Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his very full reply. I hear what he says about the various areas that may be dealt with under other legislation in future. However, I have one question. Under Clause 6(2)(b)(i) as drafted, the fire services are requested to give advice on how to prevent fires and restrict their spread in buildings and other property. Will such guidance to local authorities include advice on sprinklers? I hear what the Minister says about the problems; that is, they are not the total answer; there is much technical detail; they must be used in the right way and one has to understand how they work. However, it seems to me that if fire officers are to carry out the role of fire prevention, they need to have the latest information that the Government have on sprinklers.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am told that on Report I should not reply at this stage, but I shall as the noble Baroness was kind enough to say that she voted for me. The way I read the Bill, obviously firefighters are not giving just advice but their professional, considered advice. If the firefighters think that something should be done, or that something should be fitted, in all the circumstances that would be good advice to give. The way the Bill is drafted, nothing can be ruled out.

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, that is helpful and goes quite a long way—

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I should have said, "Yes".

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, that is even more helpful and goes some way to satisfying my concerns and those of the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 20 not moved]

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 21:

"( ) Section 2 of the Local Government Act 2000 (c. 22) (promotion of well-being) shall apply to every fire and rescue authority which is not a local authority within the meaning of the section as if it were such a local authority."
12 Jul 2004 : Column 1065

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment refers to "the power of well-being", as the shorthand goes. It seeks to extend the specific power which local authorities have to combined authorities. The Minister said at the last stage that he had not received robust examples of where the powers in the Bill are insufficient. He was quite robust in saying that.

I have limited the amendment because I realised in Committee that it was incorrect to refer to all authorities, as those which are not combined authorities will have the power in any event. However, it is a power, not a function, and I suppose the short question is: what is the harm? I think that both the Minister and I would be cross with ourselves if our collective imaginations had not come up with convincing examples so that this power were not included but there was a real example where the absence of power was critical. I do not know whether that has been sufficiently oratorical to win the Minister round this time. I look forward to what he has to say. I beg to move.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am sorry to disappoint the noble Baroness on this occasion. Nothing has really changed since Grand Committee. As she knows, the power of well-being is available to all the principal local authorities in the country. As a result, county fire and rescue authorities have access to the power of well-being by virtue of being a department of the principal local authority for their area. However, combined fire and rescue authorities, the metropolitan fire and civil defence authorities, or the London Fire Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) do not share this multipurpose characteristic, nor are they directly elected. So, to that extent things have not changed since Grand Committee.

The Bill recognises and facilitates the modern role of the fire and rescue service. With the reform of the fire service, that is not an unimportant point. In our view, the duty to promote fire safety under Clause 6 will provide all fire and rescue authorities with powers to work with other agencies and local partners to help save lives and create safer communities. The provisions in Clauses 5, 11 and 12, when taken together, significantly extend the local flexibility and discretion for all fire and rescue authorities to help to discharge their functions and provide a service that responds to local priorities. So, in that sense, there is a change but it is obviously not a change that goes as far as the noble Baroness would require.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, the Minister said that the members of combined authorities are not directly elected. I do not know whether by that he means that they are not necessarily elected members of authorities—

Lord Rooker: My Lords, indirectly elected.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I was going to say that we have been trying to rectify that. One is accustomed to looking at provisions and asking who benefits as a critical way of understanding why
12 Jul 2004 : Column 1066
something is being put forward. I come back to my question, but this time it will be merely rhetorical as I shall ask leave to withdraw the amendment in any event, and say that this is not an issue of asking for whose benefit—perhaps it is for the benefit of the wider community—but of asking what is the harm. I really do not see what is the harm. Although nothing has changed, I do not think that the point has been answered. However, at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Hanningfield moved Amendment No. 22:

(1) A fire and rescue authority must make provision for the purpose of—
(a) delivering emergency medical care to persons seriously injured by fire or the effects of fire;
(b) delivering emergency medical care to persons injured in road traffic accidents; and
(c) providing other emergency medical care;
in situations where employees of the authority are first on the scene of an incident in relation to which the authority has functions under sections 7, 8 and 9.
(2) The level of provision that must be made under subsection (1) above is that which it is reasonable to make having regard to—
(a) the number of such incidents to which the authority is required to respond;
(b) the typical period of time during which the authority's employees are at the scene before the arrival of specialist medical or paramedical personnel; and
(c) the conclusions of the consultation referred to in subsection (3).
(3) A fire and rescue authority must consult not less than once in every two years each National Health Service Ambulance Trust which has responsibility for responding to emergency incidents within its area about the level of provision it is appropriate for the authority to make in accordance with subsection (1)."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in Committee we had a useful discussion about fire engines carrying defibrillators and firemen being trained to use them in first-responder and co-responder schemes and attempts to ensure that the fire service would be able to have emergency medical capabilities.

By tabling Amendment No. 22 again, I am seeking to bring some kind of closure to this aspect of the Bill as I think that last time we all agreed with the principle behind the amendment. However, we did not necessarily agree the vehicle for supporting this principle.

The Minister said that Clause 11(2)(a) provided clear legal authority to fire services personnel to undertake training and administer treatment. Can the Minister perhaps indicate how emergency medical cover can be flagged up in guidance regarding Clause 11 and how it can be made clear to fire and rescue authorities that carrying defibrillators for use on the general public is a perfectly reasonable thing to do?
12 Jul 2004 : Column 1067

The Minister also said that although he could not agree with emergency medical care becoming a core function of the fire and rescue services, he commended the fact that firefighters often provide at the scene lifesaving assistance by stabilising victims before the ambulance arrives. As I made clear last time, the gap that the amendment addresses was identified in the Bain report. Our debate last time also raised the important point about what public expectations are in this area. Having re-read in Hansard the Minister's reply to the amendment, I feel that he needs to go a little further in explaining the Government's position. It seems to be a continuation of the status quo.

However, according to the Deputy Prime Minister, the status quo is a "postcode lottery" when it comes to the emergency provision of medical care, which he claimed was unacceptable. Thus, there seems to be a gap between that sentiment and the Minister's view, which essentially keeps things as they are, so that it is left to the fire and rescue authorities to decide what they will do, if anything, by way of emergency medical care. I would appreciate it if the Minister could reconcile those two views and clearly state the Government's position. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page