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Madam Speaker : I understand the hon. Gentleman's deep concern about this matter, but it is not a question at this stage for the Chair. It is something that the House itself must deal with. As he will know, the Leader of the House is on the Government Front Bench and will no doubt have heard his comments. Perhaps he can make some inquiries into those matters on behalf of the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May I ask you whether you consider, in your role as the protector of the rights of Back-Bench Members of Parliament and protector of the rights of the House, that you might inquire into the matter of a question that I asked the Secretary of State for Wales,
Column 766who is in his place ? I received an answer on 12 May concerning irregular payments made by the Welsh Development Agency to its staff throughout the 1980s.
A report appeared in a newspaper this morning that went into details about those irregular payments, and the new management of the WDA claimed the credit for initiating that investigation. I have had no answer from the Secretary of State. I wonder whether you could approach the office of the Secretary of State and ask him to put right that matter and make some type of statement to the House.
Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West) : Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. That is disturbing to the Welsh affairs shadow Front Bench as well, because, in spite of the long period of notice that was given by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones) in writing to the Secretary of State six weeks ago and the thundering silence from the Welsh Office, it appears now that the device of the quango concerned itself issuing the information in the Daily Post for publication this morning is being used to throw Members of Parliament off the scent, and that Secretaries of State, who are responsible to the House even for the acts of their predecessors, are simply not prepared to abide by that accountability of which I believe that you, Madam Speaker, are the protector.
Madam Speaker : I obviously cannot concern myself with newspaper reports, but I am concerned if the hon. Gentleman has not had a response to the question that he has placed on the Order Paper. I place prime importance on the procedures whereby individual Members receive proper responses when they place questions, and that statements are made in the House before they are given to newspapers.
The Secretary of State for Wales is on the Front Bench and no doubt he will now deal directly with the matter as far as he is free and able to do so.
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Redwood) indicated assent .
Ms Liz Lynne (Rochdale) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Further to a parliamentary written reply that I received from the Secretary of State for the Environment, have you had any indication that he wishes to come to the House to make a statement about his reply to me to say that he, along with the Secretary of State for Social Security, instructed parliamentary counsel to draft amendments to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill and for those amendments to be given to private Members ? Have you had any indication that he will be coming to the House to make a statement about that disgraceful business ?
Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101 (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.)
That the draft Rates (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 1994 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. That the draft Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 1994 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.-- [Mr. MacKay.]
Question agreed to.
Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [15 June] proposed on consideration of the Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), That the clause ( Financing of local government in Wales ) be read a Second time
.--The Secretary of State, after consulting the Treasury, shall within six months of this Act coming into force present a report to Parliament on methods to restructure the financing of local government in Wales ; such report shall include consideration of (a) the feasibility of local government raising a local income tax, or receiving a proportion of the VAT and corporation tax arising from businesses within their area ;
(b) a tax placed upon second homes in Wales, the proceeds of which shall accrue to local government ; and
(c) the abolition of council tax and the uniform business rate.'.-- [Mr. Wigley.]
Question again proposed.
Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon) : I was somewhat put out last night on two accounts. First, I was put out by the way in which the debate was brought to a conclusion without any consultation with Members of Plaid Cymru, when we were fairly close to the end of a short debate, which we are now continuing, and which will no doubt take longer than it would have taken last night. I was even more put out by the response that I received from the Minister to the substance of the debate. The guts of the new clause was the question of how we make more resources available to local government and how we enable local government to have greater flexibility and discretion in the use of those resources, rather than its having to follow the diktats laid down by the Welsh Office and by central Government in London. Goodness only knows, given the social and environmental conditions and the challenges of education and creating jobs in all our communities in Wales--especially in the run-down, old industrial areas, be it the slate quarrying areas in my constituency or the old coal mining and steel making areas--local government needs resources. It certainly needs more than it is getting and it also needs a greater discretion and flexibility to use resources to meet requirements in the various areas.
The Minister gave the impression that the council tax system is working perfectly. I do not doubt that it works better than the poll tax--it would be difficult not to be better. However, he must be aware, as I am, of countless constituents who feel that they have been the recipients of very rough justice under the banding system. He must also be aware of the strong feeling about the business rate. For many small businesses, that sort of overhead, in addition to the cost of water--which itself is often a heavy burden--could pull them down. There is a need to consider a more flexible system so that those who have difficulty paying could have lower bills while those who are doing well take on a little more of the burden. There is also the question of local government's use of the capital resources gained from selling council houses. There is a need to build new property for the thousands of people in Wales who are on housing waiting lists. All those matters need to be reviewed.
