HL Deb 20 June 1985 vol 465 cc368-84

3.23 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Elton)

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now further considered on Report.

Moved, That the Bill be further considered on Report.—(Lord Elton)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Lord Rochester had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 81 AA:

After Clause 49, insert the following new clause— (".—(1) The following provisions of the Local Government Act 1972 (in this section hereinafter called "the 1972 Act"), that is to say—

  1. (a) section 255 (transfer of officers);
  2. (b) section 259 (compensation for loss of office) and
  3. (c) section 260 (option for early retirement);
shall apply for the purposes for this Act as they apply for the purpose of that Act subject to the adaptations and modifications contained in or provided for by the following subsections.

(2) In the provisions of the 1972 Act as applied by this section—

  1. (a) references to the 1972 Act or the provisions of that Act shall include references to this Act and the corresponding or equivalent provisions of this Act;
  2. (b) references to local authorities which ceased to exist by virtue of the 1972 Act shall include references to a local authority abolished by this Act;
  3. (c) references to 1st April 1974 shall be construed as references to 1st April 1986; and
  4. (d) references to 31st March 1974 shall be construed as references to 31 st March 1986.
(3) The reference in subsection (2) of section 255 of the 1972 Act as applied by this section to the employment of such local authority as may be specified in or determined under an order under the said subsection (2) shall include a reference to the employment of a London borough council, the Common Council, a metropolitan district council, a new authority, a residuary body or any other body or person by whom functions exercisable by the Greater London Council of a metropolitan county council are exercisable after the abolition date. (4) The entitlements to compensation or benefits payable under regulations to be made pursuant to sections 259 and 260 of the 1972 Act as applied by this section shall be not less favourable to employees than those provided for under the terms of the Regulations made under that Act, or the most advantageous compensation or benefits payable under any scheme for early retirement or for the payment of redundancy compensation which has been approved by any relevant employing authority before 2nd March 1984, whether or not such scheme forms part of the employees' contract of employment. (5) The Secretary of State may make by order such further modifications to or adaptations of the provisions of the 1972 Act applied by this section as may appear to him to be necessary or expendient to secure the purposes of this section.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, on Tuesday night I gave the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, oral notice, and yesterday morning written confirmation, that I was tabling this amendment in what, as your Lordships will see, is a form modified to take account of one or two imperfections in the original version. Since then my noble friend Lord Winstanley and I have given further earnest consideration to the whole matter in the light of two factors. The first is what the noble Earl had to say in Committee concerning the Government's acceptance that, in the negotiations they hoped to conduct with trade unions on the question of compensation for loss of office, or diminution of emolument, there should be broad equality of treatment between the employees of all relevant authorities in terms of reasonable settlement. The second is that we understand that some discussion has now actually taken place between the Government and representatives of at least one trade union branch on this question.

We are most anxious to say nothing today which could possibly prejudice the outcome of further negotiations and discussions. In those circumstances, we are prepared to wait until the last possible opportunity, namely, Third Reading of this Bill, and for 2nd July next, before deciding whether to pursue matters such as transfer orders, pay and employment conditions for people transferred to successor bodies, and especially in our view the need referred to both in this amendment and, more specifically, in Amendment No. 81AC for substantially improved compensation arrangements to be made as soon as possible. Amendment No. 81AC: Page 36, line 20, after ("1972") insert ("; such regulations shall be made by the Secretary of State within two months of the passing of this Act and provide for benefits significantly greater than those regulations currently applicable to local government employees with a view to giving greater equality of compensation entitlement between all staff affected by this section;")

If at Third Reading the Government were in a position to table their own amendment dealing adequately with this particular point, that would be equally acceptable to us. For those reasons, I do not now wish to move Amendment No. 81AA.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I am unhappy about the statement which has just been made. I understand that I have the right under Standing Orders to move this amendment. If the noble Lord would clarify his reasons in greater detail to the satisfaction of the House, then I might not move this amendment. I was present in the Chamber the other night at ten past eleven, when this point was made: would it be possible for the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, to cover this amendment in the remaining 20 minutes for which it was agreed the business would be extended.

The noble Lord rose to say that this was a highly important matter, and required a lengthy speech on his part which would certainly exceed the twenty minutes, and he believed that other people would wish to discuss the amendment and that in no way could it be dealt with in twenty minutes. He also said—or perhaps I am wrong, it may have been said in earlier debates—how staff matters had always come up late at night in Committee stage, and how unfair that was to the members of the staff and to those who wanted to see a good deal for the staff of the GLC after abolition.

