Five regional pay ranges were implemented for staff joining Her Majesty's Courts Service with effect from
My hon. Friend will be aware that there is a great deal of disappointment among court staff at the introduction of a system of pay that is divisive and unfair—an old-fashioned and discredited form of regional pay. Let me give a couple of examples to show why the system is unfair. Staff in Sheffield are paid at a different rate from those in Leeds, and staff in both cities are paid at different rates from the pay in Liverpool and Manchester. Another example is that court staff at Mold Crown court are paid at an enhanced rate of pay simply because that is the headquarters of the regional manager.
The last point that my hon. Friend made is not an accurate reflection of the differences between Mold and Wrexham. Regional pay is a reality which Her Majesty's Courts Service is reacting to, not creating. Ninety per cent. of staff have opted into the deal that is set out in the new arrangements. The aim is to create a single set of conditions to replace more than 50 existing schemes that Her Majesty's Courts Service inherited when it came into being, in order to address three issues—recruitment and retention, low pay, and rewarding good performance. One in four staff, a majority in the lowest grades, will see a 20 per cent. increase in their pay over the next four years. That is a good thing, and the staff are voting with their feet and opting in.
Could the Minister tell the House why differential pay rates based on gender are, rightly, unlawful and absolutely wrong, but differential pay rates based on geography seem to be a good idea?
The Courts Service is reacting to regional pay, not creating it. Such pay is based on local labour markets and jobs available in the relevant area; there is no discrimination based on anything other than the local realities. Recruitment, retention and being able to do the job that the Courts Service is there to do are the basis of the arrangements. So far, 90 per cent. of staff have opted into them.
Will my hon. Friend have another look to see whether it is possible to withdraw the lowest regional pay range? I do not know whether she is aware that—in Wales, certainly—the majority of court workers affected are women. The wages of people in Wales are already lower than those in the rest of the UK, and that sort of proposal makes it much more difficult to close the prosperity gap.
I am always happy to look at things when Members suggest that I do so, and I will do so. However, I reiterate that 90 per cent. of staff have already opted into the arrangements. Built into those arrangements is an intention over the next four years to increase the lowest pay rates significantly over other pay rates. We will do that. The arrangements will improve pay for those on the lowest bands more than for those at higher levels.
The Minister will know that the company Serco provides staff for Crown courts and magistrates courts across the London area. Those staff bring prisoners to court and then up from the cells into the dock. Is the Minister aware that courts in London are in some chaos at the moment because Serco appears to be dreadfully understaffed, not having enough people to do the job properly? Is that because the company is not efficient enough, or are the Government simply not paying the proper rate to get a proper job done?
The arrangements are contracted. Serco has standards to meet; if the hon. Gentleman is saying that those standards are not being met, I shall be happy to look into specific instances that have been brought to his attention. However, the arrangements are made on the basis of a contract and as far as I am aware, they are working well.