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John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I want to speak about the amendments that I tabled, but I begin my associating myself with those tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz).
As the Library research paper emphasised, when the Bill was first introduced, it and the intentions behind it gained a breadth of support that we had not witnessed for several years. Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty said:
Other supporters include the Muslim Council of Britain, Ben Summerskillthe chief executive of Stonewallthe Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress. It would be regrettable to waste all that good will on the issue of representation among the commissioners. I hope that the Minister will make a strong statement that the issues raised in the debate will be tackled properly and that we shall hear a firm and concrete commitment from the Government that the new body will be adequately representative.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East talked about the definition of black and ethnic minorities. I am the chair of the all-party group on the Irish community in Britain, and I should like to point out that, among all the other definitions of ethnic minorities, we need to recognise that the largest ethnic minority in this country are the Irish, who have suffered discrimination at the hands of the various institutions of this country over the generations.
I have tabled amendments Nos. 23, 24 and 20. If we are to set up a new organisation from the merger of existing organisations, it is important that we help to maintain the morale of the staff of those organisations who transfer to the new one, particularly those who have built up expertise in these fields as a result of
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working for the existing organisations over the years. A number of members of staff have expressed their concern to the all-party trade union group representing the Public and Commercial Services Union, of which I am the chair. They are worried about continuity of service and the application of TUPEthe Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981.
Amendment No. 23 addresses the issue of continuity of service by ensuring that all the staff from the former commissions transferring across to the new commission will be deemed to have continuity of service for the purposes of the civil service compensation scheme. This means that if, for example, a member of staff were to be compensated for redundancy, their service on the existing organisation would be taken into account.
Many hon. Members will think that that would naturally be the case, but I have raised the issue because of the recent experience of staff at the Learning and Skills Council, which is implementing massive redundancies. Many of its staff had previously transferred from the training and enterprise councils, and they thought that that service would be regarded as part of the continuity of their employment. However, many of the staff who are facing redundancy have had their entitlement calculated only from the creation of the LSC. Their service with the TECs has not been taken into account, and their supposed continuity of service has not been recognised. It would therefore be helpful if the Minister could place on the record the assurance that, for the purpose of the civil service compensation scheme, all the staff transferring from the three existing commissions will be regarded as having continuity of service.
Mr. Boswell : I have some sympathy with the point that the hon. Gentleman has made about the Learning and Skills Council. Does he agree that there is already an exemplary code of practice for the handling of transfers and redundancies in the public sector? Should it not, therefore, be a matter of general principle that that should apply to all such cases, rather than a particular one being exempt?
John McDonnell: It is true that there is a code of practiceit is helpful and it should be applied generally. It would be reassuring, however, if the Minister could put on the record that these particular members of staff will be protected. I say that because of the experience at the LSC, which undermined the morale of the large numbers of people who had transferred across from the TECs and who thought that they had some security.
Amendment No. 24 also deals with staffing. It would ensure that the TUPE regulations apply to all staff of the former commissions, whenever they transfer to the new commission. Again, I seek a statement on the record from the Minister to reassure the staff who are now being identified for transfer. The transfer from the existing commissions will be a staggered process. Most of the staff at the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Disability Rights Commission will transfer to the new body in 2007. However, staff at the Commission for Racial Equality will not transfer until 2009. As this is a piecemeal process, rather than a wholesale transfer of
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staff, it is important that we have an assurance that the TUPE regulations will apply to all transfers, whenever they occur.
James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting point. Does he agree that for the new commission to be effective in its roles and responsibilities, it is important that there is continuity of staffing so that the knowledge and experience gained by the staff of the existing bodies is properly transferred to the new commission? The doubts that the hon. Gentleman is raising about TUPE and continuity of service might encourage existing staff to look for other opportunities, rather than transferring across.
John McDonnell: I have no doubt that the staff who serve the existing commissions will seek to serve the new one with the same commitment and dedication that have made the existing ones so successful. The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, however. We need to reassure those members of staff who are transferring across that they are secure in their employment, and that they will have the opportunity to continue what for many of them is a vocation, as a result of the dedication that they have demonstrated over the years. The last thing that we should be doing is undermining their morale or their commitment to their work. I would therefore welcome an assurance on the record from the Minister that TUPE will apply at each stage of the transfers from the different bodies, no matter when they occur.
I mentioned that the TUPE regulations were not effective in guaranteeing full protection in regard to a whole range of issues. They allow flexibility for the employer, but they do not apply to fundamental issues such as pensions. I hope that the guidance that has been issued for past civil service transfers to new organisationsand even to organisations outside the public sectoron issues such as the protection of pensions and ensuring that alternative proposals are put to staff in full consultation to give them that protection, will apply in this instance as well, so that we can offer security to those members of staff.
Amendment No. 20 is about representation. The three existing commissions have secured representation from both sides of industry, including the trade union movement. There have been trade union nominationsusually two per boardto each of the existing organisations. The reason for that is that the bulk of the casework of those organisations has arisen as a result of discrimination in employment. It was therefore natural to ask the organisations with experience in employment relationsboth employers and trade unionsto nominate people to sit on the commissions' boards. It is interesting that the nominations from the trade unions have largely involved women and representatives of the black and ethnic minority groups.
I am worried that there is no commitment in the Bill to seek trade union representation on the new body, and I ask the Minister to assure usin any form of words that she can give us this eveningthat at least some
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direction will be given to the new body to consult and involve the trade unions and, if possible, seek nominations from them, and not just for commissioners. An alternative might be to ensure that there is adequate trade union representation on the advisory bodies that will be established to advise the commission on individual inquiries and on the overall direction of policy. In that way, we would achieve a representative body that would be effective in building on existing experience, which has largely been focused on issues relating to employment rights.
We welcome the Bill, but it is on these points of detail that the new body will fail or succeed. I hope that the Minister will respond flexibly so that we can genuinely take into account the issues raised in this debate. In that way, we would demonstrate that the House of Commons has a value, even at this late stage of the Bill, in ensuring that the legislation will be effective.
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