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Should Fire and Rescue Services have a statutory duty to deal with flooding?

Published Friday, May 27, 2016

The Fire Brigades Union is campaigning for a statutory duty for firefighters to attend floods. There is an online petition, and the issue has been debated in Parliament. This Briefing Paper sets out the background and the arguments.

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There is an online petition to make flood rescue a statutory duty of Fire and Rescue Services in England and Wales.  The Fire Brigades Union is campaigning on this issue.

The current law in England and Wales

Under the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004, English and Welsh Fire and Rescue Authorities (FRAs) have a power to respond to floods.  However, they do not have a statutory duty to do so. Part 2 of the Act contains statutory duties to provide for fire safety, fire-fighting and dealing with road traffic accidents.

Section 9 gives the Secretary of State the power to give FRAs functions  relating to other emergencies.  This is an order-making power, so primary legislation would not be necessary to create a statutory duty to deal with flooding.

Elsewhere in the UK

Scotland introduced a statutory duty to make provision to deal with flooding in April 2005.  Northern Ireland did the same in January 2012.

The campaign

The Fire Brigades Union argues that the Government should guarantee more flood related resources for fire and rescue services and should make flood rescue a statutory duty of the fire and rescue service.  The statutory duty would, in its view, ensure that flood risks were fully assessed and the necessary resources made available to tackling major flooding.

The FBU is calling for the public to lobby their MPs on this issue.

What happened under the last Labour Government?

The 2008 Pitt Review into the 2007 floods said that there should be a fully funded national capability for flood rescue “underpinned as necessary by a statutory duty”. However, the Labour Government decided that this was not necessary; this was because fire and rescue services already provided flood rescue services and had been given additional resources for this work.

The debate in Parliament

In a Written Answer in December 2015, the Policing and Fire Minister Mike Penning said the Government had had "no recent representations on this issue". The good response of fire services to flooding in that year suggested that there was "no need for review".

Labour raised the issue during the Committee stage of the Policing and Crime Bill in March 2016. Mike Penning said in response that the Government was “looking carefully” at what had happened during the recent floods.  He did not rule out legislation but wanted to wait for the evidence.  Labour went on to move a New Clause on Report which would have introduced a statutory duty, but this was not added to the Bill.

The Bill was carried over into the current Session, and its progress can be seen on the Parliament website.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-7605

Author: Pat Strickland

Topic: Fire services

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