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Serving Bath since 1992
 
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Don Foster, Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, speaks for the party nationally on Transport.
 
 

Don questions the DPM over fire strikes
In a recent parliamentary debate, Don questioned the Deputy Prime Minister about public safety during any potential fire brigade strike.

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Mr. Don Foster (Bath): I, too, thank the Deputy Prime Minister for his statement.

Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that in all his subsequent actions, the safety of the public will be of paramount importance? Does he acknowledge that, as much of the legislation relating to the fire service dates back to 1947, the Government could have taken action earlier to modernise the service?

We share the right hon. Gentleman's admiration for the work of our firefighters, but does he acknowledge that, even without changes in their terms and conditions of employment, they deserve a better deal? Does he acknowledge that the employers have already made an offer that is more than the rate of inflation and have agreed that they will backdate the recommendations of the Bain inquiry, subject to additional funds being made available by the Government? Will the Government give an assurance today that they will provide whatever funds are recommended by the Bain inquiry? If those assurances were given, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the strike would be unnecessary, counter-productive and life-threatening?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I think that the strike would be counter-productive and there is no doubt that it would be life-threatening. That is why we appeal to the trade union to take part in the inquiry. I recall disputes in which trade unions were actually fighting for an inquiry. In this case, an inquiry was guaranteed right from the beginning.

The hon. Gentleman rightly points out that there has been considerable modernisation in the fire service. If we compare the money given during the first five years of the Labour Government with the money given during the last five years of the previous Administration, we see that there is a considerable difference in the resources not only for local authorities but also for fire brigades.

The hon. Gentleman points out that firefighters need and want a better deal. Everyone has acknowledged that the present formula is not acceptable and says, "Let's discuss another formula." There has not been a strike in the fire service for 25 years and the House should welcome that as the contribution of a professional force that wants fair pay for its work in helping to keep the country safe. We all accept that.

The hon. Gentleman asks for Government assurances that we will accept the Bain report. The inquiry is independent, and it has to judge whether there should be

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extra pay over and above the 4 per cent. that has been offered, which is twice the rate of inflation. However, if there is to be more than that amount, there would have to be modernisation and changes in working practices. That is why local government wanted the inquiry. If the inquiry comes up with a balanced picture—as is often the way in this country—it will, no doubt, along with whatever pay increases it recommends, make recommendations about modernisation and changes.

Now, do I have a guarantee that the FBU will say, "Okay; if that's the package, we'll take that package and we'll accept the modernisation"? As a Government, we cannot write a blank cheque to everything, but if a deal is dependent on both parties' accepting it, it is very difficult to say yes or no in those circumstances. We must wait. But we have given our evidence; the FBU should give its.

 


Printed (hosted) by David Bellotti on behalf of Don Foster (Liberal Democrat) both at 31 James Street West, Bath BA1 2BT.
 
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