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Session 2003 - 04
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|Fire And Rescue Services Bill
These notes refer to the Fire and Rescue Services Bill as introduced in the House of Commons on 12 January 2004 [Bill 38]
FIRE AND RESCUE SERVICES BILL
1. These explanatory notes relate to the Fire and Rescue Services Bill as introduced in the House of Commons on 12 January 2004. They have been produced by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in order to assist the reader in understanding the Bill.
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. The Bill applies to England and Wales only, with the exception of the provisions relating to pensions in Part 4 and consequential provisions.
4. The main purpose of this Bill is to deliver a modernised Fire and Rescue Service that responds to the particular demands of the 21st Century.
5. The Bill repeals the Fire Services Act 1947.
6. It will give effect to the majority of proposals that require primary legislation in the White Paper 'Our Fire and Rescue Service', published on 30 June 2003.
7. The White Paper was a Government response to 'The Independent Review of the Fire Service' carried out by Sir George Bain and his team, whose report was published on 16 December 2002.
8. The Bill covers various aspects of the Fire and Rescue Service and is in seven Parts:
[Bill 38EN] 53/3
9. The term 'brigade' does not appear in the Bill - this change reflects a community service structured on the roles of individuals rather than adherence to a rank structure.
10. As announced in the 'Our Fire and Rescue Service' White Paper, the Government believes that the time is now right to devolve responsibilities for fire and rescue authorities to the National Assembly for Wales. The Bill therefore devolves responsibility for the Service in Wales and has been drafted in liaison and agreement with officials from the National Assembly and the Wales Office.
11. The Bill does not repeal the provisions of the Fire Services Act 1947 as they apply in Scotland, which will remain in force. The only exceptions to this are the pension provisions in Part 4 of the Bill and consequential provisions, which do extend to Scotland as pension policy is a reserved matter and not a devolved issue. The Bill, therefore, repeals the existing pension provisions in the 1947 Act, and in turn extends the replacement provisions, to England, Wales and Scotland.
12. The Bill does not extend to Northern Ireland.
COMMENTARY ON CLAUSES
PART 1: FIRE AND RESCUE AUTHORITIES
Clause 1: Fire and rescue authorities
13. This clause defines what is meant in the Bill by "fire and rescue authority", which can differ in constitution from area to area. The establishment and membership of metropolitan county fire and civil defence authorities is dealt with in section 26 Local Government Act 1985 (c. 51). The London Fire and Civil Defence Authority became the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority under the Greater London Authority Act 1999 (c. 29) - see section 328.
Clauses 2, 3 and 4: Creation of combined fire and rescue authorities; supplementary; and combined authorities under the Fire Services Act 1947
14. The existing power in the Fire Services Act 1947 to create combined fire authorities is being re-enacted in a modified form to facilitate combined fire and rescue authorities operating for areas that match the established regions in England.
15. The Secretary of State will still have the discretion to base a combined fire and rescue authority on a smaller or a larger area if that is operationally more efficient. Combination could also occur where fire and rescue authorities themselves submit a proposal to that effect. Combination schemes that have already been made under the Fire Services Act 1947 will continue in force. Such schemes will be subject to the Secretary of State's power to alter or revoke them by order.
16. The Secretary of State will be able to appoint a minority (up to one half minus one) of the members of the combined fire and rescue authorities created under this legislation.
17. In all cases the Secretary of State will be required to consult beforehand. This consultation must include the existing affected fire and rescue authorities, and may include setting up a public inquiry.
Clause 5: Powers of combined fire and rescue authorities
18. Clause 5 will give combined fire and rescue authorities the powers which are already available to county fire authorities, the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority and metropolitan county fire and civil defence authorities under section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972.
PART 2: FUNCTIONS OF FIRE AND RESCUE AUTHORITIES
19. Clauses 6, 7, 8 and 9 establish the core duties of fire and rescue authorities.
Clause 6: Fire safety
20. The Fire and Rescue Service already carries out a wide range of activities to promote community fire safety, with the aim of preventing deaths and injuries in the home and reducing the impact of fire on the community as a whole. This includes fire safety education (especially for vulnerable groups), smoke alarm installation, chip pan safety demonstrations and fire safety checks for householders and others. Many fire authorities also provide training programmes for young people and work with local businesses, agencies and partnerships (such as crime and disorder partnerships and local strategic partnerships). This work is currently carried out on a discretionary basis and the effect of clause 6 is to impose a statutory duty.
