HC Deb 15 December 1992 vol 216 cc384-401
Ms. Kate Hoey (Vauxhall)

I beg to move movement No. 5, in page 1, line 10, leave out 'as he thinks fit' and insert 'as specified in Schedule consultation to this Act,'.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

With this, it will be convenient to consider amendment No. 13, a new schedule— Consultation

1. Delegations made under this Act will give departments or agencies any powers to change the terms and conditions of civil servants without conforming to the normal processes of consultation with recognised trade unions and staff. 2. The Act does not alter current arrangements for consultation or negotiation with the national unions specified in the national pay agreements with individual unions or in any other nationally agreed documents. 3. Arrangements set out in this Schedule shall apply in other areas, ie where terms and conditions of service are not the subject of formal written national agreements, and where it has in the past been the practice to consult, including over the granting of discretions. In these areas, the recognised trade unions and, as appropriate, the staff affected by the proposed change will be:
  1. (a) informed of, and given the opportunity to comment on, proposals to delegate powers to departments and agencies (paras 4–5 below); and
  2. (b) consulted on proposals by the holders of delegated powers to introduce any changes to the terms and conditions of their staff (paras 6–7 below).
4. The unions at national level will be informed of proposals to make delegations to departments and agencies and given the opportunity to comment both on the principles of the delegation itself and on the conditions that may be attached to it. The relevant union(s) will be informed of the functions to be delegated; the recipient(s) of the delegation; when the delegation will take place; the nature of any conditions that the central department concerned propose to attach to the delegation; and, in broad terms, the purpose of the delegation. A reasonable timescale will be given for comment. 5. Where a function is sub-delegated within a department or agency (ie. where, consistent with the terms of a delegation, responsibility for the function is delegated by the original recipient to another Crown servant not specifically designated in the original delegation from the central departments) the department or agency concerned will consult the recognised trade unions and, as appropriate, the staff themselves about the granting of the sub-delegation.
Ms. Hoey

On Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (Mr. Hoyle) referred to the Bill, in his own inimitable way, as a "vague" Bill. In Committee, the Minister put a little flesh on the bones. The purpose of the amendment is to breathe some life into the corpse by filling in the missing gaps and giving it what is missing—a heart.

We dwelt at length in Committee and on Second Reading on the formalisation of the process of consultation on proposed delegations. There has been much unanimity between the Government and Opposition Members about the positive value to an organisation of a proper consultation process. We have heard how management is strengthened when considering structural change by drawing on the valuable experience of the work force.

The value of the contribution of the civil service unions is not, and has not been in the past, limited to helping the interests of their members. Their contribution to the effective running and development of our world-leading civil service has been considerable, as I hope the Minister will agree. On Second Reading and in Committee, the Minister graciously apologised for the appalling lack of consultation with civil service unions before the introduction of the Bill. That was, indeed, a very unfortunate oversight.

In Committee, the Minister struggled to respond constructively to the concerns that we expressed, but to some extent he succeeded. He produced a note prepared by the management side in the civil service on consultation with the civil service unions. He said:

The note that I refer to makes it clear that recognised unions will be consulted before delegations arc made and the departmental and agency trade unions will be consulted about proposals to change terms and conditions."—[Official Report, Standing Committee D, 24 November 1992; c. 63.] On Second Reading, the Minister repeatedly called the Bill a "poor little Bill". Perhaps, therefore, I can call this a harmless wee amendment, which seeks to enshrine the terms of the note in schedule 1 and the Minister's subsequent assurances in statute. If it is good enough to be put into practice and quoted in defence of the Government's position, why is not it good enough to include in the Bill?

I could readily understand the Government's opposition to an amendment guaranteeing rights to trade unions if we were seeking to define those rights, but all we are seeking to do is hold the Government to the assurance that they freely volunteered. I hope that the Minister and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster—I am not sure where he is, but he is not here—will feel able at this late stage to accept that the intention of the amendment is to put their words in their proper context and into practice.

The value of this move would be considerable, and would represent a vote of confidence in the staff of the civil service. The Bill has attracted cross-party consensus on the potential benefits of delegated and decentralised management. I hope that the Government will feel able to extend this spirit of consensus and the spirit of Christmas—in which many hon. Members are indulging at the moment, which is why they are not here—by accepting the amendment to implement their plans.

In Committee, the Minister said that he had no problem in subscribing to the general arguments for consultation … put forward". The only argument that he used to counter the idea was that it was without precedent … nor have civil service unions ever had such a role."—[Official Report, Standing Committee D, 24 November 1992; c. 65.] Is that really the best argument that the Minister can find? Surely it is a little weak to recognise the validity of our argument about the need for consultation, to suggest his own plans for dealing with the matter, and then not to agree to stand by that plan in law, although we welcome it, just because it has not been done before.

9.15 pm

We are satisfied with the text of the Minister's proposal on consultation, and we invite him to commit those very words to history by incorporating them into the Bill and accepting the amendments, and hence new schedule 1. It may break new ground for the Minister to make such a move, but if he accepts our argument, as he seems to, I hope that he will have the courage of his convictions and do so.

