Clause 2 - Transfer to Council of property etc of Arts and Humanities Research Board

Higher Education Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 10 February 2004.

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Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Minister (Education) 10:15, 10 February 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 126, in

clause 2, page 2, line 5, at end insert

'and carrying with it full employment and other rights reflecting the employee's service with the Board'.

This is a simple proposal, which is designed to meet some of the concerns that frequently arise when status is transferred between Government bodies, from one corporate form to another. I say that because, on at least two occasions in my constituency, the message from the management of the organisations concerned to their staff contained ambiguities—probably inadvertently—that caused confusion and uncertainty among staff.

The amendment aims to set out a clear, simple and straightforward stipulation for the staff who work for the current board that their employment rights will remain unchanged and unaffected by the transition. It aims to remove the uncertainty that might exist if the message given were wrong.

A person in a similar situation told me, ''I am not sure if my pension rights will carry over in the same way. I am also not sure if one of my colleagues who, in the existing organisation, has the right to stay on for a particular period of time, will be able to do so under the new organisation, and so he may not able to continue his career as he had previously envisaged.''

The amendment is designed to clarify for the members of staff that their rights will transfer. The Society of College Principals, the organisation representing higher education colleges, welcomes the

amendment. It believes that such clarification would be valuable to staff, and would like to see it added to the Bill. I hope that the amendment is uncontroversial; it will not make a material difference to what the Government are trying to achieve, nor will it cause problems for the council as it is established.

The amendment would clarify the situation for all staff who currently work for the legacy body—the previous body—when the new council is established and the royal charter is put in place, and when the new corporate framework in which those staff will work has been set up. It would reassure them that when the transition from a charitable organisation to a non-departmental public body takes place, nothing—their rights to pensions, to specific benefits after particular lengths of service or to their current pay scales, which may have led them to expect a pay rise next April—will be materially affected by the change.

I hope that the Government will accept the simple and straightforward amendment and will use it to send the message to staff that the provision is a positive step for the whole of the arts and humanities world and that the commitment to staff within it is absolute and straightforward.

Photo of Alan Johnson Alan Johnson Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education)

I think that I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks. However, he does not need to carry the amendment to achieve the effect that he wants. Incidentally, the TUPE regulations stem from the acquired rights directive, and it is rather ironic that the Opposition, when in government, fiercely opposed that directive. However, I accept that times change and that we now have champions of trade union rights in the Opposition. As John Lennon once said:

''A working-class hero is something to be.''

I am heartened by the interest shown in the matter. Clause 5 will ensure that there can be no ambiguity about pensions. However, it is worth mentioning that last year the Government included pensions as one of the issues that would be protected under a TUPE transfer; previously they were not covered, so that was an important development. However, to remove any doubt, we have dealt with pensions in a separate clause.

When the AHRB was created, it was itself subject to a TUPE transfer. That worked well and the AHRB is determined that when it becomes a council it will do the same thing.

We looked carefully to see whether anything was missing in relation to the transfer of employment rights, but there is not. All that would be achieved by adding the wording in the amendment would be to repeat the wording that is already in the Bill, because TUPE must be applied in relation to the transfer, and pensions are covered under clause 5. The hon. Gentleman can safely withdraw his amendment, because the terms that he rightly seeks are in the Bill as drafted.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Minister (Education)

I am grateful for the Minister's reassurance and for his statement, on the record, that TUPE applies in this case. In the related matter to which I referred, one of the uncertainties in the

separate organisation involved in a similar type of change was that the employers had not made it explicit that TUPE applied, so there was a further uncertainty. The Minister has given a categorical assurance that all employment rights are protected and that there are no missing elements in the package that could slip through the net, and I am grateful to have that clarification on the record. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

I remind hon. Members that if they seek to catch my eye they must do so before the debate is wound up.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.