HC Deb 10 May 1984 vol 59 cc1155-69 8.45 pm
Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

I beg to move amendment No. 79, in page 6, line 5, leave out subsection (2).

The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Stan Crowther)

With this it will be convenient to consider the following amendments:

No. 81, in page 6, line 10, leave out from 'commission' to end of line 13.

No. 80, in page 6, line 14, leave out

'and of a relevant authority'

No. 84, in page 6, line 16, at end insert—

'(2B) No direction under subsection (2) above may be given by the Secretary of State until he has consulted the commission or a relevant authority or bodies representative of staff employed by a relevant authority as the case may be, as to its proposed terms.'.

Mr. Fraser

Clause 6 superficially, like other local government legislation, recognises the upheavals that are likely to be experienced by local government staff because of the abolition of the metropolitan counties and the reallocation of functions. When the Government finally make a judgment about their plans and bring legislation before the House to map out the detail of their proposals, I suspect that there will be more upheavals than usual. This is a more fundamental matter than other forms of organisation, and there will be many more bodies than usual to which local authority staff will be assigned if they find a job in the successor authorities. There will be no savings because of that. If anyone asserted confidently that there would be savings, that would be defamatory of NALGO, to say the very least.

The Government properly provide for a staff commission to look at the problems of those who will face a considerable upheaval when the full legislation is passed. I understand that the Government intend, almost immediately, to set up a staff advisory committee, in advance of the passage of this legislation. It would be helpful if the Under-Secretary were willing to announce the name of the chairman and the first appointees of the advisory committee.

The precedent that is found in other legislation for having a staff commission is only apparent, because in all other legislation authorities have not been abolished. Elections have not previously been abolished; they have merely been deferred. This is the first time that the reorganisation of local government has involved a paving Bill which is being used to set up a staff commission. In every other case, there has been full-blown legislation. It is proper in those circumstances to have a staff commission working hand in hand with a programme for reorganisation. There is no precedent for having a staff commission, as provided in the terms of clause 6, in advance of the House approving any detailed plans — the House has never approved the White Paper, "Streamlining the Cities" —and in advance of any detailed legislation providing for the allocation of functions of the abolished GLC and metropolitan counties.

The trouble with much of the Bill is that it is putting the cart before the horse. A more appropriate expression might be that it is putting the guillotine before the tumbrel.

We object to the terms of the establishment of the staff commission because it anticipates legislation that the House has not seen and certainly has not approved.

We should examine the proposed establishment of the staff commission in the context of cuts that the Government intend to achieve. Clause 6 talks about safeguarding the interests of the staff and arrangements for the recruitment of staff. The words are misleading in the context of what the Government must intend. Whether they achieve it or not is another matter.

Behind the Government's proposals to abolish the GLC and the metropolitan counties — apart from the malice and the opposition to authorities which have largely been controlled by Labour—lies the Government's intention to sack people. I doubt whether the Government will achieve their intention. There is little point in the allegations of savings, efficiencies and economies being propounded by the Government and their supporters unless behind that allegation of a saving of money are mass sackings and redundancies. There is no way in which the Government will save money on the abolition of the authorities and the reallocation of functions unless the functions are reduced, staff are sacked and people are put on the dole.

Clause 6 is not about safeguarding staff. It is about the establishment of a staff commission which is a preliminary guillotine for thousands of people who have devoted their lives to local government. That is the intention behind the clause.

If the Secretary of State is to save any money, he will have to put men and women out of work when the constraints on the London boroughs and the metropolitan districts will, under ratecapping, be greater than ever. We shall strongly oppose that and we do not believe that the intention will succeed. I am sure that the Government intend the same ruthless decimation of local government manpower that they brought about in private industry.

What lies behind the Bill in terms of staff is a disreputable and discreditable formula. The intention is to do to municipalities what has been done to private industry.

I shall deal with the details of the amendments. Amendment No. 79 would remove, in its entirety, subsection (2). It allows the Secretary of State to give directions, not just to the staff commission which is his creation, but to "any relevant authority". "Any relevant authority" for these purposes is not just the local authorities that are to be abolished—the GLC and the six metropolitan counties; it is any statutory board set up and, for the purpose of giving directions on the advice of the staff commission, comprises all the London boroughs and all the metropolitan districts within the area of the present metropolitan counties.

Clause 6 enables the Secretary of State to give a direction, for instance, to a London borough. He could go along to the London borough of Lambeth and say, "On the advice of my staff commission which I have appointed, staffed and made up, I am compelling you to stop all recruitment of staff in anticipation of the transfer of staff from the GLC". That is within the remit of subsection (2). The Secretary of State could also require the metropolitan countries and the GLC to cease their staff recruitment. He could alter the way in which their establishments are founded. Those are all within the power of the Secretary of State once subsection (2) is passed. That is why in amendment No. 79 we seek to delete it.