If those welcome assurances are not put on a statutory footing, confidence will inevitably be undermined. Such art omission would raise questions about the Government's commitment to the concept of proper consultation—and Opposition Members may feel unable to take the Government's other commitments on the Bill at face value.

When the Minister was pressed in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Davidson) on what the hon. Gentleman himself described as a characteristically serious point, he conceded that it was not Government policy to provoke or secure derecognition. If the Government are not prepared to back up their proffered commitment on consultation, are we also to assume that they will happily go back on their statement on derecognition?

The Government have a choice between confirming and reinforcing the answers that they gave to the real worries raised, undermining their stated assurances and laying bare a hidden agenda.

Mr. Robert Jackson

I congratulate the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Ms. Hoey) on what I believe is her first appearance at the Dispatch Box, although she has of course spoken in her official capacity in Committee. I congratulate her, too, on her eloquent figure of speech about putting a heart into our Bill. If I may say so, the hon. Lady could put a heart into even the most lifeless of corpses.

I welcome what the hon. Lady said about the importance of the potential consensus on decentralisation in the public service. That is an important phrase, on which I hope we will be able to build. However, we shall not be able to accept the amendment. As the hon. Lady has explained, it refers to a schedule which consists of a copy of a note sent by management to the unions setting out the consultation arrangements when delegations are made. I agree that that is a splendid document. How could I do otherwise, as it came from us—but I cannot accept it as a schedule to the Bill.

In the first place, amendments Nos. 5 and 13, taken together, would be defective. If they were accepted the only condition that central Departments would be able to place on delegation would relate to consultation with the unions. That is far too narrow. There are many potential conditions that we may wish to impose on delegations—conditions on value for money and the limits of delegations, and perhaps even conditions involving subjects raised in the House and in Committee, such as dispersal policy and equal opportunities policy. It would be appropriate to impose such conditions under which power should be exercised, yet they would be precluded by the amendments.

I repeat what I said in Committee—that the Government accept that the unions and staff need to know with whom they are dealing on matters relating to the terms and conditions of the staff represented. The Bill does not detract from any legal rights of staff to be consulted on changes in terms and conditions. I repeat that the present arrangements for consulting the unions before discretions are given to Departments and agencies will also extend to delegations.

The hon. Member for Vauxhall fairly asks why, if the Government intend to take such action anyway, they should not simply put it into the Bill. We do not believe that it would be right to make such proposals part of a statute. Although the hon. Lady was inclined to dismiss it, I repeat the important point that the amendment would give the civil service unions a totally new and unprecedented statutory right to play a part in determining the level at which staff-management decisions are made. That would be wholly unwarranted. We do not think that there is any case for giving civil servants statutory protection unlike that applying to any other employees, when they are already adequately protected as regards consultation by the general law of the land.

I remind the House that the amendment is defective for the reasons that I have explained. It would prevent the Government from imposing other essential conditions—for example, to protect expenditure controls—and it might constrain the freedom of recipients of delegations in a variety of ways. I urge the House to reject this unnecessary and inappropriate amendment.

Mr. Davidson

I will speak briefly on the need for discussion and debate with staff, and on the issues of consultation and explanation. There is a grave danger that the staff will not be taken along with the thrust of the new moves. There is a real fear among many staff that there is a hidden agenda which is designed to privatise the civil service, and to erode wages and conditions. They believe that the measure is not designed to liberate staff.

I give the example of the National Savings bank. The director of the bank has produced a report in which he says of the staff: They have few equals in dedication and enthusiasm". He also said: I pay particular tribute to the dedication National Savings staff have to customer service and the continuous improvement of that service. There are many other similar quotes too numerous to mention. The annual report shows that the National Savings bank is meeting the targets set for it. Indeed, it is doing better than comparable financial organisations in the private sector, yet it is being broken up in a way that it believes is likely to worsen its ability to undertake the tasks that it has been asked to undertake by the Government.

In such circumstances, the staff are entitled to believe that there is a hidden agenda. They want the service that they provide to the public to improve, and they see that there are two ways in which to move forward. The first takes the holistic perspective. It looks at the department as a unity and seeks to identify ways in which to increase the output of the service with less input. It seeks co-operation, and it seeks ways in which to build team work and in which to maintain the admirable record of flexibility from staff. That is one route.

The other route is simply to see the service fractionalised, with each individual department focused only on itself, with no regard to the functions of the organisation as a whole and with each part having its own targets and objectives. The staff believe that that is the framework into which market testing and contracting out will force them. In the circumstances, it is essential that we undertake processes of consultation which not only explain Government policy but seek to amend and justify it in the context in which staff operate.

If we wish to have efficiency and improvement in organisations such as the National Savings bank, we must work with the staff or against them. I am sure that the Minister agrees that it is far more likely that we shall achieve improvements in the service to the public if we work with the staff rather than against them. I hope that the Minister and the Government will give the strongest possible assurances that dogma will not have a role in the implementation of efficiency targets. I hope that the Government will have an open mind about the way in which such objectives are to be achieved and that they will not force through policies involving, for example, contracting out and market testing when such policies are not appropriate.

