|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the rest of the quotation from the coda of the Caucasian Chalk Circle, which I failed to give, says that everything shall go to those who are good for it, thus the cart to the good driver that it is well driven. I hope that Hansard will correct me if I have remembered that defectively.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, recognised that we have established arrangements to permit closer co- ordination between the chief inspectors for air and marine accidents and the newly appointed chief inspector for rail accidents. The recently formed Board of Transport Accident Investigators will further assist in the promotion and sharing of best practice among cross-modal transport safety investigators. That seems to me a very proper answer to the issue raised by my noble friend Lord Berkeley.
However, he wants to go further. He wants an independent cross-modal transport safety body. From his speech it sounds as though he wants it to replace the existing transport safety bodies for individual modes of transport. If he is to justify that, he has to convince the House that there is a common element to transport safety regulation that outweighs the need for specific skills. I very much doubt it. Even if there were any significant elements that would require them to be merged into a single body, any change could be hugely disruptive. I do not think somehow we are going to accept the amendment.
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that reply and for the comments from the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, which were most interesting. It is a challenge and a matter that will need some study. It will not happen tomorrow. However, I still believe that it would be interesting for the Government to take forward their transport safety consultation. That will probably take much longer than the time available before Third Reading, but on that basis I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The Bill would confer powers for Ministers to fix or modify the conditions of service, including pay, of fire brigade members, and give directions to fire authorities on the use or disposal of property or facilities. However, before I describe the general principles behind the Bill, I hope it will be helpful to your Lordships if I first say a few words about the current position on the long-running pay dispute between the Fire Brigades Union and their employers.
Noble Lords will be aware that on 12th June the Fire Brigades Union recall conference voted to accept the employers' offer of a 16 per cent pay rise over two-and-a-half years, linked to modernisation of the fire service. This is a very positive development following over 12 months of negotiations between the parties, during which the public have had to endure 15 days of national strikes, with emergency fire cover being provided by the Armed Forces.
First, the Government's preference is not to have to use the powers that the Bill would confer. The FBU's decision last Thursday makes it much less likely that we would need to use them. But I draw the attention of noble Lords to the fact that the pay offer to which the FBU has signed up is dependent on negotiations and consultations on a number of key issues being completed and, where necessary, ratified by the appropriate bodies over the next few months.
These issues include the agreement of a new pay structure by 31st October 2003; a new pay formula for 2005 and 2006 to be agreed by 3lst July 2003; evaluation of the relative job weights of fire-fighters and control room staff to be completed by 31st July 2003; revisions to the so-called "Grey Book", the document setting out detailed conditions of service, to be agreed by 3lst October 2003; a review of the current procedure for settling disputes to be completed by 3lst October 2003; and proposals for the revision of the National Joint Council's constitution to be made and ratified before the end of this year.
The pay increases for stage two, which is November 2003, and stage three, which is July 2004, are subject to the completion of all the negotiations and consultations referred to in the agreement and, where appropriate, ratification by the fire service national employers, the Fire Brigades Union and the Government, and verification by the Audit Commission that the intended benefits, including the savings and the various national changes, are being derived locally.
This is quite a list of work to do over the next few months, with specific target dates to be achieved. Many of the things which I have referred to have changed little over the past 25 years. While the decision of the Fire Brigades Union is to be welcomed, and while we very much hope that negotiations on the outstanding issues can be satisfactorily completed, I believe that noble Lords will agree that we must consider the possibilityhowever remotethat implementation of the reforms contained in the deal could be delayed or put at risk. There have been other occasions during this dispute where agreement has seemed likely, only for hopes to be dashed at the last moment.
Against that background, we want to be prepared for all eventualities so that, if necessary, we still have the ability to draw a line under this dispute and, most importantly, ensure that the public is properly protected. That is why we propose to proceed with the Bill.
For the avoidance of doubt the stage one increase, which is from last November 2002, should be paid by the end of Julynext month. The Bill is a time-limited long stop. We do not want to use the powers in the Billwe hope that we do not need tobut, in the light of experience, it is prudent to have them available. If further problems arise during the forthcoming negotiations and those dates are not met, the public will rightly claim that we should have known better and been prepared. They will say to us, "You could see this coming, yet you did nothing about it". We have done something: we have brought forward the Bill, which, I might add, has been approved by the elected House of Parliament.
I can assure the House that the Government would exercise the powers that the Bill would confer in respect of conditions of services only if we considered it necessary to do so in order to maintain or enhance public safety; and if negotiations had failed to produce an agreement. For example, if the detailed negotiations that I mentioned previously failed to produce agreement, we think that it would be appropriate to consider using the powers. It has take more than 12 months to get this far. We could not stand by if there were further breakdowns that either threatened to lead to a resumption of industrial action or delayed the changes to the Fire Service that we believe will deliver improved community safety. As I said earlier, we hope that those circumstances will not arise.
