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Strikes Bill clears the Commons but legal challenges threatened

(Jordan Pettitt/PA)
(Jordan Pettitt/PA)

The Government’s new strikes law will be subject to legal challenges unless it is drastically amended, Jacob Rees-Mogg warned as the Bill cleared the Commons.

The Conservative former business secretary gave his backing to the Strikes (Minimum Services Levels) Bill in the Commons, but said it was “badly written” and criticised the sweeping powers it gives to his successor Grant Shapps.

Mr Rees-Mogg urged ministers to allow the House of Lords to amend the Bill to add detail to it, claiming this would mean it was “much less susceptible to judicial review”.

The Bill cleared the Commons in a late-night Monday sitting, with MPs voting 315 to 246, majority 69.

The controversial proposals aim to ensure there are minimum working standards during strike days across six sectors, including health and transport.

Mr Rees-Mogg told the Commons: “I am a supporter of this Bill, I think this is a good Bill and a proportionate Bill, but it is a badly written Bill.”

The North East Somerset MP criticised clause 3 in particular, aimed at giving the Business Secretary powers to define minimum service levels at a later date.

Mr Rees-Mogg told MPs: “I hope their lordships will look at this clause and say that is simply not something that we can pass into law as it is currently phrased, that the Government must accept amendments, and I hope their lordships will vote through amendments that clarify and set out in detail the powers that are desired.

Jacob Rees-Mogg
Jacob Rees-Mogg (Aaron Chown/PA)

“This is where the Government’s interest – the executive’s interest – and the legislature’s interest combine, because if this House passes good, well-constructed legislation, it is much less susceptible to judicial review.

“That is why the Government should be keen that the House of Lords – in the time available, with the help, I would hope, of parliamentary counsel – will be able to specify the powers more closely.”

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner branded the Bill the “Conservative sacking nurses Bill” and said Labour would repeal it if the party was elected to power.

She added: “It threatens key workers with the sack during a workers shortage and crisis, mounts an outright assault on the fundamental freedom of working people, while doing absolutely nothing to resolve the crisis at hand.

“Let’s look at what this is really all about: a Government that is playing politics with key workers’ lives because they can’t stomach negotiation, a Government that is lashing out at working people instead of dealing with its 13 years of failure, and a Government and Prime Minister dangerously out of his depth and running scared of scrutiny.

Angela Rayner
Angela Rayner (James Manning/PA)

“We on these benches will vote against this shoddy, unworkable Bill.”

Business Secretary Mr Shapps claimed the Bill was “simply proposing to protect people’s lives and to protect people’s livelihoods”.

In a short speech at the end of the debate, he added: “We move this debate this evening and this third reading because we care about people in our workforce, because we care about their livelihoods and because we care about our constituents and their ability to access vital services.”

MPs from Wales and Scotland sought to exclude the devolved nations from the Bill’s remit.

Labour MP for the Cynon Valley, Beth Winter, urged MPs to support her attempts to prevent the Bill from applying to Wales, while SNP MP Alan Brown tabled an amendment aimed at making it “clear that these Henry VIII powers should not and do not extend to devolved legislation”.

The Kilmarnock and Loudoun MP said: “We know the attitude of the UK Government is ‘Westminster knows best’, even though it’s Westminster itself that’s wrecking inter-government relations and it’s Westminster that’s looking to wreck relationships with key workers, and key workers in devolved nations as well.”

An SNP-backed amendment aiming to make sure the Bill would not come into force without the consent of the Welsh and Scottish parliaments was rejected by 321 to 46, majority 275.

The Bill will undergo further scrutiny in the House of Lords at a later date.