Mr. Robert Jackson

It might be convenient if I reply now to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Davidson). The phrase "hidden agenda" has been used on several occasions during the debate. The Government's agenda on this issue is not hidden. It has been spelled out in speeches and written about extensively in the press. Everybody knows what our agenda is, and there was some discussion of it in Committee upstairs.

We ask of any function within government whether the state needs to be providing it—whether it should be retained or abolished. If we accept that a function should be performed, we ask whether the state needs to perform it: whether it needs to be done by public officials or whether it can be done in the private sector—in other words, whether it can be privatised. If it emerges that it cannot be privatised, we examine whether it can be put on to an agency basis—becoming an arm's-length contract with Government and remaining within Government as a next steps agency.

We ask of all functions within Government, whether they are carried out by agencies or directly by Government, whether they can be subjected to market testing to establish a competitive basis for seeing that value for money is obtained for the services that are being provided and to enable funds to be recycled back into the provision of services, if efficiency gains can be made. That is a clear and transparent agenda. It has been publicly announced and extensively debated over the years, including in the period before the last election.

The hon. Member for Govan should accept that the Labour party will have to consider the fundamental presumption behind the Government's policy that the public services exist for the benefit of the public. If there is an obstacle to the potential consensus to which the hon. Member for Vauxhall referred, it could be that Opposition Members are inclined to give too much weight to the question of those who provide public services as opposed to those who benefit from them.

In a recent debate, I characterised the difference that perhaps exists between the parties. I hope that it will narrow. I said that the difference between the Government and the Opposition was that the Government believed in public service while the Opposition believed in public provision. That is not a satisfactory position for the Opposition to take. But the Government's agenda is clear, it is not in any way hidden and it is clearly apparent.

Mr. Davidson

I appreciate the point that the Minister makes about the concept of hierarchy. We are not entitled to believe that dogma is driving the policy of the Government when they have decided that a function such as national savings shall remain linked to the public sector, although on an agency basis, and it seems reasonable for the Government to want to establish clear targets for an organisation such as that.

But we are entitled to believe that dogma is driving Government policy when they not only set the organisation output targets and efficiency objectives but then say how its functions shall be carried out by insisting that sub-activities within the overall output of the organisation shall be achieved in a particular way. Nobody in the private sector has to operate in this way.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. If the hon. Member is making an intervention, it is too long.

Mr. Jackson

As we said in Committee, we subject all delegations to certain central policies of Government. The hon. Gentleman has been arguing for certain such policies to remain with Government, for example, on dispersal. Alongside central policy on dispersal, it is a central policy of Government that there should be market testing. That is the explanation of what he sees as a paradox.

Ms. Hoey

I regret that the Minister has not responded to our arguments, but has more or less repeated what was said in Committee. He has not come up with anything new. The message that he is sending civil servants will ensure that there is a reduction in morale, for it is clear that he does not want fully to consult and involve the civil service unions. However, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.30 pm
Ms Mowlam

I beg to move amendment No. 9, in page 1, line 11, at end insert

'subject to the operations of the delegation of that function being carried out in accordance with Government policy on equality of opportunities'. In this amendment, we are seeking clarification from the Minister on the impact of the Bill on equality and the whole question of sex discrimination. The note on terms and conditions in the civil service released by the Cabinet Office clearly stated that the Bill would not of itself change anyone's terms and conditions of service; nor would it affect the rights of civil servants in respect of protection of their terms and conditions.

We believe that that will not be the case. There is really a threat that the Bill, if passed, will have a serious impact on equal opportunities in the civil service. The Bill would enable the delegation of functions to both heads of Departments and agencies, one of these functions being the delegation of equal opportunities. This, we believe, could have serious consequences for women employees.

We are also concerned about monitoring. Delegation, we believe, poses a threat to equal opportunities monitoring. Performance pay for women is monitored, but we are concerned that, after the Bill is passed, the delegated powers will mean that individual Departments will set up their own pay machines, some of which may not use pay scales and incremental progression. It will then be difficult to monitor awards or performance-related pay across a whole range of pay systems and to produce meaningful statistics. We also believe that the OPSS will be unable to monitor complaints on discrimination and harassment, presumably because of the difficulties of monitoring.

It is these questions that concern us particularly. What worries us is that the Government will use this Bill to delegate powers and that different Departments and agencies will then opt for what are seen to be flexible working patterns. If we take standby appointments, these will not be responding to equal opportunities, such as flexible hours and job sharing, and there will be no monitoring of sexual harassment, recruitment, child care, disciplinary action taken in relation to harassment and discrimination, career breaks, training and development.

We are seeking from the Minister with this amendment some guarantee of those equal opportunities post-delegation.

Mr. Robert Jackson

The Government entirely agree with the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam) about the importance of equal opportunities in employment. It is a matter of record that Government and the public service have a very good record as equal opportunities employers; and we are committed to maintaining it. For example, there are our programmes of action on women and race and our code of practice on disability, which have been published, the annual progress reports, and the Prime Minister's recent initiative on appointments of women and ethnic minorities to public bodies. We have a very strong commitment, and we support the spirit of the hon. Lady's concern.

