HC Deb 26 February 1968 vol 759 cc1108-12

Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Alison

There is one point which should like to raise with the Minister. It is a matter of some substance, though I agree that it is at the same time a rather special and particular point. Perhaps I could draw the Minister's attention to this by referring to an Amendment which, unfortunately, was tabled too late, and therefore had to be starred. It has not been called, but it makes the point specifically.

I do not know whether the Under-Secretary of State at the Home Department noticed that my hon. Friends and I tried to table an Amendment to include regional hospital boards among the authorities which had the right to pay compensation to redundant civil servants, or civil defence workers, and at the same time receive grant aid.

12.15 a.m.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to confirm that the Government are aware of the fact that it is not only the local authorities and police authorities which are responsible for making payments and taking on civil defence workers; I can give him a specific instance which occurred in the South-West Regional Hospital Board where a man was taken on as a salaried civil defence worker in the hospital, concerned with taking care of various amenities and arrangements in the event of war or other catastrophe.

In the same context I want to draw the Minister's attention to some real difficulties which arise in the question of the estimation of the severance pay, or ex-gratia payment, or whatever the Minister may call the payment to be made under the Clause in respect of the man who will become redundant.

Let me give an illustration of my point. The case has been brought to my attention of a man who has suffered two crippling losses of income as a result of the general Government policy of retrenchment in defence and civil defence matters. This man was earning a salary of about £2,000 a year when employed at one of the Army Home Defence centres as a civil defence officer. His income, when that job rolled up in 1966, dropped from £2,000 to £1,100. When he switched to the South-West Regional Hospital. Board as a civil defence officer employed by the hospital board for civil defence purposes his scale of salary was within the bracket of £800-£1,000.

When compensation payments are being estimated, does the estimate include the full bracket—does it go from the bottom figure right to the top figure—and will compensation be judged on the basis of potential in the office in which the man has been declared redundant? Let us imagine that a man was taken on by the hospital board within the salary scale £800-£1,200. His potential earning expectation, wherever in the bracket he happens to be when declared redundant, must be taken into account.

If he is going to have to take on a job in another place in which the salary bracket is lower—perhaps from £600 to £1,100, instead of £800 to £1,200—the compensation paid to him should take some account of the fact that the loss of ability to earn the maximum in his salary scale, as a result of having to leave one job and go to another, is a real factor to take into account. Will the Parliamentary Secretary make certain that regional hospital boards will be included among those authorities by whom compensation can be paid and, at the same time, will he take into account the fact that a man, although he might not have been earning the maximum within his salary scale, has some reason to expect what he could ultimately earn in the post had he been able to stay in it?

The compensation payable will presumably have some reference to the kind of subsequent employment which a redundant civil defence officer finds. If he moves straight into a job in which he gets more money than he did as a civil defence employee there does not seem to be much case for paying him compensation for loss of job. If this is the case is it the Government's intention to wait to see what subsequent job each redundant civil defence worker gets, so that they can assess what compensation is considered morally obligatory upon them?

If this is so, employees declared redundant will obviously wait as long as possible before taking positions at high salaries or will take positions at low salaries and hope to persuade the Government that they have taken a hard knock. What will be the basis of assessment? The Clause is vague. Are local authorities to base their calculations on the loss between the job they have and the job they move into, or on a flat and arbitrary basis?

Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon North)

Before the Minister addresses the Committee, may I pay tribute to the Government for the fact that this Clause expresses most aptly, appropriately and lucidly the total doubt which obviously still existed about the cuts in civil defence and their effects when they were introduced. The Committee will recall the questioning of the Under-Secretary of State last week about the care and maintenance basis and further probing showed that he did not know what was involved. It is logical. We have waited some time and the Government are still finding out what the cuts imply and infer, and some of the Government's, supporters are making similar discoveries and not finding them palatable.

We are told that reduction or discontinuance will save £20 million a year and it would be interesting to know how the sum is worked out. Only by seeing whether it is the correct sum can we know that the total compensation of £¼ million attracting 75 per cent. Exchequer grant is reasonable, having regard to the circumstances. Perhaps the Government will for the first time draw back the veil on their intentions for civil defence. In Clause 4 they say that compensation may be paid to such persons as may be so prescribed and who suffer loss of employment or loss or diminution of emoluments". Have they any idea at the moment whether or not, or in what categories, whether part-time or full-time, and if part-time what is the ceiling and whether the compensation is to be based on service or on financial reward attracted or whether on the skill which has been given? It would be interesting to know that. My suspicion is that the Government do not know the answers. If they give them to the Committee tonight, it will be the first time the information has been given. In subsection (3), which is the best piece of Government drafting to do what the Government have not the remotest idea of what they are doing, they say Different regulations may be made under this section in relation to different classes of persons, and regulations so made may include provision as to the manner in which and the person to whom any claim for compensation under this section is to be made". What different classes of persons have they in mind? Is that still in contemplation by the Government or are there firm proposals? Can we know what classes they are, how the £¼ million compensation is to be arrived at, how it is to be linked with the redundancy payments to which certain members of civil defence would be entitled, and how this is to be set off against the £ ¼million compensation?

This is a golden opportunity for the Government, in asking the Committee to give them carte blanche, to make these regulations to say who are in the categories affected and who will not receive compensation.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Ennals)

I should not like to go into all the details which will undoubtedly be dealt with on Thursday in the debate on the cuts in civil defence expenditure. I do not for a moment accept what the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) says about the answers at Question Time. If he wishes to protest further, he may do so during the debate.

The Clause principally concerns about 2,500 local authority employees, about half of whom are in specialist civil defence posts and the remainder in clerical, administrative or manual posts. It is expected that local authorities will be able to transfer some to other work, but it is too early to tell how many. We would expect most to be transferred from civil defence work, or, if necessary, outside, by June, 1968, and almost all by the end of September, 1968. Compensation is unlikely to exceed £250,000, which is small compared with the expected saving of £7 million a year on local authority civil defence. The hon. Member dealt with a very small number who are not covered because the tasks on which hospital boards employ these people are not imposed by Regulations under the Civil Defence Act, 1948. So there would be no redundancies because of revocation or amendment of such Regulations.

However, about 10 people in Scotland and eight in England and Wales are likely to be made redundant, but it is improbable that a compensation claim will arise in more than three cases. Provisions have been made for this and payments will be on the basis given in the Clause. This is the same as for local authority reorganisation, accepting the principles of the Crombie Code.

Mr. Alison

Precisely how will these emoluments be determined for regional hospital employees by the local authority or police authority, since there must be some basis for computing how to disperse this £250,000? Will it be based on loss of expectation of earnings or on drop of earnings on transfer?

Mr. Ennals

The compensation Regulations would be the same as in previous similar cases of local government re-organisation, which local authorities and their staffs have accepted as reasonable. Although some principles have been laid down, this is for negotiation between local authorities, and this will apply to the regional boards. It is not just a question of the redundant but of the loss of emoluments by the small number of doctors as much as by the civil defence workers covered by the Clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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