HC Deb 16 July 2003 vol 409 cc265-6
2. Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly)

If he will make a statement on the implications of fire service reform for fire services in Wales. [125860]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Phil Hope)

The fire and rescue service White Paper published on 30 June makes clear our commitment to devolve responsibility for the fire and rescue service in Wales to the National Assembly for Wales. We will ensure that devolution is consistent with broader emergency and civil contingency arrangements, and that the capacity for a UK-wide response to any terrorist threat, or other threat, is maintained. In the meantime, we will discuss with the National Assembly for Wales and the Local Government Association how best to deliver the robust regional management arrangements that we consider essential to deliver the modernisation of the fire and rescue service.

Mr. David

I thank the Minister for his reply and for his commitment to sorting out the present shambles of the fire service. Will he reinforce that commitment by confirming that we will have nothing less than a fire and rescue service that saves more lives and reduces the number of injuries?

Phil Hope

I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. He is concerned that we have the best organised fire and rescue service. Implementation of integrated risk management plans will mean deployment of resources based on risk to life rather than building density. The need to refocus the fire service from intervention to prevention to help save more lives is at the heart of our White Paper.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion)

I very much welcome what the Minister says about devolving the fire service to the National Assembly. That is right and proper as part of the process of devolution, as it has been called. Will he say a little more about two matters? First, will the pay and conditions of firefighters be devolved, and how will that work in a devolved structure? Secondly, will the financing of the fire and rescue service in Wales be done through the Barnett formula or alternative arrangements?

Phil Hope

Pay is a matter for local government employers. The Welsh fire and rescue authorities receive revenue funding for the service they provide from the principal councils within each brigade area. In turn, those councils receive revenue support from the National Assembly. However, the financial implications of devolution will be considered as part of wider discussions on the transfer of functions. My officials are in discussions with their counterparts in the Welsh Assembly to take the matter forward.

Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth)

Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that in most rural areas of Wales, including Monmouthshire, the fire service is provided by the retained fire service? Many of those firefighters work full-time as well as working for the fire service. What improvement in the pay and conditions of the retained fire service will come about as a result of the recent modernisation?

Phil Hope

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the important role that retained firefighters play in the fire service not just in Wales and rural areas, but across the country. The fire and rescue service White Paper spells out our commitment to ensure that retained firefighters and full-time firefighters get better pay and conditions. We have agreed a modernisation agenda, linked to pay, that will greatly improve the pay and conditions of those firefighters over the next two years.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire)

Following on from that answer, there is difficulty in getting 24-hour cover in rural areas in Wales because of the problem of attracting retained firemen. Part of the solution is to encourage more women to participate in the service. Do the Government have plans to encourage more women to fulfil that vital public service?

Phil Hope

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. We want a fire and rescue service that more closely reflects the communities that it serves. We want more women recruited, trained and deployed as firefighters in all ranks and to carry out all roles that firefighters are asked to play. The new role of firefighters—the focus on prevention—will, I think, attract more women to the fire service, where they will be involved fully in all the roles that every firefighter will be expected to perform under the modernisation procedures.