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Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: I am sure that Members of the Committee are grateful to my noble friend at the Dispatch Box for his full explanation. In the light of it, obviously there is no possible ground for pressing what is essentially a probing amendment.

However, while I make no criticism, in view of what he has said, I wonder whether it might be useful as a belt-and-braces exercise and so as not to give a false impression—which the present wording has obviously

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been given to many noble Lords—to point out that subsection (5)(a) could begin by referring to the only case to which this retrospective power is to apply; that is, the case of an increase. While it may include modifications associated with relativities, I understand that it would apply only to increases. As it stands "fixing or modifying" alerts people to a problem which is only partially explained when it is considered along with subsection (6). That subsection then makes it clear that there is no power retrospectively to reduce.

This query shows how sensible is consultation with the workers because it appears that my friend in the fire brigade got it absolutely right. He said that this applies only to retrospective increases, and his understanding appears to be more or less correct. But there are other parts of the Bill which I have discussed with him on which perhaps there is a need for greater explanation. We shall reach those in due course.

However, in view of the full explanation given by my noble friend, and with only a humble suggestion that perhaps the wording in subsection (5)(a) might be looked at again, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord McCarthy moved Amendment No. 20:


    Page 2, line 15, at end insert—


"(5A) No order made under this section shall—
(a) determine or modify the composition of a negotiating body which negotiates conditions of service of members of a fire brigade, or specify who shall act as representatives of such members, or who shall be an officer or chairman of any such body;
(b) not conflict in any other way with the independence or right of free organisation of an independent trade union representing members of a fire brigade, or the rights of those members to choose their representatives in full freedom, as expressed in any Convention of the International Labour Organisation which has been ratified by the United Kingdom."

The noble Lord said: This amendment is a little complicated. First I should draw the attention of noble Lords to the words:


    "No order made under this section shall—


    determine or modify the composition of a negotiating body which negotiates conditions of service of members of a fire brigade, or specify who shall act as representatives of such members, or who shall be an officer or chairman of any such body".

Those with experience of industrial relations might say, "Well, of course not. Who could possibly suggest that? It is a matter for the parties involved". The amendment continues by stating that it shall,


    "not conflict in any other way with the independence or right of free organisation of an independent trade union representing members of a fire brigade, or the rights of those members to choose their representatives in full freedom, as expressed in any Convention of the International Labour Organisation which has been ratified by the United Kingdom".

We are trying to protect the rights of the recognised Fire Brigades Union—this Bill affects only one union and one bargaining unit—to decide who represents it on the machinery. Especially, and this is what makes it rather urgent, in the light of the proposed review of the

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National Joint Council and the disputes procedures. The agreement signed between the parties—the unions and the employers—which settled this dispute stated that the National Joint Council will review the organisation of the procedure for dealing with other and local disputes by 31st October.

So it is down to a review of the whole machinery. The current machinery is the result of Professor Frank Burchill's inquiry of March 2000, especially the disputes procedure. It provides a considerable number of different levels from the normal situation and a form of ex parte arbitration. As has been said several times in our debates, this procedure was not particularly useful in the course of the dispute. Both sides complained about it. One of the things the parties agreed is that it shall be reviewed. The National Joint Council will do it by next October. That is a very large task.

However, the Secretary of State has pre-empted this discussion. In his White Paper, Our Fire and Rescue Service, he tells us what he thinks should take the place of this procedure. He wants to see a very widespread change. On page 52, paragraph 7.13, he states:


    "We also agree with the Independent Review that a new negotiating body should involve representatives of the Retained Firefighters Union, the Fire Officers Association, and the Association of Principal Fire Officers".

That is changing the workers' side.


    "We see no prospect"—

he says, although negotiations as far as I know have not yet started—


    "of such changes being made by agreement".

I know of no example, in advance of negotiations, of a person who is really the supremo on the employers' side making a statement of that kind.


    "That is why we intend to specify who should be involved. We envisage three separate negotiating bodies",

and he then sets them out. But what follows is the really remarkable statement. Again, although I have tried the literature, I must say that I have no knowledge at all of anyone ever saying this on the employer's side:


    "The composition and chair of each body would be determined by the Deputy Prime Minister".

