House of Commons - Explanatory Note
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Session 2002 - 03
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Fire Services Bill


These notes refer to the Fire Services Bill as introduced in the House of Commons on 21st March 2003 [Bill 81]





1.     These explanatory notes relate to the Fire Services Bill as introduced in the House of Commons on 21 March 2003. They have been prepared by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in order to assist the reader of the Bill and to help inform debate on it. They do not form part of the Bill and have not been endorsed by Parliament.

2.     The notes need to be read in conjunction with the Bill. They are not, and are not meant to be, a comprehensive description of the Bill. So where a clause or part of a clause does not seem to require any explanation or comment, none is given.

3.     This Bill extends to England, Wales and Northern Ireland only.


4.     The Fire Services Bill provides for the Secretary of State by statutory instrument to:

      - fix or modify the conditions of service of fire brigade members, and

      - give directions to fire authorities as to the use or disposal of property or facilities.

Territorial application: Wales

5.     The Bill has no effect on the powers of the National Assembly for Wales, and no other particular effect on Wales.


6.     Fire-fighters' pay has for many years been determined by reference to a pay formula which takes account of an annual survey of fire-fighters' earnings and earnings elsewhere in the economy. The pay of some other members of a fire brigade is linked to fire-fighters' pay. There is currently a dispute between the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and the employers about fire-fighters' pay.

[Bill 81-EN]     53/2


Clause 1: powers of the Secretary of State

7.     This clause gives the Secretary of State the power by order to fix or modify conditions of service, including pay, of members of a fire brigade. Members of a fire brigade include whole-time members, who include all operational ranks, control room staff and non-operational staff, and part-time members, who include retained and volunteer members. The clause gives the Secretary of State the flexibility to specify different conditions of service for different types of members.

8.     The power to make an order fixing or modifying conditions of service includes power to make retrospective provision, including from a time before the passing of the Act. However, it does not include power retrospectively to reduce the pay and allowances of members of fire brigades.

9.     The clause requires that before making an order about conditions of service, the Secretary of State must, if there appears to him to be a "negotiating body" (as defined in clause 2(2)), submit his proposals to that body. At present, the only negotiating body is the National Joint Council, a non-statutory body made up of local fire authority employers and representatives of the FBU. Once the proposals are submitted, the Secretary of State must allow at least 21 days for the negotiating body to consider his submission. Before making an order the Secretary of State must then consider any report of the negotiating body which has been produced by them within the period allowed.

10.     The power to make an order in respect of conditions of service is exercisable by statutory instrument, subject to the negative resolution procedure in Parliament. Such an order could be applied to make different provision for different classes of fire brigade members.

11.     The clause also gives the Secretary of State the power to give directions to a fire authority relating to the use or disposal of property or facilities belonging to that fire authority, or to another fire authority or other person who has, or is willing, to make the property or facilities available. It further provides for directions to require payments to be made by a fire authority to another fire authority or person in respect of the use of the property or facilities.

12.     Property or facilities include land and equipment or other assets or facilities (see clause 2(3)). Examples of purposes for which this power might be useful are to provide joint control rooms, to direct that equipment be placed at the service of third parties or to direct that equipment be distributed on a risk assessment basis.

13.     The clause requires the Secretary of State to consult persons who, in his opinion, are likely to be affected by his proposals to give directions before doing so.

14.     The power to make an order containing a direction in respect of property and facilities is exercisable by statutory instrument, but not subject to the negative resolution procedure. Such an order could be applied to individual fire authorities, groups of fire authorities or all fire authorities.

Clause 2: supplemental provisions

15.     This clause sets out definitions of terms used elsewhere in the Bill. It defines "fire authority" by reference to other legislation. A fire authority is defined as an authority for the time being constituted as a fire authority by the Fire Services Act 1947 (c. 41) or any combination scheme made under it (see section 38(1) of that Act). Section 4 of that Act (as amended) provides that the council of every non-metropolitan county shall, subject to the provisions of that Act, be the fire authority for the area of the council. The establishment and membership of metropolitan fire and civil defence authorities is dealt with in sections 26 and 27 of the Local Government Act 1985 (c.51). Section 37 of and paragraph 2(2) of Schedule 11 to that Act provide that references in the 1947 Act to a fire authority include the metropolitan fire and civil defence authorities. The London fire and civil defence authority became the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority under the Greater London Authority Act 1999 (c. 29).

16.     A fire brigade is defined to mean a brigade maintained under the Fire Services Act 1947 or by the Fire Authority for Northern Ireland.


17.     The Bill will not in itself give rise to additional expenditure falling on the Consolidated Fund or the National Loans Fund. It is possible that orders made under the Bill could lead to changes to the amount spent by fire authorities on particular items but will not in themselves lead to changes in total public expenditure budgets.


18.     The Bill is not expected to lead to any changes in the number of non-industrial and industrial staff of Government departments and their agencies. Orders made under the Bill cannot require changes to the staffing levels of the Fire Service, which are a matter for individual fire authorities.


19.     It is not expected that the Bill will have any direct effect on businesses, charities or the voluntary sector.


20.     Commencement will be at Royal Assent.


21.     Section 19 of the Human Rights Act 1998 requires the Minister in charge of a Bill in either House of Parliament to make a statement about the compatibility of the provisions of the Bill with the Convention rights (as defined by section 1 of that Act). The statement has to be made before second reading. On 20th March 2003 the Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State made the following statement:

    "In my view the provisions of the Fire Services Bill are compatible with the Convention rights."

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Prepared: 21 March 2003