Superannuation Bill

Memorandum submitted by Steven Norton (SU 09)

I am writing to you in a personal capacity to raise my own particular concerns over the use of a Parliamentary procedure to enable this Bill to avoid full Parliamentary scrutiny in both Houses of Parliament.

1. I am a civil servant in the Department of Health working on behalf of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) at a senior level, involved in regular negotiations with senior management in my home Dept. In addition to this I am a long time advanced student of law in which I continue to have an academic and practical interest.

2. I will set out my concerns below starting with your definition of a Money Bill and part of the Bill’s own explanatory notes -

(i) The guidance on your site states –

"A Money Bill is a Bill that deals with national taxation, public money or loans and their management. It is only considered to be a Money Bill if the Speaker of the House of Commons agrees that it is. The Speaker signs a certificate to indicate this. The most important Money Bills are those that deal with taxation bills or the Consolidated Fund Bills that formally vote money to the government. Elements of the Parliament Acts apply to Money Bills and ensure that they pass through the Lords within a month of being agreed by the Commons. As the House of Lords has no power over Money Bills they can gain Royal Assent without the Lords' approval."

The Bill as introduced does not appear to explain exactly how it meets the criteria for a Money Bill based on your guidance above or clearly defined in the explanatory guidance to the Bill which states – under `financial effects’ that;

"15. The Bill will significantly reduce the costs to Departments of funding exits. It may lead to minor levels of increased administration costs for the CSCS, for example, communication costs, or costs of making severance calculations."

3. It is unclear exactly which aspect of the Parliamentary guidance above the Bill which is being used to introduce a cap on redundancy/compensation payments is being relied on, but I would hazard a guess the government is relying on the broad catch-all of the use of public money. If this is the case then I would have serious reservations about using this device to deal with a situation around terms and conditions of employment, which is traditionally subject to proper meaningful negotiations between the employer (strictly speaking the Crown but in practice the Executive) and recognised trade unions. Partnership Agreements are as far as I am aware are still in place and require management at all levels from the Cabinet Office down on all issues regarding terms and conditions of civil servants. There have been no meaningful negotiations taking place. I have read the debate in the House of Commons on 7th September and can see no explanation as to how this Bill fulfils the criteria of a Money Bill, in particular as this is a device to prevent comprehensive Parliamentary scrutiny of the Bill by both Houses of Parliament. If you read para 15 from the above explanatory notes it states that funding exits "will significantly reduce the costs to Departments of funding exists.." but there is little detail to support what these cost reductions will amount to exactly and whether this could be considered an appropriate use of the `Money Bill’ fast track route for a Bill to pass into law. I would argue the Speaker needs to consider carefully in future stages of the Bill whether it does merit a Money Bill certificate.

4. There is also a special peculiarity in civil based on their unique employment status as Crown Servants which a special kind of contractual relationship. In the Second Reading debate in Parliament the issue of unilateral changes of the terms of conditions of an employment contract without the agreement of the employee was discussed by one MP. Contrary to all principles of English common law, thus failing to honour the principles of sanctity of contract is a dangerous reversion from general principles of English law established over many years (and much case law). Having said that it is accepted that the Civil Service Compensation Scheme is indeed protected by Statute (Superannuation Act 1972) and later the scheme was further amended in 1987 and statute in theory can be used to amend the legislation. The way in which negotiations took place at all levels in the Civil Service was (and should still be) through detailed and meaningful negotiations between the employer and unions. Use of the Money Bill device under the Parliament Act 1911 is in my view misuse of the Parliamentary process. Legislation before proper meaningful negotiations have taken place in any meaningful way through the recognised industrial relation’s structure, does not foster good industrial relations, but at the very least any legislation introduced should go through the normal legislative route.

5. There is in my view also an issue of `proportionality’ an important legal concept where a device is being used to basically force unions/employee organisations to negotiate where there is a time honoured system and structure in place, based originally on Whitley principles then Partnership Agreements which is being abused. Use (or misuse) of the Money Bill process is a disproportionate response to a situation where there are agreed and respected historical mechanisms for negotiations to take place to discuss on a level playing field, matters relating to terms and conditions of civil servants. There is a disproportionate and detrimental effect this would have on many low paid civil servants, if this Bill is allowed to proceed without proper scrutiny of both Houses, and the use of this Parliamentary tool to impose changes on terms and conditions is not proportionate and fair and reasonable.

6. In Article 11 (2) of the European Convention dealing with human rights it has been held in associated case law that there is some protection to be `heard’ in the collective bargaining process, and more widely the protection of trade union activity must be shown to be indispensible to the protection of the member’s interest. In my view the way this legislative process is being conducted is not conducive with that human right.

In conclusion for the reasons above I would argue the use of the device of Money Bill procedure is an abuse of a Parliamentary process not intended for the purpose of imposing changes to civil servants’ terms and conditions of employment and sets a dangerous precedent limiting legislation to less rigorous scrutiny and examination. I hope the Committee will consider the points I have raised when considering the Bill.

September 2010