§ 9. Mr. Batiste
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will issue guidance to the fire services to provide a minimum response time by fire tenders for accidents on major trunk roads.
§ Mr. John Patten
No, Sir. Fire authorities have a discretionary power to use their fire brigade for non-firefighting purposes such as attendances at road accidents. We are not persuaded that it would be appropriate or necessary to prescribe a minimum response time for such work.
§ Mr. Batiste
Does my hon. Friend agree that serious risk to life is involved if there is unnecessary delay in responding to the serious accidents that often occur on dangerous roads, such as the Al in my constituency? Will he therefore reconsider his guidance to the fire authorities on the discretionary use of fire appliances in those circumstances?
§ Mr. Patten
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I know of his concern about the number of road accidents and the service given to those involved in them on the A I in his constituency. This issue was last examined by the relevant joint committee in 1985, as my hon. Friend knows. At that stage, no recommendation such as my hon. Friend would like was made. However, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is considering setting up a new joint committee to look at the use of fire appliances to see whether such instruction about the hitherto discretionary use should be changed in some way.
§ Mr. McCartney
Response times to fires on trunk roads are constantly reviewed by fire authorities. The major problem is not mistakes made by fire authorities or unprofessional conduct on their part, but the millions of pounds that have been cut from fire authority budgets, last year and this year. The hon. Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) would be well advised to support Opposition Members, who have consistently tried to improve fire authorities' resources so as to improve the times taken to get to accidents and fires and to improve the overall performance of fire authorities in the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Patten
That is nonsense. Her Majesty's Inspector of Fire Services constantly monitors the service given by fire services and by all fire authorities in the kingdom.
§ Mr. Key
My hon. Friend will agree that, in spite of the Government's excellent road building programme, because of the increasing congestion on our major roads it is not possible, even with the best will in the world, for our emergency services to get through to the scenes of accidents. Is it not time for a major review to examine the role of helicopters in the emergency services, such as those that are available in West Germany, where helicopters are called in as a matter of course to serious accidents on major roads?
§ Mr. Patten
That is kept under review as we review the workings of the excellent emergency services in this country. My hon. Friend has put his finger on a fast developing problem.