Committee (1st Day)
Clause 1 agreed.
Clause 2: Duties in relation to collaboration agreements
1: Clause 2, page 2, line 24, after “the” insert “economy,”
My Lords, Amendment 1 is an amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Paddick and myself, as are Amendments 2, 3 and 7 in this group. The clause provides for duties in relation to collaboration agreements between the emergency services which are the subject of this part of the Bill. Clause 2 refers in two places to the interests of the “efficiency or effectiveness” of the relevant service and of other services. My first two amendments would insert the term “economy”, which those of us of a certain generation from local government are accustomed to hearing alongside efficiency and effectiveness. My question is in two parts: first, is “economy” now considered to be covered by the terms “efficiency” and “effectiveness”—I can see an argument that it might be—and, secondly, why is there no reference to all three of these attributes? They are all referenced in Schedule 1 to the Bill, which comprises the new Schedule A1 to the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004.
Amendment 3 provides for consultation. I have listed a rather unambitious group of people to enable me to ask whether consultation is provided for elsewhere. If it is not, it should be. Even leaving aside Sir Ken Knight’s recommendation of trialling such agreements before their wholesale application, collaboration must, in our view, be on a case-by-case basis, best fitting the needs of the local community, hence the reference to the local community in our amendment, as well as to the employees of the proposed parties to the collaboration agreement. It needs no expansion that the views of employees should be important in the decision-making. A formal public consultation is required, not least because of the risk of politicising the process. Transferring responsibilities to police and crime commissioners is a political decision in terms of the service, and perhaps of how it is dealt with in each area. I am not making any pejorative comments about whether particular police and crime commissioners act with politics at the forefront of their minds, so I hope the noble Lord, Lord Bach, will forgive this comment. We now have far more politically aligned police and crime commissioners than we did after the first set of elections, when many independents were elected. We also believe that organisations such as the NHS, the Environment Agency and other emergency responders should be involved.
Amendment 7 probes the strength of the consultation, and would require that the chief officer of police be satisfied that there is no operational problem in the arrangement—a point made by my noble friend Lord Paddick, who will join us soon, after rowing for Queen and country, or at least this House. When the office of police and crime commissioner was created, there was great emphasis on the commissioner not interfering in operational matters. It is a continuation of that thought.
Government Amendment 4 apparently innocently substitutes “or” for “and”. However, the amendment is quite significant. In the relevant wording, the term “its” is used. It is not entirely clear to me whether the “its” in subsection (4)(b) refers to the “proposed party” referred to in subsection (4)(a) or the “other proposed party” referred to in subsection (4)(b). I read it as the original party, but I suggest that that bit might stand some tweaking at the next stage to make it completely clear, so that the casual reader does not go down the wrong route. The more important point is that I would need a lot of convincing that a party should be frogmarched into a so-called agreement, which is the effect of this amendment. I beg to move.
This is a surprisingly interesting group of amendments, although not obviously so at first sight. It immediately brings us to the question of the purpose of these clauses. Are the Government asserting that there is a failure to collaborate between emergency services around the country—and, if so, that this is the mechanism to fix it? I am not sure that evidence exists of a failure to collaborate; in my experience, the emergency services work extremely well together and go out of their way to do so. So what is the problem the Government are trying to fix? If the problem is to be fixed by a collaboration agreement as set out, we will need a bit more clarity, which I assume is the purpose of Amendment 3, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, on the proposed consultation. What process do the Government envisage will be followed? Presumably, a failure to collaborate will have been identified in a particular area. Who will have identified that, and what is the process? By implication, it looks as though an agreement to collaborate will be imposed not as an agreement, but because one side rather wants it to happen. There has to be more a lot more clarity.
Then, there is the attempt to correct the drafting error—“or” versus “and”. What is envisaged in that respect? For example, when would it be “efficient” but not “effective” to do this, and when it would be “effective” but not “efficient”? If you are making a big point of changing “and” to “or”, you are implying that there will be circumstances when it is a good thing to have one of these agreements because it is efficient, but actually it is not effective—so why are we doing something that will not be effective? Alternatively, you might be saying that it is a good thing to have a collaboration agreement because it is effective but, unfortunately, not very efficient. Again, I am not quite clear why it is in the interests of anybody to do that. What is the purpose of the Government’s amendment? Can the Minister explain to us in precisely what circumstances she envisages it would be possible to be efficient but not effective, or effective but not efficient?
First of all, I make the House aware of my job as a leader of Wiltshire Council, which is on the register of interests. I have looked at these clauses on collaboration of emergency services and I would have preferred the Government to have been stronger. On considering the opportunities to collaborate, I quite agree with the noble Lord, Lord Harris, that there is a lot of good collaboration already going on, not just between fire and police but with local authorities as well. In Wiltshire, there are police stations in all the main hubs; they are not just front offices. We have guns and CS gas and response cars outside. That has meant that some of our major police stations have been able to close, saving huge amounts of public money. In Wiltshire, we also do all the police’s IT and we manage their project management. It is quite usual to see the chief constable and the PCC in my offices, working together with my officers. That is good collaboration. This should continue and the Government need to encourage more authorities to do that more readily.
There are, however, barriers to further collaboration. In Wiltshire, we would have loved to have joined both fire and police under our PCC. That would be the best use of public resources, not just financial, but people and assets as well. But we cannot do that now, because Wiltshire fire and rescue, earlier this year, joined with Dorset fire and rescue. Dorset police work with Cornwall and Devon. Wiltshire police work in collaboration on major crimes with Avon and Somerset and Gloucester. There are two PCCs—the whole thing is a muddle. The barrier is that there is no co-terminosity between different public service authorities and this is, I think, probably getting worse. If Wiltshire or any other authority were to ask to change the joining up of fire authorities or police authorities to make them co-terminus with the local authority, would the Minister listen to that request so that we could perhaps have properly joined-up public services? Health is a thing on the end; I think that is a more difficult discussion. In Wiltshire, we could get fire, police and a local authority working very closely together, saving huge amounts of money. Can we look at the areas that are barriers to doing that?
My Lords, I declare an interest as the police and crime commissioner for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland. This group of amendments is very interesting, as is the first part of the Bill with these early clauses on statutory collaboration. It would be hard to find anyone, anywhere who does not believe that collaboration between the emergency services is a good thing. At any time, not just at a time—as at present —of economic uncertainty, it must be advantageous for services to work closely together, not just because of the savings that may be made but because it is better for the members of the public who need the help or assistance that the emergency services can give.
On whether a statutory requirement is necessary, I remain a little sceptical. It may help, it may not. What really matters, it seems to me, is whether the collaboration is—to use the phrase—bottom-up; in other words, comes naturally and is not forced. My feeling is that that is happening more and more around the country. In the Leicestershire area—Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland—collaborative programmes have been started and others are planned for the future. We have to take a chance with them. They may not always succeed, and we have to be aware of that.
I was grateful to the Minister and her officials for meeting me this morning to discuss such a scheme in Leicester called Braunstone Blues, which is still in its comparatively early days. Its origin lies in the excessive number of 999 calls made to the emergency services by some individuals and families living in that general area of the city, some of which could not be classed as emergencies by any standards, but were made none the less. They, of course, involved cost resources, both financial and human. As a consequence of that, the police, fire and rescue services, ambulance service, city council and health authorities got together to run a programme that involves visiting and, if necessary, helping people in that area. They are given advice about the unnecessary calls, of course, but help is also offered beyond that with other issues and concerns. This joint work has begun to show results but there is a long way to go.
The point I am attempting to make is that this is exactly the sort of bottom-up collaboration which should be encouraged. If the Bill has the effect of encouraging collaboration, with or without these amendments and with or without a statutory basis, that is very much to be welcomed. I, too, look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in reply to the questions that have been asked.
My Lords, Clause 2 concerns collaboration, and I see that in terms of further collaboration between services. I declare my interest as leader of North Lincolnshire Council, as noted in the register of interests. In Committee, we must highlight the importance of this issue in strengthening and building the capacity and accountability of the police service.
As we know, the profile of demand for all emergency services is changing. I am pleased to say that even the fire and rescue services have seen a steep decline in the number of calls made to them. Many people now have fire detectors, which has led to a reduction in the number of call-outs. Conversely, there has been an increase in demand for the ambulance service, while a large proportion of police activity has been directed towards public protection.
Collaboration presents a real opportunity for emergency services to increase their efficiency and effectiveness, maximise resources and improve the service delivered to the public while giving value for money. Seeking greater integration with other elements of the criminal justice system also offers great benefits. Sharing good governance structures with other services such as fire and rescue services could open up a desire for collective working, resulting in real efficiency gains. With a joint delivery of training, fleet, logistics and the collocation of premises, a fully integrated prevention and community protection team, formed from a police and fire joint operation team, could plan all operational activity across these emergency services. Therefore, today’s debate must be about endorsing collaboration to make significant savings through the multiagency implementation of a hub to transfer incident data. We know that quicker, smarter and more advanced technologies are operated by emergency partners when more than one service is required at an incident, again saving operator hours per year.
The more we can do to improve taxpayers’ value for money and improve our service to our communities, the better it will be, and the Bill will give that opportunity. This is not about the takeover of one emergency service by another. There is a distinction between operational police and firefighting which should always be recognised. Like my noble friend Lady Scott, I do not have experience of the police and fire services being co-terminous. Lincolnshire is progressing through devolution and, at the moment, part of the county is served by Lincolnshire PCC while the northern part comes under Humberside. We hope that that anomaly can be looked at so that we can move forward on it.
We have an amendment in this group to which I will speak. Like other noble Lords who have spoken, I wait with interest to hear the Government’s response to the various questions that have been raised.
Our amendment in this group provides that an emergency service would not be required to enter into a collaboration agreement if to do so would not be in the interests of public safety, in addition to the provision in the Bill that a relevant emergency service would not be required to do so if it was of the view that it would have an adverse effect on its efficiency or effectiveness.
Surely public safety must be a key consideration. Indeed, it is more important than either efficiency or effectiveness. As has been said, voluntary collaboration agreements already exist—there are a great many of them—and presumably the Government would have expected considerations about the impact of those voluntary agreements on public safety to have been a key factor in determining whether to proceed and continue with them.
Under the terms of the Bill, collaboration is now being placed on a statutory footing. Surely it is therefore even more important that a proposed agreement not being in the interests of public safety should be in the Bill, as well as an adverse impact on efficiency or effectiveness, as a reason for a relevant emergency service not to enter into such an arrangement.
The criteria against which a proposed collaboration agreement has to be assessed is that it would be in the interests of the efficiency or effectiveness of the proposed parties. But of course being in the interests of efficiency or effectiveness is not the same as being in the interests of public safety. Indeed, being in the interests of efficiency or effectiveness could well run contrary to being in the interests of public safety, depending on how effectiveness is defined and who defines it, and particularly in relation to the ability of an emergency service carry out its emergency functions and to have emergency cover available.
It would certainly be helpful if the Government could say in response, with regard to a relevant emergency service being invited to enter into a collaboration agreement, who will determine whether it would impair effectiveness or efficiency. Is it the emergency service concerned, and if it decided that it would have an adverse effect on its efficiency or effectiveness, does one take it from the terms of the Bill that the emergency service in question can decide not to be involved and that that is the end of the matter? Or can some sanction then be imposed on, or some body overrule, an emergency service that decides not to get involved in a collaboration agreement on the grounds that it would have an adverse effect on its efficiency or effectiveness?
The other issue is why, if we are going down the road of statutory collaboration agreements, there is still apparently a need in the Government’s view to have a forced collaboration through the later clauses in the Bill that provide for a police and crime commissioner to be able to take over a fire and rescue service. That will have to be debated later, although not too much later. One of the amendments that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, spoke to referred to consultation with employees. Under the terms of the clauses on collaboration agreements, do the Government intend there to be consultation with the relevant trade unions, where the employees are members of one? I would have thought that having that consultation was rather important; in fact, I would have thought that employees might have a considerable amount to offer, either in support of what was proposed or pointing out its difficulties. Probably better than anyone else, they know what is likely and unlikely to work when it comes to collaboration.
I turn to government Amendment 4, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. To put it in the simplest terms, I think that it attempts to put right a clanger that has been dropped over the wording of the clause. The question of why the criteria should not be “efficiency and effectiveness”, rather than only one of them, has already been raised. What is the point of greater efficiency if it adversely affects effectiveness? Presumably the Government have looked at existing voluntary collaboration agreements. How many of them have they decided do not improve both efficiency and effectiveness, as opposed to only efficiency or effectiveness?
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken so constructively to this group of amendments. I shall start with its government amendment, Amendment 4. Part 1 places a duty on the three emergency services to enter into collaboration agreements where it would be in the interests of efficiency or effectiveness to do so. In one place, the Bill inadvertently specifies a test of “efficiency and effectiveness”, and Amendment 4 rectifies that. The noble Lords, Lord Harris and Lord Rosser, rightly ask why the duty applies when the collaboration agreement would be in the interests of efficiency or effectiveness rather than both. Collaboration can lead to service improvements through either increased efficiency or increased effectiveness. Consequently, it should not be a precondition of a collaboration agreement that it should improve both. If an initiative would improve the quality of the service but not save any money, for example, we would still want the emergency services to give effect to that project. I hope noble Lords are satisfied with that explanation.
My Lords, is the noble Baroness leaving that point? It looks as though she is. I understand if she is saying that the collaboration must improve one of them and not have a negative effect on the other, but that is not what “effectiveness or efficiency” necessarily implies. If it means that it must be neutral about efficiency but improve effectiveness, say that. If it means that it must improve effectiveness but is neutral about efficiency, again, say it. By leaving the wording as “or”, the implication is that one might be detrimentally affected but that it would still be appropriate. So that we can understand what the Government are getting at, will she give us an example of a collaboration agreement that has improved one but not the other?
As I said, a collaboration agreement could vastly improve the quality of a service, which is a good thing, but it may not save any money. However, the improvement of the quality of that service may be deemed to be very effective in that collaboration agreement. It obviously ties to both: it could increase the efficiency or it could increase the effectiveness. The happy outcome is that it might improve both. I hope that that is a decent explanation.
I am sorry to do this to the noble Baroness, because she is trying to be helpful. However, her answer to my noble friend has actually made the situation worse. If she had said, “As long it does not hurt either efficiency or effectiveness but there is an improvement in one”, that would have been fine. But she is now saying that there can be an improvement in efficiency that makes effectiveness worse, or vice versa. The question then is: how much will that have to be balanced and how will that balancing effect be measured? Surely the argument must be that it does not make either efficiency or effectiveness worse and it improves at least one of them.
In that case, I will stick to the answer that I gave the noble Lord and perhaps disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. We are so used to agreeing that that is almost my default position.
Perhaps we could move on to Amendments 1 and 2. I start by talking about some of the very good examples of emergency services collaboration that have gone on up and down the country. As noble Lords have said, there is clear evidence that emergency services can deliver real benefits for the public and help each service better meet the demands and challenges that they face. On Friday, I visited the emergency services collaboration in Greater Manchester. I was deeply impressed with the activity I saw, both in improving the service provided to the public—in all sorts of ways, as the noble Lord, Lord Bach, said in his speech—and in saving the taxpayer money.