Clause 7: Fires & Clause 8: road traffic accidents
21. Clause 7 re-enacts the existing statutory duty for a fire and rescue authority to plan and provide arrangements for fighting fires and protecting life and property from fires within its area. A fire and rescue authority is required to secure sufficient equipment etc. and training to discharge its duty in normal circumstances. A fire and rescue authority must also put in place effective arrangements for receiving and responding to calls for help and for obtaining information to exercise its functions; the latter might include, for example, information about the nature and characteristics of buildings within the authority's area or availability of and access to water supplies.
22. Clause 8 places a duty on fire and rescue authorities to make provision for rescuing persons from road traffic accidents and for dealing with the aftermath of such accidents. Historically, the risk of fire was the trigger for attendance at such an incident. Whilst advances in vehicle design have seen the incidence of fire following an accident decrease, calls to assist with the rescue of people from wreckage and protect them from harm from spillage of hazardous substances have increased dramatically. A fire and rescue authority is required, therefore, to secure sufficient resources and training to discharge its duties in all normal circumstances. A fire and rescue authority must also put in place effective arrangements for receiving and responding to calls for help and for obtaining information to exercise its functions (for example, knowledge of local road and trunk road network).
23. Under Clauses 7 and 8 fire and rescue authorities must seek to mitigate the damage, or potential damage, to property in exercising their statutory functions. As a consequence, the actions a fire and rescue authority must take in responding to an incident and which could damage property should be proportionate to the incident and the risk to life.
Clause 9: Emergencies
24. Under the Fire Services Act 1947, fire and rescue authorities are not required to make provision for emergencies other than fires. However, an increasing amount of the Fire and Rescue Service's time is spent responding to emergencies, other than road traffic accidents and fires, such as chemical spills and flooding. Clause 9 will allow the Secretary of State, following consultation, to place a duty on fire and rescue authorities to respond to particular types of emergency, as defined by order, such as flooding and terrorist incidents.
25. The Secretary of State will also have the power, by order, to direct fire and rescue authorities as to how they should plan, equip for and respond to such emergencies. This may include, for example, directions as to the deployments of mass decontamination equipment for civil resilience purposes. The intention is to ensure consistency of approach towards emergencies, particularly in response to terrorist incidents.
26. Clause 9 also allows the order to require an authority to respond to an emergency that has arisen outside its own area if, for example, it has more appropriate equipment and training than the authority in whose area the emergency has occurred.
27. The term "emergency" is defined, for the purposes of this Bill only, at Clause 55.
Clause 10: Directions relating to particular fires and emergencies
28. Where there is no time to make an order under clause 9, or where national or regional considerations need to be taken into account, clause 10 will give the Secretary of State power to direct a fire and rescue authority to respond to a particular fire or emergency incident, either in its own area or in that of another authority. The Secretary of State will also be able to direct an authority not to take any action in the event of such an emergency if, for example, another fire and rescue authority is better equipped to do so.
Clauses 11 and 12: Power to respond to other eventualities; and other services
29. Clause 11 replaces section 3(1)(e) of the Fire Services Act 1947, and will provide fire and rescue authorities with discretion to equip and respond to events beyond its core functions provided for elsewhere in the Bill. A fire and rescue authority will be free to act where it believes there is a risk to life or the environment. This would allow, for example, specialist activities such as rope rescue. A fire and rescue authority will be able to exercise the power in support of another fire and rescue authority - for example, under a reinforcement scheme (see clauses 13 and 14).
30. Clause 12 provides a fire and rescue authority with the power to agree to the use of its equipment or personnel for any purpose it believes appropriate and wherever it so chooses. For example, a fire and rescue authority may agree to help pump out a pond as a service to its community.
Assistance in discharge of functions
Clauses 13 and 14: Reinforcement schemes and directions as to reinforcement schemes
31. These clauses re-enact the existing provisions of the Fire Services Act 1947 on reinforcement schemes and extend them to apply to road traffic accidents and other serious emergencies as defined by order under clause 9. Clause 13 obliges fire and rescue authorities to group together (so far as practicable) to provide mutual assistance. If there are cases where fire and rescue authorities are unable to come to an agreement about forming such a group then, at the request of one of the authorities concerned, clause 14 gives the Secretary of State the power to direct the fire and rescue authorities involved to make, vary or revoke such a scheme.
