HC Deb 18 December 2002 vol 396 cc825-6
1. Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth)

If he will make a statement on the recruitment of retained firefighters. [86318]

The Minister for Local Government and the Regions (Mr. Nick Raynsford)

Each fire brigade is responsible for recruiting its own retained firefighters. Our office recognises the vital role taken by retained staff in meeting the needs of many parts of the country and we are working with the fire service actively to encourage people to become retained firefighters. We are considering carefully the recommendations on retained firefighters made by the independent review of the fire service.

Mr. Edwards

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Does he share my appreciation of the vital role that retained fire officers play in rural areas, although the nature of the retained service is often not fully appreciated by the public, who often do not realise that being a firefighter is a second job for the retained firefighters? Does he agree that, to improve recruitment, we need to give retained fire officers the same hourly rate as the full-time service, the same opportunities for training and the decent pension scheme, which they do not currently have?

Mr. Raynsford

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend about the very important work of retained firefighters. I, too, pay tribute to the contribution that they make towards the safety of the public in many parts of the country.

As my hon. Friend will know, the Bain review recommended a number of important improvements for retained firefighters, including the ones that he has mentioned. We are considering all these matters carefully and a further statement will be made in the White Paper, which my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has promised that we will publish early in the new year.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton)

Given that the Retained Firefighters Union is not on strike and that its members are not being represented at the ACAS negotiations, why is the Minister so confident that the eventual settlement will give the retained firefighters the decent pay deal that they deserve? Does he not share my concern that the Fire Brigades Union has not represented the retained firefighters properly in the negotiations so far? Why is he so confident that the eventual settlement will give them the pay deal that will solve the recruitment crisis in the retained firefighters service?

Mr. Raynsford

As I made clear in my response to my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards), the Bain review sets out a number of very important proposals in relation to retained firefighters. As I have already said, we are very much minded to proceed on the basis of the Bain review and will set out our responses in the White Paper that we will publish. The responses will cover issues of negotiation and the representation of retained firefighters as well as of full-time firefighters. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are, in effect, two separate unions, one of which represents only retained firefighters. The FBU also represents some retained firefighters and the issues need to be clarified. We will address them in the White Paper.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)

I welcome my right hon. Friend's appreciation of the value of retained firefighters. However, is it not the case that there are at least 3,000 to 4,000 fewer retained firefighters than are needed to maintain an adequate response time in rural and urban areas? The retained fee works out after tax at about 15p per hour. Should there not be a national recruitment campaign? Do not retained firefighters need more than just warm words?

Mr. Raynsford

Retained firefighters represent just under a third of the total force of firefighters in the country. We wholly share my hon. Friend's concern to ensure more effective recruitment of retained firefighters. We are already engaged in the preparation of publicity material to assist in that process, and we are looking closely at the trials that have been conducted in areas such as south Wales to improve the recruitment of retained firefighters. I assure my hon. Friend and the House that we are very well seized of the importance of helping to recruit more retained firefighters, who do such a crucial job in many parts of the country.