Session 2010-11
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General Committee Debates
Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft Parliamentary Standards Act (Staff Transfer) Order 2010

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Hugh Bayley 

Afriyie, Adam (Windsor) (Con) 

Anderson, Mr David (Blaydon) (Lab) 

Arbuthnot, Mr James (North East Hampshire) (Con) 

Barclay, Stephen (North East Cambridgeshire) (Con) 

Bradley, Karen (Staffordshire Moorlands) (Con) 

Bray, Angie (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con) 

Byles, Dan (North Warwickshire) (Con) 

Crabb, Stephen (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con) 

Creagh, Mary (Wakefield) (Lab) 

Green, Kate (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab) 

Heath, Mr David (Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons)  

Howell, John (Henley) (Con) 

Joyce, Eric (Falkirk) (Lab) 

Keeley, Barbara (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab) 

Keen, Alan (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op) 

Onwurah, Chi (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab) 

Ritchie, Ms Margaret (South Down) (SDLP) 

Williams, Mr Mark (Ceredigion) (LD) 

Eliot Wilson, Sarah Thatcher, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

The following also attended (Standing Order No. 118(2)):

Gray, Mr James (North Wiltshire) (Con) 

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First Delegated Legislation Committee 

Monday 12 July 2010  

[Hugh Bayley in the Chair] 

Draft Parliamentary Standards Act (Staff Transfer) Order 2010 

4.30 pm 

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr David Heath):  I beg to move, 

That the Committee has considered the draft Parliamentary Standards Act (Staff Transfer) Order 2010. 

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Bayley. The draft order is short, narrow in scope and provides for certain staff of the House of Commons currently employed in the Department of Resources to be transferred to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. It is subject to approval by the House of Commons only; the House of Lords has no role to play. Powers to transfer staff employed by the House of Commons to IPSA were included in the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009. Under those powers, such a transfer may be accomplished by a statutory scheme provided for by the draft order. 

When work is transferred between public bodies, it is usual practice for staff who are carrying out the work to be transferred. A total of 29 members of staff from the Members’ pay and allowances team in the Department of Resources will be transferred under the scheme. Their terms and conditions of employment will be preserved in accordance with the Cabinet Office statement of practice on staff transfers in the public sector. Sixteen of the staff concerned are already working for IPSA on secondment from the House. The remaining 13 members of staff will transfer subject to the order being passed on 1 August—in practice, starting work on Monday 2 August—when the formal transfer will take place, in accordance with paragraph 1 of the scheme. The scheme has been agreed with the management of the House of Commons Service, IPSA and the Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents the staff concerned. 

The draft order has not been considered by the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments, as members of the Committee will not be nominated until later today, which will be too late to approve the order. It is an unusual situation, although not unprecedented. However, it is important to press ahead with the order, not least to protect the interests of the staff concerned. The consequences of not approving the order are likely to include serious problems with maintaining services in IPSA in the short term. It would also increase the risk of having to make redundant staff in the Members’ pay and allowances team in the Department of Resources. That would be contrary to the assurances, given by spokespeople from all three main parties before the election, that staff who bear no responsibility for the failures of individual Members or the overall system should not be disadvantaged by association with the old

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Fees Office. That would not be a fair way in which to proceed, nor would it be in line with standard practice on the transfer of functions between public bodies. 

4.33 pm 

Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Lab):  I am not a lawyer, but I want to draw a couple of points to the Minister’s attention. Paragraph 10 of the explanatory notes refers to the impact of the order “on the public sector” being “minimal”. Paragraph 12 says of monitoring and review: 

“Not applicable as the transfer is a one-off event.” 

In April 2009, a resolution of the whole House stated that the staff of Members of Parliament should be transferred to the employment of the House of Commons. I have not had enough time to check in great detail the legal status of that statement, but it is clear that the intention was to follow the matter through. There was to be a consultation, but that did not subsequently take place. The resolution was pretty unambiguous. 