I believe that it was the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, who said how good it would be to have something concerning staff matters discussed at a time when there were more present in your Lordships' House. I therefore find it amazing that this matter, which was so important less than 48 hours ago, should today suddenly have reached the point where it is not worth discussing at all.

I am horrified by the statement that if we do not discuss it today—when it is constantly emphasised that items should not be left until the last minute—it would be brought back at Third Reading. I think that is a totally wrong attitude to take and that this should be discussed today. I know that under the Companion to the Standing Orders I have the right to put this amendment to the House. I would ask for the House to consider my doing so. The staff issues are important, and I do not, find at all satisfactory the explanation given so far as to why the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, is not proceeding with his amendment today.

I should like—as I am sure everyone else here would—to be satisfied as to why something which was so important that it required much longer time than we had available on Tuesday night, and required the attendance of more noble Lords present in the House, could suddenly become totally irrelevant today.

Lord Renton

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, said that he intended to move this at Third Reading. I feel that I would be speaking for all your Lordships if I reminded him that the rules for moving amendments at Third Reading are very restrictive. They are confined mainly to amendments to fulfil Government undertakings, and amendments to improve or correct the drafting of what is already in the Bill. As I understand it, it is not the function of debates at Third Reading to deal with matters which could have been dealt with at Committee stage or at Report stage, or even both. But this is a matter which, coming at Third Reading, would be coming up fresh. I should have thought that it would be only fair to the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, to tell him here and now that if he attempted to raise this matter at Third Reading, the kind of arguments which I have just advanced are arguments with which he might well be faced.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, in saying that he would not move this amendment the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, mentioned Amendment No. 81AC. I have put my name to that amendment. I agree with it in principle, and I was hoping for a nice lively debate, perhaps with a decent Government statement to explain what they are doing in this respect. From what the noble Lord has said I am not quite clear, because when he sat down he said firmly that he was not moving Amendment No. 81AA. Does that include Amendment No. 81AC, or shall I have to move that myself when we come to it?

Lord Rochester

My Lords, I have already given the House as openly and as briefly as I can, and as seemed appropriate to me at Committee stage, the reasons why at this stage I do not propose to move the amendment. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, I did not say that I was proposing to move this amendment at Third Reading. What I said was that I was prepared to wait until that time before deciding whether to pursue matters such as those covered by this amendment. That is my answer to the noble Lord, Lord Renton.

In relation to what has just been said by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, I covered the amendment to which he has referred in my opening remarks. I do not know quite what the procedure is, as we have not yet come to that amendment. But if it is of assistance to the House, perhaps I may say now that included within my intention was not to move that amendment, as I hope may have been evident from my initial statement.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, I wonder whether I may ask the Leader of the House, what is the Question before the House. It seems to me that the entire discussion is outside the rules of order of this House, because no Question has been put.

The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw)

My Lords, I stand rebuked by a very important authority in this House. I accept that what the noble Lord says is obviously a fact. I plead guilty under a certain amount of duress because I am not quite clear what the House really wants. I was in the House on the occasion on Tuesday night when the House was adjourned, and I understood that the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, at that stage, was most anxious to move this amendment. I heard him say that that was what he intended to do today. Therefore I found myself inevitably having to consider very carefully whether it was right for me to intervene immediately, considering that on Tuesday night the noble Lord was anxious to move it. I am in no doubt that he, in his own interest, would wish to put to the House why it was—

Noble Lords

He has.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I think the House was wishing to hear from the noble Lord exactly why. I was giving that opportunity, but I must say to the noble Lord and to the House, reproved as I have been, that we ought to resume an orderly procedure. The amendment either should or should not be moved, but I was being fair to the noble Lord and giving him the opportunity to explain. If there were to be any further discussion it must be right that either the noble Lord, himself, or, as I understand is possible, another noble Lord, should move the amendment. If a noble Lord decided to do so he might perhaps take this opportunity.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, perhaps I should say one further word in defence of myself. With respect to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, I did not say on Tuesday night that I was proposing to move this amendment today. That will be evident from a reading of Hansard, which is now available. For the rest, I have given the House my reasons as to why in the circumstances I have outlined I am not proposing to move this amendment. I must leave the matter in the hands of the House.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I obviously do not wish in any way to be unfair to the noble Lord. My understanding was that he had wished to move his amendment today. If I have done him an injustice in any way, it would be my first duty as Leader of your Lordships' House to apologise to him; and that I most certainly do.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, may I—

Noble Lords

No, no!

