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Matthew Green: The Minister describes the amendment as a hurdle, but all our amendments are attempts to ensure that if the Secretary of State imposes a settlement, he does so with at least some indication that a fair number of fire brigade members will support it. The Secretary of State can impose a settlement, but that does not mean that fire brigade members will turn up for work. That is why the amendments are important.

Mr. Raynsford: We discussed that issue at some length on Second Reading. We have made it clear that the route followed in the Bill is designed to cope with the current situation. We are acting reluctantly—these are not powers that we want to use, but we have to have them in case a settlement is not reached through the normal negotiating procedures. We hope that one will be reached, but the Bill will be there as a stop-gap. If a settlement is not reached, we have to be able to act decisively. The hurdles erected by the amendments would make that impossible.

Under amendment No. 27, an order would have to follow the recommendations of an independent arbitration process. The implication of that is that the Secretary of State could not impose changes proposed by the employers—or by a union—unless they had been recommended by an independent arbitrator, let alone changes that he thinks are appropriate. That goes against the whole thrust of the Bill, which is that if the two parties to the negotiation cannot agree, the Secretary of State with responsibility for the provision of an effective fire service and for public funding of that service should step in and make a settlement.

That requires some hard decisions, and those decisions cannot and should not simply be handed over to a third party. The issues that have caused the most difficulty in the current dispute include how the fire service should move from prescribed national fire cover standards to local risk-based approaches to fire cover, and what the implications are for staff—the very points made by the hon. Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson). Those are serious issues requiring serious answers, but they are not necessarily issues capable of arbitration.

3 Jun 2003 : Column 78

In the end, one cannot arbitrate about policy questions, such as the right basis for fire cover. One can arbitrate about some of the implications, especially for pay, but it is hard to see how even the best independent arbitrator would be better placed to make informed judgments about issues such as the appropriate level of fire cover, and how new shift systems might be introduced in a way that achieves both a more effective and safer service and cost savings, than a professional who is expert in the field. It is difficult to envisage how that could happen.

I understand the purpose behind the amendment, but it is not realistic. We do not believe that it would work. The Government must have policy responsibility rather than handing these matters over to somebody else. Even if an arbitrator were involved, there is another hurdle in the amendment. The recommendations have to be rejected by one side or the other before the Secretary of State can make an order. The history of the current dispute shows that things can drag on for long periods without a clear outcome. After all, the FBU executive first felt able to recommend to its members an offer from the employers on 18 March. However, that did not lead to a clear outcome. We must be able to deal with a situation in which there has not been outright rejection. Yet the amendment would make it impossible for us to act if there had not been outright rejection by one party. That is a clear obstacle and such a procedure would not work. If it is wished to have an effective power to deal with the dispute, and if the dispute is not resolved otherwise, the amendment should be withdrawn.

I am equally unable to accept amendments Nos. 9, 10 and 15, which were tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). Amendment No. 9 would mean that the Secretary of State could only fix or modify firefighters' conditions of service with the agreement of the negotiating body.

Our strategy is bringing forward the Bill is to draw a line under the dispute by making a fair and reasonable award. We are doing this in a situation where the negotiating body—the national joint council—has so far failed to reach agreement for nearly a year. Against that background, it is hardly likely that both sides of the NJC would be able to agree on the terms of any settlement proposed by Ministers.

As we have made repeatedly clear, we have no wish to use the powers that the Bill would confer. There is still time for the two sides to reach agreement, and we very much hope that they will. We welcome the progress that has been made over the recent period. That has been made in the knowledge that if there is no agreement the Government will have the powers to impose a settlement. It is not for me to say how much the two sides may have been influenced by the knowledge that we are bringing forward the Bill, but it is clearly one factor. Accepting my hon. Friend's amendments on this point would therefore be counterproductive.

