Orders of the Day — British Transport (Compensation to Employees)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th February 1970.

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9.58 p.m.

Photo of Mr Albert Murray Mr Albert Murray , Gravesend

I beg to move, That the British Transport (Compensation to Employees) Regulations 1970, a draft of which was laid before this House on 10th December, be approved. I should like briefly to explain the purport of these regulations. The Transport Act, 1968 made provision for structural changes in the organisation of the undertakings of the Railways Board and the Transport Holding Company and for the creation of new authorities: the National Freight Corporation, the Scottish Transport Group and the National Bus Company. These statutory reorganisations, together with the provisions for subsequent changes, for example any adaptation in the British Transport Police Force Scheme under paragraph 5(4) of Schedule 16 to the Act, the disposal of historical records and relics by the Railways Board and statutory changes in the manner in which the carrying on of the activities of the Railways Board or the National Freight Corporation is organised—these are all included in Section 135 of the 1968 Act as events attracting statutory compensation for the staff who may be adversely affected. That Section places a duty on the Minister, acting jointly with the Secretary of State for Scotland in so far as the Scottish Transport Group may be concerned, to make regulations requiring the payment of compensation to any person who, at the time of the happening of one of the events prescribed in section 135(1), was in employment as determined in the Regulations and, I quote the Act, who suffers any loss of employment, or loss or diminution of emoluments or pension rights, or worsening of his position, which is properly attributable to the happening of that event". It is, therefore, in the fulfilment of that obligation and in accordance with Section 135(5) of the Act that these draft Regulations have been laid before Parliament and that I am asking this House to approve them.

It will be seen that the draft Regulations apply to staff who suffer the losses I have mentioned and who are employed by a nationalised transport body or a subsidiary of that body or who are employed by an operator who has had a previous statutory consent to operate an area bus service revoked under paragraph 10(1) of Schedule 6 to the Transport Act, 1968. During the course of the preparation of the Regulations there has been full consultation with the organisations concerned. This consultation has included the nationalised transport boards, the Trades Union Congress and interested unions, local authority associations, and a trade association with an interest in the Regulations. In this consultation it has been possible to take account of a number of suggestions made by these bodies and we believe that there are no outstanding points of contention.

The Regulations would take effect from 18th November, 1968, on which date the major relevant sections of the parent Act were brought into force.

As I have said, there has been full consultation in the preparation of them. They embody a pattern of compensation based on that for statutory compensation which, with minor modifications called for as a result of changing circumstances, has been applied over the last 20 years. They therefore give effect to established policy followed by Governments of both parties, and I think I may claim that they go as far as is reasonably possible to meet cases of loss among staff arising from the reorganisation effected by the Act.

I therefore ask the House to approve the draft Regulations.

10.3 p.m.

Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor , Glasgow Cathcart

I think that the attendance in the House demonstrates that these are not perhaps the most controversial Regulations that we have ever had before us. On the other hand, it is right and proper that there should be some discussion of them, remembering that the Section in the Transport Act from which they stem, namely, Section 135, was not discussed in Committee because of the operation of the Guillotine.

These Regulations are designed to compensate those who suffer loss as a result of the reorganisation of the various transport undertakings, and the creation of the Scottish group, the N.F.C., and the bus group. It is right that compensation should be paid, but this is not the first time that this problem has arisen. Regulations were brought in following the reorganisation under the 1962 Act, which went extremely smoothly even though a major upheaval was involved. From my reading of them, it appears that there is no difference in principle between these Regulations and those brought in under the previous Act, and I wonder whether the Minister can confirm that that is so.

There have been many reorganisations in transport, particularly on the railways, and perhaps too many, but it is astonishing to realise just how smoothly these major upheavals and changes, which have produced Regulations such as these, have taken place. When we remember, for example, that between 1963 and 1969 the number of men employed by the railways, if we exclude the transfer of functions, fell by about 218,000, or about 44 per cent. of the labour force, we realise that a tribute should be paid to the British Railways Board and to the trade unions concerned for ensuring that such a major change took place with so little misunderstanding and trouble. In these circumstances, it is very important that the Regulations should be right, and I think that in this case they largely are.

There are just two brief points which I would like to put to the Minister and on which I should greatly appreciate his observations. Many of us were rather surprised to find that only three cases of compensation arose under the previous Regulations stemming from the 1962 Act. The main reason for that, of course, was the very generous resettlement scheme offered by the railways, and also the smoothness and harmony with which changes of this major order were carried out by the Railways Board. The Board has shown itself extremely flexible and sympathetic in such matters.

On the other hand, I should like an assurance that the benefits made available by these Regulations are known to all those affected by them. I wonder whether the Minister could give an assurance that every endeavour will be made to make all employees affected by the reorganisation and change aware of the benefits which are available in compensation under these Regulations.

The second question which arises relates to the British Transport police. It is clear that as a result of the reorganisation of transport and also the review which is taking place at the present time, in certain circumstances there will be a reduction in the numbers of transport police required. There is nothing definite about this, of course, and it will not be clear until we know the nature and scope of the review which is taking place. But one of the normal procedures in police service is early retirement, and this is built up by the numbers of years of service of the various transport police involved. I wonder whether the Minister could give any indication what would be the position of someone made redundant in the transport police who later became a member of a normal civil police force. Would the years of service be credited to him, and, if not, would compensation be available under these regulations?

Those are the two specific points on which I should appreciate the Minister's observations, but I think it is fair to say that the Regulations are necessary. They will be appreciated by all those involved in transport. The point that certainly arises out of these Regulations and previous Regulations is that we should express our gratitude to the British Railways Board and to the unions in transport for the very sympathetic, humane and flexible way in which a major upheaval of manpower and a major reduction in the number of men employed on the railways has been achieved. It has been done extremely well, and perhaps we should pay tribute to them tonight.

10.7 p.m.

Photo of Mr Albert Murray Mr Albert Murray , Gravesend

I would like to thank the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) and join him in the tribute he has paid to all those concerned, the Railways Board and the trade unions, for the way they have dealt with this particular problem.

In general, the substance of these Regulations is the same as that of the Regulations under the 1962 Act, and in a sense they are more generous in the making of provisions for widows and dependants.

On the two particular points which the hon. Member raised, certainly I can give him the assurance that the Regulations will be made known to anybody who might possibly be affected. On his second point, I know of no reason to suppose that a member of the British Transport Police Force who suffered a loss or diminution of pension rights would be treated under Part V of these Compensation Regulations any differently from employees in other parts of the nationalised transport industry.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,That the British Transport (Compensation to Employees) Regulations 1970, a draft of which was laid before this House on 10th December, be approved.