32. Before giving a direction, the Secretary of State will give all authorities concerned the opportunity to make representations to him and he may hold a public inquiry.
Clause 15: Arrangements with other employers of fire-fighters
33. This clause will extend existing powers in the Fire Services Act 1947 which allow fire and rescue authorities to enter into agreements with organisations that employ their own fire-fighters. For example, if fire-fighters are employed by an airport to respond to plane crashes, an agreement could be struck that the airport fire-fighters will respond to and assist with incidents within a certain range of their airport. Fire and rescue authorities could pay the airport for each call that their fire-fighters respond to. These arrangements can also apply to the non-fire emergencies covered by clauses 8 and 9. The arrangements under this clause cannot be between two fire and rescue authorities as this type of relationship would be covered by clauses 13 and 14.
Discharge of functions by others
Clauses 16 and 17: Arrangements for discharge of functions by others
34. Clause 16 extends existing powers in the Fire Services Act 1947 to provide fire and rescue authorities with the ability to enter into contractual arrangements with others (including other fire and rescue authorities) to provide services in the execution of their functions (covered by clauses 6 to 9 and 11). An example would be an agreement where a fire and rescue authority contracts with a local education authority to promote fire safety within its schools. Another example would be where a fire and rescue authority specialises in rope rescue and a neighbouring authority contracts with it to provide some or all of its response to incidents requiring rope rescue.
35. However, a fire and rescue authority can only delegate its fire-fighting functions to another fire and rescue authority or others that employ fire-fighters. An example of such an agreement could be delegating to the licence-holder of a nuclear site, which employs its own fire service, the responsibility for preparing for, and dealing with, fires within the area of the site.
36. Clause 17 re-enacts provisions in the Fire Services Act 1947 that provide the Secretary of State with the ability to require fire and rescue authorities to enter into contractual arrangements under clause 16 (or to vary or cancel any such arrangements). The Secretary of State can exercise the power on his own initiative or where one of the authorities has asked him to intervene, but the power must be exercised in the interests of efficiency. Before issuing a direction, the Secretary of State must give the fire and rescue authorities affected the opportunity to make representations to him and he may hold a public inquiry.
Clause 18: Training centres
37. This clause re-enacts provisions in the Fire Services Act 1947 that allow a fire and rescue authority to establish training centres for its staff.
Clause 19: Charging
38. Clause 19 allows the Secretary of State to set out by order, following consultation, the services for which a fire and rescue authority may charge and the persons who may be subject to the charge. Section 3(1)(e) of the Fire Services Act 1947 already provides fire and rescue authorities with a discretionary power to charge for certain functions. As with the existing legislation, fire and rescue authorities will not be able to charge for extinguishing fires or protecting life and property in the event of fires.
39. Subsection (4) maintains the existing arrangement that allows fire and rescue authorities to set their own level of charge, and to vary the charge depending on the type of service provided and the circumstances of a particular incident, or to choose not to charge at all. Subsection (5) limits the amount charged to the cost of providing the service.
Clause 20: Exercise of powers at or under sea
40. The Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA) has a general duty to manage the response of UK authorities to maritime incidents both in territorial waters and beyond. To support such response the MCA will enter into agreements with other service providers. Fire and rescue services may indicate to the MCA a willingness to provide a response to fires and other emergencies at sea and to provide fire crews equipped and trained to undertake such work.
41. Clause 20 will enable fire and rescue authorities to continue to provide a response to incidents at sea and under the sea (for example, in the Channel Tunnel).
PART 3: ADMINISTRATION
Fire and Rescue National Framework
Clause 21: Fire and Rescue National Framework
42. This clause requires the Secretary of State to consult on and prepare a Fire and Rescue Service National Framework ("the Framework"), to which fire and rescue authorities must have regard in carrying out their functions. The Secretary of State must keep the Framework under review and must consult on any significant revisions made to it.
43. A draft Framework was published for consultation on 11 December 2003 setting out the Government's objectives for the Fire and Rescue Service and what fire and rescue authorities should do to achieve these objectives. The Framework also sets out the support the Government will provide to fire and rescue authorities.
Clause 22: Intervention by Secretary of State
44. This clause gives the Secretary of State the power to intervene if fire and rescue authorities fail to act in accordance with the Framework. The Best Value powers in Part 1 of the Local Government Act 1999 already make provision for the Secretary of State to intervene where an authority is failing to comply with the requirements of Part 1 of that Act. However, some wider Fire and Rescue Service performance issues covered by the Framework, such as measures to make provision for resilience in the face of a terrorist attack, may not be covered by the provisions of Part 1 of the 1999 Act.
