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Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: First, I never get annoyed—as the Minister suggested I was—by anything. I am simply making an argument which I want to make.

I should like to read the relevant provision in full. Clause 2(2) states:

    (a) includes both persons representing the interests of some or all fire authorities and persons representing the interests of some or all fire brigade members; and

    (b) is constituted in accordance with what appear to the Secretary of State to be appropriate arrangements for the negotiation of the conditions of service of fire brigade members".

We have had this point so often that I hesitate to labour it; but it has obviously not got home. I am concerned with what is in the Bill, not with the Secretary of State's intention. For once we have a very clear situation. If we were so unfortunate that the Secretary of State departed from us and some other Secretary of State took over, whether of this Government or any other government, the new Secretary of State would be able to exercise the powers and definitions in the Bill. That is what I am interested in. My noble friend the Minister says, "In effect that paragraph I have read means the status quo". If he

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means that, why not put it in the Bill? What the Secretary of State intends is not the same as what the Bill says.

The Minister said that the current NJC is the concerned body and that that is the ministerial intention. I am not taking the case of a breakaway union, but the Minister mentioned the possibility. If some future Secretary of State wanted to recognise a breakaway union because it appeared to him that it was part of the appropriate bargaining machinery, under the powers of the Bill he could do so. I do not want that. I do not believe that the Minister wants that. All I am saying is that, if he does not want that, why does he not make the Bill mean what he says he wants it to mean?

I am not sure that the Minister was giving an assurance, and I do not want to suggest that he was doing anything other than what he said. However, ministerial reassurances are not relevant. If the Bill is enacted in this form, it will say what the law is. This issue is no more a case for Pepper v Hart assurances than the other issues we raised. I think that I am right in saying that the Minister said he was not expecting orders to deviate from the terms of these international instruments. Nor do we. We do not want them to. We want it to be said that they must not do so. That is what we want in the Bill.

The Minister said that the Bill will not be around for ever. However, the fact that it might happen next year but could not happen two years afterwards does not persuade me. As for notes on clauses, they are not in the Bill and will not even be referred to by the courts except in a very extreme case as to what the Bill means. Once again, it is an assurance.

I am suggesting that we get rid of these arguments; that we do not leave them to some difficult court process; that we do not have litigation on them, as we may well have in this case; but that we put into the Bill what the Government say is their intended effect. If we do so there will be no trouble and no difficulty. I think that that is a valid argument. However, in view of the Minister's resistance, it is one that we shall have to think about very carefully and return to as necessary on Report. For the moment, all I can do is beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?

6.30 p.m.

Baroness Hanham: I have given notice of my intention to oppose the Question whether Clause 1 stand part of the Bill for one specific reason. However, it might be helpful at this stage if I reiterated some of the points that I made earlier in our proceedings. It seems an awful long time ago.

Our concerns about the Bill relate to a number of the issues discussed in the Committee's two sittings. We are concerned about the muddle between Bills. Following the White Paper, there is now the potential for further legislation. We have had a lot of detailed

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discussion about what that legislation might entail. That legislation could cut across the provisions of this Bill.

We are concerned about the lack of teeth in the Bill. As I said earlier, there is nothing to prevent a strike happening as the Deputy Prime Minister pronounces on wages and conditions or other matters associated with the Fire Service. There is nothing to prevent anyone from going on strike and absolutely fouling up the Bill's overall intention. Our earlier amendments suggested that that was an error and that some consideration should be given to the anti-strike measures. I am interested to see that that matter is discussed in the White Paper and is not being thrown out completely. There is a recognition that the fire and rescue service, as I think it will now be called, while not a unique service, is among the services that prevents death and contains a high risk factor.

One of the main reasons why I indicated my opposition to the Question whether the clause stand part is to do with the muddle. I hope that the Minister did not address this point while I was not attending. I wanted to test with the Government the conflict between this Bill and the Local Government Bill which the House is currently considering. Clause 120 of that Bill cascades down to local fire authorities—if I can put it like that—the responsibility for decisions on matters such as closing or amalgamating fire stations or on equipment. I think that such a move is probably broadly welcome. The trouble is that the Bill does entirely the opposite by bringing all responsibility back to the Secretary of State. We are going to have two pieces of legislation which say entirely different things unless one of them either prevents Clause 120 of the Local Government Bill coming into force until this Bill's sunset clause comes into effect and takes it out of force or this Bill says something about Clause 120 of the Local Government Bill.

I have briefly outlined some of the concerns to which we shall return in greater detail on Report. However, I was advised that there was no other way of discussing this particular point than to oppose the Question whether the clause stand part. As the Minister was unaware that I would oppose the Question, he may need to seek advice. I look forward to his reply.

Baroness Maddock: May I take the opportunity to seek clarification before we agree that the clause should stand part of the Bill? I know that we are not debating the White Paper, but there are certain things in the paper that the Government could do under the Bill. Indeed, earlier this afternoon my concerns became even more acute when the Minister said—I hope that I have his words right—that the Secretary of State may require one fire authority to make facilities available to another authority.

Perhaps I may take only one part of the White Paper, page 33, which concerns regional boards and reorganising the service on a regional basis. I think that means that some of this could be done under the terms of this Bill. I know that the Minister has stated that it is not his intention to do so, but as another noble

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Lord pointed out earlier, we are here to examine what is to become law rather than to consider the intentions of the Secretary of State.

We have received many reassurances and it is not that we do not believe the Minister—I am sure that he is absolutely sincere—but let us suppose, for example, that something were to happen within the two-year period and we had a general election. Again, after listening to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, if she were to become the Secretary of State, then she might want to impose a no-strike rule.

I know that this is hypothetical, but we are looking at a piece of legislation which is meant to deal with emergencies and we need to get it right in the legal sense. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure me on these points. I know that other matters have been raised, but these points are serious. We are examining here a law. It does not concern the Minister's intentions, but what that law can do and what someone else might do with it.

Lord Rooker: I think that Clause 1 is wonderful and I hope that it stays in the Bill. We have not quite debated it to death and no doubt it has quite a bit more mileage in it. If I was a Back Bencher rather than a member of the Government then I could think of another 50 amendments to table, although I do not want to goad anyone.

Turning to the point of substance, it is fair to say that, when we have this Bill, the Local Government Bill and the White Paper, I can see why these questions have been raised. Here we have a Bill which is taking up precious parliamentary time, and of course it is always tempting to pile into a piece of legislation anything that might be lying around on which there might be some doubt in the future. However, I repeat: this Bill is for a specific purpose and is time limited.

The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, remarked that things could be done under this Bill that are indicated in the White Paper. However, they could only be done under this Bill if its powers were activated; that is, either if there was a dispute or the parties did conform to the arrangements that had been agreed. The point I want to make is that this Bill is not for the future. If anything like that was done under this Bill, it would be done in the context of agreements not having been kept to and if we were facing another flare-up of disruption.

While it is true that certain things could be done under the Bill, I repeat that we do not want to use the powers contained in this legislation. So it would not make sense to use anything in this Bill as an enabling measure, or a pathway, for what has been proposed in the White Paper. I say that because we do not actually want to activate this Bill.

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