It might be possible to stop programmes if, for instance, the GLC or the London boroughs continued with their equal opportunity programmes in respect of black minorities and women in London, which involve the recruitment or the deployment of staff in a way that might seem to the staff commission inconsistent with their subsequent transfer to the London boroughs.

I admire the GLC for many things, but if there is one thing in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) that has shone through about the practices at country hall, it is the confidence that the council has given to the black minority of London. Through its employment policies for blacks, ethnic minorities and women, the GLC has asserted not just by word but by practice that this is an equal opportunity capital.

There are powers — I am not suggesting that they would not be used simply to block an equal opportunity programme—which could be used to interfere with the judgment of the GLC or any other relevant authority, if the Minister thought, on the advice of the staff commission, that those programmes were inconsistent with his future, but so far unpublished, plans for the reallocation of staff to other relevant authorities. Amendment No. 79 prevents the Secretary of State giving that kind of direction, which I think is a monstrous power to have in anticipation of any published plans.

Amendments Nos. 80 and 81 are more restricted. They seek to put the whole of the cost of the staff commission on to central Government, and no part of it on to a relevant local authority. How can the Minister justify coming to the House of Commons with a Bill that abolishes elections, and provides for a staff commission that will largely supervise—if he has his way—redundancies, and puts the cost of that Government lunacy upon the backs of the ratepayers of London and the metropolitan districts? If he wants to have a staff commission and to anticipate the main legislation, let the Department of the Environment bear the cost and put its money where its mouth is, when there will be a more stringent control of local government expenditure than ever before.

Amendment No. 84 deals with another part of subsection (2) which, as drafted, will give the Secretary of State a power of direction which is unqualified by the need to seek any advice from local government interests before issuing such a direction. There is in effect an unfettered power to order a local authority to comply with staff commission requests and advice. The purpose of this amendment is to require the Secretary of State to consult local authority associations and trade unions before issuing any such direction. We believe that that is only a refinement of clause 6. The establishment of a staff commission, in the context of a proposed or asserted manpower saving of, I think, a minimum calculation by the Government of about 9,000 staff, is an unacceptable prejudgment and assumption of power by the Secretary of State in the absence of the full Bill and any approval of the plans by the House of Commons. We shall vote to reject that tonight.

Mr. Corbyn

I strongly support everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) has said. I speak as an hon. Member who is sponsored by the National Union of Public Employees. I have spent seven years as an organiser for that union within the GLC and ILEA. For some of that time I was secretary of the trade union joint negotiating committee for manual workers, which represented some 20,000 manual workers in those authorities.

The fact that there is only one Conservative Member present now shows either that all their supporters have deserted the Government's sinking ship or their contempt for the people whose jobs they are about to destroy by this disgraceful, tawdry Bill that they are forcing through the House. The relationship of reorganisation of local government to the aspirations of thousands of people who have given many years of dedicated service to the community at all levels and grades deserves the fullest consideration of the Committee, but it is not getting it from Conservative Members if the attendance is anything to go by.

The employment of people in local government spans all ages and all types of jobs and is not just confined to white collar workers in offices, who are the people who normally get lambasted by the gutter press day in. day out, about their inefficiencies or otherwise. The employment also includes a large number of part-time workers, for the most part women, who undertake cleaning and catering duties, who work in parks, gardens, recreational facilities and all such places. They will be looking closely at what is proposed by the Bill because they believe, and I am sure that they are right, that if the GLC is abolished, as is the Government's intention, their jobs will be at stake., and they have a great deal to be worried about. That is why these amendments are particularly important.

9 pm

Amendment No. 79 is perhaps the most important. It deletes the powers that the Bill gives to the Secretary of State to direct a staff commission as to its policy. to direct local councils to furnish information to the commission and a number of other powers. I have had experience of staff commissions in previous incarnations, for example when the housing facilities of the GLC were transferred to the boroughs. I do not pretend that the operation of that particular staff commission was a satisfactory arrangement. It was not, and there were many objections to it. However, there is something fundamentally different about the staff commission proposed in this clause because it does not have the role of overseeing the smooth transfer of employment and the guaranteeing of jobs or working conditions, or preserving employment — it does the opposite. The Bill sets up a staff commission that can be nothing more than a toy in the hands of the Secretary of State, and it is to that aspect that I shall refer.

