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Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: Perhaps my noble friend might comment on two aspects that I shall raise as questions. Naturally, he saysI think that this is common groundsometimes some events may occur where "there is a need for speed" and "a need to protect public property". I think that I quote him correctly. He keeps referring to a strike; I do not know what strike he refers toperhaps it would be a strike, but it may be a terrible change in climate. Will my noble friend consider accepting the spirit of my noble friend's amendment and including something like it in the Bill, subject to any occurrence so awful that there must be immediate speed without consultation with employees in respect of the matter?
Secondly, does my noble friend not accept that it is illogical to require consultation with the national joint council, including representatives of employees, on matters relating to conditions of serviceI summarise Clause 1(3)and not to require any specific discussion with them through consultation where the direction to be given under Clause 1(1)(b) regarding disposal or usage of property directly affects their conditions of service and working conditions? If a direction under Clause 1(1)(b) has immediate impact on working conditions, why should there not be parallel consultation with the national joint council on that type of use of power under Clause 1(1)(b)? That is the point, I apprehend, of Amendment No. 19, which is grouped with this amendment.
As a post-script to those questions, when the Minister says that the Bill is time limited, he refers to the existence of the Bill. Unless he anticipates accepting some amendments that my noble friends and I will move later, as I understand it, he is not denying that powers that are utilised under the Bill will give rise to orders that will continue to exist so long as the Secretary of State decides not to revoke them. Those orders may therefore continue to exist while the White Paper, the next Bill and perhaps the Bill after that is discussed. There is no automatic time limit to the orders; there is an automatic time limit to the Bill.
Lord Rooker: That is what I said; there is a time limit to the Bill. If it is not used in two years, it lapses, it cannot be used and it goes in the rubbish binto my mind, that is a time limit on the Bill. If the Bill is used and an order is made, a crisis situation will have required the Bill to be used. As I said at Second Reading, having made orders that have affected the situation, you cannot chop things up. There is a procedure in the Bill for dealing with that.
I cannot qualify the speed issue because neither I nor my noble friendexpert though he iscan give examples to be included in statute to say, "Those are the things that we do not think will happen, but, if they do, we will have to use the Bill". The whole point of drafting the Bill in this way is that it would be used in those circumstances where the democratically elected Secretary of State in the other place, unlike us, would have to be accountable for his decision. He would have to judge whether to use the powers and would be accountable to Parliament. There is no question about that being done behind closed doors and his not being accountable. I cannot give chapter and verse of the kind of examples. If I started thinking aloud and giving examples of what might happen, I could be accused of giving horror stories.
The Secretary of State must consult the people likely to be affected by a Clause 1(1)(b) direction, which is set out in Clause 1(4). But, for the avoidance of any doubt, during part of the previous dispute, the general feeling was put about that the Fire Brigades Union owned the fire appliances. There was a feeling that the fire stations were theirsthey are not; they are public property. One thing will be made abundantly clear in future: we are not going down that road. The equipment and fire stations were put there by the
That is why, if we need to move the assets quickly, for the purposes I have givenwhether it is fire appliances or special lifting equipmentthere will not be time for consultation. We do not need to go to the owners; the public are the owners. If the decision is taken to move those appliances in the public interest, that is what we would be accountable for. It is why you cannot build in a full-scale consultation to that aspect of the Bill.
Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: Before my noble friend finishes with the point, I think that this comment will save time. I know nobody, other than ignorant journalists, who alleged that appliances in fire stations belong to the union. I hope that the Minister's advisers are better than that. The union certainly did not make that allegation. If he can quote a union circular saying that, I invite him to do so immediately.
My noble friend commented that this House should have no truck with placing limitations on the Secretary of State because he is elected and we are not. If the Government do not wish to reform this place, they must use the procedures that are there and not complain about limits put on the Secretary of State because he happens to have been democratically elected. If that really is the Minister's position, we might as well wind up this Grand Committee. If it is not, he must answer a very serious question.
I do not wish to try to draft a provision now, but I offer my co-operation in drafting a clause that would exclude cases needing great speed to deal with, in general terms, something like catastrophes and emergencies, but, apart from those cases, would lay the groundwork of consultation, which will be imposed under the Local Government Bill, and which orders under this Bill could be opposed to.
The Government are going to enact two pieces of legislation that could give rise to totally inconsistent situations. I am happy to take the case of a closurethe Local Government Bill would demand consultation in a particular way, and this Bill would allow the Secretary of State to make an order. That order will exist until he revokes it. There is no point in telling me that the Bill will come to an end in two years. Of course I know that the Bill will end in two yearswe can all readbut the orders will not. Therefore, there could be inconsistency. I plead with the Minister to consider that very serious point. A quite inconsistent piece of legislation could be pushed through by the Government if they continue with the two Bills as they are at present. Surely he does not want that.
Lord Rooker: I shall answer simply: the Local Government Bill, assuming Parliament agrees it, will be on the statute book for ever, like all other legislation. It is a normal part of our process. Similarly, the new Bill, when it comes as a result of the White
Lord Campbell of Alloway: Having listened to the debate, I hope that the Secretary of State does not set aside the Committee. This debate has produced what could be an acceptable and simple answer. If one accepts in good faith, as I do, everything that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has said about the intentions of the Bill and the circumstances in which it would be usedemergency or near-emergency ones and no otherand then think how Secretaries of State operate in similar situations, it is always with the authority of affirmative resolutions of both Houses. That does not have to be defined because we know that the Secretary of State makes an application on certain circumstances that he has stated and Parliament says whether those are emergency or near-emergency circumstances. Parliament can limit the time for which the provision operates. Under my amendment, it can alter the provisions of the Bill.
Leaving aside my amendment, one could approach the matter much more simply. The Bill will be operated only in the circumstances that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, gives. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, might accept that affirmative resolutionan application that is quickly madeby both Houses of Parliament is a way of dealing with the issue.
Baroness Turner of Camden: I thank the noble Lords who participated in this important discussion. I note what the Minister says about the need for emergency cover, as I understand it. I wish to consider very carefully what the Minister has said and perhaps return on Report with an amendment that might cover the problems that we envisage arising if people are not properly consulted, but that also takes account of views expressed about the possibility of cover in an emergency. I think that it would be possible to draft something along those lines and hope to do so for Report stage. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: Amendments Nos. 7, 8 and 18 are very similar to those that we have already discussed. They are grouped with Amendment No. 18, which is a slight variation in that, while the others refer to,
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