Column 769What disappoints me in particular is that the Government do not acknowledge the need to consider finance together with functions and structure. In the 1970s reorganisation--that was, after all, the baby of a Conservative Government--the opportunity was lost to look at finance, functions and structure together. That mistake is now being made again and I very much regret it.
I appreciate that we will not get much further on these issues this afternoon and that there is a wish to make progress on the Bill. However, I want to put to the Minister the fact that we must soon review the way in which the finances of local government work. There is also a need to give local government greater freedom and responsibility. By doing so, we will have a more meaningful form of democracy in local government in Wales.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn .
-- .--The rights of employees of local authorities in Wales to notice of termination of employment and payment in lieu of notice, whether under contract or under sections 49 and 50 of and Schedule 3 to the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978, whichever shall be the greater, shall be preserved.'.-- [Mr. Morgan.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
No. 31, in clause 43, page 34, line 1, leave out from beginning to end of line 38.
Government amendment No. 62.
No. 34, in clause 44, page 34, line 39, leave out from beginning to end of line 11 on page 35.
No. 12, in page 34, line 44, after treated', insert either'. No. 13, in page 35, line 3, at end insert
or to be entitled after 1st April 1996 to receive equivalent redundancy payments from the new principal council.'.
Government amendments Nos. 63 to 65.
No. 33, in clause 45, page 35, line 12, leave out from beginning to end of line 39.
Government amendment No. 66.
Mr. Morgan : This is one of the most important groups of amendments that we shall discuss, for two reasons. First, 130,000 people work in local government in Wales and the Welsh Members who represent them here must be aware of the need to give them some reasonable protection of their accumulated rights--or acquired rights, to use the European phrase that has come to the fore in the last week following the historic judgment of the European Court of Justice.
The second reason is important procedurally--I know you will take a particular interest in that, Madam Speaker--and relates to events after Second Reading on 15 March. The point was raised in Committee, but this is the first opportunity that the Secretary of State will have had directly to deal with the matter since Second Reading, although apologies were made on his behalf in Committee.
Column 770On Second Reading on 15 March, the Secretary of State recognised that clause 44 did not give adequate protection to workers in local government who might be affected directly by the Bill in terms of loss of status, loss of earnings or, ultimately, loss of jobs. He said that clause 44 would be redrafted by the time the Bill reached Committee stage. Unfortunately, although that pledge was repeated in the wind-up speech on Second Reading by the Under-Secretary of State, who I am glad to see in his place, there were no amendments to clause 44.
An apology was made by the Under-Secretary of State on behalf of the Secretary of State, who was not a member of the Committee, but we have been told by people who have an extremely detailed knowledge of the proceedings of the House that the parliamentary draftsmen deputed to prepare the amendment to clause 44, as per the pledge given by the Secretary of State, were taken off it to follow instructions given to them by a non-Cabinet Minister, the Minister of State for Social Security and Disabled People, who was in his place five minutes ago, who issued instructions to the parliamentary draftsmen--I understand that it was the same parliamentary draftsmen--to stop preparing the amendments to clause 44 and instead to prepare the dilatory amendments to help the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) spike the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. We have been given two unsigned letters to that effect by people whose understanding of the proceedings of the House in preparation of legislation is extremely detailed. In attempting to pursue the matter and get the full facts, I asked the Secretary of State for Wales on 23 May on what date the instructions were given to the parliamentary draftsmen to prepare the amendments to clause 44 of the Local Government (Wales) Bill, as had been promised.
Mr. Morgan : I received no answer from the Secretary of State. He blocked it by saying that it is not the practice to provide details of internal decisions of that kind--a totally absurd answer as I asked the question only because, just five days previously on 18 May, my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) had received an answer from a more junior Minister, the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, to his question :
"on what date the Minister for Disabled People authorised his Department to instruct Parliamentary Counsel on the drafting of the amendments tabled to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill".--[ Official Report , 18 May 1994 ; Vol. 243, c. 525 .]
If the Minister of State can answer that on 20 April 1994 he authorised his officials to instruct Parliamentary Counsel to draft the said amendments that caused such interest at the time, particularly from you, Madam Speaker, I cannot understand why the Secretary of State for Wales cannot tell me, the people of Wales and the 130,000 people who work in local government in Wales on what date the Secretary of State sent his instructions to Parliamentary Counsel. I was told it was before ; I am now told that it was after.
