Question for Short Debate
To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the Independent Cultural Review of the London Fire Brigade, published on 26 November.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who are here to contribute and to listen. I am also grateful to the Minister for taking the trouble to have a word about some of these very serious issues yesterday, and especially to my noble friend Lady Thornton, with her long knowledge of the London Fire Brigade and expertise in equality issues. It is also very good to see the former Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, in his place opposite. Further, I am very grateful to the London Fire Commissioner and to the general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union for taking considerable trouble to engage with me in recent days. This is in sharp contrast to my experience of raising issues around, for example, the Metropolitan Police under its previous leadership.
The LFB and the FBU are to be respected for not doubling down—neither resorting to complacent comments about a few bad apples and so on, nor suggesting that to seek to reform the culture in a brave and essential uniformed service is in any way to undermine it. Quite the contrary, they have both persuaded me that they do not support the so-called “hero” mythology—and that is in a heroic service where members literally run towards burning buildings.
I congratulate Nazir Afzal on a painstaking report that makes painful and even devastating reading. I am sure that all firefighters in London, or certainly the overwhelming majority of them, are decent human beings. As noble Lords will remember, the report was commissioned after a young black firefighter and FBU member, Jaden Matthew Francois-Esprit, took his own life in August 2020. That is really not very long ago for the family, and I want to acknowledge that. His family had substantial concerns that he had been subject to racialised bullying.
As I am not an expert on the Fire Brigade, and there are experts in the Chamber, I shall focus on the words of others, and start with the report itself. Mr Afzal said that his review
“found evidence that supports a finding that LFB is institutionally misogynist and racist. We found dangerous levels of ingrained prejudice against women and the barriers faced by people of colour spoke for themselves. Not only were they more likely to be subject to disciplinary action, less likely to be promoted and largely unrepresented at senior levels, but they were also frequently the target of racist abuse.”
He also found examples of how this was driving some people of colour out of the brigade. There was, he said,
“evidence that talented people, committed to public service were being lost as a result.”
He was encouraged to see an increase in diversity at board level, but felt that
“there needs to be more urgency in rooting out deeply prejudiced staff and inappropriate behaviour and attitudes because they undermine the hard work of the many decent, public spirited people in the Brigade.”
He also found that
“LGBTQ+ staff and people who are neurologically diverse are treated unfavourably compared to others.”
That said, he emphasised that he wanted to make an “important distinction”—his words, not mine—with similar problems experienced by the Metropolitan Police, where there have been
“flagrant examples of police officers misusing power and allowing prejudice to shape their actions”.
Mr Afzal’s team did not find the same level of “operational bigotry”. I think that what he means by that is that, for the most part, he found the very bad and the worst behaviour to be directed towards comrades and colleagues within the fire service, rather than towards the public. That is not comforting, but it is a distinction. But this is not a service that is arresting people and stopping and searching them; it is rescuing people—but apparently not rescuing them on a racialised or sexualised basis.
It is encouraging that, for all the issues that management and unions have in this country at the moment—and have had for some time—my understanding is that the union encouraged its members to participate in Mr Afzal’s investigations, to co-operate with the team and to give testimony, including in an anonymised way. That was no doubt important, because the strength of this report, and one reason why it will be very hard for people to deny its veracity, is that so many people participated in the investigation. Continued partnership between the commissioner and the leadership of the service and the union will be essential; I really urge that partnership on both institutions, and more generally.
The Fire Brigades Union told me that
“senior management alone cannot address the serious concerns set out in the conclusions of the independent review. Many of the cases and incidents reported would already have been known to … senior management and many will have been a result of … failings, either individually or institutionally … The situation is set against a background of abolishing equality targets and national strategy since 2010”.
The union feels that the Government have perhaps focused on taking advice from the National Fire Chiefs Council, but that the advice needs to be more broadly taken, including in partnership with the FBU. I ask the Minister to consider having discussions with the FBU as the Government continue to digest and formulate their response to this very painful report.
