HC Deb 28 March 1985 vol 76 cc718-21
Mr. Speaker

We now come to amendment No. 19 and those amendments grouped with it.

Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you confirm that the operation of the guillotine now means that the whole of the discussion on clause 43 and the attendant amendments is excluded absolutely, which means that the House will have had no opportunity to discuss the future of the arts? There has been major controversy about those matters, and many hon. Members have received representations from the Pedestrian Association, the Sports Council, and the Heath and Old Hampstead Society. Will you confirm that all those matters are excluded because of the guillotine, and that it will not be possible to return to them before Third Reading?

Mr. Speaker

That is indeed the case. I can only suggest that the right hon. Gentleman could raise some of those matters on Third Reading.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

I beg to move amendment No. 19, in page 34, line 22, leave out 'period' and insert 'fixed term'.

Mr. Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 20, 23, 24 and 67.

Mr. Baker

I heard the protest of the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) about the fact that debate has been curtailed on the matters that were of interest to him. I must remind the House that as Leader of the House he moved five guillotines in one day.

Mr. Foot

I am happy to recall those events. All the measures were excellent. However, I assure the right hon. Gentleman that a measure with major constitutional changes was never introduced in that manner. The right hon. Gentleman should be thoroughly ashamed of himself.

Mr. Baker

It only goes to show that views change when positions in the House change. On Second Reading we had two days of debate—

Mr. Speaker

Order. It seems that we are moving away from the debate. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to speak to the amendment.

Mr. Baker

I shall resist the temptation to stray.

This group of amendments is intended to clarify the provisions of clause 57. Amendments Nos. 19 and 20 are, respectively, consequential amendments to clauses 51 and 53. In particular, amendment No. 19 makes it clear that subsection 51(4) relates to fixed term contracts. Hon. Members and people outside the House have queried that point.

The substantive amendments relate to clause 57. They are intended to clarify its provisions. They do so by specifying more closely the payments that the residuary body will make, and by making it clear that GLC or MCC staff in post at abolition will be treated as if they had been made redundant by their employer. This will place beyond any possible doubt their eligibility for a redundancy payment, subject to their meeting the other criteria laid down in the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978. The matter was raised in Committee, and this clarifies it and protects workers in that position.

7.45 pm

I shall now deal with redundancy provisions, as this is the only occasion when we can touch on them. I made it clear that we hoped that redundancies would be kept to a minimum. That is possible only if there is co-operation by the staff associations and the various unions. I was frequently asked in Committee about the future work of certain common specialist services. It may be appropriate to mention the central purchasing unit. I said that its future was in the hands of successor authorities but that my Department would use its good offices in considering how worthwhile services could be maintained, if there was a demand for it. Clearly, there is a general interest in the provision of a central purchasing service, probably under the aegis of the Inner London education authority. However, equally, other practical arrangements are being considered. The Crown suppliers could provide similar services.

The new ILEA will need to make its own purchasing arrangements. It could well be in its interests to supply others, including London boroughs which have been using the unit. It will take some time for those authorities to set up other purchasing arrangements, and they will soon need to start taking decisions. The Government hope that ILEA will open discussions with them as soon as possible in the interests of the staff concerned and before the viability of the present unit comes into question. My Department and that of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science continue to stand ready to use their good offices to that good end.

Mr. Tony Banks

I am pleased to see that the Minister at last recognises the great value of the GLC's central supply service. It has provided a valuable service, not only to Labour authorities, but to Conservative authorities which want good value for their rates money. The Minister said that he wants redundancies to be limited. How can he say that when one of the stated intentions of the Bill is to bring about at least 9,000 redundancies? What does he want — 9,000 redundancies, 7,000 redundancies, or none?

Mr. Baker

It is not a question of my wanting a specific number of redundancies. As the hon. Gentleman has followed these matters closely in Committee, is knowledgeable about them, and is involved in the GLC, he knows that it will be up to the successor authortities to determine their own staffing requirements for all the devolved functions. They must decide how to do that. I know that Conservative boroughs in London are doing that, but I do not know whether Labour boroughs are. The hon. Gentleman may have better information about that than I do. It would be sensible for all of them to do that, and to talk to the staff commission. I am pleased that the GLC's staff association wrote to us this month to thank us for the booklet that we sent it, and attached some questions, generally about the legal branch staff of the GLC, and contracts of employment. One of my officials has replied to that list of inquiries.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will use his influence to ensure that there will be co-operation. I have no doubt that it is in the interests of GLC staff that there should be more co-operation.

Mr. Banks

I made this point in Committee and I shall repeat it now. The GLC has never attempted to prevent the dissemination of circulars from the staff commission to the staff, in the sense that they are sent to the trade unions, which are independent and affiliated to the Trades Union Congress. It is entirely within their area of responsibility to decide whether they then circulate the circulars to their members. The GLC cannot and would not intervene in any way whatsoever.

Mr. Baker

I understand that, but no doubt the hon. Gentleman will advise the union officers and the shop stewards in the GLC to pass the information to their members. That is happening outside London, and I shall say something about it later, possibly on Third Reading. I repeat that it is in the interests of the staff that discussions and co-operation should start as soon as possible.

Mr. Harry Cowanss (Tyne Bridge)

I appreciate that the Minister is trying to clarify the position—there was much discussion of this matter in Committee—but I am afraid that many matters have still not been clarified. The words "before the abolition date" cause some problems, because all sorts of things could happen. The magic date of 2 March 1984 also raises problems. For example, someone who had worked there for some time but who renegotiated his contract after 2 March might be adversely affected. Will he forfeit his cover under the clause? As the Minister knows, many people change jobs and renegotiate their contracts. How will they be affected by the inclusion of this magic date?

Another case that has been raised is that of a person who is made redundant two to three weeks or a month before the abolition date, but who has not received his redundancy payment by the abolition date. It would seem to be reasonable for the Minister to consider the matter.

Amendment No. 67 also causes anxiety, because, after the Bill leaves the House, it becomes open to interpretation. The House will wish to get the wording right so that the Act can be interpreted only as the House wishes it to be interpreted. Amendment No. 67 refers to "an amount". We are talking about compensation, and the Minister will know that it takes many forms, including redundancy payments, enhancements, pensions and lump sums. The words "an amount" may mean the lumping together of all those forms of compensation. If that is not the intention, the Minister owes it to the House and certainly to those outside to clarify the position. As at present drafted, the clause could be interpreted in that way.

The Bill has been drafted shoddily. I appreciate that the Minister is trying to put it right, but many points still need clarification. I hope that if there is any possibility of misinterpretation, the clause will be redrafted more tightly in another, place to ensure that none of the staff suffers because of the Bill.

I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks): the body of the Minister's case on cost savings was the fact that there would be redundancies. I believe that the Minister does not want them, but his Bill will inevitably create them. Therefore, it is even more vital that he tightens the clause to ensure that people do not suffer.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

May I briefly answer some of the questions which the hon. Gentleman asked. New contracts made after 2 March will be caught by the clause. If a contract made before 2 March is varied, the clause does not exclude compensation payments which were in the contract at that date. The hon. Gentleman also asked about the obligation to give redundancy payments to staff who might become redundant two or three weeks before abolition. I shall check on this, but I am sure that if the obligation is not fulfilled, it will pass to and be paid for by the residuary body.

The hon. Gentleman asked me a few other questions, and the best that I can do is to write to him. He was most helpful in Committee on this admittedly complicated and arcane provision. He asked about the definition of the word "amount". It is clearly defined in amendment No. 67, but I shall check on that and on the other points that he raised.

Amendment agreed to.

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