Schedule 2

Offender Management Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:00 am ar 18 Ionawr 2007.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Transfers of property etc and staff in connection with probation services arrangements

Question proposed, That this schedule be the Second schedule to the Bill.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I would like to draw the attention ofthe Minister and the Committee to paragraph 6. I appreciate that this is largely a mechanical set of arrangements. Assuming the trusts come through, it is all to do with the transference of obligations from the board to the trusts and the rights and so forth of the individuals employed. I want to ask a general question as the expressions that I am about to talk about are repeated in subsequent paragraphs.

Sub-paragraph (4) says:

“But if the employee informs the transferor or the transferee that he objects to the transfer...

(b) the contract of employment is terminated immediately before the date of transfer.”

Sub-paragraph (5) says:

“The employee is not to be treated, for the purposes of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (c. 18), as having been dismissed by the transferor by reason of—

(a) the transfer of the contract of employment under the scheme; or

(b) the termination of the contract of employment under sub-paragraph (4)(b).”

If I were an employee of a board and objected to myself or my functions being transferred to a non-state provider, my contract would therefore be terminated and I would not be considered as having been  dismissed. What would I be considered as? Redundant? Reassigned? Moved? Surplus to requirements? It is important for us to know the Government’s thinking behind the contractual arrangements between an individual and his employer. The same point applies to later paragraphs: those who are to be transferred against their wishes need to be given clarity, and those who do not wish to be transferred need to know what their rights are.

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 10:15, 18 Ionawr 2007

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for making an important point. If the Committee will allow me I shall go through what the schedule will do, as it relates to issues other than employment.

The schedule sets out what will happen when a local probation board ceases to exist during the transitional phase and, later, when business is transferred fromone provider of probation services to another. Itcovers transfers of property and staff under those circumstances, in each case enabling the Secretary of State to make a scheme setting out how the transfers will occur.

Paragraphs 2 to 4 enable the Secretary of State to make a property transfer scheme to transfer to him the properties and liabilities of a local probation board or relevant person—in other words, a provider of probation services. They also enable him to make a scheme to transfer property and liabilities in the other direction, from himself to a relevant person. In practice, probation boards do not hold significant assets. The probation estate, for example, is the property of the Crown and will remain so. Boards’ property is largely confined to office machinery, including workshop machinery for unpaid work, IT equipment and vehicles.

Paragraph 3 states that a property transfer scheme will take precedence over any other provisions that would restrict transfers. Compensation for the loss of right of reverter is to be paid by the transferor and/or transferee as appropriate, and the scheme may include a mechanism for resolving compensation disputes.

Paragraphs 5 and 10 are on staff transfer schemes. Our overall aim is to ensure that staff who transfer between providers of probation services have their terms and conditions protected by law. In many cases, the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 will provide the appropriate level of protection. In cases to which TUPE does not apply, paragraphs 5 to 10 will enable the Secretary of State to make equivalent provision.

Paragraph 5 is intended to cover the various permutations by which transfers might occur. It enables the Secretary of State to make a scheme to transfer employees of a local probation board to another provider of probation services; to transfer employees between probation trusts or other providers, or to transfer employees from providers of probation services to the civil service and vice versa. In the circumstances that the hon. and learned Gentleman outlined, I would say that such an individual had resigned. It is important to note that a scheme may not be made unless any directions about consultation given by the Secretary of State have been complied with.

Paragraph 6 provides that when an employee is transferred under the scheme, his continuity of employment will be maintained and the rights, duties and liabilities of his previous employer transferred to his new one. An employee will, of course, be at liberty not to accept a transfer to a new employer, but in that case his contract will be terminated and he will not be treated as having been dismissed for the purposes of the Employment Rights Act 1996. In other words, he will not be entitled to compensation as he will be considered to have resigned.

Paragraph 7 makes similar provision in relation to employees of probation boards who transfer to the civil service and paragraph 8 does the same for civil servants who transfer to the employment of a probation trust or other provider. Paragraph 9 makes it clear that the schedule does not prejudice an employee’s right to terminate his employment if his working conditions are changed substantially to his detriment. Paragraph 10 states that if a contract of employment with either a board or a trust is not transferred to a new employer, the contract will be terminated and the employee will be treated as having been dismissed for the purposes of the 1996 Act. The employee would therefore be entitled to compensation.

I am aware of the concerns expressed by staffabout what the future holds and the implications for them as individuals. Such anxieties are entirely understandable, but I believe that the provisions in the schedule demonstrate our commitment to safeguarding employees’ position when any changes take place. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will be happy with that explanation.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I listened to the Minister, and no doubt everyone else in this room did as well, but who will do the more public explaining? Will he make a point of visiting employees of the current probation service to explain precisely what schedule 2 will mean for them? Will his officials go out proactively before the Bill becomes an Act to ensure that people working for the Government know precisely what their rights are and that they resign if they do not like what will happen, or is that something that people will just have to find out by reading the legislation?

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will take no lessons from the Conservative party—[ Interruption. ] The implication is that the Government do not want to protect employees—

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I want it to be clear that I am simply asking for information. The Minister should not be over-sensitive. I know that the Government are in a hell of a mess, but he should not be too worried. I am simply asking how the matter will be dealt with. He is a reasonable man; he would not want anybody to be left in the lurch or not to understand the implications of his policy. I am simply asking about the mechanics of making the measures known to the people who will be affected, not criticising him.

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. and learned Gentleman not only says that I am not analytical but wants to tell me how I should respond to his prompting. He asked  whether we will communicate what individual employees’ rights are. I put on record this Government’s success in employment rights, which I am happy to have furthered in my role as Employment Minister in the Department of Trade and Industry, and the various Acts that we have passed.

In no way will we not communicate with our work force about what will happen. We have been doing that regularly. The hon. and learned Gentleman mighthave information from the National Association of Probation Officers, a trade union, about its members’ concerns, and he might have seen what the Government have done to respond. We have made pledges to staff and continue to make them.

I have no doubt that the fullest of consultations and discussions will be held about what the future holds. I hope that some of the scaremongers will desist and that we can get down to ensuring that those doing what we all agree is a difficult job in difficult circumstances see their futures mapped out as quickly as possible. We will give them the fullest of opportunities to understand what the future holds for them. I have no hesitation in saying that employees will be fully informed about the future in direct mailings either from me or from officials.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I had not intended to touch a raw nerve. I simply asked how those who work for the probation service would be told about the contents of schedule 2. We all know that the public are not enthusiastic readers of legislation, albeit because an awful lot of Bills have come from the Minister’s Department.

Clearly, I have pressed a particularly sore point, and I apologise to the Minister for upsetting him at this hour of the morning. He knows my concern that the public and particularly those affected by schedule 2 should know of its contents and how it will affect them. No doubt he will put in hand arrangements to ensure that they do. It has nothing to do with pressure from outside bodies or anybody else. I am simply a humble seeker after truth, and that was my intention in inviting him to comment on schedule 2.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule 2 agreed to.

It being twenty-five minutes past Ten o’clock, The Chairmanadjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.