|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I have put my name to Amendment No. 5 and I want to speak to that now. Throughout the passage of the Bill, my noble friend Lord Campbell has been assiduous in seeking to help the Government to amend it to limit its use to a time of a state of emergency. As he has pointed out clearly today, that situation does not pertain at present. The amendments he has tabled today properly draw attention to the fact that the Deputy Prime Minister is not the only player in this scenario; that the local authorities and the fire authorities, as those with the mandate to pick up any result of his actions, have a right to be involved in any decision made or forced upon the workforce for which they have prime
It is, of course, an absurdity that my noble friend should have to attempt to define and limit the Bill in this way, but no other attempt has been made to do so. As the Minister made clear, the legislation is being introduced for one purpose and one purpose only: to give the Secretary of State power to bring an end to the dispute which erupted earlier this year.
Brought in as a hastily constructed measure, the Bill has ground its weary way through the long, hot days of summer and through the colourful days of autumn to tonight with extensive debate from the Opposition partiesI beg noble Lords' pardonnot from the Opposition parties (I had better get the punch line right) which early on declared their concerns about, and opposition to, the Bill and thought that the debate would come thus swiftly to an end. That extensive debate came from three noble Lords on the Government's own side, who, between them, maintained the impetus of dissent for months. Truly, this has been a surreal experience.
It has always been hard to see how the Bill would be effective. Nothing within it would prevent an antagonistic workforce refusing to accept the Secretary of State's legal attempt to enforce a financial settlement; nothing would stop them all coming out on strike again against his determination; no attempt has been made to introduce a no-strike directive for the fire service, which might at least have enabled the legislation to have teeth; and nothing indicates how, even if required by law to do so, equipment would be handed over in a future strike. That would then mean the courts having to be invoked, which could of course have been done at the initial stages of the strike if the Attorney-General had used the powers available to him.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, the power of injunction, which he could have used. Nothing in the Bill explains the type of situation which might prompt use of this legislation, except that the Deputy Prime Minister was miffed at being unable single-handedly to bring to an end an ill-timedin terms of the Iraq warand serious dispute. Indeed, if this legislation had been in place at an early stage in the dispute, it is doubtful whether it would have had any effect at all.
My noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway alluded to a very strange situation. Clause 119 of the Local Government Bill has repealed Section 19 of the Fire Services Act and handed those powers to the local authority. I thought that that clause might have been delayed in its implementation. I understand that it has not and that it has been implemented. Therefore, the Deputy Prime Minister has passed over to the local authorities the powers determining the number of fire-fighters and the closure of fire stations. However, under the legislation before us today, those are both matters
It is my intention to support the amendments of my noble friend Lord Campbell if only to amend this legislation if it cannot be stopped. I would rather have the insurance policy of my noble friend's amendments than nothing at all. But, notwithstanding whether he presses his Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 to a vote and the outcome of that vote, at the appropriate time I or he will move Amendment No. 5 seeking to leave out Clause 1.
This debate would probably have had more effect if it had taken place when the House was full or when we could have been assured that the House was full. But, as my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway pointed out, we have had no opportunities at all during the course of the Bill to call a Division. The hours have almost never been appropriate and when they were we were in Grand Committee. We have not had an opportunity to bring amendments forward on which there could be votes. The rest of the time has been taken up with amendments that we could not possibly have supported and to which we did not feel it was appropriate to speak. Therefore, I make it clear that on this side of the House we do not support the Bill and we shall seek to remove Clause 1.
He was talking about a current industrial dispute. I am sure that we would all agree with that but I would not have gone on to the heavy-handed approach of this Bill. I do not want to take the time of the House by repeating the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, and by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway.
During the course of the Bill the Government have created an unlikely alliance. It is a puzzle to me that they have so set their face against including in the Bill matters that they have acknowledged apply. The more that they have resisted those inclusions, the more important the proponents of those points regard them. On these Benches not only have we always had a distaste for the Bill but we have also opposed it. If it does not disappear, we feel that tonight the Government should agree that the Bill states what the Government say the wording means.
I have not been involved in the negotiations that are continuing so perhaps it is not for me to suggest how to negotiate. However, the Government have not been the major party to those negotiations either, so I feel free to comment on their approach to the psychology of negotiation. Those on these Benches who are left will
Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, for his opposition to the Bill. I do not like the Bill any more than he does, but we gave an undertakingI believe it was the right undertaking to givethat we would not attempt to wreck the Bill. Taking the amendments as a group, they leave out Clause 1, and they seem to us to be wrecking amendments. The amendments would take out a major clause in the Bill from which everything else follows. In those circumstances I do not believe that we could support it.