Through this clause, the Secretary of State will have the power to direct the staff commission. If he has this power, what guarantees have employees of any of the MCCs or of the GLC for their jobs? We know that the Government have an obsession with privatising employment that knows no tomorrow, and an obsession with market forces. Market forces for the lowest paid manual workers in local government mean the annual sale of wages to the lowest bidder. We have seen what has happened to health services when this has been introduced, and we have seen what happened in Wandsworth council when privatisation came in. There have been reduced wages, worsened working conditions and jobs lost. That is what is at stake with this mealy-mouthed clause. There is a sinister intention of a massive destruction of staff while there is no elected authority to which trade unions can go to seek protection for their members.

Mr. Cowans

Will my hon. Friend direct his attention to a particular point? We have heard ad nauseam about the alleged savings that will be made, although we have had no evidence. Even without this clause, the Secretary of State has direct control over the staff commission. Is this how he will justify the saving of money, with the loss of people's jobs and the slashing of services? The staff commission cannot do any good unless it is entirely independent. Perhaps my hon. Friend will dwell on this because it is of vital importance to the people.

Mr. Corbyn

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. The Government can save money by the introduction of the Bill and later the abolition of the MCCs and the GLC, through the cancelling of the elections, and we have been told how much it costs to print ballot papers. Money will be saved by not printing them and therefore by taking away people's right to vote.

However, the Government have not told us how many people will be forced on to the dole queue by the legislation, people who are today working in the GLC parks, who work providing meals at county hall staff restaurants, who are working in staff nurseries, are cleaning buildings, working in refuse transfer stations, at the Thames barrier, on the Woolwich ferry—working in so many valuable ways to make London a better and safer place to live. How many of those people in six months' time will be queueing up for the miserable handouts at the dole queue? That is what the Government have in mind for them.

Mr. Eric Deakins (Walthamstow)

There is another way in which the Government could save money when the staff commission is set up. They could increase pressure on local authorities in the GLC area and the metropolitan countries to privatise as fast as possible local authority services. That may force down wage rates and conditions and terms of employment in local authority departments that are trying to compete to save jobs. The Minister would then direct the staff commission to tell its staff that if they do not accept the jobs available at worse terms and conditions than at present, they will not merely be made redundant, but will lose any claim to redundancy pay because they have refused the offer of alternative jobs.

Mr. Corbyn

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing the Committee's attention to another aspect of the multi-faceted, sinister purpose of the clause.

The previous staff commission, which dealt with the transfer of housing department staff from the GLC to the borough councils, was specific about protecting wages, continuity of service and conditions of employment to those who were formerly employed by the GLC and had been transferred to the London borough councils. Those conditions were protected even against the attitudes of the Westminster and the Kensington and Chelsea councils, which sought to diminish wages. It will be easy for the Government to say that if staff who were transferred to a different employer do not accept the new conditions or the offer of a job with a private contracting firm, they will lose their rights to redundancy payments, appearances at industrial tribunals and continuity of service. They will lose all that and yet be asked to accept a reduction in wages.

I could draw many parallels on the effects of privatisation on working conditions. There is at present an issue in the Health Service, which has been debated in the House and which I shall continue to mention until justice is done. Crothalls is a contract cleaning company and has a contract at the Barking general hospital. It employed its workers at National Health Service rates of pay. This year Crothalls again won the contract to clean the hospitals, but the workers were asked to accept a 41 per cent. cut in wages.

The Chairman

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman believes that the point is relevant to the amendment, but it does not seem relevant to me. The debate is about local government, and I do not see how a Health Service issue has any bearing on the amendment.

Mr. Corbyn

I appreciate that some people may think that I am straying from the point, and I am grateful to you, Mr. Chairman, for drawing my attention to that. However, I was not. Crothalls is a subsidiary of a larger firm that has contracts with Wandsworth council and seeks to gain contracts with the GLC and other councils. Workers employed by the GLC and the metropolitan counties can ask their employers through their trade unions for a guarantee that their jobs are secure, and will not be subject to the annual sale to the bidder who pays the lowest wages. Instead, they have a guarantee of continuity of employment. When the elections are abolished and a Conservative-controlled quango takes over the employment of the 20,000 people now employed by the GLC, what protection will they have? What will happen to the guarantees of collective bargaining and of all those conditions that were successfully negotiated with the GLC and metropolitan councils? That is what is serious about this part of this nasty Bill.

I hope that when the Minister replies he will tell the House that the terms of reference of the staff commission will guarantee continuity of employment and present conditions of employment, and that they will not open the door to privatisation merchants to enter and pillage the working conditions of many people, who have given many years of loyal service to the GLC and metropolitan counties.

The power of direction that the Secretary of State is taking upon himself is very serious. Employees must know who their employer is. If and when the transfer takes place and a quango is established to run the affairs of the GLC and the metropolitan countries, and it decides that it does not like the existing staff code or the purple or buff books—all the products of collective bargaining—to whom can the trade unions appeal? Do they appeal to the quango appointed by the Minister or to the Minister? Will the Minister become their employer? If so, what will be his attitude towards staffing policies?

