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House of Commons

Monday 1 December 2003

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Points of Order

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you had any requests from the Foreign Office to make a statement on the weekend's events in Iraq and the difficulties between Iraqis and the coalition forces?

Mr. Speaker: I have had no such approach.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton) (Lab/Co-op): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to raise the issue of the recent activities of the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid) in my constituency. I have given you notice in writing of this point of order and I have spoken personally to the hon. Gentleman today and told him that I intended to raise the issue in the Chamber. Our exchanges have been both courteous and friendly, but given the complaints I have received from different constituents and members of different parties, I wish to place the matter on the public record. I ask you to make a statement on the conventions that apply when one Member visits the constituency of another without notice and engages in activities.

Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his point of order. I should like to take this opportunity to refer to the letter that I sent to

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all Members on 24 February 2003, in which I set out the conventions and courtesies of the House. That letter has helpfully been reproduced as an appendix to the recently published Procedure Committee report on "Procedures for Debates, Private Members' Bills and the Powers of the Speaker". In that letter I made it clear that individual Members should notify colleagues whenever they intend to visit a colleague's constituency, except when such visits are entirely private.

I also invite the House to recall the ruling of Madam Speaker Boothroyd, which was reported in Hansard on 22 February 1996 at column 520. I, too, deprecate the activities of any Member who interferes inappropriately in another Member's constituency. I know that the hon. Members for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) and for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid) are mature and sensible enough to have resolved these matters between themselves, but I want to make it absolutely clear that the conventions and courtesies that I set out in my letter of 24 February are there for a reason, and that is that they enable all right hon. and hon. Members to go about their business in a proper manner. Once again, I commend those conventions and courtesies to all Members, and I hope not to have to listen to any similar points of order again.


Planning And Compulsory Purchase

Mr. Secretary Prescott, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Blunkett, Secretary Margaret Beckett, Mr. Secretary Darling, Mr. Secretary Reid, Ms Secretary Hewitt, Mr. Paul Boateng, Mr. Peter Hain, Keith Hill and Yvette Cooper, presented a Bill to make provision relating to spatial development and town and country planning; and the compulsory acquisition of land.

Pursuant to Orders [29 October 2002 (Carry-over of Bills) and 21 October 2003], the Bill was read the First and Second time without Question put; and ordered to be considered on Tuesday 2 December, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed. [Bill 6].

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Orders of the Day

Debate on the Address

[Third Day]

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [26 November],

Question again proposed.

Local Government, Environment and Transport

2.38 pm

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. John Prescott): I am pleased to see that the Curry shadow Cabinet has turned out in full today. On Wednesday, the Prime Minister set out our strategy for legislation and reform. The Government's legislative programme for the next session will enhance economic stability, further reform and improve public services, and create a fairer, more secure and more just society. The measures that my Office will bring before the House build on those objectives.

Our housing Bill will protect the vulnerable in our society by tackling unscrupulous landlords. Our planning Bill will speed up the delivery of new homes, schools and hospitals—the very infrastructure that creates sustainable communities—and the fire and rescue services Bill will improve our security by enabling the service to respond to the threat from terrorism.

Over the past 25 years the role of the fire and rescue service has changed fundamentally. That role will continue to change in the future, in particular in response to the new threat from terrorism. The fire and rescue services Bill will be the first substantial piece of legislation to modernise the fire service for 50 years. It will reflect our White Paper published in June and the findings of Sir George Bain's independent review of the fire service. The Bill will create a service better able to protect the public and respond to changing demands.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the widespread concern about local fire services being told, on the one hand, to consider sharing control room and other facilities with other emergency services, such as the police and ambulance units, and on the other, to desist from that and consider regionalisation policies and their impact on fire services? Is he aware how much confusion that is creating?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The hon. Lady will be aware that one has to take a regional approach to the process of change and meeting new demands, particularly the threat of terrorism, and the fire

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authorities and the police are already doing so. We propose certain legislative changes to meet those new demands. I agree that a certain amount of confusion may be caused while the debate is ongoing, but change is certainly necessary and the fire and rescue services Bill will give us the power to get on and do what is needed.

I give my fullest support to firefighters, whose dedication and courage is evident every day of the year. Indeed, I am sure that the House will welcome Friday's overwhelming decision when, on a high turnout, 75 per cent. of the Fire Brigades Union voted in favour of continuing with the process of modernisation and reform agreed in June this year. I do not see any of my hon. colleagues who used to be critical about that matter, but I will claim the ballot in my favour.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab) rose—

The Deputy Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is always here.

Together, we can build a better service that saves more lives and offers a rewarding career for everyone who works in it. The fire and rescue services Bill will underpin the process of reform by repealing outdated legislation and putting in place a legal framework that reflects the wider role that the service now has. It will create a new duty for fire and rescue authorities to respond to serious civil emergencies, ranging from flooding to terrorist incidents. The hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) well knows the importance of integrating the emergency services with regard to flooding. Such integration happens at the moment, but it could be done better.

The fire and rescue services Bill will also create a duty to promote fire safety, recognising the role that firefighters have long played in preventing as well as fighting fires. For far too long the service has operated in a vacuum. Successive Governments have failed to provide it with clear direction. We will therefore shortly publish a new national framework for consultation, which will provide the strategic direction that the service requires. Within that framework, fire and rescue authorities will have greater flexibility to set priorities locally, and they will work together regionally. That will reduce bureaucracy and ensure that functions are carried out at the appropriate operational level, releasing more resources to be spent on fighting and preventing fires. The Bill will help to save lives.

The other two Bills that my Office will introduce will address the quality of people's lives in and out of their homes. Eighteen months ago, the Prime Minister established the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister with responsibility for creating sustainable communities by delivering radical improvements in housing, planning, regeneration and local and regional government. The House will recall that when I published the sustainable communities plan in February, I made it clear that for decades all Governments have failed to meet housing need in this country. We did not invest enough in housing and we used land wastefully. The communities plan set out my Office's programme to reverse that. The Bills that we will introduce will drive forward the delivery of that programme.

We have already done a great deal. We are on course to reduce by about 1 million the number of non-decent social homes by April 2004, and we will have helped

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more than 9,000 key workers into home ownership through our starter homes initiative by the same time. We will provide about 100,000 new or improved homes for low-cost renting and home ownership by 2004. We have already exceeded our target to provide 60 per cent. of new homes on brownfield land. We are funding about 1,500 wardens, mostly in deprived neighbourhoods, and most hon. Members comment favourably on them, saying that they help to improve security.

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