HC Deb 10 February 1862 vol 165 cc129-31

said, he rose to move for a Select Committee to inquire into the existing state of Legislation and of any existing arrangements for the protection of life and property against fires in the metropolis. He should have preferred, however, to have seen Government taking this step. When at a late period of the previous Session, he expressed his opinion that there was a necessity for inquiry on the subject he received an assurance from his right hon. Friend, then Secretary of State for the Home Department that he considered it to be one well deserving of attention. Having on that occasion stated the grounds on which he thought inquiry necessary he should not repeat them, more especially as he believed the Committee would be conceded. To show the necessity for legislation on the subject, it was sufficient to mention that the law as regarded London remained in the state it was in the year 1774. When they remembered the enormous increase in size of the metropolis and in the value of property since that time, it would appear extraordinary that London should be the only town left without any municipal arrangement or any Act of Parliament that was available to prevent the great risk and damage from fires. The hon. Member concluded by moving for the Committee.


said, he rose to second the motion. He expected from what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman lately, the Secretary for the Home Department last Session, that his successor would have brought forward a well-matured plan. For thirty years a few adventurers—a few companies trading for their own benefit— had been left to protect the metropolis against fire. It was now time for the Go vernment to either assist in carrying out the object which those companies had in view, or take the matter into their own hands. If they did not, the metropolis would be left to take care of itself; for a resolution had been passed recently by a Committee of the fire-insurance offices, in which they stated that they were not inclined to continue to protect the metropolis against fire on the present terms. The property which, was exposed to so great a risk was that from which the great bulk of the metropolitan revenue was raised by the Government.


said, it was agreed last Session that this was a very fit subject for inquiry before a Parliamentary Committee, and he should give his ready assent to the motion. It was, however, entirely distinct from the subject of fire insurance, and it would be desirable for the Committee to keep clear of that question. No pledge had been given last Session that her Majesty's Government would prepare a measure for taking out of the hands of the London fire offices the regulation of the means which were in operation for the extinction of fires. But when the House remembered that the law had not been changed since 1774, which imposed upon parishes the obligation of keeping a fire-engine—an obligation which in all but a few cases was most inefficiently performed—there was room for inquiry whether some change in the law was not called for under the altered circumstances of the present day. His right hon. Friend (Sir George Lewis) promised last year that the Government would ascertain during the recess what arrangements were in force elsewhere for extinguishing fires. He had! obtained a complete statement of the measures taken in Paris for this purpose, and, although many of these arrangements were inapplicable to London, they might suggest some improvements that deserved consideration by the Select Committee. It was impossible not to bear testimony to the very efficient character of the Fire Brigade of the metropolis, which, under the management of Mr. Braidwood, who lost his life in the courageous discharge of his duty, reflected much credit upon the fire offices, and was productive of much advantage to the public. Still it could not be forgotten that the offices had a direct interest in keeping up the Fire Brigade in an efficient state for the protection of property, for the destruction of which by tire they would have to pay. He was glad to assent to the appointment of the Com- mittee, and he trusted that its inquiries might lead to an improvement in the existing law and practice.

Motion agreed to. Select Committee appointed, "To inquire into the existing state of legislation, and of any existing arrangements, for the Protection of Life And Property against Fires in the Metropolis.