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Lord Rooker: My Lords, my noble friend referred to joined-up government. The Government are so well joined up that the Bill is a discrete operation. It is not dependent on the Local Government Act, which has just received Royal Assent. It is not connected with the proposed legislation that will flow from the White

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Paper on the reorganisation of the fire services as a whole. It is a Bill that we hope that we do not have to operate.

Given the way that both my noble friends have explained the consultation process, it is easy to see that, in the circumstances in which we know the Bill would be operated, Amendment No. 16 could lead to a situation where it is more difficult for those providing the emergency fire cover at the time to gain prompt access to fire authority assets so that the public can be properly protected.

Therefore, in a way, the case is made, simply because the nature of the consultation that is properly required for drawing up the integrated risk management plan is such that it could—this is why is it not included in the Bill—lead to a situation where we cannot secure prompt access to the firefighting equipment that the services need to fight the fires in the context of the operation of the Bill. I do not mean ordinary situations. It is in the context only of the Bill being in operation.

Amendment No. 16 suggests that those consultations should be conducted in a similar manner to the integrated risk management set-up, which is somewhat different. The guidance that has been issued to fire authorities on that matter rightly includes the list of interested parties that my noble friends have read out. We would expect the fire authorities to consult those bodies.

The integrated risk management plans will be key documents, setting out each fire authority's plans for the standards of emergency cover; local targets; where and when resources should be located et cetera. It is therefore right that the authorities should consult really widely and ensure that all sections of the community—including business, as my noble friend pointed out—have access to the means of influencing the way in which fire and rescue services are delivered in that area. With respect, I must say that that is not what the Bill is about. Therefore, Amendment No. 16, because it would mean that the Secretary of State's ability would be constrained in the circumstances that he would need to operate the Bill, should not be part of the Bill. I ask my noble friend to withdraw it.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, perhaps I may ask my noble friend to clarify what he has just said. First, the integrated risk management consultation provisions clearly and expressly include situations where there may be an emergency. Secondly, the question that arises therefore is whether Clause 1(4) takes account of that width of consultation.

Subsection (4) has not been set out in the debate. It states:

    "Before making an order under this section containing a direction about the use or disposal of property or facilities, the Secretary of State must consult such persons who—

(a) are, in his opinion, likely to be affected by the proposed direction, or
(b) represent persons who are, in his opinion, likely to be so affected, as he thinks fit".

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In making those consultations, will he take account of the width of consultation required by the integrated risk management provisions or not? If he will, that would be some reassurance.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, as I have made abundantly clear, the answer is no.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I am surprised at my noble friend's response. As my noble friend Lord Wedderburn said—I am holding the consultation document in my hand—it seems to me that the fire authority integrated risk management planning document makes arrangements for emergencies. I would have thought that the reference to the document was to the advantage of everyone concerned. It clearly sets out the people who should be consulted and makes appropriate arrangements for emergencies.

We have attempted not only with this amendment but with Amendment No. 1 to try to deal with the Government's repeated statement that this is simply a Bill dealing with emergency situations and it is hoped that they will never have to use the powers set out in it. Unfortunately, that is not set out in the Bill. The Bill makes no reference to use only in emergencies. Our attempts to write it into the Bill have simply been rejected by the Government. That is very unfortunate. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord McCarthy moved Amendment No. 17:

    Page 2, line 8, at end insert—

"(4A) Where the members of the negotiating body inform the Secretary of State that they are in dispute or disagreement relating to a matter on which the Secretary of State submits proposals and that they agree to submit the dispute or disagreement to resolution in a process of conciliation, mediation or arbitration, he shall consult ACAS with a view to establishing such a process with the agreement of the parties.
(4B) Where such a process results in proposals by a mediator or an award by an arbitrator or arbitration body, the Secretary of State shall consult with the members of the negotiating body concerning those proposals or that award before proceeding to make an order."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in Grand Committee we sought at considerable length and detail to ascertain the Government's attitude to third-party dispute resolution; that is, conciliation, mediation or arbitration which would normally be provided by ACAS.

We are therefore proposing three amendments. A previous one dealt with an agreement reached between the parties which the Government might want to set aside, whether it was the result of third-party dispute resolution or not. We have two more amendments which are more directly related to the question of third-party dispute resolution. Amendment No. 17 relates to a situation in which there is no agreement between the parties but the parties would like to try third-party dispute resolution. Amendment No. 18

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relates to a situation in which there is no agreement but the parties are not agitating for third-party dispute resolution.

