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Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: I understand that my noble friend the Minister finds the matter difficult. There are problems in understanding the law in this area. But as he was speaking what came back to me vividly was the parallel clause that we put in in our Labour government in 1974–76 legislation stating that a breach of contract done in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute should not be actionable in tort. The Tories took it out and got rid of it in 1980–82.

I am not allowed to move amendments that are outside the compass of this Bill. If my noble friend wants me to find some other legislation to bring back our great section of 1974–76, I would be happy to oblige. But on this Bill I am trying to bring back what we did in 1974–76. This Bill continues the policy of making it a breach of contract to go on strike, which is totally contrary to the conventions of the International Labour Organisation and various other international instruments which we have ratified. It not only does that but it invents a whole new area of breaches of contract. My noble friend the Minister now treats them as breaches of contract. I am grateful for that.

I am also very grateful for what my noble friend said about Amendment No. 36. I hope that further discussion can lead to the clarification of the Bill in that respect. I do not follow my noble friend's reasoning because he said that the amendment sought to limit the definition. There is no definition of "conditions of service" in the Bill. Clause 2(2) gives us an inclusion of things that conditions of service include. That is not a definition. That is an explanation that conditions of service include certain things. What I want to know is whether conditions of service apply—as regards an order in respect of conditions of service—in respect of a statutory duty to observe them or a contractual duty to observe them. That is all Amendment No. 36 is about. I very much hope that we can find a form of words for that which the Government will accept.

I must add in order not to be misunderstood that I do not think that is enough, although it will be helpful and reassuring to the union and its members who are very concerned about this matter. The Minister seems to think that there is no worry about this in the trade union movement. There is a vast number of trade union officials who understand these sorts of points very well. I shall refer the Minister, if he wants, to the advisers who are advising them about the matter. That is not me. I know who they are. I would be surprised if he did not. There is enormous concern about this Bill imposing new forms of unlawful means by statutory duty. One of those concerns—only one—is the meaning of "conditions of service" and the meaning, therefore, of inducing a breach of any conditions of service, and whether that applies contractually or merely as a statutory obligation.

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Amendment No. 36 would help. It would not cure the problem but it would help. I am very happy to give my full co-operation to any further explanations that the Minister and his advisers want me to give. If we can reach an agreement on that by Report stage, no one will be happier than I. It is not my intention to do something to scupper the Bill. It is my intention to clarify the Bill and remove new threats of illegality in regard to trade union activity. I have no alternative but to withdraw the amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton moved Amendment No. 37:

    Page 2, line 31, at end insert "but does not include conditions relating to termination or loss of employment by reason of redundancy or otherwise"

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 37 is a little different. It suggests adding something to whatever definition or explanation of "conditions of service" means in Clause 2. The worry is loss of jobs. The reorganisation of the Fire Service is already going on. It is already being discussed and the Government obviously wish to have power to initiate it—in the period before they bring in their big Bill—under the orders for which they have powers under the Act.

I remember very well that my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister—I cannot quote the precise words—said once that jobs would be lost through natural wastage. I believe that other Ministers have said the same. But whether or not that hope is wholly fulfilled—no one can predict precisely the future on that matter—our submission is that the terms relating to loss of employment which are not regulated by other statutes—this amendment has nothing to do with other statutory regulation; it is concerned with this Bill—should be a matter for negotiation. That includes any changes in redundancy arrangements other than those laid down by statute and statutory regulation elsewhere. I refer to any special arrangements on loss of employment matters. We do not see that the Secretary of State should have, or indeed needs, power to regulate employment situations concerning loss of job or loss of employment under the terms of an order in the terms of the arrangements in the Bill.

With Amendment No. 37 I speak also to Amendment No. 39 which raises a similar but rather different point. We group them in order to have just one debate on these two matters. As I say, Amendment No. 39 raises a different point. It raises the point that there is a description—again, it is not a definition—in subsection (3) of Clause 2 which reads:

"References in this Act to property or facilities belonging to a person include references to—
(a) land occupied by that person; and
(b) equipment or other assets or facilities the use of which is under the control of that person". Of course I understand that. It includes those things but property can include a great deal more. Any court faced with the word "property" which is not

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completely defined, would include within the word "property" what is normally included in the law within the word "property".

