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Superannuation Bill

Part of Freedom of Information (Amendment) – in the House of Commons at 9:06 pm on 7th September 2010.

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Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Leader of the Green Party 9:06 pm, 7th September 2010

I too shall be brief, because I know that time is short, and one way in which I can be brief is by associating myself with the eloquent remarks of John McDonnell, who is no longer in his place.

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak, as more constituents have written to me to express concern about changes to the civil service compensation scheme than have written to me about any other issue since I was elected in May, so I am very keen to ensure that they are properly represented here today. There is a palpable sense of anger and disillusionment among public servants, and a real feeling that they are being made to pay for an economic crisis that was not of their making.

My constituency in Brighton is home to a large number of civil servants. Under their current compensation scheme, they have accrued rights that will simply be scrapped-torn up and thrown away-by the Government's proposals, despite the court ruling that a failure to recognise accrued rights is unlawful, and that any amendments to the civil service compensation scheme must be made on the basis of agreement by all the relevant unions.

Morale in the civil service is at an all-time low. One Brighton Pavilion resident who came to see me in my constituency a few weeks ago put it like this:

"Many civil servants will, like me, have planned their finances on the basis that their jobs were reasonably secure and that if they did become surplus to requirements they could rely on a particular level of compensation. I have not, for example, taken out any insurance against not being able to continue to pay my mortgage through loss of employment. The government's plans for deficit reduction mean that civil service job security is now very questionable, whilst the Bill puts paid to the second part of my planning assumption. I feel unsettled and vulnerable at this unilateral change in what I had thought was the deal with my employer."

From his words we get a clear sense of a bargain being broken, of a contract being unilaterally torn up and of people being treated as if they were expendable, which is particularly hurtful to many civil servants who have given many years of loyal service. His words also highlight the anxiety and uncertainty that permeates the civil service, particularly those who face a future in which they might not be able to work again.

As many have said in today's debate, the lowest paid will suffer most, and there are many of them. The Minister for the Cabinet Office himself acknowledged that

"large numbers of civil servants are not very well paid-half of them earn £21,000 a year or less".-[ Hansard, 14 July 2010; Vol. 513, c. 932.]

Yet the scheme before us offers them no protection, and that is the key problem. Its proposals are fundamentally unfair and unjustifiable.

I should like to discuss the context of these changes, because the public sector already faces unprecedented uncertainty in the form of cuts and redundancies under the coalition's policy of deepening and accelerating the previous Government's cuts programme. Surely the very least that the public sector can expect is to be given a proper voice in negotiations and the chance to agree a fair settlement.

As with so many of the swingeing cuts on the table, there is a perception that the planned changes to the civil service compensation scheme are not just about saving money; they are also seen by many as an attack designed to weaken the public sector-the same public sector that, for now at any rate, is the backbone of our education system and health service. It also includes civil servants who keep up and running services such as Brighton county court family centre, the Brighton and Hove learning partnership and the city's benefits service.

I end by pondering the irony of the fact that so many of the civil servants who will be adversely affected by the planned changes to the compensation scheme and to jobs, and by the service cuts, actually work for Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs. Surely it would be much fairer to help reduce the national deficit by keeping those HMRC workers in their jobs and enabling them to collect and crack down on the £100 billion a year in unpaid and dodged taxes-tax evasion and tax avoidance. That would save public sector jobs and protect working conditions in the process.

In the meantime, it is clear tonight that many of us are not prepared to stand by and see the vast majority of the civil service pay disproportionately for the economic crisis. That is why I shall vote against the Bill.

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