My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass, and in so doing it may help the House if I briefly rehearse the evolution of this Bill as it passed through this House. I am aware of concern on all sides of the House at maintaining the central function of the Lords as a revising Chamber under the novel conditions of coalition between two of the four broad groups that constitute this House. I therefore wish to reassure the House that this Bill has been carefully considered, in its Committee and on Report, and that the Government have listened to the reasoned criticisms that were made and have revised the Bill in response to those criticisms.
There was, it is true, only one Division on Report, and that was won by the coalition Government, but, as noble Lords well know from the treatment of many other Bills under successive Governments, the calculus of victory versus defeat in contested votes provides only a crude measure of the process of legislative revision. Probing amendments in Committee explore the rationale and justification for detailed elements of government proposals. Committee reports—in this case from both the Delegated Powers Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights—add their critical opinions. This Government, like their predecessors, respond appropriately. I have written to the chairman of the Delegated Powers Committee today to respond to its report and to provide detail on the adjustments that we have made in response.
The Government moved several amendments on Report to accommodate criticisms made in Grand Committee. We accepted an amendment proposed by the opposition Front Bench, repeated from Committee, on which we had recognised the force of the arguments put forward. One amendment was jointly signed by both Front Benches. The Government offered assurances in debate on other issues of concern to noble Lords from around the House. The Minister for the Cabinet Office is writing to the Labour Front Bench to reinforce the assurances offered on Report in this House.
The goal of this Bill is to put in place a reformed Civil Service Compensation Scheme that is affordable, sustainable for the long term, and fair not only to civil servants but to other taxpayers. It is in no way an attack on collective bargaining with the Civil Service trade unions. Indeed, the Bill has now been amended to emphasise that future changes to the Civil Service Compensation Scheme would require consultation with the Civil Service trade unions,
“with a view to reaching agreement”.
The Cabinet Office sent the draft rules for the new compensation scheme to the Council of Civil Service Unions yesterday, seeking its views. These rules will form the basis of the new compensation scheme that will be laid before Parliament. Our target remains to do so before the House rises for the Christmas Recess.
The Bill before noble Lords has thus been modified in a number of significant respects from the form in which it entered the House. I recognise, of course, that there remain clauses and subsections which noble Lords on the opposition Benches would have liked to modify further; that is always the case with the process of consultation and compromise that constitutes legislative politics. However, I re-emphasise that this Bill has been revised as it moved from Second Reading through Grand Committee and Report to its Third Reading. The record of the Superannuation Bill supports the view that this House retains its proper role as a revising Chamber.
I thank all those who have taken part in the several stages of scrutiny. The Labour Front Bench provided constructive and well-argued opposition. The noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, made some characteristically vigorous contributions to Second Reading and Committee. We were sorry that illness prevented her from moving her own amendment on Report, and I am very glad to see her back in her place today. I was blessed with the support of a particularly skilled and effective Bill team of the Cabinet Office. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall take a brief moment on behalf of my noble friend Lord Brett and myself to thank the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, for the constructive manner in which he has engaged with the opposition Benches on this Bill, and indeed to thank the Bill team. We agree on the need for the compensation scheme to be amended—indeed, we thought we had achieved that ourselves earlier in the year—and very much support what the Minister has said about processes of collective bargaining. We would share in the disappointment at the end of the day if it was not possible to reach total agreement between those who are engaged in that process.
The noble Lord is right to say that the Bill is not entirely as we would like it, but we are grateful for the reassurance that he put on the record on Report, and certainly grateful for the wider dissemination of that on the caps. That will reassure the Civil Service at a particularly difficult time for it. I thank the Minister again.
My Lords, I thank the Minister very much for his kind remarks. I am very sorry that I was not able to be here to move my amendment. On the other hand, I know that my noble friend Lady Donaghy made a good job of it. I should like to thank her for the able way in which she handled it. Of course it is disappointing that the very firm assurances to the unions do not appear in the Bill. On the other hand, as the Minister has indicated this afternoon, amendments were moved during the passage of the Bill through this House and assurances have been given by the Minister. I am very grateful for that, and very happy that at least we made some impression. Certainly, the civil servants who have written to us will know that the arguments they put to us in their many letters have received endorsements from some of us on this side of the House, and we did our best to advance their arguments. In the mean time, I thank those who participated in the debates and who said some very nice things about me.
My Lords, I join in expressing appreciation for the consultative approach taken by the Government to this matter. The objectives were broadly shared on both sides of the House, and it is highly desirable in an area of potential conflict that there is as near consensual an outcome as we have seen.
I invite the Minister to indicate, if he can, where the unions stand, particularly those that conducted ballots of their members about this. I assume that it is the intention to allow those unions to conclude their ballots before seeking Royal Assent for this measure. One union, the PCS, unfortunately seems to stand out in that it is not making its alternative position at all clear, which of course undermines its argument very seriously. However, I conclude by thanking the Minister for his responsiveness.
My Lords, can the Minister comment on whether staff employed by the government offices in the regions and the regional development agencies will be able to apply for severance payments on a similar basis to that which has been previously afforded to people in comparable positions, or will they be involved in the new scheme that is about to be announced?
My Lords, I am conscious that the House is waiting to debate the Second Reading of another Bill. I am well aware, from Yorkshire, of the issue which the noble Lord raises. On union ballots, I am aware that some of the Civil Service unions are currently balloting their members, and I understand that they will close their ballots and count on 16 December. Some other unions will ballot over Christmas and into January.
Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.