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Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: Would it be convenient for the Minister to take a question which arises exactly from what he has just said? As I understand it, the Government's position is that, as he saidI am trying to get right what he saidthe Bill is an interim measure and will be consigned to the dustbin if it is not used within two years and there will be another Bill for the long term setting out policy on the Fire Service. Does it follow from that that the Government do not wish to take power in the interim measure which could be used to pre-empt anything that might arise for the long term? I am not talking about present intentions; I am talking about legislative power and what goes on to the statute book.
Lord Rooker: I do not fully understand my noble friend's question. The fact is that the Bill is specific to the issue that we have already debated. There is no beating about the bushthe Bill is time-limited for two years, assuming that the Bill passes into law with its present sunset clause. It does not assume, prevent or pre-empt anything that might appear in future legislation as a result of the White Paper. I do not knowI suspect that, at this stage, even the Government do not knowwhen legislation will follow the White Paper. We are some considerable time away from the next Session and I have no idea what will be in the next Queen's Speech. Whether such legislation will be included in the business of the next Session or the Session after that, I cannot say.
However, the two things are wholly disconnected. This Bill is for a specific purpose and for a specific time period. It is hoped that it will never have to be used. It does not pre-empt anything. Following the proposals in the White Paper, we shall start with a new Bill, effectively from a clean sheet of paper. I hope that that satisfies my noble friend because there is no hidden agenda of connection between this Bill and any Bill
Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: I am sorry but I want to say one word about that. No one suggested that there was a hidden agenda. I do wish that the Minister would not repeat his style of last week by suggesting that we have said things to him which we have not said. I asked whether the Bill should not contain powers that might, if usedperhaps by a Secretary of State who is not the present Secretary of Statewithin the two years pre-empt the longer-term policy. I am surprised that my noble friend did not understand the question. I do not believe that I have expressed the matter quite so well but I have tried to summarise it. My noble friend may not want to answer it further now as he may have said everything that he wants to say. But there is no question of hidden agendas.
Lord Rooker: I have nothing further to add. It is plain as a pikestaff and should be crystal clear that this is a one-off Bill for a specific time period. If it were activated, that would be done only in the most extreme of circumstances. If it needs to be activated, we shall do so, but we hope that we do not have to do so.
Lord McCarthy: I have three points to maketwo of which are in reply to the points made by my noble friend. It seems to me that his first point would rule out third party dispute resolution in all circumstances, which makes it difficult to understand why he thought that Professor Clegg did so well. He said, I think, that it would not work in circumstances in which the parties could not agreebut it does not come into operation unless the parties disagree. If conciliation, mediation and arbitration worked only when the parties agreed, we could pack up ACAS. The whole point about TPDR is that it attempts to do something which the parties at this moment in time have demonstrated they cannot do themselvesthat is, agree.
The great majority of the referencesin fact, probably all, but I have not checked the datato the Comparability Commission were where the parties disagreed. If they had not disagreed we would not have needed the Comparability Commission. I believed that my noble friend agreed when I said that if we had had the commission in place some six or nine months earlier we might not have had the winter of discontent. But it was delayed and, when it was in position, it could not settle all disputes. So it is silly to say that one does not want TPDR unless the parties are agreed.
Secondly, my amendment may be unclear. My noble friend's second point was that he could not accept it because it stopped the Secretary of State having the final word. It does not do that. One of my earlier amendments in regard to the application and interpretation of agreements did thatit was most extremeand I attempted to explain how third party dispute resolution could be used, particularly on the application of agreements, because it would close
The two amendments we are discussing provide that the Secretary of State has to take into account what has been produced by third party dispute resolution. Anyway, one could use different words. That is why we made a fuss at Second Reading. We said that the Bill can be amended but it cannot be cured in Committee. Different words could be usedthey may be better than the ones I have usedbut I do not wish to introduce an amendment into the debate which takes away the right of the Secretary of State to have the final word. All that the amendments seek to do is to enable the Secretary of Statein one amendment he can do it under his own initiativeto seek an independent assessment.
An independent assessment, in terms that ACAS would recognise, is quite precisethe parties together decide the arbitrator; the parties together decide the terms of reference. If those elements are not there, it is not independent arbitration. That is what we are seeking to put into the Bill for the future.
This brings me to my third point. I do not know whether I have much chance of doing so but I am tryingas I said I was trying to do on the previous occasionto pour a little oil. The trouble for the Government in this Grand Committeethey have not said it but I believe it lies behind their attitudeis that they believe we are filibustering. In the Labour movement, many people filibuster all the time. I have done a lot of filibustering in my life. But you filibuster when you are waiting for your majority to arrive. Usually you have got a few Trots and you hope that if you sit there for long enough, and bore people for long enough, some people will come out of the pub and make your majority. That is filibustering.
The Government know very well that we have no majority. They have the power; they have the authority; they will get their Bill through. The only thing they have not got is the best of the argument. They have got everything else. What is the point of filibustering?
We are doing this because we believe that the Bill will harm the Government, harm the trade unions and harm the Fire Service. We thought about this when the previous Bill on industrial relations was introduced last year. We tried last yearmuch as we are trying this yearto explain that the Government had got things wrong and, on one particular occasion, to argue that the Government had got the law quite wrong. In the end, the Minister in charge of the Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, went away and found that we were right. Like the gentleman he is, he removed the clause. We do not expect anything as grand as that this time, but that is why we are doing what we are doing. We are not filibustering; we are attempting to explain. Obviously we are not succeeding in explaining. We shall go on attempting to explain but, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 15, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 16 and 17, with which it is grouped. The amendments deal to some extent with issues that have already been debated, as they are concerned with the consultation that the Secretary of State must undertake before making an order containing a direction about the use of property or facilities. However, Amendment No. 15 is slightly different. The clause does not include the word "disposal", although the disposal of property or facilities is specifically referred to in subsection (1)(b).
Is there some reason why there must be consultation about the use of property or facilities with people who, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, are likely to be affected but whom he does not need to consult about disposal? That would seem rather odd, as disposal would clearly affect a wide range of peoplenot only Fire Service members but representatives of the local community, notably local authorities.
Incidentally, the present wording gives the Secretary of State the duty to consult, but only those who in his opinion are likely to be affected. I suppose that it would be open to him to decide that, in his opinion, no one at all need be consulted. However, that is not part of the amendment, which is concerned with why it is necessary to leave out the word "disposal" when disposal of property or facilities is specifically referred to in subsection (1)(b). The amendment is probing, and I should be grateful if the Minister would respond to that point. I beg to move.
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