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Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, this is not the time to discuss the matter. Perhaps we should have another debate on it. There has been much discussion from Gershon, Bain and others over the past few weeks about the potential savings to be made in procurement. For some years I have been involved in local government procurement, handling contracts worth several billion pounds in association with 13 different authorities. I think that the Government are in for a big shock when they find that the savings are not there.

I agree completely that only one kind of breathing apparatus should be used throughout the UK. However, we have only one manufacturer of fire engines at the moment, so there is little chance of saving any money since no one else makes them; there is only one provider. Similarly, if we move to one kind of breathing apparatus, ultimately there will be only one provider of breathing apparatus, which would have a monopoly. The Government will not make the savings they want because only one body will be bidding for a contract.

Having been involved in this business for many, many years, I do not see any potential for colossal savings; you cannot save much money on paperclips or paper. You can save money on big equipment, perhaps, and possibly by centralising control rooms—I accept that—but I do not believe that any savings will
 
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come from procurement and either Gershon or Bain. I say that after many years of experience in procurement in local government.

I cannot accept what the Minister said. I still believe that it would be better to leave this to local authorities rather than for Ministers to employ advisers on big salaries to come up with ideas that do not work. Local authorities clubbing together might do better on procurement. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 46 not moved.]

Clause 31 [Negotiating bodies]:

Lord Hanningfield moved Amendment No. 47:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we discussed in some detail the rationale behind the amendment during the Committee stage. I was pleased that there was a degree of shared sentiment on all sides. The amendment would provide the Secretary of State with the opportunity to guarantee any party, including the Retained Firefighters Union, a place at the table to negotiate terms and conditions.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said in unequivocal terms that it was the Government's wish to see the RFU represented in its own right; this being achieved through agreement. Indeed, we hope too that this can be achieved through agreement. We have said all along that we are adamantly opposed to a greater intervention by the Secretary of State. However, at the moment, the RFU are caught between a rock and a hard place. It does not have the required number of members to guarantee it a place at the negotiating table; and because it does not have a seat at that table it is unlikely to attract the required number of new members.

As I have said previously, there are significant areas of the country—for example, Devon—that are covered virtually entirely by members of the RFU. Therefore, to have a truly representative negotiating body that covers the whole country, it is important that the RFU is represented.

We fully understand the sensitivity of the ongoing negotiations. However, our previous discussions on this subject took place nearly two months ago in mid May. Can the Minister give the House an update on the position and say whether the Government's view on this important issue has changed since that date? I beg to move.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I can be brief. After listening to the noble Lord's speech and reading my notes, I can reassert the Government's position in regard to their intention on the issue of employee representation on a statutory negotiating body.
 
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Under the current arrangements, the Fire Brigades Union is the only union that sits on the negotiating body for non-principal fire officers. The Bain review recommended that union representation should be widened, and we agreed. We still agree. We believe that a more diverse representation of employee interests in negotiations is important.

We spelt this out very clearly in the White Paper when we agreed that a new negotiating body should involve representatives of the Retained Firefighters Union. Clause 31 as currently drafted will allow us to ensure that the range of voices across the workforce is heard at the negotiating table. We meant what we said then, and that remains the position; that is what will happen.

Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. It is very helpful. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 48:

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the Amendment seeks to leave out that,

of a negotiating body—

an employee as outlined in paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d), and to insert the wording that a chairman,

I could hear the Minister's teasing as I was outlining the amendment.

There is an important distinction between the two. At the Committee stage when I raised this issue—it did not occur to me until we were in the middle of the debate—the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said:

It is not an easy matter to respond to without notice, so I imply no criticism of the noble Lord by bringing it back now. Frankly, if that is traditional drafting, we should change the tradition because the two expressions mean different things.

As the Bill is expressed, there are only four circumstances in which someone would not be independent—if he is a member or employee, a Minister, a civil servant or someone involved with a member or employee of a body representing the interests of fire and rescue authority employees. That cannot be an exclusive list. For example, what if the person is the leader of a major local authority with strong political views that happen to coincide with those of the government of the day? Would such a person be independent in those circumstances? I know that we will be told about the application of Nolan principles and so forth, and I am not making this as a party political point, because it is not a political point
 
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in that sense—nor is it a "lawyer's" point. I invite the Government to reconsider the way that they have gone about expressing this because it is a substantial point. I beg to move.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I hope that the noble Baroness will forgive me if I skip over this amendment rather quickly, because I can be nicer about the next one. I want to make it absolutely clear. We cannot accept this amendment. We have given assurances, as have my colleagues in another place, that if we had to use these reserve powers we would follow a rigorous appointment process to ensure that the chair would be genuinely independent.

The Bill clearly states that the chairman—or chairwoman—must be independent. However, were we to accept the amendment, it would leave us with no definition of independence for the purpose of subsection (2). Our legal advice is that that would leave the Government open to litigation on the question of whether a chair or prospective chair was actually independent. There is a legal point here that causes us a problem. However, I can be nicer about the next amendment.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I do not know how nice the Minister will be about the next amendment. One knows independence when one sees it. The restrictive nature of this provision leaves me unhappy, but I will contain myself until the next amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 49:


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