New Clause 7 — Directions Relating to Particular Classes of Fires and Emergencies

Fire and Rescue Services Bill – in the House of Commons at 8:43 pm on 15th March 2004.

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'(1) The Secretary of State may direct a Fire and Rescue Authority to take, or not to take, action specified in the direction in relation to—

(a) a fire of a type or occurring in circumstances specified in the direction, or

(b) an emergency of another kind of a type or occurring in circumstances specified in the direction.

(2) A direction under this section may require a fire and rescue authority to act outside the authority's area.

(3) A direction under this section may be varied or revoked by a further such direction.

(4) A direction under this section shall be made by order.'.—[Mr. Hammond.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 13—Fire safety—

'(1) The Secretary of State may give direction to a fire and rescue authority to inspect the fire safety of one or all of—

(a) schools;

(b) residential and nursing homes;

(c) homes in multiple occupation; in the authorities' area.

(2) The Secretary of State shall give such direction to a fire and rescue authority as conferred by subsection (1) of this Clause if requested to do so by a local authority or fire and rescue authority for the area of that authority.

(3) Where inspections are made under subsections (1) or (2) the Fire and Rescue Authority shall make a report detailing, in particular how fire safety may be improved by—

(a) the installation of fire sprinkler or misting systems;

(b) alteration to means of escape;

(c) passive fire protection measures;

(d) fire and smoke alarm system.

(4) Where reports are received by the Secretary of State under subsection (3) of this Clause the Secretary of State shall consult with—

(a) the existing authorities in question;

(b) any persons he considers appropriate as to whether further legislation is required to require the retro fitting of such measures and to what extent it is practical to do so.

(5) The Secretary of State shall after such consultation as carried out under subsection (4) of this Clause publish the results of such consultation.'.

Amendment No. 5, in page 6, line 18, leave out Clause 10.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

Amendment No. 5 would pave the way for new clause 7 by removing clause 10 from the Bill. Clause 10 gives the Secretary of State the power to intervene directly in a fire or incident. I shall spare the Deputy Prime Minister's blushes, given that he is in the Chamber, and not repeat the lurid image that was painted in Committee of him sitting in the basement of No. 26 Whitehall ordering fire engines around Britain.

Conservative Members believe that that arrangement is not appropriate. Systems need to be established to allow professionals to handle operational situations through existing arrangements such as reinforcement, which the Bill provides for. The Under-Secretary may envisage a situation following an unconventional terrorist attack, but powers in the Civil Contingencies Bill provide for the direction of resources in such an emergency. [Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. If hon. Members are not listening to, or taking part in, the debate, would they either leave the Chamber or listen quietly? I am having difficulty hearing the hon. Gentleman who is addressing the House.

Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

It would be more appropriate to set down procedures for co-operation and the control of major incidents than to use the ad hoc power in clause 10. New clause 7 sets out the same powers of direction, but does that in advance, and in relation to a type of fire or incident, or a fire or incident that occurs in specified circumstances. It provides that such direction would be made by order, which would enable parliamentary scrutiny of the arrangements that were put in place.

We do not understand the need for the Secretary of State's role of hot direction under clause 10. Fire and rescue authorities should be established and charged with their functions. The Bill contains provisions to put in place co-operation and reinforcement procedures, and new clause 7 would give the Secretary of State all the powers that he needs, in advance, to set out precise procedures, control arrangements and allocation of responsibilities in specified circumstances. Clause 10 confers an unreasonable and disproportionate power that will undermine the professionalism of the service and question the reinforcement and contingency arrangements that will routinely be put in place under the Bill. There is much more that I could say, but in view of the time, I shall now conclude.

Photo of Phil Hope Phil Hope Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

Amendment No. 5 would remove the Secretary of State's power to direct a fire or rescue authority in the event of a specific fire or other emergency, and new clause 7 would replace that power to direct with an order-making power similar to that in clause 9. The amendment reflects a misunderstanding of what clause 10 is intended to cover. To clarify and repeat what was said in Committee, it will be invoked only when an emergency is imminent, or upon us, and when urgent action is thus necessary.

For example, the Secretary of State will be able to direct a fire and rescue authority to respond when an unforeseen emergency occurs for which the fire and rescue service has been unable to plan and there is no time to make the necessary order under clause 9. Such a direction will remove any concern an authority might have had about a possible conflict between its local responsibilities and the need to respond to an incident not covered by its core duties.

Clause 10 will also allow a measure of central co-ordination when a fire or other emergency occurs on such a massive scale that a local or even regional response is insufficient. That might include a catastrophic fire, widespread and serious flooding or an emergency such as a terrorist event on the scale of 11 September 2001. During such an extreme or unusual event, it is vital for the Secretary of State to offer direction should circumstances dictate it so that events can be reacted to swiftly and urgently on the ground. In such circumstances, there would be no time for the Secretary of State to make an order—

It being Nine o'clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [26 January].

The House divided: Ayes 153, Noes 265.

Division number 89 Fire and Rescue Services Bill — New Clause 7 — Directions Relating to Particular Classes of Fires and Emergencies

Aye: 153 MPs

No: 265 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Deputy Speaker then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour.