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Fire and Rescue Services (National Framework) (England) Order 2004

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 24th January 2005.

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Photo of Baroness Scott of Needham Market Baroness Scott of Needham Market Shadow Minister, Transport 6:45 pm, 24th January 2005

My Lords, I feel rather at sea here, as I am surrounded by veterans of the 2004 Act. I am here as a newcomer, but I will do my best, and I will attempt to be brief, as I know that colleagues who are dealing with the Education Bill need to get on.

From these Benches we do not have the inherent problems with the regional agenda that the noble Baroness has, although our preference would be for voluntary arrangements to continue, as in many cases these are working extremely well. Where the best local option is the voluntary arrangement, we would like to see that continue. Each region has different geographical and social circumstances, so often collaboration on the exact nature of their co-operation is better left for them to decide rather than for central government to determine.

Would the noble Lord like to comment on the delays in publishing the guidelines? There have been some problems for local authorities as dates have passed without the guidance that they have been waiting for having materialised.

On the question of regional control rooms, there is concern among local authorities about the identification of callers. I know that that is particularly the case in large regions such as the south-west. People in Cornwall are very concerned that calls routed to Bristol will not be identified properly. I gather that, during the passage of the Act, a commitment was made to introduce IT systems which would identify the location of the callers. Can the Minister comment on progress on that? Given the track record of government IT programmes, I am sure he will understand why there are some concerns.

Finally, in the context of debates about reform of regulation generally, regulation of the fire authorities comes about partly through the Audit Commission and its comprehensive performance assessment but also, of course, through Her Majesty's Fire Service Inspectorate. I wonder whether the Government's review of regulation and inspection will include a rationalisation of those two roles or whether the Minister sees them as staying separate.