Amendment proposed: 4, page 1, line 1, leave out clause 1.- (Tessa Jowell .)
Question put, That the amendment be made.
The House divided: Ayes 238, Noes 316.
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Question accordingly negatived.
Amendment made: 1, in title, at end insert:
"; and to make provision modifying the effect of section 2(3) of the Superannuation Act 1972 in relation to such benefits".- (Mr Maude .)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
The Bill has been debated extensively on Second Reading and in the good deliberations in the Public Bill Committee. We canvassed the central issues again in the course of today's discussions on the Government new clause and the Opposition amendments. I say again that we are dealing with matters of huge significance to large numbers of dedicated public servants, who are in a state of considerable uncertainty and anxiety about their futures, which I completely understand.
We wish to avoid redundancies wherever that is possible, because we recognise-as everyone in the House should-that every single job lost is a personal disaster for that person and their family. We will therefore do everything we can to avoid them, but where they are inevitable it is important that the terms on which civil servants become redundant are fair, both to the individual and to the taxpayer. That is what we are seeking to achieve. I say again that the Government will strain every nerve to achieve a negotiated new scheme that will make the caps imposed by the Bill unnecessary. That would also mean that the power reinstated by the Government's new clause and amendment that have just been agreed-which simply reinstate a power that previously existed and that was exercised by Tessa Jowell-would not need to be exercised.
The effect of the passing of the amendments and new clause is that the question of whether this is a money Bill no longer arises, so it will move on to the other place and undergo full scrutiny. As I have said, I undertake to introduce further amendments there to clarify and entrench, to the extent that that is needed, the obligation to consult before any new scheme is imposed. I will ensure that that happens and will discuss the content and format of such amendments with the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood and with the relevant unions.
The Bill remains as essential today as it was when I announced our intention to introduce it back in July. We have made huge progress since in configuring what a new replacement successor scheme would look like-sustainable, affordable and fair. On that basis, I commend the Bill to the House.
I agree with much that the Minister said, particularly the extent to which the prospects for negotiated settlement on behalf of 500,000 civil servants, although not necessarily the Bill itself, have improved as a direct result of the parliamentary process to date and the probing questions asked by the Opposition. The offer now on the table is substantially improved, and I welcome the Minister's commitment to introduce further amendments in the other place that will substantially improve what we believe to be a profoundly flawed Bill. I also welcome the Minister's commitment to avoid redundancy in every available circumstance. I think that the civil servants who service so diligently the purpose of government will be listening closely to what he says.
Perhaps my final piece of advice is to remember that this settlement will have to remain in place for these kinds of negotiations for a very long time, so I urge the Minister to resist the pressure he is doubtless getting from the Treasury to reach the quickest and cheapest settlement, as that will not extend to those deserving civil servants the treatment that not just they but the country expect.
In a sense, it is sad not to see massive press interest in an issue that is very important to many people in this country. I am pleased to hear the Minister express the same views as I have expressed on the need to minimise the number of redundancies, and, if there have to be any, to maximise the number who go voluntarily through agreement so that we absolutely minimise the number of compulsory redundancies. This is about the way we manage staff-I have managed staff for more than half of my lifetime-and I believe it is important to work in consultation with people and to tell them what is going on. Discussions and negotiations are crucial. I very much welcome the Government's approach to that.
The reality is that this process was started in July 2009 by the previous Government. This is a continuation of a process that everyone recognises was necessary. The Opposition now think that none of this should be done and they want to oppose it all. It is their prerogative to change their minds, but the reality is that we have to get on with it all and manage a very difficult situation. To that extent, we support Third Reading.
Much has been said about the need for the unions to negotiate. Let me be clear about the unions' position, as a number of general secretaries are in the building today. The POA makes it clear in its statement that it has rejected the Government's final offer, but it has left the door open for further dialogue with the Government, which must be meaningful with all the Council of Civil Service Unions present and with no exclusions.
Mark Serwotka of the Public and Commercial Services Union has written to the Government and briefed other MPs to the effect that he is keen to re-enter talks, but stresses again that they must be meaningful. The PCS believes it has worked hard to reach a settlement. Let me quote Mark Serwotka:
"From the outset PCS has worked hard to come to a fair deal. We cannot accept the current offer and are calling for further talks. If those talks do not take place we will continue to oppose the Bill in Parliament and will take legal action when appropriate as we have successfully done in the past."
The two unions representing the vast bulk of the civil service members who will be affected by the Bill are willing to negotiate.
The problem seems to be not the Minister's willingness to negotiate, but the Treasury envelope within which he is negotiating. If that is the problem, I suggest that the Treasury gets directly involved in these negotiations as well, so that it can see that its attempt to gain a short-term saving will have a long-term cost to the Government. That might help to get some productive negotiations going. By the time the Bill comes back from the other place, we might have a settlement across all the unions, but any attempt to try to divide the unions again will, I believe, be counter-productive. We now need to create a climate of industrial relations that will enable these negotiations to take place successfully for all the unions, not just for a small minority.