|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Richard Younger-Ross: The Bill should save money, and we accept the principle that reorganisation should involve a cost saving. However, achieving parity for firefighters could involve an increase in costs, which we would support. That would be reasonable in order to secure equal pay for equal work.
Some spurious arguments were advanced today in respect of a well-thought-out amendment to establish a boundary review. Most people accept that, in this context, the regions of the south-west and the south-east are nonsense. They were created for different purposes and are not suitable as fire authority regions. Regardless of whether the other place can change the Bill's wording, I urge the Minister to accept the need for a boundary review at some point.
We were nearly able to discuss sprinklers and their installation on Report, but we just ran out of time. The Minister gave a very good answer in Committee to the question of fitting sprinklers in new buildings, but we did not address their retrospective fitting. I urge those in the other place to table amendments to establish a review of existing properties, so that we can consider the practicalities of the retrospective fitting of sprinklers in schools, care homes and houses in multiple occupation. The cost of doing so could be saved through reduced insurance costs, and if we can save lives through such retrospective fitting, we should do it. That is not to say that we should give up on passive fire protection systems; rather, we see sprinklers as an additional protection. I urge the Minister to ask his noble Friends in the other place to look at the proposal sympathetically. There is a way forward, and I am sure that suitable wording and processes can be found to make it a reality.
Mr. Drew : I shall continue the process of handing out plaudits by handing out mine to Ministers. They have listened, and within reason we have made good progress. As the lack of a Division at the end of Third Reading will show, this is a consensual Bill.
I agree with what the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) said about sprinklers. To an extent, this has been a "something and nothing" Bill. The "something" is that at long last, we are introducing legislation that reflects a modern fire and rescue service, unlike the antiquated legislation that has been in place for so long that most people cannot remember why it was enacted. But other issues, such as sprinklers, have been deliberately avoided or regarded as inappropriate for this Bill. We had a useful debate on such issues in Committee, and my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight) spoke very knowledgeably about what needed to be done, as one would expect, given his expertise. The Bill might not be the right vehicle for such matters, but they cannot remain an off-stage discussion.
Mr. Hammond: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and there has been consensus on both sides that once the research has been properly concluded, the issue of sprinklers must be addressed, if appropriate. From his discussion with his right hon. Friend the Minister, is it his understanding that the Secretary of State has the power to move forward on that agenda without the requirement for further primary legislation, or will we be waiting for a further primary legislative opportunity?
Mr. Drew: I certainly believe that that is the case, and I hope that it will be confirmed soon after tonight's debate, but I understand the problem, because that matter will affect other Departments and other Bills. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench have heard and taken on board the hon. Gentleman's point.
The key issue is how the resources are reallocated. If we want a modern fire and rescue service, working with the other emergency services, it is crucial for it to be properly funded. As I have said on numerous occasions, I have no problem with the regionalisation agenda as a strategic direction, but the Bill is not the way to deliver that, and it must not be used to do the work on the ground. If there are resources available, we must reinvest them not just in equipment but in the people
Mr. Redwood: The hon. Members for Stroud (Mr. Drew) and for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) are being a little optimistic tonightperhaps whistling in the darkknowing as they do that they are under a three-line Whip to vote for the Bill, which I suspect is a harbinger of cuts and reductions in the fire service that they love and want to support.
Mr. Hammond: Just for the record, I should tell my right hon. Friend that the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) has not been shy, when fire and rescue matters have been before the House in the past, about defying his Government's Whip and voting with the Opposition.
Mr. Redwood: I quite agree, and I am delighted that my hon. Friend has reminded the House of the hon. Gentleman's entirely honourable record. I was simply trying to persuade the hon. Gentleman that he should use his independence and freedom yet again, because I think that the Minister is selling him a pup on this important issue.
I fear that this will be a typical Labour modernisation. We will see cuts in the service on the ground, among the people who have to deliver on not-very-good pay, but a massive expansion of bureaucracy, management and the administrative cadres. We will see large-scale recruitment of extra people called regional-this and regional-that: there will be regional chief executives, regional finance directors, regional chief officers, regional deputy chief officers and regional assistant chief officers across the country, who will be on huge salaries with cars and all sorts of perks. At the same time, the Minister will want to achieve some offsetting cost reductions. He will not achieve enough, but I am sure that he will squeeze the service on the ground. He therefore wants to go ahead with the plan to cut the number of centres around the country that deal with the emergencies and allocate the work. That is why he has got it in for the counties: he hopes that he can achieve some savings from demolishing county fire administration and replacing it with much dearer, grander, more expansive and more multi-layered administration at regional level.
Mr. Hammond: I was thinking that my right hon. Friend might want to try to provoke the Minister into a response by pointing out that his Department's internal estimates are that the cost of setting up the nine regional control centres, including the cost of redundancies from the existing control centresbecause there will be
Mr. Redwood: That is the sort of figure that I would have guessed, and I am delighted that my hon. Friend, who has studied this much more closely than I have, has done this very accurate costing. Of course there are going to be redundancies and cutsI think that some hon. Members who value the fire service have been misled on this occasionand of course there will be a massive expansion of jobs and non-jobs as the regions are set up. This is an attempt to drive England into a series of regions that are neither natural, sensible nor efficient. This is not the way in which anyone with any sense of history, tradition, business practice, efficiency or service delivery would organise things.
It makes absolutely no sense to have a fire region covering everywhere from Dover to Milton Keynes, but leaving out London at the very heart of that region, when all the main transport links go through or just round the edge of London within the Greater London area. It makes no sense to suggest that Cornwall, Devon and Somerset all wish to be lumped together. People in Exeter do not want to look to Bristol or Truro; people in Truro do not want to look to Plymouth or Bristol; and people in Bristol are not wild about either Exeter or Plymouth.
It is dangerous for the Government to think that they can impose this "redprint" for ruin, this regionalisation, on the fire service as the soft underbelly of local government in Britain. The Government hope that the counties will not regard this as such a strong attack on themselves as the complete abolition of the counties and their replacement with regional government would be. They hope that they can start the process off by tackling it service by service, and they have picked on the poor fire service in this Bill.
The Minister should think long and hard before trying to destroy the very good administration and delivery that exists in the many county fire services around the country. He should understand their esprit de corps, and their sense of loyalty, place and tradition, which are very important in a badged and uniformed service such as the fire service. He should also understand that there will be no such loyalty or sense of achievement and tradition if he insists on introducing these expensive regional quangos above the county services.