Amendment No. 10 would also require the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament a report of the views of the negotiating body on his proposals to make an order. That seems to me unnecessary. It would clearly be open to the negotiating body to make public its views, but that should be a matter for that body. The Secretary of State, at all events, will have to justify his decision to the House if the order is subject to challenge. The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge made it clear

3 Jun 2003 : Column 79

that in the event of any order being made to impose pay and conditions, he would ensure that it was challenged. There would be a full opportunity for the House to question the Secretary of State on this issue if the matter were ever to come to that stage.

Amendment No. 15 would mean that the negotiating body would need to be constituted so that it represented the "majority" of fire authorities, rather than "some or all", as the Bill is drafted.

John McDonnell: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Raynsford: I understand that my hon. Friend has said that that was not his intention. There has been a drafting error. I understand that he was seeking a framework that would refer to a majority of employees in the service. I hope that he will accept that the arrangement that we are putting in place will ensure that the Secretary of State must be satisfied that the negotiating body is constituted in accordance with appropriate arrangements for the negotiation of conditions of service of fire brigade members. That is provided by the provisions in clause 2(2)(b). I hope that my hon. Friend will understand that that effectively gives him the object that he is seeking. I ask him and other hon. Members to withdraw their amendments, which in our view are not necessary.

Mr. Hammond: I am disappointed with what the Minister has had to say. On Second Reading, in respect of secret ballots, the Minister said:

In good faith we have proposed a set of amendments that would ensure that the grass roots, the fire brigades' members, were properly consulted and their opinion tested before the draconian powers that the Secretary of State is taking were implemented and acted upon.

I think that the Minister has been slightly disingenuous in his response. He said that he would show why amendment No. 32 was technically defective and he has not. He has said that the amendment did not create the possibility of putting an existing offer on the table to a ballot. It does, by allowing the Secretary of State to consult fire brigades' members on any other matter that he considers relevant. I do not think that the Minister has made a case against the secret ballot test. We have made it clear that that is one of our conditions for being able to support this draconian emergency legislation, and I am disappointed that the Minister has not risen to that challenge. I will therefore be urging my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote for amendment No. 32.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 166, Noes 291.

Division No. 214
[7:15 pm


Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)
Allan, Richard
Amess, David
Arbuthnot, rh James
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Bacon, Richard
Baker, Norman
Baldry, Tony
Barker, Gregory
Baron, John (Billericay)
Barrett, John
Beggs, Roy (E Antrim)
Beith, rh A. J.
Bellingham, Henry
Bercow, John
Beresford, Sir Paul
Blunt, Crispin
Boswell, Tim
Brady, Graham
Brake, Tom (Carshalton)
Brazier, Julian
