HL Deb 22 July 1971 vol 322 cc1205-14

7.41 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Report be now received.

Moved, That this Report be now received.—(Lord Windlesham.)

LORD STONHAM moved as an Amendment:

After Clause 3, insert the following new clause Safeguards for employment of resident tenants or managers of premises disposed of under sections 2 and 3. .—(1) The Secretary of State shall, so far as is practicable, secure that the resident tenant or manager of hotels and other licensed premises disposed of by the Secretary of State under sections 2 and 3 of the Act, have the opportunity, if the business carried on on the premises is continued by the person to whom it is disposed, of being employed in carrying it on, on terms not less favourable than those appropriate to a manager so employed before disposal of the premises. (2) In this section the expression resident tenant or manager' means a person who immediately before disposal by the Secretary of State was either the holder, or one of the joint holders, of the tenancy, or was employed as manager of the premises by the State Management Authority.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Amendment standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Hoy and myself. Your Lordships will readily perceive that this Amendment does not make any Party point. It is in fact an implication that I acknowledge that the Government are going to get their way. I hate the Bill; nevertheless, we have to bow to larger numbers. But I very much wished that we could do something to protect the interests of at least a number of members of the staff, because these are our own people. This Amendment seeks to give legislative form to what I believe is already Government policy.

The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, has already told us that in the case of the forty smallest licensed houses they will, in the first instance, be offered to the present tenants. That is fine. But there is no undertaking at all regarding the remainder. He has told us that he cannot possibly say that the Government are going to do the same thing; it may not tie up with the professional advice which they are given. This Amendment seeks to give these other people—more than a hundred of them—some assurance. I say at once that I know there cannot be a guarantee of continuity of employment, and we do not seek a guarantee. The noble Lord may say that it is impossible, and if he does I shall have to agree with him. But if he says that the Amendment is therefore unworkable, I do not agree, because we have provided in the Amendment that the Secretary of State shall secure"so far as is practicable"what we are seeking; and if the expert advisers say that in a particular case it is not practicable, then the Amendment will not apply.

As the noble Lord knows, I expressed fears about the employees on Second Reading and asked that the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, would be good enough to write to me. I asked what would happen about their pensions, removal grants, and so on. He was kind enough to write to me on July 9. I will not weary your Lordships with the whole letter, but I shall quote from it, quite fairly. It says: The first thing to say is that we do not yet know whether it will be possible to find a buyer who would be prepared to keep the brewery in operation. In all, there are about seventy workers employed at the brewery in Carlisle. Should they become redundant, I accept that it is unlikely that we should he able to offer these particular workers alternative Government employment. " Unlikely"is an understatement, I should think. Since the Government do not have other breweries they certainly could not offer them alternative Government employment. But the position is the same with the managers of the licensed houses. It is unlikely that they can be offered alternative Government employment. Lord Windlesham also says in his letter: In this situation, however, they will be eligible for compensation for premature retirement ", and he refers me to the Answer given to a Written Question in Hansard on May 12 about the new and improved terms which it is hoped will be available and which are currently being considered with the staff side. These have not yet been settled, but the management staff will receive in due course the agreed rates. Then, he says: Turning to your other point about removal expenses, these would be met, together with other allowances, under normal transfer terms for any member of staff for whom alternative Government employment away from Carlisle could be found. I am afraid that there is no provision under current Civil Service rules for meeting the cost of removal of redundant staff who find it necessary to leave the area to secure alternative private employment.

I was most grateful for that letter, but how does it leave these people who are the tenants or managers of the 110 to 120 licensed houses which are not to be treated in the same way as the forty? I think that for most of them it will mean premature retirement, with serious loss of their living standards: either that, or finding other employment outside the Civil Service, and paying the whole costs of their removal of their homes, and everything else. That certainly is not good enough. I submit—and the Amendment in fact implies—that the least the Home Secretary can do is to accept the responsibility of talking to prospective buyers about keeping on the present managers. Remember, my Lords, we are speaking about people who virtually, by definition, are the best, the most successful and the longest serving members of the staff. When a civil servant is seconded to the scheme, he is made the manager of one of the smallest houses. They are out of the way. Then, if he achieves good results, he is transferred to a larger establishment, and so over the years he reaches the top. This is what actually happens. Therefore, my Amendment is concerned with these people. They are the people whom, because they are good, I think the new owners might wish to employ—unless, of course, they want to manage their own house themselves. But there is a far higher likelihood that these managers will be continued in employment if the Home Secretary will agree to put in a word on their behalf.

