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Baroness Hamwee: Until the noble Lord was half-way through his speech, I thought that the amendment might be inconsistent with the points that he had just been making. However, I believe that it is intended to provide an alternative to the Secretary of State's appointments.

As I understand it, the amendment talks about appointing from a list of nominees provided by the local authorities. Are those intended to be local authority members? If that was the route to be followed where a fire and rescue service was failing, I would be hesitant about putting the matter back to the local authorities as they themselves may have failed as part of the whole process. I am not saying that I support the amendment; I am trying to follow the logic of what is to be achieved here. If one is looking for "independent" members to bring along different expertise, and if one accepts the premise from the start, I wonder whether it is wise to confine the list of candidates in the way suggested.

I am not trying to argue against what the noble Lord said because, as my noble friend said, we are very much with him in relation to the previous set of amendments. However, I think that the whole thing is a complete porridge.

Lord Hanningfield: In moving the amendment, I tried to indicate that we had tabled it and I had written my speaking notes on it before the previous discussion. That discussion highlighted a lot of the difficulties of the whole area. The Minister recognised that as well, and clearly the Government will go away and look at the matter. We will have to look at it altogether before Report, and I hope that the Minister can clarify some of the points on it. I still object totally to the principle of having appointed members but, if there are to be appointed people, we need to find processes that can make them acceptable. I hope that we can resolve the issues as we go further with the Bill, but I would like to hear the Minister's comments.

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5.30 p.m.

Baroness Hanham: Having got the clarification that local authorities can appoint elected members or non-elected members, can we now clarify the process of appointment? That was effectively what the amendment was trying to do. There are all sorts of examples of ways in which people are appointed to authorities. The Bill leaves appointment in the hands of the Secretary of State, effectively.

The Minister said that people would be appointed along Nolan lines. That is all right; that makes sure that people are competent, straight, have no criminal convictions and are capable of fulfilling a public appointment. However, it does not set the scheme for appointment. There is no indication of that in the Bill. Will they be appointed by an appointments committee, or on behalf of the Secretary of State by a committee formed from the combined fire authorities? The Minister will say that all that will be part and parcel of the regulations, but it has not been aired and clarified in a way that would be helpful.

We want to ensure that the authorities are made up of elected members and people who have been appointed through a proper, recognised process. There should be not only an advertisement in the Guardian, but a proper process so that we know who will do the appointing.

Lord McCarthy: I wish to ask three questions. The provisions ought to get an alpha for ingenuity. I have never heard of it before but we are told that, in local government, all kinds of things are done in the way outlined. First, has such a method been used before? Is it something that the Government have particularly invented for the Bill, or is the ingenious and somewhat complex procedure well known in certain local authorities?

Secondly, if some people are appointed but not others first time round, why do the Government think it a good idea to write to those who did not get appointed to say why? It is not usual to write to unsuccessful candidates to tell them why they failed.

Noble Lords: It is.

Lord McCarthy: Well, one must be very careful about the libel laws if one does. That brings me to my third and final question. The first time that such people go around the roundabout, one writes to tell them why they have failed. The second time that they do, one does not, so far as I can see. Perhaps that is done all round the country, too. Why the difference?

Lord Hanningfield: In employment procedures, if we interview people we certainly have to tell them why we have not appointed them. We make notes and so on; people have the right to know why they have not been appointed. These days, other people who apply for jobs or positions under the Nolan laws have a right to know. I assume that most of that is enshrined in law. If it is not, it is a matter of good practice to tell people why they failed in various positions. It is common practice, certainly in local government and, I thought, in most organisations.

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We have been going round in circles on the matter. At the moment, joint fire authorities are mostly comprised of elected members. A county fire authority is normally always made up of members of that county council. We now have a lot of joint fire authorities—counties and unitaries—and London as well with the metropolitan areas. As I understand it, the members appointed to them are mostly elected members of the authorities that constitute the joint fire authorities.

We have had an interesting debate today on whether local authorities can appoint members who are non-elected. I do not know any instances where they have done so. Perhaps that can be clarified before the Report stage. I repeat that the amendment was tabled before the previous discussion took place. I am sure that there will be further amendments and discussions, and I hope that Ministers will try to clarify some of the issues and take them forward so that we can have a more positive idea of what the Government think. Then we can put forward potential alternatives before Report. After that discussion, I should probably withdraw the amendment.

Lord Rooker: We will come back to it.

Lord Hanningfield: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 [Combined authorities under the Fire Services Act 1947]:

Lord Hanningfield moved Amendment No. 29:


    Page 4, line 27, after "must" insert—


"(a) obtain the agreement of the fire and rescue authority constituted under the scheme or (in the case of an order to revoke the scheme) the agreement of all the authorities which would, apart from the scheme, be fire and rescue authorities under section 1 for any part of the area covered by the authority constituted under the scheme; and
(b)"

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 29 is designed to safeguard against the Secretary of State misusing the powers under subsection (3)(a) in order to take a scheme for the creation of a combined fire authority that was presented as voluntary and change it out of recognition. The Secretary of State may want to review a scheme and to come back to the authorities and propose certain changes. So long as the authorities agree with that, there is no problem; it remains their scheme, with improvements proposed by the ODPM and agreed by the authorities.

If the Secretary of State wants to propose something more radical which is not, in the view of the fire authorities concerned, acceptable, he should have to resort to the powers to create a combined fire authority on his own initiative rather than allowing one to be voluntarily created with his potentially substantial modification. Amendment No. 29 would require the authorities to agree all modifications. We believe that that is a more transparent approach. I beg to move.

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Lord Rooker: Although the word never crosses the lips of the noble Lord, this is basically another veto amendment. Its purpose is to prevent the Secretary of State taking a wider view in the interests of the public as a whole, and we therefore cannot accept it.

I have already said in relation to a couple of previous amendments that the Bill requires extensive consultation on a range of issues including, in Clause 4(5)(c), with anyone other than fire and rescue authorities that the Secretary of State considers to have a potential interest. That is a very important point. To suggest, as the amendment does with its veto, that even after such wide consultation the Secretary of State should be unable to act is, in effect, to suggest that the Government should abandon our responsibilities. We simply cannot do that.

Ultimately, it will be our responsibility to ensure that we have an effective emergency service and that the best use is made of taxpayers' money. That is done on the basis of the Secretary of State undertaking extensive consultation outside of the fire and rescue authorities. Anyone who has a potential interest is covered. I cannot spell the matter out any more than that because I would then repeat what I said on earlier amendments. Amendment No. 29 is simply an amendment too far.

Lord Hanningfield: I hear what the Minister says. We are concerned that sometimes the establishment of combined fire authorities may be imposed without the ownership of the local authorities. As we go on through the Bill, we may be able to clarify that rather more. I shall withdraw the amendment today, but we shall have to come back to the area to make certain that there is some acceptance locally of what happens and what the Minister might do. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 30 not moved.]

Clause 4 agreed to.

Clause 5 [Powers of combined fire and rescue authorities]:

[Amendment No. 31 not moved.]

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 [Fire safety]:


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