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"41A In section 13(3) (reduced amounts), after "section 11" there is inserted ", 11A"." Page 109, line 13, at end insert ", and

(b) for "12(1)" there is substituted "12"." Page 109, line 15, at end insert ", and

(b) for "12(1)" there is substituted "12"."

On Question, amendments agreed to.

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Schedule 7 [Repeals and revocations]:

Lord Rooker moved Amendment No. 84A:

    Page 115, line 10, column 2, at beginning insert—

    "In section 53(4A), paragraph (b) and the word "and" at the end of paragraph (a)."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this part of Schedule 7 cross references to paragraph 3 of Schedule 6 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988. This paragraph ceases to have effect as a consequence of Clause 70 of this Bill, which is the removal of the power to prescribe rateable values. This is a technical amendment and has no effect apart from tidying up the Bill. While I have the opportunity, briefly, I would like to make clear our approach to Clause 70 to which the technical amendment relates.

It is the Government's intention to end the practice of prescribing the rateable values of certain industries from 1st April 2005, following the next non-domestic rates revaluation. Clause 70 removes the Secretary of State's power to prescribe rateable values. That is a major change in valuation policy and there are inevitably risks. Indeed, a number of questions were raised in Committee on the Bill in another place. Although there was agreement to the principle of ending prescribed valuations, there was some concern that ordinary ratepayers would have to foot the bill if there were a significant number of appeals. There was also concern that the Valuation Office Agency and the rating system in general might be under some pressure.

It was suggested that a reserve power might be needed in case the valuation system could not cope with the ending of prescribed rating. We have considered those points in forming our position on the matter. We must be sure that all valuations are robust and defensible otherwise there is a risk of successful challenge of those values. The consequences of such action would likely be costly and burdensome for both ratepayers and the Valuation Office Agency. Were there to be a significant loss to rates yield following such a challenge, the Secretary of State would have to decide whether to pass on the loss by increasing the multiplier for everyone. He would have to consider the instability that that may cause to the rating system.

The Valuation Office Agency is keen to try to agree beforehand the assessments of properties occupied by those industries wherever possible as that will create certainty for ratepayers and reduce the prospect of extensive litigation. But, at this stage, it is not possible to determine whether such an agreement will be achieved. We intend therefore to proceed cautiously. We will take advice from the Valuation Office Agency on whether proposed valuations for individual industries are robust and defensible. We hope that that will be the case for all industries. But the Valuation Office Agency may not be confident of the valuations in some cases because, for example, there is insufficient information available on which to base their valuations. If we judge this to be the case, the Government may decide not to end prescription in certain cases at that time.

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In such cases, the Government may choose not to commence Clause 70 in a wholesale manner. Instead we may decide to take a phased approach and commence Clause 70 at different times for different industries. We hope that that will not be necessary, but we think it would be rash to rule out at this stage a phased introduction. This will not require a change to the Bill, but none the less we thought it right to explain to the House, while the Bill was still being considered, how the power might be operated. I hope that noble Lords agree that this is a sensible and cautious approach, while still remaining committed to ending prescribed rating. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Rooker moved Amendment No. 85:

    Page 115, line 43, column 2, at beginning insert—

    "In section 11(3), the words "and section 12 below"."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 127 [Commencement]:

Baroness Hanham moved Amendment No. 86:

    Page 76, line 22, leave out "120,"

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in speaking to Amendment No. 86, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 90, which is the main force of the discussion. It brings us back to a debate in Committee on the Fire Services Bill. I raised what seemed to be a potential conflict in the terms of the Fire Services Bill which, as noble Lords will know, gives the Deputy Prime Minister or the Secretary of State powers to intervene—under what is a short-term Bill—to make decisions that affect not only firemen's pay but also conditions of service.

Conditions of service include matters such as the closure of fire stations and the rearrangement of fire services within a local authority area. Those powers fall to local authorities under Clause 120 in this Bill. We also now have the White Paper which will be effective, presumably, in the not too distant future when the proposed fire services Bill is brought forward. In Committee on the Fire Services Bill, the Minister said that if he could think of anything to say on the subject on Report that was better than anything he said in Committee, he would; and that it would be put on the record.

In the interim, we have had the compendium of responses on that matter and others, which were raised in Committee on the Local Government Bill. It briefly refers to that particular issue. But I would prefer the Minister to justify today why these two clauses are necessary and why they will not overlap and conflict with each other. I suspect that they will.

Amendment No. 90 proposes that the provisions in the Local Government Bill are not invoked until the "Fire Services Act" has effectively passed out of existence, because it has a sunset clause of two years. At the end of the two years, the clauses in the Local Government Bill would be introduced straightforwardly. Otherwise, potentially, there would be a conflict if the

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Fire Services Bill had to be used, although I accept that the legislation is intended for an emergency situation. I look forward to the Minister's response. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I referred back to see what the Minister said in Grand Committee on the Fire Services Bill on this issue. I shall quote one sentence only.

    "One is almost in parallel worlds".—[Official Report, 7/7/03; col. GC 49.]

Indeed, it is that sense of being in a parallel universe which has prompted the noble Baroness.

However, we do not think that it would be right to support these amendments. The provisions in this Bill are very desirable. Those are the ones that we want to see in effect. It is the Fire Services Bill which is, to us, so offensive. That is the one we want to see the back of, not the ending of the Secretary of State's powers as provided by Clause 120. The noble Baroness is right to try to obtain clarity on the issue, but I hope that she will not pursue the matter to its logical conclusion—which to us would be illogical.