On my visit to the Earlham tri-service station, I saw the benefits of collocation between the police, the fire and rescue service and the ambulance service in practice. Not only is this breaking down professional barriers but it is leading to far more innovative ways of delivering local services. If the noble Lord, Lord Bach, visits Earlham, he will see that the critical-risk intervention teams, which are led by the fire and rescue service in collaboration with Greater Manchester Police, respond to low-priority calls from the ambulance service regarding falls and mental health incidents. This innovative working is not only saving money, with an estimated £13 million in value being added across the region, but it is better protecting the public from harm.
There is a wide range of other examples from across the country of where emergency services collaboration is improving outcomes for local communities. For example, as the noble Lord, Lord Bach, said, in Leicestershire, the Braunstone Blues project has built on the success of a home fire-safety visit programme to involve all three emergency services in health, safety and well visits to local communities and schools. As he said, the programme is in its early stages, but I am sure it will be very successful.
The noble Lord gave me that invitation this morning. I was happy to take it up then and I am happy to take it up now. It is good to see how things are working well on the ground. It gives one a much better picture than hearing about the theoretical application. I would be happy to visit.
I was talking about Northamptonshire, where there is an interoperability programme working towards bringing the police and fire and, in the longer term, the ambulance service even closer together. Their achievements include joint delivery of training, shared fleet and logistics, co-location of premises across a number of sites and a fully integrated prevention and community protection team. That has delivered savings of more than £460,000 to date.
In Hampshire, the H3 project has successfully integrated police, fire and county council back-office functions to deliver savings across the three services of approximately £4 million per year. I hope that this goes to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Harris. He asked why, if it is working so well, we are doing what we are doing. There are so many more collaborative projects that I could list, but collaboration is still patchy. More needs to be done to ensure that it becomes common practice at a local level. That is why the Bill introduces a raft of measures to ensure that collaboration can go further.
Amendments 1 and 2 probe why the test for making a collaboration agreement is whether the proposed collaboration would be in the interests of efficiency or effectiveness, whereas the first limb of the test for making an order establishing a PCC-style fire and rescue authority is based on whether the PCC’s proposal would be in the interests of economy, efficiency and effectiveness. Of course it is important that the potential economic impacts of collaborations are taken into account by the emergency services. However, these considerations are already provided for in the Bill. I hope that that answers the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. The Bill states that services must consider whether potential collaborations are in the interests of the efficiency or effectiveness of the services involved. Considerations of the financial implications for the service in question would form part of that process.
That aside, the reason for the drafting approach taken in Clause 2 is essentially one of consistency. The test for the duty to collaborate in this clause mirrors that in respect of collaboration agreements between police forces under Section 23A of the Police Act 1996. Similarly, the adoption of the three “Es” in the test for making an order establishing a PCC-style fire and rescue authority mirrors the existing tests, in the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004, in relation to the merger of fire and rescue authorities. As we are operating in this Bill on existing legislation, it is important to maintain consistency where possible.
The noble Baroness also talked about “its”. The “its” in Clause 2(4)(a) relates to the first proposed party. The “its” in Clause 2(4)(b) relates to the second or further proposed parties. No one will be frogmarched into a collaboration agreement; it must be agreed between the parties.
Amendment 3 would introduce additional and in our view unnecessary barriers to collaboration and duplicates existing duties on the emergency services to engage with local people when exercising their functions. For instance, PCCs have existing duties under Section 96 of the Police Act 1996 to engage with local people when exercising their functions. “Local people” is broad in its scope. It is up to individual areas and localities to agree what that means. Further, ambulance services are also required to make arrangements for the involvement of users when there are proposals to change the way in which the services are provided under Section 242 of the National Health Service Act 2006.
Similarly, fire and rescue services must have regard to the Fire and Rescue National Framework for England, which provides that they must be transparent and accountable to their communities for their decisions and actions, and must provide the opportunity for communities to help to plan their local services through effective consultation and involvement. Given these existing requirements, I am not persuaded that the additional, bespoke duty to consult before entering into a collaboration agreement is either necessary or proportionate.
I am more sympathetic to Amendment 6. When the emergency services consider opportunities to collaborate, we would expect them to ensure that such projects would not have a negative impact on the safety of the communities that they serve. The Bill already provides that the emergency services are not required to enter into a proposed collaboration if it would adversely affect either their effectiveness or efficiency. We would expect that any consideration of the impact of collaboration on the service’s effectiveness would take account of the impact on public safety, which is a primary function of all emergency services.
Further, the duty to collaborate is broad to allow for local discretion in how it is implemented, so that the emergency services themselves can decide how best to collaborate for the benefit of their communities. I hope that gets to the nub of the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. We would expect the emergency services to consider their duties relating to public safety when considering what opportunities there are to collaborate in the interests of efficiency or effectiveness.
However, I am minded to give further consideration to the amendment. There may be other ways to make it clear that there is absolutely no question of collaborations being proposed that would have a detrimental effect on public safety. If the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, would be content to withdraw his amendment, I will reflect further in advance of Report on what he has said, although he will understand that I cannot give an absolute commitment at this stage to bring forward a government amendment.
Finally, I recognise the important principle that Amendment 7 seeks to uphold, namely the operational independence of chief constables. The existing duty to consult already affords chief constables the opportunity to make objections on operational grounds—and, indeed, on any other grounds. I would expect that a police and crime commissioner would consider any such objection very carefully and discuss it with the chief constable before proceeding. If a chief constable continues to voice operational objections to a proposed collaboration agreement, we would expect a PCC to have regard to these concerns. Under the Policing Protocol Order 2011, PCCs are under a duty not to fetter the operational independence of the police force and the chief constable who leads it.
I should add that this provision in the Bill regarding consultation with the chief constable mirrors that applicable to collaboration agreements between local policing bodies made under Section 23A of the Police Act 1996. The existing provisions have worked effectively without any difficulties and, in the interests of consistency, we should adopt the same approach here.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked who decides whether a collaboration agreement is in the interests of efficiency or effectiveness and what sanctions there are if a service refuses to collaborate. It is for the individual emergency services to consider whether it is in the interests of their efficiency or effectiveness to enter into a collaboration agreement. If one service considers that it is in the interest of its efficiency or effectiveness to give effect to a collaboration but the other service or services do not, the service proposing the collaboration cannot force those services to collaborate and the duty would not apply.
I thank the Minister very much for her response to Amendment 6 and for what she just said about who defines efficiency and effectiveness, which was certainly a very clear answer. I will ask this as a question, rather than advocating that it should necessarily be done. In order to get some consistency, are the Government intending to send out any guidelines on how to interpret efficiency or effectiveness in the context of these clauses?
I can certainly follow up on that question and give the noble Lord an answer before Report, but it would not be unusual in these circumstances for guidance to be issued to relevant people. I think the answer would be yes but I will double-check that and get back to the noble Lord.
The noble Lord asked what happens if a party refuses to collaborate. All local services would be under a duty to explore opportunities for collaboration and to enter into such collaboration agreements where it is appropriate to do so. They should be open and transparent about their reasoning. We will consider how the service inspectorates could take these decisions into account as part of their inspection programmes.
The noble Lord also asked about consultation with staff and trade unions. I sort of answered this question but the Bill is not prescriptive about consultation. It is relevant to the local area. Existing consultation duties will apply only to each of the services. This will not prevent consultation on a voluntary basis at all. I hope I made that clear in my remarks but thought I would answer it again now as the noble Lord asked a specific question.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris, asked how the new duty to collaborate will work in practice. The Bill places a new statutory duty on the police, fire and rescue, and emergency ambulance services to keep collaboration opportunities under review, and further for them to implement collaboration where it would be in the interests of their efficiency or effectiveness. Ambulance trusts will not be obliged to enter into collaboration agreements where they would have an adverse effect on either their non-emergency functions or the wider NHS. The duty is broad. It allows for local discretion in how it is implemented so that the emergency services themselves can decide how best to collaborate for the benefit of their communities.
My noble friend Lady Scott asked—this is an important issue—about the Government considering proposals to demerge FRA areas to enable further collaboration. As I am sure my noble friend knows because she was here with me on the devolution Bill, where police and fire boundaries are not coterminous it would be for local areas to consider how boundaries could be changed to support that further collaboration she talked about between the emergency services. The Government will consider any local case for a fire boundary change that demonstrates that it would be in the interests of economy, efficiency and effectiveness.
If two PCC areas came to the Government with a proposal for change, the Government would consider it, just as in devolution where the Government considered any proposals that came forward. For example, just thinking of home, if Manchester and Cheshire wanted to come together—I am not saying they do—they could put forward a proposal. I hope that I have answered all noble Lords’ questions and that the noble Baroness will be content to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful for the care that the noble Baroness took in the detail of her response. On my Amendment 7 and operational matters for the police, I am not sure whether she was saying that if a PCC disregards concerns expressed by a chief constable about operational matters—she several times used the phrase “have regard to” such concerns—that would be a breach of the 2011 Act. I am not clear on that. Maybe that is not a matter for answering now. I would be happy to hear from her after today if that is a better way of dealing with this.
I am not sure which of the noble Baronesses who lead their respective councils used the phrase further collaboration—I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Redfern. But since this is about further collaboration, it raises the question: why? The LGA argued strongly, I think in response to the Government’s consultation paper, that the sector should be enabled to continue to effect change without the Government resorting to legislation. It said that a duty to collaborate was,
“likely to provide a constraint that stifles innovation and broader collaboration. In the LGA’s view, the provision of incentives like transformation funding is more likely to produce greater collaboration between the emergency services, and between them and other public services”.
It said that such incentives,
“would also encourage the ambulance service, which in some cases has been less ready to engage with collaborative programmes”.
Despite what we have heard, that question still hangs in the air.
There was also the comment about consultation on a voluntary basis. When people resist consulting, that is when they most need to be required to consult; I think that must be the experience. The examples used about where things have worked well from the bottom up, prompted by what has been identified locally as desirable, obviously bear careful reading. There are still questions hanging over this but for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 1.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Amendments 2 and 3 not moved.
4: Clause 2, page 3, line 4, leave out “and” and insert “or”
Amendment 4 agreed.
5: Clause 2, page 3, line 14, at end insert—
“( ) For the purposes of this Act, when considering whether a collaboration agreement would improve the effectiveness and efficiency of one or more emergency services, a relevant service shall consider the effectiveness and efficiency with which the emergency service is able to meet its duties under the mental health crisis care concordat.”
My Lords, I appreciate that later clauses will enable us to have a much fuller debate on mental health issues in relation to the new provisions in the Bill, related to the Mental Health Act 1983, and I do not want to trespass into that territory with this amendment.
The mental health concordat was agreed between the third sector, the police, local authorities and the NHS in February 2014. Included in its wording is that the bodies and organisations to which I have referred will make sure that they,
“meet the needs of vulnerable people in urgent situations”,
“strive to make sure that all relevant public services support someone who appears to have a mental health problem to move towards Recovery”.
It then says that “jointly” they will hold themselves,
“accountable for enabling this commitment to be delivered across England.”
There is no statutory basis for this concordat. Amendment 5 raises the question as to whether we should not put the concordat on some type of statutory footing in the Bill, since the collaboration agreements which are placed on a statutory footing in it cover parties that are covered by the concordat.
There are already examples of mental health professionals being collocated with police officers and others. Properly implemented, the concordat could save money and improve effectiveness since time that the police spend on dealing with people in mental health crisis because appropriate professional personnel from health and social services are not available is time that they, the police, are not spending on doing other things that they are fully qualified to do and which we would expect them to be doing.
In Committee in the Commons, I think on 22 March, the Minister who spoke on police involvement with those appearing to have a mental health problem referred to an interministerial group having been formed during the previous Government and stated that it was still sitting. Perhaps the noble Baroness can tell us a bit more about the activities of this group, what it has achieved and what it hopes to achieve. It does not appear to be asking too much to have a requirement in the Bill that collaboration agreements geared to effectiveness and efficiency should also be required to take into account the impact in that regard on the mental health crisis care concordat since I suggest that there is a real danger that otherwise a concordat that is not on a statutory basis may all too easily be overlooked or forgotten.
Despite wanting collaboration agreements to be placed on a statutory footing within the Bill, it does not appear that the Government want to go down that road as far as the concordat is concerned. If I am correct in thinking that, no doubt the Minister will explain why that is the Government’s position when she responds. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am reluctant to say anything that could be interpreted in any way as negative about the initiative of my right honourable friend the Member for North Norfolk with regard to the mental health crisis care concordat. It is a very important—I was going to say “document”, but it is far more than a document. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, will not disagree that we should be mainstreaming mental health care in everything and should not have to refer to it specifically. I dare say we will come back to the concordat when we deal with the detention of people who are mentally ill, which we will do later in the Bill.
My only hesitation—and perhaps I should have waited to hear from the Minister, but I am afraid I could not resist jumping in to claim credit for my party and its part in the creation of the concordat—is about whether it is appropriate to refer in legislation to something which I read as being a living arrangement, something that is developing, drawing more and more parties into it and finding more and more ways of achieving its essential objective. The issue is important. It may be a matter of how it is dealt with legislatively.
I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. I have some experience of the police and their responses to mental health as chair of the commission on the Met’s response to mental health policing in London which—I hesitate to claim credit—led to the concordat mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. It is important that mental health is included in reference to collaboration because those people are at the sharp end of the inverse care law when it is not. I am concerned and would like to know more about the Government’s intentions in this regard. I support the amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for explaining the rationale for this amendment. I feel sure he would agree with me that we are already seeing how much of a difference the concordat is making in developing and improving the response to people who experience a mental health crisis. This includes improving the accessibility of local preventive mental health services and reducing the number of times a police cell is used as a place of safety for a person detained under the Mental Health Act. As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, stated, we shall have an opportunity to debate that issue further when we reach Chapter 4 of Part 4 of the Bill.
These are important developments that should be supported and encouraged, and I recognise the noble Lord’s intentions in proposing such a requirement. However, we must also recognise that the strength of the concordat is the flexibility that comes from it being—here is the nub—a local voluntary agreement. This means that all local partners who can make a difference can be involved, which will vary from area to area, and enables every local concordat partnership to agree actions that make sense in its area.
I will give some examples of how it is working. In Greater Manchester, local concordat partners have worked with the charity Self Help to create three places of calm where people with mental health concerns can go at unsociable hours and receive the support that will hopefully avert a crisis. In Sussex, which sees the emergency services respond to a particularly high volume of crisis incidents, the partners are working directly together in street triage schemes in most of the main towns. The triage approach has saved lives, notably at Beachy Head, where, as we know, a lot of suicides have been recorded. In the West Midlands, the police, ambulance and mental health trust share details of people who frequently call them in distress and jointly review the care being offered to them. In many cases these people are now following a constructive care plan instead of phoning in at least four times a day.
As the concordat is a voluntary agreement and does not, as such, impose specific duties on its signatories, we believe that this amendment is misconceived in suggesting otherwise. I would also question the appropriateness of singling out mental health crisis care in the Bill to the exclusion of other areas where collaboration agreements could lead to improved efficiency and effectiveness in the delivery of front-line services.