I raise these matters not because I wish to indulge in scaremongering — quite the opposite — but because thousands of local authority employees work loyally and suffer much abuse from Ministers, Conservative Members and the press, yet they continue to provide a good service. They must know who their future employer will be. Many people in London are worried about the future of the services that they presently receive from the GLC. What about the staff? Is this an unsubtle way of handing a great deal of public money, after a couple of votes in the House, through the hands of a quango straight into the pockets and bank accounts of the private enterprise merchants? Are not the Government trying to hand over profits to Pritchards, Grandmet and all the contract cleaning companies which day by day are demanding a bigger slice of the cake but are giving lower wages to their employees?

Mr. Cohen

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is an element of political corruption in this, since many of the companies to which he referred and which stand to gain from such contracts donate funds directly to the Conservative party?

Mr. Corbyn

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I was about to deal with that matter, because I believe that there must be the highest probity in public life. I am proud to stand here and say that I am a Member sponsored by the National Union of Public Employees. I make no effort to hide it because I am proud of my union. However, many hon. Members have experience of private contract cleaning companies, hold directorships in them and seek to promote their interests. We need to know whether the Government intend to make life a little easier for the contract cleaning companies, especially those which donated so heavily to last year's Conservative election campaign. We must know the truth tonight.

Democracy means that people have a right to elect members of a public authority. It also means that the people employed by those authorities must know what their future is and who their employers will be as changes occur. I hope that the Committee will support our amendment in recognition of the valuable work done by local authority employees and in recognition of the fact that such employees often receive low wages, work in difficult conditions and are some of the most vulnerable people in society. They are often part-time women workers. The majority of the lowest paid come from ethnic minority communities. They will be thrown on the scrap heap of unemployment as the privateers move in and try to take over the services. That is what makes the clause so serious, and I urge the Committee to support the amendment.

9.15 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes

The most recent figure of the number of people who are affected by clause 6 is that given by the Government in the White Paper of 120,000 full-time employees. In addition to that, a further 70,000 people are engaged in police forces and in public transport in the metropolitan counties who could well be affected by proposals of the staff commission. Again, that figure is more or less accurate and is, I think, accepted on both sides of the Committee.

We share the objection outlined by the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) in moving the amendment, which we clearly and positively support. Our fundamental objection is that here we have yet again an example of the cart coming before the horse—a proposal that gives the Secretary of State power to do something which, as I understand it, is not even constrained by the substantive Bill, which we have not yet seen, which will contain all the details.

Not only are we proceeding in the wrong order but we are giving the Secretary of State the power to tell the metropolitan counties, the GLC and the other authorities, which will in part be responsible for taking on employees, exactly what they may do. It is another open-ended commitment that is not circumscribed by the Bill and which allows unparalleled interference by Government in the staffing and the plans for future staffing of local government. I can think of no similar example.

It must be clear that the Government intend to lay people off. There will not be natural wastage. That is made clear in the White Paper, which has that phenomenally indicative title "Streamlining the Cities". It immediately points to the fact that in streamlining the six areas of Britain that we are talking about we shall be shedding what the Government regard as surplus employees. Chapter 4 says:

the Government are determined to ensure that reorganisation should result in greater value for money and reduced pressure on ratepayers.

It goes on to say that the Government

recognise that the possibility of compulsory redundancy cannot be ruled out. We have always taken the view that some local authorities may well be over-staffed and some may be under-staffed. But clearly it should be for electors to decide. That is the theme running through every amendment to the Bill. The electorate should decide how much of their money should be spent on the staffing of the bodies that provide the services that they use day by day.

When there is a transition—that is what clause 6 is talking about—the amendments seek to limit the way in which the Government can interfere with that process. I have no doubt that, left to themselves, the borough authorities and district councils, the GLC and metropolitan countries — not all of which are Labour-controlled, because in some of them no party has overall control, or else the Conservatives or the alliance have control—would, in the event of their having to have a smaller work force, seek to do that by way of natural wastage, not compulsory redundancies.

If clause 6 is not amended we shall be giving the Secretary of State the power to take unilateral action to issue directions saying, "You will act in this way". That is completely unsatisfactory.

The Government have presided over the phenomenal unemployment that we have. Many people have their own certainty of work in the public services, for which we are all grateful and for which all of us regularly have a considerable need. They provide transport to and from work and services around where we live. It should be left to an independent staff commission to stand up to the Government and issue independent proposals.

