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Lord Thomas of Gresford: I follow the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, in referring to the setting up of a department of justice, which I think was suggested today. That is a step forward towards the long-held Liberal Democrat policy of having a minister of justice. So we welcome the bringing together of factors which will make the transition to the appointment of a minister of justice instead of the Lord Chancellor that much easier.
However, the Minister may recall that at Second Reading I raised the question of the cost of transferring pensions to the Civil Service fund. I quoted the figures which had been given to me, which indicated that the cost of transferring the employees of London magistrates' courts to the Civil Service fund was £8 million. If that figure is extrapolated, it means that the cost for the whole of England and Wales would be in the region of £100 million in legislation that was supposed to be cost neutral. Has the noble Baroness considered what I said at Second Reading and does she have any comment to make on those figures?
Clause 2(2) currently provides that any staff appointed by the Lord Chancellor to work in the courts would be eligible to join the Principal Civil Service Pension Scheme (PCSPS). The effect of the amendment would be to add an express provision stating that transferred staff are eligible to join the PCSPS immediately after their transfer. I doubt whether it is necessary to add a provision to the Bill for transferred staff to join the PCSPS because, as civil servants, they would be eligible automatically for membership on transfer into the employment of the Lord Chancellor.
Furthermore, we want to treat the pension provision for staff appointed by the Lord Chancellor under Clause 2(1) and those employees transferred to the new agency under Schedule 1 distinctly. This amendment would prevent us from doing that. That is because there is a possibility that staff who transfer to the new agency on the abolition of magistrates' courts committees will remain temporarily in their present pension scheme after the date of the staff transfer to the new agency while actuarial calculations and negotiations with the relevant trades union as to the terms of transfer of pension benefits are carried out. Paragraph 10 of Schedule 1 provides for that eventuality. As with transferred staff, those appointed by the Lord Chancellor under Clause 2(1) will immediately become eligible to join the PCSPS on the date of entry into the new agency.
Amendment No. 8 would replace the word "arrangements" in Clause 2(4) with the words "contracts or sub-contracts". Again, I rather doubt whether this amendment is necessary because the word "arrangements" has a wider meaning than the word "contracts". Clause 2(4) as drafted provides the Lord Chancellor with flexibility and allows him, for example, to enter into arrangements with agencies for the provision of temporary staff or to contract out entire functions. Most arrangements would be contracts. However, there may be situations where a secondee from another government department, or perhaps even from the private sector, works for the new agency on a loan basis. Therefore, the current wording provides for a wider range of eventualities.
It is our intention to reflect in legislation what happens in practice. Under current legislation, a distinction exists between staff in the courts employed under the Lord Chancellor's statutory powers via the Court Service and those employed under non-statutory powers. The former category includes staff employed under Section 27 of the Courts Act 1971; namely, those carrying out an administrative function within the courts.
Other categories of staff do not fall within the meaning of "administrative". They might be security staff, enforcement staff or cleaning and catering staff. They are employed via the Court Service under the Lord Chancellor's residual non-statutory powers.
We are obviously very aware of, and sensitive to, the concerns that the trades unions have raised about our wording on contracting out. We give an undertaking to hold further discussions with the unions, and we shall endeavour to report back to the House so that all those involved are aware of what has happened.
Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: I thank my noble friend for giving way. I shall wait with interest to see what transpires on the further discussions that take place. I declare an interest as a pensioner with PCSU. If people, such as security guards and so on, are employed on a temporary basis to assist in the new agency, can the Minister explain how they will do so without a contract governing them to undertake such
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My understanding is that the term "arrangement" describes something which is temporary in nature, but there will be a contract which describes that arrangement. I am not sure that that necessarily helps the noble Lord but I believe that that is how it would work in practice.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: Do I understand from the Minister that there will be sheep and goats? The sheep, who are fully employed by the Court Service or whatever replaces it, will be included in the pension scheme; the goats, who are there because they are part of a privatised service hired by the Lord Chancellor, will not receive any pension at all. Is that what the Minister is saying in a very long passage?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I do not believe that I said that at all. I urge the noble Lord to read very carefully what I said. I do not believe that he gave an accurate summary of what I said. I thought that I made the situation clear.
Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: I thank the Minister for his interesting reply, to which I listened carefully. I thank Members of the Committee who have spoken and given support to the amendment. At present, I believe that the best thing I can do is to say that I would like to consider the answer in more detail in Hansard. Therefore, for the time being, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: At this stage, this is purely a probing amendment. I tabled it during the early stages of the Bill, long before the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, tabled her more comprehensive approach to the issue.
As I mentioned during debate on the previous amendment, it was very helpful of the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, to write to noble Lords over the Christmas period. Certainly with regard to my own amendment in this group, I can be brief. I tabled it so that the Minister would have the chance to place on the record some of the assurances that she gave in her letter to noble Lords over the Christmas period.
With regard to the contracting out of services, I am very much aware that the assurances given by the noble Baroness may not go as far as one would like. I wait to hear what she says. As she is aware, we have perhaps a more open view of the contracting out of services than her noble friends may have. But my concern throughout is that, if there is privatisation of any of the services which come within the remit of the
At this point, I thank the Public and Commercial Services Union for its helpful and constructive briefing and for taking the time and trouble to come to the House to brief my noble friend Lady Seccombe and myself. I shall leave the meat of the argument to the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, in her more comprehensive amendments. I beg to move.
Lord Clinton-Davis: I am not surprised that the noble Baroness has not chosen to elaborate on this ridiculous amendment. When she said that she had a more open mind than the Government, she really meant the oppositethat is, that she had a more backward-looking mind than the Government. I see nothing which the Lord Chancellor should do beyond what the Bill envisages at present. I ask the noble Baroness, who is usually diligent about such matters, to rethink the amendment entirely.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: As this is the Committee stage, it may be convenient if I respond to the noble Lord now. As I said, I am open-minded. The amendment was tabled in order to give the Government the opportunity to put on the record the commitments that they gave to noble Lords in a letter over the Christmas break. Noble Lords who took part at Second Reading received the benefit of that letter. Other noble Lords did not necessarily do so. Perhaps a copy of the letter was placed in the Library. If so, that was good practice. I know that this particular Minister is almost always open to good practice. But, of course, members of the public do not have the opportunity to see the letter. Open government; open mindedthat is me.
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