to safeguard staff interests after the changes, which are beyond the control and responsibility of the staff. Reorganisation will be imposed on many people.
§ Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, as recently as 14 June, a letter was sent dealing with regulations on redundancy? There is great consternation among local government staff in Wales, who believe that, at this late stage, redundancy terms are far worse than Welsh Office officials led them to believe during negotiations. The percentage of staff who will be redundant will find themselves in a terrible position. It will be difficult for them to find commensurate employment and they will have little compensation.
§ Mr. Rowlands
The hon. and learned Gentleman rightly brings that serious issue to the attention of the House. I did not realise that such a letter existed. It adds to my preamble in which I said that we owe it to the staff to consider the matter carefully. We shall debate the issue until we find out what the position will be for local government staff, who will be seriously affected by the legislation. Whatever happens, many staff will experience a disturbing and anxious time.
The only way of handling the issue is to note what we have been told in the House, and particularly in Committee, in order to understand the ramifications of amendment No. 62. In Committee, two significant statements were made by the Under-Secretary. He said:The Government accept that TUPE may apply to transfers in the public sector, including local government reorganisation, but the way in which it does so would depend on circumstances in each case. The Government do not accept that in the context of reorganisation all staff would necessarily have a right of transfer under TUPE. No doubt, we may want to return to that later.That statement on the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection 776 of Employment) Regulations 1981 applied to a considerable number of staff who were affected by reorganisation.
Later in the debate, the Under-Secretary clarified his argument. He referred to the advice of Patrick Elias QC, which had been received by the Local Government Management Board. He said that the advicesuggests that senior and central administrative staff in split authorities, such as counties, are less likely to be protected than similar staff in merged authorities, such as most district councils. If that advice is correct, it emphasises the importance of devising staff transfer arrangements that, as far as possible, provide equality of treatment for all staff."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 17 May 1994; c. 524–40.]That statement lifted the veil on the first statement that some staff were covered by TUPE and some were not. He clarified and redefined his first statement. That is how matters stood. At least TUPE could apply to a large number of staff.
Perhaps I am not reading the legislation correctly or perhaps words do not mean what they seem to mean. I want to draw the House's attention to the words of amendment No. 62. It is a Government amendment and has not yet been moved or spoken to. Inevitably, the initial part of our debate will be interrogative—asking questions, rather than making statements. The amendment says:in relation to a person whose contract of employment is terminated as a result of this Act"—so the responsibility is fully that of Government legislation—it shall be assumed that he was dismissed by the old authority concerned by reason of redundancy immediately before 1st April 1996 and that his dismissal was proposed by the authority.What do those words mean and what effect will they have on people's rights under TUPE? I have a lawyer sitting not far from me. Am I right in saying that it is an attempt to frustrate contract? If so, is that the intention? If that is the intention and we accept the amendment, does it remove people's rights under TUPE? I am a layman wandering around in this world and I am trying to use the correct language. If people have been dismissed and re-employed, does it mean that a transfer has not taken place? Therefore, am I right in saying that TUPE will not apply?
If I am right, it is very serious and I find it hard to believe. It rubs against every assurance and all the good words that we had from Ministers in Committee and on Second Reading to the effect that there was no such intention. Do the words of that amendment in any way jeopardise the rights under TUPE which were accepted by Ministers and by counsel's opinion to the Welsh Local Government Management Board?
§ Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)
This is the core point of the debate. It was raised by me on Second Reading and an assurance was given. It was raised again in Committee on 17 May and again an assurance was given. To this day, we do not know the answer. The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right to refer to frustration of contract. It is nothing short of that and, in my respectful submission, it is a disgrace. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman agrees with me.
§ Mr. Rowlands
I am getting some confirmation about my interpretation from those who know more about this than I do. If my interpretation is correct, we should be deeply disturbed and there should be a tremendous row. I am half hoping that somehow Ministers will show that this is not the way to interpret the words and that there is no intention to remove the rights of staff who are to be 777 transferred. We will look later at the view of Mr. Elias and the Local Government Management Board. Ministers accepted in Committee that TUPE applied to a significant proportion of staff, although not to all. I fear that amendment No. 62 could be interpreted as an attempt to remove people's rights, because they are not being transferred but are being dismissed and reappointed. I do not want to build great edifices on a weak foundation. However, if I am right, we will feel a sense of betrayal, as will an enormous number of staff in local government.
Ministers have been very helpful in this regard. After Mr. Patrick Elias's opinion was referred to in Committee, we were quickly circulated with copies of his opinion. I suspect that it has been subsumed into the Local Government Management Board document "Reorganisation in Wales Human Resource Timetable". I am old-fashioned and I think that this sort of language—the language of modern industrial relations—should be outlawed by the Secretary of State. In fairness, it is not his document. I do not want to weary the House with the document, but it analyses in considerable detail the application of TUPE. It states that the Advocate-General of the European Court of Justice believes that the directive applies to the public sector and covers transfers of undertaking such as those affected by local government reorganisation. It concludes by stating in paragraph 31:Although it seems certain that as a result of this change TUPE will apply to local government reorganisation, the government has so far not formally accepted this, and the point is yet to be tested in the courts.4.45 pm
I thought that in Committee the Government had accepted that certain groups of staff would be covered by TUPE. I accept that they qualified that by saying that it did not apply to all staff. That is shown by the second of the two references I made to our debates in Committee on clause 44. If nothing else, before the House proceeds much further, we must obtain confirmation from the Minister that TUPE does and will apply.
