Joint Committee on Human Rights Twelfth Report



Letter from the Deputy Prime Minister, to the Chairman

Thank you for your letter of 8 April seeking my views on two points relating to human rights obligations arising under the European Social Charter and the Labour Relations (Public Service) Convention (ILO Convention No 151). I am sorry I was unable to reply by 28 April as you requested.

In relation to the European Social Charter, the Bill does not affect the right to strike in any way. Nor does it seek to prevent collective bargaining. But as your letter acknowledges, there are circumstances where collective bargaining breaks down or fails to produce a settlement which secures the provision of effective services. That is the situation in which I believe we now find ourselves.

The Government has done all it can to encourage and facilitate discussion and negotiation of a fair settlement for the fire service. As I said to the House when I announced my intention to introduce this Bill, and as I shall say again, I would even now prefer the matter to be settled by agreement and without my intervention. However, this appears unlikely. Thus it is precisely the circumstances which you point out might justify a restriction or limitation on collective bargaining that apply here and that have lead to me introducing the Bill.

If the Bill is enacted and I were to seek to make an Order relating to the conditions of service of fire service staff, I would be required under the terms of the Bill to consult the negotiating body, on which are represented the employers and the Fire Brigades Union. Thus even if I do intervene, the procedures envisaged by the Bill therefore encourage the two sides to consider collectively anything I may propose.

As to the ILO Convention No 151, Article 8 says that settlement 'shall be sought through negotiation between the parties'. For over a year now, that is what has been sought but without resolution. I am seeking the powers in the Bill because settlement cannot be achieved through negotiation.

Any use of the powers in the Bill to make an order as to conditions of service would be subject to negative resolution procedure. So the House would have the opportunity to intervene if it were thought any order was not an appropriate way to resolve a dispute.

Finally you seek information on any representations I have received in connection with this Bill in relation to human rights issues. At the time of writing, I have received no such representations.

1 May 2003

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