It is fair to say that on several occasions the Minister has told us that he is not against third-party dispute resolution. In fact, he said he thought it was a good idea—that is, conciliation, mediation and also arbitration. He stressed to us, as reported at col. GC 283 on 3rd July, the degree to which in this service there are already proposals specifying ways of having third-party dispute resolution. Therefore, how can anyone say that this was a service in which third-party dispute resolution was an alien factor? He said:

    "The arrangements in place between the Fire Brigades Union and the employers already cover the circumstances of arbitration—as a last resort, I accept. Paragraphs 13 and 14 of the constitution of the National Joint Council for Local Authorities' Fire Brigades provide that if the council fails to reach agreement on any matter contained in paragraph 8 of the constitution—that is, matters relating to conditions of service—the matter will be automatically referred to ACAS"—

automatically, ex parte. He continued:

    "If the conciliation fails to resolve the dispute, either side of the NJC can refer the matter to ACAS for arbitration and the other side of the NJC is required to participate. So the mechanism already exists".

In other words, he sought to argue that various alternative ways of introducing arbitration were not required.

The Minister continued:

    "Given—this has to be clearly stated; I think it is accepted; no one disagrees with it, I hope—that the agreement reached on 13th June was signed by both sides of the national joint council, it follows, therefore, that the arbitration procedures of the national joint council constitution can be applied to it if the circumstances require as it progresses through the process".—[Official Report, 3/7/03; col. GC 283.]

That is so, but only if the Secretary of State agrees and only if the arbitration, in particular—that is why we have tabled the amendment—is required as a way of gaining an independent assessment of the solution that the Secretary of State wishes to impose by law.

Perhaps I may take noble Lords back to the dispute which was the genesis of the Bill. I believe it is admitted—it was certainly reported widely in the press—that there were two separate occasions when the parties had either agreed or were about to agree and the Secretary of State intervened. He said that it was no good to reach such an agreement because the Government would not accept it.

Although the Minister told me in Grand Committee that the dispute was not an emergency, nevertheless, if it had turned into an emergency, the Secretary of State would have imposed his own solution at that point because he did not have the Bill then. We are saying that, if he does issue his proposals, there should be some kind of independent access to a verdict which the parties, the newspapers and the public can consider.

Therefore, we say in proposed new subsection (4B):

    "Where such a process results in proposals by a mediator or an award by an arbitrator"—

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that is, whatever the parties are able to agree—

    ". . . the Secretary of State shall consult with the members of the negotiating body concerning those proposals or that award before proceeding to make an order".

Therefore, the parties do not have that already as a way of appealing against an order. We are not saying that if they decide to come to the Secretary of State and say, "We would like to have what is essentially an independent assessment of your solution", that that immediately becomes a binding arbitration on the parties. We are saying that that was never available to the parties in the previous dispute.

If the Government are to be, in effect, the ghost at the bargaining table, outside the process and telling the employers what they can agree, and, subsequently, if the employers reach an agreement which the Government dislike and do not want and they impose their decision upon the parties, then there should at least, in the interest of equity, be some kind of independent assessment of the validity and fairness of what is about to be imposed by law. I beg to move.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I apologise to my noble friend, who quoted what I said in Committee, because what I am about to say is word for word what I said then, so he will hear it for the second time. I believe the reasons are wholly justified because, frankly, we cannot accept Amendment No. 17.

There is a set of amendments, some of which we shall come to shortly, which would make it difficult for the Secretary of State to exercise the powers in the Bill which, I repeat, the elected House, although not having debated all the details, has agreed in principle he should have.

A number of noble Lords and, indeed, some Members of the other place, have repeatedly called for the Bill to provide for arbitration between the parties. We have made it clear that in the Government's view—I keep putting a caveat on this—in circumstances where the Bill is in operation and where it is necessary to draw a line under any future dispute, it is not appropriate to include such provisions in the Bill. We have said that for a number of reasons.

We believe that the democratically elected Secretary of State with overall responsibility for the fire service—the Deputy Prime Minister—is the appropriate person to settle the dispute if the two parties cannot agree. That is in the context of the Bill where he has to impose a solution; I accept that.

The major causes of disagreement in the recent dispute have been on matters which are not capable of being arbitrated; for example, how the service should move from nationally prescribed standards of fire cover to a locally determined risk-based approach to fire cover.

It is difficult to see how even the best independent arbitrator could be better placed to make informed judgments than those directly involved in managing the service, or those in Government with policy responsibility for it.

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I repeat that the Bill requires the Secretary of State to consult a negotiating body on his proposal for when he will fix or modify; that is, impose conditions of service. That means that he has to take into account their views before making his final decision. He will be required to do that otherwise he would be up before my noble and learned friends.

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