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Mr. Forth: Instead of quoting the absent promoter of the Bill, will the Minister simply tell us whether she does, or does not, know how much the Bill would cost her Department were it to become an Act? It would help us enormously if we were given even that much information. If she could give us an estimated figure, that would be even more helpful, but if she simply told us, as a matter of open government, whether she knows what the Bill is likely to cost--

It being three quarters of an hour after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Mr. Deputy Speaker put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52 (Money resolutions and Ways and Means resolutions in connection with Bills):--

The House divided:-- Ayes 150, Noes 11.

Division No. 195
[9.13 am


Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, John
Beard, Nigel
Benton, Joe
Best, Harold
Betts, Clive
Blears, Ms Hazel
Boateng, Paul
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Brand, Dr Peter
Breed, Colin
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)
Browne, Desmond
Burgon, Colin
Butler, Mrs Christine
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)
Casale, Roger
Cawsey, Ian
Chapman, Sir Sydney
(Chipping Barnet)
Corbett, Robin
Cox, Tom
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Dafis, Cynog
Dalyell, Tam
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Dawson, Hilton
Dismore, Andrew
Drew, David
Drown, Ms Julia
Efford, Clive
Ennis, Jeff
Fatchett, Derek
Field, Rt Hon Frank
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Follett, Barbara
Foulkes, George
Gardiner, Barry
George, Andrew (St Ives)
Gerrard, Neil
Gibson, Dr Ian
Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Goggins, Paul
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Grocott, Bruce
Hain, Peter
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hancock, Mike
Hanson, David
Harris, Dr Evan
Healey, John
Hepburn, Stephen
Hesford, Stephen
Hinchliffe, David
Home Robertson, John
Hoon, Geoffrey
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Humble, Mrs Joan
Iddon, Dr Brian
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Jenkins, Brian
Johnson, Miss Melanie
(Welwyn Hatfield)
Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye)
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Leslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom
Linton, Martin
Livsey, Richard
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Love, Andrew
McAvoy, Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCafferty, Ms Chris
McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)
McDonnell, John
McFall, John
Maclean, Rt Hon David
McNulty, Tony
McWalter, Tony
Mallaber, Judy
Mandelson, Peter
Marek, Dr John
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Michael, Alun
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Milburn, Alan
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Austin
Moran, Ms Margaret
Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Mudie, George
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Norris, Dan
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Olner, Bill
Organ, Mrs Diana
Osborne, Ms Sandra
Pendry, Tom
Perham, Ms Linda
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter L
Pollard, Kerry
Primarolo, Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Ken
Quinn, Lawrie
Rapson, Syd
Rendel, David
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Rooney, Terry
Ruane, Chris
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Ryan, Ms Joan
Sanders, Adrian
Savidge, Malcolm
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Singh, Marsha
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Miss Geraldine
(Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Soley, Clive
Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stoate, Dr Howard
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Touhig, Don
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Tyler, Paul
Walley, Ms Joan
Webb, Steve
White, Brian
Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Winnick, David
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Wise, Audrey
Wood, Mike
Woolas, Phil
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)

Tellers for the Ayes:

Jane Kennedy and
Mr. Graham Allen.


Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)
Chapman, Sir Sydney
(Chipping Barnet)
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth
Gummer, Rt Hon John
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Soames, Nicholas
Wells, Bowen

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Eric Forth and
Mr. Jonathan Sayeed.

Question accordingly agreed to.

9 Mar 1998 : Column 290


9 Mar 1998 : Column 291

Shooters Hill Fire Station

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Kevin Hughes.]

9.24 am

Mr. Clive Efford (Eltham): I have waited nearly 12 hours to deliver my speech. Now that the deliberate attempts by Conservative Members to talk out this Adjournment debate have collapsed, we can get to the serious issue of the threatened closure of Shooters Hill fire station.

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for the way in which he has approached the issue and for taking considerable time to discuss it with a delegation that came to his office to make representations against the closure. I recently received a letter from him that set out the criteria by which he will make his decision. He said that the matter had been widely publicised, that the authority had considered it properly, and that the fire service inspectorate had given its opinion that national standards of fire cover would be maintained. I have placed in the internal mail of the House 1,100 letters to my hon. Friend, collected over the weekend, to underline the strength of feeling on the issue in my constituency.

I hope to demonstrate through that correspondence and through this debate that the London Fire and Civil Defence authority does not meet the criteria that my hon. Friend set out in his letter to me. Why do we bother to consult the local community around a fire station such as Shooters Hill if we do not take people's representations seriously and make them aware of the proposals? Is the consultation designed merely to satisfy the wider public, away from the immediate vicinity, or is it a genuine attempt to address local people's serious concerns?