Again, I draw noble Lords' attention to the fact that the powers in the Bill are time limited to two years so the issue will not be around for ever. If the powers in the Bill are not activated after two years, they fall. They cannot be resurrected by order or any such mechanism; a new Act of Parliament would be needed. That is what the sunset clause means. In that respect, I hope that the concerns of the Joint Committee on Human Rights can be satisfactorily addressed.
I hope that it will help noble Lords if briefly I set out the Government's general strategy and vision for the Fire Service. The reform of public services, including the Fire Service, is one of the Government's key priorities. We have already introduced some elements of modernisation. We hope to repeal Section 19 of the
The Bill is a temporary measure designed to deal with the dispute and its immediate aftermath, not the long term. The long-term vision for the Fire Service will be set out in our White Paper, to be published shortlyI mean shortly, but I cannot be more precise. The White Paper will set out comprehensive and coherent proposals for a new framework for the Fire Service that we believe will give it a new sense of purpose and prevent the kind of stalemate that has prolonged this industrial dispute. The White Paper will articulate the Government's vision for the Fire Service. It will set out the reforms that we have in mind to ensure that the service is modern, well-managed and efficient, serving the needs of the community and able to respond to the challenges of the 21st century. We intend setting out the legal, institutional and managerial changes required to deliver that vision.
I shall now discuss the powers in the Bill, which simply confers two powers. First, the Secretary of State would be able to make orders to fix or modify conditions of service, including pay. The powers would be similar to those in the Fire Services Act 1947 as originally enacted. Those powers could include some elements of modernisation.
The Secretary of State is required to consult the negotiating bodycurrently the National Joint Councilon his proposals and consider its comments before making any such order. The Deputy Prime Minister has also said that he will consult his statutory advisors, the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council. Orders would be subject to the negative resolution procedure of Parliament.
The second area of the Bill's powers gives the Secretary of State the ability to give directions to fire authorities about the use or disposal of property and equipment. This is primarily aimed at ensuring fire authority assetsstations and fire appliances paid for by the publicare available to those providing emergency fire cover in the event of a strike. But the powers could be used for some modernisation; for example, to provide joint control rooms, or require that resources are distributed on a risk assessment basis.
The Secretary of State is required to consult those who might be affected by his direction, or their representatives, as he thinks fit. The sunset clause means that the powers of the Bill are time limited to two years. This was agreed in another place as an addition to the Bill. This demonstrates that the Bill deals with the current dispute which we hope is over. Longer-term strategy will be set out in the White Paper, and we will seek legislation to implement it at the earliest opportunity.
I will be very interested to hear what my noble friend will offer as the alternative if problems arise and the Bill is not on the statute book. We need to hear a decent reason for effectively refusing to consider a Bill sent by the elected House to your Lordships' House. We are a revising Chamber, not a wrecking Chamber. In this House, unlike another place, there are no less than three stages during which to amend a Bill. I still cannot get used to the idea of amendments on Third Reading, although I admit that the Government make use of this occasionally. Do we decline to give a Second Reading to a Bill from another place when it can be amended at Committee stage, on Report and Third Reading? If we do, I say to my noble friend that that is outrageous. We would have a huge task explaining it to another place if we carried this amendment. If my noble friend wants to sign the death knell to the current arrangements in your Lordships' House, this is the way to go about it.
Knocking the Bill on its head for six months when we have agreed deadlines and dates with the trade union, and providing the Government with no long stop if things go wrong, is not very professional in industrial relations terms. If my former tutor, Alan Flanders and my former professor Hugh Clegg were about now, they would be taking my side and not that of my noble friend.
In conclusion, I would stress that we value the work of the Fire Service. There is much that is good about it, and we want to build on those strengths. It does need to change, so that it can be more effective and so that fire-fighters can have the opportunity to have more rewarding and flexible careersand, most importantly, so that it can save even more lives. By accepting the employers' offer, the Fire Brigades Union has taken the first step along the road to change. We commend the union for that, and we will play our part by showing the leadership that the Fire Service deserves when we set out our vision for the future in the forthcoming White Paper.
While it is prudent to proceed with the Bill for the reasons that I gave earlier, it is a backstop. We hope that we will never have to see it, handle it, or use it. It is not our intention to use it. In light of that, I commend the Bill to the House.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am not concerned, and no one who supports the amendments is concerned with traipsing over the settlement, saying who is right, who is wrong, why it took 12 months, and so on. It is much more important to move on. I am the last person who would want to traipse over the settlement, because it is arguable that it is my fault.