It is not only the man's job that is at stake: it is his home, his house. It has been his home for twenty years or more. His wife is settled in; his children go to Carlisle schools, or they have jobs locally. But now, through absolutely no fault of his own, almost, as it were, as an act of God—


I do not know that I like that, my Lords.


Well, that is how these people are looking at it. Absolutely through no fault of their own, they have to contemplate a major and complete disruption of their whole lives and that of their families, at very considerable loss. If this Amendment were accepted it would show them now that they are not alone, because I understand that no senior civil servant has been out to talk to them recently, and they must be in doubt about what is going to happen to them. Some of them may even be tempted, if they get an offer, to move into other employment and perhaps jettison their pension rights.

I want them to have this reassurance, and I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, to accept that the Amendment is no wild proposition. It is not something just thought up. It has been lifted direct from existing legislation, because Section 106 of the Licensing Act 1964 reads as follows—and I would be grateful if the noble Lord would compare what I am reading with the Amendment that is now before us The Secretary of State shall so far as is practicable "— famous words! secure that a resident tenant or manager of licensed premises acquired by the Secretary of State under Section 104 of this Act shall have the opportunity, if the business previously carried on in the premises is continued by the Secretary of State, of being employed in carrying it on on terms not less favourable than those appropriate to a manager employed in a business such as was carried on in the premises before their acquisition. That Act in 1964 was one for which noble Lords opposite voted, including, of course, the Clause I have just read out. The Government will probably say that the circumstances were then different. It dealt with the Home Secretary buying places which he is now selling, but the Government then insisted that the Home Secretary should protect the tenants as far as was practicable, and now we have come round full circle and I am using the same words to ask the Government to protect the tenants.

My Lords, if you had visited the scene and seen these people and talked with them you would have been impressed with their quality. They have done their job as civil servants. As civil servants they have to go where they are required, but this is different. They have become part of the place, and now they have the ground entirely cut from under their feet. That is insupportable. The Home Secretary, when he was the buyer of these premises, had to take care of the people then working there. The need is far greater now. This great arbitrary chopper has fallen and the people who deserve well of us will suffer great loss. They will be jobless and they will be homeless, and I call on the noble Lord to accept this Amendment and thus prove that the Home Secretary is willing to do what he can to help. I beg to move.

7.53 p.m.


My Lords, because of commitments outside this House this is the first occasion on which I have been able to speak during the progress of this Bill. I regret this because, like my noble friend Lord Stonham, a few years ago I was concerned in the running of the Carlisle State management scheme. I then visited the area and went round a great many of these establishments. I know that some people might think that three days spent going from one public house to another in a sort of"pub crawl"is a pleasant way of working.


Hear, hear!


My Lords, it might be for my noble friend, but perhaps not so much for me. However, I met a great many of the managers of these hotels and I was impressed by their keenness and energy and loyalty. As the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, knows, the salaries these people are paid are Civil Service salaries, and are probably not quite as high as they might have received had they been working in other establishments. Now, as my noble friend Lord Stonham has pointed out, not only will they lose their jobs but they will lose their homes as well.

My noble friend mentioned the situation of those who work in the brewery. I might add that it is an excellent brewery, and perhaps if it had been allowed to expand into the surrounding area we would not have had this Bill before us. The plight of the employees at the brewery is also bad, although the plight of those who are managers of the hotels is even worse. Not only will they lose their jobs but their homes as well. I think there should be some protection for these people who have served the Home Office so well in the work they have done in the Carlisle and the other State management schemes.

I do not know what reply the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, will make, but I feel our first duty should be the protection of these people rather than those who might purchase the public houses and the hotels concerned. We must necessarily be brief tonight, but I appeal to him to accept this Amendment. As my noble friend said, it is not absolute; it says"so far as is practicable ", and I ask him to accept this Amendment and so protect those who have served us so well in the past.


My Lords, if I may say so, I think this is exactly the right subject for the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, to have returned to at Report stage. We had a far-reaching general debate on Second Reading, and we discussed a wide range of matters in Committee, but he has singled out one subject for the Report stage. I think we can sympathise entirely with him, and indeed applaud his choice in concentrating on the position of the staff.

We are sympathetic to the sentiments underlying this proposed new clause. For reasons which I shall give I do not think it would be right to advise the House to accept it, but we are certainly sympathetic to what the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, have said. The affection of the noble Baroness for the State management scheme is known to and appreciated by those who work in the area. The continuation of employment of all State management staff is one of the Government's principal concerns; I can say that without qualification. The interests of the staff will be one of the factors to be taken into account by the Secretaries of State in determining what is in the public interest. They will have an obligation put upon them by Statute to take into account what is in the public interest, and they will take the staff into account in interpreting their responsibilities.