Nevertheless, we cannot accept the amendment. We have had some discussion in this debate—and it was a theme which ran through our discussions in Committee—of the importance of what we have now come to call, having developed a jargon, central policies, which will run across and alongside, transcending, overriding and driving through, the whole range of policies which will be delegated under this Bill.

There is nothing in this Bill which interferes with the power of Government to enforce such central policies—relating, for example, to equality of opportunity or, indeed, to any other matter. If the delegation of a particular function raises particular equality issues, this Bill, now that the previous amendment has been withdrawn, allows suitable conditions to be attached.

The hon. Member for Redcar mentioned monitoring. It will be perfectly possible for monitoring of questions of sexual harassment and pay arrangements to continue, as appropriate, under the new arrangements; it will become easier—not be made possible, because it is simply a matter of facilitation—under the operation of this Bill.

I can give the hon. Lady the assurance, if that is what she is seeking, that these delegations do not in any way undermine our central policies. To take something dear to the heart of the Government, there is nothing on the face of the Bill about value for money, but the Government will continue to use that as a criterion, alongside other central policies, for example on equal opportunities, when we are considering delegation or the exercise of delegated powers.

The amendment is unnecessary, but it has provided a welcome opportunity for us to place on record our continuing commitment to equality of opportunity. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Lady will withdraw it.

Ms Mowlam

We were very keen for some terms and conditions to be included in the Bill. I do not want to sound jaundiced, but one always lives in fear that the Government might forget that they promised certain terms and conditions, especially those on sexual equality, when the delegations take place. However, in view of the Minister's assurances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.—[Mr. Robert Jackson.]

9.35 pm
Ms Mowlam

We have had the pleasure of the Minister's company throughout the Committee stage but, sadly, that of the Secretary of State only for part of Second Reading and not tonight. Although it is a party night and I know that many people are preparing for Christmas, it is sad that the Secretary of State could not be here for any part of the debate in view of its seriousness.

I shall be succinct. I want to put on record the importance of our vote against the Bill. As we have seen in the Chamber tonight and in Committee, there is common ground between the Opposition and the Government. There are certain advantages to be obtained from decentralisation and delegation. We may or may not agree on the detail of the delegation, the specifics of pay or certain terms and conditions but it is impossible to know whether we agree—the scope of the Bill permits broad delegation but, in Committee and this evening, the Minister has emphasised that he was talking only of examples, not of specific plans.

It is important to note that the Transfer of Functions Orders covered by the Bill include pay and conditions in addition to the organisation and conduct of the civil service. In other words, the Bill encompasses all the management functions relevant to the home civil service.

Our main objection to the Bill is the part that it plays in the Government's overall strategy of contracting out and privatisation. The Minister said that we kept referring to a hidden agenda but we did so only because the Government have assured us throughout the debate that this is merely a technical, small Bill of minor importance. However, his responses this evening have shown clearly that the Bill is part of a jigsaw and part of the Government's overall stategy for privatisation and contracting out. We disagree with that final goal.

The Bill will drive down wages and conditions for members of the civil service. Departments or parts of Departments faced with market testing are already cutting their major expense which is, of course, salaries, in order to compete with external bids.

The experience of market testing and contracting out among local authorities is that competition from the private sector is often solely on the grounds of undercutting wages. Civil servants say that when part of their Department is put up for market testing, members of the work force offer to cut holidays, pensions and sick pay in the hope of preserving an in-house bid and of saving their jobs.

That puts paid to the Minister's argument that the proposed changes are about quality, service and choice. The Government's prime consideration is cost cutting, which is achieved by contracting out and privatisation. It is clear that privatisation is the centre of the Government's policy. On Second Reading and in Committee, the Minister and the Secretary of State have tried to skirt the issue by saying that they will choose the public or the private route, whichever is the most viable.

However, in a speech to the Centre for Policy Studies on 23 November, their colleague the Chief Secretary to the Treasury stated the Conservative party's position more starkly. He said: In every Department of State we are no longer simply looking for obvious candidates for privatisation. The conventional question was 'what can we sell.' The question must now be turned on its head to 'what must we keep? The Government are doing all that they can to make parts of the civil service attractive to the private sector. It is clear from the internal papers issued by the Treasury that the way in which departmental managers are required to assess the relative value of in-house bids and tenders from outside the civil service will not guarantee a level playing field. The Minister has repeatedly said that there will be a level playing field between in-house and outside bids. However, when we consider the terms and conditions, that will not be the case.

The civil service bid is required to assess all in-house costs including accommodation and what are called hidden overheads. Bids from outside the civil service are made on a cash basis. Thus it is possible for an in-house bid that is lower in cash terms to lose out to a bid from the private sector even though it may cost the public service more, simply because the private sector did not have to take into account equipment and accommodation costs or a variety of other issues.

There are already clear examples of how bias has been given to private sector bids. In respect of the Ministry of Defence, we need only consider Tarmac's bid for the Property Services Agency. Once the bid was made, Tarmac was allowed to come back with additional funds for possible redundancies. It was then given a guarantee of £11 million in future contracts, £8 million of which was from the MOD.