Property belonging to a fire authority, for example, includes all of its bundles of contractual rights. That is part of its property. That employer holds contractual employment contracts. The rights and duties under those contracts are part of its property. It could be the case that the power of a Secretary of State by order to give directions as the Bill stands about use of property could give power to vary aspects of rights and duties which relate to the contract of employment. I am not saying that it is anyone's intention at the moment to make such an order, although I have to insist again—as I have done on previous occasions during Grand Committee—that future Secretaries of State may want to use the powers that they are given and not just rest with the intention pronounced by Ministers at the moment, which, as we have seen, the noble and learned Lords in the House of Lords' Appellate Committee have already said is not a good guide to the legal effect and intention of Parliament in a Bill.

All that Amendment No. 39 asks for is that we clarify this small point that property includes all the things that are stated at Clause 2(3) at the moment, but does not include the bundle of contractual rights

    "arising from or under a contract of employment or a contract with any person who undertakes to do or perform any work or services".

That is the normal form of words that is used relating to such contractual rights.

I very much hope that the Government will express some willingness to look at the definition of "property" under Amendment No. 39, which is much more like a definition. I hope, too, that the Minister will say something about the extent to which he sees loss of job problems in the very broadest sense being dealt with by negotiation other than under orders. I beg to move.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Rooker: I hope that I can give my noble friend an acceptable explanation, particularly on Amendment No. 39. It deserves one, and I think that I have one to offer.

As my noble friend said, Amendment No. 37 affects the definition of conditions of service. I use the term "definition" in its broad sense. I accept what my noble friend said about that. It excludes matters relating to the termination or loss of employment by redundancy. If we made the amendment, it would mean that an order made under the Bill could not improve redundancy terms. Because of the allegations about job losses, I want to get it on the record that the Deputy Prime Minister has said more than once that there should be no need for redundancies—the employers have said as much—in relation to the pay deal that has been agreed. The plans in the White Paper, which will lead, in time, to a smaller service, need not require redundancies either, so it is not on our agenda.

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One thing is certain: we have no plans to use the powers in the Bill to change redundancy arrangements. We do not see that redundancies are justified. I fully accept that nobody can rule out the possibility that such things might come up in the future. There has been a presumption in many of our debates that all the changes that would come about because of the orders would be for the worse. That presumption will not be validated in practice. Amendment No. 37 would prevent any order made under the Bill—as I said, orders will be made under the Bill only in extreme circumstances; we do not want to operate the Bill—from being made to improve redundancy arrangements. We do not want any limitation on those powers, and we do not want to use the powers in the Bill in the first place.

Amendment No. 39 is slightly different, in attempting to provide that a direction under Clause 1(1)(b) cannot relate to rights arising under contracts of employment or contracts for the provision of work or services. I must make it clear—I think that I did so earlier—that directions to the fire authorities under Clause 1(1)(b) are not intended to be a direct or indirect way of affecting the employment contracts of fire brigade staff. I also gave the example that it could happen that a direction about the use of assets—the physical assets in a station—could have an impact on staff, but that is not the route by which we would seek to change the terms and conditions for staff. We have a power in Clause 1(1)(a) to do that directly, so there is no reason to use an indirect route.

I can tell noble Lords that we have no plans to use any orders made under Clause 1(1)(b) to affect the rights arising from contracts for works or services. It might happen, purely as an incidental side-effect of a kind of order. We do not want to use the power, and the Bill is drafted widely enough to cope with any disputes. We cannot give all the examples. I gave examples originally of appliances remaining in stations when they could be used by somebody else. Clearly, the public did not understand what happened during the previous dispute, so we must overcome that. If it were difficult or impossible to use the powers in respect of, say, an appliance or some specialist piece of equipment—the example that I have here is an aerial platform—that was needed, we could not say to the public, "Well, we would have liked to have an order to make sure that we could use an aerial platform, but we could not because it would have affected some exclusion in the Bill about contracts". They would laugh us out of court. They would laugh us out of office, that is for sure. We shall not go down that road.

The amendments would put arbitrary restrictions on the powers in the Bill and do nothing for public safety, which is why we need those powers. The only reason why Clause 1(1)(b) would be needed is to get our hands—the public's hands—on the public's assets in order to fight fires and save life.

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