When we were elected, the credibility and standing of politicians were at a low ebb. One of the Government's tasks must be to restore that credibility, so we must treat consultation exercises seriously and not leave people feeling that they are nothing but a sham.

The LFCDA's decision was based on a consultation process that started in December 1995 and ended on 31 January 1996. The resulting document was considered at a meeting of the authority's policy and resources committee on 8 February, and then at a full meeting of the authority on 22 February. Given that the consultation started only in December, that Christmas intervened and that the closing date was 31 December, the process may not have been sufficient.

Furthermore, the local authority was asked on 21 December for its comments. I do not have to point out to my hon. Friend the Minister that that was unreasonably close to Christmas. Even worse, the local authority was asked to consult all the local groups, so it would have had to circulate the LFCDA's proposals, receive the comments and return them by the closing date at the end of January. That was clearly insufficient time.

My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Mr. Austin), who was then the hon. Member for Woolwich where the fire station is situated, also made representations against its closure. He wrote to the chair of the LFCDA and to the Secretary of State. He also initiated an Adjournment debate on the subject on 9 February 1996. A further debate on fire services was held on 13 March, which my hon. Friend the Minister will recall, as he took part in it.

9 Mar 1998 : Column 292

Given that so much attention was paid to the issue in the House, which is only across the river from the headquarters of the LFCDA, the Minister will be surprised to learn that the objections raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead were not recorded in the report to the LFCDA, which was made on 22 February. The council met on 15 February and passed a letter to the authority on 16 February. Its objections were also not recorded in the report that was sent to the authority on 22 February. The consultation arrangements were wholly inadequate, and I know that the chief executive of the London borough of Greenwich has written this week to the authority to make that point.

The LFCDA's decision to close Shooters Hill fire station, taken this week, is based on the consultation that took place in December 1995 and January 1996. That consultation was flawed because it did not accurately record the objections. Although some of them were received later than the closing date of 21 January, they were in time to be considered at the meeting of the authority on 22 February.

More important, as I have said, the decision has been based on that consultation. Because the objections of the local council and the Member of Parliament were not known and the consultation with local people was not sufficient, none of the objections is recorded in the current report before the LFCDA. Therefore, its decision is flawed.

The report that went to the LFCDA in October 1997, and led to the decision to close Shooters Hill fire station, did not take account of any developments in the area. For instance, it did not consider the development along the waterfront from Deptford to Thamesmead. It did not address the Creekside development, the Woolwich dockyard, the Royal Arsenal or the development at Thamesmead. It did not even consider the imminent development at the Queen Elizabeth II hospital.

I am sure that hon. Members will be surprised to learn that the report made no mention of the millennium experience, which will have 75,000 visitors on peak days and 35,000 visitors on non-peak days. The transport infrastructure that has been put in place--the docklands light railway and the Jubilee line extensions--was also not considered. All those developments may be subject to special measures, but they will still have an impact on the fire cover for the local area. Each time the issue has been raised with the LFCDA, it has claimed that it will not affect its ability to meet Home Office-recommended response times. That might be the case if the response times are measured from point A--the fire station--to point B or the location of the incident. Given the expansion and development in the area, that decision does not take account of the possibility that point C might need attention at the same time that the fire station is dealing with point B. That aspect is causing great concern in the local community.

I suggest that members of the LFCDA did not have all the facts before them when the decision was taken. For that reason, the report was flawed. It did not record the opposition of the council or the MP. The Minister cannot consider that public consultation was adequate and, therefore, the subsequent decision based on that was flawed and, I believe, challengeable. It also said that there was no need for reconsultation because there had been no significant developments. I have been told by the LFCDA that its decision is out of time for a challenge,

9 Mar 1998 : Column 293

but I suggest that there are significant grounds, as the section 19 request has not been granted yet by the Minister.

Local people fear that the service is being shaped by financial considerations. The 1995 Audit Commission report, "In the Line of Fire", referred to pensions and warned of the extreme financial pressure that would be placed on fire services throughout the country. Local people worry that their fire station is being closed not because of rationalisation of the service but because of financial constraints. That puts local people and property in danger. They are also concerned that too much emphasis is placed on property rather than people in calculating response times and the ability of the fire service to cover an area.

People feel that the assumptions made in the report to the LFCDA in October are woefully inadequate and that the failure of the previous consultation, and the failure to report honestly the concerns that were raised by the local authority and Member of Parliament, have seriously called into question other assumptions that were made in the report. Those are genuine feelings of concern in my constituency. I suggest that the Minister cannot grant the section 19 request of the LFCDA.

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