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Mr. Hammond: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that the hon. Gentleman has just suggested that my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) used the word "emergency" when he meant "essential". I can assure the House that when my right hon. Friend said "emergency", he meant "emergency", not "essential".

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): That is more a matter for debate than a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Stevenson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point, because he has very nicely led me to the next point that I want to make.

There is serious concern on the Labour Benches that the Bill is a precursor for further measures to restrict or remove the right of people in services such as the fire brigades to take industrial action or to strike. All Labour Members see that as a basic human right. If the Government, even in a flicker of their wildest imagination, thought that Labour Members would support any such notion, they would be making a very

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serious mistake. That is why, between now and Third Reading, many of us, particularly me, want to see a sunset clause in the Bill. The notion that the Bill is a catalyst to bust through the deadlock in the public interest is a notion to which I am prepared to give the benefit of the doubt at this stage, but I am not prepared to support the Government in putting legislation on the statute book that will be there for ever and a day. If the Bill comes back to the House on Third Reading without a pretty narrow sunset clause, I will not support it, and I suspect that many of my colleagues will not do so either. I cannot make that point strongly enough.

The dispute is terribly messy. The Government are being blamed for intervention, and the executive of the Fire Brigades Union has—as I understand it—twice recommended a settlement to its members but has been unable to gain their support. I remember the days when on the odd occasion I was not able to get the support of the members I represented, and it did not do me any good. Like Members of Parliament, any public representatives, in the trade union movement or anywhere else, are there only at the behest of their members. The minute they lose the support of their members, or it is in doubt, difficulties emerge.

My last point concerns the employers' organisations. I do not want to repeat my comment about blank cheques—that approach was a serious mistake—but I have severe reservations about the way in which they negotiated. In fact, given my knowledge of their approach and actions, I should not use the word "negotiated", because I never thought for one second that they were in control of the situation at all. I told the local Staffordshire representative that that was my view. When he attacked my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister in the press, I told him that the enormously irresponsible actions of the employers' organisations would threaten their future. The Bill is as much about them as about the trade union, and we must take that into account. Having said that, if the Government intend the Bill to remove that local negotiation process, I for one will not support that. That is why the sunset clause is extremely important.

The situation is a mess—disputes that go on for such a long time always are—and we have a deadlock. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister is right to address the public interest issue: not to do so would be irresponsible. I hope that the Bill acts as a catalyst—no more than that—to bust through the deadlock. I am prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt this evening, but I hope that when it comes back on Report it contains the measures that I have talked about. If so, it will get my support on Third Reading; otherwise, it will not.

5.17 pm

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok): I rise as a Scottish Member to speak about a Bill that does not apply to Scotland. I am aware that that will cause concern in some quarters, but I take the view, as do many of my Scottish colleagues, that as long as England, like Northern Ireland, is run on the basis of direct rule, we who are Members of this House have not only a right but a responsibility to participate fully in the debates that take place here.

The Deputy Prime Minister spoke very well and very convincingly about the positive role that he has undertaken so far. I accept that he is doing the best that

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he can in the circumstances and making every effort to secure an amicable resolution. I do, however, believe that he has been dealt a duff hand and that he is operating in circumstances in which the financial constraints that have been placed upon him mean that he has no flexibility to reach an amicable settlement between the three partners involved in the discussions and debates.

We have reached the position where a settlement of about 16 per cent. is possible on the question of salary. The dispute is now over the modernisation of terms and conditions to pay for that increase. I had always believed that the concept of modernisation was all about reorganising existing assets to improve the service, not to pay for salary increases that should be funded in other ways. That is a distortion of the language of modernisation, which many of us have either supported or opposed on the basis of different principles.

Is legislation the way in which to solve industrial disputes? I do not believe it is, either in principle or in practice. In principle, it is incorrect to adopt legislative means of solving a dispute. To do that is not only to centralise and set a precedent but to take the Government back down the road of establishing an incomes policy, as it is they who will have to determine appropriate income. Unless the Bill is a one-off measure and does not set a precedent, it is a dangerous route for a Government to follow, especially when there are hard financial choices to be made. Yesterday, we debated hospitals and devolution and decentralisation. We should not take the opposite direction on the fire service and centralise pay determination.

