HC Deb 20 July 1972 vol 841 cc1076-85


Mr. Carol Johnson

I beg to move Amendment No. 517, to leave out Clause 249.

Mr. Speaker

I understand that it will be convenient to discuss at the same time Government Amendments No. 852 to 861.

Mr. Johnson

Because of the lateness of the hour, there will not be adequate time to give this Clause the attention which it merits. I understand that it came before the Committee at a very late stage and was never considered there. It should now receive the attention of the House.

The first point to be made is that the Clause is opposed by all the trade unions associated in local government. That, it seems to me, is a bad basis upon which to build.

The purpose of the Clause is clear. It is to prevent employing authorities from making unjustified late increases in pay or grading in anticipation of, or prior to, the appointed day; namely, 1st April, 1974. That seems at first blush to be a reputable objective, but, and it is a big "but", the Government appear to be unaware of, or indifferent to, the fact that it could serve a different purpose.

It could encourage and might tempt some authorities to use it as a reason for not conducting normal reviews of establishment, or revising grading of posts, in instances of increased duties or responsibilities. I am not advancing any new doctrine. This is the view of NALGO, the union principally concerned, as has been made clear many times and as is well known to the Minister, who, by the way, did not think it necessary even to discuss the proposed Clause with the union most concerned.

Mr. Graham Page

To which union is the hon. Member referring?

Mr. Johnson


Mr. Denis Howell

I understand that there was no consultation with any unions representing employees of local authorities.

Mr. Graham Page


Mr. Johnson

That confirms my information that they were not consulted.

As long ago as October last, commenting on the consultation paper, NALGO stressed the need to avoid interference with normal reviews of establishments and applications for regarding, or the operation of existing provincial and national appeals machinery. What it fears and has cause to fear is that the Clause will create difficulties for staff who are now at a disadvantage because of below average grading of posts compared with other authorities merging to form a new council. It could seriously affect the moral of staff in the new authorities if such an inequitable situation were to be created.

NALGO has never adopted a hostile attitude to any provision designed to deal with the problem of what has been called the extraordinary award. Had it been called in for free discussion and consultation before the Clause was embodied in the Bill, it would strongly have urged that any action by a local authority affecting staff could properly be dealt with within the established joint negotiating machinery and not through an employers' agency, as proposed by the Clause—for that is what the advisory body mentioned will be, namely, the Local Authorities Conditions of Service Advisory Board.

For all those reasons, I hope that the Minister will think seriously about withdrawing the Clause in toto and will take up with NALGO and the other unions concerned the question of how to deal with the problems that they have in mind without destroying morale and ignoring the machinery which now exists to deal with these cases.

Mr. Blaker

I have been in correspondence with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary about representations made to me by the chairman of the officers' side of the Joint Negotiating Committee for Chief Officers of Local Authorities, and I want to make one further observation arising out of a recent letter that I have received from Mr. Jolliffe. However, before I do that I should like to take this opportunity to speak of the staff of my own authority which, being a county borough, will suffer more disruption than most other authorities as a result of the proposed changes.

I much admire the work which the staff have done and are doing in difficult circumstances. Mr. Jolliffe accepts that the Government have made some concessions on this clause but he says that he and his associates would still like to see something rather different substituted for the Clause, although he accepts that at this stage of the Bill that is not likely.

However, he has asked me to make this point. He is seriously concerned about the advice that the Local Authorities' Conditions of Service Advisory Board and the Department of the Environment seem to be giving to some authorities, advice that he and his associates regard as harsh and restrictive. He makes a comparison between this advice and the advice which was given by the relevant Department in relation to the notification procedures under the former prices and incomes policy, which was operated by the previous Government, the purpose of which was to operate a virtual freeze on wages and salaries. He takes the view, which, I think, is justified, that this is not the purpose of this Clause, which is rather to safeguard the future position of officers of local authorities.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will look into this complaint which I have received from Mr. Jolliffe, and, perhaps, give us some assurance upon it.

11.30 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page

I was quite astonished at the allegation that I had not consulted NALGO on this Clause, that I had not discussed it with NALGO, and had not discussed with NALGO all the Amendments on the Paper. On two occasions I did, with NALGO's officers, in long interviews, at long meetings. I have discussed it with the clerks' associations. I have discussed it with all those concerned in the operation of this Clause.

This Clause is intended to avoid pay drift; that is to say, increases in salaries or gradings of any individual in local government service during the period before reorganisation. This occurred on the previous reorganisation of local government, particularly in the case of London. For any Government to have ignored it on this occasion would have been absolutely criminal. The Clause is for the protection of the staff. If the staff of one local authority is given a privilege over all others in the same grade, then it is time the Government stepped in and gave a backing to those other local authorities which wish this not to happen.

This was the procedure we laid down in Clause 249 and which I have discussed so many times with those concerned. The procedure is as simple as we can make it, that the local authority employers' associations will require information from local authorities of certain increases in salaries. I have assured NALGO and the others concerned that this in no way affects normal negotiations on all staff matters or the normal negotiations on grading or any of their terms of service. It is restricted entirely to these exceptional cases where one authority is trying to jump the gun. There was one notorious case in the last few weeks. I wished this Clause had been in operation so I could have brought it into operation in that particular case.

