HC Deb 17 July 1959 vol 609 cc824-6

3.40 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Richard Nugent)

I beg to move, That the Transferred Undertakings (Compensation to Employees) Regulations, 1959, a draft of which was laid before this House on 2nd July, be approved. These Regulations, which run to some length, cover quite a small subject. They relate to the employees of the Caledonian and Crinan Canals and the Holyhead Harbour, and I should like to give a short explanation so that the House may understand their subject matter.

The canals passed from the Minister of Transport to the British Transport Commission in April, 1948, under the Transport Act, 1947. The employees on the canals, 145 in number, were then given Civil Service terms and conditions. The Holyhead Harbour, in a slightly different category, with eighteen employees, also passed to the British Transport Commission in 1948, also under the authority of the Transport Act, 1947, and the employees there were directly entitled to Civil Service terms and conditions.

The 1947 Act provided that my right hon. Friend could make regulations for compensating these two classes of employees and others either for loss of employment, loss or diminution of earnings or pension rights, or worsening of conditions due to the transfer. In fact, no regulations have been made until now because the undertakings concerned operated exactly as before with no displacement of staff. Their new conditions were as good as the previous terms, and no claims had appeared until the middle of 1957. In 1957, due I believe to some change in the rental arrangements of the houses in which two of these employees lived at Holyhead Harbour, the solicitors acting for those two employees told us that they thought they might have a cause for claiming compensation. Consequently, we decided that regulations should be made in case the claim should mature.

The draft of these Regulations was made without much delay and was agreed with the three trade unions concerned, the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, the Transport and General Workers' Union and the National Union of Railwaymen. But, as is not uncommon in these cases, legal problems arose. The lawyers began to study this matter and delay followed, which was not resolved until early this year, finally by reference to the Law Officers. The result was that the Regulations missed what normally would have been the expiring date for making Orders, on 31st March, 1958, but the House will observe that there is a provision for the compensation to be retrospective. That will ensure that if a claim is made and does lie, my right hon. Friend can authorise its payment. Therefore, by making these Regulations the House will put the British Transport Commission in a position to pay compensation to these two employees if a claim is made and established.

3.44 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)

We are again grateful for the explanation. One could not have guessed that all this large amount of paper, nine-tenths of which "is incomprehensible, exists because there are two employees in Holyhead Harbour who, because of some change in their rent, may feel that they have a case for compensation. It seems that there is nobody else employed by the Caledonian Canal who has looked like putting forward a claim up to now.

Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)

I would remind my right hon. Friend that if the Rent Act had not been introduced by the present Government these Regulations would not have been necessary.

Mr. Strauss

I see. The Government themselves, because of the Rent Act, are responsible for having to bring these Regulations before the House.

It is very admirable that all this large amount of work has been carried out by the Law Officers and others to protect the rights of two humble employees at Holyhead Harbour. Though no doubt a great deal of work and anxiety has been devoted to this matter, it is right that no employee of a nationalised industry or of the Government should have any rights taken away if they can be properly protected.

Therefore, while I regret the amount of work that has been necessary, I congratulate those who have done it, I think that the House will pass very willingly this Statutory Instrument, which gives permission to the Minister, if a case is presented by the two individuals, for the Minister to pay the compensation to which these two men may be due. I am sure that the House will pass without any regret or delay the Instrument now before it.

Question put and agreed to.