I also want to quote the commissioner, Mr Rowe, whose colleagues got in touch with me when they saw this Question for Short Debate on the Order Paper. Much to my surprise, when the commissioner came to meet me and my noble friend Lady Thornton a couple of days ago, it has to be said that he came unescorted and unaccompanied by colleagues, advisers and so on. That was interesting and refreshing. He asked me to share this:
“The independent review of LFB’s culture led by Nazir Afzal is written by the 2,000 members of staff who responded to him. In that, it is both unassailable and undeniable. In hearing our staff so clearly and in such numbers, we must for their sake and the communities they serve accept this report and its recommendations in totality. My commitment to the many thousands of courageous public servants we employ and the people of London we serve, is that we will take that courage so often demonstrated in response and turn inwards to face this problem, seizing it as an opportunity to make real change.”
I return, finally, to Mr Afzal’s report and some final words from him:
“Unless a toxic culture that allows bullying and abuse to be normalised is tackled then I fear that, like Jaden, other firefighters will tragically take their lives. This review has to be a turning point, not just a talking point. Everyone who works for the emergency services should be afforded dignity at work. That is the very least they are owed.”
I am sure that all noble Lords would agree with that.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti on initiating this short debate about this important matter. I have an interest or two to declare. I am Labour’s women and equalities spokesperson and I declare another interest in that my husband, John Carr, was the chair of the GLC staff committee in 1981 and led the successful fight to have women and people of colour admitted into the London Fire Brigade. At the time I was chair of the Labour London Women’s Committee, and I recall that the London Fire Brigade and the Fire Brigades Union resisted the admittance of women as firefighters and, in some fire stations, did not make black and ethnic minority firefighters welcome either. Indeed, one of the first women admitted in the early 1980s, Lynne Gunning, undertook a formal disciplinary complaint about the initiation ceremony she endured at the Soho fire station, with urine thrown over her, indecent exposure and other horrible indignities. As I recall, one of the defences mounted by the FBU at the disciplinary hearing of one firefighter was that staff had not been trained to work with women. So it was with some depression that my husband and I read, 40 years later, the recent report about the culture in the London Fire Brigade.
As my noble friend said, the report was precipitated by the suicide of Jaden Matthew Francois-Esprit, who took his own life, tragically, in August 2020. It reflects long-standing issues with poor culture and behaviour in the brigade that were revealed, and that the many attempts to address these issues had not met with success. I wish to place on record my thanks to the commissioner, Andy Roe, who took the time, as my noble friend said, to come to meet us and who impressed me very much with his determination to lead massive change in the London fire brigade with regard to racism, misogyny and homophobia. I congratulate him, as well as Sadiq Khan, the mayor, and our new colleague, my noble friend Lady Twycross—Fiona Twycross, deputy mayor for fire and resilience at the GLA—on commissioning this thorough report, chaired by the excellent and independent Nazir Afzal, and for accepting its findings in full. I also congratulate the Fire Brigades Union on its welcome of the report and its encouragement of the participation that has made it such an important report.
It is important to note that this review is a thorough examination of the culture at the London Fire Brigade. There is no hiding place, therefore. I also note what Nazir Afzal said on Twitter when the report was released:
“Before you rush to judge #LFB please ask your organisation to look in the mirror.”
I reflect on our workplace, this Parliament, as justifying that comment. Afzal goes so far as to recommend national inquiries into other large public institutions, such as the NHS and the military. In response, the Secretary of State for Transport told Sophy Ridge on Sunday that he did not want lots of organisations
“setting up inquiries all over the place.”
I ask the Minister: is this an accurate summary of the Government’s position on wider investigations?
A brief search will reveal, for example, the case of a black fire commander in the West Midlands called Warren Simpson, who was called Frank for seven years by his colleagues, after Frank Bruno; in other words, demeaning and belittling and denying someone their name. He eventually sued for race discrimination for being passed over for promotion year after year. In 2015, the Fire Brigades Union took a motion at its conference from women firefighters which said:
“Conference is disgusted at the treatment some of our women members in the UK Fire and Rescue Services have experienced and continue to experience. Since the coalition Government came to power and abolished equality targets, we have seen an increase in discrimination and unwanted behaviour towards our women members. Our women members have been forced to raise grievances or pursue complaints over pregnancy discrimination, bullying and harassment, sexual harassment and sexual discrimination.”