Our local emergency services are acutely aware of the need to appropriately and compassionately respond to those in mental health crisis. I have already pointed to a number of excellent examples of collaboration between emergency services. The provisions in the Bill will encourage and support further such collaboration, and although the noble Lord is right to flag this as an important area where local agencies need to work better together, I am not persuaded that adding this amendment to the Bill helps to secure such an outcome.
The noble Baroness keeps talking about the strength of the concordat, and I do not think any of us disagrees about its importance and potential value. However, she will be aware of figures that have been released by the National Police Chiefs Council, which show that in the last year the police use of Section 136 has increased by almost 20%. Earlier in her remarks, she cited the improvements in Greater Manchester, where the use of Section 136 increased by 2.3 times in the last year. Where exactly is this improvement that she describes happening? Given that there are perhaps some problems with the delivery of the concordat—probably more in the availability of mental health services than necessarily in the response of the emergency services—is that why the Government are so reluctant to see the concordat mentioned in the Bill?
No, that is not the reason. As I was saying, the strength of the concordat, which is making real changes in many places to services at the local level, is the flexibility that comes from it being a local voluntary agreement. That is its main strength: it means that all local partners who can make a difference can be involved, rather than having an inflexible list of partners set out in law. Similarly, this enables every local concordat partnership to agree actions that make sense in its area.
I cannot answer that. We have to give these agreements time to work; a lot of them are quite newly put together, and it may well be that it has not been worked out where they need specific people to deal with the problems that are happening. On the whole, where they are working, they are working well. They have led to collaboration between the police and all the emergency services, such as the health service, to come together to find where they need extra help in the areas where they have problems.
I understand the point that the Minister is making but I wonder whether she might comment on this question: in areas where such concordats do not exist, are the Government willing to accept that those with mental health challenges will receive a poorer service? Do they accept that if you happen to live in an area where the voluntary agreements have not come together, you get a poor service? If the concordat is doing as well as she states, why should it not be in the Bill so that everyone can benefit?
I am not suggesting that where there is no concordat, people are not receiving good help. The whole point is that you do not have to have a concordat; it is voluntary. That is the strength of it. It is not always necessary to intervene in everything. People should be allowed the flexibility to organise their arrangements as they feel fit for their area.
In her earlier remarks, the Minister specifically referred to Greater Manchester. There, the number of Section 136 cases has increased by nearly two and half times in the last year. If the example that she cited of the concordat working well has delivered an increase of 2.3 times in the number of Section 136 referrals, what does that imply constitutes doing badly or failing to work at all?
I am sure the noble Lord is correct that the use of Section 136 has gone up in the 2015-16 data, but perhaps that is not necessarily a negative. It could be that it reflects better understanding between the police and their partners of what is happening. From statistics that I have, the use of police cells as a place of safety is down by 50%, so that must show that something is working well somewhere. I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister for her response, and I thank noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. I say before I go any further that I will of course withdraw my amendment. I accept that in later clauses we will undoubtedly have a much fuller debate on the police, the provisions of the Mental Health Act 1983 and the changes proposed in the Bill.
I have to say I am slightly disappointed with the response. It did not seem to me that the amendment I moved sought in any way to alter the terms of the concordat or indeed to fix what those terms should be. I accept that the concordat is a voluntary local agreement but, as I understand it, so will be most of the collaboration agreements that we have been talking about, and in that sense they will be on a statutory footing. All my amendment asked was that, in considering effectiveness and efficiency, the impact on the effectiveness and efficiency with which the emergency service is able to meet its duties under the mental health crisis concordat should also be taken into account. I do not intend to push the matter further at this stage; there will be an opportunity for a further and, I am sure, much longer discussion of these issues later.
My final point is that I said that I understood that on 22 March, the Minister referred to an inter- ministerial group having been formed during the previous Government, with the inference that it was dealing with the kind of issues on which the amendment touches. I should be grateful, if the noble Baroness cannot answer the question about what the group is doing, has achieved and hopes to achieve—I fully understand if she cannot—if she would agree to write to me with a response.
Amendment 5 withdrawn.
Clause 2, as amended, agreed.
Clause 3: Collaboration agreements: specific restrictions
Amendments 6 and 7 not moved.
Clause 3 agreed.
Clause 4: Collaboration agreements: supplementary
8: Clause 4, page 4, line 38, leave out “a subsequent collaboration agreement” and insert “the agreement of the parties”
My Lords, Amendments 8 and 9 are short amendments relating to Clause 4(8), which provides:
“A collaboration agreement may be varied by a subsequent collaboration agreement”.
I wonder why it is necessary to state that. Any agreement can be varied if the parties agree to vary it. Is it the statutory nature of a collaboration agreement that requires this provision? Our second amendment, also probing, is to ask whether the requirements that have to be met before an initial agreement can be proceeded with apply to a subsequent agreement. I assume so, but it would be useful to have that confirmed, and interesting to know if it is not confirmed. I beg to move.
My Lords, I suggest that the Government might like to look favourably on Amendment 8, in particular. One should focus on the word “varied”. If an agreement is varied by something else, the original agreement survives—it is simply changed a little and varied in form. Clause 4(8) refers to a collaboration agreement being varied by a “subsequent collaboration agreement”. The word “varied” should really be “replaced”, because you then have something different. So there is force in the noble Baroness’s amendment, which is small but neat way of expressing what everyone agrees should be done. The agreement should be capable of being varied; my point is that the original agreement survives, but with a small or large change made to make it more effective. For those reasons, I support that amendment.
I thank noble Lords for taking part in this debate. I understand from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that these are probing amendments designed to tease out how collaboration may be varied. It is of course vital that collaboration agreements can be amended where appropriate to reflect local developments and to ensure the best outcomes for the public they serve. There may be a number of reasons to vary a collaboration agreement, perhaps to include a new partner to the agreement or to change participant roles and responsibilities. Clause 4(8) is simply intended to make it clear that such variations may be made. In locally agreeing to vary the terms in an existing collaboration agreement, the parties will in effect create a new or subsequent collaboration agreement. Such an agreement would be subject to all the provisions that pertain to collaboration agreements. I hope that clarification reassures the noble Baroness and that, accordingly, she will be content to withdraw her amendment.
With great respect to the Minister, she did not address my point. One has a choice: either one varies an agreement or one replaces it with something else. The example given is a very good one of a variation, leaving the existing agreement in place. We are at a very early stage of this Bill and all I am suggesting is that the amendment might be taken away and looked at again. It is a question of the proper use of the English language, which is why I have taken the liberty of standing up and making my point.
Certainly. I feel I must bow before the noble and learned Lord’s incredible intelligence in these affairs. I cannot possibly completely disagree with what he says because he is way above my intellect. Of course we can go away and look at this.
My Lords, that is very helpful. The noble and learned Lord makes the argument far better than I did. I will attempt to rope him in on future amendments. As I said, it became not a probing amendment in the course of that exchange. I want to make it clear that we are not at all arguing against the variation of collaboration agreements—that would be intellectually incoherent. That is not the purpose of this. For the moment, at any rate, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 8 withdrawn.
Amendment 9 not moved.
Clause 4 agreed.
Clause 5 agreed.
Clause 6: Provision for police and crime commissioner to be fire and rescue authority
Debate on whether Clause 6 should stand part of the Bill.
The clauses and schedule to which I will speak enable police and crime commissioners take over the functions of the fire and rescue services for their area and enable their combined authority mayor to exercise functions that are conferred on the fire and rescue service or to arrange for a chief constable to exercise fire and rescue functions.
We do not believe that the Government have made a case for their proposal, including explaining what benefits a police and crime commissioner would bring to a fire and rescue service by taking it over, as provided for in the Bill—particularly bearing in mind the extent of existing collaboration between emergency services and the future statutory requirements to be placed on such collaboration, which we have just been discussing.
What skills and expertise do police and crime commissioners have that are not possessed by fire and rescue authorities, bearing in mind that police and crime commissioners have not been on the scene all that long? How will they help the fire and rescue service cope with the new challenges it faces—dealing with an increasing number of major incidents, involving flooding, for example? What indication is there that the governance of the fire and rescue service is substandard? If that were the case, how would being taken over by the police and crime commissioner improve the position? Does the Government’s proposal mean that they have decided against any further changes to the structure and governance of the police service? Does it mean that there will be no more changes to what will be covered by local police forces, what might be dealt with by the police on a regional basis and what would be regarded as matters requiring to be addressed by the police on a national basis?
We are now beginning to find out the extent of cybercrime, which does not recognise local police force boundaries. Neither do serious organised crime or the threat of terrorism. Are the Government now saying that the present structure of our police service and the number of separate forces and police and crime commissioners are here to stay, and that that structure is equally relevant and applicable to the organisation and governance of our fire and rescue service, both now and in the future? As the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, has already said, the Dorset and Wiltshire fire and rescue services have recently merged, but there are still separate Wiltshire and Dorset police forces, each with its own police and crime commissioner. That does not seem to fit very well with the direction in which the Government want to go.
The consultation exercise that preceded the Bill neither addressed nor answered the questions I am raising, any more than it sought to make the case for the changes in the Bill related to the role of police and crime commissioners in respect of the fire and rescue service. Neither did it show any apparent interest in the views of those with specialist knowledge and experience on the substance of the proposals. Instead, it set out a process by which a police and crime commissioner could take over responsibility for a fire and rescue service and then asked consultees what they thought of the process. It did not ask what consultees thought of the proposals themselves and whether, for example, they felt that they would enhance public safety or lead to better governance. It was an inadequate consultation, under which the Government did not make their case for the major change now being proposed or permit people to express their views, supportive or otherwise, of that case.
That was despite the then Home Secretary, in a speech in May of this year, extolling, quite rightly, the achievements of the fire and rescue service in recent years, and saying that,
“what is striking about those achievements is that they were achieved not by change imposed from above, but by reform driven from below”—
yet the Government are now seeking to impose change on the fire and rescue services from above through this Bill. The then Home Secretary went on to say that,
“unlike in policing, fire and rescue services seized the need for change at a local level and reformed themselves from the ground up”,
“wholesale change in the culture and priorities of fire and rescue services, marshalled not by Whitehall but by chiefs and authorities themselves”.
Mrs May, since that is who it was, continued by saying that,
“working in partnership with other local services and using data more systematically, fire and rescue services have developed a deep understanding of the needs and the risks of the communities they serve … By understanding these risks, fire and rescue services have been able to better manage them—saving countless lives as a result”.
Now the Government, under Mrs May, want to put the fire and rescue service, whose virtues she was highlighting so recently, under police and crime commissioners, who have their hands full and could scarcely yet be said to be tried and tested, and also chief constables, whose knowledge and experience of managing fire and rescue services is hardly likely to be their key strength. The Knight review into the future of the fire service recommended that transferring control to the police and crime commissioner should be attempted only if a rigorous pilot could identify tangible benefits. That not unimportant recommendation appears to have been ignored by the Government.
The Government’s impact assessment accompanying the Bill is a threadbare affair at best. The only rationale offered for this transfer of control and responsibility for the fire and rescue service to police and crime commissioners is the Government’s unsubstantiated belief that there needs to be greater collaboration between the emergency services—a collaboration that we have already discussed, which as I understand it the Government are saying would be on a voluntary basis. That does not seem to square with what is now being proposed in relation to the police and crime commissioners and fire and rescue services.
I should think that few think otherwise than that increased collaboration is desirable, but the Government have not provided any reason why it is more likely to occur under police and crime commissioners than it is under existing collaboration agreements or future statutory requirements on collaboration in the Bill. Nor is there any analysis of any current barriers to collaboration or of the risks of the change proposed in the Bill. The most significant risk is that fire and rescue, with its much smaller budgets and media attention than policing, will become the service of secondary concern under its new police-oriented management and governance structure and suffer from what has been described as benign neglect.
Another risk is that since the fire and rescue service will be geared to the police force structure and the structure of police and crime commissioners, mergers between fire services will become more difficult. I have already mentioned the recent merger of the Wiltshire and Dorset fire services. The 2007 merger of Devon and Somerset fire services increased resilience and delivered savings. How many potential mergers between the fire services will not even be considered as a result of police and crime commissioners taking over responsibility for the service and the need for co-terminosity? Other potential risks have been highlighted, including the potential complexity of moving to the single employer model and the amount of time and potential cost of bringing together personnel with very different roles and conditions of employment.
The reality, too, is that fire and rescue services work more closely with the ambulance service, particularly in emergency situations, than they do with the police. The consultation made no attempt to address the impact on existing or future arrangements if fire and rescue services were in effect going to become a combined force with the police. Neither was any attempt made to assess the impact of being seen as combined with the police on the perception that the public have of the fire and rescue service as a humanitarian service as opposed to the police with their law enforcement role. Much of the work of the fire and rescue service is now preventive, which involves visiting buildings and talking to people, including in their homes. Will a close tie-up with the police and a possible view, rightly or wrongly, that there may be an increased exchange of information, make that role more difficult? These are risks that the Government did not want their consultation to include and, consequently, have never been addressed or answered properly by the Government, since they have never set out their case and the hard evidence to support it, to justify the need for the proposed change in responsibility for the fire and rescue services, which would involve bringing them under the control of police and crime commissioners—almost certainly, in most cases, chief constables.
I hope that proposing that these clauses should not stand part will at least provoke debate this evening on the justification for the proposal that the Government have made in relation to police and crime commissioners and their future role in respect of fire and rescue services, and that we may begin to hear from the Government their hard evidence that it will lead to improvements in effectiveness or efficiency or improving public safety. Up to now, there has been something of a silence on that issue.
This is the opportunity for the Government to make their case. I am certainly more than willing to sit here this evening and listen to what that case is. Bearing in mind the priority that the Government—perhaps not incorrectly—wish to put on increasing collaboration between the emergency services, on which a number of Members of this House have already spoken quite glowingly, would it not be better, in fact, to see the extent to which the clauses in this Bill that seek to promote further collaboration actually work, before deciding to include an unproven measure in the Bill for which no case has been made, which goes contrary to the view that there should be greater collaboration and appears, on the face of it, to impose quite a lot of compulsion in relation to the future of our fire and rescue services?
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, has mentioned Wiltshire and Dorset fire authority, I should make it clear to the House that the joining up of those two fire authorities was made under the previous coalition Government, not this Government. A different view has been taken by this Government on this Bill. That is why I asked the Minister whether we could decouple them. The most important thing for the community—I am talking about Wiltshire, not Dorset or any other authority area—is how we can maximise the effectiveness and efficiency of our blue-light services over a particular geographic area. I do not mind who runs them, I just want the services that local people want to be efficient and effective and to be delivered together.
We cannot get away from the fact that, for any road traffic accident, ambulance, police and fire services will all attend. Can we do things better and can we be more effective or more efficient? When we have floods, for example, all three services are probably going to be at a particular place at the same time—along with, I have to say, the local authority and emergency planning. It is not a matter of how we govern a service but how we make it more effective for people and more efficiently delivered.