The point here is we are giving a backing to the local authority employers' associations in preventing this from happening by a procedure of its being reported, if necessary after negotiations have failed, to the Secretary of State, who can make a direction, first, that the information be supplied, and secondly, that the increase in salary or grading improperly made should not take place.

The Secretary of State will only intervene in that way when he is asked to do so by the employers. He sets them to get the information and provide him with the information. He will only intervene after giving both sides the opportunity to make their case—and, of course, the staff side. I have given NALGO that absolute assurance. No action will be taken by the Secretary of State unless he is quite sure that the opportunity has been given for this to go before their council and for representations to be made to him.

The Secretary of State will intervene only upon occurrences which occurred before 1st April, 1974. This is entirely a transitional matter. Once the new councils have come into operation this does not need to go on any longer. The body which will collect the information and will negotiate long before it ever goes to the Secretary of State will be the employers' association. I can call it, in brief, LACSAB. It will, however, be nothing more than a fact-collecting body in this capacity and then the matter will, if necessary, be reported eventually to the Secretary of State. It would have been quite impossible for any Government with the experience of what happened on previous local government reorganisation to neglect to lay down some procedure of this sort. The argument has, of course, been over the form of procedure.

I had hoped that I had satisfied NALGO with the Amendments which are now on the Notice Paper. I shall not go through them in detail because they carry out the sort of procedure I have tried briefly to explain. But I have tried throughout to draft the Clause in a form which will satisfy the staff associations, and in particular NALGO. I thought after the last meeting I had with NALGO that I had satisfied it and that it would be satisfied with the Amendments which are now on the Notice Paper.

Mr. Blaker

Will my right hon. Friend deal with my point about the advice which, it is alleged, has already been given by LACSAB and his Department before the Bill has become an Act and which, it is said, is rather harsh and restrictive?

Mr. Page

I do not think it is advice. It is the document which has been sent out by LACSAB stating the sort of information which it wants from the local authorities of increases in salary. It is not exactly advice. It is setting out the items on which LACSAB would require information.

Mr. Denis Howell

This is a very important matter of principle. I am sorry the hour is so late but nevertheless it is necessary briefly to try to confound what the Minister has said. I listened carefully to his remarks. Three or four times he referred to the employers' organisations by which this is to be decided. The right hon. Gentleman has a terrible abbreviated title for them. He calls them LACSAB. For the benefit of the ignorant, which includes myself, I should explain that they are the Local Authorities' Conditions of Service Advisory Board.

It is precisely that which gives offence not only to NALGO but to every member of the TUC which is a member of a national joint council. They all strongly object to matters affecting salaries being determined by the employers' organisation alone. As far as I can ascertain, it has never happened anywhere before. This is one of the matters of principle that causes them great concern.

Secondly, I must tell the Minister that what he regards as consultation does not accord with what we on this side think of as consultation. The history of this important Clause—249—is that it was tabled on the very last day of the Committee stage upstairs, which was 20th March. The first time the Minister met anybody—which was NALGO and not the other unions—was on 22nd March. In other words, the Minister's idea of consultation is to table a Clause on the last day of the Committee stage and then condescended to meet the trade union representatives two days after the Committee stage has been completed.

That is not good enough. It fixes for the first time salaries for some local government officers without the staff unions or the other unions having a right to have a say. There has been no consultation in the proper sense of that term. NALGO and the other unions affected are entitled to feel aggrieved.

Mr. Graham Page

I cannot understand what the hon. Gentleman is referring to after all the consultation I have had with NALGO officials. What sort of consultation does he say would be proper consultation?

Mr. Howell

Proper consultation, as anybody involved in industrial relations knows, is to call in the unions and discuss one's proposals with them in the formative stage, not after one publishes them

in an Amendment on the Paper of a Committee upstairs on the very last day. One does not consult people after one has decided one's policy. In a matter of good industrial relations, one consults them during the formation of the policy and before hard and fast ideas have been determined. It is not only the omission to consult which shows a fundamental failure by the Government to understand the purpose and practice of good industrial relations; but even after all the consultation to say "We shall have this matter decided by the Local Authorities' Conditions of Service Advisory Board"—by the employers, and not by the traditional means, which is the national joint councils, of which both sides of the local government service are members—

Mr. Graham Page

I never said that the matter would be decided by the emloyers. I made it perfectly clear that the Joint Negotiating Committees would have an opportunity to discuss it and the Secretary of State would want to know whether they had discussed it before he made any direction. It is wrong to say that the matter will be decided by the employers. LACSAB will collect the information.

Mr. Howell

If the right hon. Gentleman wanted the national joint councils to be involved, he should have included them in his proposals.

We on this side of the House regard this as a matter of important principle, involving proper industrial relations and trade union conditions of service, and I shall advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to register that opinion in the Lobby.

Question put, That the Amendment be made: —

The House divided: Ayes 45, Noes, 98.