I have to say, as an aside, that some of us told the coalition Government at the time that abolishing quality targets would lead to discrimination, and the women’s organisation in the Fire Brigades Union was absolutely correct.
However, the issue I wish to highlight, which is a challenge to all our uniformed services, is that in recent times we have seen reports of sex discrimination, misogyny, racism, racial discrimination and homophobia in our uniformed services in the UK—the Army, the Navy, the police and the fire brigade. All these are services we depend on to keep us safe and to be there to defend and protect us. All the people who work in them are prepared to put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of others and our society, and we are grateful and applaud their bravery and steadfastness every day and all the time. But, as this report points out, as well as the comradeship, interdependence and trust that are required for these necessarily hierarchical uniformed services to do their job, whether on their watch, in their unit or in their regiment, these wonderful and vital qualities also seem to produce, sometimes, a misplaced loyalty which covers up and does not challenge bad and sometimes illegal behaviours. This is not only counterproductive and undermining of their service and reputation but, as we have seen in recent times, it causes huge personal anguish. Surely this is the challenge which all of them face and the reason why Andy Roe’s leadership in embracing this report, which he admits was dreadfully painful to read, is so important and wide reaching. It is a start.
The reaction of the London Fire Brigade to this report—a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination, introducing new external complaints and investigation services, reviewing its HR processes, and making it easier and quicker for staff to access help—are all very important, but it will not be marking its own homework; it will be creating an independent audit committee to measure its progress. I think that is vital, but it is just a beginning. It is an important beginning, not just for the London Fire Brigade and for fire brigades across the UK, but for all our uniformed services.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, for securing this timely debate. It is important that this House considers the implications of this shocking review. I declare that I was not only the Fire Minister until July but the first London Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime. We have had two reviews—the Casey Review and Nazir Afzal’s review—that really give us pause for thought about what we need to do and what action needs to be taken so that the sort of racism and misogyny, to be frank, that the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, campaigned against is a thing of the past.
As someone now well into middle age, I was struck by the phrase in Nazir Afzal’s report that 20th-century banter can lead to the vile abuse, racism and misogyny that can lead to loss of life. I grew up in the 1980s and was at university in the 1990s. I think we all experienced that culture of the mob when growing up—there was quite disgraceful behaviour, and you had to choose. The best I can say about myself is that I chose not to participate and stayed silent. I was not brave enough to intervene, but perhaps I was a child. We must recognise that that sort of 20th-century banter has no place in the 21st century.
I was also struck by the comment of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, about the need for this to be not a talking point but a turning point. That is why I feel I need to reflect on why this happened and what we need to do about it in the time I have available.
As to why, both the police and the fire and rescue service are essential front-line public services that we need at times. The police keep us safe and the fire and rescue service rescues us; we rely on them in dire times. They go forward and face danger, and of course we love them for doing that, but they also promote from within their organisations. That means that every leader, whether of the union, right to the top of the national executive, or the leadership of the London Fire Brigade, passes through the ranks. It is a “promote from within” organisation.
I support the comments that we must commend the leadership of Andy Roe. He had the courage, with the support of the mayor, to commission this review and has accepted all 23 recommendations, but he has to look at the leadership around him and ask who is fostering that culture that is so unacceptable in the workplace and root them out, starting at the top and working all the way down. That is the only way that we will solve this problem.
I listened very carefully to the speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton. She talked about how co-operative the London Fire Brigade’s union has been in engaging on this, but I have heard different stories about the national executive of the Fire Brigades Union. I have had conversations with the noble Baroness, Lady Twycross; we need leadership in the union at a national level that is as strong as we see from Andy Roe as the commissioner of the London Fire Brigade. It is one of the world’s largest fire and rescue services, with 6,000 people working there. We have to look at a change in leadership to understand why this happened and what we can do to ensure that it never happens again.
What do we do about it, so that it is no longer a talking point? I spent two years and three months as Fire Minister. I will not say it was an easy—I may be using the wrong word—assignment; in fact, after a 20-year local government career, the two years as a Minister of State across levelling up and the Home Office were probably the hardest and least fulfilling of any element of public service in my political career.