Some 25 years ago, I was responsible for the formula that settled the last Fire Service dispute; the Upper Quartile of the Manual Workers (Male) Index. Although it gave us peace for 25 years, it blew up at the end. It is possible to argue that those of us who were concerned with that should have foreseen that it would last only for 25 years, and we should have said that we wanted it to be periodically reviewed. We did not do that, and in a sense I feel a little guilty about that. I do not want to traipse over the settlement; everyone makes mistakes. I want to talk about the process.
I am asked why we are doing this by amendment. The true, real and substantive reasons will emerge as I proceed. The quick answer is that what we want to do with this Bill cannot be done by amendment. We want the Government to go away and think again about the imposition of what is not arbitration. It pretends to be arbitration; it is not arbitration; it is an imposed settlement. The Government should pause to consider the purpose.
Some might question what happens if it all goes wrong in six months' time. Well, if it all goes wrong in six months' time, the Bill will come in. That would be a wonderful reason to introduce an imposition. I will come back to that later on, but in general terms, those are the two reasons.
Finally, for my preliminary chat, I want to declare an interest; not a financial interest, but an interest that the whole House should share. We all have an interest in clarity; this is not clear at all; we all have an interest in equity; this Bill is not fair; and we all have an interest in common sense. The Bill at this stage is an insane Bill. It is a botch-up. We have seen quite a few botch-ups; this is another one. It is halfway between a cock-up and a conspiracy.
It would be much better, and easier for industry, and the attitude of the unions, the Fire Brigades Union and the employers, if the Government buried this altogether. It would be better if they took it away and thought about it, and came back after a pause of six months with a Bill, the broad outlines of which I will come to now.
Why do I say that it is not transparent? The Minister and the Secretary of State have repeatedly said, and the Secretary of State said three times on 8th May, that the legislation was based on the 1947 Act, which provided for arbitration. No, it is not. He said that it,
Those of us who go back that far will remember that reserve powers were very common in those days. I am sure that Flanders and Clegg knew that; that was what they lectured on. The industrial disputes tribunal was one; the issues procedure was another; the wages councils, which we extended in 1945, were another one; and the fair wages clauses were another. In those days, people believed that collective bargaining was a good thing and that, if workers negotiated an agreement and could not be sure that the employers would carry out that agreement, the state should come in and enforce the negotiated agreement. That was generally accepted.
It was accepted by the Conservative Party. When they abolished this thing, they told the Labour Party, then in opposition, "We don't think that the employers will act like this. We think that they have learnt their lesson. They will carry out the results of national bargaining, whether or not there is legal enforcement". The Labour Party said, "Yes. Probably, the employers have learnt now. We don't this any more". That is what is was about. Nobody said that it was about independent arbitration, because it was not. We were imposing settlements on employers. That is not arbitration.
The Oxford English Dictionary says that arbitration is a situation in which the parties agree that the settlement of an issue shall be done by one who, the parties agree, shall, in fact, try the case and decide it. The parties decide to refer their claim to the third party that they have selected, and they define the terms of reference. That is independent arbitration. That is what ACAS does. It is not what the Bill does. The Bill gives the Secretary of State as many bites of the cherry as he wants. He can interfere, as he has already has, in the negotiation process. If I understood what I read in the papers, he twice prevented a settlement. He was active among the employers, and then he bobbed in and created a separate mediation theme. I say nothing against the Bain commission, but the chairman was not chosen by the parties and no terms of reference were agreed. Finally, the Secretary of State says that he wants to enact something that will enable him to enforce by law the same settlement that he would not allow the parties to divert from in the first place. He has three bites at the cherry. In 1947, no one would have thought that that was anything but a farce.
It is not easy to be a negotiator on the government side in public sector industrial relations. There are two phrases that I use to describe the situation. The first is the problem of the ghost at the bargaining table. There
It comes to this. The Government, with the Treasury watching, have to keep the settlement down. But the Government, with the public watching, have to avoid industrial actionbecause the public do not want that. However, one the whole, the public are rather fond of many of the people involved in the dispute. They rather like nurses, paramedics, policemen and firemen; they do not want them pushed down. They want them to get a fair crack of the whip. So here is the poor old Government with their three different hats. What are they to do? Should they be on the Treasury side and be in favour of industrial peace? They could not say, like an employer, "Go out and have a strike" because the public would say, "What about the graveyards?" or whatever. The Government have to try to give justiceor some kind of justiceto the workers.
We have found one way only of doing it; we have found one way only through the wood. We must have a form of independent arbitration. It could be a pay review; it could be ex parte arbitration; it could be just mediation, followed by arbitrationor perhaps not. But there must be some independent person or persons able to say what they think is fair. One can wander around the world or read booksfor example, Alan Flandersand it is said over and over again: there must be some independent assessment. Otherwise, in the long run the Government are in an impossible position, especially if the workers are well thought of and especially if the service is totally funded and there is no room for self-financing productivity deals. And if the Government think that they have one of those they are even more simple than I thought they were!
