Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I apologise to the House for not being here earlier. I had forgotten where my speaking notes were; fortunately I happened to find them. In opposing the amendment, the sincerity and motivation of the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, who is perhaps the only Member of your Lordships' House with extensive practical experience of the bargaining procedures and who has sat judicially under the chairmanship of the High Court judge on the Central Arbitration Committee, is not called into question; nor indeed is that of any noble Lord disposed to support the amendment.

At the outset, may I seek to establish common ground? The Government must have their business—yes—but only after due scrutiny by both Houses. There was no due scrutiny of the Bill in another place, as was spoken to with total accuracy by the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, on Second Reading. None of the amendments on the Marshalled List was considered in Grand Committee, at which the usual attendance—apart from the odd Minister—was six for three days, which is not a very satisfactory method of due scrutiny.

There will be insufficient time today, through no one's fault, for due examination of the amendments. Clause 1 as drafted fails to express, as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, sportingly and fairly recognised in Grand Committee, the true intention of government as he explained it to the House regarding the exercise of powers of the Secretary of State. It is therefore common ground that Clause 1 cannot stand unamended. If not amended, must it be left out under Amendment No. 27, which, if moved—which I hope will not be necessary—could well attract the support of noble Lords in favour of Amendment No. 1?

The question arises—to which I shall not speak at this stage—whether Clause 1 should be amended to apply only to emergency situations as proposed by Amendment No. 1, or whether two regimes should be set up: one for an immediate emergency and another where there is no such emergency, as proposed by Amendments Nos. 2 to 7, and Amendment No. 13, to which I do not speak. But the conflict between those disparate approaches inevitably involves my opposition to Amendment No. 1.

Putting that aside for a moment, let us deal with the substantive objections to Amendment No. 1. As such they are serious, and, with respect, they warrant your Lordships' attention. The amendment limits the powers of the Secretary of State to make orders and give directions only in an emergency situation. It heralds the introduction of a novel, intricate, complex structure of amendments—Amendments Nos. 10 to 18, 14 to 18, 20, 22 to 25—which would inhibit the due exercise of requisite, plenipotentiary powers of a Secretary of State having instant effect in the event or likely event of a terrorist attack, and that is not

10 Sept 2003 : Column 404

acceptable. It also heralds Amendments Nos. 28 and 29, which inhibit enforceability of orders and directions given by the Secretary of State in a state of emergency, which is wholly inept. Of course they must have immediate effect. It precludes the Secretary of State from giving directions on the essential reorganisation and restructuring of the fire brigade services which must ensue when there is no state of emergency, to prepare against the state of emergency of terrorist attack or the likelihood of such attack, when one day it shall inevitably arise.

The requirement as to a declaration of an emergency such as a terrorist attack or the likelihood of such attack to be made by the Secretary of State, based on advice and intelligence which may not be disclosed, would not be in the public interest. In such a situation, which could occur at any time and any place, the Secretary of State must retain plenipotentiary, emergency power and must be trusted. Speaking for myself, I trust him or his successor, whoever that may be, of whatever party, to exercise such powers in good faith and with propriety.

Amendment No. 1 and the implementation proposed in the amendments under the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn of Charlton, afford no effective means and no attempt at any effective means to seek to avoid disruption of the fire brigade services by collective action in any emergency situation as defined by subsection (3).

I said that I would make a shortish speech. I end with one question which I believe is a fair one. On any objective analysis, could any government accept Amendment No. 1 as it stands or as proposed to be implemented?

10.15 p.m.

Lord McCarthy: My Lords, we clearly failed dismally in Committee to make clear to the Government how unusual and unique we find this Bill. This Bill is presented almost as though it were an extension or a return to the 1947 legislation passed by the 1945 Labour government. It is not that in any way. It introduces into industrial relations a set of particular and special provisions which are at this moment to apply to a section of the fire service. That is again something unique. As far as I know, all previous general restrictions of this character, for example in the First World War and the Second World War, applied across the board. However, the Government are selecting the fire service—members of the National Union of Fireworkers—for these special provisions. It is that argument, as much as anything else, which we have been trying to press upon the Government. We have dismally failed.