After talking to one or two people, my understanding is that one reason why the process did not take place was that it would have created two tiers of employee of the House of Commons: 1,500 or 2,000 staff of Members of Parliament—however many there are—would have been subject to one set of conditions, while others would have been subject to another set. In due course, there would have been natural pressure for both sets of staff to come together and be treated in the same way, as they would by any other employer. 

We are now left with the situation in which IPSA—I am not being pejorative—controls our staff, and the central component of the employer-employee relationship is one of control. It involves payment and contracts, but also control. The degree of control that I have over my staff is quite minimal. It is much less than, say, a middle manager in the public sector, and there is at least a case for considering IPSA to be the employer. The order dots the i’s and crosses the t’s for the 29 members of staff, and that is entirely appropriate, but the House has probably spent less time reflecting on the interests of its own staff. I have taken informal advice and it seems that, if a member of staff considered IPSA to be the employer and went to an employment tribunal to reflect that fact and raise the issue, the tribunal would probably think it sufficiently arguable to hold a pre-hearing to consider whether IPSA was indeed the employer. 

We in this House—for all sorts of reasons, and no one in particular is to blame—have reflected too little on the employment status of our staff. I am not sure about my colleagues, but I do not feel as though I am the employer. It seems to me that, in this case, the employer is IPSA. I have used this opportunity to raise the issue, because I think it might have a bearing on the consequences of our decision today. 

4.35 pm 

Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con):  I feel it necessary to raise a couple of points in relation to the statutory instrument. We face a moral dilemma. On the one hand, many members of the Committee recognise that the IPSA system to which staff members are being transferred is not the best system on the planet. It impinges on the time that Members spend on constituency work and parliamentary duties, and it is incredibly expensive. 

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The staff are being transferred under the principles of the Transfer of Undertaking (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006, meaning that they will have the same terms as they had at the House of Commons. However, the legislation also states that, if a function is transferred to a third party, the staff have the right to transfer with it on the same terms. That seems to indicate that IPSA performs pretty much the same function as the House of Commons authorities did beforehand. It therefore appears that we have transferred what we were doing here to an outside third party on more or less the same terms and conditions. However, the experience of Members, and of the public through the taxpayers’ purse, is that the system is far less effective and far less efficient than the previous one, even though the staff have been transferred to conduct the same functions. We therefore face a moral dilemma: if we approve the statutory instrument, we will be complicit in supporting the new arrangements. Moreover, I know that many hon. Members are concerned about the current arrangements and their impact on our constituents and democracy. 

On the other hand, if we do not approve the statutory instrument, we will hold up the work of IPSA and thwart Members, because it will not be possible for them or their staff to be paid and have their expenses processed. It is a Catch-22 situation, and I simply want it noted that there is a moral dilemma. If we approve the order, the Committee will be complicit in the establishment of IPSA and the transfer of staff. If we do not approve it, we will equally undermine the work of Parliament and MPs. 

On balance, I think it right to approve the statutory instrument in order to tidy up the legal conundrums surrounding the set-up of IPSA. I simply wish it noted that we must be careful about allowing things to rumble on, because in many ways that is what got us to the position in which we found ourselves before the establishment of IPSA, whereby Members remained silent and people were too afraid to mention that it could be a problem, would not work as well as intended and other such considerations. I am comfortable with the statutory instrument being approved, but I have reservations about what we are buying into with the new IPSA system. 

The Chair:  Order. I did not want to interrupt the hon. Member, but I should tell the Committee that this House, by passing the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 in the previous Parliament, agreed to transfer responsibility for our pay and allowances to an independent body, so that is not up for discussion today. The content of the order is very narrow: it relates only to the transfer of staff. I do not think that it implicates the Committee—positively or negatively—in the administrative abilities of IPSA. We are just discussing the 29 members of staff who are being transferred and the terms under which the transfer will take place. 

4.39 pm 

Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab):  It is obviously an honour to serve on a Committee under your chairmanship, Mr Bayley. 

