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Baroness Turner of Camden moved Amendment No. 14:


The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment is very similar to the amendment I moved in Grand Committee, but with an important difference which I shall explain. It seeks to remove from subsection (3) the words,


    "that fixes or modifies conditions of service of fire brigade members".

The effect of this would be automatically to oblige the Secretary of State to consult in relation to what is provided for in subsection (1)(b), which states,


    "give specific or general directions to fire authorities about the use or disposal of property or facilities".

It seemed to me in Grand Committee that decisions which affect the provision of local facilities—either the disposal of property or the use to which that property is put, whether leased or otherwise disposed of—could have an effect on the workforce in that particular location. There may be less reason to have a certain type of person or there may be a need for a different kind of workforce. This could have a major effect on fire service employees working and probably living in the area. It therefore seems entirely reasonable that an obligation should be put on the Secretary of State to consult about the conditions of service for fire brigade members in the way suggested.

That still seems reasonable to me, but I listened very carefully to what the Minister had to say in Grand Committee. He made the powerful argument that there could be emergency situations in which the amount of time required for a consultation process would simply not be available. He said that,


    "there could sometimes be a need for speed so that the public property is protected".—[Official Report, 3/7/03; col. GC 265.]

Our new amendment attempts to meet that valid argument. We seek to insert the words,


    "save for an order made under subsection (1)(b) which he declares for the reasons which he states to be required by reason of an emergency".

In other words, under normal circumstances consultation about these matters would be expected to take place, but in an emergency of course it is accepted that there may very well be no time for this to be done.

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We have attempted to meet the requirements as set out by the Minister in Grand Committee and I hope that he will find our proposed solution acceptable. I said in Grand Committee that I would take note of what he had said and then come back to this on Report in an attempt to deal with the valid arguments that he then advanced. I beg to move.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, I had hoped that it would not be necessary to move the amendment because, in Committee, we moved an amendment seeking to limit to emergencies the operation of orders under Clause 1(1)(a) and 1(1)(b). We set out a notion of what an emergency might be, including a likely set of events which the Minister could see would need rapid action. That is why, as my noble friend Lady Turner said—I shall not repeat her quotation—we have taken note of what the Minister said and repeated it, in a brief form, in Amendment No. 14, under which the Secretary of State must declare, for the reasons he states, that the action needed is required by reason of an emergency. I believe that that was the only argument raised against our attempt previously to include Clause 1(1)(a) and 1(1)(b) orders in the clause. I hope the amendment will be given favourable consideration.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I understand why my noble friends have come back on this issue. In many ways—although I do not have it immediately to hand—the amendment is consequential on an earlier amendment we have discussed. I believe it may have been Amendment No. 1.

Basically, the amendment seeks to change the drafting of Clause 1(3) to bring it into line with what was proposed in Amendment No. 1—it was Amendment No. 1 to which I was referring—about having to declare an emergency before using the powers in the Bill. The consultation required in Clause 1(3) would continue to apply to an order about terms and conditions of service but it would extend to any order made under Clause 1(1)(b) where the Secretary of State failed first to declare an emergency.

The current negotiating body referred to in subsection (3), as I understand it, is the National Joint Council, the remit of which covers terms and conditions of service—pay and conditions, in other words. It is the pay and conditions negotiating body. It has no role whatever in relation to other Fire Service matters, to the best of my knowledge. We therefore do not think it appropriate to require that body to be consulted about the use of Clause 1(1)(b) powers.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for allowing me to put this point to him. Has he not just admitted that the Clause 1(1)(b) order may well incidentally affect the conditions of work of firefighters? Would that not be a proper subject for discussion?

Lord Rooker: No, my Lords. My noble friend puts his question in a somewhat substantive way. It is not the way in which I have put the issue about how a

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Clause 1(1)(b) order may have an incidental consequence on conditions. That would not be its central role. If the central role was to do something about the terms and conditions of individual members of the Fire Service, clearly the Secretary of State would use Clause 1(1)(a). We would consider that before we used Clause 1(1)(b) to ensure that there was not a substantial change in conditions.

We live in the real world and we have accepted that there might be an incidental consequence on conditions as a result of using a Clause 1(1)(b) order, but that would not be its main purpose. The reasons I have given on the previous amendment would cover such consequences. But it is not a substantial issue to be written on the face of the Bill that the negotiating body—which is a pay and conditions negotiating body—will have a statutory role in all other Fire Service matters outside the narrow confines of pay and conditions. Although I do not have the amendment immediately to hand, it appeared to us consequential on Amendment No. 1, and therefore stands and falls with it. In the light of our earlier discussion, I cannot accept the amendment.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, my noble friend the Minister is of course quite right. Had Amendment No. 1, which we proposed at the previous sitting, been accepted by the Government, it would not be necessary to move this amendment, because it would have covered the whole of the Bill. The intention of what we can call the emergency amendment that we moved and I spoke to was to cover all the powers in the Bill. But because it was not accepted, it was felt necessary to follow what had been said in Committee about emergencies and to do so in this way.

