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Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: That is indeed a generous offer which I may very well take up. I thank the noble and learned Lord very much for his comments. As I was about to do when I was hit from two directions, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lyell): I remind Members of the Committee that if there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, we shall adjourn for 10 minutes. Otherwise, we are on Amendment No. 11 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy. I remind Members of the Committee that the noble Lord has already spoken to and moved the amendment and that we are continuing a discussion.
Lord McCarthy: For clarificationwe had rather confusing statements previouslyare we going on until 8 o'clock or 7.30 as the end of business? Will that be a general rule in future in the House or does it apply just to this Bill? We were told last time that we would be going on until,
The Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Lord Rooker): I cannot give any clarification. This is a government Bill, the other House passed it and this House is due to consider, revise, assess and analyse it. At the end of the day, the time will necessarily be made available for the House to come to a conclusion on it. I cannot say how many days or exactly which days; I am not the business manager. The general position is that this is a government Bill and we will proceed with it through the House until we reach a conclusion. On when we might finish tonight, frankly, I will decide on the basis of progress at the appropriate time to move the resolution, and I shall do so having had discussions with my colleagues representing the opposition parties.
Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: With leave, may I clarify a point in the question of the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy? I appreciate that it was put to the Chair and that it is not the job of the Chair to answer the question. I thought that that was the job of the Whip
Lord Rooker: I continue where I left off in our sitting last Thursday, at col. 292 of the Official Report. I had made a preliminary observationindeed, I agreed with my noble friend Lord McCarthyabout the success of the Clegg report, but I had not said much about Amendments Nos. 11 and 13. I should like to concentrate on one specific aspect of the amendments.
The amendments require the Secretary of State to establish negotiating machinery if the negotiating body or a member of the body disagrees with the Secretary of State's proposals to make an order fixing or modifying the conditions of service. Of course that goes to the heart of the Bill's purposethat the Secretary of State should have the power to draw a line under any dispute. That is what the whole Bill is about, and we would seek to disagree and oppose anything that cuts across that.
As I made clear, we would consider using these powers in the Bill only if we thought that there was no realistic prospect of agreement being reached voluntarily. As I said in previous debates, it is open for the parties concerned to use the voluntary procedure and the arbitration procedure applied for in their own agreement. So it is difficult to imagine that even the best arbitrator could seek to reconcile the differences between two parties in circumstances where they cannot agree voluntarily. It would be quite wrong to expect them to do so.
We had an independent review of the Fire Service carried out last year by George Bain and his colleagues. The conclusions of that report were widely accepted, and the Government responded to the conclusions in the White Paper published last week. I would also remind noble Lords that, despite being invited to contribute to the review, the Fire Brigades Union declined to do so. That was its free choice; no one was forcing it to participate. However, the result is that its view was missing in a sense from the deliberations.
Against that background, inserting a requirement for arbitration on proposals by the Secretary of State to end the disputeproposals which would be made only in the event of what one assumes would be irreconcilable differences between the two partiesseems a complete and abject waste of time. That is particularly the case when it is open to the negotiating body to make a report to the Secretary of State and when it is open to the parties concerned to go to arbitration at an early stage. Therefore, the idea that the parties could not go to arbitration is nonsense. It is provided for in their own agreement.
Again I remind noble Lords that the Bill does not attempt to write the rules for the long term. It is hoped that the Bill will never be used, and it will be consigned to the dustbin after two years if it is not used. It is designed to deal with a specific and extreme situation. We are not dealing with setting up machinery for the future; presumably another Bill will be brought forward to deal with that. I do not know when that will be but, as a result of the White Paper, the Government will propose legislation when a parliamentary opportunity arises.
Therefore, it is hoped that there will be plenty of opportunities to debate, outside the confines of the recent dispute, the future of the Fire Service, its negotiating position and the negotiating machinery. The recent dispute may have been settled but there are still procedures to be followed through as a result of the agreement reached by the two parties. Therefore, in that respect, we do not see that any useful purpose will be served by incorporating Amendments Nos. 11 and 13 in the Bill.
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