HC Deb 29 October 1975 vol 898 cc1693-9

Lords Amendment: No. 135, after Clause 109, in page 94, line 28, insert the following new clause: .—(1) The provisions of this Act, Schedule 1 to the Contracts of Employment Act 1972 and Parts I and II of Schedule 1 to the 1974 Act shall apply to relevant members of House of Commons staff as they apply to persons in Crown employment within the meaning of section 109 above, and accordingly for the purposes of the application of those provisions in relation to any such members—

  1. (a) any reference to an employee shall be construed as a reference to any such member;
  2. (b) any reference to a contract of employment shall be construed as a reference to the terms of employment of any such member;
  3. (c) any reference to dismissal shall be construed as a reference to the termination of any such member's employment;
  4. (d) the references in paragraph 21(5)(c) of Schedule 1 to the 1974 Act and section 18(l)(e) above to any person's undertaking or any undertaking in which he works shall be construed as a reference to the national interest or, if the case so requires, the interests of the House of Commons; and
  5. (e) any other reference to an undertaking shall be construed as a reference to the House of Commons.
(2) The provisions of section 1 of the Equal Pay Act 1970 and Parts II and IV of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 shall apply to an act done by an employer of a relevant member of House of Commons staff and to service as such a member as they apply to an act done by, and to service for the purposes of, a Minister of the Crown or Government department, and accordingly shall so apply as if references in those provisions to a contract of employment included references to the terms of service of such a member. (3) Nothing in any rule of law or the law or practice of Parliament shall prevent proceedings under any enactment applied by subsection (1) or (2) above being instituted before an industrial tribunal. (4) In this section "relevant member of House of Commons staff" means any person employed in or for the purposes of the House of Commons as follows:—
  1. (a) in the Department of the Clerk of that House;
  2. (b) in Mr. Speaker's Department;
  3. (c) in the Department of the Serjeant at Arms;
  4. (d) in the Department of the Library;
  5. (e) in the administration department;
  6. (f) in the refreshment department.
(5) It is hereby declared that in this section "relevant member of House of Commons staff" does not include the Clerk of that House or any Clerk Assistant or the Serjeant at Arms of that House. (6) For the purposes of the enactments applied by subsection (1) and (2) above, Mr. Speaker shall be deemed to be the employer of House of Commons staff, except that in relation to any description of members of the staff for the time being designated by Mr. Speaker a person so designated shall be deemed to be the employer of members of that description for those purposes or, if it is so stated in the designation, such of those purposes as are so designated. (7) Where any proceedings are brought by virtue of this section against Mr. Speaker or any person designated under subsection (6) above, the person against whom the proceedings are brought may apply to the industrial tribunal to have some other person against whom the proceedings could have been properly brought so substituted for him as a party to those proceedings. (8) If the House of Commons resolves at any time that any provision of subsections (4) to (6) above should be amended in its application to any member of the staff of that House, Her Majesty may by Order in Council amend that provision accordingly. (9) It is hereby declared that the powers of nominating or appointing and suspending or removing members of House of Commons staff conferred by sections 14 and 15 of the House of Commons (Offices) Act 1812 (clerks, attendants and messengers) and the power of Mr. Speaker to require the suspension or removal of any such member conferred by section 16 of that Act are exercisable subject to the provisions of the enactments applied by subsections (1) and (2) above to such members.

8.30 p.m.

Mr. Booth

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this amendment we may take Lords Amendments Nos. 136, 213 and 236. I have to call the attention of the House to the fact that privilege is involved in these amendments.

Mr. Booth

Although I share everyone's anxiety that we should treat the Bill with great expedition, it is important that I should make some explanation of the developments on this matter since we sent it to another place.

The new clause and the three amendments associated with it seek to apply the provisions of the Bill and other employment legislation to the staff of the House to the same extent that they already apply to civil servants.

Subsections (4) and (5) define the staff to be covered in the five Departments of the House, together with the refreshment staff. Office holders such as the Clerk of the House and the Sergeant at Arms are excluded. Under subsections (6) and (7), Mr. Speaker is deemed to be the employer for the purposes of legislation, but he may delegate his responsibilities to others at his discretion. Subsection (8) enables these provisions to be varied by Order in Council at any time if the House so resolves.

On Report, on 30th July, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose) moved an amendment with the same objective as the present clause to cover staffs in both Houses. It was clear from the debate on that amendment that many hon. Members sympathised with its purpose. I promised that the Government would give the matter further consideration with a view to ensuring that suitable arrangements were made before the Bill became law. On the strength of that undertaking, my hon. Friend withdrew his amendment. The new clause carries out for House of Commons staff the wish that hon. Members then expressed that the legislation should be applied to parliamentary staff in a suitable way.

The clause goes further. It not only makes statutory provision for the application of the provisions of the Employment Protection Bill; it also applies the unfair dismissal provisions of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act, the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Bill. It defines the employment rights of the staff concerned and extends to them the same statutory protection as is already enjoyed by Crown employees. It does not deal with the application of health and safety legislation. The reason is that this raises more complex issues, which will be examined in consultation with the House authorities and the Health and Safety Commission.

