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Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for acknowledging what I said during the Report stage of the Bill. However, it will not surprise her to hear that what she now proposes in Amendment No. 3 is unacceptable as it would bring
The Bill deals with the privatisation of AEA Technology. It has been specifically designed to deal with that privatisation. I made it clear that it is unacceptable to the Government to allow employees who have moved to the private sector to continue to participate in the authority's pension schemes. It is for the private sector employer to devise arrangements which are appropriate for its employees and the operation of its business.
But let me say that the employees of other parts of the authority which may be divested need not be concerned about their future pension arrangements. It is the authority's clear policy, irrespective of employment law, that employees who move to the private sector should be able to join a pension scheme which is broadly comparable with the authority pension scheme. Indeed, to do otherwise might mean that employees had a claim for constructive dismissal.
We also discussed in Committee the question of employees who have already left the authority's employment being allowed back into the authority's schemes. I explained then and repeat that it would be wholly unacceptable as it would re-open the basis on which the businesses were sold earlier this year, subsequent to the date I mentioned.
To change the basis on which parts of the authority have already been sold would create substantial uncertainty for the employees involved and potentially put their jobs at risk. Such uncertainty was in the forefront of our minds at Report stage. In fact, the noble Lord, Lord Peston, and I agree that we should not add to the uncertainty of employees. That would be one of the effects of this amendment and one reason why it is unacceptable.
Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that explanation. As I said earlier, we have been over this ground several times before and my reason for revisiting it was because my information was that people are still concerned about their future prospects, particularly in the area of pensions. However, I note what he says about the general principles being unacceptable to the Government. I am sorry about that. As I said earlier in connection with Amendment No. 2, people's expectations have been damaged or frustrated and uncertainties imported into their employment situation as a result of government legislation. There is therefore an obligation on the Government to do the best they can to ensure that those uncertainties are put at rest.
As we have said repeatedly, people join this kind of organisation, this type of public service, believing that they have the prospect of security of employment and of pension entitlement. During the passage of the Bill we have done our best on this side of the House to try to ensure that those fears are put at rest, at least to the
At earlier stages of the Bill there were full discussions both of its content and of some of the wider issues surrounding it. I was not a participant in the earliest stage but I am grateful to those on the Front Bench opposite for the way in which the Bill has been taken forward and the care with which the various issues have been debated. I also extend my gratitude to other noble Lords who participated in our discussions.
Our debates have been notable for the fact that there has been agreement on all sides of the House that AEA Technology is an important national asset with the potential to make a significantly greater contribution to United Kingdom competitiveness. Where there has been disagreement, it has been over how best to realise that potential and take forward the development of the business in a way which best serves the interests of its staff and the taxpayer. The disagreements have, in turn, provided a basis for a constructive examination of the Bill, through which the House has gainedand I have certainly gaineda better understanding of what it and the sale of AEA Technology entail.
Our main objective in bringing the Bill before Parliament has been to promote the commercial development of the business and set it on a path from which it can take full advantage of the many opportunities open to it. That is in all our interests. The more successful AEA Technology is, the more it will be able to contribute to the United Kingdom economy. Privatisation will offer AEA Technology the opportunity to build on its already impressive track record by stimulating the drive for new business, enforcing market disciplines and offering genuine commercial freedom unencumbered by the demands of government. It is not only the best way forward for the business; it is the best way forward for its customers and the staff. With those brief thanks, I commend the Bill to the House.
Lord Peston: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for his kind remarks. I had the opportunity to congratulate him only a few days on how admirably he guided us through the Gas Bill. I repeat with great sincerity those same remarks in congratulating him on how admirably he has guided us through the Atomic Energy Authority Bill.
The Bill has not been to everyone's taste in the sense that to my recollection it has been largely dealt with by the Front Benches. It does not seem to have attracted the interest of many other noble Lords. One or two have
I was opposed to the Bill. I felt that its basis was ideological, and my view has not changed. But I have to say that as the Bill will become an Act and AEA Technology will be sold into the private sector, I would not then be curmudgeonly. My hope is thenit will be the Minister's hope as wellthat the new business will succeed. Setting ideology on one side, the country depends on our businesses succeeding, and this is certainly one where the prospects are excellent. Although I would not have done it in the first place, so to speak, if we are going to do it, then I want it to work.
I have one final remark to make. We have scrutinised the Bill in detail and with our usual precision. It has been an excellent example of how noble Lords do their job. But if I could harp back to some remarks made an hour or so ago on ministerial and other salaries, when I think of the effort we have all put into the Bill, I wish occasionally that we received something more by way of material reward. I am told that I may be thanked in heaven, but occasionally there are bills to be paid as well. Leaving that frivolous note on one side, I repeat my thanks to the Minister and look forward to whatever we do in the next Session.
Lord Ezra: My Lords, I wish to join in the remarks made by the noble and learned Lord the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Peston. This is an important measure. I believe that it has been dealt with extremely constructively and sympathetically from the Government Front Bench. Right from the start there seemed to my mind to be one overriding issue. AEA Technology, about which the Bill is mainly concerned, has been established as a very successful and highly developed consultancy body. The fear, which was expressed from all sides of the House at Second Reading and was taken up at the Committee stage, was the risk that, according to the wording of the Bill, the Government had reserved the right to dispose of it either in whole or in part. There was grave anxiety that to dispose of this admirable body in part would seriously weaken its future activities and set at nought what it has achieved so far. The Minister agreed at the Committee stage that he would come back on that point and he gave us very firm assurances on Report that it was now the Government's intention to dispose of AEA Technology as a whole. For that we are very pleased. All I can say in conclusion is that I wish it very well in its new phase of life.