Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Twenty-First Report


Annex 2

FIRE SERVICES BILL

Memorandum by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

INTRODUCTION

10.  The Fire Services Bill was brought from the House of Commons on 4 June 2003. This Memorandum:

  • Summarises the provisions of the Bill;
  • Identifies the provisions for delegated powers in the Bill and describes their purpose and proposed use;
  • Explains why matters have been left to delegated powers;
  • Explains the degree of Parliamentary control over the exercise of each power, and
  • Explains how the delegated powers in the Bill will be applied in Northern Ireland.

SUMMARY OF THE BILL

11.  The Bill is part of the Government's strategy for dealing with the current industrial dispute between the Fire Brigades Union and their employers. The Bill provides for the Secretary of State by statutory instrument to:

  • fix or modify the conditions of service of fire brigade members, and
  • give directions to fire authorities as to the use or disposal of property or facilities.

12.  The Bill consists of two clauses. Both of the above powers are contained in clause 1(1). The remainder of clause 1 sets out the procedure the Secretary of State must follow in exercising his powers under clause 1(1), what the statutory instruments may make provision for, and the arrangement for scrutiny by Parliament. Clause 2 deals with supplemental provisions, including arrangements in respect of Northern Ireland, and a limitation of the period in which the powers in clause 1(1) may be exercised.

13.  The powers that the Bill would confer in respect of conditions of service are similar (but not identical) to those in section 17 of the Fire Services Act 1947 as originally enacted.

PURPOSE AND USE OF THE BILL'S DELEGATED POWERS

14.  Clause 1(1)(a) provides for the Secretary of State to fix or modify the conditions of service of fire brigade members. Clause 2(2) defines "conditions of service" as including, in particular, pay and allowances, hours of duty or leave.

15.  Clause 1(1)(b) provides for the Secretary of State to give directions to one or more fire authorities about the use or disposal of property or facilities belonging to the fire authority, another fire authority or to another person who has made the property or facility available to the fire authority or is willing to do so. It further provides for directions to require payments to be made by a fire authority to another fire authority or person in respect of the use of the property or facilities. Examples of purposes for which this power might be useful are to provide joint control rooms, to direct that equipment be placed at the service of third parties or to direct that equipment be distributed on a risk assessment basis.

WHY THESE MATTERS HAVE BEEN LEFT TO DELEGATED POWERS

16.  In deciding to seek that the powers to fix or modify conditions of service of fire brigade members is left to delegated legislation, the ODPM has had regard to:

  • The desire to avoid making the Bill too cumbersome through the inclusion of too much technical or administrative detail

Different classes of fire brigade members have different conditions of service. It would be inappropriate to attempt to provide for those differences on the face of the Bill.

  • The utility of being able to respond to changing, or to different sets of, circumstances quickly and flexibly

Fire brigade members' pay has historically been adjusted annually. The use of delegated powers will allow for such arrangements to continue, or for other periodic adjustments to be made relatively quickly so that pay awards and other changes to conditions of service are not unduly delayed.

  • The rightful role of Parliament to scrutinise the detail of such delegated legislation

Parliament will have the opportunity to scrutinise the Secretary of State's proposals (see paragraph 9 below).

  • The appropriateness of powers being subject to consultation before their exercise.

The Bill requires the Secretary of State to consult the negotiating body representative of fire authorities and fire brigade members and for him to consider any report made to him by that body before making an order.

17.  The ODPM has had regard to similar factors in deciding to seek that the Secretary of State's powers to give directions to fire authorities about property or facilities should be left to delegated legislation, as follows:

  • The desire to avoid making the Bill too cumbersome through the inclusion of too much technical or administrative detail

The Secretary of State has no immediate intention to exercise the powers of direction the Bill would confer. It follows that it would not be possible to provide in the Bill for specific or general directions to be given on the face of the Bill.

  • The utility of being able to respond to changing, or to different sets of, circumstances quickly and flexibly

There are up to 50 fire authorities to whom the Secretary of State might give directions if the Bill is enacted. The nature of such directions could be different for different fire authorities or groups of fire authorities. In addition, delegated powers would be more appropriate in cases where prompt action is necessary, such as where there is a need to make fire authority assets such as fire stations or appliances available to those providing emergency fire cover in the event of further strike action by the Fire Brigades Union.

  • The appropriateness of powers being subject to consultation before their exercise.

The Bill requires the Secretary of State to consult those who are, in his opinion, likely to be affected by his proposed direction, or their representatives, before making an order containing a direction.

PARLIAMENTARY CONTROL OVER THE EXERCISE OF THE POWERS

18.  Clause 1(8) provides that a statutory instrument containing an order to fix or modify conditions of service is subject to the negative resolution procedure.

19.  The power to make an order containing a direction in respect of property and facilities is exercisable by statutory instrument, but not subject to the negative resolution procedure. As mentioned above, there may be circumstances where it is necessary for the Secretary of State to act quickly to ensure that fire authority assets are available.

20.  Clause (1)(7) provides that no order may be made under clause 1(1) more than two years after the commencement of the Act, except to revoke provision contained in a previous order.

NORTHERN IRELAND

21.   The Bill extends to Northern Ireland as well as to England and Wales. Clause (2)(4) sets out the arrangements for Northern Ireland. Fire is a transferred matter in Northern Ireland, overseen by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety. As devolution is currently suspended in Northern Ireland, for the time being devolved powers are the responsibility of the Secretary of State, under the terms of the Northern Ireland Act 2000. However, it is still the practice during suspension for UK legislation to give new statutory functions to the relevant Northern Ireland department. If the Bill were not to do so, the Secretary of State's "temporary" powers would not revert to devolved Ministers on the restoration of devolution.

22.   Clause (2)(4)(a) therefore provides for the relevant powers in the Bill to be exercised in Northern Ireland by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety. This will be under the direction of the Secretary of State for the time being, reverting to Executive Ministers once devolution is restored.

5 June 2003


 
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