(aa) that, apart from this subsection, an activity in respect of which an appeal has been made by that individual would be regarded as falling within the terms of any restriction incorporated into his contract of employment by regulations made under section 1(5) above ; and, in either case.'.
Amendment No. 157 :
1. No payment specified in paragraph 2 below shall be included within any limit prescribed for the purposes of Section 2(1)(h). 2. The payments to be excluded shall be any of the following-- (
(a) any bonus payment for employees in manual grades, except a bonus payment made on a regular basis such that it is regarded by both the employer and the employee as part of the basic remuneration of the post ;
(b) any acting-up allowance ;
(c) any chargehand responsibility payment for employees in manual grades ;
(d) any overtime payment ;
(e) any Distant Island Allowance ;
(f) any allowance in respect of work connected with the evening letting of local authority premises ;
(g) any first aid payment ;
(h) any travel or subsistence allowance ;
(i) any disturbance allowance ;
(j) any car mileage payment ;
(k) any accelerated increment ;
(l) any lump sum retrospective payment in respect of a grading appeal ;
(m) any London or other regional or local weighting allowance ; (
(n) any other payment specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State.'.
Mr. Gummer : Amendments Nos. 216 and 217 are presented to the House as a result of an undertaking given in Committee that we would place on the face of the Bill the arrangements relating to posts where the annual rate of remuneration exceeds £13,500. It was suggested that they should be placed on the face of the Bill and that is what we have done. I hope that even those who would prefer that we were not doing it in this way will agree to accept the amendments as they meet the desire of Members on both sides in Committee.
Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton) : There was a great deal of discussion in Committee on the matter, but the Minister has not addressed the serious situation that we consider will be created by this part of the Bill. Politically restricted posts are significant and important and the amendments standing in my name and the names of my
Column 774right hon. and hon. Friends address the issues that the Minister and Conservative Members should consider seriously.
Amendments Nos. 130, 131, 133, 136, 138 and 157 are particularly important in the extensive group of amendments referring to politically restricted posts. Amendment No. 130 seeks to add at the beginning of line 24 on page 3 in clause 2 :
"Subject to paragraph (h) below".
Amendment No. 131 seeks to leave out the word "not" from line 31. We tabled those amendments because, as the Bill is drafted, many low-paid local authority staff may be designated as holding politically-sensitive posts under clause 2(3) and retrospectively banned from political activity. For example, there are six employees in the Strathclyde regional press and public relations office who are paid far less than £13,500, but who still deal with the public. One can see readily that they have no influence on council policy, but they stand to be caught by the Bill. Those staff, and others like them, will have no right of appeal to an adjudicator, which is the basis of an appeal under this system. Under the Bill, those staff will have no right of appeal to an adjudicator, although their terms and conditions of service will be changed at one fell swoop by the Bill.
The Secretary of State will probably say that those staff can use the appeals mechanism in their own authorities, but the employers' side of the local authorities is proposing to withdraw the right of appeal to the National Joint Council as a last resort. That will weaken the appeals mechanism available to low-paid staff. Those people will not even be in a Catch 22 situation. They will be left with no democratic right of appeal as a result of the Bill. They will be politically restricted and there will be no facilities for appeal. Judicial review is not an easy option for those people.
Amendments Nos. 130,131 and 132 seek to raise the ceiling at which political assistants become politically restricted. In Committee, the Minister persisted in describing those posts as "special advisers". I am sure that the Minister will recall my exchange with him in Committee on that very issue. I pointed out in Committee that special advisers are employed by the Department of the Environment and that the Minister has special advisers. In Committee, the Minister referred to them as "special advisers." Despite the fact that most special advisers to Ministers earn considerably more than £13,500, the Bill imposes a salary ceiling for those clause 9 appointments, but does not prevent them from being paid less. Amendments Nos. 130 and 131 seek to exempt lower-paid special advisers from the restriction on political activities. I ask the Minister to consider seriously that junior posts will be caught by the pernicious proposal in the Bill.
Amendment No. 133 is also important. I draw the House's attention to the fact that the Widdicombe report, when evaluating whether being a councillor or otherwise engaged in political activity conflicted with an officer's duty, stated :
"there can be no conflict in the case of manual workers." No distinction was drawn between senior and other manual workers on page 161 of the report.