If passed, the amendments would succeed in at least giving one body the opportunity to speak with an independent voice and to produce the sort of independent evidence that hon. Members have been seeking from the Government as to costs and savings by the setting up of a Royal Commission or some other body—a proposal that was defeated at about 11 o'clock last night. That is the sort of independence that the commission should have. The Bill will circumscribe that independence.

The tragedy is that the Government seem determined to interfere at every possible level. They should reconsider that. The officials in the Departments of state are already grossly overworked in trying to take on responsibility for local government. Parliament too is overworked, the Government having given it responsibility for interfering in local government, which is not why we were elected. The power of Government Ministers should not be untrammelled.

We object to the unamended clause. Full support is given by the Liberal Benches for the guarantee that a commission will be able to stand up for the interests of those now employed in the public service. We believe that the proposals to plan for the handing over of employment and jobs to boards and other authorities need more time for consideration. We cannot suddenly shift people, as the Government seem determined to do, from one service to another if a high level of service is to be sustained.

On behalf of the large number of electors employed in the public service in London and in the six metropolitan areas who sent us to Parliament, we ask the Government to lay off, and to allow the authorities to negotiate between themselves, with the advice of the commission, the best way to provide for the future employment of those people in public service.

We therefore ask the Committee to reject the Government's clause, or to accept it only if it is amended as suggested by Labour Members.

Mr. Park

I have listened to considerable parts of the debate, and I suppose that, within the crazy logic of the Bill, these consequential proposals make some sense. Having enacted previous legislation to control councils, and to take away the rights of councillors, and of the people whom they represent, the Government now seek almost dictatorial powers to make the cost savings which are said to be one of the main aims of abolishing the metropolitan counties and the Greater London council. To say that the intention is to safeguard the interests of staff is but one more hypocrisy along the road to destroying local democracy, and putting more people on the dole. In the process, the Secretary of State has displayed a considerable contempt for Parliament, and the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym) was even more prophetic than he knew.

Mr. Waldegrave

There has been widespread support for the early establishment of a staff commission. In describing the role that we foresee for it, I hope that I can allay some of the worries expressed in the debate.

If the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) was not scaremongering, I should like to see him when he is mongering a good scare, because I thought that he was trying to raise a number of bogey-men about which it is not necessary to worry. That is not to deny that one objective of the measure which divides the Government and the Opposition is that we believe that there are savings in the superstructure of local authorities in particular. This is the other side of the argument put forward on earlier parts of the Bill in which it was said that no savings were to be found. If no savings were to be found, some of the worries expressed by hon. Members would not be real. However, we do seek savings of manpower by the change. However, the staff commission is not the instrument through which that objective can be met.

Mr. Tony Banks

Although there is no very substantial evidence for it, the figure of 9,000 for the number of jobs saved has been bandied around. Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that adding 9,000 people to the dole queue would cost the Exchequer about —45 million per annum, through, for example, unemployment benefit, social security payments and lost tax? Is the hon. Gentleman balancing those staff savings against the net cost to the Exchequer? If so, I frankly do not know how he has come up with a saving.

Mr. Waldegrave

The hon. Gentleman seeks to widen the debate. Of course, he has made several assumptions about people not obtaining other jobs, the level of benefits and so on. Not even the Labour party, or the hon. Gentleman's wing of it, believes that governmental institutions should be kept in existence simply to provide jobs. They should be kept in existence to provide services at the right cost. I do not think that even the hon. Gentleman would argue against ways of carrying out services more adequately and efficiently.

I shall try to describe how we see the role of the staff commission and why we have proposed it being set up earlier than the main Bill. If we had left it until the main Bill, it could not have been set up as a statutory body until, I suppose, the summer or autumn of 1985. That would be too late to begin effectively to protect the interests of the staff. We therefore intend, by convention, to set it up as an advisory committee as soon as possible after the Second Reading of the Bill. It will be formally constituted as a statutory body after enactment of the Bill, but I do not think that that prejudges the principle of abolition, as the staff commission will not begin its work in earnest until Parliament has settled the principle on Second Reading of the main Bill. Until then, the commission will make its plans, will make contact with authorities and staff representatives, and will ensure that no one tries to jump the gun.

The staff commission will have similar responsibilities to the staff commissions set up to deal with earlier reorganisations, especially the 1965 London reorganisation and the 1974 local government reorganisation. It will look after the interests of staff affected by abolition and will see that no successor authorities try to corner the market in the best staff. It will oversee the recruiting activities of the successor authorities.

Mr. Corbyn

Within the staff commission's terms of reference, first in its advisory capacity and then in its full capacity, will its priority be the protection of the existing levels of payment and conditions of service?