Mr. Alfred Morris : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. What he has said this afternoon is highly disturbing in relation to the Government's tactics on the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. He is arguing that higher priority
Column 771was given to drafting the 80 amendments for Conservative Members to wreck the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill than was given to the keeping of a pledge to the House of Commons about the drafting of amendments to this Bill. That must be a very disturbing revelation for people on both sides of the House. I understand that what my hon. Friend has said is very well founded. I hope that the Secretary of State for Wales will now respond. He did not respond to the request for a written answer ; I hope he will respond now. It is a very important House of Commons matter.
Mr. Morgan : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his further elucidation, and for confirmation of the importance of this issue by the person whose private Member's Bill was affected. It may not be proper for me to ask you, Madam Speaker, whether you could command the Secretary of State for Wales to answer the question.
Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman wrote to me on that matter and I responded--the House did not know that. That is why the hon. Gentleman is able to raise the issue again today. It is for the Minister to respond--and if the hon. Gentleman will bring his remarks to a conclusion, the Minister may do so.
The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Sir Wyn Roberts) : As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in his reply to the hon. Gentleman, it is not usual for the Government to announce the dates on which instructions were given to counsel. However, I am prepared to tell the hon. Gentleman that the date when final instructions regarding this particular matter were given to parliamentary draftsmen was 25 May.
I apologise to the House for the delay that occurred and for the fact that we were unable to produce amendments for the Committee stage as promised on Second Reading. The reason was that there had to be consultations within Government, and in particular with my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and for the Environment, because similar provisions have to apply in Scotland and England, in respect of local government reorganisation, as in Wales.
Mr. Morgan : I am grateful to the Minister for going as far as he did, even though it would have been preferable for the Secretary of State to have answered, because he was not a member of the Committee and this is his first opportunity to apologise to the House for breaching the principle that if a Secretary of State, as a member of the Cabinet, makes a promise at the Dispatch Box on Second Reading to produce amendments in time for the Committee stage, it is kept. Such a promise is not meant to be like shortcrust pastry and easily broken, but is supposed to be of a cast-iron character.
Column 772I noticed that the Minister's answer was heavily qualified, for he used the words "final instructions". He said that they were given after the Committee had finished dealing with clause 44 on 17 May. Perhaps the Secretary of State can say when parliamentary draftsmen were first instructed to produce amendments to clause 44.
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Redwood) : I unreservedly apologise for not meeting the commitment that I gave. I agree with all right hon. and hon. Members that one's duties to the House are most important and that one should always endeavour to meet one's undertakings. I did my best. It is not always possible to get busy colleagues together as rapidly as necessary to secure collective agreement on important matters. I tried, I failed and I am extremely sorry. My right hon. Friend the Minister gave the truthful reason why we were unable to meet quickly enough to obtain the agreement needed, but we did so as soon as we could.
Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Lady should not use a point of order in that way. Obviously she has something to say, and she is perfectly entitled to intervene. If she wishes to do so, she must seek the consent of the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan).
Mr. Morgan : I will first make the point that the Secretary of State has still not answered my question. Given the qualification in the Minister's response that "final instructions" were given on 24 May--which I am happy to accept--may the House be told whether earlier instructions were given, pertaining to the drafting of amendments to clause 44, as appears to be the case according to information that I received ? If not, why did the Minister qualify his reply with the words "final instructions" ?
Mr. Morgan : I am sorry, but I hope that before we finish this debate the Minister of State will rethink that answer, because it is totally inadequate. Is he saying that there was no contact other than that passive one, with the Office of Parliamentary Counsel being expected to read Second Reading debates and then request the draft amendments from the Minister ? Is that the way in which
Column 773the Welsh Office works in respect of drafting amendments ? If it is, it is not surprising that a more junior Minister than the Secretary of State for Wales was able to get priority in the queue.
"on what occasions since April 1992 Ministers from his Department have (a) requested Parliamentary Counsel to assist in preparing amendments to private Members' Bills on behalf of other private Members and (b) authorised officials to instruct Parliamentary Counsel to prepare amendments which were subsequently passed to private Members."
The Secretary of State for Wales replied :
"I am advised there have been no such requests or instructions since April 1992."--[ Official Report , 25 May 1994 ; Vol. 244, c. 176-177 .]
I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would comment on what he feels about the timing of that answer.