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, having said plainly that we must come to order, I must tell my noble friend that to order we must come. Therefore, the only way that I can understand our coming to order—I hope I am not unduly stupid in this matter, and I do not think so—is that if it is the wish of the House or the wish of any one Member that the amendment should be moved, that noble Lord can move the amendment. That course is open to any noble Lord who decides to do so. If a noble Lord wishes to take that course, I must ask that that noble Lord should take that action now.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, in those circumstances I formally move Amendment No. 81AA as it stands on the Marshalled List today. Amendment No. 81AA: [Printed earlier; col. 369.] It is essential that this amendment should be discussed now if it is to be discussed at all. The even remote possibility that it would be raised as late as Third Reading would not be in the best interests of the Bill or of the statute when it becomes enacted. We cannot have any longer than need be the feeling among employees that their interests are not being properly safeguarded. The fact that the speeches have already been made and the fact that this amendment is on the Marshalled List now breeds disquiet at a time when the one thing we do not want is disquiet among the people who will have to organise all the procedures that will flow from this Bill when it becomes a statute. I do not think there is any need for the amendment as it is worded—

Noble Lords


Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, cannot think it is very important, or he would want to pursue it at the earliest possible moment. The reason I am moving an amendment to which I have not put my name is the silence from the Official Opposition Benches. The dog has not barked and I cannot help feeling that the tactics behind their refusal to propose the amendment are perhaps more important than the amendment or what will flow from it—

Noble Lords


Lord Harmar-Nicholls

—because I believe that there are such tactics behind this that they—

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord would be good enough to explain his tactics.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, my tactics are very clear. My tactics are that this House shall carry out its proper function, that it shall examine the proposed legislation and revise it if we think that is right, with our expertise. It is not the function of this House to enter into rabid party political tactical manoeuvres.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, what is the noble Lord doing?

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, those noble Lords who were in the House will remember that at the end of the Committee stage I personally placed on the record my apprehension as to this possible development. Noble Lords who were in the House heard me say at the end of the Committee stage that I hoped that the withdrawal of many of the amendments from actual voting did not mean that they were merely to be kept in reserve to waste time on Report and Third Reading. That is on the record. I rather suspected from the general attitude that I had seen adopted that that might be happening.

I have the greatest respect for the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, and I should feel very sad indeed if I felt that he had been deliberately a party to this tactic which was used to take up time, because that is not in his normal being. Neither is it so on those Benches. But I do not give absolution to the Opposition Benches on that score. It is because I feel that there is a risk of that, and it is because I feel that if it is not cleared up now the effects that can flow from it would be so much worse, that I am moving the amendment.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is it not a contravention of the rules of order and of the Companion to the Standing Orders that the noble Lord should go on at length without speaking to the Motion which he has purported to move, although he understands nothing about it? I should be grateful if the noble Viscount the Leader of the House would take account of this.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, that very intervention from the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition is part of the tactics.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I must ask my noble friend to address the amendment. I hope in a difficult situation to guide the House as its Leader. Quite apart from any other considerations, I said that I thought the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, should have the right to explain his position. I made it clear that someone else could move the amendment. I understand that I was correct in saying that. But I must in the interests of the whole House—and I sense that I am speaking for the whole House in this matter—ask my noble friend to address himself to the particular amendment to hand.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, now that I have my prologue on the record I am happy to confine my remarks to the actual amendment itself. I believe that this in its way is an important amendment. It is important because the time factor insists that the doubts that it seems to express should be cleared away at the earliest possible moment. Up until this amendment was put on the Marshalled List, I had understood that the Government had made arrangements to safeguard the future of employees who will be affected by abolition. That is the understanding that I have always had. This amendment puts doubts in my mind and I believe that it is essential that those doubts should be cleared away. In answering this amendment, my noble friend the Minister can clear them away.

I understood, and I should like it confirmed, that they have established an independent staff commission to look after the interests of the staff. I should like that confirmed, and that can be done in an answer to this amendment which I am now moving. I should like also to have either confirmed or disposed of the suggestion that the orderly transfer of staff has been delayed and put into question to a large extent because of the refusal of Labour-controlled authorities and many trade unions to take part in the discussions which the Government are having with the staff commissions.

I move this amendment with a certain amount of feeling that I am making a real contribution so that at the earliest possible moment people who have to be employed in future, and the unions and the staff generally, can know exactly where they stand with this Government and this Government's Bill. The only way that we can arrive at that is to have an authoritative statement from the Dispatch Box by my noble friend who is responsible to the Cabinet for this very thing. It is in the belief that this amendment will serve a good purpose by eliciting such a reply from my noble friend, that I formally move it. I beg to move.

3.45 p.m.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, my name is put to this amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Rochester, spoke to me and I had understood yesterday that there were certain negotiations going on. I wrote my speech in the form of some questions. I had not really intended to put these questions today because I knew that these negotiations were going on. However, the amendment has been moved and therefore I shall now ask my noble friend the Minister the questions which I had originally intended to ask. In speaking to this amendment, I should like to say that it has the support of the Guild of Senior Officers of the GLC and of ILEA and of the staff association and therefore covers approximately 80 per cent. of the staff of the GLC.

My first question is this. May I be told why it has been found necessary in respect of redundancy proposals to depart from the well-established precedents in dealing with staffing matters? I refer to the Crombie and Cutler regulations and also to regulations under the 1972 Employment Act. I understand that there are regulations being used under that Act but that they are intended only to prevent unjustified increases in pay gradings. Are there still discussions going on concerning redundancy terms? Do I understand the position correctly when I say that instead of regulations being brought in under the 1972 Employment Act, what are called day-to-day terms (which usually apply to voluntary and not forced retirement) are being used? May I be told whether this is so? I understand that the day-to-day terms usually apply only to illness and inefficiency. As I understand that there are negotiations going on, it may be that my noble friend the Minister will feel that he does not wish to answer these questions at this stage.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend a question? Would it not be helpful if we could know more of the details of the negotiations which she has said are going on?

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, I am not subject to those negotiations. I am not negotiating with the GLC or with the employers or with anyone else. I am simply asking questions, and I think I am entitled to do so.

I also once worked for the London County Council and my feelings for the staff are very deep. As a local government officer, I have been through two reorganisations and I know what staff can suffer and what they can go through. Perhaps I may just say—and I shall not keep your Lordships long—that, for instance, an employee with up to five years' service can receive a lump sum of £962, the equivalent of five weeks' pay. I shall not quote all the figures.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, why not?

Baroness Faithfull

Well, my Lords, I think that noble Lords can read them in the Library. I wonder whether my noble friend the Minister can say how the pay which the Greater London Council employees are going to get compares, for instance, with the white-collar workers in the Coal Board and with the white-collar workers at Consett. Is the redundancy pay being offered to the Greater London Council workers consistent with the redundancy pay throughout the country?

Lord Thorneycroft

My Lords, I think the House should be deeply grateful to my noble friends Lord Harmar-Nicholls and Lady Faithfull for raising this matter. Indeed, it goes to the root of the Bill. Like my noble friend Lady Faithfull, in my life I have seen many reorganisations. They have been argued sometimes in industry and sometimes in local government powerfully and passionately for the efficiencies that they will attain. But no reorganisation will really work unless one has answered the 64-dollar question of what is happening to the men employed in that reorganisation. What is their situation now and what will be their situation tomorrow?

If I may say so with deep respect—and this is no reflection on the noble Lord, Lord Rochester—your Lordships would really be failing in your duties if the Bill were to go through without some attempt to consider issues of that character. It is not simply that a number of your Lordships may be interested in this amendment. What matters, if I may say so with deep respect, much more, is not your Lordships but the people who work in the GLC. That is where the real interest is occurring. I am quite satisfied that that is what the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, had in his mind when he put down this amendment. It is not a party amendment; it has received support on this side of the House too. It may have been supported in many quarters.

I would not wish to say what final view I would take about it. But certainly, speaking to the Motion, I do not dismiss the fact that this amendment has in it great merits, and at least raises matters which deserve careful consideration and discussion. The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, has spoken of some of the issues involved. The noble Lord, Lord Rochester, said at the outset that because negotiations and discussions were going on it might perhaps be better not to discuss the matter at the moment. That is a perfectly fair point of view. I do not say that that is wrong at all. But it so happens that the matter is being discussed at this moment. Whether we like it or not, we shall have discussions.

In a few moments I very much hope that a Minister from the Front Bench will rise and will seek to satisfy the House that careful consideration has been given to just these issues of redundancy, of the transfer of workers, and other matters which deserve a respectful consideration. Against that background I would myself make a plea to the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, to let us have the benefit at any rate of his opinion in the course of this debate. It may not be now; it may be more convenient after the Government have given the defensive position in this matter. I shall not detain your Lordships. We do not want to waste time in any way. But I feel that if ever there was a matter which deserved discussion, consideration and approval of the House, it is the fortunes of the men and women who work in that great organisation. We should not permit this Bill to go through without paying attention to it.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, perhaps I may make an observation. I listened with much interest to the great concern expressed on all sides of the House for the future position of the work people concerned. I certainly look forward to what my noble friend the Minister will say with regard to the current position. Is it not rather astonishing that we have here a Bill coming towards the end of its Report stage and, so far as I am aware, the trade unions have persistently refused even to discuss the condition under which these circumstances will come about as regards their own workforce? I found, in another incarnation —acting in another capacity—when going up and down the country and seeing people who were so concerned as to what would happen if abolition came about, that when I asked: "Who is negotiating for you? Who is discussing what terms and conditions will apply when the Government's policy comes about?"—because it will come about—again and again the work people said "We don't know, because our trade unions are in fact not making representations on our behalf." I shall be fascinated to know if they have as yet started to make those representations on behalf of their members. In my opinion this is to the great discredit of all concerned who, either for political reasons or anything else, have ceased to allow, or not permitted, their own negotiators to speak on behalf of the workforce.

