HC Deb 27 June 1947 vol 439 cc841-8
Mr. Ede

I beg to move, in page 6, line 27, to leave out from "that" to "shall," and to insert: no person becoming an officer of the Government of Northern Ireland by virtue of this subsection. This is a drafting Amendment. The proviso safeguards the future of existing members of the staff of the Registry of Deeds who, by virtue of the Clause, become officers of the Government of Northern Ireland. The words proposed to be substituted effect no alteration of the substance of the proviso, but the Amendment is moved in order that the wording shall be similar to the wording of the proviso to Clause 9 (1), which it is proposed to amend in order to avoid an ambiquity which may arise as a consequence of further Amendments proposed to that Clause. This is, as it were, anticipatory of the Amendment I propose to move to Clause 9.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Bing (Hornchurch)

I beg to move, in page 6, line 29, after "rights," to insert: or as respects membership of a trade union or similar organisation. This Amendment is intended to safeguard, we hope, the rights of a very small body of civil servants. I do not think they number more than 30 in all. We have put down this Amendment in order that we might have an assurance from the Home Secretary that the words as they stand in the Clause are sufficiently wide to cover the trade union position of transferred British civil servants. The Committee will appreciate that very often it is quite sufficient merely to be transferred to the jurisdiction of the Government of Northern Ireland to find that one has automatically committed an offence. This is the case so far as civil servants are concerned. At one time the Government of Northern Ireland used to urge every Measure on the ground that it would be impossible to carry out the business of Government if they did not go step by step with the British Government. It now urges that it would be impossible to carry out the functions of Government if they did not go step by step with the Opposition.

When we repealed the Trade Disputes Act the Government of Northern Ireland rejected a Bill designed to achieve the same object. In consequence, under section 5 of that Act, if the words of this Clause are not sufficiently wide any member of these transferred services who happens to be a member of the Civil Service Clerical Association, or any trade union, would automatically be committing an offence, and would be deprived of his job. In those circumstances, I hope it will be possible for the Home Secretary, either to accept the words of our Amendment, or to give us an assurance that there will not be any victimisation of civil servants on those grounds.

Mr. W. J. Brown

I hope very much that the Home Secretary will meet the point of substance here. The effect of the passage of the Trade Disputes Act, 1927—in which civil servants who are transferred under this Clause to the Government of Northern Ireland, will again become involved unless we do something about it—was not quite to dismiss civil servants who belonged to a given type of association. Its effect was to make it illegal for them so to be members and thus to make them leave the organisation unless that organisation put itself in line with the provisions of the 1927 Act. So that in no case does the question of dismissal arise automatically.

Mr. Bing

Speaking from recollection, in Section 5 of that Act, there are actually provisions for removing a civil servant who is a member of an affiliated organisation.

Mr. Brown

I quite agree. Section 5 of the 1927 Act—which is the same thing in Northern Ireland—made it clear that a civil servant must not be a member of a trade union unless certain conditions applied. One thing was that it must not be affiliated to an outside political body. Another thing was, that it must not be affiliated to an outside industrial body. If it were affiliated to either of such bodies it became, in effect, a forbidden organisation to civil servants, under the 1927 Act.

Let us see what will happen here if the Home Secretary does not meet this point—although I take it that he probably will. The effect will be, that, as soon as these men are transferred, they pass from the comparative freedom of the Trade Unions Act, 1946, in Britain back to the restrictions of the Trade Unions Act, 1927. They would then be in this position. They would either have immediately to resign their membership of whatever trade union was involved; or, if the Government in Northern Ireland so decided, they would suffer the penalty imposed for not resigning membership of such an organisation. There are not very many people involved here. I imagine that some of those concerned are members of my own organisation. I do not want to enter into the respective merits of the 1947 or 1927 Trade Unions Acts. I have my own view about them, and about our repeal Measure of 1946. But I had no doubt about the repeal of Clause 5 of the 1927 Act. I felt then, and I feel now, that it is for civil servants themselves to make up their own minds whether they want to be affiliated to outside bodies or not; and if they do, which bodies they want to be affiliated to. If we were discussing how they should exercise that discretion, I might have many things to say. But we are not, and I am merely saying that they ought to have that discretion. As things are, the main effect will be that the provisions of the 1946 Act, unless we do something about it, will not be applied by the Northern Ireland Government.

12 noon.

Mr. Ede

I am advised that the words "tenure of office" cover this point. The tenure of office of civil servants in this country is now governed by the position which arose out of the repeal of the 1927 Act. A civil servant is now back in the position where the law is silent on what he may do. He may join an organisation, and that organisation can collectively decide what it will do about its own affiliations. He is not compelled to join an organisation, and the organisation which he joins is not compelled, against the wish of the majority of its members, to take any particular course of action with regard to affiliations. These people enjoy the tenure of office which has been created by the 1946 Act. When they are transferred to the Northern Irish Service, they will continue to enjoy the tenure of office, which is not worse than that which they now occupy. It would clearly be worse to impose any conditions one way or the other, whether or not the person should be a member of an organisation. There are 33 people involved, and I have made no inquiries as to their affiliations. I do not know whether my hon. Friend has the task of looking after the majority. All I do know is that he has spoken very well for them this morning. Therefore, I advise my hon. Friend that we may involve ourselves in further details about other points connected with tenure, if we attempt to specify in this way. I hope, in view of the assurance I have given, that my hon. Friend will withdraw his Amendment.