My Lords, I rise to support, to some extent, the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. Police and crime commissioners have an extremely complex and wide-ranging job to do as it is. It is not simply overseeing the police service and arranging for its funding, it is also working with other agencies to ensure that crime is reduced in their local area. It is an extremely large and complex operation. To add to that at this early stage in the evolution of the role of the police and crime commissioner could throw the progress that has been made to date off course.
There are of course situations where the police, fire service and ambulance service work together, such as floods or road traffic accidents, but there are distinct areas where the police operate alone, such as law enforcement. There is a very serious and important role that the police and the police and crime commissioner perform in crime reduction, crime detection and prosecution of offenders that does not involve the fire or ambulance service in any way. Indeed, we have seen that when there has been spontaneous public disorder on the streets of the UK, there is a very different approach towards the police and, say, the fire brigade and ambulance service—there is a lot more hostility towards the police. Any merging, or unnecessary merging, of those organisations —creating confusion in the public’s minds—could create more problems than perhaps the Government have hitherto considered.
One has only to read the Bill to see the enormously complex changes in legislation that will be required if police and crime commissioners take over fire and rescue services, particularly if the employees of the fire and rescue service become employees of the police and crime commissioner, or even of the chief constable.
I can see enormous benefit from greater co-operation between emergency services, but an enormous administrative nightmare from going that one further step of allowing police and crime commissioners to take over the running of fire and rescue services. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that the Government, as far as I can see, have not made out a compelling case to show that the advantages will overcome the enormous bureaucratic, administrative and legislative problems created by police and crime commissioners taking over fire and rescue services.
My Lords, I agree very much with what my noble friend Lord Rosser said on Clause 6. However, I also agree very much with what the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said about the role of a police and crime commissioner. That job involves a large amount of full-time work right from the start, but I would say that, wouldn’t I? The noble Lord mentioned a police and crime commissioner being the bridge between the police and the public in the area in which he or she is elected. Every new police and crime commissioner and, I suspect, those who were re-elected, has to produce a police and crime plan by 31 March next year. That is a formidable undertaking, certainly for the likes of me. Already, a large part of my life is spent trying to work out what I will put in the plan and, perhaps more importantly, what I will not.
In addition, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, hinted, partnerships have to be formed—these are very important in a police and crime commissioner’s work—and commissioning has to be carried out to make sure that the limited but important amount of resource that a police and crime commissioner is given under the 2011 Act is used for the general activity of preventing crime and making communities safe. All the while, of course, there is an obligation to look, as a critical friend, at the police force with which they are connected. As far as I am concerned, that is a pretty full-time job. Perhaps I have been lucky in my life, in that that seems an extremely hard-working role.
I do not think there is anything wrong with amalgamating services, if a community wants that. I know the Minister will argue in due course that this is a voluntary step. I will come back to that in a moment. Following our earlier discussion on collaboration, this measure does not fit terribly well with the best collaborative work, which is voluntary, bottom-up, happens, works or does not work and is experimented with. The scheme will look to many people as one that is effectively being imposed.
One of my concerns, which my noble friend Lord Rosser referred to, is what happens if there is another bout of public expenditure cuts. That is quite possible, either shortly or at some time in the next few years. There will be difficulties and choices imposed on a police and crime commissioner, who, after all, has been elected as a PCC and nothing else. In real life there will be a choice between the police service—the chief constable will say, “We have taken a huge hit already; do you really want crime to go up in our area?” —and a popular fire and rescue service. But one is tiny in comparison with the other and has already felt public spending cuts, yet the PCC will be obliged to make cuts to it if they do not make cuts to the police. That is not a fair choice to put on police and crime commissioners, unless they want to take that decision. Very difficult choices will have to be imposed on sitting police and crime commissioners.
I hope I know by now how Governments behave. It is a relief that the legislation will not include the mandatory making of an amalgamation. However, I am concerned about the pressure that will be put on police and crime commissioners to go down this path once the Bill becomes an Act of Parliament, and I will be interested to hear what the Minister says about this. They may find that there are various hints and suggestions—and maybe more than that—that this is what the Government want, and will get. This is not a party-political point. Police and crime commissioners will be forced, one way or another, to go down this path. I very much hope that that is not the intention or the plan, or something that will develop after the Bill becomes law. There is a danger that PCCs who do not want to go down this avenue will be forced to do so by government action—or non-action. I think the Committee knows what I am talking about with regard to pressure.
I remind the Committee and, with great respect, the Minister, that, after all, it was the present Prime Minister who introduced the legislation that resulted in the emergence of police and crime commissioners, who were to be and have been directly elected. Even on the basis of small turnouts, that has to give them some authority to make decisions that they feel are right. I repeat: they are elected as police and crime commissioners; they are not elected as anything to do with the fire and rescue services as such. Therefore, I hope the Government will respect the independence of police and crime commissioners, who are of all parties and none. I am afraid that legislation such as this gives cause for concern that, on the one hand, the Government say they are in favour of police and crime commissioners being independent elected authorities, but on the other they will put pressure on them to do what central government wants. We do not want to find ourselves in that position. I finish with this comment: I do not want to become a fire and rescue authority.
My Lords, the speech from my noble friend Lord Bach underlines the perils the Government are going through with these clauses. I hope I am not being unfair to the Government when I characterise the first five clauses of the Bill as a sort of machismo exercise in saying, “Despite the fact that we can’t find a problem, we’re going to have a thundering great piece of legislation which places a statutory duty on people to do things that they do already”.
Then you move into the next chapter of the Bill, whose clauses say, “We’d really like to do something here but we’re a little scared of the consequences”—all the speeches in the debate so far have highlighted the difficulties and complexities—“so, although we’ll appear a little tentative, we are going to make it voluntary”. The reality is that the Government are being incredibly cautious here and not really saying what they want. Precisely as my noble friend Lord Bach suggested, they want this to happen, I suspect: they want directly elected police and crime commissioners for areas to take over responsibility for fire.
There might be a case for doing that, but not if it will cause immense difficulties and will work in only a comparatively small part of the country. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, highlighted the problems with co-terminosity. The Minister took through this House the devolution Bill that has created yet more problems in the relationship between the new directly elected mayors and police and crime commissioners in their areas—and presumably between them and fire services in their areas. Of course, we do not know whether the re-formed Government are still in favour of the old agenda of directly elected mayors, and if so how much, but it was a further piecemeal change—a further complexity—so far as co-terminosity was concerned. We also know that the Government have been timid on the fact that some police forces around the country are too small to deliver the full range of policing services—that the Government are not prepared to embrace directly the need for mergers.
We have a Government who would like to see something happen, but are too frightened to bring forward proposals of sufficient scale to merit the disruption and complications to which other Members of the Committee have already referred. If the Government were serious about saying, “We want to bring a number of the emergency services together under a directly elected commissioner of some sort”, you would start to ask what the rational size around the country was for the delivery of emergency services. What is the scale? With all due respect to my noble friend, it is not Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland. It might be larger if you were talking about all the emergency services put together. You certainly would not end up with 41 police services outside London and, for some reason, two in London. Similarly, you would not end up with the same network of fire services; again, there have already been some piecemeal changes. You would try to achieve co-terminosity. You might end up with eight or 10 regional emergency services commissioners; you could tie in the ambulance service, although that would no doubt bring a huge backlash from the health interests, which would say that it was all much too complicated. You might also look at the whole question of how the criminal justice system worked in a particular area.
If you really want to have radical change and transform things, that is the direction you would look in. However, these proposals fail by being both too half-hearted and not thought-out. It is the worst of all possible worlds. I am sure that it is not the Minister’s fault; the decision has been taken elsewhere as part of a grand strategic vision—but frankly it is not really a vision and it is not really strategic. It says, “There might be an answer by bringing police and fire together, but because it’s all a bit difficult we are not going to enforce it; we will encourage it and make it voluntary”. I suspect that, as my noble friend suggested, it will become more and more difficult not to do something in this area because of financial pressures. It will be piecemeal and chaotic, and the disruption will not deliver the benefits that no doubt some in the Government think are there.
Will the Minister go back to the new Home Secretary and explain that the Lords have a lot of problems with these clauses? Will she suggest that the Government take them away, think about them again and come back with something that has been truly thought through? They could deal with the problems of co-terminosity, which her noble friends have raised, and look at the most sensible synergies between all the emergency services and with the rest of the criminal justice system. They could then bring back to Parliament some sensible proposals that address all those issues. Frankly, these clauses do not do it.
My Lords, I shall speak briefly to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, about the elected mayor. There is no confusion about that: the Secretary of State made it quite clear in a public statement last week that the 11 deals on the table would not be renegotiated and that the mayor was a mandatory requirement. The noble Lord sitting behind the noble Lord, Lord Harris, will be aware that the north-east deal fell over last week because they would not agree on a mayor; five of the authorities would not agree and that deal was rejected by the Government. They have made it quite clear that a mayor is mandatory for those devolution deals. It would be unhelpful for this House to spread any more confusion about that.
My Lords, I endorse the approach that my noble friend Lord Harris has advanced. Equally, I was very taken with the argument of my noble friend Lord Rosser in questioning why, for example, the ambulance service was not regarded as a likelier partner for the police service in any reorganisation. It seems to me that, if one has to do this—and that is another question—it would make more sense than amalgamating the two rather more discrete services of fire and police.
That is not to say that, in any circumstances, whether there is any reorganisation or not, there might not be some financial savings to be made by looking at the joint running of the back offices for all three of those services. It seems to me that that is potentially practical without changing the nature or accountability for the service. It would be a sensible investment in making savings, which can of course then support the services.
It seems odd that, despite suggestions that one should take place, there has been no consideration by the Government of a trial amalgamation, whether it be as envisaged in this Bill, a potential wider amalgamation involving all three services, or an alternative approach involving the fire and ambulance services. Will the Minister indicate whether there has been any discussion about the possibility of such a trial between two or more of the relevant services?
There is a real concern about the further concentration of powers in a single pair of hands—although it is potentially two pairs of hands in this case. You will have a chief officer of a combined authority, who will have overall responsibility for the two services as envisaged in the Bill. You may also have, in a mayoral combined authority, the role of the police and crime commissioner, which will bring with it that combined service, in the hands of the elected mayor. The mayor already has enormous powers under the devolution proposals as they are proceeding in the 11 authorities to which the noble Lord, Lord Porter, referred. It is questionable, to put it mildly, whether it is sensible to concentrate so much power on issues of this kind, as well as everything else, in the hands of an elected mayor. I should refer to my local government interests, which obviously have some bearing on the approach that I take in these matters.
There is clearly concern, which has already been voiced, about the pressures on the budget and the fears of other services that to protect the hugely stretched police service, resources will be diverted from other services. That would happen within the combined authority in any event and potentially of course, under this new proposal, which would set up an individual elected person in those areas with substantial powers. Has the Minister received expressions of interest from local authorities and separate police and fire authorities in adopting the concept that the Government propose in the Bill? To what extent is there a welcoming attitude, and what kind of authorities are we talking about? Is it something that is being looked at favourably within the mayoral combined authorities that got their devolution deals and/or other existing authorities in areas without the mayoral structure—they may be combined authorities but without the mayoral structure? Are they interested? Are there any other organisations of local authorities that have indicated an interest in this?
The Government seem to be embarking on a remarkable process, as my noble friend Lord Harris pointed out. They seem to have in mind leaving it open to people to bid for this new status and then to see the thing gradually evolve, when the services are under such acute and growing pressure from all kinds of things, including, as has already been mentioned, the elements in places where rescue services are involved.
Have the Government consulted fully with the relevant organisations representing the services at chief officer and ordinary officer levels, such as the relevant trade unions as well as the chiefs who operate the services? Have the Government concluded that any potential financial savings will be produced by the proposed amalgamations? On what basis have they been calculated? Are they different, for example, in areas with combined authorities as opposed to those where there are existing county or multiple-county level services across an area without a combined authority structure? It would be interesting to see if those figures are correct.
There is so much here that is untested and unanswered. It would be a mistake simply to write a blank cheque by supporting the proposals in the Bill. One fears that once that is done, incrementally a process will develop under which, increasingly, authorities will be leaned on to adopt the proposals contained in this Bill without really having any sensible opportunity to monitor progress on the ground, as and when authorities come together or the elected mayor as police and crime commissioner assumes the responsibility. It is uncharted territory and given the importance of that territory to life, limb and safety, it is risky to embark on the course that the Bill lays out. I hope very much that the Government will respond to the points made by my noble friends Lord Rosser and Lord Harris. My noble friend Lord Harris in particular has great experience in these matters and has a voice that the Government should take very seriously.
I thank noble Lords who spoke so articulately to this group of amendments, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Bach, who is the only PCC in both Houses of Parliament. To hear his experience is incredibly helpful. My noble friend Lady Scott also articulated very well some of what I will say. I think we know how Leicestershire and Rutland will proceed in due course.
On what the noble Lord, Lord Harris, calls “timidity”, the Government came into office with a clear manifesto commitment to,
“enable fire and police services to work more closely together and develop the role of our elected and accountable Police and Crime Commissioners”.
If the Government had been dictatorial and autocratic in what they expected, I am sure there would be a lot more complaints in both Houses. The provisions in Part 1, including those in Clauses 6 and 8 and in Schedule 1, give legislative effect to that commitment. Noble Lords have a proper role to play in scrutinising the details of the Government’s proposals.
I hesitate to intervene so early in the Minister’s response, but she referred to the Conservative Party manifesto. I assume she quoted from it. The quote she gave was about improving collaboration, which is covered by Chapter 1 of the Bill. The second part was about strengthening the role of police and crime commissioners. I do not think it said strengthening the role of police and crime commissioners specifically in terms of the fire service.
If I could make some progress, I am sure the noble Lord will come back to me if he feels he needs to.
As the noble Lord said, the provisions in Part 1 give legislative effect to that commitment. Noble Lords will have ample opportunity to scrutinise the details of the Government’s proposals and to put forward amendments to them, but I am a bit disappointed that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, now seeks to strike out the key provisions in their entirety.
There are clear benefits to fostering greater joint working between the blue-light services, from better managing the changing nature of demand for services to providing greater value for money for taxpayers’ money in the interests of local people. While there are many excellent examples of collaboration between the emergency services across the country, which I talked about earlier—I draw the Committee’s attention to the excellent overview of such collaboration published by the Emergency Services Collaboration Working Group—it is clear that there is still more that can be done to secure smarter working, as I said. Collaboration is still patchy. We would like to make a more consistent service across the country.
The noble Lords, Lord Harris and Lord Beecham, talked about pilot schemes and trials. As I said, there is already substantial evidence to show that collaboration can work. The measures are locally enabling to reflect the Government’s view that local areas are best placed to determine the type of collaboration, but the provisions will in effect, by their very nature, be piloted as some areas will go first. A number of PCCs, such as Essex PCC, have already actively worked with their local fire and rescue services to develop a local business case.
It is about a single person having responsibility for both services. By their very nature, some will go before others and some are more advanced in working up their business cases. The public consultation that the noble Lord asked about took place over a period of about six weeks, I understand. People had an opportunity to respond.
The noble Lord also asked whether I had had any individual representation. I certainly have from Greater Manchester, which will not surprise him. I probably have not been in post long enough for my mailbag to start filling up with people’s views. I suspect that the Fire Minister, Brandon Lewis, may have had rather more.
