HC Deb 26 May 1993 vol 225 cc913-5
8. Ms Glenda Jackson

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what recent discussions he has held on the operation in local government of the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981 and the acquired rights directive.

Mr. Redwood

My right hon. and learned Friend has had a number of discussions about this matter. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment set out the Government's position on 11 March.

Ms Jackson

Have not the Government failed to honour their obligation, under the acquired rights directive, to protect the rights of workers? Indeed, they face an action on this very issue in the European Court. Can the Minister give the House a guarantee that his Department will ensure that the transfer of undertakings provisions are no longer used to force workers to accept pay reductions and a worsening of their conditions of employment or get the sack? Or is he determined that his Department will play its full part in the Government's plans to turn this country into the sweat shop of Europe?

Mr. Redwood

What an absurd question. The hon. Lady knows well that the Government will obey the law—the European directive and the British law as approved by the House of Commons. Will the hon. Lady and her party agree that competive tendering in local government gives value for money and better quality service? Is the Labour party aware that the auditor for Lambeth pointed out that, had it been competitively tendered, £20 million of work would have saved the taxpayers of Lambeth £5 million? Is the Labour party saying that the people of Lambeth and elsewhere should be denied that money because councils do not follow the rule of law?

Mr. Matthew Banks

Does my hon. Friend agree that the application of TUPE varies from case to case and that, contrary to the misleading impression which may have been created, unless there is a substantial transfer of personnel and premises, there are no transfers of undertakings as a result of the entirely appropriate policy of compulsory competive tendering?

Mr. Redwood

My hon. Friend is right; we need to look at matters case by case. He is also right to infer that many hundreds of successful competitive tenders have been organised in local government without the regulations being deemed to aply. As a result, many taxpayers have a better deal, many better quality services are provided and in some cases people have more rewarding jobs as well.

Mr. Henderson

If the Minister wants to save public money through competitive tendering, is he aware that much public money is not being saved because of the confusion that is apparent in Government Departments? Is he aware that the civil service has been told by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster that the acquired rights directive, which can protect conditions of employment, should apply to contracted-out jobs, yet his Department gives the opposite advice and says that the directive need not apply? Does the Minister accept that he is rapidly becoming marooned on a dated and objectionable policy? Will he tell the House today that all Government Departments, including his own, will apply the rule of law?

Mr. Redwood

I have already told the House that we intend to apply the rule of law, as we have been doing. Had the hon. Gentleman listened to my answer, he would have heard me say that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment have worked together on the guidance and advice. On 11 March, they issued guidance and advice that represent the Government's position. I wish that the hon. Gentleman would read it. It is clear, good advice which can provide value for money for central and local taxpayers.