Mr. Waldegrave

No, I cannot guarantee that. Those are matters for the staff commission to advise on. It would obviously be quite wrong for me to give such a commitment. However, I can give the commitment that it will operate a ring-fencing system to ensure that the GLC and metropolitan county council staff have the first opportunity to apply for jobs with the successor bodies. Such ring-fencing has applied in earlier reorganisations. It is an arrangement to restrict the range of staff to whom a job or groups of jobs can, in the first instance, be advertised. In this exercise it means giving the GLC and metropolitan county council staff the first opportunity to apply for new posts with the successor bodies. It does not require the successor authorities to take on particular staff, but it means that the valuable knowledge and expertise of many GLC and metropolitan county council staff will not be lost unnecessarily. The staff commission will advise on the extent and nature of the ring fence.

Mr. John Fraser

A moment ago I thought that the Minister said that he would announce the names of those appointed to the advisory committee after Second Reading. I may have misheard him, but we have had the Second Reading of this Bill, so can we have the names?

Mr. Waldegrave

I did not say that. I did not say anything about announcing the names. We cannot announce the names tonight, but we shall want to do so soon. Those involved will obviously have to be people of the same sort of stature and independence as those who have served on previous staff commissions.

The amendments all seek, in various ways and to various extents, to remove or disable the Secretary of State's power to make directions under clause 6(2). It may be of help if I make clear the reasons for including such a power. This provision follows exactly the precedent set in earlier reorganisations.

9.30 pm

I hope and expect that the commission will work largely by laying down general principles, and then, by influence and persuasion, that it will secure the free acceptance of these principles by the parties concerned. However, some degree of enforcement may be needed, and the choice lies between giving a power of direction to the commission and reserving such a power to the Secretary of State to use on the recommendation of the commission. We do not wish to jeopardise the commission's essential role as an advisory body working by encouragement and persuasion. The subsection therefore reserves the power to the Secretary of State.

We see the exercise of this power as something of a last resort. Nevertheless, it is necessary if the interests of staff are to be fully safeguarded. Amendment No. 79 removes the power altogether. Amendment No. 80 has virtually the same effect by removing the duty on relevant authorities to comply with any such direction. The net result would be a tiger with no teeth: without that threat of a power of direction, authorities would be free to accept or ignore the commission's advice as it suited them. That cannot be in the interests of the staff.

Mr. Corbyn

Will the staff commission, as envisaged by the Minister, respect free collective bargaining and the rights of organised labour and trade unions? In the event of a dispute between a trade union representing its members and the staff commission, what appellate body will be able to hear and resolve that dispute?

Mr. Waldegrave

The commission will be not a negotiating or employing body, but an advisory body. The precedents exist. The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) has experience of local government and he will know how the staff commissions worked on the two previous occasions.

Mr. Corbyn

Who will be the employers?

Mr. Waldegrave

The employers will be the employers. The staff commission will not be an employer but an adviser and persuader which will see that the reasonable interests of the staff are safeguarded.

Mr. Corbyn

When elections to the metropolitan counties and the GLC cease to be held and an interim administration is established the staff commission will seek to guide and advise on the transfer of staff to other places. At that stage who will be the employer? Will each employee be given guaranteed continuity of service between their employment with the met counties or the GLC and the quango or future authority which might employ them?

Mr. Waldegrave

I cannot say that any employee will have guaranteed continuity of service. The ring-fencing will ensure that any staff laid off because an authority ceases to exist will have the first shot at comparable jobs available elsewhere. I cannot give the guarantee for which the hon. Gentleman asks.

Mr. Corbyn

Will the employment be continuous?

Mr. Waldegrave

That is exactly the type of issue on which the commission will advise us and about which discussions must take place with the trade unions and others. For those reasons we need the staff commission in place as soon as possible. It must comprise people of weight, distinction and expertise who can bring to us their advice soon enough to help the staff.

Amendment No. 84 would oblige the Secretary of State to consult with relevant authorities on the proposed terms of any direction before he could make it. But since a direction would normally be necessary only because the relevant body had refused to be co-operative or reasonable, one cannot help but wonder what point there would be in such consultations — unless it was a deliberate attempt to delay and frustrate the commission's efforts on behalf of staff. There is of course nothing in the subsection as it stands to prevent such consultation should it seem worthwhile.

Amendment No. 81 removes a perfectly fair provision. The Bill, under subsection (3) of clause 6, provides for the Exchequer to bear the whole of the cost of the commission's main activities. Subsection (2), again in accordance with precedent, merely empowers the Secretary of State—the power is discretionary—to give directions to the abolition councils and lower tier councils about the payment of any expenses incurred by the commission as a result of special activities or extra work undertaken at the request of these authorities. This is entirely equitable and would ensure that the commission was not inundated with spurious or ill—conceived requests to undertake work which would merely delay its main tasks.

