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"(a) regulations under section (Power to make further provision about documents in electronic form) or (Power to amend sections (Complaints to which this Part applies) and (High hedges)); or
(b)" Page 54, line 3, at end insert—

"(5) No regulations shall be made by the Secretary of State under section (Power to make further provision about documents in electronic form) or (Power to amend sections (Complaints to which this Part applies) and (High hedges)) (whether alone or with other provisions) unless a draft of the statutory instrument containing the regulations has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament."

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 74 [Extent]:

Baroness Scotland of Asthal moved Amendment No. 146:

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Demoted tenancies]:

[Amendments Nos. 147 to 149 not moved.]

Lord Grocott: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure for 15 minutes.

We can begin consideration of the Third Reading of the Fire Services Bill in 15 minutes. I think I need to explain the situation to your Lordships and to apologise for the fact that this is not precisely as scheduled. This is because deliberations on the previous Bill went on rather longer than most of us had anticipated. My profuse apologies go to everyone in all parts of the House who have been inconvenienced by the way in which things have transpired, particularly those who were about to take part in an hour-long Unstarred Question on a very important subject. Urgent discussions will take place at a sensible time

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tomorrow to find a satisfactory time when perhaps rather more time can be allocated to the Unstarred Question than would normally have been the case.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 9.23 until 9.38 p.m.]

Fire Services Bill

9.38 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 1 [Powers of the Secretary of State]:

Lord Campbell of Alloway moved Amendment No. 1:

    Page 1, line 3, at end insert "if requisite in the public interest of immediate implementation in a state of emergency"

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in speaking to Amendment No. 1, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 2 and 5.

At the outset, in a state of some frustration and anger, I want to make a moderate protest, so that this situation shall never, I hope, arise again. I have given notice to the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms, to my own Chief Whip and the noble Lord, Lord Roper. It is idle to blame the usual channels because they are not interested in the nature of my protest, which is the entitlement to have a debate with a representative vote on a matter of great social and political interest not so long before the next election. We have been deprived of that. We have been deprived of it by sending this Bill to Grand Committee. We have been deprived of it by having Report stage in the middle of the night with no one here, a man and a dog. We are deprived of it again today.

Having given notice of this protest, I hope that it will not happen again. There is nothing that we can do. Here we are, the Government will have their Bill. There is no way we can stop it. There is no one here to stop it. It is the design of the Government, who have said throughout that they would never accept an amendment to this Bill. It is a simple outrage and I protest.

Having made my protest, I turn to the merits of the amendments. For what use it is, I simply do not know. Indeed, I have been tempted to say to your Lordships, "I am taking my name off all these amendments and going home in protest", but I was persuaded by the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms not to do so.

Amendment No. 5, which is to leave out Clause 1, is the obverse of the coin of rejection of Amendments Nos. 1 and 2. The idea is to save time and repetition and not to pre-empt noble Lords from speaking to each amendment when moved. I have given notice on day three of Report that I shall move Amendment No. 5 if my Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 are rejected. Perhaps your Lordships will accept an apology on behalf of my noble friend Lord Northesk for his absence. He wished to speak but was unable to attend due to personal and private circumstances.

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The object of Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 is to confine the exercise of powers of the Secretary of State under Clause 1 to a state of emergency either as defined by Clause 1 or as envisaged by the Secretary of State under Amendment No. 2. That amendment also makes mandatory provision where there is no state of emergency for consultation with fire authorities and local government before directions are given by the Secretary of State. It is respectfully suggested to your Lordships that definition of a state of emergency is appropriate as relevant to the due exercise of ministerial discretion.

Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 grasp the nettle of contention which has stalked this Bill on and ever since Second Reading: the imposition of conditions of service by decree at any time under the absolute discretion of the Secretary of State. Notwithstanding the three fretful days in Grand Committee, for which I do not complain against the Government, and on Report, and attendance by six noble Lords in Grand Committee—on a few occasions, eight—and a similar scant attendance on Report, no reasoned argument has ever been deployed on this Bill. Although the point was made at Second Reading, no reasoned argument has ever been deployed in opposition to the substance of these amendments. At all events some common ground would appear to have been found since Second Reading.

Notwithstanding the current dispute as to whether the agreed interim pay increase of 7 per cent subject to not less than 16 per cent with effect from June 2004 should be withheld pending the affirmation of the Audit Commission which no doubt can be resolved—that is a rather curious dispute—the climate of relevant industrial relations has changed to such an extent as to enable the traditional process of collective bargaining to proceed without resort to imposition of conditions of service by the Secretary of State by statutory instrument. That is clear from the words of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, on the second day of Report at cols. 1157–1158 and 1165–1166 of Hansard.

