Clause 82 - Transfer schemes

Civil Aviation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 8th March 2012.

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Photo of John Woodcock John Woodcock Shadow Minister (Transport) 2:00 pm, 8th March 2012

I beg to move amendment 66, in clause 82, page 51, line 10, leave out ‘the CAA’ and insert—

‘(a) the CAA;

(b) the individuals referred to in subsection 1(a); and

(c) trade unions representing the individuals referred to in subsection 1(a).’.

The amendment is intended to probe the Government a little further on the concerns about staff transfer, which have already been extensively debated, so I will not go over that ground again. I want to draw out a few more specifics that I hope the Minister can give clarity on.

Can the Minister assure the Committee that the transfer will not lead to a loss of expertise, which has been widely discussed thus far as a possibility? Specifically, why are secondments not seen as a better option for staff? What do Ministers intend to do beyond simply hoping that staff will stay on, which is effectively what her colleague the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Lewes, set out in his letter to the shadow Secretary of State?

The amendment would also give departmental employees who might be transferred to the CAA by the Bill—I think there are 84 posts—and their representatives the right to be consulted by the Secretary of State before any such transfer. Without provisions to give more support to staff who might be transferred, any such process could lead to a serious loss of expertise as employees leave before being transferred.

When the Minister address that issue will she also, as a brief hangover from the previous debate, give an example of when the previous Government supported a risk-based system for aviation security? That would be quite helpful, because she keeps accusing me of making U-turns, and I am not clear that I have done so

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Minister of State, Department for Transport 2:15 pm, 8th March 2012

On that last point, I can provide some further information. That was the advice I was given on arriving at the Department for Transport. I seem to recollect that the previous Government made statements on this issue when I was in opposition; I will investigate further and provide the hon. Gentleman with an indication of the work done by the previous Government.

The Department for Transport has already begun engaging with staff and their trade union representatives on the proposed transfer to the CAA. The Department’s human resources unit has formally engaged with the trade unions—Public and Commercial Services, and Prospect—on matters relating to the proposed transfer of posts and post-holders to the CAA.

There have been briefing events for staff, including a joint event with the CAA on 31 January. We shall continue to engage with staff and their trade union representatives as we develop the transfer arrangements over the coming months and up until the planned transfer in spring 2014. Engagement with staff is vital, not least because we want to ensure that as many as possible transfer to the CAA, taking their skills and experience with them.

Our debates today have highlighted the crucial importance of aviation security. The Government very much value the skills, expertise and dedication of the people who carry out the work needed to ensure that security is appropriately and effectively regulated.

Photo of Julie Hilling Julie Hilling Labour, Bolton West

The Transport Committee report recommended that the Department for Transport and the CAA should investigate employment arrangements—possibly including secondments, rather than transfers—to avoid losing experienced staff. Has the Minister looked at the possibility of secondments? She has talked about consultations taking place regarding transfers. What about alternative models? Have they been examined?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Minister of State, Department for Transport

I will come to secondments in a moment, in response to the shadow Minister’s questions.

As I said to the Transport Committee in December last year, we hope that as many of our current staff as possible will want to stay in post following the transfer of their posts to the CAA. We will be working with them to provide as much visibility and clarity as possible about the transfer. I am afraid that we cannot answer all their questions yet, but I will reflect carefully on the points made today and on any made on the next set of amendments. All those will be passed back to the Secretary of State and the team dealing with the transition of posts from the Department for Transport to the CAA.

Photo of Nicholas Dakin Nicholas Dakin Opposition Whip (Commons)

I recognise from what she is saying that the Minister’s hope and wish is for people to stay in these roles. When the process has gone through, what percentage of people not transferring would she find concerning?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Minister of State, Department for Transport

We are working to ensure that as many of the current post-holders transfer as possible. I do not think it would be productive to talk about percentages. We are making every effort to ensure that we retain as much expertise as possible when the current staff transfer to the CAA.

The engagement and consultation provided for in amendment 66 are already happening, so I hope that will persuade the shadow Minister to withdraw it. On the points made about secondment by the shadow Minister and the hon. Member for Bolton West, I appreciate that similar points were made by the Transport Committee and, of course, by the Public and Commercial Services Union in evidence to this Committee. We can and are looking at how secondments might be used as we develop our plans for the proposed transfer. However, we consider that seconding Department for Transport staff to the CAA instead of transferring them is unlikely to help ensure that experienced staff remain with the CAA when the secondments end. We do not see that as necessarily providing a solution, but we are prepared to consider whether it could play a part in the transitional arrangements.

Photo of Julie Hilling Julie Hilling Labour, Bolton West

I am interested in the point that the Minister just made about when the secondment ends. My understanding is that, in the civil service, people are seconded to another Department on a long-term basis, so it would not be unusual to do that for the CAA. It is not about, “You’re seconded for 12 months”, but someone’s post is effectively seconded over, obviously with the finance for it coming out of a CAA budget rather than a DFT budget. It is not about when the secondment ends that person would be lost, because the secondment in that case and—as I understand it—across the civil service does not end until contractual arrangements with any Department actually change.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Minister of State, Department for Transport

The key limitation on the use of secondments to try to respond to the concerns expressed by Opposition Members is that the Bill provides for these posts to transfer over. The posts will transfer over, even if there might be scope for using secondments as temporary measures. I see no way that we could achieve the result using secondments that the Bill provides for, namely a transfer of posts to the CAA. We hope that as many people as are in those posts currently will choose to stay in them when they transfer over to the CAA and we will continue to engage with the work force to seek to bring that about. On that basis, I cannot support the amendments but, as I emphasised, what they require the Government to do is already under way.

Photo of John Woodcock John Woodcock Shadow Minister (Transport)

I welcome what I think was open-mindedness about secondments—

Photo of John Woodcock John Woodcock Shadow Minister (Transport)

That is good. I welcome that and I will withdraw this amendment. I just urge the Minister to do more than the Government have done so far  to make this process—if it goes ahead at all—have a greater chance of being successful and smooth. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 82 ordered to stand part of the Bill.