Ministers slammed for seeking to rush ‘anti-strike’ laws through Commons in just two days

Business Secretary Grant Shapps facing a backlash over ‘rushing’ minimum service bill through Commons  (PA Wire)
Business Secretary Grant Shapps facing a backlash over ‘rushing’ minimum service bill through Commons (PA Wire)

Ministers were accused on Friday of seeking to rush deeply-controversial minimum service strike legislation through the Commons in just two days without proper scrutiny by MPs.

Opposition parties condemned the timetable unveiled by the Government for the new law which will force unions to ensure a minimum level of service by paramedics, rail workers and the fire service during industrial action.

It could be extended in future to cover other workforces such as nurses, teachers, border officials and nuclear decommissioning workers.

MPs are due to debate the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill at 2nd Reading on Monday.

A programme motion would mean all the remaining stages of the proposed new law would be dealt with within just six hours.

The Committee Stage would be limited to a maximum of five hours.

This phase of the legislative process can normally take days as MPs go over the fine detail of a bill.

The Third Reading would have to be completed within six hours since the start of the Committee Stage.

Dr Alice Lilly, senior researcher at the Institute for Government, told The Standard: “This seems like a short amount of time to scrutinise the bill given how controversial it is.

“What is probably going on here is that the Government knows this bill is likely to run into difficulties in the Lords—where the Government can’t schedule the bill in the same way—and so they are trying to clear the Commons relatively quickly before it potentially gets bogged down in the other House.”

Labour’s Deputy Leader Angela Rayner stressed: “Ministers know this shoddy, unworkable Bill won’t do a thing to help working people or avoid strikes. Labour will resist this desperate attempt to dodge any serious scrutiny as they try to rush it through Parliament.”

Liberal Democrat Treasury spokeswoman Sarah Olney, MP for Richmond Park, added: “It’s appalling for Conservative ministers to try and sneak this sweeping new law through with barely any scrutiny from MPs. “It’s almost like they know their Bill would fall apart under even the lightest examination.”

Business Secretary Grant Shapps has stressed that the Government “absolutely believes in the right to strike” but it is “duty bound” to protect the lives and livelihoods of the public.

He added: “We don’t want to use this legislation but we must ensure the safety of the British public.”

But UNISON assistant general secretary Jon Richards said: “Fast-tracking a bill that gives all powers to the government and infringes workers’ rights, undermines democracy and doesn’t allow proper oversight by Parliament.”

Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack added: “It’s an outrage that the Tories are seeking to bulldoze this assault on the rights of working people through Parliament without any meaningful scrutiny.”

A government spokesperson said: “As is the case with any Bill, the Government is following all Parliamentary procedures required.

“Ensuring the general public’s welfare and safety is at the forefront of this Bill, and that is why we are quickly pushing on with it.”

Ministers have not specified when the stages beyond 2nd Reading will take place.

But the RMT union will be holding a protest outside Parliament on Monday and MPs’ offices over the weekend against the new strike legislation.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport workers union is believed to be close to a deal with train company bosses to end their current industrial action.

The new law could be used in future to limit the disruption caused by rail strikes to London and other parts of the country, as well as to ensure minimum service levels during ambulance and fire service walk-outs.

Some medical leaders, though, say the NHS is already in such crisis that safe service levels are currently not being delivered, even on non-strike days.

Britain is being hit by a wave of walk-outs by nurses, paramedics, rail workers, postal staff, civil servants, with industrial action also threatened by teachers and junior doctors.