HC Deb 29 June 1971 vol 820 cc320-5
Mr. Bishop

I beg to move Amendment No. 49, in page 65, line 19 leave out 'and remuneration'.

Mr. Speaker

I think that it would be convenient to discuss at the same time Amendment No. 50, in page 65, line 27, out 'and remuneration'.

Mr. Bishop

I hope that the Minister's good will in accepting our Amendments will continue a little longer, because these Amendments are very important. We are concerned about paragraph 12 of the Schedule, dealing with staff, which says: The Authority may appoint such officers and servants as it may determine with the consent of the Secretary of State as to numbers and remuneration … We believe that the Secretary of State should not involve himself with remuneration.

There is an extra hurdle for the employees in this connection. Paragraph 12(4) says: The Secretary of State shall not give his consent in pursuance of sub-paragraph (1) of this paragraph except with the approval of the Minister for the Civil Service. Although this is not specified, we recognise that this is another hurdle, the evil genius behind our prices and incomes policy—who may be the Prime Minister himself. In this situation, we are concerned not only with pay but also with pensions, allowances and gratuities as well.

The Bill deals with a situation in which civil servants will no longer be civil servants. One would have thought that they should be in the same position as employees in any commercial concern to bargain alternative arrangements. The Schedule requires that adequate machinery in the negotiation and settlement of pay claims should be set up.

After the many hours of debate on the Industrial Relations Bill, even the most industrially ignorant Member must begin to realise that the basic reason behind many of our industrial troubles— the unrest and possibly the strikes—is the frustration arising from slow and cumbersome negotiation followed by a veto on agreed levels of pay. That may well be the situation in these circumstances.

9.30 p.m.

After the Authority and the staff have come to terms—that may take a considerable time, perhaps a year—the agreement may not be ratified by the Secretary of State, but if it is, then it may not be endorsed by the Minister for the Civil Service. Then there is the extra time limit that is involved, with all the frustrations and ensuing industrial troubles that may flow from that.

Commenting on Schedule 1 in Committee the right hon. Gentleman claimed the right of the Secretary of State to intervene because, he said, in the first few years the Government would be paying a subsidy—that is, until the C.A.A. becomes self-supporting in, it is hoped, five or six years. Some may claim that this gives the Government a moral right to endorse remuneration levels, but is this principle to be applied to other industries, both private and public, to which the Government give financial assistance? If so, is this not a dangerous precedent to set in this Measure?

After all, it could apply to any situation where the Government advance money to help lame ducks, whether in the public or private sector. Will the Government have to agree to all pay claims before they are settled? This seems a most dangerous precedent to set.

The right hon. Gentleman claimed that the real purpose was to control the levels of remuneration of the senior staff, but he could not define what he meant. We must, therefore, take it that he means everyone—he said as much himself— which seems a hamfisted way of drafting a Measure of this kind.

I suspect that the real reason is the introduction of a form of back-door incomes control. It ill becomes a Government who are shuffling off the cost—of many of the services they provide in air navigation and so on—on to the shoulders of the C.A.A. and, subsequently, on to the passengers by higher fares, to seek to lighten the load in the first few years and, in so doing, to stake a right for all time to control salaries and wages in this sphere.

If the Minister is sincere in what he says—and I do not doubt his sincerity —about the C.A.A. in the first few years until it becomes self-supporting, he should at least amend the Bill to ensure that when that stage has been reached and the Authority is not in receipt of Government help, the Government will no longer be interested in endorsing the remuneration of the staff. This is justified in the circumstances.

Both Ministers proved to be extremely pleasant fellows throughout our Committee deliberations. Time and again they agreed absolutely with what we sought to do, though they would not agree with the way we sought to do it. I certainly could not accuse them of any sinister intrigue, but I fear I cannot say the same of some of their Government colleagues.