However, we did produce one thing—an idea of the late James Brokenshire, who said to me, “Stephen, that thinking on reforming fire and rescue services needs to be wrapped up in a White Paper”. Nazir Afzal says that this culture spreads well beyond London; it is a national issue that requires a national solution. There is a blueprint for reform. To misquote Sir Robert Walpole, I am certainly no saint, no spartan, but I am a reformer. I ask my noble friend the Minister to think very carefully about how we can move now, based on this review, to deliver this White Paper, which sets out a blueprint for reform around improving the access of people of all types across this great global city to join the service—women, men and women of colour, and all minorities—to reflect the capital they serve. It would increase, drive forward and boost professionalism and strengthen governance.
The governance model in London is right in the sense that it is mayoral oversight, but the resources of the Deputy Mayor for Fire and Resilience are woefully inadequate, as is the structure elsewhere. Governance to hold people to account must be strengthened at the London level. Democratisation—having an elected leader in the mayor overseeing an important service such as this, with the requisite resources to challenge and support the commissioner to deliver for London—is important. I call on my noble friend to say whether this will happen. Having been in his seat for over two years, I know that it is often down to something called PBL—getting a legislative timeslot—but we need action now to bring about change in our fire and rescue services. We should implement the blueprint now and in full.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti for promoting this debate on this important issue, which I very much welcome. As someone who lives in London, I start by paying tribute to the men and women of the London Fire Brigade, to whom we all owe such an immense debt. I am also appalled by this report. I do not need to speak extensively on this issue: it speaks for itself and previous speakers have made the points.
I congratulate the commissioner on his approach to this issue, which is to be welcomed in a public servant. I have to declare a sort of interest as a past member of the Greater London Council in the early 1980s, when the first serious attempt was made to confront these issues in the London fire service. I always regarded the changes we brought about—or at least initiated—at that time as one of our successes. I very much endorse what my noble friend Lady Thornton said about the role of John Carr. It was a group effort but he very much led the changes that we made at that time. There are, however, two important lessons to be learned from that. First, obviously, we did not do enough. The problems have continued and still need to be addressed. Secondly, dealing with these issues is not a one-off: it is not something where you make some changes, set down some objectives, say “All will be well” and that is it—the issue is dealt with. It is an issue that must be the unrelenting and unceasing focus until that golden day when all society changes. It must always be a priority at all levels of management. If you read the report, you can pick out where the key failures have been and where they need to be addressed. It is a report very much to be welcomed.
It has to be said that having this report in itself represents some form of progress. Clearly, there is more to it than just the prejudice that persists throughout society as a whole. I am pleased that, as already mentioned, the report goes out of its way to distinguish the situation in the fire service from that described in the recent report about the culture in the Metropolitan Police Service. Nevertheless, there are sufficient similarities, along with reports about what has happened in the Armed Forces, to suggest that there is a particular dynamic at play in the disciplined services. This obviously involves initiation ceremonies and the like, but there seems to be more to it than that. There is a common link in what the report refers to as the “tight knit team spirit”. Done right, it is an essential element of the service, but too often it has clearly become toxic.
I shall not attempt a full analysis of this today, but my first question to the Minister is: do the Government see any general pattern—any wider pattern—here and, if so, what are they going to do about it? What responsibility do the Government have to address those issues and pay them more attention?
Secondly, the two recent reports relate to London, but do the Government see the need to take the initiative in encouraging or facilitating similar work across the country as a whole? Obviously, this will be part of the ongoing work of the relevant inspectorates, but is there a need to take a more proactive approach?
Turning specifically to consideration of what work needs to be done in the light of the report on the London Fire Brigade, I pay tribute to the response of the FBU. This has been clear. It regards the reported incidents of racism and misogyny as extremely alarming. It believes that there is no place for such behaviour or attitudes in the fire and rescue service or its trade union. It has also said that it will review the effectiveness of its own rules and policies in the light of issues raised in the report, as well the issues it has itself identified through its members. This is to be welcomed, as any solution requires the involvement of all parties, not least the Government. Can the Minister tell the House what plans they have to support the work needed arising from this report?
