HC Deb 09 December 1935 vol 307 cc548-9

asked the Postmaster-General whether his attention has been called to the circumstances surrounding the fire at 27, Wimpole Street, W.1, on 10th November last, when a telephone subscriber in a house opposite was unable to obtain the Welbeck exchange for a period of some minutes in order to report fire; and whether he can make a statement about the matter?


I have received a full report on this case, and I find that the operator concerned at the Welbeck exchange, who is a reliable and experienced man, asserts emphatically that the first call received at that exchange at the time of the fire was from the wife of the subscriber in question at 6.40 a.m. It is not in dispute that this call was answered promptly; and I am sorry that the investigations have not disclosed the reason for the failure of the earlier call which the subscriber states that he made between 6.35 a.m. and 6.40 a.m. I should mention that a telephone call for the Fire Brigade was made and established without delay via Langham exchange at 6.35 a.m., and that the Fire Brigade had then already received notification of the fire by a signal from a fire alarm post. The Brigade reached the scene of the fire between 6.36 and 6.37 a.m.


Is it not rather disconcerting that it appears that there have been made certain unproved statements by the Post Office in reference to this case?


I am not aware of that. If my hon. and gallant Friend knows of any inaccurate statement and will communicate with me, I shall be happy to inquire into it. The point of this case is that complaint was made with reference to a call between 6.35 and 6.40, and by that time no less than three notifications had already reached the Fire Brigade.


Is it really impossible to discover the reasons for the failure of the earlier calls?


It is very difficult to trace particulars of the earlier calls, but, before the call about which there is dispute ever went through, the Fire Brigade was at the fire.


asked the Postmaster-General whether the number of telephonists on duty at night in London telephone exchanges is based upon the average calls received during the periods they are on duty; and, if so, whether he is satisfied that this leaves an adequate safety margin of staff to deal with emergency calls in connection with fire, police, or ambulance services?


Telephone staff is provided at night on a more liberal basis in proportion to the work than at other times, and the provision made has hitherto been found adequate for all purposes. I am, however, having the position examined with a view to determine what, if any, further safeguards are necessary in relation to emergencies of the kind to which my hon. and gallant Friend refers.


Would my right hon. Friend consider supplying every subscriber on an automatic exchange with a card showing the numbers of the nearest fire and police stations, so that the subscriber may ring up the station direct, instead of dialling "O" and waiting for the operator?


It is not always best, for technical reasons, to put calls through to a number direct; there are cases where the operator may be able to clear the line in a more satisfactory manner. I am starting a departmental inquiry which will go into all emergency calls, including those in connection with fires.

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