My hon. Friend mentioned that informal guidance was introduced in 2006. I want to reiterate the fact that it was informal. I fully understand the concerns
expressed by the Fire Brigades Union, by members of the Chief Fire Officers Association, and by others, including Members of Parliament on both sides of the House. I have received more than 300 letters expressing concern about this issue. I know that some of my ministerial colleagues share those concerns. My hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), for example, has experience as a firefighter, and he has talked to a number of former colleagues in the fire service. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East, he knows people who are very worried about these issues. It is therefore really important for the record to reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East and the whole House that it was never the Governments intention for an injured firefighter not to receive an appropriate award or to be left with no job or recompense. It is really important to have that on the record so that fire and rescue services are aware of that when they take these decisions.
Mr. Dhanda: I have had discussions with the Retained Firefighters Union and a different set of issues appliesparticularly primary employment, to which the hon. Gentleman alluded. Those firefighters are also affected by what I have just said. I hope that I have clarified the position, but let me say it again in order to be doubly certain for the record. Let me reassure my hon. Friend and the House again that it was never the intention of the Government that a firefighter who is injured should not receive an appropriate award or be left with no job or recompense. That is important, but I think that we can go still further.
I spoke earlier today to the chairman of the Chief Fire Officers Association and also to the general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union. I will be talking to other stakeholders in the coming days as well. It is my intention to set up a working group to map out the way forward from here in a short and sharp way. That will involve the unions, employers and other stakeholders.
There is a great deal of good practice out there among fire authorities. We must ask ourselves in all honesty why it is that some fire and rescue services have ill health pension figures below three in 1,000, while in others the figures are much higher. Is it because the authorities are ensuring that ill health pension is not used as a mechanism for tackling bad performance or not used out of a desire to reduce staff numbers, or is it due to something else? Is it to do with the way in which available fire prevention is being pooled? Can other things be done? My hon. Friend mentioned that Nottingham was a small area but had many local government jobs. Is there a way of ensuring that fire authorities and fire and rescue services can work together? I want to engage those key stakeholders in this working group and do some important work in the coming weeks. We will also look further into the 2004 and 2006 guidance and follow up the trends in the most recent figures according to individual fire authorities in order to get a better gauge of the pattern and find out what exactly is going on out there.
I hope that what I have said is helpful. I know that there is a great deal of interest in this matter. I have
received many letters from firefighters, who are understandably concerned, and their representatives. We will continue this piece of work with two key priorities or principles. First, we must continue to bear down on the number of ill health pensions, as we must ensure that the scheme remains viable for the future. I am sure that all stakeholders will want us to do that. Secondly, as my hon. Friend suggested, we must ensure fairness for firefighters. I hope that what I have put on the record today will ensure that we achieve that.
I sensed that the Minister was summing up and I wanted to come in before he concluded. I believe that I have had a response that I did not expect and I want to welcome it. The Minister has clearly listened to representations from Members on both sides of the House and this provides a great example of Parliament working. I do not know where to go with this, but I agree with the Minister. As far as I am concerned, I do not want people who are available to work not to be working. I will do anything to help them achieve that as part of the principle that we are expressingthat where people can work, we want to get them there. This is not about putting people on the scrap heap. I fully accept that principle. I also believe that saving money for the taxpayer is another good
principle. I would be happy to help the Minister in any way in that respect, too. The message he has sent out tonight will be welcomed by firefighters across the country, so I thank him.
Mr. Dhanda: I am going to conclude there, as that is a good point at which to leave the debate and we have only a few seconds left. I hope that in this of all weeks, as the Minister with responsibility for the fire and rescue service, I will be able to spend some of my Friday at Coventry cathedral, paying tribute to firefighters who have tragically lost their lives in Warwick. I am very appreciative of my hon. Friends remarks and I hope that we can go forward in the way I have set out.
The motion having been made at fifteen minutes past Ten o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. Speaker adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.