There is nothing new in subsection (2) of clause 6. It is a tried and tested formula. Therefore, I ask the Committee to reject the amendments.

Mr. John Fraser

The Minister has confirmed two things that the Bill will not do: it is not about providing public services and it is not about adding to the efficiency of local government. It is about unemployment, sacking and redundancy and it follows the pedigree of measures to deal with National Health Service workers and private workers——

Mr. Corbyn

Does my hon. Friend not think that it would be appropriate for the Minister to come once more to the Dispatch Box to tell us the estimate of the number of jobs that will be lost in each of the metropolitan counties and in the GLC, what grade of jobs the Government seek to destroy and whether or not there is an intention to promote privatisation of local authority services during the interim period when the quangos are in operation and are controlling staff interests? The Minister has failed to answer these points.


One must admire the frankness of the Minister in saying that this is about saving money on jobs; that is how he put it to us. He should answer the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) who has considerable experience in these matters, both as a trade union official and as a councillor. The Minister should tell us whether the Government propose, before any substantive legislation is brought before us, to direct local authorities to engage in privatisation schemes or in tendering, which is inevitably a form of privatisation, in anticipation of the main legislation. The points made by my hon. Friend are extremely important and the Minister should answer them.

It has been made abundantly clear that to achieve their objectives the Government will have no hesitation in giving directions not just to the staff commission but to the local authorities. If they set up a staff commission to be the midwife of their redundancy programme, I can understand that their appointees would be subject to direction from the Department of the Environment. I do not agree with it but I can understand that there is a certain logic that they should be able to instruct the assistant executioner about how to go about the business. What I find wholly objectionable is including in the Bill a power to give a direction not just to the commission but to the local authorities as well about freezing staff, keeping posts vacant and so on at a time when there will be other constraints upon what local authorities can do.

All our worst fears have been confirmed by what the Minister has said. I am sure that my hon. Friends and perhaps even a few Tory Members will want to divide on the amendment to show their disgust at the proposals contained in the clause.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 134, Noes 259.

