HC Deb 17 July 1972 vol 841 cc173-6


Mr. Carol Johnson (Lewisham, South)

I beg to move Amendment No. 536, in page 38, line 14, after 'bodies', insert: 'and such organisations and persons representative of such officers and employees of any such council, authority or body'. This is the first of a series of Amendments which, in association with hon. Members on both sides of the House, have been tabled on behalf of the National and Local Government Officers' Association. In view of some of the interchanges which took place a little earlier, I had better begin by declaring an interest in so far as I act as one of NALGOs parliamentary consultants, although I think that the terms and conditions of that consultancy would not be likely to give much concern to any of my colleagues.

If a boundary commission or district council holds a review under this part of the Bill, it is required under Clause 62 to consult any local authorities directly affected by the review and also …such other local authorities and public bodies as appear to them to be concerned… The provision goes even further and extends to …such other persons as they think fit: This makes consultation very wide indeed, and it may be that the intention of the Clause is to cover the position of officers and employees of the authorities involved, as they would certainly be directly concerned and interested.

The right hon. Gentleman has several times in our debates referred to consultations with those concerned. It is surely desirable to have an express provision in the Clause making it mandatory for the commission or the district council to consult representatives of officers and staff who are to be affected by the review. I cannot see what the objection to this can be, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will find it possible to accept the Amendment.

Mr. Graham Page

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. Carol Johnson) for raising this point, since it is obviously of importance. There is no doubt that associations of officers and employees have much to contribute to the discussion of the pattern of local government and certainly have interests in it which should not be overlooked when a review of boundaries is taking place.

But there are difficulties, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman realises, in requiring the Commissions by statutory provision to consult those officers. For example, which of the many associations and which branches covering which local authorities or other bodies should be consulted? Local authorities do not have a unified staff body such as, for example, the Whitley staff side in Government Departments, so there is no association which we can mention in the statute as being one for consultation by the commission when undertaking a review. The commission would therefore have a most awkward and invidious task in deciding whom to consult.

In these circumstances, I think that it is best to leave the matter to the good sense of the associations to decide when they should make representations in any particular review, in the knowledge that such representations will always be welcomed by the commission and given very full consideration I cannot imagine any circumstances in which the commission would refuse to hear and discuss representations made by an association on behalf of local government staff. The issue here is essentially one of what is reasonable to put into the Bill and how to put it into the Bill, and not the principle of considering the views of employees' organisations, on which I am sure we are all agreed.

Since studying the Amendment, I have considered whether the Clause would cover the sort of associations which the hon. Member has in mind. It is true that the Clause does not go further than to talk about bodies to be consulted, but perhaps we might see whether one ought to insert"organisations and persons".

I hesitate to go further than that by trying to identify the staff associations, because there are many other people whom the commission may consult and if we mentioned just employees there is always the danger that by so doing we exclude the rest. I want to be certain that we include them, so I think that I should see whether it would be better to add at least the word "organisations", as suggested in the Amendment.

If the hon. Member will be good enough to leave it with me, I will discuss it with him and with the associations concerned to see whether that covers the case.

Mr. Denis Howell

I found the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's reply disappointing, but he redeemed himself in the second half. The question goes a little wider than staff associations, although those are, as my hon. Friend has said, of great importance. We have here the whole question of trade unionism and the right of trade unions to be consulted. My hon. Friend would be the first to agree that just as staff representatives have interests when there are these major changes in local government so also have the trade unions, because all services can be affected.

When the Bill speaks of local authorities and public bodies affected, it is saying, ipso facto, that it is a matter of concern to employers' organisations, because local government organisations and public bodies are organisations of employers. Trade unions have similar interests, and if one may be so bold as to say so, as they represent the people on the shop floor, people in the public service industries, they have unique opportunity to give advice. I was therefore glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that organisations as such ought to be thought about, and that he would undertake to think about them. The point might be made by a definition of public bodies, but however it is done I think that we can advise my hon. Friend to accept the Minister's undertaking, and leave the matter there for the time being.

Mr. Carol Johnson

I appreciate the Minister's understanding way of dealing with this group of Amendments. To some extent we anticipated his anxieties by not seeking in the Amendment to import specific reference to any organisation. I accept that there should be consultation with representatives of organisations and with persons, and I am happy to leave the Minister, having heard what has been said in this short debate, to see whether something can be written into the Bill later to cover the point.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave withdrawn.

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