If any doubt is left, are we going to drive local government representatives and organisations to the enormously expensive business of applying for a judicial review? That is potentially very expensive and would use a great deal of council tax payers' money. Also, imagine the enormous cost of having to go to the European Court. We should not pass amendments which we do not understand and which would leave enormous challenges to be pursued and enormous costs incurred. We need a full explanation. In the spirit in which I introduced my remarks, I ask the Minister to clear this matter up.
My next point deals with who is covered by the amendment. Local government employs a fantastic number of people in different ways. The Minister was kind enough to provide me in a written answer with some figures on the employees in local authorities. Mid Glamorgan has 12,000 full-time employees and 9,000 part-time employees. Would just the administrative staff be covered or would everybody who works for the authority? How many employees, as opposed to administrative staff, would be affected and have their contract deemed to be terminated under amendment No. 62? How extensive is the process described in amendment No. 62?
I should like the Minister to clarify the position of direct labour organisations and direct service organisations. As a result of various Government changes during the 1980s, 778 they are semi-detached from Government and have to apply for contracts. That is a good layman's way of describing them. What happens to those employed by direct labour organisations and direct service organisations as a result of the reorganisation and what are their rights?
I hope that I have indicated—nothing more than that —that those are very important and serious questions to be answered. I am not willing to condemn the Government and I shall not say that they are doing anything nasty, dirty or reprehensible at the moment, but I want to know and try to understand exactly what they are asking us to accept in amendment No. 62. I find the whole world of local government staffing and its language fairly difficult to understand. I should be grateful if the Minister, who perhaps understands such things, would tell me what this marvellous quote from the report by the Local Government Management Board means:The drawing up of staff structures will be a major task for the HAPS".Who are the HAPS? The report continues:and the management team, (and any other senior staff, including HR specialists".Paragraph 41 says:Current estimates are that some 90–95 per cent. of existing staff will transfer by order.Is that the percentage that will be transferred if we accept amendment No. 62, or will anybody be transferred if it appears that a person was dismissed first and then reappointed?
Those are important issues and I hope that the Minister will explain it to hon. Members and, more importantly, to the thousands of people whose livelihood, jobs and security are threatened—perhaps that is a strong word. Anxiety has descended on them as a result of a piece of legislation which we shall probably pass by the end of the evening.
§ Mr. Alex Carlile
I wonder whether the Minister can help us in relation to the redundancy and severance terms and compensation arrangements for those employees of existing local authorities who are affected by reorganisation. I refer in particular to a letter dated 14 June, which reached its listed recipients only yesterday and, therefore, was made available to hon. Members after the debate had started. In my case, it was made available today. It is addressed, among others, to the Welsh Office, so I assume that the Secretary of State has received his copy by now. It is also addressed to the Shadow Staff Committee for Wales, as well as to district and county councils in England and Wales. I realise, of course, that it is a consultation document and that responses will be sought to it and that it may be amended in due course. However, one is bound to wonder why the document has not appeared with the draft regulations until now, bearing in mind the expressions of concern in Committee several weeks ago.
§ Mr. Carlile
And, indeed, on Second Reading, as the hon. Gentleman says. Will Ministers explain to the House why such an important matter, affecting so many of our constituents, appears not to have been resolved until this very late stage?
Paragraph 2 of the letter is headed:The Local Government (Compensation For Redundancy) Regulations 1994".Was the Welsh Office consulted on the matter; if so, what representations did it make on behalf of those loyal 779 servants of local government in Wales, many of whom, if they are in the 5 per cent. or so—a minimum estimate of those who will lose their jobs—will find it difficult to obtain jobs elsewhere, at least without a disturbing and upsetting uprooting of themselves and their families? Paragraph 2 states:A maximum ceiling on payments is now proposed, based on a tariff which takes account of age and service.When was the change decided which leads to the word "now" being included in the sentence? What is the reasoning behind the introduction of that maximum, which was obviously based on a change of mind by the Departments concerned? The paragraph continues:
Employees, aged 50 or over, who qualify for immediate payment of pension under the local government superannuation regulations will not now be able to benefit from these regulations.The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) has shown a great grasp of these issues, which is much better than that of many lawyers, who still find employment regulations a little strange and difficult to deal with and are a little perplexed by it all, apart from one or two experts, like the wife of the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair). Why has it been decided, at least at the proposal stage, that employees who are entitled to benefit from the local government superannuation regulations should no longer be allowed so to do? How is it considered to be fair that that should be brought on employees of 50 or over, who will find it especially difficult to find at least commensurate new employment?
Part 3 of the draft regulations deals with the authorities affected by local government reorganisation and provides that, for a defined period of reorganisation, there will be a mandatory floor between the statutory minimum under employment protection legislation and the discretionary statutory maximum. That means that a limit is placed on the compensation arrangements available to those who are made redundant as a result of local government reorganisation.
We must examine what level of compensation is proposed for those who are made redundant as a result of reorganisation. We are told that those mandatory payments will accrue at the rate of 1.5 weeks' pay for each year of service between the ages of 23 and 41 and 2.5 weeks' pay for those between 42 and 49, but up to a maximum of 45 weeks' pay plus a generous extra half-week for 45 to 49-year-olds. As I understand it, that means that a 22-year-old clerk or housing officer working in a local authority affected by reorganisation will receive six weeks' pay if he has worked there for four years. As an estimate of loss, that is not merely stingy, but borders on being absurd, especially for local government officers working in rural Wales. I hope that my understanding of what is proposed is wrong, but that understanding is shared by local government officers who have received notice of the proposals in the past 24 hours.
Let us take another example at the extreme end: a 53-year-old chief planning officer, who has very little prospect of obtaining a job elsewhere, will receive a maximum of 45 weeks' pay as compensation. How does that compare with the compensation arrangements available in the private sector? It does not compare even with the limited compensation arrangements available to Members of the House who lose their seats.
