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In the Government's view, employees' ability to take lawful strike action should be withdrawn only in exceptional circumstances. We have no plans do so at present in relation to firefighters. We have made it clear that the issue will be covered in the White Paper. Indeed, it was raised by the Bain review, which suggested that it be considered further. We will do that, but as the Deputy Prime Minister made clear on Second Reading our judgment is not in favour of removing that right from

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firefighters. I accept that it is a matter of judgment whether firefighters, like the police, perform a role that possibly justifies interfering with the basic right of any working person to withdraw their labour. Our judgment remains that they do not.

The fire service does, of course, have similarities with the police service, but there are also significant differences in the light of which we believe that anti-strike legislation would not be appropriate. There is a fundamental difference in the role of the police and fire services. The police, as enforcers of national law, must be independent and must act on behalf of us all. Furthermore, it has been demonstrated in the course of the past year that the armed forces have been able to provide effective alternative fire cover to a high standard. In normal circumstances, there is no such alternative to the police service.

In addition, the House will remember that before this last year there had been more than 25 years without a national strike in the fire service. There had been local disagreements and local industrial action, but nothing that led to proposals of this nature being introduced by any party on either side of the House. We should not make the mistake of confusing the current situation for the norm. We must certainly not allow the dispute to continue and we need a strategy for the future that will minimise the chances of it happening again. I have already described how the Bill and our forthcoming White Paper will do that in their different but complementary ways. Achieving a fire service for the future will depend on committed and motivated staff at all levels. Reducing the rights of staff is, in my view, neither helpful nor likely to achieve a productive outcome.

In all events, I do not think that the kind of powers that would be conferred by amendment No. 1 would be in any way appropriate. The hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge spent a great deal of time during our consideration of the Local Government Bill criticising the Government for giving too many powers to the Secretary of State. Yet he is proposing not only that the Secretary of State should have power to legislate about fundamental things such as trade union membership, but that he should also be able to change the disciplinary code to make strike action an offence solely by order rather than by primary legislation on which the House decides. I cannot understand the logic behind those proposals.

Amendment No. 14, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), is designed to restrict the Secretary of State's power so that he could not fix or modify the hours of duty and leave of fire brigade members. The intended effect of that would be twofold. First, the Secretary of State would not be able to address firefighters' conditions of service as a whole. He would not, for example, be able to make changes to hours of duty or leave arrangements that might be welcomed by firefighters. There would inevitably be less scope to produce a package that could address the range of issues to which firefighters attach importance.

Secondly, the amendment might make it more difficult to make progress with the modernisation of the service. A key question is how to match hours of work to the peaks of demand and risk. That will almost certainly

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require some change from the current patterns of work, which have remained pretty much the same for 25 years or more. That does not mean, as some have suggested, wholesale changes to shift patterns and working conditions. Our best judgment is that new flexible arrangements could be introduced under which a majority of firefighters would remain on their current shift patterns if they wanted to.

There are likely to be other options, however, including different shift patterns and working hours, some of which will involve more family-friendly hours, which could be more attractive to some serving firefighters and potential new recruits. The precise changes needed will have to be considered locally and will emerge from the risk management plans on which fire authorities are working and on which they will consult. If we are driven to a position in which we have no option but to use the powers, we will need to be able to make the right changes that work with fire authorities' agreed plans.

I hope that my hon. Friend recognises that there could be some downsides to his proposal and I have explained why I do not support the purpose of the amendment. Having said that, perhaps I should also tell him that I do not believe that it would have the effect that he wants to produce.

The definition in clause 2(2) is not exhaustive: the phrase "conditions of service" includes the matters listed, but is not limited to them. If the matters listed were amended to remove any mention of hours of duty or leave, the phrase "conditions of service" would still have its natural meaning, and the so-called grey book, which contains firefighters' terms of service, makes it clear that that meaning includes hours of duty and leave. My hon. Friend's amendment would therefore not have the effect that he desires, and I ask him not to press it.

I hope that the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge will agree to withdraw his, frankly, unworthy and undesirable amendment.

Mr. Hammond: It is my turn now to accuse the Minister of synthetic anger. We have heard from Labour Members the most ridiculous extrapolations from a very specific provision relating to a very specific Bill. The Bill deals with the fire service. The Minister is himself taking powers to impose a settlement; we are trying to ensure that such a settlement can work and to make the Bill a piece of legislation that in the two-year interim period in which it will be in force will deliver the end to the current dispute and to strikes that the Minister says he wants.

It is interesting that the Minister has not ruled out an anti-strike provision. He has said that the White Paper will give consideration to it in the context of the new fire service legislation—the permanent Act. We believe that in any such situation, there must be an independent and fair mechanism for setting pay. The Minister says that it is a matter of judgment and that his judgment is that it would not be helpful. I respect that, but I am glad that he at least acknowledges that the matter is one that should be aired, that it will be in the White Paper, and that the House will have an opportunity to consider it again.

