Government branded ‘most authoritarian in living memory’ over minimum levels of service laws

Rishi Sunak’s administration stood accused by a Labour MP of being the “most authoritarian Government in Britain in living memory” as the business secretary set out new laws requiring minimum levels of service from ambulance staff, firefighters and railway workers during industrial action.

Making a statement in the Commons Grant Shapps (pictured) said the Government “absolutely believes in the right to strike” but that it is “duty-bound” to protect the lives and livelihoods of people in the UK.

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

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said the public “is being put at risk every day due to the Government’s NHS crisis and staffing shortages”.

She said: “He is right that it is his Government’s duty to protect the public’s access to essential services, but livelihoods and lives are already being lost.

“We all want minimum standards of safety, service and staffing. It is the minister’s failing to provide it.”

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) described the strikes as an “act of desperation”.

He said: “Can he (Grant Shapps) not for once face the issue of the poverty that people face, rather than trying to bring in draconian laws to prevent people taking effective action in order to remedy the injustice that they are currently facing?”

Mr Shapps replied: “What about the stress for people who can’t get to work with these strikes and haven’t been able to for months? What about the stress for people who might be waiting for an ambulance when we don’t have nationally agreed safety levels in place? That’s the stress that I’m also worried about.”

SNP Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) said: “I imagine that many of these essential workers are in receipt of the sort of wage that the secretary of state wouldn’t get out of bed for in the morning.”

Labour’s Richard Burgon (Leeds East) claimed: “However he tries to dress it up, this is part of an alarming authoritarian drift … Isn’t the secretary of state ashamed to be a member of the most authoritarian Government in Britain in living memory?”

Mr Shapps described his comments as a “ludicrous claim about British democracy”.

Conservative Lee Anderson (Ashfield) said public sector workers’ “first loyalty should be to the British taxpayer and not some power-crazed union barons who fund the Labour Party”.

Business Secretary Grant Shapps said inflation was the “biggest evil of all” adding the Government was “taking sensible steps to address it”.

He replied: “The pay rise proposed at the moment is worth about £1,400 per individual … A Government’s got to consider what that (more money) would do to people’s taxes, what it would do to interest rates, what it would do to mortgage rates and how we’d get into a circle where we’re never able to get inflation down.”

Conservative Laura Farris (Newbury) said minimum service levels were in force in other countries, adding: “Does (he) agree that the British people are entitled to exactly the same lawful protection to have their basic needs met at times of industrial action in essential services?”

Mr Shapps replied: “There is nothing illegitimate about what we’re doing, it’s with the ILO (International Labour Organisation) and who signs up to the ILO, the TUC and many other unions besides.”

Conservative Nickie Aiken (Cities of London and Westminster) warned UKHospitality calculated “around a billion of business was lost in central London because of the rail strikes”.

She said: “There must be legislation in place to protect other sectors like hospitality, protect businesses and protect from job losses.”

Labour MP Mike Amesbury (Weaver Vale) said: “This is very un-British. It’s a fundamental attack on the democratic right to withdraw one’s labour.

“And how many teachers are going to be sacked, how many ambulance workers are going to be sacked, how many social workers are going to be sacked, how many rail workers will be sacked for standing up for their right to strike?”

Mr Shapps said: “None. I haven’t seen a single police officer sacked, or member of the Army sacked – they have no-strike deals. We are not proposing no-strike deals here.”

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