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Mr. Hammond: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Madam Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 9—Limitation on power of Secretary of State to appoint members of a combined fire and rescue authority—


'(1) Where a scheme made under section 2 provides for members of a combined fire and rescue authority to be appointed by the Secretary of State the provisions of this section shall apply.
(2) Before making an appointment to a combined fire and rescue authority the Secretary of State shall invite each of the existing authorities with power to appoint members to the combined fire and rescue authority to submit to him a list of nominees for consideration for appointment by the Secretary of State.
(3) The Secretary of State shall appoint from the lists of nominees received those persons who appear to him to be best qualified to serve as members of the combined fire and rescue authority unless there are an insufficient number of persons on the lists appearing to the Secretary of State to be suitable for appointment.

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(4) If the Secretary of State considers that there are an insufficient number of suitable persons on the lists to make all the necessary appointments he shall advise each of the existing authorities of his reasons for considering each of their unsuccessful nominees as unsuitable for appointment and shall indicate the qualities, experience and other relevant factors required for appointment by the Secretary of State in the particular case.
(5) Each of the existing authorities shall then be invited to submit a further list of nominees fulfilling the criteria set down in accordance with subsection (4) by the Secretary of State.
(6) Upon receipt of the further lists referred to in subsection (5) the Secretary of State shall appoint from the lists those persons who appear to him to be best qualified to serve as members of the combined fire and rescue authority.
(7) If there are insufficient numbers of persons appearing to the Secretary of State to be suitably qualified for appointment on the lists submitted, the Secretary of State may appoint such other persons as he considers suitable to fill any remaining vacancy.
(8) On the occurrance of any casual vacancy for membership of a fire and rescue authority which falls under the terms of the scheme to be filled by an appointment by the Secretary of State the procedure set out in subsections (2) to (7) shall apply.'.

Amendment No. 21, in clause 2, page 2, line 14, after 'Act', insert


'that one or more fire and rescue authorities are failing to discharge their duties and this Act and'.

Amendment No. 14, in page 2, line 16, leave out from 'area' to end of line 18.

Amendment No. 3, in page 2, line 17, leave out from 'constitutes' to end of line 18 and insert


'an area identified by the study published by the Secretary of State in accordance with section [regional management structures] as an optimum geographical area for the organisation of fire and rescue services.'.

Amendment No. 22, in page 2, line 18, at end insert—


', or
(c) that a draft scheme has been submitted to him by two or more existing authorities and it appears to the Secretary of State that for the purposes of this Act, in the interests of greater economy, efficiency and effectiveness, there should be a single fire and rescue authority for the combined area.'.

Government amendments Nos. 7 and 8.

Amendment No. 23, in clause 3, page 3, line 40, leave out 'half' and insert 'one third'.

Government amendments Nos. 9 to 11.

Mr. Hammond: This wide-ranging group of amendments deals with combined fire authorities and much more besides. New clause 5 is drawn widely and touches on all fire authorities in England with the exception of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority. It addresses the compulsory and arbitrary regionalisation of fire and rescue services on the basis of the existing regional development agency or Government office regions. The Select Committee looked at the Government's proposals on regionalisation and said in paragraph 81 of its report:


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We have always accepted that there is a case for harvesting the efficiencies of co-operation by doing certain things at supra-brigade level, but that must be a bottom-up process that starts with individual fire authorities collaborating together, not a top-down process in which the Secretary of State directs fire authorities to work in certain ways. It must be driven, not by the Secretary of State's demands but by the accountability of fire and rescue authorities to local taxpayers and by their best-value obligations. That is already happening, but not necessarily on the geographical boundaries that Ministers seek.

We accept the case for common procurement to ensure interoperability and the need to co-ordinate the response to non-conventional threats at a higher level than that of the individual brigade. None of those arguments, however, points to the Government-dictated organisation of fire and rescue services along the geographical lines of Government office regions. Fire and rescue services are a local government function and, under modernisation, are charged with becoming more of a community service. They must be managed and run closer to, not further away, from the local community that they serve. We must never forget that even in the environment in which, sadly, we now find ourselves, at least 90 per cent. of a fire and rescue authority's work will continue to be performing community-based traditional roles as well as the new, important role of fire prevention and education.

The Government have not produced a shred of evidence to establish the benefit to public safety of choosing the structure of existing Government office regions as the basis for imposing regional management boards, the use of those regions as the basis for the combined fire authorities of the future or, indeed, the reduction of the 49 existing control rooms to just nine in England. The Select Committee report, with which the Minister will be familiar, makes that clear at paragraph 79, which states:


It goes on to say at paragraph 80:


We need convincing evidence that the regions chosen by the Government are the optimum regions for fire and rescue purposes and will not merely reduce costs but meet the Government's avowed criterion of improving public safety.

7.15 pm

The report on control rooms does not look at the possibility of any other configuration of those rooms. If a control room can handle adequately the entire south-east of England, with a population of 8 million, why has the Minister not considered combining the north-east region with Yorkshire and the Humber to create a region with a population of about 7.5 million? The Government have not explained why is it right and appropriate to have one control room in the north-east region with a population of 2.5 million spread over

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8,000 sq km, and one control room in the south-east region with a population of 8 million spread over 19,500 sq km?

Resilience, which the Minister often talks about, will be achieved by common equipment and operating standards. The reduction of 49 control rooms to nine is about saving costs. There is nothing wrong with saving costs—I am not suggesting for a moment that that is not a good objective—but it is not the Secretary of State's role to deal with such matters in a locally based, locally accountable service. He should deal with resilience, but economy of operation should be dealt with under the best-value arrangements and through the accountability of democratically elected fire and rescue authorities to their local electorates. The truth is that the Deputy Prime Minister has been scratching around to try to find some powers for his pet regional tier to counter the repeated accusation that it is a hollow promise or empty box. The fire and rescue services are being regionalised by stealth through the regional management boards, the inevitable withering of the management capability of individual fire and rescue authorities and by the regional fire authorities that the Secretary of State will impose on any region that elects to have a regional assembly in a referendum. Incidentally, that demonstrates the untruth of the Government's repeated statement that any extra powers given to elected regional assemblies will be handed down from central Government, not drawn up from local government. Those extra powers will clearly come from a diminution of local government power and responsibility.

It is not appropriate to organise a vital, front-line emergency service around the political whim of a politician. We will never accept that public safety should be subordinated to the Government's regional agenda through the imposition of a sub-optimal regional structure. I emphasise again that we object not to the introduction of a supra-brigade level for certain purposes but to the transparently political use of existing Government office regions—[Interruption.] The Minister says that it is a lot of nonsense, but he has not produced a shred of evidence to support the argument that those are the optimum regions for the operational delivery of fire and rescue services.


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