|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Linda Gilroy : I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. For years, my constituents have been saying to me that they have saved for their retirement to no effect. It is important that the work and pension service, which is doing such a good job, as he says, should provide such help. Will he encourage it to work in partnership with other agencies, particularly Plymouth city council, which has just launched a "Tell Granny" campaign on council tax benefit take-up? Many more who receive pension credit will now qualify for council tax benefit.
Malcolm Wicks: I thank the city council for its work. The senior citizens forum in Plymouth is also playing a major role by directly contacting its 9,000-strong customer base. That shows the importance of working with partners such as Age Concern and other organisations to drum home the message that pension credit is a success. I should add that, as part of the drive against sexism, we ought to tell Grandad as well.
'(1) The Framework referred to in section 21 as first prepared shall not have effect until an order providing that it shall have effect for the purposes of section 21 has been made by the Secretary of State.
(2) Any revisions to the Framework which the Secretary of State wishes to make shall not have effect until an order providing that they shall have effect as amendments to the Framework has been made by the Secretary of State.'.[Mr. Hammond.]
'(1) The Secretary of State shall publish a Code specifying the circumstances and the manner in which:
(a) he may make an order under section 22; or
(b) he may issue a direction under any provision of this Act.
(2) The Code shall include, in particular, details of:
(a) the persons or classes of person the Secretary of State will consult before taking the action referred to in subsection (1);
(b) any other codes of conduct or agreements with any other persons or bodies to which the Secretary of State will have regard when contemplating any action referred to in subsection (1).
(3) Before publishing the Code referred to in subsection (1) the Secretary of State shall consult
(a) all fire and rescue authorities or persons confirmed by them as representing them; and
(b) all persons or bodies recognised by any fire and rescue authority as representing any group of its employees; and
(c) any other persons he considers appropriate.'.
'(1) The Secretary of State shall for each Fire and Rescue Authority set a target for
(a) the reduction in the number of accidental fire deaths in the home; and
(b) the reduction in the number of deliberate fires.
'the decision on which cannot be reasonably devolved to a fire and rescue authority.'.
'(b) must set out minimum standards of response to specified categories of incidents from fire and rescue authorities in connection with the discharge of their functions under sections 7, 8, 9.'.
Mr. Hammond: New clause 1 deals with issues surrounding the fire and rescue national frameworka detailed document, which sets out what amounts to a blueprint for the organisation, operation and management of fire and rescue services across the country. Let me give hon. Members a flavour of the document. It states:
For the purposes of this debate, it is not necessary to argue whether having some sort of framework to deal with such matters is right or wrong. The concern that new clause 1 is designed to address is the democratic
Without making any comment at this stage about the precise content of the framework, I should explain that the purpose of new clause 1 is to subject the framework to parliamentary approval. Under the Bill as drafted, the Secretary of State has only to lay the finished document before Parliament, whereas new clause 1(1) provides that the initial framework shall have effect only once the Secretary of State has made an order by statutory instrument, giving Parliament an opportunityalbeit an inadequate oneto exercise some measure of scrutiny over what, as I have already suggested, will be by far the most important part of the collection of documents that will determine the way that our fire and rescue services operate in future: a document that will be at least of equal standing to the Bill itself.
Subsection (2) provides for similar arrangements in the case of any amendments to the framework that the Secretary of State may wish to make. Amendment No. 1 is a consequential provision that would remove from clause 21 the current provision for laying the framework before Parliament.
I hope that the Minister will be able to accede to our request for a simple measure of parliamentary scrutiny of what will be an extremely important document. If, as he repeatedly assured us in Committee, the framework will not amount to a micro-management plan for every nominally independent fire and rescue authority, he has nothing to fear from allowing parliamentarianswho represent the populations of communities throughout the countryan opportunity to consider the framework in its final form after he has completed his consultation, and to approve it so that it is incorporated in statute via the provisions of clause 21.
New clause 3 addresses a slightly different issue. It is designed to qualify the Secretary of State's power to intervene in the operation of a fire and rescue authority under the powers granted to him in clause 22. Under that clause, the Secretary of State may direct a fire and rescue authority precisely how to act or not to act if he believes that it is failing or likely to failnot failing or likely fail to discharge its statutory functions but failing or likely to fail to comply with the national fire and rescue framework.
These are intervention powers that are over and above the sanctions under the best-value regime enshrined in the Local Government Act 1999, which also apply to fire and rescue authorities by virtue of clause 23. As drafted, these are wide-ranging powers of intervention. In our view, the ability to intervene gives the Secretary of State far too much power vis-à-vis what
New clause 3 simply requires the Secretary of State to provide some codification of the circumstances and the manner in which he will make orders under clause 22, and the circumstances and the manner in which he will issue directions under any of the many provisions allowing him to do so in a Bill that places huge powers in his hands.
Subsection (2) requires the Secretary of State to specify who he will consult. It does not require him to provide an exhaustive list of individuals or organisations. In Committee, the Minister made clear his objection to the listing approach. The subsection requires the Secretary of State instead to define the classes of persons, and critically to specify any other codes or agreements to which he will have regard before intervening.
It is no secretI am sure the Minister will readily have divined the intentionthat I have in mind the Local Government Association's code on intervention. It is a code that was agreed between the LGA and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, defining how the Secretary of State will use his intervention powers after a comprehensive performance assessment where an authority is deemed to be failing. The code includes extensive provisions on support for failing organisations, notice to be given and opportunities for authorities to rectify their deficiencies. Generally, it governs the Secretary of State's approach and ensures that intervention follows a clear scheme that everybody understands and is not arbitrary in any way. I should be grateful for assurance that the regime, which will apply to interventions under clause 23, which deals with best value, will also apply to interventions under clause 22. A loophole will otherwise be created, as the Secretary of State will invariably have the opportunity to intervene under either clause, and it is not appropriate that one intervention route is bound by the provisions of the LGA code and the other is not.
The new clause proposes a modest limitation on a wide power of intervention, and seeks to ensure that it is used as expected by fire and rescue authorities, is not arbitrary and does not become an alternative or loophole for avoiding established intervention procedures. If the Minister can confirm that the LGA code will be applied to any intervention under the provisions of the Bill, we will not seek to press new clause 3 further[Interruption.] He is saying from a sedentary position that he has already done so, but that had not penetrated my consciousness. He will be glad of an opportunity to put that on record on the Floor of the House so that all local government bodies are aware of it.
New clause 11 requires that, as part of the framework arrangements, the Secretary of State set out annually, on a five-year forward basis, targets for a reduction in the number of accidental fire deaths in the home and of incidents of arson. It requires him to report to Parliament annually on progress in achieving those