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Our judgment is different. When the Government have already admitted that further strikes would endanger life and property but they are going to do nothing about it; when the Government are introducing legislation that gives the Secretary of State a power to impose a settlement but absolutely no power to make that settlement stick; when tens of thousands of troops are potentially to be tied down—

It being five and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the programme motion, The Chairman pursuant to Order [8 May] and Resolution [this day], put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 112, Noes 335.

Division No. 215
[9.07 pm


AYES


Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)
Amess, David
Ancram, rh Michael
Arbuthnot, rh James
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Baldry, Tony
Baron, John (Billericay)
Bellingham, Henry
Bercow, John
Beresford, Sir Paul
Blunt, Crispin
Boswell, Tim
Bottomley, rh Virginia (SW Surrey)
Brady, Graham
Brazier, Julian
Browning, Mrs Angela
Burns, Simon
Burt, Alistair
Butterfill, John
Chope, Christopher
Clappison, James
Clarke, rh Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Collins, Tim
Conway, Derek
Curry, rh David
Davies, Quentin (Grantham & Stamford)
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice & Howden)
Djanogly, Jonathan
Duncan, Alan (Rutland)
Evans, Nigel
Fallon, Michael
Field, Mark (Cities of London & Westminster)
Forth, rh Eric
Francois, Mark
Gale, Roger (N Thanet)
Gibb, Nick (Bognor Regis)
Goodman, Paul
Grayling, Chris
Green, Damian (Ashford)
Greenway, John
Hague, rh William
Hammond, Philip
Hawkins, Nick
Hayes, John (S Holland)
Heald, Oliver
Heathcoat-Amory, rh David
Hendry, Charles
Hogg, rh Douglas
Horam, John (Orpington)
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Jack, rh Michael
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Jenkin, Bernard
Johnson, Boris (Henley)
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Lansley, Andrew
Leigh, Edward
Letwin, rh Oliver
Liddell-Grainger, Ian
Lidington, David
Loughton, Tim
McIntosh, Miss Anne
Maclean, rh David
McLoughlin, Patrick
Maude, rh Francis
Mawhinney, rh Sir Brian
May, Mrs Theresa
Mercer, Patrick
Moss, Malcolm
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Norman, Archie
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Osborne, George (Tatton)
Page, Richard
Paice, James
Pickles, Eric
Portillo, rh Michael
Prisk, Mark (Hertford)
Robathan, Andrew
Robertson, Hugh (Faversham & M-Kent)
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Rosindell, Andrew
Ruffley, David
Sayeed, Jonathan
Selous, Andrew
Shephard, rh Mrs Gillian
Simmonds, Mark
Simpson, Keith (M-Norfolk)
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob (Castle Point)
Stanley, rh Sir John
Steen, Anthony
Swayne, Desmond
Swire, Hugo (E Devon)
Syms, Robert
Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Taylor, John (Solihull)
Tredinnick, David
Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)
Tyrie, Andrew
Viggers, Peter
Waterson, Nigel
Watkinson, Angela
Whittingdale, John
Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann
Wiggin, Bill
Wilshire, David
Winterton, Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Sir Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Yeo, Tim (S Suffolk)

Tellers for the Ayes:


