HL Deb 14 October 1999 vol 605 cc91-2WA
Lord Graham of Edmonton

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will agree to the request from the Local Government Association for an inquiry into the machinery for determining the firefighters' conditions of service. [HL4217]

Lord Bassam of Brighton

Yes. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has, at the request of the Local Government Association, agreed to set up a departmental inquiry to consider whether, and if so what, changes need to be made to the present arrangements for determining the national conditions of service (other than pay) and working practices of firefighters. The purpose would be to secure best value, fairness at work, and effective procedures for the settling of disputes.

The Government's priority is the safety and protection of the public. It is not acceptable that there should currently be no effective machinery for ensuring that disputes between the local authority employers and the Fire Brigades Union over fire service national conditions of service are resolved by meaningful negotiations. The Government have agreed to the request for an independent inquiry because it is in the public interest and the right way forward.

The local authority employers have already agreed to restore existing procedures for resolving local disputes. While the inquiry is sitting, there will also be no changes to firefighters' pay and pension arrangements and the Government are inviting the employers to suspend their current proposals for changes to national conditions of service. In return, they would expect the Fire Brigades Union to suspend its ballots for industrial action.