To go back to what I was saying, Sir Ken Knight, whom noble Lords have mentioned, carried out an efficiency review of the fire and rescue service back in 2013. He concluded that opportunities to foster innovation and joint working were “hindered by local relationships” —of course, things can be vastly enhanced by local relationships in parts—and that greater leadership was required to overcome barriers to collaboration. He concluded that police and crime commissioners are well placed to provide that leadership and could clarify accountability to the public.
Taken together, Clause 6 and Schedule 1 enable a PCC to take on responsibility for the fire and rescue service in his or her local area. The Government believe that the directly accountable leadership of PCCs can play a critical role in securing better commissioning and delivery of emergency services at a local level. By overseeing both services, they can maximise the opportunities for innovative collaboration between policing and fire services, and ensure that best practice is shared.
As noble Lords have alluded to, we are introducing two models for PCC governance of fire and rescue services. The first, the “governance” model, will enable the PCC to take on responsibility for fire and rescue services in their area. In this model, the two distinct organisations will remain, with a chief constable in charge of the police force and a chief fire officer continuing to have operational responsibility for the fire and rescue service.
As a further step, a PCC could put in place the “single employer” model, under which the PCC would appoint a single chief officer, who would employ both police and fire personnel. This approach will remove the barriers that can prevent the full potential of fire and police collaboration, including the need to draw up contracts and collaboration agreements. This model will also enable upper tiers of management to be streamlined, with a single chief officer at its head. To ensure consistency, Clause 8 applies the single employer model to combined authority mayors to enable mayors with both policing and fire functions to secure the same benefits of closer alignment of policing and fire as their PCC counterparts.
I stress that the provisions in Schedule 1, providing for PCCs to take on the functions of fire and rescue authorities, are locally enabling. I hope this gives the noble Lord, Lord Bach, comfort. I stress that the Government are not mandating the transfer of these functions to PCCs. We know that a one-size-fits-all approach would clearly be inappropriate and it should be up to local communities to have a say in how their services are provided. Rather, PCCs will be able to take on responsibility for fire and rescue only where a strong local case is made that it is in the best interests of either efficiency, economy and effectiveness on the one hand, or public safety on the other, for the transfer to take place. They would be required to consult locally on that case.
If the PCC does not have local agreement to their proposal but still wishes to proceed with their case, the Home Secretary will be required to seek an independent assessment of the PCC’s business case and consider it and the representations made by the relevant local authorities before taking the decision whether to give effect to the proposal. This will be a robust process that ensures local concerns are fully taken into account and provides for independent verification of the merits of the case.
It is also important to be clear—the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked about this—that under these reforms, local police forces and fire and rescue services would remain distinct front-line services, albeit supported by increasingly integrated back-office and support services. It is not an operational merger. The important distinction between operational policing and firefighting will be maintained, with the law preventing a warranted police officer being a firefighter remaining in place. There is no intention to give firefighters the power of arrest or other core powers of a constable.
It is important to say that we do not support compulsory force mergers, which would reduce rather than increase the quality of neighbourhood policing and distance police forces from the communities they serve. We will consider requests for voluntary mergers only where they are supported by the robust business case I talked about and have community consent. I hope that gives comfort on one point.
Neither will the brand identity of fire and rescue be eroded. The fire and rescue authority will remain a distinct legal entity and neither of the proposed models will enable fire funding to be spent on policing or vice versa. I know this issue is of particular concern to the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Bach, and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick mentioned it as well. I reassure them and the whole Committee that there will continue to be separate funding streams from central government and separate precepts for fire and policing, and the money spent on each service will need to be accounted for separately.
The noble Lord, Lord Bach, mentioned this to me this morning but also asked in Committee today what would happen if, for example, public service expenditure were cut or, indeed, increased. Would police budgets be able to be vired over to fire budgets or vice versa? Would one service become the Cinderella service? Under this mechanism, that could not happen because the two budgets are entirely separate. I stress that point. However, where the two services share, for example, the same headquarters or back-office functions, the cost would need to be apportioned between the relevant budgets appropriately. I hope that provides clarity on that point.
The provisions in Clause 6, Clause 8 and Schedule 1 form a central part of the overall package of reforms aimed at driving greater collaboration between local emergency services and developing the role of PCCs. By all means let us have a debate about the detail of these provisions, and I am open to suggestions about how they might be improved, but I would invite the Committee to agree that they stand part of the Bill.
Coming to some of the questions asked, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, was concerned that it is too early in the evolution of PCCs to do this. As recognised by the Home Affairs Select Committee in its 2014 report, individual PCCs provide greater clarity of leadership for policing in their areas and are increasingly recognised for the strategic direction they provide. Indeed, the quality of PCCs is to be commended. We have some very good people. The noble Lord, Lord Bach, was not listening when I said that but I was praising him. I think noble Lords would agree that since PCCs came into post, public accountability is much sharper in that members of the public are dealing with one person, whose profile seems greater than that of the old police authorities.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, talked about this being too much for one person. I understand that the Official Opposition support the creation of the combined authority mayor in Greater Manchester. That mayor will have responsibility for both police and fire, and strongly supports this. If the principle of one directly elected person overseeing both services is acceptable in Greater Manchester, why could it not be accepted elsewhere in England?
The other point that the noble Lord, Lord Bach, expressed concern about is that the Government could slowly put pressure on PCCs to take on the governance of their local fire and rescue service. He made clear his views about that, but it is not the case. PCCs are elected by the public and are therefore directly accountable to them, not the Government. While the Government wish to see deeper collaboration, we recognise that it is best left to local leaders to decide what is best for their areas. With those points, unless there are any other concerns noble Lords would like to bring up, I ask them to support these clauses standing part of the Bill.
I have one or two points. Bearing in mind that this is not necessarily about a clause standing part, I am not sure I am in the position of being invited to say whether I am withdrawing something.
However, in response to the argument about having a pilot exercise first, the noble Baroness said that in effect there will be a pilot exercise because inevitably one or two PCCs may want to go down that particular road. The inference was that we will then be able to assess from what happens how well it works. Does that mean that the Government are saying that if, for example, one or two PCCs decide they want to go down this road and that is approved by the Home Secretary, there will then be a period to see whether the PCC with responsibility for the fire and rescue services actually achieves what the Government say it will before there are any further transfers of responsibility for a fire and rescue service to a police and crime commissioner?
In that context, the Minister pointed out that there will be two distinct organisational models. Would that mean that we will await the outcome of the first transfer of responsibility of a fire and rescue service to a PCC under both those organisational models, with a sufficient period to evaluate how well it worked, before there were any further moves? I am not entirely convinced by the Government’s argument that in reality there will be a pilot unless the Minister can give me an assurance that there will be a gap after the first one or two go over to see how well this works and for it to be properly evaluated. That is my first question in response to what the noble Baroness said on behalf of the Government.
She then spoke about the provision in the Bill for a PCC to make an application to take over responsibility for the fire and rescue services and said that there would be consultation. Will there at that time also be consultation on alternative ways to improve efficiency or effectiveness, for example through greater collaboration, or will the only option on the table be the proposal from the police and crime commissioner, with no discussion or consultation on whether there is a better way to achieve what the Government say will be achieved by a police and crime commissioner taking over responsibility for a fire and rescue service? It would be helpful if the noble Baroness gave a response to those two particular points.
Finally, I asked in my contribution whether the fact that the Government say that police and crime commissioners should be able to take over responsibility for fire and rescue services meant that they were also saying that the structures of the two organisations— fire and rescue, and the police and crime commissioners and police forces—would effectively remain the same? The point has been made that they are not already co-terminous in all cases. The inference of the Government’s intention to seek to go down the road of PCCs having responsibility for fire and rescue services is that they deem the best organisational and governance structure for fire and rescue services to be, in effect, the same as that for police forces and the police service, and that that is the longer- term intention of the Government: to leave things basically as they are as far as the structure of the police service is concerned. Is that what the Government are saying?
My Lords, I talked about the provisions in effect being piloted as some areas will go first. Not every area will move at the same pace, so clearly it will be a matter for local determination. Some PCCs might come forward with proposals in 2017 and others in 2018. The Bill will also be subject to post-legislative review in the normal way. Consulting on the proposals is—
On the question of pilots, the Home Office has no doubt given careful consideration to what has been in essence a 16-year pilot, in that since the office of the Mayor of London was created in 2000, the mayor has had responsibility for both police and fire. Although the mayoralty of London has been an enormous success, as everybody around the world acknowledges, can the Minister tell us what administrative or back-office savings have been delivered as a result of a single elected person having responsibility for both services in that intervening period? Having some degree of knowledge about that, I am not sure that there have been an awful lot.
Being of Haringey, the noble Lord probably has a far better idea of what efficiency savings have been achieved over those years. It is funny that he said that the mayoralty of London has been such a great success. It has been, but there was huge scepticism about it among many people and across parties when it began. I made the point about the noble Lord, Lord Bach, because, as time goes on, people are seeing the merit of having very accountable leadership at the top of organisations.
I return to the point on consultation. The Government have already consulted on their proposals for emergency service collaboration and that consultation informed the development of the clauses in the Bill. PCCs will undertake further local consultation on their business case, which brings me back to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, about the alternatives. Clearly, things evolve locally and change over time, but I do not think that they will be consulting on alternative proposals.
Does the Minister not think that that would be desirable? A proposal by a PCC who sought to take over responsibility for fire and rescue services would, to state the obvious, involve collaboration between those two services. But as we have heard today from a number of noble Lords, there are already many examples of effective collaboration that go way beyond simply the police service and the fire service. If a PCC has a desire to take over responsibility for a fire and rescue service, surely it is legitimate to raise the question of whether more and better collaboration would not be achieved through other means. The greater collaboration provided for in the first part of the Bill, which we have already discussed, would potentially go over a much wider range of services, authorities and organisations than simply between the police and the fire service.
My Lords, there is no barrier to wider collaboration. I keep harking back to my visit to Salford last week, where the police, fire and ambulance services are collaborating. Much wider collaboration has been going on for years, and this is just part of it. The noble Lord was talking about the PCC developing the business case, but the alternatives are not the purpose of the consultation.
Clause 6 agreed.
Schedule 1: Provision for police and crime commissioner to be fire and rescue authority
10: Schedule 1, page 174, line 8, at end insert “, and
(b) if the duties and restrictions provided for by sections 2 and 3 of the Policing and Crime Act 2016 have been complied with.”
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Paddick and I tabled Amendments 10, 11 and 99 in this group and we support the other amendments in the group as well. I resisted joining in the debate about trialling the proposals because my noble friend did so and I had mentioned the issues in the debate on the first or second group of amendments. Nevertheless, it is difficult to apply experience from a situation where there has been a voluntary arrangement, such as we have heard described, to the less voluntary arrangements proposed by the Bill.
I turn to our Amendments 10 and 11. Schedule 1 proposes amendments to the Fire and Rescue Services Act. Proposed new Section 4A will allow the Secretary of State to make an order for a PCC to be a fire and rescue authority. Under subsection (4) of the proposed new Section, he can do so only if a PCC has put a proposal to the Secretary of State; and under subsection (5) he can do so only,
“if it is in the interests of economy, efficiency and effectiveness”—
all three Es are spelled out here, as I mentioned earlier —or,
“in the interests of public safety”.
Under the provisions for collaboration agreements there are various duties and restrictions, in Clauses 2 and 3, including the specific issue of the efficiency and effectiveness of the police force. These amendments probe whether wider considerations will apply under proposed new Section 4A than simply the items spelled out in its subsections (4) and (5). Amendment 11 would require the Secretary of State to consider the views arrived at during the formal process of assessment provided by Clause 2.
Our Amendment 99 and Amendments 12, 30 and 44 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, take us back to whether we are in the territory of the interests of the three Es and the interests of public safety, or whether one of those in effect overrides the other by being alternatives. In my earlier read-throughs of the Bill I was really puzzled about why it should not be both—and, indeed, why safety needs to be spelled out. Given the Minister’s response to Amendment 6, I hope she will be able to consider these amendments as well. I beg to move.
I will be brief. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, mentioned, Amendments 12, 30 and 44 in this group are in my name as well as hers. As she also said, they seem not too dissimilar to the issue we discussed earlier when we debated Amendment 6. Amendment 12 provides that before the Secretary of State may make an order for a police and crime commissioner to take over the fire and rescue authority, it must appear to the Secretary of State that it would be both,
“in the interests of economy, efficiency and effectiveness”,
“in the interests of public safety”.
It is that last bit which the amendment seeks to achieve.
Amendments 30 and 44 are in a similar vein in respect of the making of an order by the Secretary of State for the delegation of the functions of a fire and rescue authority to the relevant chief constable and in respect of a police and crime commissioner submitting a proposal to the Secretary of State to take over a fire and rescue authority.
Without wanting to labour the point too much, it is not clear why the Government, on this major change in organisational structure for the fire and rescue services, consider that it being,
“in the interests of economy, efficiency and effectiveness”,
and it being,
“in the interests of public safety”,
should be separated and alternatives when it comes to the Secretary of State making an order for a police and crime commissioner to be the fire and rescue authority. It raises issues about in what circumstances the Secretary of State would make an order when he or she considered it to be in the interests of economy, efficiency and effectiveness but not in the interests of public safety, which the Secretary of State would apparently be entitled to do under the terms of Schedule 1. Likewise, in what credible circumstances would the Secretary of State make an order based on it being in the interests of public safety when it was contrary to the interests of economy, efficiency and effectiveness, as apparently he or she could also do under the terms of Schedule 1 as it stands?
As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, suggested, I am rather hoping I may get a fairly sympathetic response, similar to the one I had on Amendment 6. I will wait to hear what the Minister has to say.
My Lords, where a PCC is interested in taking responsibility for fire and rescue, he or she will work with the local fire and rescue authority to prepare a business case setting out their assessment of the benefits and any costs of a transfer. The business case will then be subject to local consultation. The business case would need to show the Home Secretary how the proposals would be in the interests of economy, efficiency and effectiveness on the one hand or public safety on the other. The Home Secretary is able to make the order only if she is satisfied that one or other of these tests has been met. Amendments 12, 30 and 44 would instead require both tests to be satisfied. Amendment 99 seeks to apply the same change to the single employer model operated by a combined authority mayor.
The provisions as currently drafted mirror those for fire and rescue authority mergers. Section 2(2) of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 sets out that the Secretary of State may make a scheme combining two or more fire and rescue authorities only if it would be in the interests of economy, efficiency and effectiveness or public safety. This is a long-established test, enacted by the previous Labour Administration, for the closer alignment of two services, and we therefore do not agree that an amendment is required.
We would expect that any assessment of the impact of a proposed transfer of governance on effectiveness would include an assessment of its impact on public safety, which is a primary function of the emergency services. In forming a view on the first test of economy, efficiency and effectiveness, the services’ role in protecting the public should therefore be paramount in the PCC’s consideration.