It may be suggested that action of this kind should wait until the House has considered the recommendations of the Bottomley Report, as these may well result in changes in the organisation and structure of the House. However, the Government believe that it is right to take the opportunity which the Bill provides rather than wait until some later date. Moreover, subsection (8) of the new clause provides the necessary flexibility and enables any future changes to be taken into account.

We have consulted Mr. Speaker about the proposals and he sees no objection to them, so far as his own responsibilities are concerned. The clause covers House of Commons staff only. My right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal has informed me that the question of applying the legislation to staff of the House of Lords has been considered by the House of Lords Offices Committee and that, although the committee fully agrees that the benefits of the legislation should be made available to House of Lords staff on the same basis as they are made available to civil servants, it prefers, at least at this stage, to rest on the undertaking which has already been given in another place that the legislation should be applied by analogy.

The suggestion was made in another place that it would be better not to include in the Bill any provision about parliamentary staff, but to deal with the matter by means of separate legislation next Session, perhaps in an enabling Bill which would make it possible for each House to apply employment legislation to its own staff by resolution, as it saw fit.

My right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal promised that the Government would consider this suggestion. We have done so, but our conclusion is that it would be better to go ahead with the present amendment, which will enable the position of the House of Commons staff to be dealt with immediately. After full consultation with House authorities we are satisfied that this represents a practical way of overcoming the legal difficulties and of meeting the wishes both of this House and of the staff. There is no good reason for postponing this desirable step until next Session when, with the best will in the world, we could not be sure that the necessary parliamentary time would be easily found. I therefore commend the new clause, with its associated amendments, to the House

Mr. Paul B. Rose (Manchester, Blackley)

I am pleased to have moved an amendment on Report which would have had the same effect as the one which the Minister of State is now moving. However, the House of Lords has failed in two respects. First, this provision does not apply to its staff. I see no reason why the longstanding abuse and anomaly of failure to apply legislation to employees of this House should not also have been rectified with regard to House of Lords employees.

When this matter was dealt with in the House of Lords, Lord Shepherd said that the amendment came within the procedure of this House and recommended the amendment to the House of Lords in these terms: I commend this Amendment not in any way in terms of its content, but because in the circumstances I have mentioned it provides another place with the opportunity to decide what it should do in regard to its own staff. I hope the House will feel that this is a matter which should be left with the House of Commons. The noble Lord then went on to say, with regard to the House of Lords, I ask your Lordships to accept this Amendment as a procedural device in order to allow the House of Commons to decide its own relationship with its own people."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 23rd October 1975; c. 1661–62.] It seems to me highly unsatisfactory that the House of Lords should have autonomy in deciding upon employment matters in this respect, or even that this House should have it. I should like my hon. Friend the Minister—everyone will wish to congratulate him on his tenacity in this matter—to seek a formula whereby all legislation which protects employees automatically applies to employees of this House and employees of the House of Lords. It seems quite monstrous that one should be penalised by reason of working for the legislature which passes legislation protecting employees. Therefore, what applies to the House of Commons ought also to apply to the House of Lords, and ought to be applied generally, so that one may deal with matters such as the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act and the general health, welfare and safety legislation. Having said that, however, I think that it would be very churlish of me not to acknowledge that the Government have overcome a very difficult legal drafting problem. They have done everything in their power, between the Report stage and the Bill going into the House of Lords, to see that the wishes of this House were given effect to and that employees of this House should be treated in the same way as civil servants generally. I am sure that I express the gratitude not only of hon. Members but of those who will benefit from this legislation. However, I hope that it will be a precedent for something wider—namely, a recognition that employees of this House should not be penalised or treated in any way differently because they are employees here, and the more so in regard to the House of Lords.

Perhaps it is a reflection on the other place that they should request or demand the right to decide the conditions of employment for their employees rather than allow them to be a matter for legislation generally, as if they were some sort of private club. This is a matter which ought not to go by without some protest, and without Members of the other place knowing that some of us object to their legislating at all.

Mr. Brittan

I think that all hon. Members would agree in the common aim, which is to ensure that those employed in this House enjoy the protection of legislation of the kind we have been discussing in the same way as do people employed elsewhere. I take this opportunity of welcoming the fact that a way has been found of ensuring that just that happens.

It would be wrong to underestimate the difficulty in dealing with a complex legal problem of this kind. It is very gratifying that it has been overcome to the extent that it has. It is a little churlish to condemn Members of another place for what they have or have not done in relation to their own affairs, particularly when one must take into account the fact that we would not be able to debate at this stage the matters we are debating now were it not for the existence of the other place and their Lordships' assistance in bringing into existence the very matter that we are debating.

This is not, therefore, an occasion for acrimony between the two Houses; it is, rather, an occasion for gratitude that we have been able to solve, or seem to have solved, a knotty problem. No doubt Labour Members will note the fact that it is expected that the other place will operate by way of analogy. I think that we should be content with that at present, and should certainly welcome the passage, in this House, of the amendments relating to the staff employed here.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to [some with Special Entry.]

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