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Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My name is also attached to the amendment, and I want to ask the Minister a question on it. He says that the amendment wrecks the Bill, because the Government do not want to use its powers. With great respect, we have already met the point—I hope that we will not come back to it—that what the Government intend is nothing whatever, so far as law-making is concerned, to do with what the powers are. If the amendment wrecks the Bill, it means that the Government would have taken the powers if there had never been a strike, and if the parties had always been in agreement.

These are powers that the Government want to have. On the argument of my noble friend, I would be very reluctant to give them up. As my noble friend Lord McCarthy said, their heritage is not to be found in collective bargaining as applied by the ILO to the public sector. I stress the public sector. We shall come to ILO convention 151 and have specific amendments about it. Therefore I shall make that argument later.

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Supposedly, the amendment wrecks the Bill because of the powers given. I do not know whether the Minister meant to make a Pepper v Hart assurance that the Government will not use the powers except where there is a catastrophe, emergency, dispute, strike or problem, and I am afraid that I cannot remember his exact words. If that was a Pepper v Hart assurance that will be repeated on Report, it would be very important to the fire authorities and to the Fire Brigades Union. I apprehend that he will want to consider whether he is giving that assurance.

I notice that the Minister placed great strength on the public sector. I know that we are discussing only the Fire Services Bill but—let us not beat about the bush—of course some people outside this place fear that what is applied to the fire services may be applied to other parts of the public sector. The general secretary of UNISON was not joking when he said that it would not be treated as the Fire Brigades Union has been treated. If the public sector is cited in a general way, presumably the desire is to apply the provisions to the public sector as a whole. The Minister introduced the term, not me.

The Bill is something that the Government want to have. Will they give up the power in their big Bill? Perhaps it is too early to say, but they are suggesting in the White Paper an intention to impose so many conditions on collective bargaining that many people are very afraid, and afraid of the legality under the international legal instruments that apply to the public sector.

I do not understand what the Minister is saying, unless he is saying that the Government would want to have the power whether or not there was any disagreement between the parties, and whether there had never been a strike. He must be saying that they would want the power over the whole of the public sector, as a kind of inferential parenthesis to discussion of the Bill. He would be saying that the amendment would wreck the Bill, despite the fact that they do not want to use the powers, because they want to have the ability, either for this or some other Secretary of State, to use them.

Lord Rooker: I have a short answer to that. It is no good playing with words about the public sector. I was asked a question, and I shall refuse to answer any more if my words get twisted like they have just been. I was asked whether, if employers and trade unions agree, they should not therefore be allowed to carry on. I made the point that to differentiate between the public and the private sector, the question is who pays. If the employer is prepared to pay for a negotiated deal, fine. In the public sector, the employer at the end of the day will be local government or Parliament, in the sense of disbursing taxpayers' money. That was the only distinction I made for the public sector.

I can honestly reassure my noble friend—I shall stand corrected on it if need be, but I am on fairly certain ground—that if there had not been a fire dispute, we should not be here today discussing the Bill.

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Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: I hope that my noble friend will consult Hansard and consider making a statement about twisting his words.

Lord Rooker: I—

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: I am not giving way. As my noble friend said on Second Reading, I shall give way when it suits. I hope that he will look at Hansard carefully and see whether it was possible to infer the fact that the Government would want such a power to deal with society and, more particularly, public sector institutions, and in this case the fire services, irrespective of other circumstances and in particular the agreement of the parties. That is all that I ask.

Lord McCarthy: I have two things to say. I do not believe that the Government wanted to get into a position where they could not really say that they would not use such a power if there was an agreement. The Minister is quite right. In a sense, the Government have got themselves into a situation where they have taken the power, and they cannot bring themselves to guarantee that they would not use it.

In fact, it would be absolutely daft to use it in the case of a dispute in which the two sides had agreed. I am not referring to the subsequent application of that dispute. When the dispute that was settled recently comes to be applied in precise terms, there may very well be failures to agree. The Secretary of State may very well use his draconian powers, but not on the settlement that they signed a few weeks ago. That would be ridiculous, but the Government cannot say that, so they have taken this great instrument and are stuck with it.

The only piece of credible evidence that the Secretary of State gives me is to say, "Money. This is a fully funded service, and you can't sell the product at a price because it is a free service". On a side whim, only a fool thinks that one can have a self-financed productivity deal, but we shall not go into that for the moment. He says, "You can't produce a product. Therefore, of course, the Government have to control the purse strings". Of course they do. That is why it is extremely unlikely that, if there were any significant difference in the cost of a deal, the employers would go in one direction and the Secretary of State would go in another.

There might be a difference of practicality, however. The employers might feel that the Government were doing everything wrong, and that that would perpetuate the strike. The difference might not be of money, but style. It might be—if I were on the employers' side in the latest dispute, I would have said this—that many things put into the case on the government side would cost more money rather than save it, and would never come about anyway because they were totally impractical. The employers might pluck up their courage and say, "It is not a question of money, but of style. We after all are managers, and we would like to settle". If they had had the guts to do it, the Government would swallow it.