However, the provisions which, as I have said, mirror those that have been tried and tested for fire mergers, also provide for a separate test based on public safety. There may be exceptional circumstances where a current service is failing to protect the public and urgent action is required. In such a case, it is right that the Home Secretary should be able to make a Section 4A order solely on the grounds that to do so would be in the interests of public safety.
While I do not agree with the proposed amendments, I recognise the principle behind them. Police and fire and rescue services perform an important function in protecting the public, and we would not want a transfer of governance to have a negative impact on public safety. It is absolutely not the intention for these provisions to permit cases that would save money but damage front-line provision—which I almost said in my answer to Amendment 1—and the Home Secretary would not approve such a proposal. Indeed, such a proposal would not satisfy the test that it would be in the interests of economy, efficiency and effectiveness for a Section 4A order to be made.
However, there might be other ways of incorporating the spirit of these amendments in Clause 8 of and Schedule 1 to the Bill in order to make it absolutely clear that there is no question of an order being made that would have a detrimental impact on public safety. If the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, would be content not to move the amendment, I will reflect further on what he and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, have said in advance of Report, although they will understand that I cannot give a commitment at this stage to bring forward a government amendment.
Amendments 10 and 11 are on assessing the duty to collaborate. I cannot be so accommodating with these amendments. As I have set out, where a PCC wishes to seek responsibility for fire and rescue, they will be required to prepare a local case setting out their proposal. The Home Secretary will then give consideration to whether it would be in the interests of economy, efficiency and effectiveness or public safety for the order transferring the functions to be made.
Amendments 10 and 11, proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in the place of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, would, in effect, additionally require the Home Secretary to assess the extent to which opportunities for collaboration under the provisions of Chapter 1 of Part 1 had been maximised before she decides whether to agree to the PCC’s business case for a Section 4A order.
I do not agree that such additional steps are required. The duty to collaborate and the fire governance provisions in the Bill are distinct. It is not necessary for a PCC to have exhausted all local opportunities for collaboration in order to make a case for a transfer of governance. While PCC governance of both police and fire and rescue services can maximise the opportunity for collaboration between policing and fire and ensure that best practice is shared, the benefits extend beyond collaboration alone. As Sir Ken Knight found in his efficiency review, the directly accountable leadership of police and crime commissioners can clarify accountability arrangements to the public.
On the basis of that and the undertaking that I will reflect further on Amendments 12, 30, 44 and 99, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, will be content not to press his amendment.
My Lords, I reserve my right to consult my noble friend after today.
The start of the Minister’s explanation of “and” and “or” made me wonder whether consistency was more important than logic and safety, but it would be unkind to pursue that thought. The thought I will pursue is the Minister’s comments about safety being encompassed within economy, efficiency and effectiveness —effectiveness in particular, if I understood her correctly. Clearly they are not, otherwise it would not be necessary to have paragraphs (a) and (b) as separate paragraphs and to have paragraph (b) in addition to paragraph (a). We are all grateful to the Minister for offering to consider this further. I think we are not going to come to a meeting of minds on the two earlier amendments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 10 withdrawn.
Amendments 11 and 12 not moved.
13: Schedule 1, page 174, line 16, at end insert—
“(7) No order may be made under this section until the Secretary of State has conducted a review assessing the funding required by the fire and rescue service to ensure the minimum level of cover needed to secure public safety and maintain fire resilience.(8) The review carried out under subsection (7) must assess the impact of the level of cover on—(a) fire related fatalities,(b) non-fatal fire related casualties,(c) the number of fires affecting dwellings and other fires,(d) the number of incidents responded to, and(e) the strength and speed of response to incidents.”
This amendment relates to Schedule 1 and the provision for a police and crime commissioner to seek to take over the fire and rescue authority. In essence, it provides that no order may be made to do that until,
“the Secretary of State has conducted a review assessing the funding required by the fire and rescue service to ensure the minimum level of cover needed to secure public safety and maintain fire resilience”.
The amendment then lists five matters on which the review must assess the impact of the minimum level of cover.
The fire and rescue service nationally has already had to reduce spending by some 12% over the course of the last Parliament. I think that was a cumulative cash cut of some £236 million. On the basis of the last local government funding settlement, the fire and rescue service would be required to cut spending by a further £135 million by the end of this Parliament. There has been a reduction of some 7,500 in the number of firefighters as a result, and there is an issue as to the viability of the service under the Government’s spending plans. According to the National Audit Office, there was a reduction of just under a third in the amount of time spent on home fire checks over the last Parliament, and the NAO said that the Government did not know what impact this would have on public safety. It is also the view of the NAO that because the Government refuse to model the risk of cuts, they will only know that a service has been cut too far after it has happened—that is, after public safety has actually been put at risk.
I am not sure what the up-to-date figures are, but the figures for the period between April and September 2015 showed a significant percentage increase in the number of fire-related fatalities compared with the same period in 2014, a 10% increase in non-fatal fire casualties resulting in hospital treatment and a 7% increase in the number of fires attended by the fire and rescue service. This is after a great many years of the number of fires, casualties and deaths reducing. Yet the Government now want to pass responsibility for fire and rescue services to police and crime commissioners, who already have equally stretched budgets of their own, a reduced number of police officers and a heavy workload, without the Secretary of State even being required to assess what level of funding police and crime commissioners will need to keep the public safe and maintain the resilience of the fire and rescue service for which they are taking over responsibility.
There is, surely, a vital need to ensure that such a proposed takeover does not lead to funding for the fire and rescue services reducing still further. Those residing within the area of the fire and rescue service being transferred presumably have a right to some statutory assurance that the funding of the fire and rescue service will not be allowed to reduce still further as a result of the takeover. One would also have thought that a police and crime commissioner taking over responsibility for a fire and rescue service would want to be satisfied that the funding being provided for a service about which he or she knew relatively little would be sufficient to at least provide the minimum level of cover needed to secure public safety and maintain fire resilience, and that the Secretary of State had addressed this issue before deciding to make the necessary order. Our amendment seeks to address that issue.
I have one final point. The Minister has spoken previously about consultation and about seeking the agreement of the parties involved to a police and crime commissioner taking over responsibility for a fire and rescue service—or at least seeking to reach that agreement. Could the Minister take this opportunity to be a little more specific about the extent to which there will be a statutory requirement to consult in these circumstances? If there is one, who will be consulted? Will it cover, for example, the organisations that represent the employees of the organisation concerned? I beg to move.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Paddick and I have Amendment 23 in this group. It is a probing amendment, although it no doubt looks as if it may be more than that. It would take out what will be the new Section 4E in the Fire and Rescue Services Act, which is the requirement for an authority created by Section 4A to have a fire fund and for receipts and expenditure to be dealt with through that fund.
I am not of course challenging the need for transparency or the need to enable audit trails and all the rest of it, but a separate fire fund presumably means a separate policing fund, and our amendment is intended to probe how this will work. If there are to be efficiencies through shared facilities, and perhaps shared sites and some shared staff, how are those to be dealt with? Is there to be an allocation of costs of the shared services to the fire fund and to the policing budget? What is to stop virement between police and fire—or between fire and police, whichever way you look at it? I hope that the noble Baroness can explain a little more how the budgetary and accounting arrangements are to operate.
My Lords, public safety is of course paramount and it is important that fire and rescue authorities are properly resourced to carry out their life-saving and other functions. When a PCC is interested in taking on the governance of fire and rescue, they will work with the local fire and rescue authority to prepare their proposal, including an assessment of why it would be in the interests of economy, efficiency and effectiveness, or public safety, for the transfer of governance to take place. If the noble Lord is amenable, we can address the issue of consultation in Amendments 47 and 48, as it is relevant to them. It is also important to remember that fire and rescue authorities are required, under the duty to co-operate, to provide the PCCs with necessary information to inform their proposal. It is reasonable to expect that an authority’s funding provision will be a key piece of information for any PCC to consider.
Amendment 13, put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, appears, at least in part, to be based on the assumption that under the governance or single-employer model it would be possible to divert fire service funding to the police force. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, also talked about virement. I assure the Committee once again that there will be no change to the way funding is allocated to fire and rescue authorities that are the responsibility of PCCs, and no question but that FRAs will have the resources they need to carry out their important work. As the then Policing Minister said during the passage of the Bill in the House of Commons, under both the single-employer model and the governance model, there will continue to be two separate precepts and two separate central funding streams for the police and the fire and rescue service.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, talked about the position since 2010 regarding firefighter jobs et cetera. There has been a long-term downward trend in the number of both fires and fire deaths, which recently reached historically low levels. Despite the latest increases —which I concur with the noble Lord about—fire deaths in England in 2015-16 were still 9% lower than they were some six years ago and fire injuries requiring hospital treatment were 25% lower. At this point, I pay tribute to the fire service for installing smoke alarms in people’s homes and advising them on how to reduce the risk of fire. I am sure that has helped with the long-term reduction in these numbers.
Given that assurance, I hope the noble Lord agrees that the amendment is unnecessary. By driving efficiencies in the way that back-office and support functions are provided to both the fire and rescue service and the police force, the provisions in Part 1 will help to strengthen front-line services.
I understand that the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in tabling Amendment 23 is, as she said, to probe how any joint service functions could work in practice if the funds continue to be separated in the way I have set out. The Committee should be in no doubt that under the provisions in the Bill, a police and crime commissioner will not be able to use the fire budget for policing and vice versa. The money spent on each service will need to be accounted for separately in order to ensure transparency and accountability.
However, I assure the noble Baroness that it will still be possible for police and fire funding to be allocated for the purposes of shared back-office functions or other collaboration arrangements, but the costs for these functions will be apportioned back to the appropriate budget and accounted for separately. This ensures that clarity and transparency in funding is maintained. Requiring the police and crime commissioner to hold a separate fire fund for their fire funding mirrors the existing arrangements in place for them to hold a police fund.
Given those assurances, I hope that the noble Lord will be prepared to withdraw the amendment.
I thank the Minister for her response. Although I intend to withdraw my amendment, I am not quite as confident as the Government that at some stage in the process of transferring responsibility for fire and rescue services to a police and crime commissioner, there will not be at least a temptation to switch some resources away from one service to the other—because of pressure on finance, not for any other reason—and that will be in a situation where the police service is the dominant service. In those circumstances, I would have thought it would be something of a safeguard for at least the Secretary of State to be required, before the move took place, to assess the level of funding the police and crime commissioner would need to retain the resilience of the fire and rescue service. However, I note what the Minister has said, and once again I thank her for her reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 13 withdrawn.
14: Schedule 1, page 174, line 36, after first “and” insert “(with the consent of the person to whom the liability is owed)”
My Lords, we have Amendments 14, 15, 32 and 100 in this group. Amendments 14, 32 and 100 concern the provisions in different parts of the Bill for the transfer of liabilities from an existing authority to a new one. My question is the same in each of these examples: will the consent on the part of the person to whom the liability is owed be required, and will there be an indemnity of that person? In the normal commercial world, where a transfer or merger is made by agreement you cannot simply transfer a liability without the other party to the arrangement being involved and agreeing to it. New Section 4C(4) provides that such an arrangement may be permitted, but it does not require it. That applies to three of the four amendments.
Amendment 15 deals with the provision under new Section 4C(5) for a scheme to provide for any modifications—that is, modifications made by agreement after the scheme comes into effect—
“to have effect from the date when the original scheme comes into effect”.
Why is this necessary? It may not technically be retrospective but it could be quite confusing. Is it simply to ensure that any glitches that have been identified are put right from the start—that is how I read it—and what happens if third parties have been affected before the scheme is modified? I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has indicated that these are probing amendments, designed, in the cases of Amendments 14, 32 and 100, to provide some reassurance to those persons to whom a liability is owed that they will not be disadvantaged by a scheme transferring the liability. I appreciate that assurances on liabilities are important when considering arrangements for their transfer from an existing fire and rescue authority to a new PCC-style FRA or to a chief constable.
Statutory transfer schemes of this kind are well precedented. Indeed, I might add that the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 directly transferred all property, rights and liabilities of the old police authorities to the new police and crime commissioners or other local policing body. We have adopted the usual approach here of not requiring the consent of affected persons to the transfer of property, rights and liabilities. Once a Section 4A order is made, the existing fire and rescue authority will cease to exist and it is therefore right that all property, rights and liabilities held by the existing FRA should be transferred. If a person to whom a liability was owed was given an effective veto as to the transfer, that would arguably necessitate the preservation of the existing FRA alongside the new PCC-style FRA. This is a recipe for confusion and muddle.
However, I reassure the noble Baroness that the new PCC-style FRA, or the chief constable, to whom liabilities are transferred will take on the contractual obligations in respect of those liabilities, including, for example, the repayment of any debt. The person to whom the liability is owed will not be disadvantaged.
On Amendment 15, I hope I can reassure the noble Baroness that the approach taken in the Bill to the modification of a transfer scheme is the right one. The power to make modifications is designed principally to ensure that, should it be necessary, corrections may be made to a transfer scheme, particularly to address any errors made regarding the persons to whom rights or liabilities have transferred. As I am sure the noble Baroness appreciates, such transfer schemes can be complex and it is important to safeguard the ability to make revisions. These would need to be effective from the date at which the transfer came into being, rather than the date when the modification was made. To provide otherwise would risk disadvantaging a person, for example, to whom a liability was owed. I assure her that such modifications will be made only where there is agreement to do so between the affected parties.
On the basis of these reassurances, I trust that the noble Baroness will be content to withdraw her amendment.
Amendment 14 withdrawn.
Amendment 15 not moved.
16: Schedule 1, page 176, line 13, after “authority” insert “created by an order under section 4A”
My Lords, I recognise that there are quite a lot of amendments in this group. It is more like reading War and Peace than a group of amendments but not quite as gripping or enjoyable. However, as my noble friend Lady Williams explained in her letter of 7 September to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, these amendments are essentially minor and technical in nature, and ensure that the provisions in Part 1 of the Bill can operate as intended.
In particular, the amendments ensure that the provisions in respect of the new PCC-style fire and rescue authorities, whether operating under the governance model or single-employer model, are properly aligned, with appropriate modifications, with existing statutory provisions relating to policing and fire and rescue authorities. For example, the amendments apply the existing provisions in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 in respect of the handling of complaints against PCCs to the new PCC-style FRAs. This ensures that complaints against a PCC, whether in respect of his or her policing or fire and rescue functions, are handled in a consistent fashion.
I should also single out Amendments 38 and 105, which are subject to amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. The Bill already provides in new Section 4L of the 2004 Act a power to apply, with any necessary modifications, relevant legislation relating to police and crime commissioners to a PCC-style FRA. Similar powers are needed to apply, with any necessary modifications, relevant provisions of fire and rescue-related legislation to the chief officer and his or her staff where the single employer model is in operation.
These new order-making powers would be used in particular to ensure that references to employees of an FRA can continue to operate as intended under the single-employer model, where they will become employees of the chief constable—for example, to ensure that they have the relevant powers and functions necessary to perform their fire-fighting functions. A similar power is taken in respect of the single-employer model under combined authority mayors.
At this point, I suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, speaks to his amendments, and I will then respond. I beg to move.
My Lords, we indeed have amendments at the various points at which there is reference to the application of an enactment with or without modifications. I apologise to the Committee that two of the amendments were published only this morning. They were tabled at the same time as the others and I do not know at what point they got lost—there is no particular significance in that.