When my noble friend Lord Thorneycroft expresses his concern—with which I agree—I think that he should also bear in mind what has happened and the limited extent to which the Government have been able to engage in discussions of this kind on behalf of the workforce, because it is their representatives who have refused, for whatever reason, to take part in those discussions. That should be placed clearly on the record.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I should like to ask the Minister a couple of questions on this amendment. First, does he know anything of the negotiations that have been described? I am sure that the House would like to hear more detail of those. If the Minister is not able to tell us perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, would do so at a later stage.

I am well aware of the concern expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, in a number of the points that she made. But I think it important to clarify that one reason why it is very important that staff should not be artificially upgraded before transfer is because of past experience when the housing transfers within London were carried out. The staff who were transferred from County Hall were all at very enhanced salaries which created great difficulty when they were transferred to other authorities who were operating at the same salaries as previously. I think it important that that situation is not allowed to recur. I certainly want to see very fair terms for the staff. I have the highest regard for the GLC staff association.

There is one point which they have asked me to raise. It may be too detailed to discuss at the moment but perhaps I could mention it for the record. Those people who are in an acting post are there because there is no vacancy in the permanent post. Yet in the permanent post the officer is permanently away—perhaps on maternity leave or on illness—but the acting officer cannot be upgraded into the right post because that post is technically still filled; yet the acting officer has been doing the work and carrying out these duties. I would say that this special case should apply to those who have done the job for perhaps over six months. In those circumstances, I would think it only right that those people should be treated at transfer as being employed at the higher post.

Lord Bottomley

My Lords, it is very gratifying that so many Members of the House of Lords should be concerned about the conditions and the welfare of employees in local government. It should be so. I hope that the Minister has taken note of that fact and in due course will ensure that the Government are generous in the way they treat these employees. This discussion shows further evidence that this is a thoroughly bad Bill, one that ought never to have been presented to this House or to the country.

Lord Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon

My Lords, before the Minister replies, would it not be interesting and helpful to the House if we could hear from a representative of the Front Bench of the official Opposition whether they are in favour of or against this amendment?

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Arts (The Earl of Gowrie)

My Lords, I have to say that after 15 years or so working in your Lordship's House this is the first time that I have ever become very slightly cynical. It seems to me to be quite astonishing that amendments dealing with the terms and conditions offered to staff following a reorganisation of local government should attract virtually no interest on the part of the Opposition or the Liberal and Alliance Benches.

Very late on Tuesday night I made it clear through the usual channels that I was happy to try to give the Government's answers to the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, and amendments in the name of others, about staffing. I was not only happy, but keen to do so because I knew that a number of employees of the threatened authorities had actually sat through a very long evening in order to try to hear something from this House and from the Government about what might be their position. All I said through the usual channels was that it was simply beyond my powers to condense my answers into something like 10 minutes. I do not think that I am known in your Lordships' House for very inflationary language or for going on too long. But the fact is that the amendments were complex and it would have needed something like a 20- or 25-minute answer from the Front Bench in order to deal with the points that were likely to be made. That was not possible. It had nothing to do with the business in hand, but was because of the terms of the agreement—in the light of the lateness of the hour —which had been reached through the usual channels. As a result, we decided to take them today.

4 p.m.

I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, will take it amiss from me if I say to him that when we adjourned he came to me and said that he thought this was a most important issue and that he wished to amend his amendment slightly. I gave the ordinary ministerial indications of anxiety that something which had been carefully gone over and carefully prepared by extremely hard-stretched officials should now, at very short notice, be subject to additional and manuscript change. However, in my desire to accommodate the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, I said that if he would be so good as to send round any proposed changes to my office the next morning—if need be by taxi—I would try to take them on board in time to deal with them this afternoon.