It is now the intention of Government only to have resort to this Bill with reluctance in a state of emergency in which it is accepted that the firemen would comply with imposed conditions of service by statutory instrument having instant effect—I refer to col. 416 of Hansard of the first day of Report, 10th September—albeit that the briefing paper of the FBU, sent with a letter from Mr Andy Gilchrist of the 16th October, rightly contends that where there is no such state of emergency this Bill—which incidentally bears kinship with policy aspects of the White Paper—is draconian and wholly unacceptable. There is no mention in this Bill of emergency, and no emergency exists today or has done so for some considerable time—such as is defined in Amendment No. 1—that is relevant to the instant requirement of fire and rescue services.

The object of these amendments is not to kill the Bill but to amend it to serve only as an immediate standby, as an essential safeguard in an emergency such as a terrorist attack, whether actual or threatened, and to impose conditions of service by decree, as proposed by

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Amendment No. 2, as is the intention of the Government. The Bill is not concerned with amendment of trade union law or with extant bargaining and conciliation procedures and has no application to any other public service such as the Royal Mail.

The circumstances in which this Bill was debated in another place in March of this year are relevant to justify these amendments to Clause 1(1) to which I speak. The amendments define such state of emergency, and proscribe exercise of the powers of the Secretary of State to impose conditions of service by decree on members of fire brigades other than in a state of emergency. When there is no state of emergency, they require consultation with fire authorities before giving directions, to avoid confusion with the Local Government Act. On that matter, my noble friend Lady Hanham shall speak; she has vast experience in such matters and I have none.

The circumstances cannot justify provision to impose or threaten to impose conditions of service, at any time by statutory instrument, to draw a line as a "longstop" to any dispute which cannot be challenged. I quote the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, which I seldom do, but that is crucial. He has made that plain throughout, and I agree with his construction of the Bill. That power would act as a longstop on collective bargaining. That is the agreed construction between the noble Lord and myself, summarising an amicable exchange of ideas. It can be found in cols. 1157–58 and 1165–66 of Hansard of day two of our proceedings on Report.

When the Bill was introduced, the Government were simply obliged to act in the public interest after the breakdown of negotiations, to safeguard retention of the availability of the fire services. I think and hope that that was common ground; certainly I asserted so in this House. The Bill was intended to serve as a threat to impose such conditions unless and until the FBU returned to the negotiating table.

Due to the good offices of a noble Lord from the Government Front Bench who is not present—I hope that I need not identify him, but he is very experienced in such matters—and those of the TUC, the threat under the Bill was effective. Today, it is common ground that there is a satisfactory working relationship with the FBU. As the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has said, timetables for the implementation of agreements have been agreed. The ghost of the withdrawal of services at all events in an emergency has been laid.

Since the introduction of the Bill, circumstances have totally changed, and resort to statutory instrument is no longer requisite or acceptable. The Government now intend to resort to the Bill with reluctance and only in an emergency. There being no reference to emergency in the Bill—unless it is amended in some way—as proposed it is otiose, as the original intention no longer exists. It is now common ground that the Secretary of State should exercise power to govern by statutory instrument only in an emergency situation.

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The drafting of Clause 1(1), which enabled operation of the Bill when there was no state of emergency, opened the door to a series of amendments tabled by noble Lords on the Back Benches opposite. The first of these amendments, spoken to on the first day of Report, was to insert before Clause 1 a clause to limit the Bill to defined emergency situations in which the remit of the exercise of discretion of the Secretary of State is also defined. On this, we make common cause on a matter of principle which is consistent with the amendments to which I speak, notwithstanding other forms of definition in procedure.

It is not relevant to this debate to entertain reservations about other amendments in the series as recorded already in the Official Report. We are concerned with principle which, if it should commend itself, would be subject to drafting amendments introduced by another place, no doubt acceptable to your Lordships. Indeed, it would appear from the Official Report of 20th March of another place, heralding the introduction of this Bill, read with care, and on the passage of this Bill, that another place would wish to consider for the very first time this question of principle.

Assuredly, this is no exercise in confrontation. According to the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, in Paper 118, there is a significant risk of violation of Article 6 of the European Social Charter and Article 8 of the ILO Convention No. 151 if the Bill were to remain as drafted. If these amendments were to commend themselves, this risk of violation would be removed.

These amendments affirm excellent bargaining and conciliation procedures, save in a state of emergency in which they could not possibly apply. If not amended either by Amendment No. 1 or Amendment No. 2, the Bill would be harmful, divisive and wholly unacceptable. It would serve as an unprecedented threat against the freedom of the traditional process of collective bargaining. It would provoke a wider divisive effect on industrial relations in the public services. Is it not apparent from the FBU brief that it would invoke further disruptions of the fire services?

If these amendments were not to commend themselves to your Lordships, is not the Motion to leave out Clause 1 justified in any event? I beg to move.

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