780 Surely, at the very least, we should be able to give loyal and experienced local government officers compensation arrangements commensurate with what they would be able to obtain in a comparable area. I suggest to Ministers that one comparison would be what employees would obtain if they went to an ordinary court for breach of a similar contract of employment. Someone in as one-off a type of employment as the example I have given should be able to claim a year's notice at the least, yet under the proposals he would be given just over three quarters of a year's notice. It is not good enough for the Government to set such low standards in the public service compared with the private sector. There are examples of people who have been brought into the public service from the private sector and of enormous compensation payments being made.
The draft regulations provide:during the period of reorganisation, local authorities are obliged to compensate employees below the level of the mandatory floor but … they retain discretion to pay up to the prescribed maximum".There is great uncertainty among local government officers about what they will be able to recover in compensation for loss of office and consternation and genuine concern in Wales as a result of the draft regulations and the letter, not least because the information has been provided at such a late stage.
Will Ministers at least confirm that they will adopt a flexible attitude during the consultation period and that they will examine seriously the "comparables" that can be found elsewhere so that we can ensure that fair compensation arrangements are available to some good officers who, unfortunately, are bound to lose their jobs? That is a matter of particular concern, as many of the 5 per cent. will be at a senior level. They will be in the older age group and are likely to be the people most affected by heavy family and mortgage commitments, which they may become unable to meet.
§ Mr. Llwyd
I have three specific questions to ask. First, amendment No. 62 refers to "any other enactment". What does that mean? Am I right in thinking that it is a reference to TUPE regulations; or is it a reference to another enactment? It is important that the meaning of those words is made clear today.
Secondly, will there be an entitlement to receive notice of termination of employment? The Minister will no doubt realise why I ask that, and it is important that we receive an answer.
Thirdly, in connection with the "enactment" to which I have already referred, I draw the Minister's attention to section 5 of the TUPE regulations. Am I right in thinking that any contract which would otherwise terminate shall be transferred to the new authority by virtue of those regulations? Those three core questions deserve to be answered, not only for our sake but for that of the tens of thousands of people in Wales who have, alas, been considering the passage of the Bill with a less than enthusiastic gaze in the past few months.
Part of the reason for their lack of enthusiasm has been that matters so vital to them have had to be raised time and time again. As I said in an intervention on the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), on Second Reading I mentioned TUPE and the frustration of contract and was told that the issues would be dealt with. Not having been satisfied in any shape or form, I raised 781 them again in Committee on 17 May, when assurances were again given. If Government assurances are to mean anything, they must be fulfilled. That is a painfully obvious point. I believe that these issues, at the very least, should be cleared up today so that we can give accurate reports to the people of Wales.
As a first principle, I do not accept that the provisions now being discussed by the English Staff Commission should apply to Wales. Clearly, we are seeking the most appropriate arrangements for employees in Wales, and local government in Wales will of course differ from that in England in two key respects. First, reorganisation in Wales, unlike reorganisation in England, will not be phased but is to take place on one specific date. Therefore, the opportunity for staff to seek other employment in local government is diminished. Secondly, and just as important, local authorities are the major employers in many parts of Wales and, given the economic circumstances of the region —or the country—it might be difficult for staff who lose their jobs as a result of reorganisation to obtain further employment.
I note that the Local. Government (Compensation for Redundancy and Premature Retirement) Regulations 1993 give authorities the power to pay at their discretion up to 66 weeks' severance pay—less, of course, any redundancy payment to which the employee would be entitled under existing statutory and local government legislation. Those regulations were made in the wake of the Court of Appeal decision in the case of North Tyneside Metropolitan Borough Council v. Allsop. They were not drawn up as a response to local government reorganisation, and I believe that they would be inappropriate in this instance.
Like many other hon. Members, I am especially concerned about employees aged between 40 and 49 or 50 who may be casualties of this reorganisation and who will doubtless find it very difficult to obtain commensurate jobs elsewhere. Compensation arrangements for reorganisation should not apply only in respect of redundancies which take place on 31 March 1996. I believe that they should operate for a period of, say, a year or 18 months before and after reorganisation. That would provide an incentive for staff who wish to take early retirement and make way for employees who would otherwise be made redundant on vesting day. It would be only right and fair if that were to happen. Of course, reorganisation compensation should be paid only if redundancy is due specifically to the creation of the new authorities. In the case of other redundancies or early retirements, I believe that the usual arrangements should apply.
I have already asked questions about TUPE—questions which were also eloquently posed this evening by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney. Ministers are no doubt aware of last week's landmark decision in the European Court of Justice, and I sincerely trust that the Government will not have to be hauled again by their hair through the courts because of their stubbornness and disrespect for the rights of ordinary working people. I am sure that their mandarins are now considering their obligations in the light of that decision, and I respectfully suggest that TUPE will most definitely apply to everyone involved in this transfer. Indeed, I would go further and say that, fortunately for me, that was also my opinion on 17 May—an opinion I still hold—when I declared that the Government were intent on acting illegally and that EC directive 75/129 on employment provisions, which was later amended by another directive, came into force under 782 the Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act 1993. As Ministers are aware, the method proposed under that Act for calculating redundancy payments is abundantly clear.
§ Mr. Alex Carlile
Will the hon. Gentleman comment on some information that I have just received? I have just been told by a senior local government officer that it is now understood that older officers—those over 49 years of age —will not receive the compensation that I outlined. By reason of their age, they will be given less. I understand that in my example a 53-year-old local government officer in Wales will be able to recover only 26 weeks pay under the proposed regulations.
§ Mr. Llwyd
I agree that that is an appalling scenario, and I trust that it will prove to be faulty in due course. I am sure that the interpretation is right, but it is absolutely unfair and we must examine it carefully.
The 1993 Act details some ways of avoiding dismissals, reducing the number of employees to be dismissed and mitigating the consequences of dismissals. Those matters are important. I have already referred to the TUPE regulations. Once again, I invite the Secretary of State and Ministers to respond to that point. As for the point raised by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile), if that is the correct interpretation, it is an appalling situation.
There is, I regret to say, continued uncertainty and there are no hard facts about the Secretary of State's commitment to a 95 per cent. staff transfer level. We have heard references to the opinion of Mr. Elias QC. I am still in the dark about that; what is worse—and more important —many thousands of people in local government in Wales are also in the dark. May I ask the Minister how that staff transfer level was initially derived, measured or compiled? How will that level of transfer be achieved if all the staff seeking continued local government employment are not transferred by order on 31 March 1996? The Government need to be precise and clear at this stage or they will face the continuing accusation of window dressing for political and pressure effect, rather than dealing with the substance of this vital issue.
I have already referred to the TUPE regulations. The European acquired rights directive was applied in the European court case. However much Ministers may seek to bury their heads in the sand, we are part of the European Union and, accordingly, we are bound by that directive and the court's decision. I hope, therefore, that in the next few days—not months, as we have seen with the tabling of amendments—we might have some pertinent references to that case and possibly some early and urgent amendments to the way in which the Government are thinking about the matter.
I respectfully remind Ministers that the objective of the European acquired rights directive is twofold: first, there is a need to secure appropriate posts in the new councils for all staff who wish to continue in local government employment; secondly, there is a need to protect both the global level and the important position of local government employment in the socioeconomic life of Wales.
I shall ask the Minister some further questions. I hope —perhaps I am hoping against hope—that he will answer them because we need details; otherwise, as the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney said yesterday, the process of scrutiny is a sham. If it is a sham, we are 783 letting the people of Wales down. I believe that we are letting them down anyway because the Bill is badly flawed. We need clear indications from the Government on staff transfer arrangements, TUPE and compensation arrangements for Welsh employees.
Reference has been made to frustration of contract. We need details on that today. We also need the details of detriment packages for loss of earnings and so on. Undoubtedly, the Minister will refer to the letter that was sent out on 14 June. I make no apology for not having read it. It is my good fortune that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery handed me a copy a few moments ago. I have not evaluated the covering letter, and I make no apology for that. The letter should have been made available at a much earlier stage than the Report stage of such an important Bill.
To say that the situation is disappointing is not strong enough; I am very disappointed—it is a shambolic way to run any Department. The Department of the Environment is writing letters when the Welsh Office is supposed to be dealing with the matter before the House. Why did the Welsh Office not request the information earlier? Why were hon. Members not made fully aware of the consultation process before now? If I am corrected by the Minister at any stage, I make no apology for that. I am in blissful ignorance of the provisions. It is unfortunate that those of us who spent six weeks in Committee were not even accorded the decency of being allowed to know what consultation was going on behind closed doors. This is supposed to be the Government of open government, but we have yet another example of anything but open government. It is a shambolic experience and I am disgusted by it all.
There are compensation provisions. We are all being invited to take part in the process known as consultation, which may or may not turn out to be true consultation. In the past, I have been less than happy about the standard of comprehension by Ministers and, indeed, the extent to which they are prepared to listen during the consultation process. However, for what it is worth, I will throw my hat into the consultation ring. As the Welsh changes will happen on the same day, and as the average wage for local government employees in Wales is low, it is important that we are given firm indications of the direction in which we are travelling. I have referred to detriment and frustration of contract. Once again, I invite the Minister to respond fully to those points.
I shall put forward one or two views which I hope will be taken into account in the so-called consultation process. I believe that there should be a statutory non-discretionary scheme, adopting the principles of the 1986 regulations but with improvement for employees over 50 and between 45 and 50. Employees aged 50 and over who are so entitled should receive an immediate pension with maximum added years and a maximum severance payment of at least 52 weeks' pay. A maximum of 82 weeks' pay should be made to those not entitled to an immediate pension. Those aged 45 should have their pension frozen and brought into payment at the age of 50 with maximum added years and a minimum severance payment of up to 82 weeks' pay. The calculation of redundancy payments should be based on an actual week's pay or any multiple of that.
784 Nothing short of a full reply to those detailed points will allay the fears that I have for my constituents and for all local government employees in Wales. They deserve to be told where they are going. They are energetic and they went into the service with the best possible intentions. Some of them went through the trauma of the 1972–74 changes and are now to be subjected to this reorganisation. People in Dolgellau who have young families, mortgages and so on are desperately worried about their future. I cannot stand idly by and tell them, "Yes, I raised it on Second Reading and I am to be given a reply" or "Yes, I raised it in Committee and I am to be given a reply." We are now on Report: for heaven's sake, will the Minister please reply?
In conclusion, I refer briefly to the assurances given by the Under-Secretary of State at a conference in Llandudno on 7 January, to which reference has been made. He said then that he would urge that Welsh provision should be tailor made to meet the needs of organisations in Wales. I am asking him to deliver on that undertaking.
§ Mr. Peter Hain (Neath)
The Minister will be aware—he will contradict me if I am wrong—that Lliw Valley borough council is the only example of a borough authority that will be split after the change to the new unitary authorities. As such, it is distinct from a county which will—and does—supply services to a range of residents in different borough authorities. When staff are transferred from counties to new unitary authorities, therefore, they will be in a slightly different position from those in a borough authority.
