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Clause 2—(Functions Of The Authority)

Volume 526: debated on Thursday 29 April 1954

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

I beg to move, in page 3, line 11, after "of,"to insert:

"the Schedule (Existing Staff) and of."

It seems to me that the next Amendment, in page 3, line 11, at the end, to insert:

"respectively to persons employed in an organisation maintained by and."
and the proposed Schedule—[Existing Staff]—might be taken with this Amendment. If that is agreed, I see no objection to discussing them together.

We put these words on the Order Paper in the Committee stage. These Amendments and the proposed Schedule deal with proper protection for the staff at present engaged on atomic energy in the Civil Service Department if and when they are transferred to the service of the new Authority. We withdrew our Amendments on that occasion because we had assurances from the right hon. Gentleman that all these questions of the protection of the staff were under discussion at that time with the trade unions and he said that it might be as well if those discussions first went through. We have put our Amendments on the Order Paper again because we are anxious to be quite certain that the undertaking that we were given that the position of the staff would be properly protected to the general satisfaction of the trade unions concerned is being implemented.

Because of that, I do not propose to speak at any great length and again to develop the arguments used in Committee. It is sufficient to say that the Bill, unlike many Measures of a similar kind, contains no specific compensation Clause. When there is a transfer under Government direction of a great number of employees from one employer to another, it is usual to have a compensation Clause. We feel that our Amendments and the proposed Schedule go some way towards rectifying that very serious omission.

Our proposed Schedule transfers all the existing staff from the Civil Service, whether they are permanent or temporary civil servants, automatically to the service of the new Authority. It looks after the pay and conditions of all the employees. We say that the employees should be engaged by the new Authority on terms which are not less favourable than those which they are enjoying at present.

6.30 p.m.

We are anxious—and the wording of the Schedule allows for it—that pensions rights, superannuation rights and all matters of that kind shall be fully protected. I know, of course, as the right hon. Gentleman himself knows, that discussions have been going on through the appropriate machinery with the trade unions in the Civil Service on all these matters; and when the Minister spoke on this point in Committee, he said:
"… I have every hope that in 10 days' time,"—
that was from the 23rd March—
"—or some such period as that, we shall be able to come to an agreement which will then be put in the hands of every one on the Authority's staff so that many of their anxieties will be set at rest."—[Official Report, 23rd March, 1954; Vol. 525, c. 1130.]
It is my information that these discussions are progressing fairly favourably and that they are giving general satisfaction, but we are anxious to have some assurance from the Minister, and I hope that we shall have a statement from him on the latest position. If we feel that that assurance is satisfactory and that it will lead, in fact, to the full protection of the staff, I doubt whether it will be necessary to press the Amendment. I think that is also the view of my right hon. and hon. Friends.

I beg to second the Amendment.

I want to hear the statement which the Minister may desire to make, but I want also to ask him one or two specific questions. As I said in a previous discussion, the unestablished staff are at present worried about what their exact position will be when they become part and parcel of this new Authority. I understand that, in the discussions that have taken place between the representative bodies through the Whitley machinery, there has been reasonable progress in some respects, but I have in my possession a statement of the position as outlined by the Government or by their representatives with regard to unestablished staff. It reads:
"Former temporary civil servants, on opting to join the Authority, will lose their previous rights as civil servants to enter limited competitions for Civil Service vacancies."
I should like the Minister to explain in more detail what that really means. Let us suppose that an unestablished employee refuses to opt. What will be his position? Let us suppose that he opts to go into the service of the Authority and that he is unestablished. What will be his position under the wording of the paragraph which I have just quoted?

I feel that the redundancy problem may become a very serious one for a large number of these people, who have been brought from all parts of the country, and who, in a good number of cases, are married men living in houses owned either by the Government or by the Ministry, as the case may be. Another paragraph of this document says:
"In the event of redundancy in the Authority, the Treasury would be willing to examine sympathetically the possibility of re-employing in the Civil Service redundant ex-established civil servants."
That refers only to established civil servants, and not to the unestablished persons. If the Government can do it, or try to do it, for the established civil servants, surely persons who have gone in good faith into the Civil Service should have the same protection applied to them as is given to the former established civil servants?

Therefore, I should like the Minister to tell us specifically whether anything further can be done for the unestablished persons. I know from previous experience in the railway service in years gone by that unestablished men in the railway service salaried grades had their case taken up, and that we fought for and won the position that the men who were unestablished should enjoy the same conditions of security of tenure as those who were established. Therefore, I ask the Minister, in his reply, to explain more fully the position so far as the unestablished staff are concerned.

I was grateful to the hon. Member for Cleveland (Mr. Palmer) for withdrawing his Amendment in Committee in order to give us time to continue the talks with the staff, and I should like briefly to describe what has happened in the interval.