Specifically, the Government will do their best to arrange that those who wish to stay in their present jobs are offered re-employment by the new owners. In many cases, particularly with the supporting staff, we believe this will not present much difficulty, but the Government will have no powers to guarantee re-employment for any manager or any tenant, and I am afraid this is the main argument of substance against the new clause.

If the new clause were to bite in practice it would have to be enforceable, but as the noble Lord himself has pointed out this would not be so because of the qualifying words which he has included,"so far as is practicable ". The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, also mentioned the analogy of the Licensing Act 1964, the provisions by which Parliament placed an obligation on the Secretaries of State when acquiring premises by compulsory purchase. But the difference is one of substance, and I am afraid one cannot get over it. It is that, whereas a buyer can bind himself to take on existing staff—this can be a term of the contract—the seller cannot bind the buyer to do so. The new clause would therefore place on the Secretaries of State obligations which they are not in a position to discharge.

There are two further arguments against the new clause. The first is that if a clause of this sort were translated into a condition of the contract, if it were made an absolute condition of any offer by any agent acting on the Government's behalf, then this could not fail to depress the purchase price the public would receive for these assets. The second objection is that we would question the assumption made by the noble Baroness, and I think also to a certain extent by the noble Lord, that managers and tenants and hotel managers will be losing their jobs and their homes. I do not think we should expect this on any widespread scale. We are advised that brewery companies have great difficulty in getting trained, experienced, capable, reliable, trustworthy and keen staff for their licensed premises. I think the noble Baroness would use each of those adjectives about some of the staff she met. So the chances are that any new buyer will wish to retain experienced staff, particularly the hotel managers.

The same applies to any public house which a brewery company might wish to continue to run as a managed house. In the case of tenants, some of these will be given an opportunity, as I stated at Second Reading, of buying the premises. If they are unable or unwilling to do so, the premises will have to be put on the market. If the buyer is a free trader, he would in most cases only be interested in obtaining vacant possession. But if the buyer is a brewer there would he reason to suppose that in many cases he would wish to keep the tenant on, if he is a satisfactory tenant; the supposition is probably that he would wish to keep the tenant on as before. But the Government would not as a seller be in a position to insist that the terms of the new tenancy were no less favourable than those of the present tenancy, and certainly would not be in a position to insist that the terms were not less favourable than those appropriate to a manager.

I hope that what I have said shows that the staff interests are in our minds. I can tell the noble Lord opposite that two of the senior officials responsible for the scheme are in Carlisle to-day, as it happens, and that negotiations with staff representatives will begin in the course of next week. Having said that, having expressed agreement with the purpose behind the noble Lord's Amendment, but having pointed out some of the practical reasons why it would be difficult to accept it as it stands, I hope the noble Lord feels that the Amendment has achieved its purpose and that he will be willing to withdraw it.


My Lords, my Amendment has not achieved its purpose, because the purpose was to get it accepted. The noble Lord has said a number of things which I shall study with interest, but I think it can be summed up as"sympathetic, but ", and, of course, it is the various items of"but"which are unfortunate. I think his rejection of the Amendment on the grounds that it is unworkable is unfair, because if for some forty years we have gone on with a Home Secretary doing his duty so far as is practicable, and nobody has thought to question it, nobody says it will not work, I do not see why it will not work now. I agree that where he is a seller he can bind himself, but we are not asking for him to bind himself in this case, merely to use his best endeavours. That is all we are asking.

I am quite sure that if two senior civil servants from the Home Office (I am very delighted to hear it) are up there discussing these matters with the people to-day, they will agree that the thing of greatest value to them would be some reassuring words in the Bill. In a way, it is worse to have this Amendment rejected than it would have been if it had not been moved at all. All I would say to the noble Lord is this. If this Amendment is unacceptable and is technically wrong, will he take it back to see whether he can produce an Amendment which will produce the effect we want, give at least some backing to these people when it comes to being considered for jobs in the hotels they now run. If the noble Lord could say that it would be very helpful.


My Lords, we are on Report and I am not entitled to speak a second time except with the leave of the House.


The noble Lord has it.


It is leave of the House that I need, not simply of the Benches opposite. I could not give the noble Lord that assurance, I am afraid, and I do not agree with him that his debate has been meaningless. I think what has been said has shown the concern of Ministers past and present, their concern about the future of the staff in this particular undertaking, and I would not agree with him that the debate has been without any purpose at all.

On Question, Amendment negatived.