A section of the report perhaps most relevant here is that on the level of morale within our fire service. Obviously, low morale provides no excuse for what has happened—absolutely not—but it makes it more difficult to achieve a solution to make the necessary changes. The national Government have significant power over the fire service, so it is reasonable to ask them to tell us what they will do to improve the morale of the fire service in London and, by extension, across the country as a whole.
Finally, I would like a response from the Minister on what specific action the Government might consider is needed around the effect that the report will have on recruitment into the service. Anybody hearing about this report or reading it could well think that this is not the job for them. That is an important issue which the Government could have an important role in addressing.
My Lords, I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, for initiating this debate on a very important subject.
It has taken the tragic death of Jaden Francois-Esprit for the leadership of the London fire service to finally realise that there was something dark and very wrong with the behaviour of some firefighters. I pay tribute to Jaden’s family, who, in their grief, pursued a request for an investigation into the bullying culture that they felt Jaden had experienced. I too commend the work of the team led by Nazir Afzal for its meticulous and well-evidenced report.
I think I am the only non-Londoner speaking today, so we will see if the rest of my remarks fall on good ground or not. Before I turn to the findings of the report, I want to be absolutely clear that I have complete admiration for the difficult and dangerous tasks that firefighters undertake on behalf of Londoners—in fact, it happens across the country, but this is a London Fire Brigade report. As the report states,
“there were many examples of exemplary culture within LFB. Where it works well, there is a powerful sense of belonging and purpose.”
However, it uncovered evidence of a culture in some parts of the service that failed to uphold basic human rights and to treat everyone with dignity and respect.
Throughout the debate this afternoon, we have heard from across the House of the horrific acts of racism, misogyny, homophobia and discrimination on the grounds of faith and sexuality. The evidence shared by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, from 40 years ago—that is scary, is it not?—demonstrates that this issue is not new; despite the best efforts of previous governance arrangements, some changes were made but not enough. She rightly said that this is a lesson to us all, in any big organisation.
Such behaviours as we read about in this report are utterly degrading for the recipient and deprive the individual of basic human dignity. They lead to a lack of self-worth, which, as the report concludes, leads to men and women resigning from the LFB and, tragically, for some, the decision that life is not worth living.
The culture of any organisation lays the foundation for its success. As the report states:
“When you have an optimum culture then … Staff are motivated, teams are high performing and people want to join you.”
This excellent report has 23 recommendations. As we have heard, the Fire Service Commissioner has made clear his intention to implement all of them. I congratulate the commissioner on being so bold in that commitment, because it will not be straightforward. I look forward to the reports that will follow to demonstrate progress made.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, I looked at some elements that could have been included but were not. Why did this happen? What about the governance? Why was a toxic culture allowed to develop in some parts—I emphasise “some parts”—of the LFB? It was evident that managers were aware of behaviours that were plainly not acceptable from earlier reports on the same issue, but nothing seemed to happen. Some changes were made but nothing fundamental. Why were the normal routes for those being bullied and belittled not effective? Where were the whistleblowing and complaints systems? Why were horrendous behaviours not rooted out? Putting a noose on somebody’s locker—why was that not called out? Why did senior managers not feel empowered to deal with it? Was it just too difficult? As the report exposes, if allowed to go unchallenged, toxic behaviour is contagious in a very destructive way.
I turn now to the governance, and will perhaps come to some different conclusions from those of the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh. The Fire Service Commissioner is a corporation sole—in other words, he is it—with oversight from the Mayor of London and a deputy mayor, and an assembly scrutiny committee. I find it difficult to understand how a very large organisation such as the LFB can rely on a single person for its management. Private sector companies are always governed by a board of appointed individuals—non-executive directors—alongside the executive directors. They must take personal responsibility for the effectiveness of the company. Obviously such a board provides a forum for questioning and challenging decisions and proposals being made by the executive. Clearly, none of that can happen very easily in the LFB. Where is the external, independent, detailed examination of plans made in the LFB prior to decisions being made?
A more inclusive and collaborative governance model that enabled pre-decision questioning may go some way towards creating a forum where the culture of the organisation can be thoroughly dissected and then improved. Can the Minister respond to that? Do we have to continue with this sole person model?
