New Clause 5 — Regional Management Structures

Part of Fire and Rescue Services Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:30 pm on 15th March 2004.

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Photo of Richard Younger-Ross Richard Younger-Ross Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Local Government & the Regions 7:30 pm, 15th March 2004

It dealt with a regional framework, but there may have been glitches in the parliamentary language. The hon. Gentleman was always quick to point out that the Government have far more resources to spend on drafting than Conservative Members do. I never complained in Committee about our lack of resources or the Short money that the Conservative party receives to help it. I simply stress that it is important that powers come downwards and do not necessarily go upwards.

In the context of new clause 5, the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge made some extremely good points about existing boundaries. The points that the Minister made in his interventions were not especially strong. Existing boundaries were established for entirely different purposes. Their use for constructing regional assemblies is a mistake. I shall not repeat previous arguments about the great variety of area sizes and populations.

When preparing for the Bill, I visited several fire authorities. One of the control centres emphasised to me why a single control room for a region the size of the south-west would be inappropriate. In one control room, a tape was played of a small boy who dialled 999 to say that he could smell smoke. His mother was asleep upstairs on the bed with the baby.

The controller asked the child where he lived. He could give the house name and the street name, but not the name of the town. The controller spent approximately 15 minutes talking matters through with the child. When the child named his school, the control room was able eventually to determine where the town was. It would be far harder for a single regional control room to work out such detail—not street names or the location of the chippie, as we discussed in Committee, but basic knowledge about where schools are—and thus identify the location of the incident. In the case that I mentioned, the child, the mother and the baby were all saved. I am not sure that that would have happened if there had been a regional control room.