A number of questions were raised by the Under-Secretary of State's answer in Committee when he said, referring to advice received by the Local Government Management Board, thatsenior and central administrative staff in split authorities, such as counties, are less likely to be protected than similar staff in merged authorities, such as most district councils.He continued:
If that advice is correct, it emphasises the importance of devising staff transfer arrangements that, as far as possible, provide equality of treatment for all staff."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 17 May 1994; c. 540.]It is significant that in that brief but highly potent statement the Under-Secretary of State referred only to a split county authority, not to the only example of a split district council that I can think of in the reorganization—Lliw Valley district council.
Can the Minister reassure my constituents and those people working in Lliw valley—both that part served by my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell) and the upper Lliw valley, which I represent? I imagine that a teacher working in a school in Godrergraig, which is to be transferred into the new Neath and Port Talbot unitary authority, will also be transferred to that authority, so there will be no problem. What about a park attendant employed in Pontardawe, let us say? He or she will also be transferred to the new unitary authority, which is Neath and Port Talbot.
What will happen to members of staff in Lliw valley who straddle the divide? They may be housing officials—or work in leisure, recreation or some other council department—who do not have a location on either side of the border. Where would they be transferred and would their rights be fully protected?
It is not clear whether all existing employment rights will be protected consequent upon transfer to the new 785 unitary authorities. That is a general point. Even though the Government are tidying up the arrangements through these amendments, they do not seem to guarantee that all existing employment rights will be protected as a general principle. But it is a particular problem in the schizophrenic situation that I have mentioned, where some employees of Lliw Valley are in the anomalous position of serving both sides of the border and it is not clear to which authority they will be transferred—Neath and Port Talbot or Swansea. Will their redundancy, contracts of employment, pay, salary and conditions all be protected?
It is very important for the Minister to give some serious reassurance that the Bill protects the rights of those individuals who are caught between the two authorities. It is not clear to me that the Bill as drafted, or as it might be changed by these amendments, would give them that protection. They would value a positive response from the Minister in that respect.
§ Sir Wyn Roberts
This is indeed an important batch of amendments. Let me assure the House at the outset that we do not expect the reorganisation to lead to a large reduction in the number of staff. We hope to secure the necessary reductions in staffing levels by voluntary redundancies. It should, therefore, be possible to avoid any compulsory redundancies on 31 March 1996, but the House will appreciate that I cannot give a guarantee on that matter, since a great deal depends on the decisions of the new authorities and members of staff.
Volunteers for redundancy could be sought in the summer and autumn of 1995, but only from among those staff whose jobs are changing or disappearing as a result of the reorganisation. Staff whose jobs are not changing, such as teachers, care assistants and so forth, will be transferred, so the question of redundancies and compensation will not arise for them.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment announced on Tuesday the Government's proposals for the severance payments that authorities could make and hon. Members have referred to them. We are proposing that staff under the age of 50 could qualify for a redundancy payment of up to 66 weeks' pay, depending on age and length of service. It would be up to the authorities, if they wished, to make a payment at the highest permissible level, but we propose that they should not be allowed to go below a minimum floor, which will apply for reorganisation-related redundancies occurring in the calendar year 1996. That is what we are consulting on and not the document of November 1993, to which the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) referred.
The proposed local government redundancy compensation payments do not cover people beyond the age of 50 because staff over that age can qualify for immediate payment of pension. Staff under the age of 50 cannot do so and it is appropriate, therefore, for the higher redundancy payments to be made to them. They are higher. I assure the House that both the floor of payment and the maximum payments will be considerably better than entitlement, in the form of the statutory minimum under the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978.
The transfer arrangements would be as follows. First, there would be a competition for chief executive and chief officer posts. I would expect that process to be completed by the end of summer 1995. Staff whose jobs were not changing would be identified and listed in draft transfer 786 orders, which would be published no later than the end of November 1995. Any other staff with the right of transfer, under TUPE, would be included in supplementary transfer orders.
Volunteers for redundancy would be sought from the remaining staff. Those who did not volunteer presumably would wish to remain with local government and would be seeking a post in a new authority. The new authorities would have at least until the end of March to complete their procedures for recruiting staff to the new posts that they would be creating.
We hope that sufficient volunteers for redundancy would come forward so as to avoid the need for any compulsory redundancies on 31 March 1996. But if that were not the case, some redundancy notices may need to be served before reorganisation. If such notices had not expired by 31 March 1996, it would be possible to transfer the staff concerned to serve out their notice in a new authority.
Perhaps this is the point at which to emphasise that clause 53(4) provides for new authorities to take over the contractual responsibilities of the old authorities. The arrangements that I have described would maximise certainty for staff at the earliest possible stage in each case, and would ensure that the vast majority of staff from counties and districts transferred to the new authorities receive equal treatment.
The Opposition amendments would do none of those things. Apart from the staff who have the right to transfer under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981, there would be no means to transfer staff from the old authorities to the new. The transfer orders in clause 42 would set out clearly to which authority an individual had been transferred, and I think that that answers the point raised by the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain). The amendments would leave industrial tribunals as the only means of securing certainty in cases of doubt, and of course I cannot commend them to the House.
I want to deal with the Government amendments.
§ Mr. Morgan
The Minister is quite correct in saying that the emphasis of new clause 12 is on the preserved or acquired right to be able to take a case of unfair or constructive dismissal to an industrial tribunal. Is he then commending the Government's legislation? Is he also guaranteeing that there will be continued rights to sue in an industrial tribunal, regardless of whether one is suing an old or a new authority? Would that be correct even if the case eventually only gets to an industrial tribunal after 1 April 1996, when there will be no old authorities, even if it is one of those which is being sued?
§ Sir Wyn Roberts
I will come to precisely that point as I deal with Government amendments Nos. 62 to 64.