It is therefore with a certain and very reluctant cynicism that I discover that all these issues of great importance both to the Official Opposition Benches and to the Alliance Benches are not to be moved by them, presumably in the interests (as they might see it) of doing rather better at an earlier stage on some subsequent amendment. I hope that the staff of these threatened authorities will take note of the treat ment they have received from the Opposition Benches in this House. It seems to me to be a very shabby way for them to be treated.

I know very well that whenever any government introduce changes, those changes create uncertainties, and those uncertainties create anxieties. That is the penalty and the consequence of all change. It is of course too high a price to pay to relieve anxieties and uncertainties to put off change altogether if, in the judgment of a political party or a government trying to execute their manifesto, there are beneficial reasons for bringing about changes. We in this country have a long and extremely honourable tradition of not shrinking from changes but of trying to ameliorate the effects of change on any individuals who may be caught up in them.

There is another reason—and I think this is particularly pertinent to some of the questions put to me by my noble friends Lady Faithfull and Lord Bellwin—why I find the conduct of the Official Opposition peculiarly distasteful. It is, I think, an open secret that the policy of non-co-operation with which we are faced in respect of this legislation stems from a resolution of the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party. It is this resolution as much as anything that has prevented the unions from talking to us, and it is this that has led those who have been courageous enough to break away from a foolish and politically-motivated line to be threatened with expulsion from their union. Thus, it is the policy decisions of the party opposite that have produced a situation in which the representatives of certain interests have not been able to speak in their defence or to negotiate good terms and conditions with us. Surely the least these staff can now expect is that the representatives of the Opposition in this House will speak for them; but, as we have heard this afternoon, they have refused to do so. The upshot therefore is that the Official Opposition have first acted to prevent the staff from speaking for themselves and then have acted to refuse to speak on their account.

As to the noble Lords on Benches which innately I find politically more sympathetic, on the Liberal and Social Democratic Benches, it is literally beyond my comprehension how they can lend themselves to this kind of abuse of the procedures of the House. My Lords, so much for a brave new world in which the corruption and comprises of the old two-party politics, as they put it, would be replaced by policies based on high principles and concern for individuals.

I now turn to some of the points in the amendments themselves and, if the House will give me leave, I should like to deal with Amendment No. 81AA, which has been moved. That will be the substance of my remarks, but I will glance at issues raised in Amendments No. 81AB and 81BA as well. Amendment No. 81AB: Leave out Clause 51. Amendment No. 81BA: Leave out Clause 52. These would fundamentally alter the arrangements for staffing the new structure. To begin with, the staffing measures will implement a dispersal of activities. By virtue of the decisions which your Lordships have taken on Clauses 1 to 48 of the Bill, the functions of seven authorities are to be dispersed to about 100 successor bodies, notably the 68 borough and district councils and of course the City of London. In both the 1965 and 1974 reorganisations, activities were generally concentrated into a smaller number of often very much larger bodies. The measures appropriate to concentrating staff into larger bodies cannot simply be applied to dispersing staff.

Again, in marked contradiction to the past reorganisations which were cited by my noble friend Lord Thorneycroft in his intervention, this Bill transfers functions principally to existing bodies and, moreover, where new bodies are being set up they are to take over existing discrete units within the existing authorities. I am thinking particularly of the Inner London Education Authority, the fire brigades and the police forces. It follows that the abolition staffing arrangements must respect the existing bodies and organisations. To put that point into perspective, the GLC and the metropolitan county councils employ the equivalent of 120,000 full-time staff. Of these, some 94,000 work for the ILEA, the fire and the police areas. The remaining 26,000 will for the most part look to posts within the London borough councils and within the metropolitan district councils, which already employ some 650,000 employees, or 25 times as many.

We should therefore bear in mind that this Bill does not always provide for the kind of simple transfer of function that would point to a clear transfer of work. To take just one example, the unitary development planning role to be conferred on the borough and district councils will be different from the structure planning currently being carried on by the GLC and the MCCs. Further, the position of all employees, including those in local government, has of course been radically altered since 1974 by developments that have taken place during the last 11 years in employment legislation generally. Many of these were brought together in the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978 and a number of the provisions of the 1978 Act are mentioned in Part VI of the present Bill. There are special local government arrangements about redundancy payments under that Act which are governed by what is known as the modification order, whose main features are set out in the introduction to the notes on Part VI. There are safeguards and arrangements in these statutes which do not need to be duplicated and which we have been at great pains to preserve and adapt to this Bill.

