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Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for asking me the question. I appreciated that the sunset clause was put in by amendment in another place. I agree entirely that how quickly the sun goes down on the Bill is at the centre of all our thoughts. We all pray for night to overcome it. The provisions were put in by amendment, and I

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deeply regret that the Government did not table such provisions themselves. Nevertheless, on the logic of what the Minister has explained, I see why they want them for two years and not less. I was not in the least criticising the amendments, but saying that I could understand, on the logic put to us by the Minister, why the Government want two years. That thought infuses the arguments on other amendments.

Baroness Hamwee: I have thought for some time that, if one accepts the Government's thinking, two years is not enough. I am surprised that they did not go for three years. The period is likely to take them into the frantic time just before or around a general election, with all the pressures at the end of a parliament, or perhaps of a new Session. However, I do not propose three years, but one year.

I described the provisions as a legislative cosh that the Government wanted to keep up their sleeve until the big Bill was in place. That seems to amount to an expression of no confidence in the current procedures to get us all through the next couple of years. The Minister said that the Government were optimistic. I talked for a moment at Second Reading about the psychology and whether the provisions might have completely the opposite effect to that suggested. If I were on the other side—not strictly on the other side, but in another corner of the triangle—as an employee, I would behave rather worse. It would make me rather more belligerent, not less, to know that the Government could use such a measure.

The Government have started down the road, however, and if grief is caused, it is caused. I hear the Minister's reasons why the Government believe that two years is appropriate. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 25 not moved.]

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton moved Amendment No. 26:

    Page 2, line 21, at end insert "and an order made under this section which has not been previously revoked shall lapse automatically three months after the end of that two year period"

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 26 asks the Government to accept that, if the Bill is to have a sunset imposed on it, to say that the sunset falls at the end of two years is not really enough. As it stands, the powers granted by the Bill—that is what I am interested in—allow the Secretary of State to make orders and for those orders to remain as law for as long as he likes, subject to disapproval by negative resolution, until he chooses to revoke the orders.

It would build confidence in the entire procedure if the Government felt able to say, "The orders will also come to an end as the sunset descends". The amendment suggests that orders made under the Bill should automatically lapse three months after the end of that two-year period. We are not in the least wedded to three months. If the Minister has some other reasonable period to build that confidence, no one would push for three months as obviously right.

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There should be some offer, even if it were only the offer to have the orders automatically lapse as the sun of the big Bill rose in one end of the globe and the interim measure sank into the sunset at the other. Even that and not a finite period of time would build confidence in the interim nature of the Bill. At the moment, the Bill itself may be interim, but the powers exercised in orders under it are not. I therefore urge the Minister to accept at least the spirit of the amendment, and to give more confidence in the whole process by saying, "Orders made under the finite Bill shall be finite, and, if you don't accept three months, we shall find a formula to be introduced to the Bill so as to make the sunset available properly to all". I beg to move.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: I ask the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, to consider the principle of the amendment with favour. It is quite apparent that something will be left over at the end of the two years. The point was made very well by Liberal Democrats at Second Reading and, frankly, it was not met by the answer that it received. On this occasion, reconsideration should be given to it.

Baroness Hamwee: I support the amendment. I know that it can be irritating if one speaks to amendments in later groupings, but my amendment, Amendment No. 28, has far more in common with this amendment than with Amendment No. 29, with which it is grouped, so I shall make the point now. I suspect that the Minister will not have any more to say on my amendment other than that it may not nearly be as well drafted as Amendment No. 26, which is far more eloquent. Amendment No. 28 amounts to orders lapsing at the end of the two years rather than three months after the two years, which is really the only difference.

Whatever the technical demerits of the drafting, my points underlying Amendment No. 28 are that, if there is to be a two-year effect, it should be a two-year effect. Permitting successive Secretaries of State to impose conditions once an order is in place is unacceptable. As has been said, it means that the sun does not go down. The provision in the Bill means that it hovers on the horizon for ever.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: I can appreciate the noble Lord's wishes to ensure that the sunset clause really means the end of the order-making powers. However, we feel that there is a flaw in the amendment. If an order had been made before the expiry of the sunset clause with the effect of making a pay award to fire brigade members, the amendment would mean that the pay award would be negated three months after the two-year period. Fire brigade members would then have to revert to their previous pay rates, which would clearly not be a good idea or desirable. Other matters that might be covered by orders include duty systems and shift patterns. If staff moved into a new shift pattern—one that they might well prefer to existing shifts—the order making the new pattern could expire. Where would that leave them?

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The fact that something is imposed by order does not necessarily mean that it is unwelcome or should be reversed, which is what the amendment does after the sunset clause has effect. The problem with the amendment is that it really seeks to unscramble an omelette. Action taken in reliance on the order—pay raised, equipment moved, property sold—cannot be reversed without causing chaos. That applies whether or not the changes are palatable to the Fire Brigades Union. I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: I appreciate my noble friend's reply, which was what I expected. It makes a very serious point about the amendment, which is in that sense defective. I therefore appreciate that we have to take it away and look at it again. Of course, the answer to his argument is that the order should lapse at a particular point, however it is defined, after the sunset has imposed itself on the Bill in regard to conditions of service imposed by the order, except where they are more favourable than the conditions of employment that preceded the order.

It is perfectly simple to meet the point. As a matter of fact, in many statutes, a variety of words are used for the provisions, and terms that are more favourable to the employee is a common type of condition in employment law. There is no reason at all why the orders should not lapse where they are more favourable to the fire brigade members than the conditions of service that preceded the order.

If we think about that before we reach Report, we may come back with a version of the amendment that would meet the argument put forward on behalf of the Government, and in turn we hope that we would then meet with an agreement on their part to accept it. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 27 not moved.]

5.30 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 28:

    Page 2, line 21, at end insert—

"( ) No order made under subsection (1) shall enable the Secretary of State to take any action provided by that subsection after the period provided by subsection (7)."

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment I shall not repeat what I said on Amendment No. 26. However, having listened to the response of the noble Lord, Lord Evans, to that amendment, I should like to hear what the Government have to say on Amendment No. 28, which adopts a different approach to the point. I beg to move.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: I want to say only that the noble Baroness was absolutely right. Amendment No. 29 is wrongly grouped with Amendment No. 28. If we must take responsibility for that, then we do so fully. I shall not speak to Amendment No. 29 because Amendment No. 30,

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tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, covers the ground. I seek simply to explain the position to the Committee.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: Amendment No. 28 is designed to stop orders made under the Bill being used to extend the sunset period and thus get round the constraint provided by Clause 1(7). I want to assure the Committee that we have no intention of attempting any such thing. We accepted the principle and the practice of a sunset clause in good faith. Moreover, I can tell the Committee that the Bill does not allow the Secretary of State to do that anyway.

Clause 1 permits the Secretary of State to make orders affecting fire brigade members or fire authorities. It does not permit him to make orders giving himself further powers or extending the time limit set in the primary legislation.

The noble Baroness may have in mind subsection (5)(c) and (d), which allows for orders to make provision for exemptions and exceptions, and incidental, supplemental, consequential and transitional provisions. But I can assure her that those paragraphs do not allow for an extension of the sunset period.

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