Clause 7 - Fire-fighting
Fire and Rescue Services Bill
Mr Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge, Conservative)
I beg to move amendment No. 27, in
clause 7, page 5, line 6, leave out 'and property' and insert
', property and the environment'.
The clause addresses the core responsibility of the fire service, as defined in the 1947 Act, and reproduces the obligation to provide for equipment and resources to fight fires. This small but significant amendment would insert into the definition of that obligation the concept of the protection of the environment alongside the protection of life and property. The environment is mentioned elsewhere in the Bill, and the Civil Contingencies Bill, which has just completed its Committee stage, refers to protection of the environment, recognising that the sorts of hazards about which we are talking, including fire, can have consequences that are as serious for the environment as they are for lives and property.
The inclusion of a reference to the environment would not widen the definition too far, because it deals
only with protection of the environment in the event of fire. It would, for example, require authorities to prepare to deal with pollution as a result of a fire or explosion, and would place on them an obligation to have containment equipment to deal with the consequences of fire that gives rise to risks to the environment.
The amendment would also avoid any possibility of uncertainty where there is a conflict between the protection of property and the protection of the environment. The Bill as drafted contains an obligation to provide protection for life and property. I can envisage situations in which the fire service might be faced with alternative courses of action—one of which might be the consequent leeching by firefighting water of something contaminatory from the building that might be damaging to the environment.
At the moment, the fire authority would not have a basis for making a reasoned judgment that balanced the interests of the environment with those of the property. Inserting a reference to the environment would even up the balance and put the environment on an equal footing with life and property. I hope that the Minister agrees that the amendment is consistent with the spirit and general thrust of this Bill and the Civil Contingencies Bill. If he does not accept it, I hope that he will at least be able to say that he sympathises with its objectives. I am always ready to acknowledge that, invariably, there will be more elegant ways of doing what I am trying to do, given the greater resources available to the Minister. I hope that he will at least be able to say that he will consider the amendment with a view to returning to the Committee with proposals to achieve those objectives.
Mr Nick Raynsford (Minister of State (Local and Regional Government), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister; Greenwich and Woolwich, Labour)
Even with the greatest effort, I am afraid that I shall not be able to complete my response in the very short time available.
The amendment would place a duty on a fire and rescue authority to make provision for the protection of the environment in the event of fires in its area. However, subsection (1)(a) already requires a fire and rescue authority—
It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.