§ Sir Wyn Roberts
I am just going to refer to the point made by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands). The hon. Gentleman, referring to clause 44, said that it shall be assumed that a person was dismissed "by reason of redundancy" and that his dismissal was proposed by the authority. Those words bring with them the requirement to consult representatives of staff, to give notice and so on.
787 In that case, we are talking about people who are not transferred by order and who are in the employment of existing authorities. I shall have more to say about the points made by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney in a few moments;
Government amendments Nos. 62 to 65 give effect to the undertaking which my right hon. Friend made to the House on Second Reading to reassure staff that they will have full rights under employment protection legislation, including rights to consultation with representatives of staff and trade unions about prospective redundancies and notice of redundancy.
§ Sir Wyn Roberts
I am dealing with this set of amendments so the House can understand their full scope. Clause 44 applies only to staff who lose their jobs at the point of reorganisation. We hope to secure the necessary reductions in staffing levels by voluntary redundancies, so it would be possible to avoid compulsory redundancies on 31 March. It is not possible to give an assurance on that point.
Government amendment No. 62 was somehow misunderstood by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney. It mentions the relevant employment protection provisions of the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978 and the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. These are concerned primarily with redundancies, which is precisely the situation dealt with by clause 44.
I think that the hon. Gentleman is confusing matters with the right of transfer which staff might have under the TUPE regulations. Such staff are implicitly recognised in the wording of subsection (IA)(b) of the amendment, which states thata contract of employment is transferred—(i) to a new principal council, if it is treated by any provision made by this Act, or by or under any other enactment, as continued in force with that council".In other words, staff transferred under TUPE will not be covered by clause 44 because they will be transferred. The provisions of the Bill cannot override the requirement of European legislation, such as the TUPE regulations, which implement the acquired rights directive.
§ Mr. Rowlands
I feel out of my depth and I am willing to accept the ministerial word on the matter. Is it the ministerial word that nothing in the amendment undermines the rights of staff under TUPE in the event of reorganisation? I would appreciate it if the Minister could give that categoric assurance.
§ Sir Wyn Roberts
TUPE can apply, but it depends on the circumstances of the individual case and I am happy to reaffirm that now. There is no attempt to undermine that directive in any sense.
§ Mr. Morgan
One matter needs to be cleared up. If I understood correctly what the Minister said before the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, he was referring to the emphasis 788 which the Government were placing on facilitating the transfer of staff with all their acquired rights under TUPE from the old authorities to the new. He said that this was in the form of a guarantee that the staff will be transferred. The problem is that people can lose rights while they are being transferred. For instance, they may find that they were moving from full-time to part-time work, which would normally give them the right to compensation for detriment. That could take place under TUPE or under old-fashioned UK employment law.
The right hon. Gentleman has not mentioned not only the right to sue for compensation and to be entitled to a redundancy package because a person has lost his job, but the substantial deterioration in terms and conditions, such as a loss of hours. Is he covering that point of detriment as well?
§ Sir Wyn Roberts
I have covered the transfer of staff from one authority to another. I shall again remind the hon. Gentleman of clause 53(4), which states:Anything done by or in relation to an old authority before 1st April 1996 … shall … have effect as if done by or in relation to the successor authority.In other words, the liabilities of old authorities transfer under clause 54 to the appropriate new authorities. Clause 44(2) already recognises that such liabilities will be transferred to new authorities. There will not, therefore, be the change which the hon. Gentleman anticipates. If a change resulting in detriment to an individual occurs, the new authority will be as responsible as the old authority might have been.
§ Mr. Morgan
I am finding some comfort in what the Minister is saying, except for one point—he is overselling the matter to the House. Is he implying that clause 44, as amended by Government amendment No. 62, confers rights to transfer, without loss of acquired rights under employment law? We understand that it is neutral on that point, permitting that to occur without debarring it. It does not confer it as a matter of right. The Minister is leaving the clause in a form whereby staff would have to find out how the right to transfer without losing their acquired rights will be enforced. The right is not conferred by clauses 42 to 45, which pertain to the transfer of staff from the old authorities. It would be misleading to the House and the 140,000 staff who could, in theory, be affected if he tried to imply that he is conferring something on them when, in reality, he is permitting, in a neutral manner, another form of regulation, which will have to come back to the House in another form, to confer that right. Is not the clause simply neutral on that point?
§ Sir Wyn Roberts
The hon. Gentleman is leading us down the wrong garden path. He forgets that all the other employment legislation, for example on redundancies and transfers, comes into play. The clause relates only to local government reorganisation in Wales and the specific transfers of staff that will be needed between authorities. The hon. Gentleman should remember that other employment legislation is still effective.
Government amendment No. 66 plugs a gap which we have identified in clause 45. For example, an individual on a fixed-term contract with an old authority could have already secured a job by competition in one of the new authorities, yet could have claimed damages for loss of office under his existing contract. The House will agree that that would not be an appropriate use of public funds. 789 Amendments Nos. 12 and 13 are unnecessary.
§ Mr. Morgan
Before the Minister leaves Government amendment No. 66, may I ask him when he expects to be able to produce the regulations? What areas are they intended to cover? What is the expected timing for producing the regulations, which appear to qualify the right conferred by the rest of the clause? Can he produce fairly soon a list of the headings which those regulations will cover, as it may take a year or so before the Minister produces the regulations themselves? It is a bare-bones explanation simply to say that those regulations will exclude the effect of the clause without saying how soon we may know the range of subjects to be covered under those headings? Can the Minister give us some information on that front?