45. This clause provides the Secretary of State with the power to set out, by order, an obligation for a fire and rescue authority to act in accordance with the Framework where he considers that the authority is failing to do so. Before making such an order the Secretary of State must give the authority an opportunity to make representations to him.
Clause 24: Report
46. The Secretary of State will report to Parliament on the extent to which fire and rescue authorities are acting in accordance with the Framework and any action he has taken to ensure they do so. He will not report on individual fire and rescue authorities.
Clause 25: Information
47. This clause applies a power equivalent to section 230 of the Local Government Act 1972 to all fire and rescue authorities and not just those to which section 230 applies. The power could, for example, be used for collecting incident by incident information on primary fires (those involving property, rescues, casualties or fatalities), the number and location of fires and the number of fire-related casualties and fatalities.
Clause 26: Inquiries
48. Clause 26 re-enacts in an amended form section 33 of the Fire Services Act 1947. The Secretary of State will be able to hold a public inquiry into the performance of a fire and rescue authority or its handling of a particular incident.
Clause 27: Inspectors
49. This clause re-enacts the power in the Fire Services Act 1947 that determines the arrangements for appointing inspectors of the Fire and Rescue Service.
Clause 28: Organisations, equipment, facilities and services
50. This clause will allow the Secretary of State to provide and maintain services and facilities to fire and rescue authorities, and will also grant him the power (by order) to oblige the authorities to use them. For example, this clause will give the Secretary of State the specific authority to provide equipment to prepare authorities to deal with civil resilience incidents and standardised systems for radio communications and/or control rooms. This will help to ensure consistency of approach in the case of major emergencies, such as a terrorist incident.
Clause 29: Directions for public safety purposes
51. This clause provides the Secretary of State with the power to give general directions, by order, to fire and rescue authorities as to the use and disposal of their property or facilities for the purposes of public safety. Such a direction may cover all kinds of property and facilities, whether or not they have been provided as part of a national procurement exercise under clause 28. An example of when this power might be used is during a period of industrial action when official fire and rescue authority cover to deal with emergencies is insufficient to deal with local risks and in order to ensure public safety their equipment needs to be used by others providing emergency fire cover.
Clause 30: Training institution and centres
52. The Bill provides for training for fire and rescue authority employees (and others) to be delivered centrally, regionally or locally. This clause will allow the Secretary of State to set up central or local (including regional) training centres.
53. The Fire Service College at Moreton in Marsh provides a central training facility for the Fire and Rescue Service. However, the College is not able to provide all the development and training for the service and some training (for example, training that needs to be carried out regularly) may be best delivered at local level.
PART 4: EMPLOYMENT
Clause 31: Negotiating bodies
54. Under this clause, the Secretary of State will have powers to establish one or more new negotiating bodies and their membership and chairs. Clause 31 provides the Secretary of State powers to intervene, if necessary, to put in place new negotiating machinery, following consultation.
55. Should any negotiating body be set up under these powers, subsections (4), (5) and (6) prevent the regulations being frustrated by negotiations being held in another forum.
Clause 32: Guidance
56. This clause provides for the Secretary of State to issue guidance to negotiating bodies, to which they must have regard. This power will apply to bodies established voluntarily as well as any set up under clause 31.
Clause 33: Pensions etc.
57. This clause re-enacts existing powers in section 26 of the Fire Services Act 1947. It will enable more than one pension scheme to operate at any one time.
Clause 34: Information in connection with pensions etc.
58. This clause re-enacts provisions in the Fire Services Act 1947 which enable the Secretary of State to prescribe the circumstances in which a fire and rescue authority or a Scottish fire authority may provide information to a person who has opted or transferred out of any pension scheme for fire-fighters. It also re-enacts the existing provisions about charging for administrative expenses.
Clause 35: Preservation of existing pension scheme
59. Pension arrangements for fire-fighters are currently provided by the Firemen's Pension Scheme Order 1992 (S.I. 1992/129 as amended) made under section 26 of the Fire Services Act 1947. The purpose of clause 35 is to ensure that the scheme can continue in operation despite the repeal of the 1947 Act and to enable the 1992 Order to be modified.
|© Parliamentary copyright 2004
|Prepared: 12 January 2004