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Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: As the Bill has a relatively short time to go, with only Third Reading left, we must now envisage that the Government are going to reject every amendment. I had not really thought about that until this evening; I had expected some argument about words or exact phrases, but the amendments will simply not be considered.

What my noble friends and I, who have tabled the amendments, cannot accept is that the Bill somehow originated in a drafting immaculate conception and is perfect. That is the Government's position so far, and I hope it will not extend to the amendment. With my greatest respect to my noble friend the Minister—and he is my noble friend—he has already reminded me tonight, as I thought I would not be reminded, of that great member of our party, Ernest Bevin. One of Ernest Bevin's great remarks when he did not like what was about to be said in a speech was, "You don't want to open that Pandora's Box, because you never know what Trojan Horses will leap out". There is a certain flavour of that about some of my noble friend's answers to amendments.

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I shall quote in full the passage to which my noble friend Lord McCarthy referred. On 14th July in Grand Committee (at col. GC 204 of Hansard), there was an exchange between the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, and my noble friend Lord Rooker. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway said:


    "With respect, I hope that I may ask the noble Lord a question. He said the Bill would be used only if the parties"—

that is, the parties to the national joint council—


    "disagreed. That is not quite what he means. He said it but I do not think that he meant it. What he meant was, if the parties agree with what we want them to do, we shall not use the Bill. But if they do not—"

There then followed an intervention from the noble Lord, Lord Rooker; namely, "Yes, sure". After which, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, went on to remark:


    "But if the parties do not agree with what we want them to do, we shall impose the Bill"—

"we" meaning the Government. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, replied:


    "That is entirely the case. The noble Lord expressed the matter perfectly. The two parties could have a sweetheart arrangement—it is not unknown between employers and trade unions to have a sweetheart arrangement—and say to the Secretary of State, 'By the way, we have agreed; here is the bill'. We would say, 'Sorry, we are not paying the bill'. We do not have a blank cheque".—[Official Report, 14/7/03; col. GC 204.]

There are two possible answers to that argument. As the Government frequently wish to refer to common sense and real life, presumably the Secretary of State would have done his best to persuade the fire authority employers not to enter into such an agreement. We take the case where they have, or where the parties have come to agreement—it could even be within the Secretary of State's total expenditure provisions. They might have come to a deal in which the ways of implementing the agreement were very different from those that the Secretary of State wanted. If the parties agree on that, with the help of conciliation, mediation, arbitration or in some other way, we believe that the Secretary of State should be asked to pause before he goes ahead with the order. That is all that the amendment says. I cannot see what is wrong with that, and I hope that we shall get some acceptance of that approach.

The amendment accepts the spirit—and in many ways, the words—of my noble friend the Minister in Grand Committee. It places them in the Bill together with the following suggestion—namely, where, subject to that, the parties are agreed, the Secretary of State shall withdraw the present proposals that are in conflict with the parties' agreement and engage in some further consultation with the members of the NJC. I hope that the Government can accept the spirit of the amendment.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I know that it is Report stage, but I should like to ask the noble Lord a question before he sits down. Does he accept that Amendment No. 15 is wholly dependent on Amendment No. 1, that there is a declaration before

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the emergency and that the whole machinery is dependent upon that? Is not Amendment No. 15 wholly dependent on Amendment No. 1?

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, in the spirit of the previous deliberations on the Bill, I could say that I had already sat down. However, I was semi-sedentary, so I shall answer the noble Lord's kind intervention.

The word "emergency" appeared in Amendment No. 14, not in this amendment. We have used the term "exceptional situation"—although I suppose that might involve an emergency. We understood that to be the objection to the case in which the Secretary of State says, "You may have come to an agreement between you—the parties to the NJC—but I cannot accept that". One instance that we took was the main instance that my noble friend the Minister gave whereby increases in pay or changes in conditions of service, and the like, are contained in the agreement of the parties. So that could be an emergency—I quite accept that—but it is not limited to an emergency. It is limited to exceptional situations of the sort that the Minister described, or so we thought. Perhaps the noble Lord thinks that I am wrong in that.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I ask the noble Lord please to look at new subsection (3B) regarding,


    "reasons set out in his declaration".

That declaration, and the only reference to a declaration, is a declaration before an emergency. Surely the noble Lord understands that.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, with the greatest respect, I do not understand that. If we had meant a declaration of emergency, we would have said so. The noble Lord really must look at the words we have proposed.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I cannot promise not to use the word "frustrating" again, but I will try. What I can say to my noble friend, believe it or not, is that all the amendments on the Marshalled List have been considered by the policy Ministers involved and myself. Indeed, they have been reconsidered since we started Report stage. So it is not true that we are not considering the amendments.

I take on board my noble friend's old quote about the Trojan horse, but this Bill is not a Trojan horse. This Bill is precise and clear. We have made it crystal clear that we do not want to use it and that its life is limited. It is true that, by using the Bill, the Secretary of State would impose pay and conditions as set out in the relevant order. We are not doing this furtively.

Amendment No. 15 adds further conditions to the consultation arrangements in subsection (3). While it states that where the negotiating body—in this case the national joint council—reaches an agreement on aspects of a proposal by the Secretary of State, the

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Secretary of State should withdraw any parts of the proposal that are in conflict with what the negotiating body has agreed and then enter into further consultation. Only in exceptional circumstances can the Secretary of State not withdraw the non-agreed parts of his proposal. To make use of that exception, the Secretary of State must declare that an exceptional situation exists because the terms of the agreement are unacceptable for reasons set out in the declaration. The possible reasons are not listed exhaustively—about which I make no big complaint—but examples include objections to increases in pay or changes in conditions of service.

The Bill already requires the Secretary of State to consult on the proposals made under subsection (1)(a). He is required, as the Bill states, to consider the report of the negotiating body. It is therefore open to him, should the negotiating body disagree with aspects of a proposal, to carry on discussions and seek a resolution. The Bill provides for all that to happen, and we would expect that to happen. However, given certain circumstances, there must come a time when, if necessary, the Secretary of State can push through his proposal. The whole purpose of the Bill is to enable us to draw a line under any future dispute. We hope that it will not come to that, but if it does we need to be able to act with reasonable dispatch. That is what this is about.

The examples given in the amendment of exceptional situations in which the Secretary of State can declare that the terms of an agreement made by the members of the negotiating body are unacceptable are both limited and vague. According to Amendment No. 15, the Secretary of State can object to an agreement on the basis of an increase in pay. Can he also object to the variation in pay between different ranks? We do not know what "similar associated matters" are. The long and short of it—and I do not want to use the "F" word that upsets my noble friends—is that Amendment No. 15 places unnecessary restrictions on the Secretary of State's powers to make the orders under (1)(a), which as I said would be used to draw a line under a dispute only after all the normal rules and negotiated procedures have failed. Those are the only circumstances in which they would be used. We cannot accept those unnecessary restrictions on the Secretary of State's powers at the point that we would have reached in a dispute. Therefore, I request that my noble friend withdraws his amendment.


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