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Lord Bassam of Brighton: The amendments would have two effects. The first would be to remove completely the requirement for negotiating bodies to have regard to the guidance issued by the Secretary of State, and the second to remove the power of the Secretary of State to determine which negotiating bodies are appropriate for him to issue guidance to. I am almost tempted to comment that this is a wrecking amendment because its effect would be to leave the negotiating bodies in a morass of uncertainty. Even the noble Baroness commented that the Government have a legitimate interestmy wordsin the outcome of negotiations, and recent history has demonstrated the importance of that interest. So we shall have to reject any attempt to undermine that particular link.
The power to issue guidance would allow the Government to set out what they think a negotiating body should take into account in its negotiations. A negotiating body would not have to follow to the letter every aspect of the guidance, and a careful reading of Clause 32 shows that it does not require the body to do so. However, it is important that the body considers the guidance carefully and takes it into account in its
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deliberations. There also needs to be clarity on who decides which bodies must have regard to government guidance. There is little point in issuing guidance if we are not clear about the bodies to whom the guidance is addressed.
It is important to understand why the negotiating body should have regard to government guidance. We have a legitimate interest in the outcome of negotiations. We also have a duty to ensure public safety and to ensure that public funds are used appropriately. We hold the public interest, as government. Negotiating bodies need to take account of the Government's position in their negotiations, and the Bain report emphasised that there needs to be a clear link between Ministers and policy makers and the negotiation structures. The negotiating process itself has in the past suffered from a distinct lack of that clarity.
I thought that Members of the Committee opposite supported our general approach in that regard, so I am a little surprised that they wish to undermine the impact and import of what we are trying to put in place. The guidance will fulfil the Government's commitment to set the framework for negotiations. That was a point on which, again, I believed that there was a degree of consensus.
It is not about the Government simply telling the negotiating body what to do. The guidance should, however, be one of the factors that any sensible negotiating body would need to consider during its negotiations. The guidance would allow the Government to set out what they believe the body needs to take into account. It will not be a matter of the guidance telling the body what conclusions it might reach.
I hope that, now that I have made the Government's position plain, and having emphasised the importance of the link between the governing machinery of our country, the way in which negotiations should be conducted and our desire to give a lead in this field, the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Hanham: I thank the Minister for that reply. I hear what he says, but there may be a bit of a lacuna here between knowing what happened in the past and knowing what we want to happen in future. At some stages in the passage of the previous Bill, the Government's intervention was not helpful, whereas it might be on other occasions. I should like to reflect further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: I had some sympathy with the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, when she said that this clause involved giving the Secretary of State significant interventionist powers. I agree with thatit does. On the other hand, it seems to me that some consideration must be given to the views of the Secretary of State. What we are suggesting is a slightly different wording.
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The present wording in the Bill seems to imply that the guidance must always be acted on, and I am not at all sure that that is reasonable. A negotiating body should not be under instruction to do what the Government say that it must do. My noble friend the Minister will know that throughout the discussion of this Bill and the preceding one, my noble friends and I have been very anxious to maintain the right to free collective bargaining. The present wording, if it remains unamended, tends to frustrate that objective.
we should replace those words with "may take into account". That is more reasonable and much more in line with what we believe the Government themselves are seeking, since we have been repeatedly told in discussion of this Bill and the preceding one that employee and union rights would be fully respected and that the whole principle of free collective bargaining would be honoured and respected. If we amend the wording as we have suggested, that objective is much more likely to be achieved. I beg to move.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I dealt with the issues that the noble Baroness raised while moving the amendment when we considered earlier amendments. I accept that this is a different approach, but my view remains the same. The amendment would water down the clarity of the Bill and would weaken and enfeeble the approach that we are seeking to adopt.
The guidance will enable the Secretary of State to set out what he believes that the negotiating body should take into account in its negotiations. I would argue that, in the past, the lack of clarity about the situation vis-à-vis negotiating bodies has probably not helped. People need to understand where they are. That said, as I said earlier, we would not expect the negotiating body slavishly to follow every aspect of the guidance, and the clause does not require it to do that. However, it is important that the body has regard to the guidance.
I do not have much more to add, except to say that we do not necessarily want to restrict the issues that will be covered in the guidance. Certainly, however, important issues should be covered, such as affordability and modernisation of the service. The wording that the noble Baroness has suggested involves issues to which some elements within the negotiating bodies would like less emphasis to be given. We believe those issues to be very important if we are to have the sort of fire and rescue service that the public expect and that public protection demands. I hope that, in that light, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Turner of Camden: I thank my noble friend for that explanation, although I am rather disappointed that he cannot accept our wording, because I still think that it is more in line with some of the previous assurances that we were given about trade union rights, the rights of free collective bargaining, and so on.
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However, I am not going to press the amendment at this stage. We shall have to consider the issue again on Report because, as the clause stands, it involves negotiating bodies having to do what the Secretary of State says that they must doeven though the Minister has said that it does not mean that negotiating bodies have to follow slavishly whatever the Secretary of State says. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: The amendment rectifies a potential gap in the powers to establish arrangements for the funding of fire and rescue service pensions. The White Paper, Our Fire and Rescue Service, said that we would introduce,
In 2001, a joint Treasury/Home Office/DTLR team reviewed the current finance arrangements for funding police and firefighter pensions. The recommendations of the review have already been accepted by Home Office Ministers. The underlying principle of a scheme along the lines recommended is that the Government would pay the pensions bills and that employers and employees would pay their contributions to the Government to meet future liabilities.
In practical terms, authorities would pay pensions from a separate pension account to which employers and employees both contribute. Normally, a payment would be made by the Government to the fire and rescue authorities to balance the account at the end of the year. Provision for those payments could be made under Clause 33(2)(e). However, it is possible that an authority's pensions account will be in surplus at the end of the yearin other words, that the contribution that it and its employees make to future liabilities will exceed its existing pensions payments. Therefore, to ensure that the system works in a fair and consistent way, and to protect the national taxpayer and other authorities, we need to ensure that a balancing payment could be made to central government. The new Clause 33(2)(ea) would permit provision to be made for this. I therefore respectfully request noble Lords to accept this amendment. I beg to move.
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