I missed whether the noble Baroness in her reference to existing legislation was using the term “necessary modifications” as a quote from legislation or whether it was an assurance. If it is in other legislation, that makes my case; if not, I am not clear where the assurance will be in the Bill that the modifications will be “necessary” only for the purposes that she explained. On the face of it, to be able to apply an enactment with, by definition, unnecessary modifications, gives the Secretary of State a very wide power. I am sorry if I am being dim. It is entirely possible that I have lost the plot, but assurances not just from the Dispatch Box but in the Bill as to how the power will be used would be the most desirable way to go.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for explaining her amendments. She explained that they are designed to seek further clarification of the scope of the order-making powers conferred on the Home Secretary to enable provisions of local policing and fire and rescue enactments to be applied to a PCC in relation to their fire and rescue functions, and to a combined authority mayor, where they are exercising the single-employer model.
The ability to apply provisions for such enactments with or without modifications is important to ensure that PCCs and combined authority mayors have the necessary powers and duties to exercise their functions effectively. This may include the ability to make consequential modifications as well as those that are necessary in the strictest sense to enact the arrangements contained within the PCC’s fire governance proposal.
I reassure the noble Baroness that the Home Secretary would need to exercise these powers reasonably and rationally and would do so only on the basis of applying provisions that are consequential on the implementation of either the governance or single-employer models. The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments will also play an important role in scrutinising the use of the delegated powers and would make a report if in its view the Home Secretary had acted outside her powers or used them in an unusual or unexpected way. I should add that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee did not raise any concerns in respect of the existing order-making powers in the Bill relating to local policing enactments.
On the basis of these assurances, I hope that noble Lords will support the government amendments.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness. She seemed for most of her response to be making my case for me. I noted that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee had not commented on this—but, undeterred, I ploughed on. I will want to read precisely what she said, but I think that the important point is about the reasonableness of any modification made by the Secretary of State and how it relates to what she and I are both describing as “necessary”. I will not pursue the point this evening, but it is no reflection on her if I say that an assurance that the Secretary of State will do the right thing does not cut it for me with legislation.
Amendment 16 agreed.
My Lords, before I call Amendment 17, I have to tell noble Lords that if it is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment 18.
17: Schedule 1, page 176, leave out lines 24 and 25
My Lords, I always relish advice to the Committee that an amendment that we know has no hope of being agreed today may pre-empt a government amendment. Amendments 17 and 19 relate to the provision for the delegation of functions of the fire and rescue authorities and the two new subsections which deal with further delegation. My question—again probing—is why further delegation is required, as distinct from a chief simply arranging for functions to be carried out by his or her officers or staff. Later, new Section 4I(4), I think, seems to envisage arranging for functions to be carried out, and that is very different from delegation. I am sorry that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, is not here, because he might agree with me about the principle that someone to whom something is delegated cannot himself delegate that thing. Will the Minister also confirm that subsections (4) and (5) of new Section 4H apply to further delegation?
The other amendments in the group are consequential, and I am sure that if my amendment were agreed, other consequentials would be required—but there is a limit. I beg to move.
My Lords, as the noble Baroness explained, these amendments are about the delegation of fire and rescue functions by a police and crime commissioner and sub-delegation by the chief constable under a single-employer model. I understand these to be probing amendments—the noble Baroness confirmed that—which are designed to test why arrangements for delegation are required, and to ensure that the chief fire officer or chief constable, as appropriate, will continue to have operational responsibility. I hope to be able to reassure the noble Baroness on both those points.
Where an order is made transferring responsibility for the fire and rescue service to the police and crime commissioner under new Section 4A of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004, it is necessary for that order to make provision about the delegation of functions by the police and crime commissioner. As the fire and rescue authority, the PCC will have the functions of the fire and rescue service vested in it as a corporate sole. However, in practice we would expect it to delegate the majority of functions to a chief fire officer who, under arrangements to be made by the PCC, would have operational responsibility for the service.
The order therefore needs to specify which functions may or may not be delegated, including the strategic functions that must be performed by the PCC and those operational functions we would expect to be performed by the chief fire officer. It is right that the PCC should be enabled by the order to delegate fire and rescue functions to its fire and rescue staff, including firefighters, to secure the delivery of an efficient and effective fire service. I have also tabled technical amendments to ensure that the PCC is able to delegate fire and rescue functions to the staff of its PCC office so that the office can operate effectively, appoint a single chief executive and share policy support if it so wishes to drive efficiency.
Where an order is made under new Section 4H of the 2004 Act implementing the single-employer model at the request of a PCC, it is also necessary for that order to make provision about the delegation of functions by the chief officer. The chief officer will legally be the chief constable of the police force area, but will be the employer of both police and fire and rescue personnel. In order to secure the effective delivery of the fire and rescue service, the chief officer will need to be able to sub-delegate functions that have been delegated to them by the PCC to fire and rescue staff who have transferred to them, as well as to any fire and rescue staff they employ, including firefighters.
Additionally, to help them to maximise the benefits of collaboration between the two services, the chief officer will also be able to delegate fire and rescue functions to their police personnel. However, let me be absolutely clear that this is not an operational merger, as I have said before. The delegation of functions is subject to the clear restriction that police officers cannot be employed for the purposes of fighting fires and that firefighters cannot perform functions that are reserved for warranted officers.
Finally, I would add that, in practice, the arrangements with regard to the delegation of functions will operate in similar fashion to the way in which they do now. The 2004 Act confers functions on fire and rescue authorities, but those authorities do not discharge all functions themselves. Many are delegated to a chief fire officer and sub-delegated beyond that. We need similar flexibility under the scheme provided for in the Bill. With that explanation, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, the first thing I should do is thank the Minister for putting on the record the answer to a question that I put to the Bill team a little while ago seeking some clarification. It is good to have that on the record. That was in regard to officers in different types of authority—police and fire—carrying out one another’s functions.
I remain a bit confused about sub-delegation, as distinct from arranging for functions to be carried out by what under this scheme is a sub-delegatee—I do not know whether that is the right word for the person further down the chain. I will think about what the Minister has said, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 17 withdrawn.
18: Schedule 1, page 176, line 25, after “authority” insert “or of the relevant police and crime commissioner”
Amendment 18 agreed.
Amendment 19 not moved.
Amendments 20 to 22
20: Schedule 1, page 176, line 27, after “authority” insert “or of the relevant police and crime commissioner”
21: Schedule 1, page 176, line 33, at end insert—
““the relevant police and crime commissioner” means the police and crime commissioner for that police area.”
22: Schedule 1, page 176, line 33, at end insert—
“(11A) References in subsection (10) to a member of staff of a police and crime commissioner are to any of the following persons appointed under Schedule 1 to the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011—(a) the commissioner’s chief executive;(b) the commissioner’s chief finance officer;(c) other staff.”
Amendments 20 to 22 agreed.
Amendments 23 and 24 not moved.
Amendments 25 to 28
25: Schedule 1, page 179, line 16, leave out from “the” to end of line 18 and insert “delegation by such a chief constable of the chief constable’s fire and rescue functions.”
26: Schedule 1, page 179, line 20, leave out “of the fire and rescue authority” and insert “mentioned in that subsection”
27: Schedule 1, page 179, line 22, leave out “of the authority” and insert “mentioned in that subsection”
28: Schedule 1, page 179, line 24, leave out “the functions of the authority” and insert “such of the functions mentioned in that subsection as are”
Amendments 25 to 28 agreed.
Amendments 29 and 30 not moved.
31: Schedule 1, page 179, line 47, at end insert—
“(6A) In this section “fire and rescue functions”, in relation to a chief constable means— (a) functions which are delegated to the chief constable under provision made under subsection (1)(a), and(b) functions relating to fire and rescue services which are conferred on the chief constable by or by virtue of any enactment.”
Amendment 31 agreed.
Amendment 32 not moved.
Amendments 33 to 37
33: Schedule 1, page 180, line 14, leave out from second “of” to end of line 15 and insert “the chief constable’s fire and rescue functions.”
34: Schedule 1, page 180, line 37, leave out from “of” to end of line 38 and insert “the chief constable’s fire and rescue functions.”
35: Schedule 1, page 181, line 3, leave out from “of” to end of line 4 and insert “the chief constable’s fire and rescue functions;”
36: Schedule 1, page 181, line 36, after “section” insert “—
“fire and rescue functions” has the same meaning as in section 4H;”
37: Schedule 1, page 182, line 18, after “delegated” insert “to the chief constable”
Amendments 33 to 37 agreed.
38: Schedule 1, page 183, line 7, at end insert—
“4KA Application of fire and rescue provisions(1) The Secretary of State may by order—(a) apply (with or without modifications) any provision of a fire and rescue enactment in relation to a person within subsection (2);(b) make, in relation to a person within subsection (2), provision corresponding or similar to any provision of a fire and rescue enactment.(2) Those persons are—(a) a chief constable of a police force for a police area to whom an order under section 4H applies,(b) a member of staff transferred to such a chief constable under a scheme under section 4I(1),(c) a member of staff appointed by such a chief constable under section 4I(4),(d) a member of such a chief constable’s police force to whom functions have been delegated by virtue of section 4H(1)(b), and(e) a member of the civilian staff of such a police force (as defined by section 102(4) of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011) to whom functions have been delegated by virtue of section 4H(1)(b).(3) The power conferred by subsection (1)(a) or (b) includes power to apply (with or without modifications) any provision made under a fire and rescue enactment or make provision corresponding or similar to any such provision.(4) The Secretary of State may by order amend, revoke or repeal a provision of or made under an enactment in consequence of provision made by virtue of subsection (1).(5) In this section “fire and rescue enactment” means an enactment relating to a fire and rescue authority (including, in particular, an enactment relating to an employee of such an authority or property of such an authority). This includes an enactment contained in this Act.(6) References in this section to an enactment or to provision made under an enactment are to an enactment whenever passed or (as the case may be) to provision whenever the instrument containing it is made.”
Amendment 38A, as an amendment to Amendment 38, not moved.
Amendment 39, as an amendment to Amendment 38, not moved.
Amendment 38 agreed.
Amendment 40 not moved.
Amendments 41 to 43
41: Schedule 1, page 183, line 26, leave out “Act” and insert “enactment”
42: Schedule 1, page 183, line 27, at end insert—
“(6) References in this section to an enactment or to provision made under an enactment are to an enactment whenever passed or (as the case may be) to provision whenever the instrument containing it is made.””
43: Schedule 1, page 184, line 2, at end insert—
“In section 21 (Fire and Rescue National Framework) after subsection (2) insert—“(2A) The Framework may contain different provision for different descriptions of fire and rescue authority.””
Amendments 41 to 43 agreed.
Amendment 44 not moved.
45: Schedule 1, page 185, line 22, at end insert—
“(2A) The cost of obtaining the information referred to in sub-paragraph (2) shall be met by the police and crime commissioner.”
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville would have moved and spoken to the amendments in this group had she been able to be here. Her experience is very long and very current. That is what has led to these amendments, although she is not alone in wishing to pursue the points. We have Amendments 45, 47, 49, 52, 53, 54 and 55 in this group.
Under new paragraph 2(2) there will be an obligation on a fire and rescue authority to provide information. This is rarely a cost-free exercise, as anyone who has ever observed it or had to take part in it will know. A police and crime commissioner can request information —which is not unreasonable—if he is considering proposing a collaboration arrangement, but should he, perhaps rather casually, put the fire and rescue authority to a cost in providing that information? At the least, we should be assured that he cannot put the authority to a lot of cost simply by requiring information in a particular form. That can be very tedious and absorb many hours of work simply by changing the way information is presented because the person who has asked for it wants it in a particular form. It is not unknown for that sort of thing to happen. There are reasonable requirements, which is a limitation, but they apply only to the information, not to the form it takes.
With regard to Amendment 47, there is a provision in the Bill to seek views. In our view, that is inadequate. Such a significant matter would be expected to require full consultation. “Seeking views” would be understood to mean less than consultation. It suggests something less formal, thorough and precise. Amendment 49 would follow on from Amendment 47: the results of the consultation should be published.
Labour’s Amendment 48 raises an important point: new paragraph 3(b) seems to put policing above fire and rescue. However, when you have more than one fire and rescue authority in a police force area, as in the Thames Valley, for instance, only the fire and rescue people would be consulted. Should not everyone affected be consulted?
Amendments 52 and 53 would require all relevant local authorities to agree. There is a very important underlying issue here: the role of local government, which has in many ways been reduced over the years. No doubt I show my age here but it used to be seen as bringing everything together; it was a political expression of local community. Now, as I observe from well outside it, it seems to be expected to pick up what is left from other actors.
Without wishing to detract from the earlier amendments to which I have spoken, why is it necessary to allow, under Amendment 54, for modification, and what might require modifying? If you look at new Section 4A, you begin to wonder what might come within “modifications”. It does not seem to refer to a corporation sole, nor to the point about a police and crime commissioner for a different area being the fire and rescue authority. I cannot quite follow it.
Amendment 55 addresses which local authorities are relevant for the purposes of the schedule. It suggests that neighbouring authorities outside the area of the fire and rescue authority might well be affected and should come within the definition so as to enjoy the rights of relevant local authorities. Given the references made this afternoon to the innovations and co-operation between services that have already taken place, this is a further argument that neighbouring authorities ought to fall within the scope of the exercise. I beg to move Amendment 45.
We have a number of amendments in this group. The first, Amendment 46, provides that, before a police and crime commissioner submits a proposal to take over a fire and rescue authority, the commissioner must consult each relevant fire and rescue authority and any local authority or part thereof whose area forms part of the fire and rescue authority area, in addition to seeking the views of people in the commissioner’s police area about the proposal. This is a particularly relevant and apposite amendment, with the requirement to consult widely. That requirement applies to the other amendments that we have tabled, since the Minister has already confirmed that, when it comes to a PCC making a proposal to take over a fire and rescue authority, there will be no requirement to look at alternative options that might be better, such as collaboration agreements involving a wider range of emergency services and other relevant organisations. There is hence a need to make sure that there is very thorough and effective consultation on the PCC proposal and that every effort is made to ensure that such proposals have full support and meet the wishes of those most affected.
Amendment 48, provides that police and crime commissioners seek the views of people in the fire and rescue authority area before submitting a proposal. I note the comment made about the amendment by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, but since it is the fire and rescue service that is to be taken over, those people who will be most affected are those within the fire and rescue authority area. It is their fire and rescue service that is likely to be considerably affected by the proposed takeover.
Amendment 50 provides that a Section 4A proposal, whether modified or not, may be made only with the consent of all relevant local authorities and fire and rescue authorities or, if that is not achieved, by a majority vote in support of the proposal in a referendum of the local population. The purpose of this amendment is to explore the extent to which the Government intend to make sure that there is genuine, majority consent to what the PCC is proposing among those affected. Under the terms of the Bill, it is clear that a proposal to take over a fire and rescue authority by a police and crime commissioner could be driven through irrespective of the views expressed, including those expressed by other elected representatives.