Division No. 293] [9.37pm
Anderson, Donald Corbyn, Jeremy
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Cowans, Harry
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Cox, Thomas (Tooting)
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Craigen, J. M.
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Cunningham, Dr John
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)
Barnett, Guy Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'I)
Barron, Kevin Deakins, Eric
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Dewar, Donald
Bell, Stuart Dixon, Donald
Benn, Tony Dormand, Jack
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Douglas, Dick
Bermingham, Gerald Dubs, Alfred
Bidwell, Sydney Duffy, A. E. P.
Blair, Anthony Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.
Boyes, Roland Evans, John (St. Helens N)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Brown, Gordon (DTmline E) Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Fisher, Mark
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Flannery, Martin
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith) Forrester, John
Buchan, Norman Foster, Derek
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) Foulkes, George
Campbell-Savours, Dale Fraser, J. (Norwood)
Carter-Jones, Lewis George, Bruce
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Clay, Robert Godman, Dr Norman
Clwyd, Ms Ann Golding, John
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.) Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)
Cohen, Harry Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Conlan, Bernard Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Cook, Frank (Stockton North) Heller, Eric S.
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston) Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Corbett, Robin Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)
Home Robertson, John O'Brien, William
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Park, George
Hoyle, Douglas Parry, Robert
Hughes, Roy (Newport East) Patchett, Terry
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Pendry, Tom
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Pike, Peter
Janner, Hon Greville Prescott, John
John, Brynmor Radice, Giles
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Randall, Stuart
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Redmond, M.
Kirkwood, Archibald Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)
Lamond, James Richardson, Ms Jo
Lewis, Terence (Worsley) Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Litherland, Robert Robertson, George
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Rooker, J. W.
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)
Loyden, Edward Rowlands, Ted
McCartney, Hugh Sheerman, Barry
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
McKelvey, William Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Mackenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
McNamara, Kevin Silkin, Rt Hon J.
McTaggart, Robert Skinner, Dennis
Madden, Max Snape, Peter
Marek, Dr John Stott, Roger
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Straw, Jack
Martin, Michael Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Maxton, John Torney, Tom
Maynard, Miss Joan Wainwright, R.
Meacher, Michael Wareing, Robert
Meadowcroft, Michael Winnick, David
Mikardo, Ian
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby) Tellers for the Ayes:
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Mr. James Hamilton and
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Mr. Allen McKay
Aitken, Jonathan Coombs, Simon
Alexander, Richard Cope, John
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Corrie, John
Amess, David Couchman, James
Arnold, Tom Cranborne, Viscount
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Currie, Mrs Edwina
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Dorrell, Stephen
Bellingham, Henry Dover, Den
Bendall, Vivian du Cann, Rt Hon
Berry, Sir Anthony Dunn, Robert
Best, Keith Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)
Bevan, David Gilroy Eggar, Tim
Biffen, Rt Hon John Evennett, David
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Eyre, Sir Reginald
Body, Richard Fallon, Michael
Bottomley, Peter Farr, John
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Favell, Anthony
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Fookes, Miss Janet
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Forman, Nigel
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Forth, Eric
Brinton, Tim Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Brooke, Hon Peter Franks, Cecil
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Freeman, Roger
Browne, John Gale, Roger
Bruinvels, Peter Galley, Roy
Bryan, Sir Paul Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)
Buck, Sir Antony Garel-Jones, Tristan
Bulmer, Esmond Glyn, Dr Alan
Butcher, John Goodhart, Sir Philip
Butterfill, John Goodlad, Alastair
Carlisle, John (N Luton) Gow, Ian
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Gregory, Conal
Carttiss, Michael Griffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds)
Cash, William Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Grist, Ian
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Ground, Patrick
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Hampson, Dr Keith
Clegg, Sir Walter Hanley, Jeremy
Cockeram, Eric Hargreaves, Kenneth
Colvin, Michael Harris, David
Harvey, Robert MacGregor, John
Haselhurst, Alan MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)
Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Maclean, David John
Hawkins, C. (High Peak) Madel, David
Hawksley, Warren Major, John
Hayes, J. Malins, Humfrey
Hayhoe, Barney Maples, John
Heddle, John Marlow, Antony
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Hind, Kenneth Mates, Michael
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Maude, Hon Francis
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling) Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Hooson, Tom Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Hordern, Peter Mayhew, Sir Patrick
Howard, Michael Mellor, David
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A) Merchant, Piers
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock) Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Hubbard-Miles, Peter Mills, lain (Meriden)
Hunt, David (Wirral) Mitchell, David (NW Hants)
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Hunter, Andrew Montgomery, Fergus
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Moore, John
Jackson, Robert Morries, M.(N'thampton, S)
Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)
John, Brynmor Moynihan, Hon C.
Johnson-Smith, Sir Geoffrey Needham, Richard
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Nelson, Anthony
Jones, Robert (W Herts) Neubert, Michael
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Newton, Tony
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Nicholls, Patrick
Key, Robert Norris, Steven
Kilfedder, James A. Onslow, Cranley
King, Roger (B'ham N'field) Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.
Knight, Gregory (Derby N) Ottaway, Richard
Knowles, Michael Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Lamont, Norman Parris, Matthew
Latham, Michael Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Lawler, Geoffrey Patten, John (Oxford)
Lawrence, Ivan Pattie, Geoffrey
Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel Pawsey, James
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Porter, Barry
Lightbown, David Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)
Lilley, Peter Powell, William (Corby)
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham) Powley, John
Lord, Michael Price, Sir David
Lyell, Nicholas Proctor, K. Harvey
Macfarlane, Neil Raffan, Keith
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy Stokes, John
Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover) Stradling Thomas, J.
Renton, Tim Sumberg, David
Rhodes James, Robert Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Temple-Morris, Peter
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy) Terlezki, Stefan
Robinson, Mark (N'port W) Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.
Robinson, P. (Belfast E) Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Roe, Mrs Marion Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Rost, Peter Thornton, Malcolm
Rowe, Andrew Thurnham, Peter
Rumbold, Mrs Angela Townend, John (Bridlington)
Ryder, Richard Tracey, Richard
Sackville, Hon Thomas Trippier, David
Sainsbury, Hon Timothy Trotter, Neville
St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N. Twinn, Dr Ian
Sayeed, Jonathan van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Scott, Nicholas Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Shaw, Giles (Pudsey) Viggers, Peter
Shelton, William (Streatham) Waddington, David
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Shersby, Michael Waldegrave, Hon William
Silvester, Fred Walden, George
Sims, Roger Waller, Gary
Skeet, T. H. H. Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Watson, John
Soames, Hon Nicholas Watts, John
Speller, Tony Wells, John (Maidstone)
Spencer, Derek Wheeler, John
Spicer, Jim (W Dorset) Whitfield, John
Spicer, Michael (S Words) Wiggin, Jerry
Squire, Robin Wolfson, Mark
Stanbrook, Ivor Wood, Timothy
Stanley, John Woodcock, Michael
Stern, Michael Young, Sir George (Acton)
Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Stevens, Martin (Fulham) Tellers for the Noes:
Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood) Mr. Carol Mather and
Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire) Mr. Robert Boscawen

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

To report Progress and ask leave to sit again.—[Mr. Patrick Jenkin.]

Committee report Progress; to sit again tomorrow.

Back to