HC Deb 22 April 1975 vol 890 cc1441-50

1.40 a.m.

Mr. David Lambie (Central Ayrshire)

The Secretary of State for Scotland has laid before Parliament the Policing of Airports (Prestwick) Order 1975—Statutory Instrument 1975 No. 445(S54)—which came into operation on 1st April 1975. This order designated Prestwick Airport for the purposes of the Policing of Airports Act 1974 which makes provision to enable the policing of any airport to be undertaken by the police force in the area in which it is situated. That is the Ayrshire Constabulary in the case of Prestwick.

This Act became law in July 1974. Since 28th January 1975 I have been in contact with the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland—my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing)—on the effect of designation on the employment of my constituents who worked for the British Airports Authority Constabulary. At that date there had been no negotiations between my constituents and Ayrshire Constabulary and the British Airports Authority, even though the designation day was near.

During this exchange of letters the Minister gave me the following assurance, on 26th March: I can confirm that no employee of the BAA can be transferred without his or her consent. It is the wish of the Government the BAA and the police that designation should proceed with the utmost consideration towards individuals affected, and I hope that the current negotiations between the British Airports Authority and Ayrshire will lead to the same fair conclusions as were reached at Heathrow. On 28th February my constituents received two letters. The first contained the offer of a job from the Ayrshire Joint Police Committee at a salary of £20 a week less than they had received from the British Airports Authority. It involved poorer conditions, three-shift working instead of two, and more onerous duties. The second was a letter from Mr. R. J. Bonner, general manager at Prestwick, which stated that the head office of the BAA was discussing compensation, if any, that men would be entitled to if they accepted the offer from Ayrshire Constabulary.

On 5th February, at a further meeting with the Minister, I asked for more information. I received a reply on 7th March in which the Minister emphasised that the transfer should be carried through with humanity and with complete fairness to those affected. He also stated that the men should look at the package deal as a whole. At the conclusion of the letter he said: Since our meeting I have learned that the police are not now able to offer a mark time salary to any transferring civilian staff, which will markedly increase the loss of earnings on transfer I think it clearly right that under these circumstances there should be compensation under the Act for transferring; this would be calculated in accordance with the principles of the Local Government Compensation Regulations (Scotland)… I also think it right that if civilians do not transfer, any redundancies should qualify for compensation under the Act, which would also be calculated under the above Regulations". The Minister added: I have asked for the necessary calculations to be made and I shall write to you again when detailed figures are available". My constituents and I are still waiting for those calculations. On 27th March the Minister saw a further deputation, consisting of myself, Sergeant Hunter, chairman of the BAAC Federation and employed at Prestwick, and Constables Murphy and Lewis, representing the Police Federation, to discuss questions of consultation and terms of compensation. Before this meeting I was informed by telephone that the four civilians had been called to the manager's office at Prestwick and offered alternative jobs with the BAA there. Three vacancies had suddenly appeared. The normal procedure of the BAA for notifying vacancies had been broken, and no mention was made of compensation for financial losses involved in the transfer.

Prior to this, Mr. N. G. Foulkes, Chairman of the BAA, had informed me that the management at Prestwick would have great difficulty in absorbing any more people. Also, in January 1975 the BAA announced its corporate plan for Prestwick Airport, which stated that a review of manpower requirements in all sections would be carried out, achieving an overall manpower saving of 10 per cent. over the next two years—a loss of 36 jobs. Secondly, the corporate plan stated that the majority of the necessary reductions in manpower would be achieved by not filling posts as staff reached normal retirement age or left Prestwick as a result of postings within the BAA, sickness, or to move to other work outside the BAA, and so on. Yet the four civilians were now being offered jobs.

Following the deputation, I received a further letter from the Under-Secretary about the terms of transfer of one of my constituents to Ayrshire Constabulary. This sergeant was guaranteed employment by the BAAC at Prestwick Airport until the age of 60. By going over to the Ayrshire Constabulary on 1st April 1975 he will come within the scope of the Police (Scotland) Regulations, under which constables and sergeants have a maximum age limit of 55 years or 30 years' service. This constituent will reach 30 years' service at the age of 52, and he will be retired by Strathclyde Police, because under local government reorganisation in Scotland, Ayrshire Constabulary merges with the Strathclyde Police on 16th May of this year.

The Under-Secretary stated in his letter: The Chief Constables"— that is, I assume, of Ayrshire and Strathclyde— have promised to give most sympathetic consideration to retaining former BAAC officers until age 60. There is therefore a high probability of Mr. Clerk"— my constituent— being able to serve until 60, in which case the question of compensation will not arise. On 15th April I sent a copy of the Minister's letter to Mr. David McNee, the Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police, for his comments. Today I received his reply. After saying that the negotiations for the intake of BAAC officers at Prestwick Airport were the responsibility of the Chief Constable of Ayrshire, he ended his letter thus: For my own part I am not prepared to give any categorical assurance either in the case of Mr. Clark, in respect of whom a decision is not required for a further three years, or on a ' blanket' basis in relation to other former BAAC personnel. I reserve the right to decide … and not to be tied by assurances given several years earlier". He also declared that he was not consulted at any time during these negotiations. I was contacted also by the solicitor who had been instructed to act for the British Airports Authority Police Federation. He had put forward claims for redundancy payments and compensation in respect of four airports, Stansted being one of them.

