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Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: I am most grateful to the Minister for his response, which was somewhat complicated. Therefore, I shall try to deal with the points that he raised and suggest that, although in Grand Committee we have no other procedure than to withdraw amendments, he ought to think about it again. I preface my response to him by daring to repeat that if he wants to make provisions for emergencies, special or catastrophic events or whatever he likes to define, they can be made in the Bill.
The Bill is about the powers of the Secretary of State. What is suggested is that the basic powers should be subject to consultation of the kind that was available in the past under the 1947 Actif the repeal of the 1947 Act goes through, Section 19 will not be availableor under the code of guidance, the draft of which has been put before your Lordships and before the public. I have what many regard as the disadvantage of being a lawyer. The number of jokes about being a lawyer is such that we must bear. Those who are not lawyers have the great advantage of being able to state propositions of law with great abandon. Lawyers, apparently, are not supposed to do so.
My noble friend said that there was no statutory right under the 1947 Act of legitimate expectation to consultation. I have tried to research the matter and it had better go on the record that Mr Justice Tucker, in
To continue from that, my amendmentalthough, in many ways, I can see that it might be criticised for its draftingdoes not demand even that the 1947 Act type of consultation be retained as the basic rule, subject to emergencies. My amendment does not say "subject to emergencies" and it should have done. The Minister is quite right about that. But it goes on to say that there is an alternative to that. The alternative is the consultation in the current draft code of guidance on consultation. If I consult Hansard I think that I shall find that my noble friend said nothing about the draft code of guidance except that it was always in the Library.
I have read the draft code of guidance only recently and have consulted on it. Many think that it is very, very sensibleone of the best things that the Government have produced. Yet, they cannot tell the Secretary of State that, in the case that is not an emergency or a catastrophe, he should abide by that sort of thing. Of course, it is no accidentI have to put this through as a headlinethat both the case in 1992 and the examples that we have been talking about have particularly illustrated that this matter could well involve the closure of fire stations.
In relation to closures and particularly to the transfer of pumps and special appliances, the Government have saidand it is quite straightforwardthat the Secretary of State has in mind a power to say, "You move all this special equipment from Greenwich to Shooters Hill or from Greenwich to Hampstead". But in that case, if it is not an emergency or a catastrophe situation, why on earth should not the Secretary of State consult not just those people who, in his opinion on some subjective formula, are within his range of view? The Minister said that he cannot imagine all the situations that could arise, but that he should have an objective series of criteria from which to begin as the basis for consultation. I do not understand the Minister's reply on this. Unless he has anything further to add, it is clearly a matter on which we ought to come back, if this Bill ever reaches Report.
The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 6, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 19 with which Amendment No. 6 has been grouped. This has some bearing on what has already been discussed because the intention of Amendment No. 6 is to remove from paragraph (3) the words,
I listened carefully to what the Minister had to say on that issue on the previous amendment. It seems that decisions which affect the provision of local facilitieseither the disposal of property or the way in which that property is used; whether it is intended to lease it out or whateverclearly have an effect upon the workforces involved in that particular location. There may be less reason to have certain people. There may even be a requirement for a different kind of staff. There may be a need for more administrative staff and fewer staff who have to deal actually with fires. It can have a very major effect in the locality upon the fire services working in that area.
It therefore seems quite reasonable that there should be an obligation upon the Secretary of State, the Deputy Prime Minister or whoever to consult in the way suggested about other conditions of service for fire brigade members. As I said, there has been some discussion of this already. The present amendment is a much simpler form of amendment than the one suggested in Amendment No. 5. But it simply sets out what we have in mind, which is to ensure that before there are very substantial changes in the way in which the facilities are provided locally, those members of staff who are likely to be affected have the opportunity to have some input via whatever negotiating procedures eventually evolve.
Of course, we know that in the White Paper it has been suggested that there should be other means of negotiating than the ones that at present exist. But we are not discussing that at the moment. Clearly, discussions involving both sides are already proceeding about how future NJCs should be conducted. Whatever procedures eventually evolve as a result of those discussions, they need to be involved before people at a particular location are substantially involved as to their working conditions, the number of employees and so on. I beg to move.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: There is something in the amendment in the context of my reference to the interaction between paragraphs (a) and (b). I cannot support it because I am on a totally different tack, but there is relevance.
Lord Rooker: Amendments Nos. 6 and 19 would extend the Bill's consultation requirements. The Secretary of State would have to consult the negotiating body about the proposals to give directions to the fire authorities on the use or disposal of property or facilities. As my noble friend admitted, we have discussed related general issues when debating Amendment No. 5, so I shall not repeat them.
I said that there could sometimes be a need for speed so that the public property is protected. Amendments Nos. 6 and 19 would mean that that would not be possible. The Secretary of State would have to allow at least 21 days for the negotiating body to report on its proposals, and then he would have to consider its report. That is unacceptable. If such a situation ariseswe hope that it does notwe will not be in the position where valuable assets that can be used to protect the public lie idle during the strike instead of being used to protect the public.
I am sure that those proposing the amendment do not intend that to be an effectperhaps they dobut it is what would happen in the circumstances of the Bill. I am not saying that there is a legal use of the word "emergencies", but the Bill is a temporary measure. It is time-limited and would be used only in circumstances that would almost amount to an emergencyit would mean that the conditions of the negotiations and the timetable had not been adhered to as a result of the fire dispute. We do not want to use the Bill; we do not want to implement it; we do not want the powers, but we are being quite responsible in saying that we need them as a back-up just in case.
In the circumstances of such an occurrence, it would not be possible to wait for 21 days before using publicly paid-for assets to help people to fight fires and save lives. I therefore hope that the amendment will not be pursued.
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