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Lord Rooker: I have a couple of introductory remarks because this is a new part of the debate. I have to repeat the fact that it would be quite exceptional circumstances in which we had to operate the Bill. We make no bones about it. I have used the words that the Secretary of State would have to impose a solution to a dispute because he would consider that to be in the public interest. At that point there is no earthly reason why a third party should be involved. But, having said that, any idea that to reach that point arbitration, as an instrument of policy, is not available is absolute nonsense.
I also mentioned earlier, in response to the introductory point of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, about the difficulty of arbitrating on policy issues as opposed to the mechanics of a percentage pay increase or a date in which it shall be paid or phased in, and those kind of circumstances, that we took that to be extremely difficult for a third party to be involved in. Those are reasons why we do not think the Bill requires Amendments Nos. 10 and 11. But, of course, there is another one.
The arrangements in place between the Fire Brigades Union and the employers already cover the circumstances of arbitrationas a last resort, I accept. Paragraphs 13 and 14 of the constitution of the National Joint Council for Local Authorities' Fire Brigades provide that if the council fails to reach agreement on any matter contained in paragraph 8 of the constitutionthat is, matters relating to conditions of servicethe matter will be automatically referred to ACAS for conciliation. If the conciliation fails to resolve the dispute, either side of the NJC can refer the matter to ACAS for arbitration and the other side of the NJC is required to participate. So the mechanism already exists.
Giventhis has to be clearly stated; I think it is accepted; no one disagrees with it, I hopethat the agreement reached on 13th June was signed by both sides of the national joint council, it follows, therefore, that the arbitration procedures of the national joint council constitution can be applied to it if the circumstances require as it progresses through the process.
As to the substance of Amendment No. 10, I hope that in some ways what I have saidthere is nothing new about thatgives a degree of reassurance. But, in the event of the parties agreeing to seek arbitration, it would be extremely unlikely that the Secretary of State would want to intervene at that point to exercise his powers to fix or modify conditions of service if there was a realistic prospect that the parties could, by seeking arbitration, resolve their differences. Obviously, in theory it would be open to him to use his powers at any time.
There is a caveat, which is not unimportant but I have to say that no one has referred to it; that is, that in the event of two parties seeking independent arbitration over the terms of the agreement, the results of the arbitration should be applied only to the signatories to that agreement. It should not be open to the arbitrator to involve a third party coming to an arrangement between the two parties to the arrangement. For example, it could not be the case that the Government could be required by the arbitrator to fund the deal of 13th June. So, it could go to arbitration over the deal of the two parties to the agreementthey have signed the agreementif they get as far as arbitration; I accept that there are other stages first. We accept that, and it is open to them to do that. I have said that if there was a likelihood of an agreement, it would be extremely unlikely for the Secretary of State to intervene. But it has to be said that it would be quite barmy to then ask a third party
That is a fairly normal process, I think. Otherwise, we are almost giving the arbitrator a blank cheque to sign for another party, whether that is local government, central government, or whatever. I do not think that that would be the norm for arbitration in any event. Therefore, arbitration is available if it is required in the circumstances of the agreement that was reached in June.
Amendment No. 12 raises different issues. Like Amendments Nos. 11 and 13, this involves the Secretary of State being asked to establish the arbitration machinery in different circumstances. Amendment No. 12 would require him to do so if the negotiating body or a member of the body notified the Secretary of State of a disagreement over the interpretation of an agreement between the two sides. As I have said, the constitution of the National Joint Council already provides for that. So, we think that Amendment No. 12 is unnecessary. In other words, the thrust behind Amendment No. 10 is already available during the process of bringing the agreement which led to the end of the dispute to a finality, with the dates that are set down there. So, in many ways we can accommodate that.
I also have to repeat, simply as background because now the White Paper has been publishedclearly, it was not available at Second Readingthat this Bill does not attempt to cater for the long term, by definition. If it is not used in two years, it is not available. So, there is no sense in putting anything in this Bill that is designed to cater for the long term; it is to deal with specific and extreme situations. We are not setting up an arrangement that will last for ever.
That will come about in legislationI cannot forecast when it will befollowing the White Paper. I have no more idea of what will be in the Queen's Speech in the autumn than I suspect the Prime Minister has at the moment. We have seen a long list of bids for it, and there are always more bids than there are slots available. We always get overloaded, as we know, because of the inadequacy of the other place in scrutinising everything properly. However, the general points are covered in that, I hope in a positive way.
As to Amendment No. 33, which has been spoken to by my noble friend Lord Lea, there is nothing in the Bill which prevents the two sides from agreeing to make use of the facility or any other form of arbitration, mediation or conciliation; nothing at all. My noble friend Lord Lea in his remarks clarified what the amendment provides and in a spirit ofcan I say conciliation? It is probably too strong a word because I am not trying to be conciliatory; I am trying to be honest and positive so that no one is ever going to say that I sugar coated what we are trying to do in this Bill. However, at the appropriate time, when we reach Amendment No. 33 on the Marshalled List, I shall recommend noble Lords to accept it and I will put it on the face of the Bill.
If at any time parliamentary counsel has another look at the amendmentat the moment he has not looked at it because, along with Nick Raynsford, we have decided to accept it and put it in the Bill when we reach that point. Clearly that will not be today, but if there is any tweaking of the odd comma or the odd word, parliamentary counsel might want to look at it
Lord Rooker: Now, you see, immediately I am undermined. Immediately, what I have just said in good faith is not accepted. Immediately, I am thought to be lying, conniving and not telling the truth. That, I am not having. I am not having it. What I have just saidI will give way to my noble friend in a minuteis what I said. I am accepting the amendment word for word and I will recommend that it is put into the Bill word for word as we leave Committee.
Parliamentary counsel has not looked at it. Governments do not draft Bills; parliamentary counsel draft Bills and it is a different operation. If they look at it and there is a sentence or a word or a comma in question, I will come back on Report and explain. That is the only caveat I am putting on it. I am not seeking to undermine or qualify what I have said. So, the nods and winks from the other end that what I have just said is not true I do not accept.
Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: I hope that my noble friend the Minister will look at Hansard to see what he said. There was no suggestion that he was lying, conniving or in any way other than telling us what was going to happen. He said that the Government were going to accept the amendment, but perhaps I may say in parenthesis that this shows a very bad precedent of discussing an amendment before we come to it. I close the parenthesis there.
What I did when he said that the Government will accept this amendment was to try to turn in my notes to see what I was going to say about it when it came up. When he said, "Ah, but we'll change the wording", I realised that my notes might not be any use to me. That is all. So, I quite understand that when a government accept an amendment normally they have it looked at by the draftsmen, but since I said in my speech that I did not think that as it stands Amendment No. 33 adds anything to the Bill at all, obviously changes in wording will be absolutely fundamental.
When I say that it does not add anything to the Bill at all, I mean that it does not add anything which will affect the use of powers by the Secretary of State. Perhaps we can discuss Amendment No. 33 when we come to it and if there is going to be different wording, we shall of course have to wait for the Government either on Report or Third Reading and see what it is that they accept. I quite understand that. So I hope that my noble friend will observe the usual courtesies and not accuse people of saying that he lied on
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