Breed, Colin
Brooke, Mrs Annette L.
Browning, Mrs Angela
Burnett, John
Burns, Simon
Burnside, David
Burstow, Paul
Butterfill, John
Cable, Dr. Vincent
Cameron, David
Campbell, Gregory (E Lond'y)
Campbell, rh Menzies (NE Fife)
Carmichael, Alistair
Chidgey, David
Chope, Christopher
Clappison, James
Clarke, rh Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Collins, Tim
Conway, Derek
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Curry, rh David
Davies, Quentin (Grantham & Stamford)
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice & Howden)
Djanogly, Jonathan
Dodds, Nigel
Donaldson, Jeffrey M.
Ewing, Annabelle
Fallon, Michael
Field, Mark (Cities of London & Westminster)
Flight, Howard
Forth, rh Eric
Foster, Don (Bath)
Fox, Dr. Liam
Francois, Mark
Gale, Roger (N Thanet)
Garnier, Edward
George, Andrew (St. Ives)
Goodman, Paul
Gray, James (N Wilts)
Grayling, Chris
Green, Damian (Ashford)
Green, Matthew (Ludlow)
Gummer, rh John
Hague, rh William
Hammond, Philip
Harris, Dr. Evan (Oxford W & Abingdon)
Hawkins, Nick
Hayes, John (S Holland)
Heald, Oliver
Heath, David
Heathcoat-Amory, rh David
Hendry, Charles
Hermon, Lady
Hogg, rh Douglas
Holmes, Paul
Horam, John (Orpington)
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Jack, rh Michael
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Johnson, Boris (Henley)
Keetch, Paul
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Lamb, Norman
Lansley, Andrew
Laws, David (Yeovil)
Letwin, rh Oliver
Liddell-Grainger, Ian
Lidington, David
Llwyd, Elfyn
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter (M-Worcs)
McIntosh, Miss Anne
Maclean, rh David
McLoughlin, Patrick
Maples, John
Mawhinney, rh Sir Brian
Mercer, Patrick
Mitchell, Andrew (Sutton Coldfield)
Moore, Michael
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Norman, Archie
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Öpik, Lembit
Osborne, George (Tatton)
Page, Richard
Paice, James
Pickles, Eric
Portillo, rh Michael
Price, Adam (E Carmarthen & Dinefwr)
Prisk, Mark (Hertford)
Pugh, Dr. John
Redwood, rh John
Rendel, David
Robathan, Andrew
Robertson, Angus (Moray)
Robertson, Hugh (Faversham & M-Kent)
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Robinson, Mrs Iris (Strangford)
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Ruffley, David
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Salmond, Alex
Sanders, Adrian
Sayeed, Jonathan
Selous, Andrew
Shephard, rh Mrs Gillian
Simmonds, Mark
Simpson, Keith (M-Norfolk)
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns & Kincardine)
Smyth, Rev. Martin (Belfast S)
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob (Castle Point)
Stanley, rh Sir John
Steen, Anthony
Stunell, Andrew
Swayne, Desmond
Syms, Robert
Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Taylor, John (Solihull)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Taylor, Dr. Richard (Wyre F)
Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Tonge, Dr. Jenny
Tredinnick, David
Trimble, rh David
Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)
Tyler, Paul (N Cornwall)
Tyrie, Andrew
Waterson, Nigel
Watkinson, Angela
Whittingdale, John
Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann
Wiggin, Bill
Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)
Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Willis, Phil
Wilshire, David
Winterton, Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Sir Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Wishart, Pete
Yeo, Tim (S Suffolk)
Younger-Ross, Richard