Let us consider practice. It is possible to enforce pay increases by diktat; measures can be taken to provide for salary increases. However, changes in working practices, procedures and methodology require co-operation and consent, for which we cannot legislate from the centre. People can be forced to turn up in specific places at particular times, but they cannot be forced to co-operate fully. The success of most of our public services depends on the wholehearted co-operation of our staff. Introducing legislation is an attempt to short-circuit the messy, complicated and slow procedures of negotiation. Although they are irritating, they hold out the only prospect of success in the longer term. Any dispute carries a legacy of bitterness, but that can often be dissipated. However, a dispute that is resolved by legislative means from the centre not only exacerbates short-term difficulties but extends the period of bitterness. It is the wrong method.

I was anxious when the Deputy Prime Minister made the explicit threat, as I understood it, that the 16 per cent. might be reduced in a settlement. Even contemplating that takes us down the wrong road. I understand that perhaps we want to exert pressure on both sides to come together, but given that moods are already inflamed, suggesting that any enforced settlement would be less than 16 per cent. takes us in the wrong direction.

The Deputy Prime Minister: Let us be clear that the 16 per cent. is connected to modernisation. Without modernisation, there might simply be an annual payment without any extras above what the figure

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should be. I would have to make the judgment at the proper time, but £100 million on-cost and £30 million for funding the proposal is a lot of money from the public purse.

Mr. Davidson: I should like to revert to that later because I want to make some other related points. If we had reached the end of the road and believed that we were in extremis and had no choice, I would have to accept that nothing else could be done. But although considerable inconvenience is currently being caused and enormous additional costs are being incurred, everyone accepts that scope remains for negotiations and haggling. I understand that a meeting took place between the FBU and the employers earlier and that another is scheduled for the end of this week or the beginning of next. Clearly, some exchange is happening, and all the parties should therefore be prepared to move. I accept that that applies to the FBU and that members of the FBU are defending some indefensible things. That also applies to some of the employers. However, the artificial cash limit to which the Government appear to be sticking should also be subject to movement. If we genuinely want to see some movement, there has to be movement from all three sides involved, which means that, if necessary, more money must be made available. I do not want to go into the details of the dispute now, because I do not believe that it should be discussed in detail here. We are neither negotiators nor experts; we are just speaking off the top of our heads. The negotiations ought to be taking place elsewhere.

It is unfortunate that, over a considerable period, the impression has been created that certain elements of the Government are spoiling for a fight and want to teach the trade unions—particularly the public service unions—a lesson by taking them on and defeating them. That has to do with the way in which the Government have, in my view, neglected the trade unions over a period, even though there have been substantial and very welcome developments. I pay tribute to the Deputy Prime Minister and others who have achieved those things, but there has been a difference between content and presentation. We have often done good by stealth but given the impression in public utterances that we see the trade unions as an impediment to the free flow of capitalism. That has clearly been the intention of some—although not all—of those in the Government, which is unfortunate. In those circumstances, introducing this legislation at this time, when the negotiation process has not been exhausted, is potentially inflammatory and likely to result in less, rather than more progress.

The modernisation of public services is not simply about making cuts to pay for salary increases. It is about hearts and minds—about getting people to reform, to work with new methods, to be much more customer and client-oriented and to bring about a revolution in the delivery of public services. To seek that at the same time as engaging in an industrial dispute in which we are trying to force people to accept cuts in the service to pay for salary increases—increases that those people, rightly or wrongly, believe are justified—creates entirely the wrong climate. The way forward for modernisation is to ensure that it is seen as a means not of restructuring but of improving services.

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I am inclined not to support the Government tonight, because I do not think that this is the correct way forward. I want to see the dispute resolved, and I believe that the Government should give a period of time to allow a final opportunity for negotiations. If the dispute cannot then be resolved, this might be what we have to do, but we have not yet reached that position.


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