Column 775The Minister asked where the Widdicombe report said that it was not intended to include senior manual workers. On 7 March 1989, the answer was clear. The Government's justification for abandoning the term "principal officer" was that grades could disappear. In other words, the Government are saying that grades as they now apply can disappear. That was one of the reasons given for abandoning the term "principal officer" used in the Widdicombe report.
In accepting part of the Widdicombe committee's recommendation that a general bar should apply at a particular level, the Minister should also look at the Widdicombe committee's arguments. The committee addressed areas of possible conflict of interest and decided that they were unlikely to arise for manual workers. Specific exemption would go some way to re- establishing Widdicombe's link between restriction and responsibility. The Minister has said on more than one occasion that the Government intend to be fair when applying this legislation. The position of manual workers should, therefore, be taken seriously by the Government and manual workers should be exempted from this legislation.
We made this issue abundantly clear in Committee. The £13,500 limit should relate to basic pay, excluding weighting allowances, overtime and index linking. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) pointed out that even the salary award that has been made to certain officers this year brings a further batch of officers into the position where they will be disqualified from taking part in political activities because they will have reached a salary of £13,500. We made it clear in Committee that in considering the salary level as the cut-off point it would be cruel for the Minister not to take into consideration the fact that overtime payments are not consistent. Bonus payments, unless they are agreed bonus payments which are paid regularly, should be taken out of the formula when considering the £13,500 figure. Weighting allowances are a further issue that should be given serious consideration and index linking should also be a part of the formula, if there has to be a ceiling of £13,500. If there has to be a figure, it is only just that index linking should be taken into consideration.
"The Bill refers to an annual rate of remuneration, and that will not include one-off payments such as bonuses unless they are so regular that they become part of the rate for the job."
We were told that by the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Mr. Trippier), the Parliamentary Under-Secrtary of State for the Environment in our deliberations in Committee. The Under-Secretary said that unless bonuses are a regular payment, they should not be taken into consideration. If that principle stands firm, it should be included in the Bill. This is an opportunity for that error to be put right.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State also said :
"I shall examine carefully and tell the Committee the precise definition of the annual rate of remuneration."--[ Official Report, Standing Committee G, 7 March 1989 ; c. 167-68.]
We are still waiting for that definition and I hope that the Minister can give us some clarification on those issues tonight. The best way of doing that would be to accept the amendments because they address the existing anomalies.
Further, the Minister should consider excluding from the provisions any bonus payments made to employees in manual grades, except bonus payments which are made regularly so that they are regarded by both employer and
Column 776employee as part of the basic remunerative of the post. I readily accept that regular bonuses could be interpreted as part of the worker's annual wage. However, bonus payments that are not regular should not be included in any ceiling on an employee's salary. The acting up allowance, where an employee is doing the work of a person of a senior grade for whom he or she is filling in for holidays, sickness or accident, should not be taken into consideration when determining a person's salary under the politically restrictive provisions. In addition, the chargehand responsibility payment for employees in manual grades should also be disregarded. The distant island allowances that apply in some areas of local government as a payment for the inconvenience of where a person works should be disregarded. Allowances in respect of work connected with the evening letting of local authority premises should also be disregarded because there is so much uncertainty about when a person qualifies for that payment.
Some people qualify for extra payments for their first-aid qualifications. It is only fair that such a person should not be disqualified from political activity simply because he or she offers a service to fellow workers which also benefits the employer. Because of the small remuneration paid to that person the disqualification provisions of the Bill should not be applied.
There are a number of issues in these provisions on which I should be tempted to seek to divide the House because I feel so strongly about this. I appeal to the Minister to consider the issues that we have raised and to try to assess the position as it will affect many local government employees.
Widdicombe tried to link political restrictions to levels of responsibility, recognising the need for officers in certain posts to be able to command the respect and trust of all political parties in their capacity to advise councillors and to adjudicate on certain matters. However, manual workers do not fall within the scope of that and accepting the amendments should therefore be considered. Amendment No. 136 makes the point that the appeals system will not work in its present form. We need to extend the range of the appeals mechanism to posts held by political assistants and to designated posts as well as to those that fall within the salary restriction. That would leave heads of paid service, chief and deputy chief officers and the monitoring officers outside the appeals mechanism. In Committee the Minister stated :
"Making an appeal is open to each individual".--[ Official Report, Standing Committee G, 28 February 1989 ; c. 94.]
