[Hywel Williams in the Chair] — Fire Service (Metropolitan Areas)
Bob Neill (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Communities and Local Government; Bromley and Chislehurst, Conservative)
I will not give way very much, I am afraid, because I want to answer some of the points that have been made. With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, let us see how we get on.
There is no monopoly of concern for the fire service in either party or personal terms. Equally, we have to recognise that, as with all the public sector, the fire service must deal with the difficult and pressing financial situation that we inherited from the previous Government. I make no bones about that. We must therefore deal with difficult financial circumstances in a sensible fashion. There is no point in denying the need to reduce the deficit, and I do not think that most responsible people on any side do. It is not helpful to use the rather selective quotations that we have just heard or highly coloured scenarios. There are difficulties, which are being addressed by fire services through hard work, and I recognise that. It is equally important, however, to provide the full context, which may not have been picked up fully in the debate.
First, it is right, as has been observed, that back-loading is recognising the position of the fire service as an emergency service. It is worth noting that the reductions applied to fire and rescue authorities have been less than those applied to local authorities in general. No one likes to have to make reductions, but the inheritance is such that it cannot be avoided.
Secondly, it is important to realise that the much criticised formula is—I say it bluntly—essentially the formula that this Government inherited from Opposition Members when they were in government. It is a bit rich to hear criticisms of illogicality from hon. Members who were effectively the authors of the system—a system that the Government are proposing, in the coalition agreement, to change. Let me spell that out a little more clearly.