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The amendment does not say necessarily that there might not be further consultation between the Government and the parties. Under it, the Secretary of State could withdraw his proposals and engage in new consultation. He abandons his previously legally backed solution to the problem. It would be a very strange world if, in those circumstances, a Labour government did something so ridiculous. However, I cannot be sure, so I want the Government to consider their position further, and we shall ask them in a more precise way what they would do in those circumstances on Report. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord McCarthy moved Amendment No. 10:

    Page 1, line 24, at end insert—

"(3A) Where the members of the negotiating body—
(a) are in disagreement or dispute in relation to any issue concerning the application or interpretation of an agreement between them or are unable to reach agreement in negotiations touching such an agreement; and
(b) subsequently either—
(i) settle the issue by agreement, or
(ii) agree jointly to refer the issue to conciliation, mediation or arbitration the result of which is agreed by them to be binding upon them,
the Secretary of State shall make no order relating to that issue."

The noble Lord said: I move Amendment No. 10 in association with Amendment No. 12. Amendments Nos. 10 and 12 are in association with Amendments Nos. 11 and 13, and we may or may not get to them tonight.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Tordoff): Is the noble Lord saying that Amendments Nos. 10, 11, 12 and 13 are grouped together?

Lord McCarthy: No. I am sorry; Amendments Nos. 10 and 12 are grouped together, and Amendments Nos. 11 and 13 are grouped together, but they are not complete strangers. In fact—if I say this now it may be clearer—the main difference between them is that Amendments Nos. 10 and 12 are ways of introducing third-party dispute resolution into the application and interpretation of existing agreements. The Americans call those disputes of right, but we do not recognise that. However, Amendments Nos. 11 and 13 are about new agreements. They are rather different. Different methods might be advantageous in different circumstances, and I want to put a few examples before the Committee. That is why I have tabled the amendments in this way.

I am talking about third-party dispute resolution. I want to spend a moment or two on the difference, because I have found that people do not recognise it. I would argue, although I do not want to stress it, that in the process of negotiation in the most recent fire dispute people got the order wrong, as happens quite often. By conciliation, we mean that some non-allied party seeks to bridge the difference between the parties. The essence of it is that they do not make suggestions. They exhaust the suggestions of the

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parties. However, if that does not work, they may start making suggestions. Usually, the parties ask them to make suggestions. If they make suggestions, that is mediation.

We have moved from a somewhat negative tactic, which is designed to narrow the area of difference and which usually does so, to a situation where people have a real idea what the breaking points and stress points are and they are prepared to consider an approach that they have not thought of themselves. I believe that in the last fire dispute we got to mediation at the wrong time—but I shall not go into that. If one gets to a point where things have been narrowed down and the parties trust each other a bit, one can introduce the notion of arbitration, which is the end point of the system.

In Amendment No. 10, the parties take the initiative. They have got into a mess and failed to agree, so they decide to experiment and introduce third-party dispute resolution. As a result, they settle. It is rather like the amendment that we discussed before. At that point, this amendment says that,

    "the Secretary of State shall make no order".

That is firmer than the previous amendment, in which there was no third-party dispute resolution.

The arguments are probably clear, and I shall not repeat them. Let us say that the parties have signed the agreement, but that they do not know exactly what it means because some of the phrases are very vague, as they were put there in order to get an agreement. As a result, the parties have to go back to it when it comes to be applied and introduced. On that comparatively minor issue, which is important but not as important as the signing of a new agreement, we should leave the parties alone. That is one form of third-party dispute resolution, and I want to know what is wrong with it.

Amendment No. 12 is more complex. Here, the Secretary of State takes the initiative. Presumably the situation is more difficult, and the parties are not looking for third-party dispute resolution. I would like things to be committed across the board, as they used to be but now are not. I should like the Government to take the initiative if they get into a dispute in which the parties involved do not want to take the initiative, or cannot. I am not asking them to make speeches on the wireless or to tell the press. I am simply saying that the Government should get involved and try to encourage the parties to introduce some form of conciliation. If the Government take that initiative and as a result there is a prospect of a settlement, the Secretary of State should withdraw his proposals. He delays his order and, once again, if they obtain a settlement, he withdraws. However, if they do not make the settlement, he has to start the process all over again.

Those are only two alternatives. I could have given 22 alternatives. I merely wish the Government to say why they cannot let the parties decide, on the narrow basis of an application issue. Why must we go to law? Why must we do things in that way? There is no doubt whatever that there will be such disputes. The Minister is quite right about that; he said at Second Reading that there would be arguments over future pay advances if there were not sufficient savings to pay for

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those advances. He said that he was worried that if that happened it would put the whole scheme at risk. He referred to a whole series of new duty systems, work arrangements, rosters and overtime. Indeed, the White Paper is even more ambitious.

Signing agreements, however elaborate they may be, will give rise to application disputes and differences. There will be a lot of them, and the Government will frequently go to conciliation, mediation and arbitration. However, we should not torpedo the process at the start by saying that the Government will set aside a settlement if they do not agree with it, even if it is a binding arbitration agreement. That is an unwise and foolish way in which to proceed and I call on the Government to consider the alternatives in the two amendments. I beg to move.

7 p.m.

Lord Lea of Crondall: I shall be speaking on the amendment and on Amendment No. 33, tabled in my name. Members of the Committee will note that the functioning of conciliation, mediation and arbitration on the application or interpretation of an agreement, which is covered in the last subsection of Amendment No. 10, is also the issue in Amendment No. 33, albeit from not precisely the same angle.

A major concern of both amendments arises from the big question mark that the Government have placed over the whole issue of arbitration. There has been a good deal of confusion about that.

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