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Monday, 17 February, 2003, 17:01 GMT
Fire union fails to halt reform plans
Striking fire fighters
Further strikes were suspended ahead of talks
Firefighters have lost a High Court challenge against government plans to make sweeping changes in the industry.

The Fire Brigades' Union claimed Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott had not carried out his legal obligations before tabling a Commons amendment to make changes to the way the fire service operated.

Mr Prescott's amendment to the Local Government Bill seeks to give local authorities the power to shut fire stations and cut the number of personnel without needing government permission.

It is not open to this court to interfere with that decision (amendment process). To do so trespasses upon the constitutional role of Parliament

Mr Justice Moses

But a judge at the High Court in London ruled the FBU's case was "unarguable".

Mr Justice Moses, the second judge to rule the FBU's case unarguable, said there was a "fundamental flaw" in the union's case.

He said it was "not open to this court" to "interfere" with the amendment process.

"To do so trespasses upon the constitutional role of Parliament and in my view we run the risk of infringing Article 9 of the Bill of Rights," he said.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott
Prescott: Amendment schedule for Commons debate

The amendment - due to be considered by the Commons Standing Committee on Thursday - would partially repeal Section 19 of the 1947 Fire Services Act.

Union lawyers claimed Mr Prescott was acting "perversely and unlawfully" in relying on last year's report by Sir George Bain, which offered firefighters an 11% pay increase over two years in return for sweeping reforms.

They say he should have consulted with the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council (CFBAC) and the Inspectorate of Fire Brigades (IFB) before introducing the amendment.

And they warned that his amendment to rely on the advice of "extra-statutory advisers" could be dangerous, put lives at risk and result in inconsistency and delay.

Lives at risk'

Appearing at the High Court on Wednesday, Antony White QC, for the union, accused Mr Prescott of failing in his duty to consult with the two bodies.

After the ruling, FBU assistant general secretary Mike Fordham said: "Irrespective of the law, the proposed amendments are going to put firefighters and public lives at risk."

He said they would take further legal advice on whether to try to take the case on to the Court of Appeal.

The FBU was seeking leave for a judicial review, arguing that Mr Prescott's plans to repeal Section 19 should be dropped, pending advice from the official fire service bodies.

FBU leader Andy Gilchrist
Andy Gilchrist expects to be in talks for a month
Meanwhile talks are resuming between firefighters and their employers in a bid to avert more strikes and settle the long-running pay dispute.

They are taking place at the London headquarters of the conciliation service Acas.

They are scheduled to last for up to a month, with the FBU executive holding weekly meetings to be briefed on progress.

The way for the talks to begin was cleared by a meeting between union leaders and Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott on Monday.

FBU general secretary Andy Gilchrist said the deputy prime minister had agreed that the controversial Bain Report on the future of the service would not be implemented until talks had taken place.

The FBU had also complained local authority employers had not given written confirmation of an undertaking that a fresh mandate for strikes would not be needed while talks were under way.

'Real discussions'

Mr Gilchrist said as the talks started that he wanted to eradicate low pay in the fire service.

Charles Nolda, chief executive of the employers organisation, said he welcomed the chance to take part in what he hoped would be "real discussions" on pay and modernisation.

He made it clear that employers believed the fire service should be modernised along the lines of recommendations in the Bain review, which has been rejected by the union.

Last week the FBU decided to suspend further strikes, ahead of talks with employers.

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12 Feb 03 | UK
10 Feb 03 | England
31 Jan 03 | Politics
09 Feb 03 | England
03 Feb 03 | England
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