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Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: The Minister says it was there all the while. If he looks at the deposit details on the documents, he may wish to consult his advisers about that. I say that only because I do not want any misunderstanding about what I have done. I have got it.
This is very important. Consultation Guidance Note 2, Annex C, in summary, says that Section 19(4) of the Fire Services Act 1947, as amended in 1959, provided that the Secretary of State had to make decisions on this, but that,
The document goes on to a most important set of propositions. Paragraph 3.5.3 sets out the examples of proposals for change. Many of these examples of proposals for change overlap subjects which are, of course, the contents of parts of the White Paper but, more important for our present purposes, could easily be the subject of proposals for orders by the Secretary of State under the Bill which we are now discussing.
With the leave of Members of the Committee, I shall summarise themI am prepared to read them allin the following way. There are demands that certain people should be consulted in certain eventualities. Communities, business organisations, local authorities in the area covered and employee representatives should be consulted in the following types of case:
Therefore, to conclude, I want to put the question again. Albeit that special provision could be made in the Bill for emergencies, terrorism or perhaps a long list of cases, would it not be better to tie in the law as it is going to be stated under the Local Government Bill and the codes of guidance for consultation under the document now in the Library in the future? I should have said that it is a draft; it is not yet effective. Would it not be better to tie this Bill in with that area of the law and soft law of codes of guidance, rather than just leave the matter to be discussed in two separate Grand Committees, two quite separate Report stages and, if the Government insist on going on with the Bill, apparently two quite separate and scarcely related Acts of Parliament? I do not believe that that is a good way to make law. As I say, the object of this amendment is to get the Government's general view on this and to move them in the direction of explaining to us all on the face of the Bill just what the relationship is between the two measures. I beg to move.
Lord Rooker: The short answer to my noble friend's last question is "No" but I shall seek to explain why. Amendment No. 5 is one of a number of amendments concerned with arrangements for consultation on the Secretary of State's proposals to make an order fixing or modifying conditions of service of fire brigade members or an order containing a direction to a fire authority about the use or disposal of property or facilities.
I really do think that my noble friend's amendments are largely unnecessary. Furthermore, they could inadvertently lead to a situation where it is more difficult for those providing emergency fire cover to gain prompt access to fire authority assets so that the public can be properly protected. I shall give some examples.
Clause 1(3) requires that before making the order fixing or modifying conditions of service, the Secretary of State must consult the "negotiating body" about his proposals and give the body 21 days to make a report which he must then consider. The arrangements for consultation on proposed directions to fire authorities are set out in subsection (4). The Secretary of State is required to consult such persons who, in his opinion, are likely to be affected by the proposed direction or representatives of such persons. That clause does not specify a timescale for those consultations.
The arrangements are different from those for orders about conditions of service because they deal with quite different things. I would draw the attention of Members of the Committee to paragraph 12 of the Explanatory Notes which accompany the Bill. It states:
In particular, I am singling out the second of those examples which, in the event of further strikes, would allow the Secretary of State to make fire authority assets available to those providing emergency fire cover. Those assets could include such things as fire stations, fire appliances and specialist equipment such as aerial platforms. If there were to be further strikes, it would clearly be important to gain prompt access to those assets so that the public can be properly protected. The Billthis is the reason why the answer is "No"is not intended to make provision for the long term. That is the whole point of the Bill. It is not intended to make provision for the long term. It is a temporary measure; it is a long stop designed for a quite specific purpose of dealing with the recent dispute and its immediate aftermath if the timetable that has been negotiated is not maintained and there are further difficulties. I accept that it is based on that premise, as I said at Second Reading.
The longer term vision for the fire and rescue service has been set out in the White Paper. Obviously, we propose to introduce legislation to implement its proposals at the earliest opportunity. What I have said is relevant to Amendment No. 5 which refers to Section 19 of the Fire Services Act 1947. Clearly, Members of the Committee, if they were not, are now more familiar with that section. For the record, it requires fire authorities to obtain the consent of the Secretary of State before doing some quite detailed thingsan example of which is to close a fire station. I accept that that is not a detail but fire stations close for all kinds of reasons. The kind of detail is, if a fire authority wanted to change the number of fire fighters or fire appliances in a local area, it would be required to obtain the Secretary of State's approval. We think that that is a power that is long overdue for taking down to a much more local level. Hence, its inclusion in the Local Government Bill which is still before your Lordships' House.
As an alternative, Amendment No. 5 suggests that consultation should be conducted in a manner similar to that set out in the guidance to fire authorities on consultation arrangements for drawing up the integrated risk management plans. That guidance includesabsolutely rightlya list of interested parties which the fire authority would be expected to consult. These are all perfectly reasonable ideas about how consultation should be conducted. If they were not, we would not have applied them to Section 19, although they are not statutory, or to the integrated risk management plans.
Buthere is the big "but"they are not appropriate for all directions which might be made under this power in this temporary legislation. That is the point. Again, I stress that it could be necessary. I cannot envisage the circumstances, but we must take account of that because that is what this Bill is about. It is to enable the Secretary of State to take prompt action in order to protect the public. Amendment No. 5 would mean that his ability to do so would be constrained. Therefore, I ask my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.
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