I want to refer to the moral dilemma that the hon. Member for Windsor mentioned, because I feel as he does about the issue. At the end of last summer, when the House was debating IPSA matters, I, as the then

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Deputy Leader of the House, met the staff unions, which were very concerned about people leaving the employ of the House and moving to IPSA. I do not know how the unions feel about it these days, but everything that Members have rightly said over the past weeks about the difficulties that we have found with IPSA leads me to be concerned. 

House staff expressed concerns at the start and we, as Members, have even more concerns. It is true that we were driven by the failure of the previous system, and we want such matters to be independent of Members and for there to be no suspicion or suggestion of any of the previous system’s failures. As guardians of the employment of the staff whom we are transferring, we should see whether there will be an orderly changeover and whether matters such as payroll and other remuneration considerations will be handled competently. TUPE has been mentioned. 

I want to ask one significant question of the Deputy Leader of the House: will staff transferred by today’s SI have the right of return to the House? That is important, and it was one of the first things that staff raised with me in those meetings last summer. House staff benefit greatly from moving between Departments, and in that way they can develop their careers, but many saw the situation as a potential cul-de-sac, whereby if they transferred to IPSA they might not have been able to return. 

Today’s SI is not strictly concerned with the following issue, but I must note that IPSA has not had a good start as an employer or as a body handling issues such as salary and payroll. It has attempted to dictate salaries for MPs’ staff by setting budget caps, introducing certain salary scales and job descriptions and not taking proper account of the salaries to be paid in London. All those things relate to House staff in the same way as they relate to MPs’ staff, and there is a continuing concern. 

I am also concerned about competence. When IPSA handled the payroll for MPs’ staff for the first time, last month, pension payments were not handled properly. The pension line on their payslips read zero, and staff have contacted IPSA to query that. I have also had a bad experience concerning the competence of the people involved. Members may know that IPSA sent P45s to MPs’ staff last week, with no explanation whatever. P45s have a certain meaning: they tend to mean that one is fired or leaving. My staff received P45s at home and with no warning. 

The Chair:  Order. I have to interrupt at this point. The issue before the Committee is whether the 29 members of staff should be transferred from the House to IPSA and, if so, the terms of the transfer. If I allowed the debate to spread to Members’ concerns more generally about IPSA’s administration, we would be here for ever. We must focus on the order. 

Barbara Keeley:  Indeed. I am raising these points because I am talking about the competence of IPSA as an employer. Twenty-nine members of staff will transfer from having the House of Commons as an employer to being employed by a body that cannot handle the first run of a payroll and that, without warning, sends out documentation without realising the impact that it will have. The issues that I am talking about are being managed by IPSA, and I am raising them not in the

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context of our staff, but as examples of where things are going wrong. As the hon. Member for Windsor said, we have a moral dilemma. I am raising issues about competence. I am very concerned; IPSA does not look like a body that can competently handle basic remuneration or the sort of practices that a person would want to know that their employer could handle. 

My final point relates specifically to IPSA. Members have observed a great deal of stress in people who work for IPSA at the moment. That is not surprising given the amount of issues and criticism, but I am sure that the staff of the House would feel that there was a very different culture in IPSA. For instance, IPSA seemingly cannot decide whether to be familiar or distant when handling us. One Member told me that when one of his staff phoned up to find out where IPSA staff are located in the House, she was asked if she could supply a PIN code. When she could not supply one, they said that they were not prepared to tell her where they were in the building, which is ridiculous because IPSA’s location is displayed on a board in the atrium of Portcullis House. Members may also have found over-familiarity, as I have done. The first time I phoned the IT system help desk, the staff started using my first name within about 30 seconds, so there is a peculiar culture. 

It has been said that IPSA staff have been stressed by the work load and the difficulties and problems of that organisation. I do not think that, at the moment, IPSA is a highly competent organisation. I am concerned that staff who have been loyal to, and have worked hard in, the House will have concerns about that. 