I am not one of those who believe that legislation put forward by a government drawn from the Conservative Party is any less favourable to the real rights and interests of employees or less protective of them than legislation put forward by governments drawn from the Labour Party. Nevertheless, I have to acknowledge that it is very often a perception in the structure of British political life that the Labour Party is considerably more protective. It may therefore be reassuring to employees—however badly placed I think this reassurance is in actuality—to realise that the employment protection legislation of the previous Government is, in fact, enshrined in the present Bill.

I of course acknowledge that we live in financially rigorous times, especially where the costs of the public sector are concerned; and, in my judgment, these harsh arithmetical rules apply to governments of whatever ideological complexion. We have made no secret of the fact that the reorganised structure of local government will, once it has settled down, have some 8,000 fewer posts than at present. That is part of the purpose of this legislation and that must, of course, be a consideration in planning for staffing the new structure. It is therefore a very different consideration from the generally expansionary ethos in respect of local government hiring which prevailed in 1965 and 1974. Again, I must say that the provisions of the 1972 Act, the previous Conservative reorganisation provisions, just do not fit into the context of the mid-1980s. Therefore, this time we have had to develop a quite specific approach to staffing the new structure, and inevitably this presents problems for those staff who are affected by it.

That is why my right honourable friend the Minister for Local Government issued a paper in November last year which described our proposals. He sent it to the authorities that were affected and he sent sufficient copies to enable them to circulate the paper to their staff. He invited the employers and the unions to discuss it with us, but I regret to say that only a minority of unions and employers have responded. My right honourable friend and the Government have, despite that response, had to get on with developing their approach. First, we see both the need and the scope for transfer of staff by order—hence Clause 51. We have said that the majority of employees will be transferred to their new employers on their existing contracts of employment, and that should give considerable reassurance. Principally this will apply to the staff of the new Inner London Education Authority and to the staff of the fire and police joint authorities. It could also apply to staff in a number of clearly defined specialist units engaged on tasks which are to go to single successor bodies.

But where functions and therefore jobs are being dispersed to existing bodies—bodies which will have, as at present, very many more staff and their own pay scales, which will often differ from those of the GLC and the MCCs—then those bodies must be free to recruit the staff which they decide they need. Under this legislation they will be free to do so. It is simply not practical to disperse staff by order in these circumstances, and I do not think it would be fair on the existing staff of the organisations to swell their numbers by legislation in that way.

There are other concerns of staff which were raised by my noble friends Lady Faithfull, Lord Harmar-Nicholls and Lady Gardner. We have heard, for example, about the adverse effects on staffing arrangements of compulsory staff transfers related to the current transfer of GLC housing. Of course we are aware that issues of this kind can mean uncertainty for the staff affected, but we have built into our approach all practical means to protect their interests which respect the interests of the successor bodies.

4.15 p.m.

Clause 54 places a duty on authorities to decide what staff they need and gives them a financial incentive to make timely offers of jobs to GLC and MCC staff, who will then benefit from the continuity provisions of both Clause 53 and the modification order. We have also promised to make regulations providing for compensation paid by residuary bodies as a lump sum where staff take jobs at lower pay. That, I hope, will give some reassurance to my noble friend Lady Gardner. That is fair and it avoids the very difficult situation, in personnel management terms, of having people sitting next to each other doing precisely the same work but for different rates of pay. That, I think, was an undesirable outcome of the 1965 and 1974 reorganisations—if I could make that point particularly in respect of a remark from my noble friend Lord Thorneycroft.

Then, again, we have given our backing to the ring fence procedures, brought in by the staff commission just a week ago, to give GLC and MCC employees priority in competing for posts in successor authorities. Surely, regardless of the merits or demerits of the arguments about the policy as a whole, that is the right way and the British way to proceed in the circumstances of abolition where the interests of affected individuals are concerned. We expect, therefore, that most GLC and MCC staff will obtain posts in the new structure, and that the very great majority have nothing to fear in their individual lives from this proposed legislation.

I come back to an intensely important warning. This desirable goal of the amelioration of anxieties and uncertainties for individuals will he achieved much more easily and completely if successor authorities begin implementation plannning now, without delay, and we have asked the GLC and the MCCs to co-operate for this purpose. The residuary bodies will be established as soon as possible after the Local Government Bill has received Royal Assent, should it do so. The Government expect that many GLC and metropolitan county council staff working in areas such as finance, superannuation and property, together with supporting legal personnel and computer staff, will be needed by the residuary bodies. Indeed, my advice is that residuary bodies will be recruiting some such staff well before 1st April next year. The residuary bodies will have the identification of such staff as one of their priority tasks.