I asked the Minister, in a Written Question on Thursday 17th April, What compensation will be paid to those persons who lose office or emoluments attributable to Stansted becomming a designated airport; and if the terms and conditions of this compensation have yet been determined and agreed. The Minister replied: On the designation of Stansted Airport under the Policing of Airports Act 1974 all members of the British Airports Authority Constabulary at Stansted were offered and accepted transfer to the Essex Police with no loss of emoluments. Compensation under the Act does not, therefore, arise."—[Official Report, 17th April 1975; Vol. 890, c. 167.] There is no difficulty about redundancy payments because the machinery already exists to deal with these claims, but unfortunately no regulations appear to have been drawn up to deal with claims under the Policing of Airports Act. In one case in England the BAA has assessed compensation in accordance with the existing regulations, the Police (Compensation) Regulations 1974, which were drawn up to deal only with chief constables. The whole matter is completely and utterly absurd and is grossly unfair to all those people who have been affected by the transfer.

In Scotland the Minister intends to apply the Local Government Compensation (Scotland) Regulations. It has always been the practice of the Government to make proper provision for the payment of compensation to any employee whose employment is adversely affected by parliamentary decree interfering with the conduct of the business within which he is employed. It has always decreed that compensation will be paid to those individuals whose conditions of service or whose pay are adversely affected by the change.

In the various Acts there are sections which make provision for the introduction of regulations setting out the terms and conditions upon which compensation can be paid and the amount. An individual can then easily determine, first, whether he is entitled to compensation and, secondly, the amount to which he is entitled. In Section 6 of the Policing of Airports Act the Minister is authorised to direct the airports authority to pay compensation to persons who, first, suffer any loss of office; secondly, suffer any loss of employment; thirdly, suffer any loss of emoluments; or, fourthly, suffer any diminution of emoluments.

Designation orders have been made concerning a number of airports, including Prestwick and Stansted, and in each order there is contained a requirement that the airports authority shall make a payment of compensation under the above four headings. Whether or not the person concerned has suffered a loss or diminution of emoluments depends entirely upon the meaning to be given to the word "emoluments". The Minister, in his reply to my Written Question, clearly dodged the fundamental issue, because he said that there was no loss of emoluments, without defining what "emoluments" meant. Also, he did not deal with the question of payment for loss of office or loss of employment.

This whole case clearly indicates the exercise by the airports authority of an absolute right to decide, on no known principles, whether there has been a loss of office, employment, or emoluments, and the exercise of such a right is clearly a flagrant denial of the right of the people involved to be given reasons for an adverse decision. It is only common justice for a person to be told why his claim has been turned down, or, alternatively, to know the principles upon which his claim will be upheld, and for the Minister to fail to state publicly the principles upon which the initial decision will be based is an example of bureaucracy at its worst.

This is a clear case of collusion between a Minister, the Department of Trade and the BAA to defraud these people of their rights. I demand that my constituents and all the former members of the BAAC involved in the transfer, and not just the BAA, get a fair deal.

1.55 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Trade (Mr. Clinton Davis)

The strictures which my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Lambie) has thought appropriate to hurl at me, at my Department's officials and at the British Airports Authority are wide of the mark, as I hope to establish. It is unfortunate that he should seek to exaggerate by making grave allegations of this sort—allegations which, in my submission, are unfounded and exaggerate a case which clearly has given rise to some misunderstandings, which, I submit, are very largely on the part of my hon. Friend and those whom he represents rather than on the part of my Department. Nevertheless, I am grateful for the opportunity to try to clear up some of those misunderstandings which have arisen from the designation of Prestwick Airport under the Policing of Airports Act.

The effect of designation is that all policing responsibilities are transferred to the regular police and that airport constabularies, such as the British Airports Authority Constabulary, the BAAC, cease to exist. The prime motivation for the Policing of Airports Act, passed in July 1974, arose from a situation at Heathrow on which I need not elaborate now. Before designation there were prolonged negotiations with the BAAC Federation. These were conducted by national officials of the federation and Heathrow officials, but full reports were given by the BAA to the full federation committee, including a Prestwick representative.

The BAA made it absolutely clear that it would ask the Government to designate other airports and that the terms being negotiated for Heathrow would form natural guidelines for the others. The basic terms which would govern a designation of Prestwick were therefore clear as long ago as last November.

The terms secured for the BAAC at Heathrow included offers of transfer for virtually all the force in their existing ranks, basically with their existing pay and allowances but with some improvements. Previous service counted in full for pension purposes, and this required a financial contribution from my Department for those transferring to the larger force. There was security of tenure at the airport and the option of broader promotion opportunities.

