Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Viscount of Oxfuird: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for all that she has said on the subject. I should be most grateful if the comfort of her words could be carried from this Chamber. The first principle of total quality management is prevention and not detection. My amendments seek to prevent the Crown Agents being burdened with something which would stop them fulfilling their role as providers of a service. Let us have nothing but praise for them from Members of your Lordships' House. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 4 not moved.]

Lord Rea had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 5:

Page 2, line 15, at end insert (", such amount not to exceed ten per cent. of the value of the closing capital and reserves of the Crown Agents Group at the end of the last financial year ending before the appointed day.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the Minister for her response, in which she said that she did not feel that the size of the debt should be specified, presumably because, as I understand from what she said and from the contents of the Bill, all the current debt is to be repaid. In fact, we do not know quite what that will be; indeed, it may actually be onerous.

My amendment would relate the debt that the new foundation or successor company would have to the size of its assets. Therefore, in a sense, it is more flexible than the Government's proposal. However, I believe and hope that the members of the Crown Agents will read the Minister's reply and that they will, as the noble Viscount, Lord Oxfuird, said, draw a little comfort from it.

[Amendment No. 5 not moved.]

Clause 3 [Initial Government holding in the successor company]:

[Amendment No. 6 not moved.]

Clause 4 [Government investment in securities of the successor company]:

[Amendment No. 7 not moved.]

Clause 6 [Use of "Crown Agents" as part of company name]:

Lord Rea moved Amendment No. 8:

Page 4, line 11, at end insert (", but only so long as any such company shall be a company limited by guarantee, in the form of a foundation committed to social and developmental objectives.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, noble Lords may recollect that at the Committee stage we discussed the question of the title "Crown Agents". This amendment returns to that issue although the words "Crown Agents" do not as such appear in the amendment. In Committee the noble Baroness did not have a lot to say about the use of the name "Crown Agents", and the Government's reasons for including in the Bill permission for this

24 Apr 1995 : Column 776

name to be used by the new owners. It is not that we object to that provision being included; it is rather that we fail to see why it is possible to include this provision as to the future new owners, but it is not possible to include anything else.

The noble Baroness said that the name "Crown Agents" embodies the traditional virtues of probity, impartiality and integrity, and is recognised worldwide. However, in fact it means something more to Crown Agents' international clientele. It implies the even-handed and public spirited approach which is associated with the best traditions of British public service, and in this case it certainly implies the good will and approval of the British Crown and Government. Was retention of the name one of the issues which has been discussed with overseas governments or other clients in the negotiations which took place before the bringing forward of the Bill?

According to the noble Baroness, it is right that the name can be used by the ultimate owner of the successor company. We agree, but only if the ultimate owner is as she has outlined. Why is she not prepared to accept this point? If it is right to include the use of the title on the face of the Bill, then it must surely be right to include also the other desirable characteristics of the new owner which the noble Baroness has described. The amendment states,

    "a company limited by guarantee, in the form of a foundation committed to social and developmental objectives".

Surely it must be right to be able to include on the face of the Bill those desirable characteristics. I beg to move.

7.45 p.m.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I well understand why the amendment was put down but I believe that we rather covered this point at the Committee stage. I agreed then that the Crown Agents' name is a valuable asset. It is of course recognised worldwide as the embodiment of the company's traditional virtues, as the noble Lord, Lord Rea, quoted back at me. He asked me whether the maintenance of the name was discussed with any of the overseas clients during the preparatory stages for this Bill. Because the name was never in question and because of the whole concept of having a foundation with a memorandum and articles of association, as we have described in our debates, neither of the overseas clients which we have discussed in this House had any doubt that we would continue to use the name "Crown Agents", and therefore I presume that is the reason that they did not raise it with me at any stage. What they were concerned to do was to maintain the integrity of the business and the manner of running it which we have determined should be embodied in the memorandum and articles of association for the foundation.

