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Lord Clement-Jones: Perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord before he offers the usual courtesies. On these Benches, we are rather more worried, after hearing the Minister's response, than we were before, which is unusual in the course of these debates. We have heard phrases like, "There is no good reason for treating London differently" and "It is inconceivable that", and so on, all of which make me count the spoons.

In this situation London needs to be different. The noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, put it very well. London needs to be treated differently. London is different. The Bill deals with London and there are

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many differences about the region. We may as well accept the fact that we cannot have "one size fits all" for consultation and that to try to treat the whole of the metropolitan area as if it were one ordinary police authority area is totally impracticable and flies in the face of the experience of the past 15 years. We have had a consultative system in the boroughs which, by and large, has worked extremely well. It is highly retrograde to be moving back from that situation.

After all, the Government have in their party strong roots in London and have considerable support in London. It is deeply disappointing that they should ignore the forces at work in the different London boroughs. They will find that this is one of the most controversial aspects of the proceedings on the Bill.

Lord Whitty: Before the noble Lord, Lord Cope, responds, because I have long experience of London politics I know that in the noble Lord's party and in my own the cry for decades has been, "Why doesn't London have a police authority in the same way as other parts of the country?" Now we are giving it the noble Lord's party finds something else to go on about. I have just consulted my noble friend Lady Farrington. In Lancashire, which ought to be an example to us all, the police authority deals with 14 different local authorities; not 32. Nevertheless--

Lord Clement-Jones: London has almost twice as many!

Lord Whitty: Yes, but Lancashire has a smaller police force. It has 14 different authorities, not all of which are represented on the police authority. I am sure that that is the pattern in the West Midlands and other parts of the country where a good many authorities come under one police area. I repeat: I do not understand why we need an entirely different pattern for London when the Metropolitan Police Authority--the first democratic police authority that we in London have ever had--would almost certainly see that it operated on a borough basis in terms of its consultation structures. But why should we have to lay that down when we do not do so for Lancashire, the West Midlands or any other part of the country?

Lord Clement-Jones: Because over a period of years, particularly in places like Lambeth, where there are deep suspicions historically between the police and the community, it has taken 15 years to build trust in structures between the police and the community. To start even raising the prospect of changing those arrangements is a retrograde step.

Lord Whitty: The statutory status of PCGs is not altered one iota by the Bill.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: One of my grandparents came from Yorkshire, so we cannot be expected to take Lancashire as the be-all and end-all of these matters, even when the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, makes the recommendation. However, as was pointed out in an

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intervention, twice as many boroughs in London as even in Lancashire are involved in the police area. So this is a matter to which I am sure we will have to return.

The Minister said that this will be the first democratic police authority for London. That is a slur on the Home Secretary. The Home Secretary is there by election and by the fact that his Government were elected. There is nothing undemocratic about the Minister. I do not take that view in the form in which he expressed it; but that goes back to our first debate on this subject some hours ago.

It is a matter to which we shall need to return at later stages of the Bill. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 354Q to 354SB not moved.]

[Amendment No. 354SC had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Schedule 22 agreed to.

Clause 258 [Reconstitution of the Fire etc Authority]:

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 355:

Page 138, line 27, at end insert ("and shall have the same duties as its predecessor Authority").

The noble Lord said: In moving the amendment, for the convenience of the Committee perhaps I may speak to Amendment No. 356 which is grouped with Amendment No. 355.

Amendment No. 355 is a simple addition which makes it explicit on the face of the Bill that all we are doing is a rechristening job with a slight change in the lines of responsibility and along which resources come to the fire authority. That is not explicit in the Bill as drafted. The Minister may well say that such an amendment is unnecessary, but I believe that it helps to have the point made plain. It also helps to explain the relative simplicity of the proposals vis-a-vis the fire service.

Amendment No. 356 touches on a more difficult point. There is not a fire and emergency planning authority in the country of which I am aware which is not under considerable--I almost said extreme--pressure for resources. It is a not unnatural state of affairs. Indeed, it is a state of affairs which in some ways, paradoxically, is beneficial. If one wants to see resources being used well, and to encourage tight management, a shortage of resources is a great cause of ingenuity.

However, in the funding of the fire service, there has been a great temptation to encourage fire services to charge for services which are outwith the firefighting part of their job. The basis on which funding for the fire services is arranged is fire risk. But, as a matter of practice and humanity, and because they are there and the only people with both the resources and expertise, they take on a number of other emergency roles, of which the most obvious is attendance at motor vehicle accidents. That may well have nothing to do with their normal firefighting role, but it is an important and significant part of their work. It is not only an important and significant part of their work; it is also a significant drain on their resources. It is expensive.

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Fire services become involved in such activities as emptying flooded cellars and rescuing cats up trees. It is not unknown for them to rescue little children with their heads stuck in fences. All those services are provided for good reasons, but they are outwith the calculation of the resources that the fire service receives.

There is a temptation--I put it no stronger than that--for fire services to start charging for what I would call "off-mainline business" services. We do not think that is right, and we should prevent it. There is an opportunity in this Bill to prevent such charging so far as London is concerned. I dare say the Minister will reply that we cannot treat London differently from any other part of the country, and that is a plausible argument. However, we must begin somewhere. I beg to move.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Tope: I rise to speak particularly to Amendment No. 356. I was for some years a member of the London Fire and Civil Defence Authority--in fact, I am still a substitute member of that authority--and we debated frequently the issue of reclaiming the costs to which the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, referred. I resist Amendment No. 356 as strongly as possible--although I may not need to do so as I suspect that the Government will do that for me.

The noble Lord said, quite correctly, that every fire authority in the country is under considerable budgetary pressure, and that is certainly the case in London. However, I do not believe that we should state in law--whether for London only because it is a place to start and we have the opportunity to do so, or generally--that a fire authority cannot even consider reclaiming such costs, whatever the circumstances. The noble Lord gave a number of examples, one of which enabled me to learn something about my noble friend Baroness Hamwee. I have known her for probably 30 years but I was not aware that she had got her head stuck in the railings as a small child. However, she assures me that she has no interest to declare because it did not happen in London. My noble friend also does not recall who rescued her, but I am glad that someone did.

We discussed many times on the LFCDA our decision to charge people who called us out because they had locked themselves out of their homes. I see no reason why taxpayers should pay for the carelessness or forgetfulness of those who have locked themselves out of their homes. The LFCDA rightly instituted a charge for that service, and it is a matter for the individual fire authority to decide the appropriate circumstances for charging. I would rather not impose a charge for rescuing small people who, like my noble friend, stick their head between the railings. That is a most distressing emergency. I would have perhaps slightly less sympathy for cats who get stuck up trees because they will invariably find their way down if one leaves them to it. I would have absolutely no sympathy for those who forget their front door keys--in fact, I believe that a charge for such a service would be an appropriate deterrent.

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It is quite wrong to have a blanket statement in an Act of Parliament that says, "Under no circumstances whatever may a fire authority seek to recover any of its costs". If I were the Minister replying to this debate-- I can only dream--I would resist the amendment most strongly.

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