HL Deb 25 June 2003 vol 650 cc290-1

2.59 p.m.

Earl Russell

asked Her Majesty's Government:

To what extent contracted out workers in the National Health Service, such as those at present on strike at the Royal Bolton Hospital, are denied the rights and pay available to National Health Service employees, and at what cost to Her Majesty's Government.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner)

My Lords, where NHS staff are transferred, the provisions of the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981 usually apply. That ensures that, apart from pensions, all aspects of an employee's existing terms and conditions of service continue to apply and can be changed only with the agreement of employees. Terms and conditions for any new staff are the responsibility of the new employer and are settled locally.

Earl Russell

My Lords, may I congratulate the noble Lord on his promotion to his present position, which we warmly welcome? He has learnt, because he has worn enough hats to do so, that savings carry costs. Is he aware that his reservation "apart from pensions" is a very considerable one? Will he tell us how many of the contracted-out workers affected are making contributions to an occupational pension scheme? Will he confirm that for every one who is not, Richmond House is darkened by the shadow of an approaching MIG?

Lord Warner

My Lords, I draw the noble Earl's attention to the fact that we are not running the NHS centrally from Richmond House. Much of this area has been devolved to local decisions and local contracting negotiations and we would not be collecting centrally the information that he requests. I also draw his attention to the fact that I think this Question has its roots in past decisions. The future lies with Agenda for Change, which represents a totally new approach to determining pay and conditions of service for staff in the NHS, based on the principles of fair pay. That has been warmly welcomed by many of the members and union negotiators and will shortly come into operation.

Earl Howe

My Lords, is not the problem at the Royal Bolton Hospital—a two-tier workforce and differential pay rates—the same problem as the one that for many months has been holding up the final signature on a considerable number of PFI hospital-building contracts? If that is so, what are the Government doing to unblock the logjam on those contracts?

Lord Warner

My Lords, staff other than managers who are transferred under PFI services such as catering, laundry and portering services, of the kind involved in some of the disputes dealt with in the Question, remain on an NHS contract and continue to have the rights of NHS staff through the new retention of employment model. Under the agenda for change which I mentioned, that new system will apply to those staff.