§ Sir Wyn Roberts
I do not think that I can give information on the timing of the regulations at this stage. Obviously, they flow from the passage of the Bill and the events that will follow, with which the hon. Gentleman is, by now, as familiar—if not more so—than I am.
§ Sir Wyn Roberts
I assure the House that anyone who is entitled to a redundancy payment as a result of the reorganisation should receive it. I appreciate the fact that some of the amendments have been probing, but I believe that the provisions in the Government amendments are far superior—[Interruption.]
§ Sir Wyn Roberts
The Government amendments are far superior to the amendments put forward by the Opposition, and I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to reject the Opposition amendments and accept the Government amendments.
§ Mr. Morgan
The Minister of State began by saying that he hoped that the clause would be based on the principle of volunteers for redundancy, which would solve most of the problems. The heartfelt way in which he said it may have been based on the fact that he has volunteered for redundancy from his office. This may be his last evening at the Dispatch Box, as reshuffles gather pace.
§ Sir Wyn Roberts
The hon. Gentleman should not concern himself with my future as much as that of the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies), who has nominated the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), but will back the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair). What on earth has the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) done to him?
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I hope that that will be regarded as a rhetorical question. It has nothing to do with the subject under consideration.
§ Mr. Morgan
I am extremely pleased to have your diktat on that, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I shall not cross swords with you.
Later this evening, we shall be in a position to wish the Minister of State well in his retirement and return to angling, wangling and poetry.
§ Mr. Llwyd
Before the hon. Gentleman says farewell to the Minister, does he share my concern that, of the five specific, extremely important points that I put to him at the beginning of the debate, not one has been answered? Does he agree that that is unacceptable and that something deceitful may be going on? Why are not we entitled to a reply?
§ Mr. Morgan
That is the problem we are experiencing. These are complex matters. They are almost arcane when we try to put them into debating points, but they are life-and-death matters to the 140,000 people who work in local government. We are trying to bring the matter to life in the House as it will undoubtedly be brought home to the staff directly affected by it. That is why those of us who, unlike the Minister of State, intend to continue to represent Welsh communities where local government is an important source of employment are disappointed. I wish to take nothing away from the Minister's popularity in the House, which will doubtless be greatly enhanced by the identity of his successor once it is known.
§ Mr. Rowlands
Will my hon. Friend try to extract from the Minister answers to two questions regarding the position of direct labour organisations and direct service organisations? I put specific questions which, unfortunately, perhaps due to an oversight on his part, the Minister did not answer. That was why I wanted to intervene.
§ Mr. Morgan
He is the Minister for oversight in the Welsh Office, so I am not sure whether I can persuade him to rise to the Dispatch Box once again to discuss DLOs and DSOs. Many of those 140,000 people are in DLOs and DSOs and their position is exceptional. Given the Minister's absence of comment on that issue in answer to specific questions, I am none the wiser on how DLOs' and DSOs' continued acquired rights will be covered. We do not want the Minister of State's successor to be hauled before the European Court for sins of omission because the Minister has failed to clarify the matter or give an undertaking that, by the time the Bill returns to the other place, it will be cleared up.
After all—I return briefly to my opening remarks—this is a displaced debate. This is the debate that we should have had in Committee a month ago. The debate that may take place in 10 days' time in the other place should have taken place tonight on Report, with us having had the two bites at the cherry which issues that are so complex and of such life and death importance to the bread and butter earnings of the 140,000 staff in local government in Wales deserve. Those staff should have the benefit of the two bites at the cherry. They will want to know what is said. Ministers also need to be able to take on board the comments that are made tonight.
If the Minister is stumped on the issue of the DSOs and DLOs, that is fair enough. We expect him to be stumped from time to time, as all Ministers are—and he no less and no more than other Ministers. If the debate had taken place in Committee, no doubt the matter would have been clarified by the time that it came to Report. However, on Report, the Minister may be stumped and when the Bill goes to the other place it will be the last opportunity for any clarification. Instead of there being a month between Committee and Report stages, we shall probably have only a week and a half before the Bill is finally dealt with in the other place.
791 We have to meet our constituents in our surgeries or deputations of local government officers. They have every right to expect answers from us. They will say, "We vote for you; damn well find out from those people in Westminster." The chances of our finding out the answers to their questions have been much reduced by the way in which the debate, which should have taken a place a month ago in Committee, has had to take place tonight. It is a thoroughly unsatisfactory state of affairs.
We still do not know to what extent the TUPE regulations will be incorporated and I do not think that we are any the wiser as to whether the Government have made any attempt to take on board last week's European Court of Justice ruling. Has that been incorporated into Government amendment No. 62, or is that a matter that they will now study, going back to the Office of Parliamentary Counsel—who no doubt will be extremely pleased to see them—and saying, "By the time the Bill goes to the other place, we must ensure that this amendment, covering these redundancies and transfer rights, will be incorporated", and further amendments will be made in the Bill's final stages in 10 days' time? That is not satisfactory.
If the Minister will not say anything about DLOs and DSOs or any of the other matters mentioned by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), I must say that there is no doubt that the interference by the Department of the Environment—and perhaps also the Treasury—in that issue has been exceedingly unhelpful. The Secretary of State admitted earlier—something that he obviously did not know when he made his promise at the Dispatch Box on Second Reading—that the Department of the Environment and the Treasury would interfere. He did not know it at the time he made his promise; otherwise, he probably would not have made that promise. He then found out that the Department of the Environment and the Treasury are the big boys in this issue and that he is only the tea boy, and that, unfortunately, he was prevented from doing something that he thought that he had the freedom to do when he promised that this matter would be clarified and sorted out in amendments that would be proposed in Committee in May. Unfortunately, he was prevented from doing that and now the Department of the Environment conditions in England, which are entirely different, will apply.