Can the noble Baroness bring her speech to an end, please?
This has been a useful debate that has given us a forum to raise important issues. A future report, demonstrating the progress being made to root out those who revel in humiliating others, and to create an open, welcoming and supportive organisation, will be a worthy legacy for Jaden and all those whose lives have been harmed by the rotten culture detailed in this excellent report.
My Lords, I open by reflecting on the huge breadth of experience demonstrated in this short debate. We have heard from my noble friend Lord Davies about his days in the GLC. We have heard from my noble friend Lady Thornton, whose husband John Carr was in the GLC as well, about her own experience of these matters. I recall that my father was an alderman of the GLC at about this time; he would have been aware of these issues as well. A huge depth of experience has been exhibited here. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti on initiating this debate and on the tone in which she presented both the case and the questions for the Minister to answer today.
Some 2,000 firefighters in London have told their story through this report. That is in large part down to Linda Francois, the mother of Jaden. She campaigned for this report. As we have heard, Andy Roe, the commissioner, has said that he will take immediate action as a result of the report. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, I hope Linda Francois takes some comfort in the fact that she has played a leading role in the production of this watershed report.
I acknowledge that the London Fire Brigade is primarily the responsibility of the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and our new colleague, my noble friend Lady Twycross, who is the current Deputy Mayor for Fire and Resilience at the GLA. I also acknowledge and fully endorse the findings of the report, as they have been endorsed by Andy Roe, and congratulate Nazir Afzal on chairing the report.
However, the report’s findings should not be news to anyone. The Government have been put on notice time and again about cultural failings in our fire services. In 2015 an independent review in Essex found dangerous and pervasive bullying. In 2018 the inspectorate found failings in culture, values and the grievance process. In 2019 the inspectorate warned of an unchecked toxic culture in many services. In 2021 it found that genuine change was urgently needed.
Elements of this are similar to the recent reports on the Metropolitan Police. I acknowledge that Mr Afzal noted particular differences but, nevertheless, it is unlikely that the conduct identified is isolated to the London Fire Brigade. Does the Minister agree that it is for the Home Office to take responsibility for the conduct failures of fire brigades across the country—the London Fire Brigade as well as other fire services—not to sit back and leave matters to individual forces? What urgent work is the Home Office doing to identify whether similar poor standards of conduct exist in other fire services across the country? My noble friend Lord Davies also asked this.
Are the Government satisfied that the whistleblowing procedures are sufficiently robust and that firefighters and civilian staff feel empowered to report abusive behaviour? That was asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, when she questioned the existing procedures. Further, will the Minister commission a fundamental review of national standards and culture in our fire services? Will he agree to publish national statistics on misconduct? Will he commit to national professional standards?
The noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, suggested that the Government and the Home Office consult the Fire Brigades Union—a constructive suggestion, I thought. He also pointed out—it was news to me—the differences in approach between the national Fire Brigades Union and the London Fire Brigades Union. I wonder whether that could also be fed into the consultation process.
There were 11,000 fires across London last year. Every day, firefighters run towards danger and keep us safe. We are all grateful for that, of course. While we expect the best from all firefighters in London, we must stamp out this culture of misogyny and racism. I believe that, ultimately, it is for the Government to act.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, for securing this timely debate. London Fire Brigade’s culture review, conducted by Nazir Afzal, makes for incredibly uncomfortable reading, as many noble Lords have noted. In places, it is positively shocking.
At the outset, I express my gratitude to those who shared their testimonies. They have shown immense courage, and without their input we would not be here today discussing these vital issues. I note, as many noble Lords already have, that it was the London Fire Commissioner himself who decided to commission this report into the culture in his own service. Of course, the trigger for the review was the tragic suicide of Jaden Matthew Francois-Esprit, a trainee firefighter, as noted by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. I am glad to see that the London Fire Commissioner has already accepted all 23 recommendations made by Mr Afzal. I join other noble Lords in commending the London Fire Commissioner’s approach and its immediacy.
