HC Deb 30 July 1953 vol 518 cc1536-40
The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. R. A. Butler)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to inform the House that, in the opinion of Her Majesty's Government, the time has come for a comprehensive review of the pay of the Civil Service (including the principles which should govern it) and of certain other conditions of service such as hours and leave. For this purpose the Queen has been pleased to signify her intention of setting up a Royal Commission. I will, with permission, circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT the full text of the proposed terms of reference. The Chairman will be Sir Raymond Priestley. The names of the other members will be announced later.

Mr. Attlee

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman what is the reason for setting up a Royal Commission on this matter? It seems unusual to announce it at the end of the Session, seeing that for many years these matters have been dealt with by Whitley Councils, which have all the information at their disposal with regard to comparisons of rates, wages, holidays and the rest. It is not at all clear to us what the Royal Commission is to inquire into. Is it with a view to improving the conditions?

Mr. Butler

The answer to the right hon. Gentleman is that it has been found that, about every 20 years, a review of this sort is necessary, and it is now 20 years since we had the last Royal Commission. On looking back, hon. Members will find that in these intervals some review of the Civil Service, which serves us so well, becomes necessary. What we need is some review of the pay structure of the modern Civil Service against the background of the modern society in which they have to work; and secondly, to look again at the principles upon which the pay of the Civil Service should be regulated.

Mr. Attlee

Surely, is not that a matter of Government policy? I am a little puzzled why there should be a Royal Commission, particularly in view of the choice of the chairman, who does not seem to be anybody with particular acquaintance with the subject, but one who has been mainly interested in Antarctic matters.

Mr. Butler

I do not suppose the right hon. Gentleman would wish to cast too cold a mantle on this singularly distinguished man, who has been vice-chancellor of two universities, is a man of distinction in many fields and of very wide experience. I personally consider that we are very lucky to get a man of such varied experience as chairman. The other question was why it should be a Royal Commission and should not be left to the Government. Strange to relate, there are some matters better done by Royal Commission than by any Government.

Miss Ward

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether the terms of reference will include yet another examination into the question of equal pay?

Mr. Butler

The question of equal pay is within the terms of reference, but, as the House knows, the Government's policy on this matter has already been stated; namely, that we are in favour of the general principle, and that we hope to make progress on the matter as soon as the economic and financial circumstances of the country permit. I shall draw the attention of the Commission to this statement.

Mr. W. R. Williams

Why will not the Chancellor be frank with the House? Surely it is not sufficient to say that, because we have not had a Royal Commission for 20 years, we want one now, irrespective of the need for it? Why does not the Chancellor be frank and tell us what gave rise to the suggestion in the mind of the Government?

Mr. Butler

I have told the House all that is in my mind, but if the hon. Gentleman wishes to plant some sinister ideas in it, he had better tell me them afterwards, and I will digest them.

Mr. Pannell

In so far as the Chancellor of the Exchequer has indicated that the Government accept the principle of equal pay, can we take it that the Treasury will not again be allowed to obstruct by putting in any back-door papers on this matter?

Mr. Butler

I am not aware that the Treasury has obstructed in the matter. The position of the Government remains clear, and I do not believe that it differs very much from that of the party opposite. The question is when the situation will arise which will make it possible to go ahead with this desirable reform.

Mr. Houghton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that all these matters are within the scope of the long-established machinery of joint negotiation of the Civil Service National Whitley Council, and that he has given the staff side of the National Whitley Council, of which I am a member, only one week in which to consider his intentions, the reasons for them, and to make observations upon them? Is he further aware that there has been no failure, neglect, deadlock or other obstruction in the working of this machinery which would justify the transfer of these matters to another body?

Further, does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the appointment of this Royal Commission will hamstring the whole of this machinery while it is sitting, and, finally, is he aware that the staff side of the National Whitley Council have declared that this step is wholly unwelcome? Is the right hon. Gentleman willing to reconsider such a grave decision impairing the joint negotiation machinery in the public service?

Mr. Butler

I would not accept the hon. Gentleman's statements despite his long experience in these matters. I value this joint machinery which has worked exceedingly well, and I am glad to say that relations have been very well maintained. We have explained to the staff side that there is no question of putting a spanner in the works, or stopping the machinery working. It will not be the case that the Commission will completely upset the machinery, and we have explained that to the staff side. Lastly, while the hon. Member has his own source of knowledge and his own authority, I would not accept, from my own experience, the suggestion that what is proposed is wholly unwelcome.

Mr. H. Morrison

Can the right hon. Gentleman say, unlike his refusal to say yesterday in connection with another matter, whether in relation to the work of this Royal Commission and the evidence which, presumably, the Government will give, the Government have a line on the subject of the inquiry?

Mr. Butler

Unlike certain previous Administrations, this Government has a line on everything. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Government will faithfully put their view before this Royal Commission. The Commission is designed to be in the interest of the Civil Service as a whole, and I am sure it will be so.

Mr. Morrison

As the Chancellor has stated that the Government have a line upon everything—which is interesting—presumably, therefore, they have a line upon this, and surely the right hon. Gentleman ought to tell the House now what that line is.

Mr. Butler

We have a great deal of other business to do today, and I am satisfied that the Royal Commission will carry out its task in the best interests of all concerned.

Mr. Beresford Craddock

Do I understand that the terms of reference are to include an inquiry into the present structure of the Civil Service in order to satisfy ourselves that it is capable of falling in with the requirements of modern conditions?

Mr. Butler

I referred to the pay structure, and the hon. Member should accept that as the accurate description, and then read the terms of reference which I am circulating.

Mr. Callaghan

Does not the Chancellor realise how thin it sounds when he says that we do this sort of thing about every 20 years in view of the fact that there has been a re-organisation of the structure of the Civil Service since the end of the war? If he bases his case on this, why has he drawn the terms of reference so narrowly that this time they include only pay and conditions of service which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) says, are dealt with by a complex of trade union and Whitley Council negotiations? What deductions does the right hon. Gentleman expect us to draw from a situation in which he is not willing to allow the Royal Commission to review the organisation and structure of the Civil Service, but merely to look at their pay and conditions of service?

Mr. Butler

I said that it was necessary to deal with the principles upon which the pay structure is based, and it will be within the terms of reference to look into the hours of work, remuneration for extra duty, annual leave allowance, and matters of this sort. As this has been designed in the interest of the Civil Service, I hope that the House will consider it in that spirit.

Mr. Speaker

I have to inform the House that there are two other statements of considerable length, and that we have a short time in which to debate a very interesting topic after that.

Following are the terms of reference:

To consider and to make recommendations on certain questions concerning the conditions of service of civil servants within the ambit of the Civil Service National Whitley Council, viz.:—

  1. (a) Whether any changes are desirable in the principles which should govern pay; or in the rates of pay at present in force for the main categories—bearing in mind in this connection the need for a suitable relationship between the pay of those categories;
  2. (b) Whether any changes are desirable in the hours of work, arrangements for overtime and remuneration for extra duty, and annual leave allowances;
  3. (c) Whether any changes are desirable within the framework of the existing superannuation scheme.