REBEL East Lancashire MP Greg Pope has told the government to drop it's controversial plan to impose a pay settlement on the firefighters and ban them from striking.

Although the Hyndburn backbencher did not vote against the government, he deliberately abstained.

In all 27 Labour backbenchers voted against proposals in the Fire Services Bill as the government secured a majority of 284 votes to 59.

But Mr Pope - despite having been a government Whip for several years - felt unable to support the plan.

He said: "I am not happy about this Bill at all. I think it's a mistake and the government should drop it.

"I sat through the debate in the House of Commons and the more I listen to it the more I realise I couldn't vote for the Bill.

"As a former government Whip who has spent a lot of time persuading people to vote for things, I would find it very difficult to vote against the government.

"However, I am very unhappy about this Bill and I just couldn't support it. We'll just have to see how it is amended in committee and I will have to think very carefully about what I do when it comes back to the Commons.

"I just hope that the two sides can see common sense and come to a settlement."

Chorley MP Lindsey Hoyle did not vote but Rossendale and Darwen's Janet Anderson, Burnley's Peter Pike and Pendle's Gordon Prentice voted with the government. Foreign Secretary and Blackburn MP Jack Straw did not vote as he was occupied with government business and Ribble Valley MP Nigel Evans along with the rest of the Tories, abstained.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said the Bill was needed to break the deadlock as the number of military personnel available to provide cover during fire strikes was to be halved to 9,000.

He appealed for the fire brigade's union and the employers to find a settlement and new talks started yesterday.

The two sides are agreed on a 16 per cent increase over two-and-a-half years but not on new conditions.