Therefore, there must be some form of independent arbitration. One can go through this Bill and not find anything which remotely resembles independent arbitration. What happens is that the Secretary of State appears and has a ghost at the bargaining table in the first place. If there is to be any overall assessment of the issues, the pattern is that he sets up his own inquiry. If he does not like the results, he takes action under this Bill and forces through any settlement he likes. I call that a reactionary system of industrial relations.
I do not believe that any student of industrial relations would say that it was anything else. It goes against all collective wisdom that we have had in the settlement of public sector disputes. We are toldthe Minister mentioned thisthat it is probably contrary
In my opinion, the Government were so happy to use the 1947 ActI do not believe those responsible had ever read the Act, although I could not say precisely what they didbecause it seemed to provide a precedent. It did not really provide a precedent, but it seemed to. Once an actual Bill is on the statute book, one has one's precedent.
The doctors rumble away, but if the doctors were to say that they rejected every settlement offer put forward by the Minister, what is different about them? I do not say that the Government will do this; I say let them tell me the difference. Why should there not be something like this for the doctors or nurses or paramedics or any other fully-funded service that no one wants to see using industrial action? Of course, people would say that we do not have this problem with the police. But the police have got what I should like to see these people haveor some form of it. They have got pay review.
What we are asking the Governmentit cannot be done by a series of amendmentsis to allow a short period when the Bill sits on the shelf. The Government can then go out and consult and determine what form of independent third-party intervention they would most like to see. That is sensible. That is the way through the wood. The Government shut the road through the wood many years ago. Weather and rain have undone it again. One would never know that there was once a way through the wood. The old lost road through the wood must be found again. I beg to move.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, we on these Benches do not welcome the Bill; indeed, we deplore it. Were it not for the obvious reluctance to refuse a Second Reading to a Bill passed by the elected House, we would wish it to be halted in its tracks tonight. We have taken the matter seriously, and we did not need the strictures of the Minister to do so. We realise the seriousness of opposing at this stage a Bill that has come from another place.
Instead, we have tabled an amendment to the Motion for Second Reading. I would have described the Bill as a sledgehammer, and my first version of the amendment regretted the use of the sledgehammer of legislation applied to a collective bargaining procedure. I was told, inevitably, that that was not how things are done here, so my amendment is in more measured language.
We were encouraged by the Minister to deal with the Bill at the three forthcoming stages by way of amendment. However, the Bill seems close to unamendableI say "close to" because I do not want to preclude the possibility of tabling amendments myself, and I am sure that if I said that it was wholly unamendable, I would be teased about that in a week's time.
I cannot begin to imagine the frustration that Ministers have experienced during the currentalmost the pastfirefighters' dispute. But then again, I cannot begin to imagine the frustration of the employers, who are not actually free to reach a settlement on their own. Their every move is supervised and they are not holding the purse strings, which must have been more than a little restricting. It has occurred to me that this dispute has been the political-industrial relations version of "three in a marriage". We are of course in the middle of proceedings of a Bill designed to "free up local government". Since irony does not always work well on the printed page, for the benefit of Hansard I shall point out that that is ironical.
We deplore the overriding of free bargaining and the centralising nature of the Bill. That is not to say that we support the way in which the FBU has actedbut that is not the point of the Bill tonight. Like the Minister, we welcome the union's decision and the likelihood of a settlement and, like the Minister, we very much admire the work that firefighters do and will be faced with in future.
However, it must be a bad principle to rely on legislation to deal with a specific dispute, and a bad principle for central government to intervene in negotiations, and in so heavy-handed a way. As a matter of psychology, how does the Bill play with those who support the settlement? My suspicion and fear is that it will lead to further polarisation. If it does that, it will play directly into the hands of those who are already at the opposite pole. I wonder, too, how it will play in future negotiations in other sectors. Will it not be said, "Well, the Government haven't produced legislation, so they're not really serious"? I make that as a serious point.
It is not as if the alternatives have been exhausted. What about a secret postal ballot of all FBU members? What about independent arbitration? What about compulsory independent arbitration? I am mindful of what the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, said in that regardthat there must be scope for arbitration.
We do not support the Bill but we have some questions for the Government. How will the Bill, when enacted, affect the right to strike, if at all? What is its relationship with the Local Government Bill, which is set to repeal most of Section 19 of the Fire Services Act
I am aware that there are pressures on time tonight so I may return to those questions without receiving oral answers at this stage. However, I have two particular questions to which I should be glad to receive answers tonight. The first concerns the sunset clause, of which the Minister made great play. It was accepted by the Government, having come from a Back-Bench Labour Member in another place, and provides that no order can be made more than two years after commencement. But it does not seem to mean that an order, once made, ceases to have effect after two years. So is it truly a sunset clause?
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page