It is not argued about; it is determined before we start:


    "The arrangement for non-uniformed staff would continue as now . . . we intend to take powers to give guidance to any negotiating body which it would have to take into account in its work".

The Deputy Prime Minister will nominate and fix on the chairman for this body. It may be the Deputy Prime Minister himself; I do not know.

I cannot express this issue in strong enough terms. This is something quite unique—

Lord Rooker: I do not want to interrupt my noble friend's flow, but for the avoidance of doubt, the powers about which he is talking are not in the Bill. The Secretary of State has no powers in the Bill to do the things my noble friend says he wants to do. That is in the future, for another Session—I know not which—but it is not in the Bill.

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4.15 p.m.

Lord McCarthy: We were allowed to table the amendment. No one told me that it was not in the Long Title.

Lord Rooker: I am not saying that. I am just saying that in this Bill the Secretary of State does not have the powers to fix and determine the composition or the procedures of the National Joint Council. Those powers are not in this Bill. My noble friend says that he should not have the powers, but they are not in the Bill in the first place. My noble friend is speaking as though they are because he is talking about the plans in the White Paper. That is for a distant Bill in the future, not this one.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: No, with respect—

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: We are getting a little out of order. The noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, was moving his amendment. The Minister sought clarification. If the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, wishes to intervene on this point, perhaps the amendment could be moved. I think the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, has not yet finished moving his amendment.

Lord McCarthy: I am quite happy—

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: No, before we have a second intervention, perhaps the noble Lord could move the amendment.

Lord McCarthy: Very well. I do not understand this issue, because there needs to be agreement by October. Otherwise we shall have a failure to agree. I am told by the Minister that, nevertheless, the provision for the Secretary of State to have such powers is far off, long beyond the date when there has to be agreement. That is a bit odd. What is the good of talking about this issue, which will take a long time and for which you will not have the legal powers, when you have to reach agreement by October of this year?

I am not at all certain—and those who know more about the law that I and who support me, will no doubt back me on this—that under this Bill you would not have such powers if you were negotiating. You could argue that you did not want the existing terms and conditions in the Bill—and it talks about terms and conditions. Part of the existing terms and conditions is that workers have a recognised union. They have an agreement with the management which is part of their terms of employment, that in fact they can insist on this and that they must obtain proper notice if they are going to have it changed. It is all part of their terms and conditions, of which they have had a copy. I am not at all certain that you could not use the power in this Bill.

I should be very glad to hear you say, "It does not matter whether we do or do not; we are not going to use them. We are going to allow these people to settle their terms and conditions, including their dispute procedures and their national council procedures, without using these powers because we do not want to interfere for a very long time ahead". But somehow I feel that I shall not be told that.

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I would like to carry on and make one or two other points about how monstrous this is. At one point the Minister actually tries to bring in ACAS. I have read everything ACAS has published, both in and out of print—the ACAS code of practice, which goes back a very long way, and the more recent ACAS publications. I have them here if anyone wants to see them. There is not a single word in any ACAS document to support this; nor does Professor Bain support it. He said there should be changes, but he did not say that you should put in a chairman who might be the Secretary of State. This is absolutely totally barmy. It is monstrous. If an employer ever tried to do it, I consider that—to make my argument about this—a breach of recognition. Union has recognition.

The Secretary of State, whether he did it before or after October—I warn him—would be giving a case for the union to go to the CAC, a body established by this Government, to argue that it had been de-recognised, that it had lost part of its bargaining unit—unilaterally and without negotiation—by the Secretary of State. It would undoubtedly be against the ILO and against the European Social Charter. I wonder whether the unions have heard about it themselves. One might say, "Well, it is only the Fire Brigades Union", but I think the TUC would like to know about this monstrous thing. I doubt whether it really appreciates all this. So, to us, it is very serious. If the Minister is right and it cannot happen for a very long time, let us hope it never happens at all. I beg to move.


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