Mr. Mark Hoban and
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan


NOES


Alexander, Douglas
Allan, Richard
Allen, Graham
Anderson, rh Donald (Swansea E)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale & Darwen)
Armstrong, rh Ms Hilary
Atherton, Ms Candy
Austin, John
Bailey, Adrian
Baird, Vera
Banks, Tony
Barnes, Harry
Barrett, John
Battle, John
Bayley, Hugh
Beard, Nigel
Begg, Miss Anne
Beggs, Roy (E Antrim)
Beith, rh A. J.
Benn, Hilary
Benton, Joe (Bootle)
Berry, Roger
Best, Harold
Betts, Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blears, Ms Hazel
Boateng, rh Paul
Borrow, David
Bradley, rh Keith (Withington)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Bradshaw, Ben
Breed, Colin
Brennan, Kevin
Brooke, Mrs Annette L.
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Browne, Desmond
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Burnett, John
Burnham, Andy
Burnside, David
Burstow, Paul
Byers, rh Stephen
Cable, Dr. Vincent
Cairns, David
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Gregory (E Lond'y)
Campbell, rh Menzies (NE Fife)
Caplin, Ivor
Carmichael, Alistair
Casale, Roger
Caton, Martin
Cawsey, Ian (Brigg)
Challen, Colin
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Chidgey, David
Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)
Clark, Dr. Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Chryston)
Coffey, Ms Ann
Colman, Tony
Connarty, Michael
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Corbyn, Jeremy
Corston, Jean
Cousins, Jim
Cranston, Ross
Crausby, David
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Tony (Workington)
Darling, rh Alistair
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Davidson, Ian
Davies, rh Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Dean, Mrs Janet
Denham, rh John
Dismore, Andrew
Dobbin, Jim (Heywood)
Dobson, rh Frank
Dodds, Nigel
Donaldson, Jeffrey M.
Donohoe, Brian H.
Doughty, Sue
Dowd, Jim (Lewisham W)
Drew, David (Stroud)
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Edwards, Huw
Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E)
Ewing, Annabelle
Farrelly, Paul
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna
Flint, Caroline
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Don (Bath)
Foster, Michael (Worcester)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings & Rye)
Foulkes, rh George
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gapes, Mike (Ilford S)
Gardiner, Barry
George, Andrew (St. Ives)
George, rh Bruce (Walsall S)
Gerrard, Neil
Gidley, Sandra
Gilroy, Linda
Godsiff, Roger
Goggins, Paul
Green, Matthew (Ludlow)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Grogan, John
Hain, rh Peter
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Hamilton, David (Midlothian)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)
Healey, John
Heath, David
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Hendrick, Mark
Heppell, John
Hermon, Lady
Hesford, Stephen
Heyes, David
Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Hodge, Margaret
Holmes, Paul
Hood, Jimmy (Clydesdale)
Hoon, rh Geoffrey
Hope, Phil (Corby)
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, rh Alan (Newport E)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N & Sefton E)
Howells, Dr. Kim
Hughes, Beverley (Stretford & Urmston)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Humble, Mrs Joan
Hurst, Alan (Braintree)
Hutton, rh John
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Illsley, Eric
Ingram, rh Adam
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead & Highgate)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jamieson, David
Jenkins, Brian
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Jones, Kevan (N Durham)
Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Jowell, rh Tessa
Keetch, Paul
Kemp, Fraser
King, Andy (Rugby)
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green & Bow)
Knight, Jim (S Dorset)
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Lamb, Norman
Lammy, David
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Laws, David (Yeovil)
Lazarowicz, Mark
Lepper, David
Leslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom (High Peak)
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Llwyd, Elfyn
Love, Andrew
Lucas, Ian (Wrexham)
Luke, Iain (Dundee E)
Lyons, John (Strathkelvin)
McAvoy, Thomas
McCabe, Stephen
McDonagh, Siobhain
MacDonald, Calum
McDonnell, John
MacDougall, John
McFall, John
McGuire, Mrs Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKechin, Ann
Mackinlay, Andrew
McNulty, Tony
Mactaggart, Fiona
McWalter, Tony
McWilliam, John
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Mallaber, Judy
Mann, John (Bassetlaw)
Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marshall, David (Glasgow Shettleston)
Martlew, Eric
Meacher, rh Michael
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Miliband, David
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Mole, Chris
Moran, Margaret
Morgan, Julie
Morley, Elliot
Mountford, Kali
Mudie, George
Mullin, Chris
Munn, Ms Meg
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Murphy, rh Paul (Torfaen)
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Norris, Dan (Wansdyke)
Oaten, Mark (Winchester)
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Olner, Bill
Organ, Diana
Osborne, Sandra (Ayr)
Owen, Albert
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Picking, Anne
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter (Burnley)
Pollard, Kerry
Pond, Chris (Gravesham)
Pope, Greg (Hyndburn)
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prescott, rh John
Price, Adam (E Carmarthen & Dinefwr)
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Pugh, Dr. John
Purchase, Ken
Purnell, James
Quin, rh Joyce
Quinn, Lawrie
Rapson, Syd (Portsmouth N)
Raynsford, rh Nick
Reed, Andy (Loughborough)
Reid, rh Dr. John (Hamilton N & Bellshill)
Rendel, David
Robertson, Angus (Moray)
Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)
Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)
Robinson, Mrs Iris (Strangford)
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Rooney, Terry
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Ruane, Chris
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Russell, Ms Christine (City of Chester)
Ryan, Joan (Enfield N)
Salmond, Alex
Sanders, Adrian
Savidge, Malcolm
Sawford, Phil
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Barry
Sheridan, Jim
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Singh, Marsha
Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns & Kincardine)
Smyth, Rev. Martin (Belfast S)
Southworth, Helen
Spellar, rh John
Squire, Rachel
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Steinberg, Gerry
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stinchcombe, Paul
Stoate, Dr. Howard
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Straw, rh Jack
Stringer, Graham
Stunell, Andrew
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Taylor, rh Ann (Dewsbury)
Taylor, Dari (Stockton S)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Taylor, Dr. Richard (Wyre F)
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Thomas, Gareth (Harrow W)
Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Timms, Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mark (S Derbyshire)
Tonge, Dr. Jenny
Trickett, Jon
Trimble, rh David
Truswell, Paul
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton Kemptown)
Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Tyler, Paul (N Cornwall)
Tynan, Bill (Hamilton S)
Walley, Ms Joan
Ward, Claire
Watson, Tom (W Bromwich E)
Watts, David
Weir, Michael
White, Brian
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, rh Alan (Swansea W)
Williams, Betty (Conwy)
Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)
Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Wills, Michael
Winnick, David
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Wishart, Pete
Wood, Mike (Batley)
Woodward, Shaun
Woolas, Phil
Worthington, Tony
Wright, David (Telford)
Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Younger-Ross, Richard

Tellers for the Noes:


Mr. Nick Ainger and
Charlotte Atkins

Question accordingly negatived.

3 Jun 2003 : Column 111

The Chairman then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour.

Amendment made: No. 17, in clause 1, page 2, line 18, at end insert—


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