1.30 p.m.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I remember using the term "parallel worlds" in response to a particular amendment, but I think that the 11 hours in Grand Committee on the Fire Services Bill was actually a parallel world. It was certainly another world to that which I have been used to since I have been in this House. I think that I can satisfy the noble Baroness about the apparent conflict. I have been giving the matter more thought anyway.

Clause 120 removes the requirement for fire authorities to seek the Secretary of State's approval before making a reduction, no matter how minor, in the number of fire-fighting posts or before the closure of a fire station or, indeed, the withdrawal of a fire appliance. The Bain review recommended that Section 19 of the Fire Services Act 1947 be amended or repealed as soon as possible to remove obstacles to introduce new and more flexible fire cover arrangements. The Government fully support this view and I believe there is a degree of political consensus that, in a modern fire service, operational decisions of this kind should be taken locally.

Noble Lords have expressed concern at a perceived conflict between the greater operational flexibility that the repeal of Section 19 will give fire brigades and the powers of direction on the use or disposal of property contained in the Fire Services Bill. We do not believe that there will be any such conflict. As I said during our debate in Grand Committee on the Fire Services Bill, the Government consider it prudent to take these powers to deal with particular circumstances if they arise, but we hope that they will never need to be used. It is our avowed desire that the Fire Services Bill is never operated during the two years that it will lie on the statute book.

The powers in the Fire Services Bill are concerned only with the recent dispute and its immediate aftermath. They would allow the Secretary of State to

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ensure that fire authority assets—paid for by the public—are available to those providing emergency fire cover in the event of further strikes. The powers would also allow the Secretary of State to ensure that some limited modernisation of the service could take place if it was being blocked, but I repeat that it is our strong preference for us not to have to use these powers. Noble Lords will of course be aware that the powers will lapse after two years after enactment of the Fire Services Bill; the sunset clause is quite unambiguous. By contrast, the introduction of integrated risk management planning, the repeal of Section 19 of the 1947 Act and the proposals set out in the White Paper are all measures for the longer term.

The move to integrated risk management in the UK fire service is a very positive step forward. It puts the emphasis firmly on outputs and outcomes in terms of lives saved and injuries prevented, accelerates the move from intervention to prevention and is more responsive to locally identified risks and needs. By delaying the repeal of Section 19, a repeal which enjoyed cross-party support in the other place, this amendment would deny fire authorities the flexibility they need to introduce a risk-based approach to the provision of fire cover. I cannot see the reason for that. The potential consequences of doing so and thus continuing with the existing inflexible and overly centralised fire cover arrangements are, I believe, self-evident. It is ludicrous beyond belief that at present the moving of appliances between fire stations has to be agreed by the Secretary of State. The current operating system is incredibly detailed and anachronistic.

The guidance on the introduction of integrated risk management planning, which I hope noble Lords have had an opportunity to consider since Committee, makes clear our continuing expectation that it is essential for local communities to be consulted about significant changes in fire cover. Fire authorities also have a general duty under best value legislation to consult about the way in which they exercise their functions.

There are a number of safeguards in place to ensure consistency of approach without inhibiting local flexibility and decision making. Integrated risk management plans will be drawn up within a framework of national guidance and fire authorities will be expected to maintain current fire cover arrangements until they have produced an integrated risk management plan and consulted local communities on any changes proposed. The performance of fire brigades in providing effective and efficient fire cover will continue to be monitored.

I hope that those explanations set the context. However, we have three elements to consider here. We have, first, the Fire Services Bill, a measure directly related to the dispute which has just ended but which has not been finally and completely settled because of all the dates that have to be met under the agreement. To that extent we now enjoy peace and tranquillity, but there is still work to be done as a direct result of the signed agreement. So the Fire Services Bill has been designed to cover that.

Secondly, we have a clause in the Bill before the House which seeks to abolish Section 19, as recommended by the Bain review and which we want

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to implement straightaway. Thirdly, in the meantime, the Government have produced their long-term considered response to Bain in the form of the White Paper, which obviously indicates that in the future there will be a major piece of legislation. All three elements can be taken together or separately.

In September we shall consider on Report the Fire Services Bill. I understand that tickets are being offered at a hot rate based on the performance of the parallel universe in the Grand Committee proceedings. However, noble Lords need to bear in mind the crucial point that the Government hope that the Bill will never be operated. It is our hope that it will lie on the statute book and never actually be used. Given that, it is easy to contemplate the abolition of Section 19, the introduction of integrated risk management plans and, it is hoped, a better life for fire service personnel and better performance for the public.

With those explanations, I hope that the noble Baroness will be content to withdraw her amendment. Bearing in mind that this is the last occasion on which I shall speak at this stage of the Bill, I want to put on the record a different but related matter. If I did not do so, I would be rightly chastised.

Before we conclude our proceedings on Report, it is right to tell noble Lords that the Statement on education funding to be made in the next hour or two will include a proposal relevant to this Bill, involving a minor amendment to education legislation. Obviously I cannot pre-empt the Statement being made now in the other place, but it is only right to alert noble Lords to the amendment. I shall write to noble Lords on both Front Benches shortly—or, it is hoped, immediately—to explain the proposals in detail. A government amendment to this Bill will be brought forward at Third Reading in September. However, it is only right that I mention this now because reference will be made to this Bill in the forthcoming education Statement to be made shortly.

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