That is a misleading statement because the appeals procedure applies only to people holding a politically restricted post by virtue of clause 2(1)(h). That anomaly should be examined in detail and, indeed, our amendment would rectify it. Clause 2(1)(h) refers to people who hold politically restricted posts because they earn £13, 500 or more. As drafted, no one else can appeal against all or part of the restriction imposed on them.
While we have the Minister's assurance about the type of restrictions that he envisages, such assurances are not binding on the Secretary of State. To be fair and to offer justice to those employed in local government, the Government should accept this amendment as it would rectify that anomaly. The Secretary of State is being given
Column 777sweeping powers and is not bound by the assurance given by the Minister but he would be bound if he were to accept the amendment and if it were enacted.
Amendment No. 138 would extend the scope of the appeals mechanism to cover political activities as well as the restrictions, or otherwise, of these "political" posts. I have received a letter from a person who has worked as an accountant in local government for over 19 years, which states :
"Most important of all, however, the Bill raises a serious question of civil liberties. What I do in my spare time is my business, and I see no reason why that should change simply because I am paid a salary of over £13,500 per annum by the local council. I would like to think that if I wished to join a political party I could do so as a matter of right, and not under special licence from the Secretary of State."
That sums up the general feelings of many people who work in local government. They see the provisions on politically restricted posts as restricting their freedoms outside working hours. That will cause conflict in many ways.
Therefore, I ask the Minister in particular and Conservative Members in general to accept our amendments. They are constructive amendments. They do not try to be difficult or to destroy the Bill. They are simply trying to ensure that justice and fairness are applied to people who work in local government.
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : I support this group of amendments, though we face a dilemma in dealing with them. On the one hand there is a degree of opposition generally to what is being done. On the other, we are anxious to ensure that if what is proposed happens, it happens in the fairest way possible.
I support in particular amendments Nos. 129 and 157, which aim to specify with greater certainty what precisely will be taken into account in determining the remuneration, which in turn will determine whether someone is affected by these provisions. Amendment No. 129 would exclude weighting allowances and overtime and would ensure that the figure was index-linked. It would be far from reasonable to have a sum this year which, with the inflation rates that the Government have engineered and which the Chancellor predicts will be even higher, would be worth less in real terms.
I do not know whether the Committee discussed what would happen if someone who was already an elected member of an authority suddenly found that, because of a pay increase, he had reached the disqualification figure. Would that mean a series of by-elections throughout the country?
When this matter was discussed in Committee, the Minister promised to examine it carefully and explain the precise definition of the annual rate of remuneration. Not having been a member of the Committee, I do not know what transpired. But the fact that we are now debating the matter on the Floor of the House is indicative of the fact that the Minister did not explain precisely what definition was being used.
Amendment No. 157 details a number of items which could be included in a person's remuneration, and it seeks to exclude them when determining the figure. I was particularly attracted by the item "any distant island allowance" because many people employed in local government in my constituency are in receipt of a distant island allowance. In my constituency, people are employed
Column 778by single-tier authorities and there is no question of them, even at present, being allowed to stand for their local authorities--unless one was in the unlikely situation of living in Orkney and working in Shetland, though, of course, the plane timetables would not permit that to happen.
The Montgomery committee, which was charged by the Government with the task of examining the powers and functions of the islands authorities, received strong representations to the effect that there should be an allowance for people in local government islands council areas to stand for their authorities.
Consider the case, for example, of Shetland, where more than 10 per cent. of the electorate is employed by the local authority, if teaching staff are included. That is a sizeable proportion of the electorate in the population of the islands area to exclude from the right to participate in local government. It will be thought that the end of the world has arrived when it is realised that when people have been pressing for the opposite view to be taken and are saying that some relaxation should be allowed to occur, far from that happening, the Government are tightening things up, and that there can be no hope of some relaxation for the islands areas.
The three SLD amendments are designed, first, to insert a limit of £25,000 to underscore the policy that my hon. Friends and I have reiterated. My hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor)--who has departed temporarily for a much-earned respite and meal--has said, in Committee and on the Floor of the House, that when replying to the debate on this matter, the Minister misrepresented him.
It has been our policy that the limits should apply to chief officers and deputy chief officers. We accept that in some parts of the country the position has been open to abuse. It remains our view that, outwith chief and deputy chief officers, what is proposed is draconian and will curtail the fundamental rights of people to participate in local democracy. Hence our amendment to insert £25,000 instead of £13,500. We believe that by fixing it at that level our policy of limiting the exclusion to chief and deputy chief officers would be achieved.
Amendment No. 201, which would insert £18,000, is a less acceptable alternative. It would achieve the stated aim of excluding all those officers who come into regular contact with councillors, who attend committees or who give political advice in all but the smallest authorities. Going further down the scale, amendment No. 202 would achieve the same aims but include the smallest authorities. The Government must explain why they would allow civil servants earning considerably more than £13,500 to play prominent roles in local government, while not allowing local authority manual workers even to be allowed to be considered to stand for election. I raise that matter with a degree of apprehension because it might give the Government ideas about becoming even tighter towards civil servants. I hope that they will not do that. The Bill goes much too far already in limiting the ability of people to play a constructive part in the local democratic process.
In many parts of my constituency, people stand as independents for local government. We are here telling people, "You will not play a part in local government. Your contribution is not welcome and is not required." That diminishes our democracy and therefore I hope--
Column 779though I suspect it is a triumph of optimism over experience--that the Minister will respond positively to the amendments.
Mr. McAllion : I support amendment No. 157. The Minister said that he had agreed to include the figure of £13,500 on the face of the Bill. Having agreed to that, it is incumbent on him to state clearly what payments will be taken into consideration when calculating that £13,500.
In Scotland, the local authority areas cover large swathes of countryside. For example, Strathclyde region covers almost half of Scotland. Other regions are also large. The Highland and Tayside regions and my region cover large swathes of the Highlands, including Perthshire and all the Angus glens. Yet the administrative centre of the region is in the southern extremity, at Dundee.
Many local government officers either live in Dundee and have to travel out to the various parts of the region or live on the outskirts of the region and come into the centre, to Dundee, to work. As a result, payments such as travel and subsistence allowances and disturbance and car mileage payments do not reflect any sort of seniority in the local government structure. They simply reflect the fact that the officers must travel large distances.
It is important, therefore, that those payments are excluded from the calculation of the £13,500. If not, the provision will go against the spirit of the Widdicombe report, and I am sure that the Minister does not intend that those payments should be taken into consideration.
Mr. Gummer : The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) will appreciate that there are different ways of achieving the end, and we have tried to take the figure which approximates to what the Widdicombe committee saw as representing those who should have an absolute ban on taking part in political activities. We then made it much less onerous by ensuring that, either individually or by groups, people could be excluded from that. So most of the people of whom he speaks--manual workers and the like--are likely, certainly by category, to be excluded. That will not be unreasonable, and the way in which we have laid it down seems to be the best way of proceeding. When it comes to the question of what the £13,500 means, we have said that it means "at the annual rate" of £13,500. That would exclude any travelling or subsistence allowances of the kind to which the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) referred. That is the case absolutely categorically and without question.
It would also exclude any kind of irregular payments. It would be only what is regularly the salary or wages. Sometimes part of that is called a bonus, but if it is on a regular basis--a distinction which the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) made--it is not unreasonable to make a distinction between that and what is irregular, comes occasionally and is not part of the general. There should be no difficulty in that respect.
I have also given an undertaking to uprate the figure to keep it at the level we mean it to be, which is the equivalent of principal officer, as the Widdicombe committee requested. I do not want to tie it to a specific uprating or a specific increase in the cost of living because its purpose is not to be an index of remuneration, but to try to obtain a figure that approximates to that of the principal officer
Column 780and then to maintain that. There is no intention to extend the provision to all sorts of people, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Normanton did not mean that. However, one Opposition Member suggested that we should spread the provision downwards until the office boy would be caught. I gave an undertaking in Committee, and I am happy to repeat it tonight--
Mr. O'Brien : The proposed £13,500 figure relates to the bottom of the principal officer scale. Would it not be fairer to set it at the half-way mark because otherwise it will restrict minor principal officers? Will the Minister reconsider the cut-off figure?