As noble Lords are aware, the review contains some terrible examples of racist and misogynist behaviour. It is utterly appalling for these reprehensible incidents to be happening anywhere, not least within an organisation that we look to for support in times of need. I am sad to say that these were not wholly unexpected findings. The culture review adds to an already compelling case for reform. The review, along with the Grenfell Tower and Manchester Arena inquiries and findings from His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, shows that there are systemic issues at play—issues that can be addressed only through wide-ranging reform. We have already seen progress through the work of His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, the Fire Standards Board and the National Fire Chiefs Council.
The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, asked what the Government are doing in response, and I will outline this now. His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services—or HMICFRS—shines a light on performance, helping identify what works and where improvement is needed. This includes considering how services promote their values and culture and ensure fairness and diversity. We expect its inspection findings to be taken seriously and action to be taken to improve performance. If sufficient progress is not being made in a service, HMICFRS’s new monitoring regime will provide a sharp focus on improvement. HMICFRS inspections and annual reports have highlighted issues with culture, and unfortunately it is clear that these are not confined to London Fire Brigade. HMICFRS’s recommendation that a code of ethics be developed for fire and rescue services was met with support from the Government and has been rapidly enacted.
I also highlight the independently chaired Fire Standards Board, created to boost professional standards in services. The Government have funded this work, enabling the publication of 12 standards, including standards on safeguarding and ethics. The Fire Standards Board will also shortly publish standards on leadership. Fire and rescue services must have regard to fire standards and should take action to embed these expectations.
We have also funded significant work through the National Fire Chiefs Council to drive improvements in ethics, talent management and inclusion. The noble Lord, Lord Davies, spoke about morale and recruitment. The work that the Government fund in the NFCC provides significant tools to fire and rescue services in supporting well-being, morale and recruitment. We are fully aware of the need to support the majority of firefighters.
We need to build on this good work. What we want, and what the public expect, are effective, modern services with a welcoming, respectful culture that enables all who work in them to thrive. That is why the Government, and my noble friend Lord Greenhalgh, published the fire reform White Paper in May. We remain firmly focused on delivering the change that is needed and have brought forward far-reaching plans for fire reform, which I will speak to shortly.
I turn to some of the specific points raised. The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, raised the role of the Fire Brigades Union. As the largest union representing firefighters, the FBU has a role to play in creating fundamental change, alongside the other fire unions. The Government have ongoing engagement with all representative bodies.
I also take note of the comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, but the existing work of HMICFRS, at a national level, means that a further national review would be duplicative. As I mentioned earlier, HMICFRS helps to identify what works and where improvement is needed. These reports are vital tools and we have no doubt that the leaders of services identified as requiring improvement or inadequate will take these findings very seriously and take urgent action to improve performance.
The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, spoke about governance in the London Fire Brigade. I highlight the fire, resilience and emergency planning committee, which has been set up to scrutinise how the London Fire Commissioner is exercising his functions. There is considerable value in a single point of accountability.
Finally, I turn to the future. We are committed to meaningful reform and change across the services. Inquiry findings and independent inspection show that further improvements are needed. Alongside action from services, the Government have an important part to play. The fire reform White Paper, published in May, set out reform proposals on three themes—people, professionalism and governance. Of particular relevance are proposals for measures such as placing a code of ethics on a statutory basis, introducing a mandatory oath, further developing direct entry schemes, and introducing mandatory training for leaders within the services.
I will not prejudge the consultation findings as we are carefully considering all the responses. However, our White Paper clearly demonstrates our ambitions to address cultural issues in fire and rescue services. It will also address the important points on governance raised by my noble friend Lord Greenhalgh and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. We will publish the Government’s response to the consultation in due course.
In closing, I reiterate my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, for securing this debate, and to all those who have spoken today. London Fire Brigade’s culture review highlighted some truly terrible incidents of racism and misogyny. It is absolutely right that this House has devoted time to this issue. I pay tribute once more to those who have told their stories and enabled a light to be shone on these matters. This must be a watershed moment: action is needed and we are committed to pursuing a major programme of fire reform.
There are, of course, a great many people across the fire and rescue sector who, as many noble Lords noted, perform their duties with courage, skill and professionalism. Both they and the public deserve a service of which we can all be proud. Achieving that is a key focus for the Government.