Clause 1 — Powers of the Secretary of State
Orders of the Day — Fire Services Bill
Mr John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington, Labour)
I shall be fairly brief in speaking to the amendments. I tabled them because there is some anxiety that the Secretary of State is taking significant powers of detail. In particular, the provision on disposal of property is a remarkable power of detail if it is to involve the wholesale closure and sale of individual fire stations. The amendments give the Government the opportunity to reassure the general public that the power will not be used extensively for the closure of fire stations.
In addition, I have tabled amendments that would reinforce the rights of individual Members of Parliament and local authorities to be consulted on any local changes in practice involving the dispersal of facilities in an area. I accept that section 19 of the Fire Services Act 1947 has been amended in previous legislation, but it would be helpful for the Government to reassure Members and others that, where the powers are to be exercised, there will be consultation with Members of Parliament and local authorities. As the Bill stands, the Secretary of State can consult whomsoever he thinks fit, but I think that we need to tighten the legislation to ensure that Members of Parliament have a role in their area.
In addition, I suggest that when the consultations have taken place, a report should be laid before Parliament. I am not proposing that there should be reports on all individual consultations about minor changes of practice, but I believe that at least some form of conglomerate report should be made regularly, so that we can have an overview of the changes of practice that are taking place in our name as a result of the legislation. Such a report could be made annually or when the Secretary of State sees fit, but it would give the House an opportunity to assess the implications of the Bill and how effective the changes are locally in practice, especially with regard to the introduction of risk management.
The amendments on property are probing amendments that seek to tease out the Government's intentions with regard to the specific interventions that they envisage on the disposal and dispersal of property. It would be helpful if the Minister enlightened and reassured us that the provision is not about the wholesale selling off of fire stations, that Members of Parliament and local authorities will have a distinctly direct consultative role in respect of any changes and that Parliament will have an overview.