Division No. 307.] AYES [11.43 p.m.
Atkinson, Norman Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Probert, Arthur
Barnes, Michael John, Brynmor Roderick, Caerwyn E.(Br'c'n&R'dnor)
Bennett, James(Glasgow,Bridgeton) Jones, Barry (Flint, E.) Rowlands, Ted
Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.) Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen) Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Davies, Denzil (Llanelly) Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, W.) Spriggs, Leslie
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Kaufman, Gerald Stallard, A. W.
Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove) Kinnock, Neil Steel, David
Deakins, Eric Latham, Arthur Thomas,Rt. Hn.George (Cardiff,W.)
Edwards, William (Merioneth) McBride, Neil Torney, Tom
Evans, Fred Marshall, Dr. Edmund Urwin, T. W.
Foot, Michael Molloy, William Whitehead, Phillip
Gilbert, Dr. John Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Golding, John Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon)
Hamling, William Oakes, Gordon TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Pentland, Norman Mr. Ernest Armstrong and Mr. Donald Coleman.
Hughes, Rt Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey) Prescott, John
Adley, Robert Green, Alan Normanton, Tom
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Havers, Michael Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby)
Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian Hawkins, Paul Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Atkins, Humphrey Higgins, Terence L. Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis
Batsford, Brian Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.) Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport) Hill, James (Southampton, Test) Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Benyon, W. Hornby, Richard Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.)
Berry, Hn. Anthony Hornsby-Smith,Rt.Hon.Dame Patricia Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Biggs-Davison, John Hunt, John Russell, Sir Ronald
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.) Iremonger, T. L. Scott, Nicholas
Boscawen, Robert James, David Scott-Hopkins, James
Brinton, Sir Tatton Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead) Sharples, Sir Richard
Buck, Antony Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.) Sinclair, Sir George
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Jopling, Michael Speed, Keith
Chichester-Clark, R. Kershaw, Anthony Spence, John
Clark, William (Surrey, E.) Kinsey, J. R. Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Kirk, Peter Stokes, John
Clegg, Walter Knight, Mrs. Jill Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Corfield, Rt. Hn. Sir Frederick Knox, David Tebbit, Norman
Crouch, David Longden, Sir Gilbert Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid,Maj.-Gen.James Loveridge, John Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Hendon, S.)
Dixon, Piers Luce, R. N. Trew, Peter
Dykes, Hugh Maddan, Martin Vickers, Dame Joan
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Madel, David Waddington, David
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Meyer, Sir Anthony Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)
Eyre, Reginald Miscampbell, Norman Wells, John (Maidstone)
Fenner, Mrs. Peggy Moate, Roger White, Roger (Gravesend)
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Money, Ernle Winterton, Nicholas
Fortescue, Tim Montgomery, Fergus Wylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.
Fox, Marcus Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)
Gibson-Watt, David Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm. TELLERS FOR THE NOES
Glyn, Dr. Alan Morrison, Charles Mr. Hamish Gray and Mr. Oscar Murton.
Gower, Raymond Neave, Airey

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendments made: No. 852, in page 177, line 13, leave out from second 'to' to 'the' in line 17 and insert: 'consider any increase made or proposed to be made by an existing local authority outside Greater London in the remuneration of any of their employees. (2) For the purpose of enabling them to carry out their functions under this section'.

No. 853, in page 177, line 20, leave out 'appropriate Minister' and insert 'Secretary of State'.

No. 854, in page 177, line 26, leave out from beginning to 'employee' in line 34 and insert: (3) If it appears to the advisory body that an existing local authority outside Greater London has fixed or proposes to fix for any employee or class of employee of theirs a rate of remuneration which, having regard to any recommended levels of remuneration formulated on a national basis by representatives of local authorities and employees of local authorities, is greater than that which the advisory body considers appropriate for that.

No. 855, in page 177, line 41, leave out from 'recommendation' to 'may' in line 43 and insert: 'then, after giving notice in writing to the local authority concerned of their intention to do so, they may refer the matter to the Secretary of State, and on such a reference the Secretary of State, after consultation with such persons appearing to him to be representative of local authorities and of employees of local authorities as he considers appropriate in relation to the employee or class of employees concerned'.

No. 856, in page 177, line 45, leave out from 'which' to 'as' in line 2 on page 178 and insert: 'notice was given to them by the advisory body) to pay such employee or class of employees of theirs as was the subject of the recommendation and'.

No. 857, in page 178, line 8, leave out 'after' and insert: 'in the period of three months beginning on'.

No. 858, in page 178, line 15, leave out from second 'the' to 'and' in line 16 and insert: 'Secretary of State under subsection (4) above, they shall notify the Secretary of State'.

No. 859, in page 178, line 24, leave out 'appropriate Minister may' and insert: ' Secretary of State may, after such consultation as is specified in subsection (4) above'.

No. 860, in page 178, line 31, at end add: 'but no order shall be made under this subsection after the end of September 1974'.

No. 861, in page 178, line 32, leave out from 'section' to end of line 35 and insert:

  1. (a) shall apply to the remuneration pay able to teachers by local education authorities, or
  2. (b) shall empower the Secretary of State to give a direction requiring a local authority to pay any employee, or to make an order deeming any employee to have been receiving.—[Mr. Peter Walker.]

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