New Clause 5 — Regional Management Structures

Part of Fire and Rescue Services Bill – in the House of Commons at 8:00 pm on 15th March 2004.

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Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Minister of State (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) (Local and Regional Government) 8:00 pm, 15th March 2004

My understanding is that amendment No. 3 would substitute the concept of a region as constituted for the purposes of regional development agencies legislation—in other words, a region as defined in terms of Government office regions—with a body that has emerged from the hon. Gentleman's review of the optimum geographical areas. If I am incorrect in that assumption I shall withdraw my remark, but that is my understanding of the affect of his amendment, and I shall proceed on that basis, assuming that he concurs.

There are a number of things wrong with the proposal, the most important of which is that it appears to take little account of the explanation and assurances that I gave to the hon. Gentleman in Committee. During those discussions, I made it clear that the only circumstances in which I envisaged using the provisions of clause 2(2)(b) were ones involving public safety, in which the fire and rescue authorities had failed successfully to work together to ensure resilience. The obvious example of that is a failure to agree on the siting of, or the operational arrangements necessary for the introduction of, a regional control room.

The context is important, because contrary to the claims made by the Opposition in Committee, we do not have an agenda of regionalisation through the back door. What we do have is an agenda of civil resilience, to ensure that the fire and rescue service is equipped to meet the challenges posed by the new dimensions of the terrorist threat and environmental disasters. To meet these challenges, the service must be closely integrated into the work of the regional resilience teams, which are based in the Government offices for the regions. These teams, in their turn, operate on a regional basis because it is a key principle within emergency planning that response structures should mirror emergency planning structures.

I should tell Richard Younger-Ross that it is preposterous—to use the word that the former has used a lot today—to suggest that there should be separate regional structures for the fire and rescue service and for the regional resilience arrangements. That could not work. It would be neither effective nor sensible, and it would not give us the protection that we need.

We could no doubt debate at length whether the Government office boundaries established by the previous Administration, which underpin the whole infrastructure, were the right ones.