Mr. Morgan : I am grateful to the hon. Lady for supplying that information, which I will have to digest. Clearly, she has asked similar questions of many other Ministers. What is astonishing is that on Second Reading the Secretary of State gave an undertaking, which was breached, and that there was a procedure--I am informed--which meant that the Secretary of State for Wales appeared to be in the slow lane and the Minister of State for the Disabled, in tabling the dilatory amendments--which, of course, do not assist the legislation, which is why the taxpayer pays the salaries of the Office of Parliamentary Counsel--was put in the fast lane and given priority over the preparation of genuine and constructive improvements to legislation which were promised at the Dispatch Box. That is an extremely unsatisfactory procedure when the futures of 140,000 people in local government are at stake on the one hand and the interests of 6 million disabled people are at stake on the other. Both have been shafted by a very shabby bit of dirty tricks at the Dispatch Box.
Mr. Redwood rose
Mr. Redwood : That is a most unfair allegation. I have apologised to the House for the delay. I have given an honest explanation of the delay. It was a question of getting colleagues together and getting agreement on a general policy that would be relevant in Scotland and England, as well as Wales, to ensure that what we were doing was sensible or compatible, one with the other. My right hon. Friend gave a sensibly cautious reply about contacts with Parliamentary Counsel because neither he nor I usually undertake those contacts ; they are undertaken by officials on our behalf, and we do not have the detailed knowledge of every contact that they have. But I now have advice to say that there was contact throughout April and May with Parliamentary Counsel, as one would expect, and they discussed options, but they were not able to give final instructions, because Ministers had not settled the policy. It is nothing to do with fast and slow lanes, or disagreements between ourselves and another Bill and another Minister. It is to do with settling our policy for this Bill to get it right.
Column 774comparable to that given by the Minister for the Disabled. He is talking about continuous contacts, as though it were impossible for any Minister to specify a single date on which instructions are issued. Yet a more junior Minister--the Minister of State for the Disabled--was able to do that, albeit under enormous pressure, which was exerted by you, Madam Speaker, by other hon. Members and by people outside, in relation to the disgust that people generally felt about the way in which the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill was shafted, at taxpayer's expense and in an extremely illegitimate procedure. It was an abuse of the purposes to which the Office of Parliamentary Counsel is constitutionally put, and an
unconstitutional method was used to shaft that Bill. What made matters much worse was the displacement of the proper use of the Office of Parliamentary Counsel to produce the amendments that had been promised.
I consider Government amendment No. 62 inadequate. Any member of the 140,000 staff who work in local government in Wales will still encounter difficulties in the event of redundancy or any other detriment arising from the Bill. The amendment does not appear to give local government staff any right to sue a new authority through an industrial tribunal, claiming unfair or constructive dismissal or other detriment. Although they could sue the old authority, that authority will not be able to pay up if it no longer exists, and there appears to be no guarantee that the new authority would carry the obligation to meet any claim for damages if a tribunal found in favour of a staff member whose case was not considered until after 1 April 1996.
It seems that there is to be no transfer to the new authority of the full legal liability in regard to such cases. It takes some time for constructive dismissal cases to be dealt with by tribunals. Would staff be able to sue the new authority ? If it is the old authority that they must sue, how would they get that authority to pay up ? There is another reason why the Government amendment is not as good as our new clause 17. The right to consult and the right to proper collective representation appeared to be at the heart of last week's ruling by the European Court of Justice, which conferred the continuation of rights acquired in previous employment when there is a legal transfer to a new employer. The amendment, however, does not seem to cover that.
It could be said that, until that ruling by the European Court, the Government could not have known that such a provision would have to be incorporated into the Bill. However, the matter has been in progress since the Government introduced their 1981 legislation, and they have had a fair bit of time to consider the implications of the acquired rights directive.
The Welsh Office, and many Welsh local authorities, have been at the heart of many of the most interesting test cases involving the directive and the continuation of workers' rights after their transfer of employment. We need only think of the Dyfed school cleaners test case, and a case that directly involved the Welsh Office's own lawyers--the South Glamorgan health authority case, in which the Welsh Office was involved as a party. That case concerned the potential privatisation of cleaning and catering services at four of the authority's hospitals ; the authority was responsible to the Welsh Office.
