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How will the integrated risk management ensure consistency? How will the Minister's national guidance and national framework ensure that we do not take a step backwards leading to increased risk or a need for more investment in local provision? What powers of intervention will he have if an inconsistent approach is shown to be putting lives at risk and reducing resources?
I should like to hear from the Minister yet again that this is not a cutting exercise, and that it involves investment and flexibility. I should also like to hear about any consultation on initiatives to measure the need for response. Will it be possible for some to be piloted, so that fire authorities can learn from others what response is most appropriate, what lessons can be learned from a change from existing minimum standards to a more flexible approach, and how mistakes can be identified and rectified. I want to hear the Minister's comments on the overall approach, so that we can reassure individual firefighters in our communities that the Bill will result in a general improvement rather than a reduction in services.
Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): Two themes ran through the Committee stagelack of scrutiny and centralisation of power. Our amendments and those of the Conservatives tried to deal with both. I compliment the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond), who clearly worked hard on the amendments tabled in Committee and on those we shall discuss today. We support in principle his new clauses in this group, and some that we shall deal with lateralthough, as he would probably expect, I shall ask him a couple of questions about one of them.
A national framework always has potential for good and potential for bad, or for unintended consequences. The same applies to powers taken by the Secretary of State, and we want to ensure that these powers are used only to improve fire services and to increase local accountability and democracy. In Committee, the Minister would smile angelically and tell us that, of course, he had no intention of misusing the powers; they were there "just in case". If that is true, I do not think he should have too much difficulty in accepting some of the Conservative amendments, or accepting the principles enshrined in our amendments to clause 20.
New clause 1 confers a level of scrutiny that, in our view, is missing from the Bill. It demands a statutory instrument enabling consideration of various clauses and, in particular, amendments to the framework. I disagreed slightly with the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge when he said that a statutory instrument was the weakest of options, although I know that they are not the best way of testing the Government. I do not know whether he was implying that all these matters should be dealt with on the Floor of the House; certainly, debating all the
In a sense, new clause 3 tackles the same issue that we are tackling through amendment No. 20: constraining the Secretary of State's powers by establishing codes. My only concern, which the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge probably shares, is that although we might be able to scrutinise those codes, the Minister will ultimately be able to set them as he wishes. An element of trust is involved, and I would like to go a little further, so I was pleased to hear that the hon. Gentleman supports our amendment.
I turn to new clause 11. Targets are like shifting sands: they are there one minute, and then they are not. The Minister seemed to protest a little too much about the extension of a target date. If one expects a target to end on a set date, it ought to be possible to review it to see whether a tougher one can be fixed, or whether one has gone as far as possible. Extending the target date by several years clearly stops the review process, thereby reducing one's ability to set a lower target.
Mr. Hammond: The original target defined a maximum number of fire deaths in the coming yearbeginning in March 2004that would meet the target. But because of the change, a higher number of fire deaths will still meet the target, as that figure does not have to be achieved until 2010. Is that not the problem?
The targets set by the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge are somewhat broad, and we should remember that targets do get adjusted. I have been informed that the target for death by fire has been tweaked slightly to remove death resulting from arson; perhaps the Minister can confirm whether that is so. The removal of arson attacks would automatically lead to a reduction in fire deaths, because the target would have been shifted slightly. Such information will doubtless be winging its way to the Minister very shortly.
Mr. Hammond: Is not the point the use of the word "accidental"? We are talking about a target for accidental fire deaths in the home, so it does not include deaths by deliberately set fires. However, to be fair it never has.
Richard Younger-Ross: My understanding was different, but I am happy to be corrected. Targets have been adjusted slightly in other cases. My concern is that we could become too wrapped up in targets, although having a certain number is a good thing. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will explain why he chose these targets in preference to other, slightly more prescriptive ones.
Amendment No. 20 is in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh). In our view, decisions should be taken at a local level where that can reasonably be done. We must have trust in fire and rescue authorities that have been democratically elected; otherwise, we will undermine them, and the fact of their election will become pointless. As a result, they will become managers rather than decision makers. We
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I shall be brief because I took part in the Committee stage, which gave us plenty of opportunities to discuss how integrated risk management plans would function. I have just a couple of points, which relate to how Gloucestershire fire authority envisages its way forward and, more particularly, how local firefighters, through the Fire Brigades Union, are seeking to move the debate forward.
One issue is how IRMPs will fit with other aspects of evolving county and wider arrangements. In particular, we have the community safety plan in Gloucestershire, which is quite an extensive attempt by the county council to draw together different services working in the emergency field. I should be interested to know how my right hon. Friend the Minister envisages the plans working, at least in the short term. The view seems to be that where there have been pathfinder projects, services are further forward than in some other areas, such as Gloucestershire, where there has not been such an opportunity. I should be interested to hear what my right hon. Friend has to say on that. How do we move those brigades forward?
Mr. Hammond: The hon. Gentleman says that Gloucestershire has not had the opportunity of pathfinder projects, but it has pioneered the use of tri-service control facilities. How does he understand their fitting into the Government's stated agenda of reducing the number of control rooms throughout England to only nine?
Mr. Drew: We rehearsed that point in Committee, if somewhat vaguely, and I am sure that we shall come to it in the next-but-one group of amendments. We in the county of Gloucestershire have some misgivings because a fine service has evolved there, and it is good to see the three emergency services working together. It is fair to say that we are talking to our right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench about the opportunities for what that tri-service may become, but we will no doubt refer to that under the appropriate group of amendments.
To return to the immediate group, I should be interested to hear from the Minister how areas where there have not been the same opportunities for trialling and testing the new procedures can catch up, and how those procedures will fit with other proposals that have emerged through county councils and other parts of the emergency services. How will those sit together with the new set of IRMPs? Much of that is outwith the Bill's scope, because practical, detailed considerations are involved. However, the Government need to show good faith and that there is not a cuts package behind the
Mr. Adrian Flook (Taunton) (Con): I take issue with the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), who said that he had much time in Committee to make contributions on this matter. When we came to discuss clause 21, my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) said: