HC Deb 02 November 1976 vol 918 cc1311-5

Lords amendment: No. 23, in page 14, line 25, at end insert— (1A) If the Secretary of State accepts any advice given to him by the New Towns Staff Commission under this section which he thinks should be brought to the attention of all the relevant authorities (that is to say, every new town corporation and the council of every district within which any part of the area of a new town is situated) or to one or some of those authorities, he shall notify the Commission of his acceptance and shall direct them to take such steps as they consider appropriate to bring the advice and its acceptance to the attention of all the relevant authorities or, as the case may be, such of them as may be specified in the direction.

Mr. Guy Barnett

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

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this, we may take Lords Amendment No. 24, in page 14, line 31, at end insert— () give directions to any relevant authority whose attention has been drawn to any advice under subsection (1A) above requiring them to take such steps as may be specified in the directions to implement any of that advice so specified".

Mr. Barnett

The effect of this amendment is that if the Secretary of State wishes any advice given to him by the New Town Staff Commission to be brought to the attention of the new town corporations and the district councils within whose areas a new town is situated, he can direct the Commission to take such steps as it considers appropriate to bring the advice and the fact that it has been accepted by the Secretary of State to the attention of the authorities. He can then require that all such authorities are notified of the advice or specify certain authorities who are to be told.

The amendment removes a slight deficiency in the provisions of Clause 14 by providing that where the Secretary of State so directs, the New Towns Staff Commission shall bring to the attention of new town corporations and relevant district councils advice which it has given to the Secretary of State which he has accepted. It is expected that the Staff Commission will probably do this by issuing circulars, as did the Local Government Staff Commission. This will enable the Staff Commission to promulgate to the corporations and councils the detailed recommendations which my right hon. Friend expects to receive from them for the protection of staff affected by transfer schemes.

The Staff Advisory Committee—the Staff Commission designate—has been undertaking extensive consultations with representatives of employers and employees about the effect on staff of the transfers and have been giving top priority to the question of "ring fences"—that is, restrictions on recruitment—and arrangements to minimise staff uncertainty. It will be clearly helpful if my right hon. Friend can direct the Commission to bring its recommendations to the attention of the relevant authorities.

This amendment links with Amendment No. 24, which provides that when the Staff Commission has notified relevant authorities of advice it has given to my right hon. Friend, which he has accepted, and it becomes clear that a particular authority is reluctant to implement the advice, my right hon. Friend will be able to use his power of direction under the amendment to require them to do so. The Government hope that the mere existence of this reserve power will help persuade authorities to follow advice which the Staff Commission has brought to their attention and that therefore it may not in the event prove necessary to use it.

The proposed power is well precedented—in each of the enactments dealing with the local government and National Health Service reorganisations, there were similar reserve powers. It further strengthens those provisions of the Bill which are designed to ensure full and fair protection of the interests of staff of both the new town corporations and the district councils which may be affected by transfers.

Mr. Michael Morris

We welcome this useful amendment, but we are concerned that the latest return of manpower statistics shows a 4 per cent. increase in housing management staff.

If there are to be surplus personnel from the new towns at the time of transfer, we have agreed that they should have priority, but if there is this considerable increase at a time when there is supposedly no increase in staff levels, it will prejudice the new town employee's chances of getting another job.

Perhaps the Minister will bear in mind that some of the third generation new towns already have joint management schemes with district councils doing the housing management. Is it the Govern- ment's intention to suggest to the New Towns Staff Commission that second generation and other third generation towns should move rapidly towards joint management schemes?

Lastly, I think that it would be fairer to those involved if the Government were to make it clear that, whilst they will do all in their power to ensure that those who have jobs at present will be found jobs, inevitably some degree of redundancy will have to be faced.

Mr. Guy Barnett

I should like briefly to answer the two points made by the hon. Member for Northampton South (Mr. Morris). I can give him a definitive answer about joint management schemes. I know what he is talking about. I can see the desirability and justice of the idea that joint management schemes should be recommended in second and third generation new towns. However, I should prefer to write to the hon. Member on that matter.

I accept what the hon. Gentleman said about the manpower implications. Inevitably, as a consequence of certain transfer schemes there will be redundances. The proposals, as the hon. Gentleman knows, are designed to protect the interests not merely of those appointed to serve as members of the staff of district councils to which housing activities have been transferred, but of those who, unfortunately, will be made redundant as a consequence of these schemes. The hon. Gentleman will probably agree that the provisions should—as we hope they will—be relatively generous. That is my reading of the work that is being done by the New Towns Staff Committee at present.

I hope shortly to be in a position to give my reaction to the first report which we have received from that Committee and to announce our proposals and recommendations on the basis of the useful and valuable service that the Committee has given. We are extremely grateful for the amount of consultation that it has undertaken. For this reason, I am studying its recommendations with close attention. I have already made a decision on some of the issues, but on others I have still to make my final decision on the basis of certain consultations that I still need to hold. Shortly after the passage of this Bill into law, I hope to be in a position to announce our recommendations on the basis of the Committee's report.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords Amendment No. 24 agreed to.

Lords Amendment Nos. 25 and 26 disagreed to.

Committee appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to certain of their Amendments to the Bill: Mr. Armstrong, Mr. Guy Barnett, Mr. Benyon, Mr. Graham, and Mr. Michael Morris: Three to be the quorum.—[Mr. Guy Barnett.]

To withdraw immediately.

Reasons for disagreeing to certain of the Lords amendments reported, and agreed to; to be communicated to the Lords.