Column 775I should have expected those test cases to have taught the Welsh Office lawyers a lesson--that they must cover the point arising from the acquired rights directive, particularly the right to consultation and collective representation, in legislation that will transfer 140, 000 people. As far as we can tell, our new clause complies with both the spirit and the letter of the directive ; more important, it will leave local government staff no worse off than they are now in terms of rights acquired through length of service, employment contracts and so forth.
It would save us a good deal of time and trouble if the Government were willing to accept today that their amendment may not be as up to date as they would like, although it has taken them three months--since Second Reading--to produce it. As the Government are already on the back foot on this issue, it would be helpful if, before the Bill goes to another place, they would further improve it, after taking on board some of the points that have been made since the path-breaking judgment of the European Court of Justice last week and after perusing new clause 17 and some of the other amendments.
Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) : I must confess that, due possibly to my ignorance and despite the Secretary of State's genuine promises on Second Reading, I found it difficult in Committee to understand where the staff stood in terms of the law and the way in which Government would handle the problems. As Opposition Members represent so many constituents who serve in local government, we should not allow the Bill to be enacted without a most thorough examination of how the Government intend to safeguard staff interests after the changes, which are beyond the control and responsibility of the staff. Reorganisation will be imposed on many people.
Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery) : Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, as recently as 14 June, a letter was sent dealing with regulations on redundancy ? There is great consternation among local government staff in Wales, who believe that, at this late stage, redundancy terms are far worse than Welsh Office officials led them to believe during negotiations. The percentage of staff who will be redundant will find themselves in a terrible position. It will be difficult for them to find commensurate employment and they will have little compensation.
Mr. Rowlands : The hon. and learned Gentleman rightly brings that serious issue to the attention of the House. I did not realise that such a letter existed. It adds to my preamble in which I said that we owe it to the staff to consider the matter carefully. We shall debate the issue until we find out what the position will be for local government staff, who will be seriously affected by the legislation. Whatever happens, many staff will experience a disturbing and anxious time.
The only way of handling the issue is to note what we have been told in the House, and particularly in Committee, in order to understand the ramifications of amendment No. 62. In Committee, two significant statements were made by the Under-Secretary. He said : "The Government accept that TUPE may apply to transfers in the public sector, including local government reorganisation, but the way in which it does so would depend on circumstances in each case. The Government do not accept that in the context of reorganisation all staff would necessarily have a right of transfer under TUPE. No doubt, we may want to return to that later."
That statement on the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection
Column 776of Employment) Regulations 1981 applied to a considerable number of staff who were affected by reorganisation.
Later in the debate, the Under-Secretary clarified his argument. He referred to the advice of Patrick Elias QC, which had been received by the Local Government Management Board. He said that the advice
"suggests that senior and central administrative staff in split authorities, such as counties, are less likely to be protected than similar staff in merged authorities, such as most district councils. If that advice is correct, it emphasises the importance of devising staff transfer arrangements that, as far as possible, provide equality of treatment for all staff."--[ Official Report, Standing Committee A , 17 May 1994 ; c. 524-40.]
That statement lifted the veil on the first statement that some staff were covered by TUPE and some were not. He clarified and redefined his first statement. That is how matters stood. At least TUPE could apply to a large number of staff.
Perhaps I am not reading the legislation correctly or perhaps words do not mean what they seem to mean. I want to draw the House's attention to the words of amendment No. 62. It is a Government amendment and has not yet been moved or spoken to. Inevitably, the initial part of our debate will be interrogative--asking questions, rather than making statements. The amendment says :
"in relation to a person whose contract of employment is terminated as a result of this Act"
so the responsibility is fully that of Government legislation "it shall be assumed that he was dismissed by the old authority concerned by reason of redundancy immediately before 1st April 1996 and that his dismissal was proposed by the authority."
What do those words mean and what effect will they have on people's rights under TUPE ? I have a lawyer sitting not far from me. Am I right in saying that it is an attempt to frustrate contract ? If so, is that the intention ? If that is the intention and we accept the amendment, does it remove people's rights under TUPE ? I am a layman wandering around in this world and I am trying to use the correct language. If people have been dismissed and re-employed, does it mean that a transfer has not taken place ? Therefore, am I right in saying that TUPE will not apply ?
If I am right, it is very serious and I find it hard to believe. It rubs against every assurance and all the good words that we had from Ministers in Committee and on Second Reading to the effect that there was no such intention. Do the words of that amendment in any way jeopardise the rights under TUPE which were accepted by Ministers and by counsel's opinion to the Welsh Local Government Management Board ?