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Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, I wholly agree with my noble friend in his moving of the amendment, but I am not sure I agree with him on the emergency point. The amendment is in connection with Clause 1(3). It applies to orders changing or modifying or fixing the conditions of service. If there is an emergency, it is terribly difficult to envisage that the Secretary of State will come forward with a desperate effort to change the conditions of service. In my understanding, the emergency point has been raised in connection with orders under Clause 1(1)(b).

My noble friend asks for third party assistance on the idea that there is a problem about emergencies on this amendment which relates to the situation where the Secretary of State proposes to change the conditions of service. And he is right.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I am unable to accept Amendment No. 18 in the name of my noble friend Lord McCarthy and other noble Lords for the same reason we were unable to accept Amendment No. 17 when the House sat on 18th September.

My noble friend Lord Rooker made it clear at Second Reading, in Grand Committee and again in the earlier stages of Report, that the powers in the Bill need to be used to draw a line under any future dispute.

The negotiating bodies have every right to enter into arbitration. It is written into the constitution of the NJC. Clause 1(3) allows the negotiating bodies an opportunity to scrutinise any order proposed by the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of State must consider their views before proceeding. However, to suggest that the negotiating body should then return to arbitration on this new issue is one bite of the cherry too far.

Amendment No. 18 would prolong any dispute with further arbitration. If the Secretary of State imposes that arbitration on the negotiating body while it is at loggerheads, it is unlikely to prove a helpful manoeuvre in progressing talks—not to mention the difficulty of deciding when the process of assistance has been exhausted. I must conclude that Amendment No. 18 would effectively prohibit the Secretary of State from

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making orders under Clause 1(1)(a). As a result, I respectfully request noble Lords to withdraw their amendment.

Lord McCarthy: My Lords, if those are the kind of arguments that we are getting from the Government, I quite see why the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, is not here. The fact is that nobody will delay anything. It is up to the Secretary of State to decide when he wants to use his powers. Constitutionally, in terms of what is in the agreement between the union and the employer—about which the Government have made great play—arbitration operates before the Secretary of State issues an order. I would be very happy if the Government interrupted me and said that I was wrong, and that they are committed to a situation in which the Secretary of State could issue an order but it would be shelved immediately and he would wait if a party wished to try third-party dispute resolution. I do not think that they will say that. None of us believes so.

By the time the Secretary of State finally screwed up his courage and decided to issue one of his orders—I admit that he would be reluctant to do so, as it is a very dangerous and stupid thing to do—he would want to get it over very quickly. He would not want third-party dispute resolution. In particular, he would not want independent assessment—I stress the words "independent assessment". I do not believe that we would get arbitration in that context. I do not even know whether I would want arbitration in that context; I want a shaft of light.

I have spent a long time mucking about with third-party dispute resolution. One thing has come through to me: as the late Hugh Clegg said, if they ask for us they do not know what they want, and we do not know what they need anyway but, by God, we will find out. That is the heart of third-party dispute resolution. The parties come because they are in a mess and both sides have exaggerated. The Government and employers have exaggerated the benefits of the settlement, and the unions have exaggerated the justifiability of their claims. Someone must sort out such disputes.

I am not asking for arbitration; I am saying that it is sensible. If the Secretary of State reached the stage where he was forced to use those powers, I would feel sorry for him. It is essential to have a little conciliation and mediation at the point where he puts forward his proposals and finally decides how it will be, poor man. Independent assessment would be extremely useful for him, and it would provide elementary justice for the workers concerned.

I am not going to get anywhere tonight, so with great respect I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hanham moved Amendment No. 19:

    Page 2, line 22, leave out "two years" and insert "eighteen months"

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I moved this amendment in Committee. I am well aware that the sunset clause was inserted into the Bill during the proceedings in the other place. The sunset clause provides two years. I cannot imagine that, at that

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stage, any one had the slightest idea how long this Bill was going to be on the Floor of this House. Indeed, they might have had other thoughts had they known. However the period of two years that was inserted in the other place will be quite a long time considering when this Bill finally receives Royal Assent. The Bill is designed to deal with one specific set of purposes only—the current dispute. Although I appreciate that there is a timetable for this dispute to be finally resolved, two years could be reduced to 18 months. Therefore, I beg to move.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I support this amendment. Eighteen months appears to be wholly apt for a temporary emergency measure that the Government do not wish to use—I am quoting from what they have said—save in a state of emergency that applies when there is no state of emergency to impose conditions of service by decree unless Clause 1—the devil of it—is amended. It is not a good Bill, so the shorter its life the better.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, as we have heard, Amendment No. 19 is intended to shorten the sunset clause period from two years to eighteen months. The other place decided on the two-year period for reasons that, despite the time that has passed since that amendment was made, are still valid, and which I will reiterate here.