There is a similar case of unfair bidding between in-house and external bids in respect of the Central Office of Information. Williams Lea was allowed to make a second bid to include redundancy payments and no one else was allowed to participate in the second round of bids. Those are two serious examples where in-house bids have not enjoyed a level playing field.

The Government could have simply continued to rely on the pressures of market testing to drive down wages. However, they ran into an obstacle in Europe in the form of a directive in 1981 which gave employment protection to workers when they were transferred from one commercial undertaking to another.

Until recently, it was unclear whether the directive applied to non-commercial undertakings such as local authorities or the civil service. A recent European Court of Justice ruling states that it does. That directive on the protection of workers' rights extends through local authorities and the civil service with the workers when they are privatised.

That has caused confusion in the Government's market testing programme. John Hall, who chairs the Confederation of British Industry's competing for quality group and who is also secretary of the Cleaning Support Services Association, has said of the workers' rights that are to be protected: This will make tendering totally unattractive. It is staggering news. It is probably the most serious challenge ever to our industry and we will fight it tooth and nail…If the clause on the protection of workers' rights goes on the statute book then there will be little point in our members getting involved in public sector tendering. Similarly, a spokesman for Onyx UK, another important contractor for local authority services, stated on Radio 4's "Face the Facts":

If private sector employers become liable to take on not just council services but the workers' original terms and conditions as well, it would change the face of compulsory competitive tendering and though there would be nothing to stop the private sector remaining involved, much of the rationale behind the process would have been lost. I think it would slightly emasculate what the Government's intention was behind the compulsory competitive tendering regulations which is to reduce the costs to local authorities by opening it up to private sector tendering which would mean that if the private sector win, the employees would effectively be employed on normal private sector conditions. Therefore, if the regulations are changed and we would be obliged to take over the ex-council employees on the existing conditions, this of course would mean that our price would be higher and the price of all our competitors would be higher."

So the protection undertakings for workers will be transferred to the employment legislation. As a result of that, and the difficulties which it has caused, a number of Departments have halted their market-testing programmes until further clarification is given. The Foreign Office has halted such programmes. The Welsh Office has told its health authorities to cease contracting out while it seeks legal advice, and the Health and Safety Executive has put its programme on hold because it initially received contradictory legal advice.

With the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations, the Government have been forced to accept that market testing will lower pay and conditions in the civil service, and the Bill will allow them to do that. We are opposed to the Bill because of a combination of the transfer of undertakings and the possibility that it will lower terms and conditions and facilitate market testing and contracting out.

The Labour party has a different view of the civil service. Our view is a renewal of the public service tradition to make it more responsive to users, to decentralise it and, above all, to make it accountable. We think that the civil service should remain under a single employer which has public money—taxpayers' money—and which is accountable directly to Parliament or through Ministers. It is clear that that does not happen at present.

Privatisation and contracting out have altered that view of the civil service. All we have to do is to examine the monopolies of gas, water and electricity which provide no additional choice, regardless of the Government's rhetoric to consumers, and are deeply inadequate in their regulation and accountability to Parliament.

We must examine examples of the sort that the Minister gave this evening. If the Minister thinks that social security would function better in the private sector, and if he puts it out to competitive tender, what will happen to Mrs. Smith from Bootle who already has a severe difficulty with accountability and being able to complain about her disability living allowance? If social security is put out to contract and goes to a building society or NatWest, will people such as Mrs. Smith have a genuine system of complaint? Such a system would be lost under the Government's proposals.

The civil service is already demoralised by the Damocles sword of privatisation hanging over its head. We believe that there are ethical values and a culture in the public service which have a sense of equity between individuals and offer a product, whether it is running a prison or our passport agencies. That is not to say that value for money is not important. It is more a question of emphasis.

The Labour party believes that ethical interests, public scrutiny and accountability are crucial to the future of our civil service. As many of my hon. Friends have said, we value our civil service. We accept that there is a need for change, equity of provision, constant review and testing services, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Davidson) said, by way of performance indicators or quality management. However, we want a civil service which will be run by people who are accountable rather than business people who are accountable only to themselves. We want a civil service of that sort when we enter the next century.

9.48 pm
Mr. Trimble

I wish to explain briefly why my colleagues and I will oppose the Third Reading of the Bill. During earlier debates, I said that we were worried that the Bill contained a hidden agenda. In the words of the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam), the Bill will deteriorate the conditions of service and depress salary levels of civil servants who are in agencies which are about to he hived off, or in other parts of the civil service. That is a wholly undesirable way in which to proceed.

That is not to say that there cannot be some advantage and flexibility and a devolution and delegation of responsibility, and so on. However, we fear that behind the legislation lies an agenda which is not in the interests of the public service. There should still be a concept of public service.

I make no apology for referring once again to the parochial aspects which concern me, especially those relating to procedures. As I said, clause 3 authorises the making of an Order in Council by negative resolution. That means that the equivalent provision for Northern Ireland will not be debated in the House.