Through the Whitley machinery, we presented a declaration of intentions to the staff side on 25th March, and that has been amplified since in reply to a number of supplementary questions which, very naturally, the staff side raised. I am glad to say that, in regard to all the principal points, such as security of tenure, difficulties about housing, removal expenses and a number of other matters of that kind, very satisfactory progress towards agreement has been made, and that the negotiations relating to those minor matters which were left over are proceeding satisfactorily, subject to one reservation. That is on a point which concerns security and the possibility of alternative employment for men dismissed on security grounds. I think that point comes much better in the context of the Amendment dealing with security which we shall reach later on, and perhaps the House will allow me to wait until that stage to deal with it.

Subject to that one point, the negotiations are proceeding well, and I have the agreement of the staff side themselves to say that that is a fair description of the present position. The conversations will go on through the Departmental Whitley Council, and I hope the House will now be justified in regarding what has happened as eminently satisfactory and as a good augury for the future.

Another point raised by the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. F. Anderson) was about ex-temporary civil servants. If this transfer did not take place at all and they remained temporary civil servants, and if atomic energy remained within the orbit of a Government Department, if they then became redundant they would not necessarily get another job. It is part of the condition of being a temporary civil servant that they are subject to a month's notice. They would be no worse off if they accepted the offer of the Authority and joined its staff than they are now. In fact, as I explained in a former debate, in some respects the ex-temporary people will be better off than they were.

It is perfectly correct that we are willing to consider sympathetically the case of an ex-established civil servant who becomes redundant and to see whether a job can be found for him in the Civil Service. That is a very considerable concession since our last debate, but we feel that we could not extend that to the ex-temporaries. Therefore, on that point I cannot give the hon. Member for Whitehaven any satisfaction. I think the House will agree that on all the other points, and on the general layout of these discussions, progress has been thoroughly satisfactory. I hope, therefore, that the Amendments will not be pressed.

The established servant is a permanent servant. I understand there are unestablished servants who are permanent, as well as temporary servants who are not. Can the Minister enlarge on that point?

I am aware that there is some problem of that kind, but as I am not an expert in these Civil Service grades, perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to look at the matter and write to him giving the information that I can obtain?

I am obliged to the Minister for the assurances he has given, and in the circumstances I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move, in page 3, line 16, after "power," to insert "(whether within the United Kingdom or elsewhere)."

In Committee the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) raised the question whether the Authority had power to search for minerals outside the United Kingdom, and said that he thought it should have that power and that the Bill as drafted was ambiguous. I told him then that the Government also had doubts about this power being provided for work outside the United Kingdom, but we thought that all the functions outlined in Clause 2 should also be covered by the right to work outside the United Kingdom. It is quite clear that the Authority might need to exercise abroad the functions outlined in the subsections of the Clause. For example, there is the very fruitful idea of President Eisenhower, in which I am sure we would wish the Authority to join. We might need to have a scheme for the dispersal of atomic energy plant on strategic grounds. That would be covered. And I have great hopes that we shall have intra-Commonwealth development of power stations.

All that means that the Authority would require a general power to work outside the United Kingdom. Again, under subsection (2, e) the Authority needs power to make arrangements with persons abroad, as well as in this country, and to make loans to those who are supplying uranium, as in fact has been done with South Africa and Australia. Under subsection (2, f), too, the power to distribute information is a very necessary thing. I think it would be to the advantage of the world if the Authority were able to give full and useful information about the peaceful aspects of atomic energy.

Amendment agreed to.

The next Amendments on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) are not selected.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have decided that the Amendments in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire are not to be called. We have no quarrel there, but you allowed my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) to deal with them when he was speaking. Is it not possible to consider that point with regard to the calling of them now, in view of the fact that they were dealt with in his speech?

As my name is also associated with these Amendments, is it quite clear that you have taken into account the fact that the division of opinion on this central question of the hydrogen bomb is not a party division at all? It is a division mainly on these benches. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) has pointed out that all points of view have been heard in a previous debate, but as a matter of fact the points of view as expressed by the hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin), the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) and myself have not been heard at all. Is there any means by which our view can be discussed at this stage of the Bill?

We are now in the Report stage. There was a discussion in Committee and a Division, and I must say that I had formed my resolution not to select these Amendments before today's debate, and nothing which has taken place today has caused me to alter my decision.

No one would dream of questioning your Ruling on such a point as the right of the Chair to select Amendments, but it is in this instance working out a little unfairly. My name is not associated with these Amendments. I have no personal interest in the matter, but it is a fact that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) did refer to these Amendments in the course of his argument, and none of the hon. Gentlemen whose names appear to the Amendments had any opportunity of presenting their own point of view. That was not the fault of the Chair, but due to the putting and carrying of the Closure. Otherwise they would have been heard, but the result has not been as fair to my hon. Friend as one normally experiences in the House of Commons.

I am afraid that my decision must stand. Hon. Gentlemen who feel that they would like to advert on this subject must choose a future occasion. It would not be in order at this stage of the Bill.