Throughout the discussions on the Bill we have attempted to introduce a series of amendments designed to protect the rights of employees in the Fire Service that we thought were under threat under certain provisions of the Bill. We have tried very hard to do that, but so far we have not managed to get any acceptance of that point of view from our Front Bench. We have other amendments before the House on similar lines and I invite the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, to support them. They do not have the effect of wrecking the Bill which, as we have been told repeatedly, has been endorsed by the other place and, therefore, it is not right to attempt to wreck the Bill entirely. The amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, would have the effect of wrecking the Bill if taken together.
On a number of occasions, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, rightly said, we sought to introduce the element of emergency, but we took great pains to define what we meant by emergency and to state the circumstances in which we believe an emergency would apply. I regret to say that those amendments were not accepted by our Front Bench. There is no attempt to define "emergency" in the amendments before the House this evening. I think that in that respect the amendments anyhow are flawed. So, unfortunately, despite the fact that I commend the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, for his commitment to the whole idea of collective bargaining and to trade union rights, I nevertheless feel that I am not able to support the amendments.
The Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Lord Rooker): My Lords, I agree and pay tribute to the consistency of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. From day one he has raised this central issue. I feel as though I have answered it on more than one occasion. I shall do so substantively again tonight. Certainly, the noble Lord has followed a dogged path on the issue of tying the Bill to a state of emergency. But, as I have explained before and as I hope to explain now, basically that would negate the purpose for which we have the Bill and stop it being used. I suspect that that is probably the intention anyway. My noble friend Lady Turner said that they do not want to wreck the Bill, but certainly they do not want it. Therefore, one must look at the issue in that context.
I shall deal with Amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 5 in this group. Amendment No. 1 would restrict the use of the powers in the Fire Services Bill to a state of emergency. I accept that, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, said, the issue was debated both in Grand Committee and on Report. Therefore, I do not have much to say that is new. To restrict the powers to a state of emergency would in effect prevent them from being used in the manner in which they were intended. I shall give examples as I go.
I have repeatedly made clear that the Bill has been introduced to deal with a specific set of circumstances; that is, the Fire Services pay dispute and the ongoing negotiations. These are at a delicate stage. However, if the negotiations were to failand we hope they do notthat would not constitute a state of emergency, as currently defined in legislation or as currently understood.
If the fire-fighters were to call for further strikes, that too would not be seen as a state of emergency. If there was a large fire while the firefighters were on strike, it would be an emergency situation but it would not constitute a state of emergency.
During the firefighters strikes the Attorney-General did not see fit to declare a state of emergency. For the avoidance of any doubt, I have had no discussions whatever with the Attorney-General on this matter. So, if we restrict the powers of the Bill to a state of emergency, we would not be able to use them to direct the fire and rescue authorities to allow emergency fire coverfor example, the militaryaccess to their equipment. That could put people's lives in danger and put property at risk, which we are not prepared to do.
I accept that the noble Lord tabled Amendment No. 2 to complement Amendment No. 1 on the implementation of orders which were made when there was not a state of emergency. That would seek to draw a distinction between making an order in a state of emergency when any requirement to consult would be inappropriate, and making an order when there was no such state of emergency.
However, I have been advisedI realise that me being advised is nonsense to certain Members; and they can cough all they like, but that is a factthat if Amendment No. 1 restricts the right to make orders in Clause 1(1)(a) and (b) to cases of a state of emergency there is no power to make orders outside a state of emergency. I make that absolutely clear. Therefore, Amendment No. 2 could not work. In any case, if Amendment No. 2 were taken on its own, ignoring the potential effect of Amendment No. 1, it only adds to the consultation provisions already in the Bill in Clause 1(3) and (4). We believe these are proportionate and right in the circumstances, allowing relevant bodies to comment but not to impede the proper use of the powers in the Bill.
I think it is generally accepted that Amendment No. 5 removes not just Clause 1 but the Bill. Clause 1 is the Bill. We can argue the toss about thisI know that we added a clause in Committeebut Clause 1 is the Bill, so removing it is the end of the Bill. Put
I repeat: if the provision were tied purely to a state of emergency, as the amendments are drafted, the powers could not be used outside a state of emergency. As I said, Amendment No. 2 could not work and, in any case, only adds to the consultation requirements that are already in the Bill. That is not a criticism of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, but it is clear in the Bill that there are requirements on the Secretary of State to consult. So that is not an issue. Let us consult but not allow the operation to be impeded. That means that we must listen and take account of the consultation; we cannot operate on a hunch.
With all that in mindand knowing the deeply professional manner in which the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, has dealt with the Bill from day one, being wholly consistent in his approachand given the drafting of the amendments, I sincerely request him not to press them. Obviously, it is up to him what he does, but if he were to do so, I should advise my noble friends to oppose them.
Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, before my noble friend sits downI am sorry to have had a cough in the middle of his speech, but I understood that that was allowed in your Lordships' Housedoes he agree with the Deputy Prime Minister's statement on this morning's "Today" programme on the BBC that the negotiations that he mentioned, being in a delicate state, are not a crisis and are not likely to be a crisis, but have just hit a little local difficulty?
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page