In effect, those in the BAAC were offered a continuation of their present employment under the same conditions as, and in some respects better conditions than, they had previously enjoyed. There can be no doubt, therefore, that this represents an extremely fair solution to what might have been a very difficult problem.

Following the Government's decision in December 1974 to designate other BAA airports, including Prestwick, the BAA opened discussions with chief constables. At Prestwick, as elsewhere, the BAAC was offered the Heathrow terms. There were discussions with the Prestwick officers, following which on 8th February the then Chairman of the BAAC Federation, a Prestwick sergeant, wrote to the Chief Constable of Ayrshire saying: We wish to thank you for the conditions offered which are acceptable to our members and there do not appear to be any further points contained in these conditions that we wish to raise". That was the position. It was not something that my hon. Friend sought to mention. Instead, he preferred to castigate and chastise those who had received that letter. It is an extraordinary proposition from my hon. Friend.

At that time the timetable for designation on 1st April allowed four weeks for further negotiations. I therefore can see no case at all for arguing a lack of consultation at Prestwick. The letter was clear. No trouble was anticipated or envisaged.

I turn now to the question of compensation. Under Section 6(2)(e) of the Policing of Airports Act, compensation may be ordered for loss of office or employment or loss or diminution of emoluments attributable to designation, and provision has been made for this in designation orders. No specific regulations have been laid down for compensation under the Policing of Airports Act, since, even within the small numbers eligible, there are widely differing circumstances. I shall consider claims sympathetically, but I must be guided by principles laid down in other cases where there has been a statutory reorganisation.

In the case of Prestwick the guidelines to be followed where compensation was appropriate are those of the Local Government Compensation Regulations (Scotland). Compensation is in the first instance claimable from the airport authorities, but ultimately my Department reimburses those authorities. If a claimant is dissatisfied I expect representations to be made to me, as my hon. Friend has done.

My hon. Friend has criticised the lack of information on conditions of compensation. Following the Heathrow precedents, the position about eligibility should, I would have thought, have been clear to the BAAC at Prestwick. Where compensation is appropriate I would have preferred details to be available before now, but in a situation without any exact parallel it has been necessary to take care to arrive at the best solution possible. As I explained in a letter to my hon. Friend, a change in the expressed wishes of the civilian support staff at Prestwick led to some difficulty and delay.

My hon. Friend made a number of other points. He complained that the BAA had adjusted the situation despite the fact that it was talking in terms of a run-down of staff. Let me make it clear that the reabsorption of civilians at Prestwick became possible because Prestwick clerical staff applied for jobs at Glasgow which were vacant and which the BAA had just taken over. There was nothing sinister about that. My hon. Friend suggested that compensation is applicable for members of the BAAC who had not transferred to the regular police. If they are under 60 and did not receive offers of transfer, as was the case with one constable at Prestwick nearing retirement, I agree. But officers who decline offers of transfer under what I have described as eminently fair conditions have effectively declined the opportunity to continue their present job. Their loss is their own choice, therefore, and in those circumstances I do not consider that compensation is justified.

My hon. Friend alluded to the question of compensation for loss of police service between 55 and 60. It has been pointed out that the police retirement age is 55, with optional extension to 60, and many, although not all, members of BAAC would have been entitled to serve until 60. The conditions of transfer guarantee service until 55, or 30 years' reckonable service, whichever is the later, and sympathetic consideration for service to 60.

If in due course a former BAAC officer wants to serve until 60 and is unable to do so, and might reasonably have expected to do so in the BAAC, I make it clear to my hon. Friend that I consider that to be a suitable case for compensation.

My hon. Friend made some rather strong remarks about the BAA. The authority has made strenuous efforts to protect the interests of its staff. I understand its reluctance to agree to designation until a fair solution is reached. That has been made absolutely plain as far as I am concerned. I reject in its entirety the unfair attack that my hon. Friend has sought to make against the BAA. If unjustified expectations were raised at Prestwick on the staff side I do not believe that that is the fault of the BAA—

Mr. Lambie

All we want are answers.

Mr. Davis

I am trying to give the answers. I have spent a good deal of time—I do not object to that—with my hon. Friend. The fact that we have not seen eye to eye about this matter is unfortunate. He has rightly raised the matter tonight. I am equally entitled to defend my actions and those of my Department and the BAA. I utterly reject the allegation that there has been some fraudulent collusion to defeat or prejudice the interests of people who have been employed by the BAA. That is a totally unwarranted attack.

I am sorry that I have so little time left. I should have liked to go into greater detail about the steps taken by the Government, the BAA and the police to bring the designation of BAA airports to a satisfactory conclusion. I do not pretend that designations are possible without some disruption and inconvenience, but I hope I have taken some steps—perhaps a little angrily, because my hon. Friend invited that, and he, too, was a little angry—to satisfy my hon. Friend that all reasonable measures have been taken and are being taken to secure the best outcome possible for all concerned.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at five minutes past Two o'clock.