HC Deb 18 December 2002 vol 396 cc833-4
10. Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood)

What progress has been made towards resolving the firefighters' dispute. [86328]

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. John Prescott)

The final report of Sir George Bain's independent review of the fire service, published on Monday, is central to resolving the dispute. On the same day, I made a statement to the House welcoming the report and detailing how the Government will take forward its recommendations. The Government want a fair deal for firefighters and other workers, and a fair deal for the economy. Sir George Bain's report provides the framework for such a deal.

Mrs. Humble

Will my right hon. Friend reassure the Blackpool firefighters whom I met recently at the Bispham fire station that discussions about modernisation will take into account the local circumstances of towns such as Blackpool, where the firefighters care not only for the resident population, but for 11 million visitors in a town that stays open late into the night entertaining them?

The Deputy Prime Minister

Many of those in the House with experience of Blackpool will understand my hon. Friend's point. We want to give the Blackpool brigade, and every other brigade, every assistance to be more efficient and more effective in their operations. That is why Sir George Bain's recommendations that we should move to more targeted fire cover based on basic risk assessment, and that working practices should be changed, are important. I identified to the House some of the changes that are needed, and I have already made it clear that I intend, as the inquiry recommended, to begin the repeal of section 19 of the Fire Services Act 1947.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

Does the Deputy Prime Minister share my concern and surprise that the firefighters have not taken the opportunity to form a considered view of the proposals in the Bain report before calling another strike in the new year? Is that not very regrettable indeed?

The Deputy Prime Minister

I very much agree with what the hon. Lady said. The House will share the hope that all firefighters, at whatever level in the Fire Brigades Union, will take note of what Sir George Bain has said and of what I have said in the House about the changes that the Government will make. I hope that we can all look forward to further discussions in which the report is not treated as irrelevant. It is very relevant and we would like to see a settlement. My advice all the time is to talk, not walk. That remains my advice.