We accept, as I have said, that some staff will not be needed after abolition. We will therefore provide for compensation to be paid to them by the appropriate residuary body on terms which are yet to be settled. I do not wish to anticipate the debate on the amendment in the name of the noble Lord. Lord Winstanley, but I can say that we accept the need to treat staff fairly in this as in other respects, and I hope that what I have said about compensation will ease anxieties in those relatively smaller numbers of individuals who may not be needed by successor bodies. On this, as on all other matters, we are still prepared to consult the unions and employers, if only they will follow the constructive and courageous approach of others, notably the FMPOU and the West Midlands branch of NALGO and come to meet with us.

I trust that I do no violence to the amendment itself when I say that if my noble friends were minded to press it, in my judgment it would place three inappropriate, indeed rather impossible, tasks on my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. Under the amendment as currently tabled, he would have to transfer every GLC and MCC employee who wanted a job to a successor body, despite the problem in many areas of work of finding the right one out of the hundred or so. He would have to impose on each successor body, for as long as each job continued, a rate of pay which took no account whatsoever of the body's rates for its far more numerous existing employees, and took no account whatsoever of the Employment Protection Act's provisions for employer-employee relations, and he would be obliged to provide for the compensation of staff on terms chosen by the authorities, knowing that we intended to bring in this Bill to abolish them, and so that they would not have the onus of meeting the costs. That would be unacceptable, and I hope that my noble friends will accept that.

But it is also unnecessary as well as unacceptable, because we have, as I said, provided for transfer by order where that is the right approach, but we have not included any power to prescribe post-abolition rates of pay. Surely that must be a matter for the usual processes of negotiation within the framework of employment legislation. We have given to the successor authorities the freedom they sought to recruit the staff they need on their own terms and conditions, but we have put in place a system of constraints, duties and incentives for employers and a provision for compensation and continuity for employees which will protect the interests of staff.

May I finally just deal with two specific points that were put to me by my noble friends. My noble friend Lady Faithful] asked me whether negotiations were in progress. There are no negotiations in progress. Our approaches to the TUC local government committee have met with a rebuff and, like noble Lords opposite, they have preferred at my right honourable friend's meetings with them to discuss simply the principles of abolition, rather than pursuing issues of concern to the staff. I hope the staff that they purport to represent will take that on board. Representatives of the staff in one area, I am glad to say—the West Midlands—have now decided to talk to us and there has been one meeting with them. But my noble friends will recognise that formal negotiations can take place only at national level. As I said in my earlier remarks, our door remains open for that purpose.

I am able to give a little more reassurance on that front to my noble friend Lord Bellwin. I understand that the TUC local government committee are, in fact, discussing this very issue today, which is all the more reason that your Lordships' House should be dealing with these staffing issues this afternoon, instead of some of your Lordships sitting on your hands. We hope therefore that they will now agree to negotiate. If they do so, my right honourable friend will be delighted to meet them as soon as possible. I hope that what I have said has given sufficient reassurance to your Lordships—and, beyond your Lordships' House, to those many individuals who are caught in the inevitable anxieties and uncertainties of change—on two principal grounds: first, that the majority of staff will find jobs and, secondly, that those who do not will be compensated.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, I should just like to say a few words, if only in response to the invitation so to do by the noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft, though perhaps he will understand, in view of what transpired earlier, why I do not propose to enter into the discussion on the merits of the amendment which has now been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls. May I say simply that I had not understood that the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, had said through the usual channels that he would be in a position to give a definitive answer today, particularly on the matter of compensation which has been my main concern in these exchanges? May I also be allowed to say that on these Benches we have the interests of staff very much at heart? That certainly applies to me. I hope that my record in this respect within the House may stand on its own merits, but that is for the House to judge and not for me. There was reference by the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, to this having been an abuse of the procedures of the House. May I say that I did not myself feel that it was such an abuse or I should not have been a party to it?

I should like to say just a word about the substance of what the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, has had to say. I did not, with respect, learn anything from his reply that was not apparent to me from his response at the Committee stage. I am rather sorry that, in response to the debate that we have had, he did not find it possible to go into any detail in relation to the amounts of compensation which might be payable by the residuary bodies, though I appreciate why it was that he related that more particularly to the later amendment to which I referred in my opening remarks. That is all I wish to say at this juncture.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, it is clear that the Government have taken every possible step to bring the staff and their unions around the table and I am sure that, as we have gathered from my noble friend's speech, in the absence of such contact the arrangements made are fair and equitable so far as we can see today. I also accept that, if this amendment as it is now worded were accepted, it would introduce almost insurmountable problems in giving effect to the Bill when it became a statute. For all those reasons, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.