It seems to many of us that as the Government were elected on a pledge and promise to take Whitehall off the backs of the people and stop interfering in our affairs, the Minister should accept this chance to enhance his reputation, following the excellent way in which he has conducted these proceedings, by finally saying that he agrees with us. He cannot have any real reason to oppose the Amendment. I trust that he will now say, "We no longer intend to veto wage claims in these cases".

Considering that there are over 500 references in the Bill which enable the Minister to intervene in what the Authority is doing or wants to do, the right hon. Gentleman should take the advice which he gave me about it not being good for the Government to intervene in endorsing and terminating, except in the case of the chairmen of the Corporations. He should accept his own advice and accept the Amendment. An important principle is at stake and I trust that the sort of precedent to which I have referred will not be set—or are we to take it that the Government wish to interfere in other sectors where financial help is given?

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

I am sure that the Minister is aware that recently the chairman of the Air Transport Licensing Board complained publicly, and quite bitterly, that his staff were being drafted to set up the new Civil Aviation Authority. I hope that the Minister will not think that this is a Committee point, because it has occurred since the Committee Stage ended and is a very recent development. Since the Minister appears to have given unto himself the power to regulate the pay and conditions of some of the servants of the Authority, obviously he will have to give consent to their recruitment. I refer the Minister to the precedent set by the creation of the Air Transport Licensing Board, which also meant the recruitment of civil servants to set up the new Board. In the setting up of that Board I understand that the staff were given the choice of returning to their old Department if they wished after a period of service with the new Board.

If A.T.L.B. and other staff are to be drafted to staff the new Authority, and if they are not to be given the choice of returning to their old Departments after 12 months, this seems to be a rather serious matter. Though it is not, perhaps, directly related to the point made by my hon. Friend, I hope that the Minister can provide some reply tonight because this is becoming a very important issue.

Mr. Noble

I will try to give an answer to the point made by the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield) before I conclude my remarks.

The hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Bishop) followed the line of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) in saying that this was the way in which the Government were trying to operate an incomes policy in restricted areas, particularly of the public service. But this is completely to misunderstand the purpose of these words. The power to control remuneration here is no different from the power in Schedule 1 to the Development of Tourism Act, 1969, which the hon. Gentleman's Government introduced and which equally had nothing to do with their incomes policy. The purpose of this power, just in the same way as the power in that Act, is to provide for control over the expenditure of a grant-aided body. The hon. Gentleman is quite content to retain control over staff numbers, but he must realise that this by itself would be insufficient for that purpose without a parallel control over the levels of their pay.

I repeat what I said to the Committee. The intention is to exercise this control only over senior officials of the Authority, and here, again, the example I gave was of those at the level of Assistant Secretary and above in the Civil Service, who receive, as the hon. Gentleman knows, a pretty high level of pay. It is certainly not our intention to exercise this control in such a way as to impede the Authority in carrying out its functions. To these assurances I can now add that we have not included this power for the purpose that the hon. Gentleman has attributed to us. Rather sadly, because it so happens that this is the last Amendment appearing on the Order Paper, I must ask the Committee not to accept the Amendment.

I will write to the hon. Member for Nuneaton about the answer to his question, because my appreciation of the information that has been brought to me is not entirely clear, and I cannot give him the answer that I should like to give.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

I stress that this is a most important point which must involve many of the officials in the Minister's Department. The Chairman of the A.T.L.B. has publicly expressed concern about it.

Mr. Noble

This is just the reason why I should like to write to the hon. Gentleman. I know what the answer is as regards the Air Registration Board staff but not as regards the A.T.L.B. staff. I do not want to mislead either the hon. Gentleman or the House by giving an inaccurate answer.

Mr. Bishop

I am disappointed that even at this late stage the Minister has not been forthcoming. However, there is no doubt that the terms of the negotiations on pay and numbers are probably within the ambit of the National Joint Council.

I am glad that the Minister recognises the importance of the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield). Will the Minister consider adding that letter to the bundles which he has sent to members of the Standing Committee; and perhaps he will consider making it an appendix to the Committee's proceedings?

Amendment negatived.

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