Mr. Bing

It seems to demonstrate to the Committee the desirability that where civil servants are working closely together, the same law should govern both the Northern Ireland and English civil servants. I hope, as a result of this Amendment, something will be done in Northern Ireland to give civil servants the same facilities as they enjoy here. In view of the explanation given by the Home Secretary, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

Mr. W. J. Brown

I wish to direct the attention of the Committee to that part of the Clause which provides that no member of the staff shall be in a worse position as respects tenure of office, remuneration, or superannuation rights…if he had not become an officer of the Government of Northern Ireland, and any question arising under the preceding provisions of this proviso, shall in default of agreement be referred to and determined by the Civil Service Committee for Northern Ireland whose determination shall be final and conclusive. We had a corresponding problem to deal with when the Southern Irish Counties became the Irish Free State after the first world war. We included in the Act, which defined the powers of the Government of Eire, provisions dealing with the position of civil servants transferred from the Imperial Service. We included provisions rather similar to those in this Clause, namely, that no member of the staff of the Imperial Government transferred to the Government of Southern Ireland should be in a worse position in respect of tenure of office, remuneration or superannuation rights. Those provisions gave rise to difficulties, and I am not sure that this Clause will not give rise to similar difficulties. For example, under the Act which dealt with Southern Ireland, we provided that if a civil servant of the Imperial Service felt that he was not getting the treatment he considered he ought to get, he was free to retire on his accrued superannuation rights. Many Imperial civil servants thought that they would not be well treated by the Southern Ireland Government, and they exercised that right. I notice that in this Clause we do not give a corresponding right to the civil servant who does not wish to transfer from the Imperial Government Service to the service of the Northern Ireland Government. That is a very big difference. We are not giving the right we gave under similar circumstances, when there was a question of transferring from the Imperial Service to the service of Southern Ireland.

My second point is this. It is very easy to know whether a man is worse off the day after the transfer. If he had £500 a year on the day of transfer and had £500 a year the day after, it is easy to see that he is not worse off. But the further away we get in time, the more difficult becomes this question of whether a man is or is not worse off than he would have been if he had not transferred. Perhaps I may illustrate this point by reference to something which was very much to the fore in the case of civil servants in Southern Ireland. The Southern Irish Civil Service and the English Civil Service were originally governed by the same cost of living arrangements, but at a later point in time the cost of living bonus arrangements in England were altered in one sense, and in Southern Ireland in another. The result was that in the case of Southern Ireland there emerged a cost-of-living figure which was radically different from the figure in England. The Southern Irish civil servant says that if he had continued to be governed by the English cost-of-living figure, he would have been better off, and that under the Act he is entitled to be put in a position no worse than he would have occupied if he had not transferred.

I give these illustrations to show the kind of difficulties which might arise at a later point in time. I notice that the Government have wisely included the provision whereby any question arising under the preceding provisions shall, in default of agreement, be referred to and determined by the Civil Service Committee for Northern Ireland. In other words, the Government hope that if these questions arise they will be settled by agreement, and if not, machinery will be provided whereby they can be settled, namely, the Civil Service Committee for Northern Ireland. Is the Home Secretary satisfied with the composition of the Civil Service Committee, and that it will enable trade union interests affected to speak freely and to be adequately represented on the committee?

Mr. Ede

Represented on or before the committee?

Mr. Brown

I should like them to be represented on the committee, because I have noticed, and may have cause to notice again before very long, that having the opportunity to give evidence may not be quite as valuable as being a member of the committee. All I am concerned with is to ensure that there shall be reasonable machinery to decide issues of this kind, if and when they should arise.

Mr. Ede

The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) has put to me three points. The first concerned the position of a man who does not wish to transfer to the Northern Ireland Service. The original Act of 1920 involved a very large number of people, and it was necessary to make specific provision in that Act for dealing with a situation that might arise. We are here dealing with 33 people, and I am able to say that if anyone should desire to remain in the English Service there is no doubt that we shall be able to absorb him into a position no worse than that which he now occupies. For what it is worth—and I hope it may be taken as being sufficient—I give the undertaking that that will be done in the case of any man desiring to remain. The second point put by the hon. Member concerned the question of what is meant by a man being in no worse position a few years hence, when changes take place. The interpretation we place on those words is that the man has to be in the same position, with regard to tenure of office, emoluments, and the conditions that are laid down, that he would have been in had he remained in the same office in the service of the United Kingdom Government. I make that general statement, and I hope it will be sufficient to cover that point.

Now we come to the question of the tribunal. I do not think it is usual on these occasions for disputants to be on the committee. My experience of Departmental Committees—and I have served on two—was that the witnesses who came in front of us appeared to be far more impartial on the subject which we considered than some members of the committee. I am certain that when the Departmental Committee on Private Schools first sat every member who entered the room for the first time knew exactly what he would say in the final report. That is not my view of a useful committee to deal with an arbitral matter of this kind. The Chairman of this body is a gentleman who is well known to both the hon. Member for Rugby and myself, Sir Maurice Holmes, who was the last Permanent Secretary to the Board of Education and the first Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Education. I had close association with him, and I am sure that under his chairmanship any point that either side desired to make would be heard, and that they would be given proper facilities for making it. None of us is immortal, and there will be a successor, in due course, to Sir Maurice Holmes, although I hope it will be a long time. The fact that a man so highly respected in the English Civil Service, and so well known for his impartiality, should desire to get to the bottom of such subjects as this is an indication of the temper with which the Northern Ireland Government have approached this important subject.

These 33 people are, of course, a tiny fraction of the English Civil Service, and a small fraction of the Northern Ireland Service, but I hope they will feel that this Clause, with the elucidation I have been able to give to the hon. Member for Rugby, will adequately safeguard their position on transfer or if they do not tesire to transfer.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.