§ Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 2, line 1, at end insert "or disposal".
§ 2.8 pm
§ The Minister for Local Government, Regional Governance and Fire (Mr. Nick Raynsford)
I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.
The amendment is intended to clarify the consultation arrangements for directions about property or facilities made under the power in clause 1(1)(b), which allows the Secretary of State to give directions to fire authorities about theuse or disposal of property or facilities".As originally drafted, the consultation requirements in clause 1(4) applied only to directions about the "use" of property or facilities. It is and was our intention that the same consultation requirements should apply to all directions under the clause 1(1)(b) power, whatever their content. The Secretary of State would therefore be required "as he thinks fit" to consult persons, or representatives of those persons, whoare, in his opinion, likely to be affected by the proposed direction".Concern has been expressed about the possible use of the power to require disposals of assets. In Committee, in response to some strongly expressed concerns, my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr Leslie), then the Under-Secretary of State, said that the provisions werenot part of some…asset-stripping fire station closure plan".He went on to remind the House that, as the Bain review highlighted, there wereall sorts of ways…of making savings in the fire service that involve neither selling off nor reducing the facilities available for the protectionof the public,nor creating redundancies".—[Official Report, 3 June 2003; Vol. 405, c. 89.]I want to repeat that we do not intend to use directions under clause 1(1)(b) for asset stripping, some sort of privatisation or a mass fire station closure programme. However, we want to ensure that the proper modernisation of the fire service can be implemented. I fully expect and hope that this can be done without the use of these powers, but that may not be possible. If it is not, we will consult fully, as the Bill requires. I would not want to leave anyone with the impression, however mistaken, that the Government thought that lesser or no consultation was needed for any orders dealing with disposals. Therefore, to ensure consistency between the two connected provisions, we accept that the words "or disposal" should be added to clause 1(4).
§ Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge)
Nobody could disagree with the notion that there 318 should be consultation in the case of a disposal, as well as a direction for use. However, I want to place on the record that this was a simple mistake—a word was left out of the Bill's original text, which is the sort of error that we would usually expect to be picked up during a proper Committee stage. That rather underlines the dangers of a rushed process—of taking a Bill through all its stages in one afternoon. It proved possible for it to go to the other place with an important word missing from the text, and for that fact to be overlooked, despite it being scrutinised in this House. I hope that the Minister will take that point on board and consider long and hard before trying to rush through legislation again. We owe a debt of gratitude not to Government Front Benchers, but to the noble Baroness Turner, who picked up this error from the Back Benches.
§ Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton)
I, too, accept the Minister's emollient statement that this is a minor amendment, but it will be important to ensure that any consultation required under the Bill is full in respect of all of the proposed changes. It is worth placing on the record that the amendment does not make the Bill any better; overall, it is ill thought through and unnecessary. Although the Minister may say that the current impasse or delay in the negotiations justifies the Bill, the fact that both sides are negotiating suggests that it and the amendment are not needed. It is worth pointing that out, given what is happening outside this place.
§ Lords amendment agreed to.