The Minister said earlier that the Bill was a technical measure. He said that it had not raised a tremendous amount of interest in the House and called attention to the limited attendance in today's debate and earlier proceedings. However, the technical nature of the Bill is not a reason for saying that it should not receive detailed scrutiny. Indeed, it is an argument for even closer scrutiny. It is the function of the House closely to examine measures.

Clause 3 authorises the making of an Order in Council for purposes corresponding to those of the Bill. But "corresponding" does not mean exactly the same. For the reasons that I gave earlier, the Northern Ireland Order in Council could not be drafted with exactly the same terminology as the Bill. It will contain differences. Those differences will not be debated because of clause 3. If clause 3 did not exist, we would have an unamendable Order in Council. But the normal procedure for Orders in Council—publishing a proposal on which there is a consultation—would allow a limited opportunity for people to make representations and have a chance of influencing the nature of the measure.

If the Bill is passed, there will be no opportunity for any scrutiny of the Northern Ireland measure or any opportunity to amend it. That is simply not good enough for a detailed, technical and complex matter. For that reason, as well as the general issue on which I touched, we find the measure unacceptable and we shall oppose it.

9.51 pm
Mr. Davidson

There is a consensus in favour of delegation and better management of public services, but anxiety is often expressed by Opposition Members about the hidden agenda behind the Bill. As the debate has gone on, the agenda has become far less hidden. I find myself in the almost paradoxical position that I must vote against the Government's proposals because they do not go far enough. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] I know. It causes me some difficulty, I must confess.

I am in favour of delegation to management within the civil service, but the Bill does not go far enough, because it does not allow managers freedom to manage without the fetters of Government policy on a series of matters on which we believe that these policies are driven by dogma.

The public services should operate to agreed agendas, free from dogma. I recognise that we need consensually driven policies for the civil service. For example, I wish to see the flexibility of public service constrained by agreed policies on issues such as dispersal. But I am opposed to constraints such as the thrust to regionalisation of pay, which is designed to drive down pay levels, and contracting out.

Are we serious about injecting private sector methods into the public sector? Let us take the example of the National Savings bank in Glasgow. I ask the Minister to give me an example of a private sector organisation which is obliged to contract out its typing services, messenger services, reprographic services, agency accounting, internal audit and training. The private sector does not operate in that way. If we want a decent public sector, it should not be fettered by dogma-driven policies. That is why I oppose the Government's proposals.

9.53 pm
Ms Hoey

I regret the need to oppose the Bill. Although it was initially heralded as a poor, misunderstood little Bill, the detailed debate on Second Reading and the examination in Committee, as well as the scrutiny in the House of Lords, have highlighted the importance of the measures proposed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam) reiterated the central and overwhelming area of agreement between the Opposition and the Government, but we are not able to offer support for the Bill because of what it lacks. It lacks a conscience. It lacks safeguards to prevent the abuses and errors that may be side effects of the measures that it contains. It lacks a commitment to consulting the unions, even though the Minister has conceded the importance of such procedures. What is more, we shall be left to rely on the Minister's discretion over consultation, when the Bill was sprung on the staff of the civil service without a day's notice.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis) has been terrier-like in his pursuit of the Government for a commitment to proper consultation. The failure of his efforts is testimony to Government intransigence.

My hon. Friend the Member for Redcar has pressed the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to put the Government's commitment to maintaining and developing equality of opportunity in the Bill, by allowing modest amendments to safeguard the civil service's co-ordinated practices. Our civil service has an excellent reputation in that field, and the Government's reluctance to amend slightly the Bill bodes ill for Government policies, including Opportunity 2000.

The hon. Member for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord), in an earlier discussion, hit a raw nerve on the Conservative Front Bench when he pleaded in the recent debate on public services for a period of reflection so that we could look first at ways of making our civil service more efficient in its present form before we reach too readily for the privatisation lever.

The Bill does nothing to allay our fears that the Government's hidden agenda is the privatisation of the civil service regardless, on the dogmatic grounds that the private sector necessarily does things better than the public.

Opposition Members have reached out to the Minister with olive branch amendments to cover our concerns, and they have spurned them. My hon. Friends have coaxed and cajoled the Government in search of guarantees to cover the famous impartiality, objectivity and discretion of the civil service. The Minister has turned a stony—[Interruption.] Madam Speaker, do we have to try to speak when people are gabbling over there beyond the Bar?

Madam Speaker

I am sorry, but I thought that the hon. Lady was capable of making herself heard.

Ms. Hoey

I am, but I wish that hon. Members who come in for the last two minutes of the debate might sit wherever they have been a little longer and not come in until the Division is called.

The Minister has turned a stony face on those pleas. Sadly, his commitment and motivation must be questioned, and we shall therefore oppose the Bill.

9.57 pm
Mr. Robert Jackson

The House has had an unparalleled opportunity to discuss the civil service in the past few weeks—an opportunity which we have not perhaps had before. There was a statement on the citizens charter White Paper, a debate on the public service, and the Second Reading, Committee and Report stages of the Bill. It has been an interesting experience, which has shown that there is a good deal of common ground between both sides of the House, which is welcome.