I am not entirely happy about the Minister's response. He says it is not a substantial issue but, as he accepts, there could be circumstances in which conditions would be affected quite materially. Therefore, I am not at all persuaded that the amendment is unnecessary. But in the light of what has been said this afternoon, I beg leave, at least for the time being, to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord McCarthy moved Amendment No. 15:


    Page 2, line 2, at end insert—


"(3A) Where a report shows that there is an agreement between the members of the negotiating body concerning matters dealt with in his proposals under subsection (1)(a), the Secretary of State shall, save in an exceptional situation, withdraw any proposals which are in conflict with that agreement and engage in further consultation with the members of that body.
(3B) An exceptional situation exists when the Secretary of State declares that the terms of an agreement made by the members are unacceptable for the reasons set out in his declaration, such reasons which may include objections to the increases in pay or changes in conditions of service or similar associated matters contained in the agreement."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the object of this amendment is to try to pick up various statements made in Committee. The Minister was at that time trying to explain what the attitude of the Secretary of State would be where there was agreement between the

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parties. We tried, in a number of amendments, to say surely a power as powerful as the power in this Bill would be introduced and enforced only in extreme circumstances. For much of the time, the Minister was prepared to say that. In almost all the concrete examples which he placed before us of the circumstances in which the powers would be used, there was undoubtedly an element of emergency. Indeed, at one stage, I thought he said that the recent 12-month dispute between the union and the employer was not an emergency. That made us feel that the emergency which would justify the use of the Bill would be very exceptional—terrorism, perhaps.

That being the case, it seemed reasonable to suggest that when there was an agreement between the parties and no question of an industrial dispute of any kind—and, we would have thought, no emergency, because the two parties had agreed among themselves—surely it would be possible to say on the face of the Bill, if we can get the wording right, that in those circumstances the Bill would not be used. But we have tabled this amendment because it was not possible to get the Minister to agree. At one stage, he went so far as to tell us what would be the circumstances in which there was an agreement, under which, nevertheless, the Government would be justified in imposing the powers in the Bill. He said:


    "I was asked whether, if employers and trade unions agree, they should not therefore be allowed to carry on. I made the point that to differentiate between the public and the private sector, the question is who pays. If the employer is prepared to pay for a negotiated deal, fine. In the public sector, the employer, at the end of the day will be local government or Parliament, in the sense of disbursing taxpayers' money".—[Official Report, 3/7/03; col. GC274.]

So there was a distinction between the public and private sectors.

He gave examples of other circumstances, the most important of which was where, although there was agreement between the two sides, the employer and the union may have got together or ganged up, so that in the public interest a reserve power had to be left for where a negotiated settlement, although agreed, was not in the public interest. The circumstances would be either that the union was offered too much money or that there was insufficient improvement in productivity. The Government would need reserve powers for that. Well, OK.

So we have tried through the amendment to cover those circumstances. The amendment states:


    "Where a report shows that there is an agreement between the members of the negotiating body concerning matters dealt with in his proposals under subsection (1)(a), the Secretary of State shall, save in an exceptional situation"—

not in an emergency, in an exceptional situation—


    "withdraw any proposals which are in conflict with that agreement and engage in further consultation with the members of that body".

Note that we are not saying that his veto can be overruled. We are not saying that in those circumstances, the parties can say, "Unless you can specify an exceptional situation, we are free to agree". We are saying that the Secretary of State should take it away and think about it and that the exceptional situation should be defined in the Bill.

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That seems reasonable. We therefore state in proposed new subsection (3B):


    "An exceptional situation exists when the Secretary of State declares that the terms of an agreement made by the members are unacceptable for the reasons set out in his declaration".

We even go so far as to as to state what they might be: the reasons,


    "may include objections to the increases in pay or changes in conditions of service or similar associated matters contained in the agreement".

I know, because I have had it before and shall have it again, that the Government will say that those words are not reasonable, sensible, adequate, enough or sufficient. OK, but we do not stick by our words; we stick by a principle. The Government can take it away and write it again; they can do what they like. The Minister said that, most of the time, the authority of the order would be used when there was an emergency—we are setting emergencies aside—and that he could not accept an agreement when there was an exceptional situation, so why cannot we specify in the Bill what may constitute those unacceptable conditions?

That is reasonable and sensible and I look forward to hearing what the Minister says. Of course, if he says, as he said again tonight—I must mention it, although my noble friend has already done so—that every time we try to change how the Bill works, we are frustrating it, we will not get far. None of the amendments is what is conveniently called a wrecking amendment—at least not intentionally. They are not intended to make it impossible to use the power; not at all. They are intended to improve the Bill.

If the Bill is presented as impossible to improve and if all attempts to change, modify or restrict its application are frustrations, we will not get far. I suggest that that is not how amendments are treated in Parliament or regarded in this House. I therefore hope that the Minister will give the amendment friendly consideration. I beg to move.


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