Fire and Rescue Services Bill

[back to previous text]

Mr. Hammond: I am not sure that the amendment is misconceived. I accept that it is poorly drafted in relation to the draft order that the Minister has now laid.

I am not sure that I accept his example. There will be—there are—reinforcement arrangements between Surrey and London. However, it seems to me that a situation that allows an authority to enter another authority's area and begin operating without the formality of a request by the host authority is a recipe for confusion and disaster. The Minister says no but it strikes me that the relationship ought to be that the authority that has the problem—co-ordinated through a regional control room, if such a thing

Column Number: 125

exists—immediately recognises and requests the appropriate resources from other authorities.

We have no problem with that whatsoever but it is important to maintain the underlying principle that there is, for each area, an accountable fire and rescue authority that is responsible for dealing with incidents or making arrangements for doing so—to use the parliamentary draftsman's preferred terms—in their area. Ultimately, they must be accountable for that to the inhabitants of that area. Although there is no problem with the draft order that the Minister has laid, other orders that he has the power to make under the clause could give rise to some of the concerns that I have suggested.

As I said, I recognise that the amendment as drafted simply does not work in a world populated by the draft order that the Minister has published. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Hammond: I beg to move amendment No. 32, in

    clause 9, page 6, line 12, at end insert—

    '(3A) An order under this section conferring a function additional to its functions under sections 7 and 8 for which a fire and rescue authority must make provision shall also provide for the payment to that authority by the Secretary of State of sums calculated to meet the capital and recurring costs of the discharge of such functions.'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 33, in

    clause 9, page 6, line 12, at end insert—

    '(3B) An order under this section conferring a function on a fire and rescue authority which is to be discharged outside the authority's area shall also provide for payment to the authority by all fire and rescue authorities in the area of which such functions are to be discharged of such contributions to the capital and recurring costs of the discharge of such functions as the Secretary of State shall determine are appropriate.'.

No. 68, in

    clause 9, page 6, line 16, at end add—

    '(6) When making an order under subsection (1) the Secretary of State shall make payment to that authority for all reasonable additional, direct and indirect costs borne by that authority in following that order.'.

Mr. Hammond: Again, the amendment, which provides for the Secretary of State to make payments to an authority on which he confers extra-territorial responsibilities, sits uncomfortably with the draft order. Clearly, the mutually reinforcing extra-territoriality that the draft order contemplates is not something that the Secretary of State should expect to pay for directly, but there is still an important point to consider.

I believe that the Minister has implicitly accepted that the intention is to develop specialist resources within brigades—sorry, fire and rescue authorities. That is a sensible idea. They will deploy wherever they are needed but they will be financed in the ordinary course of events primarily by council tax payers in their home area.

Column Number: 126

The Secretary of State has made statements about directly financing specialist equipment for resilience purposes, but we need to go a little further than that. If Surrey fire and rescue were to be designated as the specialist CBRN fire service for the south-east region, hurtling off to Milton Keynes or Folkestone, to name but two possibilities, whenever a CBRN incident occurs in either of those places, there would be implications for the council tax payers of Surrey.

It seems appropriate to provide in the Bill that, if the Secretary of State confers specialist responsibilities that are to be prepared and exercised for the benefit of a much wider group of council tax payers, the council tax payers of the specialist authority should not end up bearing the cost. Therefore, amendment No. 32 seeks to impose on the Secretary of State an obligation to match the functions that he confers with funding of the capital and revenue costs of those functions.

Amendment No. 33 takes a slightly different approach in dealing with essentially the same problem—specialisation—and suggests that rather than payment by the Secretary of State there should be equitable arrangements for contributions from all the beneficiary authorities. To take a counter-case, if Surrey does not have to spend any money preparing to deal with a certain eventuality because Hampshire will ride to the rescue, it would be only right that the council tax payers in Surrey should make a contribution to the additional capital and revenue costs of the Hampshire fire and rescue authority in arranging for sufficient resources to deal with an incident in Surrey. An example of sensible lead authority arrangements might be where two or three authorities share a waterfront—an estuary area—and one of them undertakes the specialist inshore rescue facility on behalf of all of them.

Perhaps the Minister can reassure us that the Bill contains such provision elsewhere. I concede that clause 16 deals with reimbursement, but I do not believe that it deals with reimbursement for functions conferred by clause 9. I look to the Minister to explain how the burden would be equitably distributed or, if it is not to be equitably distributed among council tax payers, borne entirely on his own broad shoulders.

Richard Younger-Ross: Much has already been said by the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge. Amendment No. 68 would do much the same as amendment No. 32. It would be wrong in principle if an authority had to bear additional costs, which could be considerable in some instances, in travelling to other parts of the country or in purchasing other equipment. Amendment No. 68, which may or may not be perfectly worded, would provide that the Secretary of State should pick up the additional costs. I would be happy not to press my amendment in favour of amendment No. 32, or it may be simpler the other way around, but I hope that the Minister will make it clear who will bear the costs in such circumstances.

3.45 pm

Mr. Raynsford: The amendments would require fire and rescue authorities to be compensated for carrying out any duties that may be specified in an order under

Column Number: 127

the clause. As the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge will be able to see from the proposed draft order that we have supplied, we envisage that those duties, encompassing such emergencies as flooding and chemical spills, are ones for which the authority is already geared up. Authorities have generally acquired a wide range of equipment and experience for dealing with such challenges. We are simply creating a clear legislative framework to enable them to plan for and respond to such emergencies.

The new challenge is responding to the increased terrorist threat. We recognise that, and we have made appropriate financial provision. We are allocating £188 million over three years. That includes not just the capital costs of the equipment but the training, which is already under way, for the mass decontamination equipment being issued to fire authorities throughout the country. We are also in discussion with the Chief and Assistant Chief Fire Officers Association and the Local Government Association about the revenue implications of responding to new dimension incidents.

It does not matter where the work is carried out—whether in the fire and rescue authority's own area or that of another—the equipment, the training and the additional funding to cover resource costs will still have been provided by the Secretary of State. Therefore, we feel that the provisions in the amendment are unnecessary, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw it.

Richard Younger-Ross: The Minister talked about £180 million. Am I correct in saying that that figure is time-limited? The provisions that we want in the Bill would cover a longer period.

Mr. Raynsford: The whole basis of what I was saying is that authorities are already under obligation to equip themselves and provide for a range of duties. They are doing so, and they have done so. There is an existing framework for supporting that, which includes both revenue grant from the Government and support for capital investment.

There has been considerable capital investment in the fire service in recent years to develop a number of important new initiatives. That investment will continue to cover the full range of challenges and responsibilities faced by fire and rescue authorities, with the exception, as I pointed out in my earlier contribution, of the new challenge of anti-terrorist work. We are making substantial provision for that over a three-year period, and that will cover training and other arrangements that impose revenue costs, as well as the capital costs of the equipment.

I mentioned that we are in discussion with CACFOA and the LGA about the long-term revenue implications of responding to such incidents, which is a pretty clear indication that we are open-minded on the issue. We have said that we shall meet the costs, and we are doing so. That is why we do not believe that the amendments are necessary. Those provisions are already in place.

Richard Younger-Ross: Will Minister clarify something? I am thinking of a circumstance where full-time crews from Exeter and Torquay are called to

Column Number: 128

a major incident near Bristol, for example. Consequently, the retained crews from my constituency or that of the hon. Member for East Devon would be called out and have to work extra shifts, which would be an additional cost. Would that be covered by what the Minister is talking about?

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2004
Prepared 12 February 2004