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John McDonnell: When I tabled my amendments, I did not expect such widespread support for them. I am almost tempted to press them to a vote.

The responses so far have been reassuring, to an extent. We have been reassured, for instance, that the disposal power is not linked to any mass programme of sales—that it will be used in extremis, when there is no agreement at local level following adequate consultation. In normal circumstances, devolved powers will remain at local level. We have also been reassured about the overall consultation, and about the examination of an overall report to Parliament.

The Government have moved to some extent, but I think that a message should be sent to Ministers about concerns that have been expressed by Members on both sides about the potential impact on communities if this develops into a large-scale disposal programme. The powers in the Bill are not suited to that. The discussion that we have had so far about the development of risk management has involved enhanced resources, and increased provision rather than cuts.

On the basis of the assurances that we have been given, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Hammond: I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 6, at end insert—

'(1A) The provision that may be made by virtue of subsection (1)(a) includes the power to make provision about conditions of service relating to—
(a) membership of trades unions by fire brigade members; and
(b) disciplinary offences by fire brigades members.'.

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 14, in clause 2, page 2, line 28, leave out

'hours of duty or leave'.

Mr. Hammond: Amendment No. 1 deals with the third issue raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) on Second Reading. It is designed to give the Deputy Prime Minister the power, but not the obligation, to enforce his orders by introducing, through the disciplinary code, a strike ban, and if necessary to regulate membership of trade unions by fire brigade members. This may seem a slightly tortuous way of presenting the proposal, but the options were limited by the scope and architecture of the Bill, and I can assure the Committee, having taken advice, that this was the only way in which to test the Government.

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I was about to say that I was delighted to see that the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd) had returned, but he has now left again. I am sure he will return. He asked whether we proposed the creation of criminal offences. He will note from the phrasing of the amendment that it specifically does not create such an offence; nor does it raise the spectre of sequestration of assets, as some suggested during earlier discussions. It does allow the creation of a disciplinary offence, similar to those created by the Police Acts—failure to obey a lawful order being a disciplinary offence in a police force. If this Secretary of State chose or needed to use the power, this would provide a mechanism for the imposition of a ban on industrial action when that was necessary.

8.15 pm

I understand that the Home Secretary has proposed that prison officers should recover their legal right to strike, but should then enter into a negotiated no-strike agreement. The amendment would allow a similar type of strike ban in relation to fire brigades, but it would not be negotiated. Nothing in the Bill would be negotiated; it would all be imposed by the Secretary of State. The Deputy Prime Minister might call it an arbitrated strike ban, imposed by himself.

On Second Reading and subsequently, Members on both sides of the House have recognised the strength of the case that the Bill's fatal weakness as a means of imposing a settlement and ensuring that it works is its lack of teeth. The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey), who unfortunately cannot be with us today, acknowledged that as a defect in his proposals on Second Reading. More surprisingly, perhaps, the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn)—who is present—raised the question on Second Reading.

The hon. Gentleman put to the Deputy Prime Minister a scenario in which he had imposed a settlement and some or all fire brigade members simply refused to accept it, and went on strike. He asked what the Deputy Prime Minister would do at that point. The Deputy Prime Minister, I am afraid, replied

In other words, he did not have a clue, and he did not answer the hon. Gentleman's question.

I am going to guess that the hon. Member for Islington, North will not support my proposal for the Secretary of State to introduce a no-strike provision. None the less, he has identified the fatal flaw in the Bill, although he will no doubt approach the solution from a rather different angle.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to that aspect. If he opposes the Bill for the same reasons as me, and if his solution is a no-strike law relating to firefighters, what will he do—or what will a putative Tory Government

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do—when the firefighters strike? Will he recruit them all to the Army, as President Reagan did when the air traffic controllers went on strike? Or will he send soldiers to the firefighters' homes to drag them out, place them in fire tenders, and say "Go and put out fires"? Or will he do nothing, apart from negotiating—which is really the only way in which to solve industrial problems?

Mr. Hammond: The amendment would give the Deputy Prime Minister power to make regulations relating to disciplinary offences. It cannot be very specific, but we envisage the Secretary of State's being able, in appropriate circumstances, to make failure to obey a lawful order a disciplinary offence, just as it is in our police forces. That, in practice, would give the Secretary of State a weapon—albeit, perhaps, imperfect—in addition to those that the Bill would give him in its present incarnation, namely none at all.

I accept that this may not be a perfect solution, but we have deliberately eschewed criminal sanctions against firefighters who go on strike, and the sequestration of assets.

We do not believe that that is the appropriate way to proceed in the current circumstances. However, I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are talking about a Bill that is time-limited to two years; it is a short-term emergency provision. The Minister has made it absolutely clear that in terms of time, he expects it to dovetail with permanent legislation arising from his White Paper. I understand from what has been said before that whether or not the Government support no-strike provisions, the White Paper will explore that area and the possible relevance of a no-strike power.

John McDonnell: Will the hon. Gentleman clarify two points? His amendment No. 1 refers to


Does that mean that this provision could enable the Secretary of State to say that firefighters are not eligible for trade union membership? On the amendment and disciplinary offences, if the Secretary of State introduces disciplinary measures against an individual trade unionist for not abiding by an instruction and that trade unionist's colleagues come out on strike, what happens then?

Mr. Hammond: To answer the second question first, those that did so, if the Secretary of State had so regulated, would be in breach of the disciplinary code, just as police officers who went out on strike action would be in breach of the police disciplinary code. We can ask the question: ultimately, what do we do with those who do not obey the regulations? They would be in breach of their contract and of the disciplinary code, and the fire authority would have an additional weapon at its disposal. On the hon. Gentleman's first question, the answer is clearly yes: the Secretary of State could use that power to prevent membership of a trade union by members of a fire brigade, in the same way that powers exist to prevent membership of a trade union by members of a police force.

Jeremy Corbyn: The hon. Gentleman is taking us into some very interesting territory. His amendment may

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indeed be defective, because he should have sought derogation from both International Labour Organisation conventions and the Human Rights Act 1998 in order to give himself, as a putative Secretary of State—

John McDonnell: No chance.

Jeremy Corbyn: Indeed. The hon. Gentleman should have sought derogation to give himself the power to legislate to prevent people from being members of a free association of workers.

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