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Lord Rooker: There was a failure to agree before and that is why fire brigade members will get a large lump sum. That money has been on offer since November last year.

Baroness Hanham: We are quickly coming up against some of the problems with the Bill. As I understand the terms of the Bill, it becomes of any relevance at all only if the current negotiations fall flat on their face and the Secretary of State makes a decision that he will either impose a pay settlement and/or impose conditions. If that is the case, we say that if he is going to impose something, it would be helpful for him as well as for everyone else if what he intended to impose was put to a postal ballot. There are some extremely difficult fire-fighters and there are some rather less difficult fire-fighters. It might be that he could end up with an agreement from a secret ballot, which would be helpful. That was the burden of the amendments.

The point about the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister or others not knowing the address of the fire stations is covered by the second part of my amendment which states that fire authorities would have to provide the relevant information. Someone must be paying those guys and in that case they have the addresses, or at least details of the relevant bank accounts. Therefore, you can now get the information that you require in order to carry out a secret ballot on what the Secretary of State will impose.

Baroness Hamwee: Stopping the operation of the Bill is not something that we are going to achieve today. I have made no secret of my opposition to it but the amendment, so far as I am concerned, seeks to find a way of enabling fire-fighters to express their own views through a secret mechanism which is less susceptible to the problems that one is aware of when votes are cast in a public fashion. I am aware of the

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difficulties of information being withheld. It is precisely because of that attitude and those difficulties that I have tried to find the solution I am discussing. I accept that there are technical problems with the measure. I doubt whether I have the technical ability to draft the half dozen pages that might be required to make the measure work. However, I am sad that the Government are not acknowledging the issue at the root of the amendment. The Minister asked why the FBU should be singled out when that is what the Bill is about. That is precisely my point. In a sense that question answers itself.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, suggested that he might wish to review his attitude to the measure on Report. I hope that the Bill never reaches Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hanham moved Amendment No. 3:

    Page 1, line 6, at end insert—

"( ) The provision that may be made by virtue of subsection (1)(a) includes the power to make provision about conditions of service relating to—
(a) membership of trade unions by fire brigade members; and
(b) disciplinary offences by fire brigades members."

The noble Baroness said: I recognise immediately that I am tramping slightly over the ground covered by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway but I hope that the Minister is not so wedded to the notes to which he spoke previously that he will not consider what I have to say.

There are significant flaws in this small Bill, but one of the most significant is that it is, in effect, a completely toothless tiger. One hesitates to get too involved in its minutiae on the basis that it is to be profoundly hoped—as my noble friend Lady Hamwee said—that it will never be required. However, if it became necessary to implement it, the Secretary of State could leap up and down and impose whatever he wished, but the fire-fighters could simply reject what he said by going back on strike, thus flying in the face of this Bill and any other imposed settlement. This amendment was put forward in the other place by my honourable friend Philip Hammond, whom I blame for its content. It may be defective, as has been already suggested. I might not even be able to answer in detail the question that I was asked. I accept that its architecture is somewhat tortuous, but its effect would be to impose a strike ban, one effectively imposed by the Secretary of State as a result of his own orders being rejected.

This Bill continues on its way despite the fact that discussions are taking place at present and despite the fact of the union having accepted the final proposals, and returned to negotiations. It can, therefore, only be a belt and braces matter, and if that is what it is, and if it were to be needed, then it would have to be effective. Our amendment would provide the teeth to prevent a further strike taking place. It would give the Secretary of State the support he would need to implement a settlement and it could apply for just the

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duration of this legislation. It is unfortunate that when asked what he would do if the fire-fighters refused to accept a settlement imposed under this Bill, the Deputy Prime Minister gave a somewhat confused and woolly reply. That may be understandable, as the powers he is taking simply do not allow for defiance. I beg to move.

Lord McCarthy: Could the noble Baroness tell us, if that is what the provision is about, why it does not say so? It does not say that before making an order the Secretary of State should conduct a postal ballot. We are discussing Amendment No. 3, not the others, we got rid of them. Amendment No. 3 states:

    "The provision that may be made ... includes the power to make provision about conditions of service relating to—

    (a) membership of trade unions—

not ballots, not strikes—

    "by fire brigade members; and

    (b) disciplinary offences by fire brigade members".

What has that got to do with ballots? If that is what she wanted, she has done it in Amendment No. 4.

Baroness Hanham: I accept that the amendment may not be absolutely the ideal way of tackling the matter. The amendment is designed to give the Deputy Prime Minister the power, but not the obligation, to enforce his orders by introducing through the disciplinary code a strike ballot and, if necessary, to regulate membership of trades unions as regards fire brigade members. Its purpose is to ensure that there would, if necessary, be the power to restrict strike action.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: The more I have listened to the debate, the more confused I am becoming. On the face of it, it all looks rather good but what practical purpose does it serve? This is what I am beginning to wonder. One has to look at the situation. Collective bargaining has broken down, a dispute is going on, it has got to be a fairly serious situation and they want to avoid disruption of the services. The Secretary of State is minded to make an order either under the Bill as it stands or even on a Bill as amended by my amendment, or the likes of it, because all negotiations have broken down. Is it not at that stage too late to have a postal ballot? How does it fit into the scenario? Perhaps I have got it wrong but I do not see how it is going to work.

5.30 p.m.

Baroness Hanham: I am trying to tell the Minister how it is going to work, but I thought that we had passed postal ballots. My noble friend is correct. We are at the end of a very, very difficult situation if any part of this Bill has to be introduced. I am bound to say that if that were the case, we would be in territory that is probably unique. But the Bill is designed to serve a purpose. As I said earlier, the postal ballot would seek to ensure that there was at least a view taken by the fire-fighters on what the Secretary of State was about to impose. That could be accepted if there were a secret ballot, and that would be the end of it before the Deputy Prime Minister imposed what he wanted to impose.

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Amendment No. 3 seeks to deny the right to strike following that secret ballot or at any time during the process. If strikes were to occur at that stage they would cause further difficulty as regards sorting out the problem. That is the basis of the amendment.

Lord Rooker: I hope that I can help the noble Baroness. The Secretary of State does not want these powers so I shall not go into any detail. He does not want the powers that would be conferred by Amendment No. 3 as it would not be an appropriate way to deal with the issue. So far as the second part of the amendment is concerned, the Secretary of State already has the powers to make regulations about discipline. The White Paper published last week or the week before explained that we intend to abolish the current military-style regulations and replace them with a new framework based on ACAS best practice, so we do not need another power here. We do not want these powers and I do not see why I should spend a lot of time on them, bearing in mind that this issue was landed on the noble Baroness by her honourable friend in the other place. As I say, we do not want the powers. They will not help. Therefore, I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Hanham: Does the Minister accept that we have only recently had the White Paper but we are being invited to consider it with the possibility of legislation resulting from it? What we are talking about is precisely and only this Bill, not the White Paper, not the legislation that will come from that and not the Local Government Bill. We are discussing this legislation. I hear what the Minister says.

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