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Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord. Is he aware that this excellent proposal, which first surfaced at the end of the last century, has been going through the processes of Parliament with the speed that would make a snail look somewhat like a racing car? Furthermore, given that this House is complementary to another place, but also autonomous, and given that we had radio broadcasting and television broadcasting of our proceedings before another place and that we have set up our Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee which has no equivalent in another place, can the Minister explain why we should not act on our own?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am happy to accept responsibility for most things, but not for the past 100 years, although sometimes it feels like it! This has nothing to do with the House of Commons. I have notified another place as a matter of courtesy. The President of the Council, my right honourable friend Mr Cook, said that he is looking, with interest, to see the experience that we are able to offer in our own committee. It would be a Lords committee, not a Joint Committee. I repeat, I hope without impoliteness, that the matter has nothing to do with the House of Commons.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, does my noble and learned friend accept that the case for policy consideration appears to be serious? I illustrate that by saying that when the Joint Committee considered an order requiring taxi cabs to display notices saying that

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guide dogs were permitted, Parliament was in fact requiring that the dogs should read the notice. However, I was out of order in making the point.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I believe that we have agreed that the committee will draw attention to those instruments that merit further debate or consideration. That appears to be an ample rubric.

Lord Boston of Faversham: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord realise that he does not need to accept responsibility for what happened more than 100 years ago because the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, said "at the end of the last century", which was only a couple of years ago?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am so sorry. I misunderstood what the noble Lord said. Time goes very quickly when one is having fun.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the reason for setting up such a committee, which I believe is desirable, is that over the past few years we have seen a massive increase in the amount of delegated legislation going through both Houses and increasingly an unwillingness of Ministers to put down details of legislation on the face of primary legislation. What is the noble and learned Lord doing, in his position in the Cabinet, to use all of his powers of persuasion, which are legion, in order to discourage the practice of increased secondary legislation coming through Parliament?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, we need to approach this problem in at least two ways. First, we need to look at pre-legislative scrutiny, which your Lordships have warmly applauded and on which we are now starting to deliver. Secondly, we need a committee of experience and expertise to draw attention to instruments that merit further debate. I look forward to the experience that we can derive from the work of the committee which can perhaps be offered to the Commons.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, we on these Benches welcome the proposed committee and believe that it would be an effective instrument to deal with people's concern about regulation and secondary legislation being used in place of primary legislation. We hope that another place will listen to the experience of this House on the matter.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful for that generous observation. During the next year or two, we may consider whether we can improve our procedures. If so, I am sure that lessons will be learnt.

Lord Carter: My Lords, if the Select Committee is to consider those instruments that require particular attention, does that not imply that a large number of

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instruments are not contentious and could be dealt with separately—perhaps off the Floor of the House, in a Grand Committee of some form?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am sure that that is right. For example, I think that we all remember the shellfish orders with consuming passion. My noble friend, named as Peer of the Year—which was extremely well deserved—

Noble Lords: Hear, hear.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, what my noble friend said echoed what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, suggested the other day, which was that we might take some orders off the Floor of the House—the noble Lord suggested the Moses Room. That appears to me to be a useful step for the Liaison Committee to consider.

Fire Service

2.51 p.m.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What arrangements they have in mind to improve methods for setting the pay of British firefighters.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the Government are committed to modernising the Fire Service along the lines of Sir George Bain's independent review. We intend to restore a power for the Government to direct pay and conditions in the Fire Service. That means that we shall be able to impose a settlement if it proves necessary to do so. We hope that it will not. The Government will respond in full to the Bain review in a White Paper later this year.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. As we have all done, I studied carefully the Statement made yesterday by the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Prescott. I welcome Mr Prescott's Pauline conversion. Although it has taken a long time, his decision to seek emergency powers to settle the pay for the Fire Brigades Union is right.

However, will not the legislative process take at least some weeks? Given that the Armed Forces are now stretched to the limit, would it not be sensible, if a negotiated settlement has not been reached within a week or two, to consider seeking a court injunction for emergency powers to stop the strike?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the issue of court injunctions is entirely a matter for the Attorney-General. It must be right that he gives that matter independent consideration. We welcome the noble Lord's support for the measures announced yesterday. Although it is true that they will take some weeks to introduce, we intend to ensure that they are in place in

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weeks rather than months, so that they can have some bearing on the outcome of this most unfortunate and regrettable dispute.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, the Minister will know that the employers supported the Deputy Prime Minister's Statement yesterday. That is not surprising, given that the negotiation has been tripartite and confusing. Is the Minister aware that the Bain review recommends,

    "that the Local Government Association . . . take steps to develop the contribution of elected members on fire authorities and to ensure that they give stronger leadership in the future"?

Does not the Deputy Prime Minister's Statement indicate a centralising approach? How does it square with Sir George Bain's recommendation?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, there might be some merit in what the noble Baroness said if it were not that Sir Jeremy Beecham, who is after all the chairman of the Local Government Association, gave the Deputy Prime Minister's announcement yesterday his fulsome support. That speaks volumes about where the employers are: they are at one with the Government in seeking to resolve matters and entirely agree with the steps that the Government announced yesterday.

Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, if the Government are fully committed to a solution along the lines of the Bain report, would they not be well advised to suggest to the local authority employers that they give notice that if there are any further strikes, all the striking firemen will be dismissed and offered immediate re-employment individually on Bain terms, and that any subsequent vacancies will be filled by recruitment? After all, President Reagan did something similar more than 20 years ago with the air traffic controllers in the United States and it worked extremely successfully.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, that is an interesting notion, but I doubt that it bears much relation to the reality of the situation. Obviously we must protect fundamental rights; the right to withdraw labour is one of those rights. On the other hand, we have a duty to ensure that public safety is paramount and protected. That is why the Deputy Prime Minister yesterday announced what I consider to be a balanced and measured set of proposals to try to bring a conclusion to this unfortunate and regrettable dispute.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a long history of politicians and governments getting involved in trade union negotiations? Although the Government must pick up the tab, trade union negotiations are best conducted between employers and employees, who must live with each other at the end of the day.

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