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan and
Mr. Mark Hoban


Ainger, Nick
Alexander, Douglas
Allen, Graham
Anderson, rh Donald (Swansea E)
Armstrong, rh Ms Hilary
Atherton, Ms Candy
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, John
Bailey, Adrian
Baird, Vera
Banks, Tony
Barnes, Harry
Battle, John
Bayley, Hugh
Beard, Nigel
Begg, Miss Anne
Benn, Hilary
Bennett, Andrew
Benton, Joe (Bootle)
Berry, Roger
Best, Harold
Betts, Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blears, Ms Hazel
Blunkett, rh David
Boateng, rh Paul
Borrow, David
Bradley, rh Keith (Withington)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Bradshaw, Ben
Brennan, Kevin
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Browne, Desmond
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burnham, Andy
Byers, rh Stephen
Cairns, David
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Casale, Roger
Caton, Martin
Cawsey, Ian (Brigg)
Challen, Colin
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)
Clark, Dr. Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Chryston)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Coaker, Vernon
Coffey, Ms Ann
Cohen, Harry
Coleman, Iain
Colman, Tony
Connarty, Michael
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cooper, Yvette
Corbyn, Jeremy
Corston, Jean
Cousins, Jim
Cranston, Ross
Crausby, David
Cruddas, Jon
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Tony (Workington)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Davidson, Ian
Davies, rh Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Dean, Mrs Janet
Denham, rh John
Dhanda, Parmjit
Dismore, Andrew
Dobbin, Jim (Heywood)
Dobson, rh Frank
Dowd, Jim (Lewisham W)
Drew, David (Stroud)
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Edwards, Huw
Ellman, Mrs Louise
Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E)
Farrelly, Paul
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna
Flint, Caroline
Follett, Barbara
Foster, rh Derek
Foster, Michael (Worcester)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings & Rye)
Foulkes, rh George
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gapes, Mike (Ilford S)
Gardiner, Barry
George, rh Bruce (Walsall S)
Gerrard, Neil
Gilroy, Linda
Godsiff, Roger
Goggins, Paul
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Grogan, John
Hain, rh Peter
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Hamilton, David (Midlothian)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)
Healey, John
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hendrick, Mark
Hepburn, Stephen
Heppell, John
Hesford, Stephen
Heyes, David
Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Hood, Jimmy (Clydesdale)
Hoon, rh Geoffrey
Hope, Phil (Corby)
Howarth, rh Alan (Newport E)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N & Sefton E)
Howells, Dr. Kim
Hughes, Beverley (Stretford & Urmston)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Humble, Mrs Joan
Hurst, Alan (Braintree)
Hutton, rh John
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Illsley, Eric
Ingram, rh Adam
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead & Highgate)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jamieson, David
Jenkins, Brian
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Jones, Kevan (N Durham)
Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Jowell, rh Tessa
Joyce, Eric (Falkirk W)
Keen, Ann (Brentford)
Kemp, Fraser
Khabra, Piara S.
King, Andy (Rugby)
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green & Bow)
Knight, Jim (S Dorset)
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Lammy, David
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Lazarowicz, Mark
Lepper, David
Leslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom (High Peak)
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Love, Andrew
Lucas, Ian (Wrexham)
Luke, Iain (Dundee E)
Lyons, John (Strathkelvin)
McAvoy, Thomas
McCabe, Stephen
McCartney, rh Ian
McDonagh, Siobhain
MacDonald, Calum
McDonnell, John
MacDougall, John
McFall, John
McGuire, Mrs Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKechin, Ann
Mackinlay, Andrew
Mactaggart, Fiona
McWalter, Tony
McWilliam, John
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Mallaber, Judy
Mann, John (Bassetlaw)
Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marshall, David (Glasgow Shettleston)
Martlew, Eric
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Milburn, rh Alan
Miliband, David
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Mole, Chris
Moonie, Dr. Lewis
Moran, Margaret
Morgan, Julie
Morley, Elliot
Mountford, Kali
Mudie, George
Mullin, Chris
Munn, Ms Meg
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Murphy, rh Paul (Torfaen)
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Norris, Dan (Wansdyke)
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Olner, Bill
O'Neill, Martin
Organ, Diana
Osborne, Sandra (Ayr)
Owen, Albert
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Picking, Anne
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter (Burnley)
Plaskitt, James
Pollard, Kerry
Pond, Chris (Gravesham)
Pope, Greg (Hyndburn)
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prescott, rh John
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Ken
Purnell, James
Quin, rh Joyce
Quinn, Lawrie
Rapson, Syd (Portsmouth N)
Raynsford, rh Nick
Reed, Andy (Loughborough)
Reid, rh Dr. John (Hamilton N & Bellshill)
Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)
Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Rooney, Terry
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Ruane, Chris
Russell, Ms Christine (City of Chester)
Ryan, Joan (Enfield N)
Savidge, Malcolm
Sawford, Phil
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Barry
Sheridan, Jim
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Southworth, Helen
Spellar, rh John
Squire, Rachel
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Steinberg, Gerry
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stinchcombe, Paul
Stoate, Dr. Howard
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Stringer, Graham
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Taylor, rh Ann (Dewsbury)
Taylor, Dari (Stockton S)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Thomas, Gareth (Harrow W)
Timms, Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mark (S Derbyshire)
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Paul
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton Kemptown)
Tynan, Bill (Hamilton S)
Walley, Ms Joan
Ward, Claire
Watson, Tom (W Bromwich E)
Watts, David
White, Brian
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, rh Alan (Swansea W)
Williams, Betty (Conwy)
Wills, Michael
Winnick, David
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Wood, Mike (Batley)
Woodward, Shaun
Woolas, Phil
Wray, James (Glasgow Baillieston)
Wright, Anthony D. (Gt Yarmouth)
Wright, David (Telford)
Wright, Tony (Cannock)

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Ivor Caplin and
Derek Twigg

Question accordingly negatived.

3 Jun 2003 : Column 83

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