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Firefighters’ Pensions

Volume 592: debated on Monday 2 February 2015

Firefighter pension regulations were fully debated in the House, and come into force on 1 April. Firefighters will continue to receive one of the best pensions in the public sector and we have added statutory fitness protections. These matters are now settled, and the current dispute should end.

On 15 December, the fire Minister gave hon. Members assurances that firefighters who failed a fitness test would receive unreduced pensions, and that was confirmed by the Secretary of State the following day. Subsequently, fire authorities, in response to a survey by the Fire Brigades Union, have said that they cannot provide a guarantee of an unreduced pension. Can the Minister confirm that the guarantee is 100%, or is it not a guarantee when it is given by a Tory Minister?

The national service framework has been changed and it came into effect on 12 January—that was the fitness protections. Fire and rescue authorities have to follow the national service framework: it is not an option. We have been very clear that if a firefighter loses fitness through no fault of their own, they should get an alternative role or a full unreduced pension. These are new protections, despite the fact that firefighters have been required to work to 60 since 2006.

I was one of the Members who backed the Government given the assurances from the Minister, but the documentation from the employers indicates something else. What clarification can she give about what the employers are saying?

Clearly, we can change the law. If fire and rescue authorities decide that they will not follow the law, we will spot that because we have also undertaken to audit this process and their adoption of new fitness principles. The Secretary of State also has powers to intervene. I have no indication that fire and rescue authorities will not adhere to the national service framework. If hon. Members know differently, they should let me know.

On 15 December, the Minister said that if someone fails a fitness test

“through no fault of their own”—

and they do not qualify for an ill-health retirement, they will get

“an alternative role or an unreduced pension.”—[Official Report, 15 December 2014; Vol. 589, c. 1153.]

The Minister further confirmed that that would be put on a statutory footing in the national framework. Will she confirm that the national framework does not guarantee a full pension or redeployed role? It merely requests fire authorities to consider options for redeployment or a full pension. It is a sham guarantee—it is no guarantee. How does the Minister square what she told the House with the ministerial code?

This is about protecting the firefighters whom the hon. Lady—who was in the Department when the changes were made in 2006—is asking to work until the age of 60. This is an improvement on the previous situation. There are two reasons why we have introduced the new measures: first, those older workers should have those protections; secondly, we recognise that the fear of being in that situation may have an impact on recruitment and retention. This scaremongering by the Opposition is shameful, and I would ask them to put the well-being of firefighters ahead of pandering to the militant wing of the Fire Brigades Union.