The virtues that we talk about with the Crown Agents will survive only if the business flourishes. It is by this Bill that we are giving Crown Agents the chance to flourish in the private sector. It is right that the name should be preserved for use by the ultimate owner of the successor company in the private sector therefore, but any name is only preserved to the extent possible under the current Companies House rules. The ultimate owner

24 Apr 1995 : Column 777

will be the independent foundation and it will continue to have that clear commitment to a developmental purpose. I have already made quite clear that I hope to make the detail of this available to Members of this House and another place in a few weeks' time.

Throughout this Bill—although I know that I have not yet been able to satisfy your Lordships on all the questions that have been asked—we have been willing to make as much information available to Parliament as has been decided. However, what I am not prepared to do is to indulge in speculation about what might or might not happen. That is why I do not see any virtue in attaching such an amendment to the Bill. Certainly I believe that the name is important. Certainly we believe that the whole concept of the work that Crown Agents do through a foundation for developmental purposes is fundamental to the future foundation. That is why I feel quite confident that we can manage without Amendment No. 8 and I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw it.

Lord Rea: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down and before I respond finally to her reply to the amendment, I hope she can answer a question. Would she anticipate, or even promise, that in the articles of association of the new foundation it will be spelt out that the foundation is committed to social and developmental objectives?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I can give an affirmative answer to that straight away. The whole purpose of the memorandum and articles of association for the foundation is to spell out those very social and developmental objectives. Therefore I do not think that there is any question of answering other than by saying "yes".

Lord Rea: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that response because the statement that she has just made has confirmed what I think was not absolutely certain. It has made the putting down of this amendment worthwhile because we can now read what she has said and that will give much relief to some people who might not have been clear that that was what her intention was. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 1 [Supplementary provisions as to vesting of property, etc.]:

Lord Judd moved Amendment No. 9:

Page 9, line 38, at end insert:
("( ) Nothing in this Act affects the right of members of staff of the successor company or a subsidiary of that company to be members of a trade union of their choice, which subject to the provision of primary legislation on employment and industrial relations currently in force shall be recognised by the successor company or (as the case may be) its subsidiary for the purposes of—
(a) the settlement by negotiation of terms and conditions of employment of persons employed by such a company;
(b) the resolution of trade disputes;
(c) the promotion and encouragement of measures to improve efficiency, in any respect, in the carrying on of the activities of such a company; and

24 Apr 1995 : Column 778

(d) the discussion of other matters of mutual interest to such a company and a trade union representing its employees.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we have tabled this amendment in recognition of the excellent provision in the Crown Agents Act which this Bill is intended to repeal. The 1979 Act provides for full participation by Crown Agents' staff and their trade union representatives. I am confident that both management and staff would agree that industrial relations have generally benefited from a positive legislative framework and a willingness to consult on both sides. It is this that we are anxious to maintain.

The Bill contains assurances about pension rights and regarding the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981, which we welcome. It is important that staff should know that both their terms of employment and their future pension benefits will be protected on the appointed day. We are, however, concerned that they should enjoy the same assurances about their future terms and conditions while they are in the employ of the new owners of the successor company. It is those provisions which this amendment is designed to underwrite. Once again the need for such protection of free collective bargaining does not arise from any express, or indeed feared, ill intention on the part of either the present Minister or the present management of the Crown Agents. It arises from the uncertainty, which remains after the exchanges this evening, about the future constitution and direction of the ultimate owners of the successor company, which the Government continue to refuse to include on the face of the Bill.

Therefore, we are anxious to know what discussions the Minister has had with prospective members of the proposed foundation, including current members of the Crown Agents board, about future trade union rights and intentions with regard to recognition. It would be good to have her observations on exactly what consultations had taken place. As a matter of principle, those who have taken up employment as public servants should continue to have the right to be represented by a union of their choice. There should be no question of any change being imposed as part of the privatisation process. We very much look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in this regard. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page