Wales is a far more rural area than England. People who are displaced in local government in the constituency of the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy or of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) cannot obtain other jobs without moving house. That will not be the case in a more urbanised area such as England.
At all times in England there will be a continual flow of different stages of reorganisation, which will not be the case in Wales. We are having the big bang in Wales. It will create an enormous amount of simultaneous confusion and changes in the supply and demand of local government staff, which is not a matter about which the Department of the Environment has to worry. As a result, I have to tell my colleagues that I intend to divide the House on that issue.
§ Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 76, Noes 160.793
|Division No. 262]||[5.53|
|Ainger, Nick||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)||Lewis, Terry|
|Armstrong, Hilary||Lynne, Ms Liz|
|Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy||McCartney, Ian|
|Austin-Walker, John||Mackinlay, Andrew|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Madden, Max|
|Barnes, Harry||Mahon, Alice|
|Bayley, Hugh||Martlew, Eric|
|Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret||Michael, Alun|
|Beith, Rt Hon A. J.||Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)|
|Betts, Clive||Morgan, Rhodri|
|Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)||Mullin, Chris|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||Murphy, Paul|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)||O'Brien, Michael (N W?kshire)|
|Corbett, Robin||O'Hara, Edward|
|Cousins, Jim||Olner, William|
|Dalyell, Tam||Patchett, Terry|
|Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)||Pike, Peter L.|
|Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Dixon, Don||Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)|
|Dowd, Jim||Raynsford, Nick|
|Eagle, Ms Angela||Rendel, David|
|Etherington, Bill||Rowlands, Ted|
|Flynn, Paul||Skinner, Dennis|
|Foster, Rt Hon Derek||Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)|
|Foster, Don (Bath)||Spearing, Nigel|
|Fyfe, Maria||Spellar, John|
|Galloway, George||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Garrett, John||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)||Wareing, Robert N|
|Hain, Peter||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Hanson, David||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Harvey, Nick||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw?n W)|
|Hoyle, Doug||Winnick, David|
|Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)|
|Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)||Mr. Jon Owen Jones and|
|Jowell, Tessa||Mr. Elfyn Llwyd.|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)||Cran, James|
|Amess, David||Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)|
|Arbuthnot, James||Davies, Quentin (Stamford)|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Deva, Nirj Joseph|
|Ashby, David||Devlin, Tim|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James|
|Baldry, Tony||Duncan, Alan|
|Banks, Matthew (Southport)||Duncan-Smith, Iain|
|Bates, Michael||Dunn, Bob|
|Batiste, Spencer||Dykes, Hugh|
|Blackburn, Dr John G.||Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)|
|Body, Sir Richard||Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)|
|Booth, Hartley||Evennett, David|
|Boswell, Tim||Faber, David|
|Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)||Fabricant, Michael|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia||Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)|
|Bowis, John||Freeman, Rt Hon Roger|
|Brandreth, Gyles||Gallie, Phil|
|Brazier, Julian||Gardiner, Sir George|
|Bright, Graham||Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)||Gillan, Cheryl|
|Browning, Mrs. Angela||Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles|
|Burt, Alistair||Gorman, Mrs Teresa|
|Butler, Peter||Gorst, Sir John|
|Carlisle, John (Luton North)||Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)|
|Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln)||Greenway, John (Ryedale)|
|Carrington, Matthew||Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)|
|Carttiss, Michael||Grylls, Sir Michael|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Hague, William|
|Churchill, Mr||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Clappison, James||Harris, David|
|Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif)||Hawksley, Warren|
|Coe, Sebastian||Hayes, Jerry|
|Congdon, David||Heald, Oliver|
|Conway, Derek||Hendry, Charles|
|Coombs, Simon (Swindon)||Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L.||Pawsey, James|
|Hill, James (Southampton Test)||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Horam, John||Portillo, Rt Hon Michael|
|Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Redwood, Rt Hon John|
|Howarth, Alan (Strat?rd-on-A)||Richards, Rod|
|Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)||Riddick, Graham|
|Jenkin, Bernard||Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn|
|Jessel, Toby||Robinson, Mark (Somerton)|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine||Sims, Roger|
|Key, Robert||Spencer, Sir Derek|
|Kilfedder, Sir James||Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)|
|Kirkhope, Timothy||Sproat, Iain|
|Knapman, Roger||Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)||Steen, Anthony|
|Knight, Greg (Derby N)||Stephen, Michael|
|Kynoch, George (Kincardine)||Stern, Michael|
|Lait, Mrs Jacqui||Sweeney, Walter|
|Lawrence, Sir Ivan||Sykes, John|
|Lidington, David||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Lightbown, David||Taylor, Rt Hon John D. (Strgfd)|
|Lilley, Rt Hon Peter||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Lord, Michael||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Luff, Peter||Thurnham, Peter|
|Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas||Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)|
|Maitland, Lady Olga||Tracey, Richard|
|Malone, Gerald||Trend, Michael|
|Mans, Keith||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Marland, Paul||Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Martin, David (Portsmouth S)||Waterson, Nigel|
|Mates, Michael||Watts, John|
|Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian||Wells, Bowen|
|Merchant, Piers||Whittingdale, John|
|Mills, Iain||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)||Wiggin, Sir Jerry|
|Montgomery, Sir Fergus||Wilkinson, John|
|Moss, Malcolm||Willetts, David|
|Neubert, Sir Michael||Wolfson, Mark|
|Newton, Rt Hon Tony||Wood, Timothy|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Yeo, Tim|
|Nicholson, David (Taunton)|
|Page, Richard||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Paice, James||Mr. Sydney Chapman and|
|Patnick, Irvine||Mr. Andrew MacKay.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.