Mr. Gummer : The House would not think that to be a reasonable argument, would it? An independent committee recommended that the level should be set at principal officer. Because of the different ways that gradings are considered in different parts of the country, it was difficult to achieve uniformity. We felt that the figure of £13,500 met, as well as was possible, the committee's recommendation. I accept that it is at the bottom end of the principal officer scale, but it is intended to catch a bag of all those above that level. The hon. Gentleman should acknowledge that we have introduced into the system the opportunity for anyone outside the politically restricted categories to appeal to the adjudicator. He could say, "I am earning more than that, but what I do is clearly not relevant to what is envisaged in the Bill." We have written into the Bill, through an amendment--because the Opposition wanted us to do so--that the adjudication officer should take into account the elements that relate to how one defines what is a politically restricted grade. We have been careful about that. It is not an unreasonable measure because it will affect only a limited number of local government workers. To ensure that the line drawn is not so firm that it causes the difficulties referred to by the hon. Gentleman, we have included the adjudication procedure and tried to make it as clear as possible. I think that, in general, people outside the House will think it to be a reasonable mechanism.
I accept that large numbers of civil servants will be involved and there are different arrangements to deal with how they react in different circumstances. At present, a general adjudication system is not available to civil servants, and I am glad that it has been included in this provision because it fits particular needs. I suspect that large groups of people will be excluded because of the nature of their activities. Many individuals will also be excluded. However, it is important to recognise that the public will know that those who have decided that their way of helping the general community should be through the business of advising elected members must restrict themselves to that activity when they reach a level at which that is especially appropriate.
The hon. Gentleman quoted a letter from someone who said that what he did in his spare time was his own business. There are few, if any, officers in local government who subscribe to that. Most people who make a career in local government would say, "What I do in the whole of my life should be consistent with my role of advising the whole of a committee and the whole of the council." I cannot understand how an adviser to a council could possibly, at the same time, be chairman of the local Labour
Column 781party or a leading figure in the local Conservative party. However eminent the hon. Gentleman's correspondent may be, I do not think that what he quoted is correct.
Mr. O'Brien : The Minister made his last point out of context, which may be indicative of the whole Bill. We said in Committee, on more than one occasion, that chief executives, chief education officers, those in charge of departments and those advising the council should be included in the scope of the provision. I have been talking about such people as caretakers, inspectors at public works departments or plumbers who, because of the structure of their local authorities, could be earning above the ceiling. The provision could catch a junior who works in the information office of his local authority but is paid less than £13,500. Surely it is right to say that such people are entitled to do what they wish with their spare time.
Mr. Gummer : I do not know that because the directions under which the adjudicator will operate--which we said we would include in the Bill-- mean that he will understand exactly the sorts of people involved.
The Opposition are taking a new stance. In Committee I referred to a Conservative councillor on one council who was also the assistant housing director of another council, dealing with the allocation of housing for individual families in a neighbouring council area. I said that I did not think that to be a proper relationship. I was perfectly prepared to say that even though he is a Conservative councillor.
I ask the hon. Gentleman once more whether it is proper for the chief executive of a district council also to be chairman of the local Labour party. Is it proper to be the chief executive of a Scottish local authority and also a Labour councillor in another local authority? The hon. Gentleman has not yet been prepared, as in honour he should be, to say that that is improper. Until he is prepared to say so, I find the Labour party's sudden conversion rather odd. It knows that the public are in favour of the provision, so it is now trying to bow to public opinion.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments made : No. 217, in page 3, line 29, leave out from delegated)' to end of line 39.
No. 218, in page 3, line 41, leave out from of' to posts' in line 45 and insert
such of the following posts under the authority, namely-- (
(a) the full time posts the annual rate of remuneration in respect of which is or exceeds £13,500 or such higher amount as the Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument specify ; (
(b) the part time posts the annual rate of remuneration in respect of which would be or exceed that amount if they were full time posts in respect of which remuneration were paid at the same rate as for the part time post ; and
(c) posts not falling within paragraph (a) or (b) above the duties of which appear to the authority to fall within subsection (3) below,
as are not posts for the time being exempted under section 3 below, '.
No. 219, in page 3, line 49, leave out "paragraph" and insert "subsection". -- [Mr. Gummer.]
, as respects all or most of the duties of his post, is required to report'.
Mr. Gummer : The purpose of the amendment is to clarify the definition of "non-statutory chief officer" and "deputy chief officer" in clause 2. We undertook in Committee to do that. Amendment agreed to.
Amendments made : No. 111, in page 4, line 37, leave out reports' and insert
, as respects all or most of the duties of his post, is required to report'.
No. 112, in page 4, line 41, leave out reports' and insert , as respects all or most of the duties of his post, is required to report'.
No. 220, in page 5, line 16, leave out from may' and insert shall'.
No. 221, in page 5, line 19, leave out subsection (2) and insert-- (2) Where--