Alan Keen (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op):  Is my hon. Friend saying that it would be kinder to the staff not to transfer them to IPSA, because we do not know how long it will last, based on its complete incompetence so far? I am sure that in the private sector such a company would have been dissolved already and the work done elsewhere. Is that what she is saying? 

Barbara Keeley:  I am not quite saying that, but I think that that interpretation could be put on it. I started with the question of whether the staff transferred under the order have the right to return to the House. I know that they are concerned about that, and it is an appropriate issue for us to look at. Given all the concerns that I have raised and that other Members know about, it may be that when people get to IPSA, they find that they cannot stand it. We owe the people who work for the House a little bit more than just transferring them without giving them that right of return. 

4.47 pm 

Mr Heath:  We have had a useful, short debate. I am grateful to you, Mr. Bayley, for your protection, as it were, in clearly stating that the debate is not an opportunity for Members to rehearse the very many grievances that they have regarding the performance of IPSA. We all know that there have been teething difficulties with the system. We also all know that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is doing his level best to ensure that those concerns are expressed very clearly to IPSA. Of course, we also have the Speaker’s Committee for the

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Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, which is meeting at this precise moment and doing the same thing in ensuring that IPSA is aware of the difficulties. 

Barbara Keeley:  I sometimes feel that Members think that the Speaker’s Committee can operate in the way that other House Committees can. The only thing that the Speaker’s Committee is really responsible for, after appointing the board of IPSA, is IPSA’s estimate. The issues that this Committee is considering today are different, which is why I tried to put the question that I did on behalf of the staff. 

Mr Heath:  The Speaker’s Committee is very different from those other Committees, but of course it was this House that set up IPSA. It was this House that passed the legislation. It was the hon. Lady and her right hon. Friend, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), who put that legislation before the House. We are in the position we are in. My simple point is that this is a very narrow order dealing with the transfer of staff. The hon. Lady has quite properly raised some issues relating to staffing. 

Adam Afriyie:  Is the Minister aware of whether any House of Commons staff wanted to opt out of being transferred to IPSA? 

Mr Heath:  I am afraid that I am not aware of the answer, but that would be a matter for them. Every individual can decide who they wish to work for and whether they wish to accept an offer of employment by transfer; I am sure that that is the case. I do not have the precise information that the hon. Gentleman asks for, but I suspect that the answer is no. 

Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab):  The Deputy Leader of the House mentioned the House voting. I was among those who voted to set up IPSA, but when we did so we did not expect to have an organisation that is nowhere near as good as what we had before. In fact, it has failed at virtually every level. Do we not have a duty of care to the people concerned—a duty to ensure, before we transfer them, that they are going to a place as least as good as the one that they are leaving? 

Mr Heath:  Setting aside the precise details of the employment function that we are discussing, I do not think that the Committee has any responsibility regarding whether IPSA performs its wider function. IPSA is independent—that is the nature of the beast. It is independent of Parliament, and Members of the House are finding it difficult to understand that. We set it up, but it is independent of us; that was the decision taken, for reasons that everyone remembers. 

I shall deal quickly with the points made. The hon. Member for Falkirk talked about the position of Members’ staff. The decision, or view, of the House in the last Parliament was that the staff should be treated for management purposes as employees of the House, rather than as employees of the individual MP. I understand that that view was rejected by the House of Commons Commission and did not go forward, so IPSA simply has a payroll function for staff employed by Members. 

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The hon. Gentleman asked an interesting question about the wider restrictions, but that involves a legal interpretation, so it is a point on which I cannot provide an answer, as the matter can be tested only by court and in legal proceedings. The issue is not directly relevant to the draft order, but I am glad that he has had the opportunity to raise it. 

The hon. Member for Windsor asked about the application of TUPE. Strictly speaking, the measure does not come under TUPE, which does not apply to such transfers. The order makes it clear beyond doubt that staff will enjoy the same protections that they would have had if TUPE had applied, so the order is analogous to the TUPE provisions. The transfer is not within the civil service, because the staff of the House are not civil servants as such, and nor are the staff of IPSA. The situation is quite different, which is why we needed to bring the order before the Committee. 

The hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South made points about the well-documented difficulties with IPSA. She mentioned P45s, which I understand were issued by the House and not by IPSA. The tendency nowadays is to blame IPSA for absolutely everything that goes wrong, but it is not always right to do so. 

Barbara Keeley:  I wondered whether to mention that, because I understand that point. I went into the issue in great depth last week. As I understand it, IPSA now manages all the functions that we are discussing, but there is concern about its management and structure. I would not want the House staff to get blamed for something that is being managed by another organisation. 

Mr Heath:  It is important that we do not blame House staff for things done by IPSA or vice versa. It is easy to assume that everything that goes wrong is the fault of wicked people in IPSA, but sometimes it may not be. 

The hon. Lady asked me a specific question about the right to return to the House. I understand that staff subject to the order will be able to apply for any internal vacancies in the House from 1 October 2010 to 31 March 2013, so there is potentially a process of return to applicable posts in that period. 

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab):  That is helpful, but will staff who return to the House from IPSA enjoy continuity of service? 

Mr Heath:  I will be perfectly honest—I do not know the answer to that. I will ensure that a letter is written to the hon. Lady to confirm whether that is the case. 

Barbara Keeley:  I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for his reply to my question, but I do not think that Opposition Members will be content with his answer. I do not see why there has to be a cut-off. I recall attending meetings with the staff last year, and that was absolutely an issue for them—if they transferred to IPSA and things did not work out, they felt that they must have the right to come back. Continuity of employment is important—in terms of maternity provision, for instance—so we need to be more protective of the staff who have worked for the House, rather than just saying, “They can go, and will have a short window in

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which they can return.” I would not be happy with that, and I do not think that we Opposition Members can support that. 

The Chair:  I know that that was an intervention, but I want to help the Committee. Our procedures do not allow officials in the Box to talk to Committee members. If they have information that they want to pass on, they pass it via the Parliamentary Private Secretary. I appreciate the Minister trying to get some advice so that he can answer the Shadow Minister’s question, but perhaps the sensible thing would be for him to proceed a little further in his speech and hope that some written advice will come. 

Mr Heath:  I do not think that I need to do that, Mr Bayley. I am most grateful to you. I am anxious for Members to get proper responses to the questions that they raise in Committee. I understand that continuity of service will be ensured for the individuals concerned; that is the answer to the question from the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston. On the cut-off point, it is simply considered that there ought to be a cut-off period at some stage, because we are talking about two separate organisations, and there has to be a stage at which there is no longer a continuing point of return. I am sorry if that leads to the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South feeling that she cannot support the order. As I understand it, the order is completely in line with the previous suggested arrangements. It is simply a matter of happenstance that I am putting it before the Committee; it would have been her putting it before the Committee a few months ago. However, I will look again at the issue, and I will certainly come back to her on it, if that is helpful to her. 

Mr Anderson:  I am seeking clarification from the Deputy Leader of the House. He said that there has to be a cut-off point. Why? We are trying to give people as much protection as possible in a situation that is not of their making—it is our fault that this has happened. We should look after them as well as we can. Why does there have to be a cut-off point? The arrangements could be open-ended. We are talking about 29 members of staff; over time, they will leave through natural wastage, or go on to other work. We are not talking about a big problem, so why not leave it open-ended? 

Mr Heath:  There are all sorts of potential answers to that question, not least being that the employment situation of House staff might be very different in a few years’ time. It is difficult to look forward into the long-term future. Had the question been asked whether the administration and finance functions of the House would be passed over to an Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority a couple of years ago, the answer would have been that that had not been considered. However, it was considered in short order by the previous Government in response to events. I think that it is reasonable to have a time horizon. I hope that I have dealt with the questions that have been asked and I hope that the Committee will support the order. 

Question put and agreed to.  

4.58 pm 

Committee rose.