Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I would accept the amendment if it were limited to a situation other than an emergency situation. However, because of the drafting of Clause 1, that cannot be. Therefore, I oppose it.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, I am glad that my noble friend has pressed the amendment on the Government. It removes the farce about the semantics of the sunset clause. It has become a tradition to discuss the Bill after sunset and well into the night. Tonight, we have to do without the king of Denmark. I do not know whether that is because,

There is something farcical about a Bill that says that it has a sunset clause but allows the Secretary of State, if he wishes, to make orders just as "rosy-fingered dawn" appears for the first time and to continue with whatever conditions and declarations he wishes to make with regard to fire authorities. Such orders will not cease to have effect unless he chooses to revoke them. The Bill is not a Bill with a sunset clause; it is a legislative phoenix that the Secretary of State has the power to make rise from its ashes at any point before the period of two years ends.

My noble friend was right: the arguments made against our amendment in Grand Committee are dealt with in the second part of this amendment. I press that on whomever is to speak for the Government. They were the only reasons given. If there are further reasons, no doubt we shall hear them. This amendment covers what was argued against it: namely, first, that the firefighters might have been given by order different and better conditions of service, which we did not want to take away. That is dealt with by the amendment. Secondly, there might be some important directions to fire authorities which must continue because of the serious, if not emergency, situation that would be created without those directions being fulfilled. That is dealt with by the amendment.

6 Oct 2003 : Column 102

What else do the Government want? Do they want to continue the life of the Bill in a different form for ever under orders which never cease unless the Secretary of State decides to revoke them? It is not reasonable to demand that. Clearly, the spirit of the amendment should be accepted. If the Government do not like the wording, they should tell us that they will come back at Third Reading with something more appropriate.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, first, when we discussed some of these issues at an earlier stage, it was clear that we had gone with the notion of a sunset clause to demonstrate our good faith in respect of the arguments raised.

I turn now to Amendment No. 20, which I acknowledge responds to earlier debates on the issue. Ultimately, it is not right or appropriate to limit the consequences of orders made under the Bill in this way for the following reason. Paragraph (b) of Amendment No. 20 does not seem to achieve anything other than to add more bureaucracy since the Secretary of State can simply declare that orders about property and facilities are necessary. If he believes it to be the case, he could declare that they are all necessary.

It is also unclear what effect the proposed amendment would have on orders made under the Bill. It does not follow that if an order lapses the changes that have taken place as a result of it must be changed back to the previous position. That would result in uncertainty and, potentially, a degree of chaos. If an order lapses, it would result in preventing changes that have not yet been implemented from taking place.

The amendment places too great a restriction on the powers of the Secretary of State to allow orders made to lapse arbitrarily. It is for that reason that we cannot accept the principle behind this proposition. I therefore invite the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I am rather disappointed with that response, as I am sure my noble friend understands. He said clearly that the reason the amendment is not acceptable is that it would place restrictions on the Secretary of State's powers under the Bill. That, precisely, is the real reason; namely, that the Secretary of State wants to maintain powers to do what he likes without any accountability. I find that quite unacceptable. We shall need to think carefully before Third Reading.

It is unacceptable that there could be a situation in which the Act would lapse, but orders—no matter what they were like or however unacceptable they may be in the long run—would continue to exist even though the Act no longer existed. I cannot understand how that can be justified, particularly when we have tried very hard to meet the points made by the Minister when we raised this issue in Grand Committee. Of course, I shall withdraw the amendment at this time in the evening. But I am very unhappy and give notice

6 Oct 2003 : Column 103

that I shall consider what has been said because I think that we should return to this issue at Third Reading. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Lyell): My Lords, I advise the House that if Amendment No. 21 is accepted, I would not be able to call Amendment No. 22 because of pre-emption.

Baroness Hanham moved Amendment No. 21:

    Page 2, line 25, leave out subsection (8) and insert—

"( ) No order shall be made under this section unless a draft of the order has been laid before, and approved by resolution of, both Houses of Parliament."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we return again to a matter which we have discussed, but I make no apology for bringing it back. We have talked at length about the purposes and use of this Bill and it has become more apparent, as our lengthy debates have progressed, that it is possible that the Bill could be used either for an emergency or—as I think was the original intention—to draw the line under a dispute. In effect, that is what the Bill is largely all about.

It has also become clear that there will be time, if the Secretary of State decides to pursue an order, for at least some discussion and negotiation to take place on it. So this is not something that would go through in a matter of days. It is therefore not a matter that should be the subject of a negative resolution in this House. If the Secretary of State reaches the point where he needs to issue an order under this legislation then that is a very serious matter, one which should be debated in both Houses and not simply put forward for negative resolution. On that basis, I beg to move.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I intervene briefly once again to say that I would accept this amendment if it did not apply to an emergency situation, but under the Bill as drafted, it will do so. That would inhibit the requisite exercise of powers of the Secretary of State. Thus the same objection arises as that which I raised on Amendment No. 9.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, two different propositions are contained in these amendments. Amendment No. 21 argues for an affirmative resolution, while Amendment No. 22 seeks a negative resolution. I shall deal with the amendments together because in a sense the kernel of the argument will be contained in my first series of points about affirmative resolution.

I know that we have been over these arguments in Grand Committee. We made it clear then, and the argument still stands, that the report published on 11th June—my birthday—by the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform considered the delegated powers contained in the Bill and found that the degree of parliamentary control over the exercise of each power was appropriate. Thus

6 Oct 2003 : Column 104

the expert body of your Lordships' House has made it plain that it has decided that the Government have got this right.

Perhaps I may quote from paragraph 15 of the report where it states that:

    "We take the view that the delegation is appropriate. We also believe that the level of scrutiny is appropriate, taking into account, for example, that regulations governing conditions of service of the police are similarly subject to negative procedure. There is power under clause 1(5)(a) to fix or modify pay or allowances retrospectively. But we note that under clause 1(6), retrospective reduction is not permitted, and that there is a 2-year 'sunset' at clause 1(7)".

This matter has already been considered by the experts and they have deemed it appropriate.

Amendment No. 22 is slightly more tempered and extends the requirement for negative resolution of either House from an order made under subsection (1)(a) to orders made under subsection (1)(b) as well. Clause 1(1)(b) allows the Secretary of State to direct fire authorities in the use and disposal of property and facilities. The main reason for subsection (1)(b) is, in the case of further strikes, to allow the Secretary of State to instruct the fire authorities to give the emergency fire cover access to whatever equipment they might need to protect human welfare, a reasonable proposition in itself.

In such a situation, we would need to move quickly and it would be unacceptable for the Secretary of State to make an order that could later be prayed against. That would lead to a chaotic situation which we cannot accept. For those reasons, we reject both the approaches set out in these amendments and I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, I understand his second argument—namely, that they could not possibly allow time for an order made under Clause 1(1)(b)—which refers to giving directions to a fire authority—to be prayed against because it would be so urgent in an emergency. If that is so—I do not believe the Minister was here—why did his noble friend resist the amendment that tried to limit such orders to emergencies?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page