Priti backs new laws to limit impact of strikes
Witham MP Priti Patel has backed new laws being introduced by the Government to limit the impact and disruption caused by strikes by introducing minimum service levels. The new laws would ensure that minimum levels of service could be maintained when industrial action takes place affecting health, education, transport, fire and rescue, border security and nuclear decommissioning services. During the debate, Priti highlighted the impact that strikes have on small and medium sized businesses and on people who rely on public services. Priti said:
“The current wave of strikes and industrial action is causing disruption and has highlighted the need for the law to be reformed to protect the public. Businesses and people going about their day-to-day lives should be able to expect and rely on a minimum level of service and these new laws are essential to support patients, pupils and commuters.”
Copy of Priti’s speech from 16 January 2023, Official Report, Columns 72-73.
Priti Patel (Witham) (Con)
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner). It was somewhat inevitable that this debate would quickly become partisan, and she reinforced that.
I pay tribute to our hard-working frontline public sector workers. On Friday, I visited workers at the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust, who have not been on strike, and all credit to them. In the operational control centres, people have been working diligently, day in, day out, to manage, quite frankly, the many, many challenging cases.
This House will understand my particular interest in operational frontline workers, especially when it comes to the police, who cannot strike, and also fire and rescue workers and Border Force officers. Just last year, I was able to use existing Home Office budgets to provide the police with a pay increase. It was a 5% pay increase across the board and one of the largest settlements in the public sector. I accepted the recommendation from the Police Remuneration Review Body, and it was my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), who is in his place, who oversaw that settlement. That funding was vital because we on the Conservative Benches believe in our frontline public sector workers. We believe in giving them the resources that they need and the working conditions in which they can do their jobs, but within the affordability of the Government’s financial envelope, which is incredibly important.
Janet Daby (Lewisham East) (Lab)
Is the right hon. Lady aware that the Secretary of State’s own colleagues—the Secretaries of State for Transport and for Education—believe that the Bill will not solve the strikes?
I say to the hon. Lady and to all Members in the House that we are facing fundamental economic challenges right now, and they have to be met within the financial envelope of this Government. That is a statement of the obvious. At the end of the day, the Government have a responsibility to ensure that certain levels of service are provided in key sectors and in our public services, and rightly so. The public expect that, and the Government have a responsibility to oversee that and ensure that these levels of services help to protect and safeguard lives, keep our country safe, support the economy and ensure that the British public—the silent, hard-working majority—can go about living their lives in the way that we all want to see.
Obviously, the current wave of strikes and industrial action is concerning the public; it is also counterproductive when it comes to delivering public services. We have seen the level of disruption that is taking place. It cannot be right that, in the 21st century, our great country and our economy are put at risk by strike action. We have seen that on our borders; border control is being weakened by strikes. Patients and those in need of essential medical care are facing disruption. That is not right. All of us have constituents. This is not about one constituency against another, or one part of the country against the other. We have seen commuters who cannot get to work. That is wrong. We have seen businesses and, in Essex, small and medium-sized enterprises, operating on tight margins—not glitzy corporations—now suffering because of the strikes. Again, that is not right.
I know that many workers—I think that we all know this—find the decision to go out on strike very difficult. They struggle when it comes to voting in ballots because of the options that are sometimes put in front of them. We also know that there are some in the trade union movement—we must recognise this and we have heard it already from those on the Opposition Benches—who are happy to go along with the disruption, which is not acceptable. Some get satisfaction out of this. I am afraid that we have seen that in the past. We have seen Opposition Members go on picket lines and cheer and make political points. That is not right, because, at the end of the day, it is the public who suffer.
Indeed, since 2010, we have seen the hard left and militants take action and co-ordinate strikes, and the public suffer. That is not right. Let us not forget that it was the Conservatives who, in the 1980s, stood up to the militant trade unions, and, importantly, introduced reforms.
Several hon. Members rose—
I do not have time to give way.
It is reform that we should be talking about today—reform that can lead to better public service delivery, changes to our laws—
Several hon. Members rose—
I cannot give way, because I do not have time.
Importantly, I wish to press the Government to consider widening the list of sectors where minimum service standards are needed. I wish to ask the Government to ensure that they always look to keep legislation and measures open and under review, so that we can continue to uphold standards to protect the public going about their daily lives.