In particular, it is clear that the Government and the Opposition share a view of the importance of ensuring that the civil service can give best effect to valued commitment to serving citizens. It is easy for us to take our British system for granted. Apolitical, impartial incorruptible civil services are not altogether common throughout the world, and we are lucky to have what we have here. It is also common ground that it is equally important that the civil service should change and evolve to meet new challenges; otherwise, there will be stagnation and decline, and that is the threat that faces all large organisations.

I am sorry to hear that the Opposition intend to vote against the Bill. No doubt it is their duty to oppose, but it seems unfortunate that they are thereby forced to oppose better management in the civil service.

Let us remind the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam) of her words in Committee: We have no difficulty with decentralisation; we have no difficulty with management decisions being taken close to the place where the work force are".—[Official Report, Standing Committee D, 26 November 1992; c. 75.] It sounds to me as though the hon. Lady is happy to favour delegation, provided that all managers take the same decision. It is exactly the same as her attitude to market testing—she is in favour, provided that the private sector is not allowed to compete. The fact is that the hon. Lady is willing to wound but afraid to strike.

I pay tribute to the valiant support for the Bill given by Earl Howe in the House of Lords, and to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who said that the sole aim of the Bill was to remove a legal technicality in order to help the civil service to organise itself in the best way to deliver services to the citizen in an effective and efficient manner. There is no hidden agenda behind the Bill: it is simply an attempt to remove a technical impediment to delegation and decentralisation, where there is common ground between us. The Bill will bring positive benefits, and I commend it to the House.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 297, Noes 234.