The amendment is one of a series which asks the Government to look more closely at what they are doing, and to see if they cannot postpone the measure, giving a general consideration to their purpose, which is what we tried to do at Second Reading. Will the Government look at particular aspects of the Bill and limit its application in various ways? The Minister, when talking about the Bill at various stages, made a

10 Sept 2003 : Column 405

number of replies in answer to our attempts to make him describe the circumstances in which the powers under the Bill would be invoked. It might be that he would rule out certain circumstances, if not rule them out on the face of the Bill, but that was not the case; or he might say that the Government were thinking more of using the Bill in certain areas.

The Minister made a number of statements. We are asking him to think again about those statements. Most of those responses suggested that there would be some kind of emergency in existence before the Government would use the Bill. We have taken from his statements to that effect—if one looks at subsection (2)—a range of circumstances which cover virtually every kind of emergency. If we have left some out, then let the Minister tell us, and we shall put them in. We say:


    "In this section, 'emergency' means a natural disaster or other event or series of events affecting the fire service or its operation which is or may be, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, likely to disrupt supplies of energy, or which presents any other serious threat to human welfare, the environment, the political, administrative or economic stability or the security of any place or locality, or in which the use of troops is permitted.".

So we try in this amendment to spell out what would be the broad circumstances in which one could reasonably argue, in the light of what he had said, that there was an emergency situation. I asked the Minister to look at that, and he said that he was thinking that,


    "a crisis situation will have required the Bill to be used".

Unfortunately, at that stage I thought that he might continue and define what that crisis would be, but he clearly reflected on the awful matters that he had in his mind and thought that he should not tell us. He said:


    "If I started thinking aloud and giving examples of what might happen, I could be accused of giving horror stories".—[Official Report, 3/7/03; col. GC 266.]

That is extreme, is it not?

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, is the noble Lord, when he refers to the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, referring to col. 50 of the Grand Committee, where, from memory—I have it noted somewhere—the Minister said, "Look, it isn't the intention to use this Bill, other than in a state of emergency. We don't want to have to use it".

Lord McCarthy: My Lords, I am talking about col. 262 of the Grand Committee Hansard. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, stated that the Bill was about taking,


    "prompt action in order to protect the public".—[Official Report, 3/7/03; col. GC 262.]

He also stated at col. 265:


    "I am not saying that there is a legal use of the word 'emergencies', but the Bill is a temporary measure. It is time-limited and would be used only"

in a crisis situation.

I do not suppose for a moment that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, would deny that most of the circumstances in which he considered the Bill might be used fit our definition of an emergency. The trouble is

10 Sept 2003 : Column 406

that that is not the only thing he said. In responding to the question of whether the use of the Bill was to be confined to an emergency, he said that,


    "it is a long stop designed for a quite specific purpose of dealing with the recent dispute . . . if the timetable that has been negotiated is not maintained".—[Official Report, 3/7/03; col. GC 261.]

In other words, such a situation could occur next week or the week after if the Government decided that the union was not co-operating sufficiently with the timetable of negotiations for the next stage of the 2003 agreement, or if the Audit Commission decided that insufficient savings were being made. That seems to me to be a quite different set of circumstances. There might not be a dispute. There certainly might not be industrial action. I say all this in the hope that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, will reassure me. The Bill could be invoked because the Government considered that insufficient savings had been gained in the next stage of the productivity deal. That is a quite different set of circumstances from a crisis.

The amendment is an attempt to get the Minister to tell us something more about the extent to which, in any meaningful sense of the term, the Government intend to invoke the Bill solely in an emergency. If that is the case, why cannot they accept our amendment?


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page