A time limit of 18 months would last until about March 2005, which sounds a long time away. It would probably be sufficient time for any Bill introduced next Session to implement White Paper policies to receive Royal Assent, although if the parliamentary passage of such a Bill were prolonged, that could not be guaranteed. However, even if the new legislation were in place, the changes on the ground that it would instigate would not take place overnight. It makes sense to have a two-year period so that we can ensure that the modernisation agenda is well under way before the powers in the current Bill lapse. We would rightly be open to criticism from this House if, in 18 months time, we found ourselves facing further disruption and frustration, but arbitrarily, without the powers in this Bill.

A two-year time limit gives greater certainty. The Government consider a two-year limit to be the right period of time. I hope, therefore, that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, I followed his explanation and I appreciate all that he says about the programme, but why did the Government not include the sunset clause at the beginning? Were there other reasons for accepting it, or is the Minister's explanation the reason for having second thoughts?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, the explanation that I have given is the reason why the Government accepted the sunset clause.

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Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I remain dismayed at the Minister's response, as I was before. From what he said I can only assume that there will be another fire services Bill in the Queen's Speech because, after all, we have had only the White Paper so far. What has been said confirms that we will be reconsidering the fire service once the Queen has made her pronouncements of the Government's future programme.

The sunset clause is still too long. I do not necessarily agree with the Minister about the need to keep it going until a further fire services Bill has been passed, for all the reasons that we outlined at an earlier stage in our deliberations—to which we will no doubt return later. We have concerns about the Bill in its entirety, so the less time that it is on the statute book the better. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden moved Amendment No. 20:

    Page 2, line 24, at end insert—

"(7A) Except where one of the conditions in subsection (7B) applies, an order made under this section which has not previously been revoked shall automatically lapse on the day after three months have elapsed from the end of that two year period.
(7B) The conditions are—
(a) where an order made under subsection (1)(a) sets or modifies conditions of service to be more favourable than the conditions previously applying for any fire brigade member and do not reduce the pay and allowances payable to any person, or
(b) where an order has given directions under subsection (1)(b) which the Secretary of State, after consultation under subsections (3) and (4) above, declares before that day to be necessary for the reasons which he states."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in Grand Committee, my noble friend Lord Wedderburn of Charlton tabled an amendment the object of which was to ensure that, when the sunset clause operated, an order made under the provisions of the Bill that had not previously been revoked would lapse automatically.

As my noble friend explained then, it is not much good if the Bill, if it is an Act, automatically ceases to exist, if orders made under it are allowed to continue. The amendment that we tabled in Grand Committee suggested an automatic lapse date after three months. As my noble friend said, we were not wedded to three months, but we thought that some time limit should be put on orders.

In the debate that followed, the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Temple Guiting, whom I am pleased to see on the Front Bench this evening, pointed out that it might not be a good idea for all orders automatically to lapse. What if pay rates had been raised, equipment moved or property sold? There were many changes that no one would want to reverse.

We accepted that there was validity in that argument, so we have come back on Report with a different amendment. We are again seeking a time limit on orders made under the Bill, but we stipulate that it should not have the effect of reducing pay and allowances made to any person nor apply to any order

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that the Secretary of State, after appropriate consultation, declares before that day to be necessary for reasons that he will state.

I hope that the Minister will feel that there is merit in what we are trying to do. We accept that the Bill is an interim measure and that that is guaranteed by the sunset clause. However, we want to make sure that orders made under it will also lapse after three months, except in the situations provided for in our altered amendment and referred to by the Minister in Grand Committee. After all, that is what discussions in Committee are meant for. We listened to the arguments made by the Minister, and we have taken them on board and tried to meet them with this amendment. I hope that it will be acceptable to my Front Bench. I beg to move.

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