Division No. 104] [10 pm
Adley, Robert Conway, Derek
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Aitken, Jonathan Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Alexander, Richard Cormack, Patrick
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Couchman, James
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Cran, James
Amess, David Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Ancram, Michael Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Arbuthnot, James Davis, David (Boothferry)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Day, Stephen
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Deva, Nirj Joseph
Ashby, David Devlin, Tim
Atkins, Robert Dickens, Geoffrey
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Dicks, Terry
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Dorrell, Stephen
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Baldry, Tony Dover, Den
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Duncan, Alan
Bates, Michael Duncan-Smith, Iain
Batiste, Spencer Dunn, Bob
Bellingham, Henry Durant, Sir Anthony
Bendall, Vivian Dykes, Hugh
Beresford, Sir Paul Eggar, Tim
Biffen, Rt Hon John Elletson, Harold
Body, Sir Richard Emery, Sir Peter
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Booth, Hartley Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Boswell, Tim Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Evennett, David
Bowden, Andrew Faber, David
Bowis, John Fabricant, Michael
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Fenner, Dame Peggy
Brandreth, Gyles Fishburn, Dudley
Brazier, Julian Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Bright, Graham Forth, Eric
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Browning, Mrs. Angela Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Freeman, Roger
Budgen, Nicholas Fry, Peter
Burns, Simon Gale, Roger
Burt, Alistair Gallie, Phil
Butcher, John Gardiner, Sir George
Butler, Peter Garnier, Edward
Butterfill, John Gill, Christopher
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Gillan, Cheryl
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Carrington, Matthew Gorst, John
Carttiss, Michael Grant, Sir Anthony (Cambs SW)
Cash, William Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Chaplin, Mrs Judith Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Churchill, Mr Grylls, Sir Michael
Clappison, James Hague, William
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Hamilton, Rt Hon Archie (Epsom)
Coe, Sebastian Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Colvin, Michael Hampson, Dr Keith
Congdon, David Hannam, Sir John
Hargreaves, Andrew Oppenheim, Phillip
Harris, David Ottaway, Richard
Hawkins, Nick Page, Richard
Hawksley, Warren Paice, James
Hayes, Jerry Patnick, Irvine
Heathcoat-Amory, David Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Hendry, Charles Pawsey, James
Hicks, Robert Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Pickles, Eric
Horam, John Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Hordern, Sir Peter Porter, David (Waveney)
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A) Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Powell, William (Corby)
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Redwood, John
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W) Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Richards, Rod
Hunter, Andrew Riddick, Graham
Jack, Michael Robathan, Andrew
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Jenkin, Bernard Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Jessel, Toby Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr) Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Sackville, Tom
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim
Key, Robert Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Kilfedder, Sir James Shaw, David (Dover)
King, Rt Hon Tom Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Kirkhope, Timothy Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Knapman, Roger Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Shersby, Michael
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n) Sims, Roger
Knox, David Skeet, Sir Trevor
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Soames, Nicholas
Lang, Rt Hon Ian Speed, Sir Keith
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Spencer, Sir Derek
Legg, Barry Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Leigh, Edward Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Lennox-Boyd, Mark Spink, Dr Robert
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Spring, Richard
Lidington, David Sproat, Iain
Lightbown, David Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Lord, Michael Steen, Anthony
Luff, Peter Stephen, Michael
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Stern, Michael
Lynne, Ms Liz Stewart, Allan
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Streeter, Gary
MacKay, Andrew Sumberg, David
McLoughlin, Patrick Sweeney, Walter
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Sykes, John
Madel, David Tapsell, Sir Peter
Malone, Gerald Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Mans, Keith Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
Marland, Paul Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Marlow, Tony Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Temple-Morris, Peter
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel) Thomason, Roy
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Mellor, Rt Hon David Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Merchant, Piers Thurnham, Peter
Milligan, Stephen Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Tracey, Richard
Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW) Trend, Michael
Moate, Roger Trotter, Neville
Monro, Sir Hector Twinn, Dr Ian
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Moss, Malcolm Viggers, Peter
Neubert, Sir Michael Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Walden, George
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Wallace, James
Norris, Steve Waller, Gary
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Waterson, Nigel Winterton, Mrs Ann(Congleton)
Watts, John Winterton, Nicholas(Macc'f'ld)
Wells, Bowen Wolfson, Mark
Wheeler, Sir John Wood, Timothy
Whitney, Ray Yeo, Tim
Whittingdale, John Young, Sir George (Acton)
Widdecombe, Ann
Wiggin, Jerry Tellers for the Ayes:
Wilkinson, John Mr. Sydney Chapman and
Willetts, David Mr. Robert Hughes.
Wilshire, David
Abbott, Ms Diane Etherington, Bill
Adams, Mrs Irene Evans, John (St Helens N)
Ainger, Nick Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Fisher, Mark
Allen, Graham Flynn, Paul
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Foster, Derek (B'p Auckland)
Ashton, Joe Foulkes, George
Barnes, Harry Fraser, John
Battle, John Fyfe, Maria
Bayley, Hugh Galbraith, Sam
Beggs, Roy Galloway, George
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Gapes, Mike
Benton, Joe Garrett, John
Bermingham, Gerald Gerrard, Neil
Berry, Dr. Roger Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Betts, Clive Godman, Dr Norman A.
Blunkett, David Godsiff, Roger
Boateng, Paul Golding, Mrs Llin
Boyce, Jimmy Gordon, Mildred
Bradley, Keith Graham, Thomas
Bray, Dr Jeremy Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Burden, Richard Grocott, Bruce
Byers, Stephen Hain, Peter
Caborn, Richard Hall, Mike
Callaghan, Jim Hanson, David
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Hardy, Peter
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Henderson, Doug
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Heppell, John
Canavan, Dennis Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Cann, Jamie Hinchliffe, David
Chisholm, Malcolm Hoey, Kate
Clapham, Michael Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Home Robertson, John
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Hood, Jimmy
Clelland, David Hoon, Geoffrey
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Coffey, Ann Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Cohen, Harry Hoyle, Doug
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Corbett, Robin Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Corbyn, Jeremy Hutton, John
Corston, Ms Jean Illsley, Eric
Cousins, Jim Ingram, Adam
Cryer, Bob Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)
Cummings, John Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Jamieson, David
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE) Janner, Greville
Dalyell, Tam Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Darling, Alistair Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Davidson, Ian Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral) Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Jowell, Tessa
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Denham, John Keen, Alan
Dewar, Donald Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)
Dixon, Don Khabra, Piara S.
Dobson, Frank Kilfoyle, Peter
Donohoe, Brian H. Leighton, Ron
Dowd, Jim Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Dunnachie, Jimmy Lewis, Terry
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Litherland, Robert
Eagle, Ms Angela Livingstone, Ken
Eastham, Ken Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Enright, Derek Loyden, Eddie
McAllion, John Radice, Giles
McAvoy, Thomas Randall, Stuart
McFall, John Raynsford, Nick
McKelvey, William Robertson, George (Hamilton)
McLeish, Henry Roche, Mrs. Barbara
McMaster, Gordon Rogers, Allan
McNamara, Kevin Rooney, Terry
McWilliam, John Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Madden, Max Rowlands, Ted
Mahon, Alice Sedgemore, Brian
Mandelson, Peter Sheerman, Barry
Marek, Dr John Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S) Short, Clare
Martin, Michael J.(Springburn) Skinner, Dennis
Martlew, Eric Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Maxton, John Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Meacher, Michael Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Meale, Alan Snape, Peter
Michael, Alun Soley, Clive
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Spearing, Nigel
Milburn, Alan Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Miller, Andrew Steinberg, Gerry
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby) Stevenson, George
Morgan, Rhodri Stott, Roger
Morley, Elliot Strang, Dr. Gavin
Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe) Straw, Jack
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Mowlam, Marjorie Tipping, Paddy
Mudie, George Trimble, David
Mullin, Chris Turner, Dennis
Murphy, Paul Vaz, Keith
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire) Walley, Joan
O'Brien, William (Normanton) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
O'Hara, Edward Wareing, Robert N
Olner, William Watson, Mike
O'Neill, Martin Wicks, Malcolm
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Wigley, Dafydd
Parry, Robert Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Patchett, Terry Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Pendry, Tom Wilson, Brian
Pickthall, Colin Winnick, David
Pike, Peter L. Wise, Audrey
Pope, Greg Worthington, Tony
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Wray, Jimmy
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E) Wright, Dr Tony
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Prescott, John
Primarolo, Dawn Tellers for the Noes:
Purchase, Ken Mr. Jack Thompson and
Quin, Ms Joyce Mr. Andrew Mackinlay.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.

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