Amendment 51, the final amendment that we tabled in the group, provides that the Secretary of State must obtain an independent assessment of the police and crime commissioner’s proposals. There is, of course, provision already in the Bill for the Secretary of State to obtain an independent assessment, but apparently that assessment need not be by somebody with some expertise in looking at the issues involved or in looking at the proposals and the kind of justification for those proposals that would be put forward. Hence the amendment, which would provide that the independent assessment of the proposal will be,
“from an independent panel of experts chosen by the relevant police and crime commissioner and the relevant local authorities”.
I hope that the Minister, even if it is not her intention to accept the amendments—I am not anticipating that she is about to do so—will at least be willing and able on behalf of the Government to address the concerns that these amendments represent.
I accept the point that the Minister made earlier, that I was not really raising my point in respect of the appropriate group of amendments. Hence, I willingly agreed to put it back and raise the issue when this group of amendments on consultation was discussed. Although the Bill refers to consultation and seeking the views of certain groups and people, it does not appear to provide any statutory provision for the views to be sought of the employees of the organisations that will be affected, which are the police forces and fire and rescue services concerned, and their representative organisations—that is, the trade unions involved, when there are trade unions representing them. Will the Minister address that point?
My Lords, these amendments raise a number of important points about the process for bringing forward a proposal for a police and crime commissioner to take on the governance of the fire and rescue service. I shall take each of the amendments tabled in turn.
Amendment 45 would require a police and crime commissioner to meet the costs incurred by a fire and rescue authority in providing information requested by the PCC for the purposes of the preparation of his or her proposals. To produce a comprehensive business case, police and crime commissioners will have to work with the fire and rescue authorities in their police area. This will obviously require a degree of information-sharing, which is why the Bill places a duty on fire and rescue authorities to co-operate with police and crime commissioners in the development of their proposals.
Requiring police and crime commissioners to meet the costs incurred would be contrary to the principle of local collaboration—we talked about common costs—and could introduce barriers to effective co-operation between police and crime commissioners and fire and rescue authorities. I want to be clear that, under the duty, fire and rescue authorities are required to provide only such information as the police and crime commissioner might reasonably require. Therefore, fire and rescue authorities would already have grounds to refuse a request if they considered it to be unreasonable. That strikes the right balance between ensuring that police and crime commissioners are able to prepare a robust business case, while safeguarding fire and rescue authorities from being subjected to unreasonable and burdensome requests.
Amendments 45 to 49 and Amendment 55 all deal, in one way or another, with the issue of consultation. Amendment 47 requires a PCC to consult fully with people in their local police area before submitting their proposal to the Home Secretary. The Bill already requires a PCC to seek the views of people in their police area, but provides flexibility over how this is done. That is important to enable PCCs to reflect the different local arrangements that exist in different areas.
I note that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, expressed some scepticism about the requirement to seek local views, and whether it was robust enough. Just to speak from my own experiences in Greater Manchester, given how the PCC—we have an interim mayor who is also an interim PCC—and all the various authorities and agencies interact with each other, it is no environment for an autocrat to ignore the feelings of local authorities or other agencies with which he or she works. It would make for a very unsatisfactory outcome if he or she ploughed ahead regardless, without considering the concerns of other bodies. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, mentioned trade unions, which in some places are crucial in the determination of these things; local authorities most certainly are, in Greater Manchester. The way it operates is collegiate, and always has been, for some 30 years. I give noble Lords the comfort from my own experiences. As a lone Conservative in a group of 10 local authorities, of which one other was Lib Dem, I know that to work in that collegiate way is crucial to the fortunes of the combined authority and the PCC. I contend that, in practice, what the noble Baroness suggests might happen is very unlikely to happen.
Amendment 48 seeks to replace the reference to the police area with one to the fire and rescue authority area. Such a change would, however, have no material effect. Any proposal put forward by a PCC, or two PCCs acting jointly, must maintain co-terminous police and fire and rescue authority areas, as we have said. For example, any proposal put forward by the Sussex PCC must relate to taking on the governance of both East and West Sussex fire and rescue authorities. It follows that, in seeking the views of people in the Sussex police area, the PCC would also seek the views of people in the two affected fire and rescue authority areas.
The noble Lord talked about referenda. Those are not just expensive undertakings—we estimate the average cost in respect of an average-sized police force would be £1.6 million—but lengthy. We are talking about individuals who are directly elected by the people; making them additionally go through a referendum when they are already mandated by the people would probably not be wise. There is a remedy to PCCs not entirely doing what is in the best interests of local people: voting them out at the next election.
Amendment 49 makes provision for a PCC to publish the outcome of the consultation on their local business case. I recognise the important principle behind this amendment and am sympathetic to it. It is generally considered good practice for public bodies to be clear and transparent about the outcome of any public consultation, and we would not expect a PCC to behave any differently in this instance. Accordingly, I would be content to consider this amendment further in advance of Report.
Amendment 55 seeks to extend the duty on a PCC to consult relevant local authorities on a local business case to encompass any local authority which might be affected by the proposed transfer. I hope the noble Baroness will agree that, in the example I have given, it would almost be a given that local authorities would be involved in the process.
A police and crime commissioner’s proposals will need to set out clearly the benefits that a transfer of governance will bring. It is only right that a local authority that shares its boundaries with the fire and rescue authority or whose boundaries fall within the fire and rescue authority should definitely have its say, but I do not agree that it is necessary to extend this duty any further. While it is true that decisions on the deployment of resources have the potential to impact on neighbouring local authority areas, or authorities with which the fire and rescue authority collaborates, I want to be clear that these are operational issues and, as such, would be a matter for the chief fire officer, rather than for the PCC’s business case. Furthermore, where a police and crime commissioner intends to submit a local business case, the Bill does not prohibit consulting with additional local authorities, should they wish to do so.
Amendment 46 covers similar ground, but would add the relevant fire and rescue authority to the list of consultees. The Bill confers a duty on the PCC to consult each relevant authority on their proposal. This ensures that the consultation requirement captures all local authorities that operate fire and rescue committees or nominate members to a combined or metropolitan fire and rescue authority. We therefore do not agree that it is necessary separately to provide for consultation with fire and rescue authorities.
Amendments 50 and 53, when taken together, seek to introduce a requirement for there to be local agreement—either by all relevant local authorities or signified through a local referendum—to any proposal by a PCC to take on the governance of fire and rescue in their local area. I must reiterate yet again that the Government are not mandating the transfer of fire and rescue authorities to police and crime commissioners. These provisions are locally enabling and acknowledge that local leaders are best placed to assess what would work best in their areas. That is why a PCC wishing to take on responsibility for fire and rescue will have to work with the relevant fire and rescue authority, or authorities, to prepare a business case, setting out their assessment of the benefits and any costs of a transfer. The business case will, in particular, need to show how their proposals would be in the interests of either economy, efficiency and effectiveness on one hand, or public safety on the other. Only where the Home Secretary is satisfied that there is a strong case demonstrating that one or both these tests have been met, will she make an order for the transfer of governance. Furthermore, the PCC will be required to consult locally on their proposals, which will give affected parties the chance to have their say.
It would not be appropriate for fire and rescue authorities to have to agree to their own abolition in order for a transfer of governance to go ahead. Where a PCC does not have local agreement but still considers that there is a strong local case, he or she may submit the business case to the Home Secretary but must additionally provide information on the objections raised and their response to them. In such cases, the Home Secretary will be required to give consideration to those objections and to secure an independent assessment of the PCC’s business case before she takes a view on whether to give effect to the transfer. I assure the Committee that this is not simply a case of the Home Secretary rubber-stamping a PCC’s proposal. It will be a robust, independent process that allows those with the appropriate experience and expertise—for example, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary or the Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser—to scrutinise the case made by the PCC and to verify whether or not there is a valid case for a transfer to take place. Where there is clear merit in a transfer taking place that could benefit local communities, it would be wrong to allow vested local interests to stand in the way. Alternatively, if there is validity in the local opposition, the independent review process will substantiate it.
We believe that the existing provisions in the Bill are more than adequate to ensure that a robust assessment is made, local views are taken into account and the business case is properly scrutinised. I am concerned that these amendments would introduce unnecessary and unjustifiable barriers that serve to inhibit positive collaboration taking place at a local level. Permitting local authorities a right of veto could delay or prevent the implementation of important reforms that would be in the best interests of local communities. I have spoken about the costs of a referendum and the length of time that it would take.
I just go back to the point on trade unions: further to what I said to noble Lords, we would expect a PCC bringing forward a proposal to inform and consult trade union representatives on the implications of the proposal for staff. The Home Secretary would expect details of this consultation with staff representatives to be included in the business case. I said that I would expect it; I am now making it clear that the Government would expect that.
Amendment 51 relates to the process to be applied where there is no local agreement to a PCC’s proposal. In such cases, the Bill requires the Home Secretary to seek an independent assessment and she must also take into account the results from the PCC’s local consultation. The independent assessment commissioned could be from the Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, or an otherwise independent person with appropriate expertise. The Home Secretary would then decide whether or not to approve the transfer to the PCC based on the findings of that independent assessment. The Government are confident that the provisions in the Bill requiring the independent assessment of a business case where local agreement cannot be reached are suitably robust and will help the Home Secretary to make an impartial determination. I am not persuaded that a requirement on the Home Secretary to seek advice from a panel of experts selected by the PCC and relevant local authorities would lead to any greater independence. Indeed, I fear the reverse: that such an arrangement would be less independent, as the PCC and relevant local authorities may be tempted to nominate people sympathetic to their views.
Finally, Amendments 52 and 54 seek to remove the Home Secretary’s ability to approve a police and crime commissioner’s proposal to take on the governance of the fire and rescue service with modifications. The idea behind the amendments is that, in practice, such modifications, where required, would usually be minimal to ensure a PCC is able fully to discharge their fire and rescue functions. In such cases, it would not be proportionate or practical to require a PCC to carry out a further consultation on their local business case and to resubmit it to the Home Secretary. I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that the Home Secretary would be unable to act unilaterally to make any changes to a police and crime commissioner’s proposal. She would be under a clear duty to consult the relevant PCC and fire and rescue authorities and to take their views into consideration before taking action.
I apologise for my lengthy response but this is an important set of amendments. I will certainly take away Amendment 49 and give it further sympathetic consideration, but I hope that the Committee will understand why we believe that the procedures for making a Section 4A order, as currently provided for in Schedule 1 to the Bill, are robust. I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
I am glad to hear that the Government will consider Amendment 49, and I thank the Minister for that. I am not surprised to hear that Mancunians behave well; I know that they would have the sense to ensure that Councillor Williams was on side with proposals. Of course, I agree about the bad climate that could be created if people behaved with a lack of sense, but that does not answer at all my point on the legislative provision. I have not yet seen what harm there might be in my amendment, which, as we hear from the noble Baroness, expresses what might happen in practice.
As the Minister said, and as I anticipated in my opening remarks, we are talking about information that a PCC may reasonably require from the fire and rescue authority, and there might be an issue in asking it to provide that information in a particular form. We have all come across having to fill in boxes while thinking, “If I actually gave you this document, it would give you the answers to all my points”. That is one of the things which is in my mind; I am not sure whether it was in the mind of my noble friend Lady Bakewell. However, I must make it clear that we in no way resist co-operation in this situation. I will, of course, want to talk to my noble friend and, indeed, to the Local Government Association, which has been much concerned with this whole area of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 45 withdrawn.
Amendments 46 to 55 not moved.
Amendments 56 to 70
56: Schedule 1, page 190, leave out lines 4 to 6 and insert—
“(b) references to the chief officer’s functions were to the relevant chief constable’s fire and rescue functions.”
57: Schedule 1, page 191, line 7, leave out “to (4), (6), (7)”
58: Schedule 1, page 191, line 19, at end insert—
“(ca) the references in subsections (5) and (6) to Schedules 1 and 5 were to those Schedules as applied by this Schedule,”
59: Schedule 1, page 191, line 20, leave out “subsection (6) to Schedules 1 and” and insert “those subsections to Schedule”
60: Schedule 1, page 191, line 36, at end insert—
“Conduct of fire and rescue authority9A_ Section 31 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 (conduct of police and crime commissioner etc) applies in relation to a holder of the office of relevant fire and rescue authority as it applies in relation to a holder of the office of police and crime commissioner.”
61: Schedule 1, page 192, line 36, at end insert—
“Regulations about complaints and conduct matters 12_(1) Schedule 7 to the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 (regulations about complaints and conduct matters) applies in relation to a holder of the office of relevant fire and rescue authority as it applies in relation to a holder of the office of police and crime commissioner, subject to sub-paragraph (2)._(2) As applied by sub-paragraph (1), that Schedule has effect as if references to police and crime panels were to relevant police and crime panels.””
62: Schedule 1, page 193, line 7, at end insert—
“Landlord and Tenant Act 1954 (c. 56)
In section 69(1) of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954 (interpretation) in the definition of “local authority” for “or a combined authority established under section 103 of that Act” substitute “, a combined authority established under section 103 of that Act or a fire and rescue authority created by an order under section 4A of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004”.”
63: Schedule 1, page 194, line 2, at end insert—
“ In section 120 (acquisition of land by agreement) after subsection (3A) insert—“(3B) A fire and rescue authority created by an order under section 4A of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 is to be treated as a principal council for the purposes of this section (apart from subsection (1)(b)).””
64: Schedule 1, page 194, line 15, at end insert—
“_ In section 229 (photographic copies of documents) in subsection (8) (meaning of “local authority”) after “a combined authority,” insert “a fire and rescue authority created by an order under section 4A of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004,”.In section 231 (service of notices on local authorities, etc) in subsection (4) (meaning of “local authority”) after “a combined authority,” insert “a fire and rescue authority created by an order under section 4A of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004,”.In section 232 (public notices) in subsection (1A) (meaning of “local authority”) after “a combined authority,” insert “a fire and rescue authority created by an order under section 4A of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004,”.In section 233 (service of notices by local authorities) in subsection (11) (meaning of “local authority”) after “a combined authority,” insert “a fire and rescue authority created by an order under section 4A of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004,”.In section 234 (authentication of documents) in subsection (4) (meaning of “local authority”) after “a combined authority,” insert “a fire and rescue authority created by an order under section 4A of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004,”.”
65: Schedule 1, page 198, line 24, after “(8)” insert “—
(a) in the definition of “chief finance officer” after “Schedule 1 to the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011” insert “, section 4D(4) of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004”, and(b) ”
66: Schedule 1, page 198, line 29, leave out “the following provisions of this Part” and insert “section 7”
67: Schedule 1, page 198, leave out lines 32 to 35
68: Schedule 1, page 199, line 11, at end insert—
“_ The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 is amended as follows.”
69: Schedule 1, page 199, line 12, leave out “of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990”
70: Schedule 1, page 199, line 16, at end insert—
“ In Schedule 14 (procedure for footpaths and bridleway orders) in paragraph 1(3) (meaning of “council”) for “or a combined authority established under section 103 of that Act” substitute “, a combined authority established under section 103 of that Act or a fire and rescue authority created by an order under section 4A of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004”.”
Amendments 56 to 70 agreed.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.41 pm.