I want to make one point before I begin my very brief speech: if we ever needed a case illustrating why there should be English votes for English MPs, Mr Donohoe has made it throughout this debate. This has nothing to do with firefighters in Scotland, and I fail to see why the hon. Gentleman constantly tried to derail the Minister.
However, it is important in this debate that we realise the role that firefighters play. We have not had a 9/11 in this country, but if we ever did, we would be aware, as would the general public, of the worth of our firefighters. I make that point to begin with because some of the representations I have heard are, “Firefighters are now fitting smoke alarms, talking to children in schools, and not fighting as many fires as they used to.” I want a firefighting force that is ready and able to do a job should it need to be done—should a catastrophe, God forbid, ever hit our country.
I am delighted to hear that the Minister is talking to women’s groups, but I ask her to clarify whether the female firefighters she is talking to are members of the fire authority or have been put forward by the fire authority, or are they women who are actually serving on the front line? There is a world of difference between the local fire authorities and the firefighters who have their feet on the ground and carry the equipment. I am a woman, and I have been to my fire station, Ampthill, and I could not pick up the equipment. I am not unfit, but I could never in a million years even lift that equipment. I am 57, and I realise that my fitness has deteriorated to a degree, which I have had no control over. I would like to know what those women on the front line feel they are actually able to deal with and work with.
The lives and futures of many firefighters and their families and children depend on this settlement and they deserve better representation than they have had. Some of the aggressive rhetoric, dialogue and language I have been subjected to on Twitter—and I support the firefighters —has not been helpful to their cause. It has certainly not been helpful when trying to get other MPs to support them. That aggression and language does not help at all.
I also ask the Minister to respond to the following point for me. I know that it is the fire authority that decides what the levels of fitness should be and who takes responsibility, but in my experience too many members of the local fire authority do not even know about the job of firefighting. They do not consult active firefighters and they do not even visit local fire stations, so I have no idea how they can understand the role—what is expected of firefighters and their changing role. When the Minister and her working party are looking at the fitness assessments and how they are applied, will she consider looking at the possibility of local firefighters working in local stations becoming part of the process, rather than having a top-down process whereby fire authorities dictate to their work force?
We have the cost-neutral alternative in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, so will the Minister tell us why it works there and is not considered here? I know those countries have probably less than half the number of firefighters in the UK. A lot of people have already asked about this, so could the Minister give us more information? If the scheme is working in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, why is it not applicable to the UK? What can we do to make it applicable to the UK?
I believe that the Minister has good intentions, and I understand that not everything is within her power, as Kate Hoey has just said. I know, and the firefighters know, that she is doing her best. They also know that the age of 60 was brought in by the previous Administration, who also ducked bringing in the reforms that were necessary because of the changing demographics, which came in like a train. Labour Members chose not to address that issue, so their faux outrage just does not carry water—