HC Deb 26 March 1979 vol 965 cc19-21
23. Mr. Ovenden

asked the Minister for the Civil Service when he plans next to meet representatives of the Civil Service trade unions.

24. Mr. Hal Miller

asked the Minister for the Civil Service what pay offer has been made to the National Staff Side of the Civil Service following the evaluation of the pay research exercise.

Mr. Charles R. Morris

My right hon. and noble Friend Lord Peart, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection, and I met the National Staff Side this morning to open substantive negotiations. We told it that the Goverment would implement the pay research settlement being negotiated between the two sides and would be prepared to do so in two stages. The offer of a first stage of 7 per cent. would be payable from 1 April 1979, and the final from 1 April 1980. The full pay research rates to be paid in the second stage would be used for pensions purposes from 1 April 1979. The Government stand ready to continue the negotiations at any time.

Mr. Ovenden

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the offer made to civil servants today was totally unrealistic in the light of other settlements made in the public and private sectors? Does he further agree that the offer that further phasing must wait until next year is inconsistent with the Government's commitment to pay research and with the statements which his right hon. Friends, including the Prime Minister, have made recently about the phasing?

Mr. Morris

I cannot accept my hon. Friend's view that the offer made this morning is either unrealistic or inconsistent. Let us look at what we have suggested. We have suggested the implementation of pay research-based increases by 1 April 1980. Those increases, by the very nature of things, are likely to be appreciable. We have conceded arbitration on individual grade settlements. We have conceded an operative date of 1 April 1979. We have conceded pension-ability on promulgated rates of pay, and our opening initial offer of 7 per cent., with discussions on staging, was wholly realistic and consistent. I hope that the National Staff Side will reconsider its position and accept the Lord Privy Seal's offer of continuing negotiations.

Mr. Miller

Can the Minister explain why civil servants were offered less than dustmen, who were offered 9 per cent.? Does he realise the disastrous effect that the offer will have on those who are contemplating accepting the Government's offer of a comparability study? What is pay research if it is not a comparability study? Why does he undermine it in this way?

Mr. Morris

The hon. Member suggests that there is some inconsistency. There is not. He draws the analogy of the dustmen's claim, but the dustmen have not had a Pay Research Unit increase or an offer such as we have offered the civil servants. There is an appreciable difference between the two cases.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the offer will cause considerable resentment within the ranks of civil servants because they have been falling behind the private sector for two or three years? This exercise was designed to bring them up to the private sector level and to make good the drop that they had experienced over this period. As my right hon. Friend has said that the talks are just opening, will be confirm that the Government are prepared to reconsider their offer and, in particular, to take into account the interests of lower paid clerical officers and assistants, who are way below the figures that are regularly quoted in the press?

Mr. Morris

The Lord Privy Seal and the Government stand ready to continue the negotiations. I hope that the National Staff Side will reconsider its position.

Mr. Tim Renton

If, as we are told on the news tapes, there is now likely to be a stepping up of industrial action in the Civil Service, and if there is an election next month, during which no hard decisions will be reached on these pay negotiations, how much damage and delay will be done to such vital matters as payments to the Government's defence contractors and the return of VAT to small businesses?

Mr. Kinnock

Vote for us on Wednesday.

Mr. Morris

I accept that the consequences of industrial action in the Civil Service will be serious. I do not feel that the differences between the two sides at present are sufficient to justify industrial action.

Mr. Beith

Is the Minister aware that his policy on this matter is beginning to look remarkably like that of the Conservative Party, of holding down pay in the public sector while not taking any statutory action to deal with the private sector? Has proper account been taken in the pay research of such matters as security of employment and non-contributory pensions?

Mr. Morris

The question of security of employment and index-linked pensions in the Civil Service are two main issues which will be covered in the negotiations. However, I cannot accept that there is any similarity between the Government's policy and that of the Conservative Party. I am sure that the Conservatives would not have agreed to any reactivation of the pay research.