§ Amendments made:
In page 1, line 17, at the beginning, insert:
Subject to the provisions of any order made under the next following Sub-section.
§ In line 22, after "meet," insert "efficiently all."
§ In page 2, line 5, leave out "adequate provision is made," and insert "efficient arrangements exist."
In line 14, leave out "for local fire services," and insert:
with respect to any of the matters mentioned in the last foregoing Sub-section.
In line 14, leave out from "and," to the end of line 15, and insert:
the standards may vary according to the requirements of different kinds of locality."—[Mr. Lloyd.]
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I beg to move, in page 2, line 15, at the end, to insert:(4) An officer of a fire authority, authorised in writing by the authority, shall, for the purpose of carrying out such arrangements as are mentioned in paragraph (d) of Sub-section (2) of this Section, have the like powers of entering premises as are conferred upon authorised officers of councils by Section two hundred and eighty-seven of the Public Health Act, 1936, and accordingly that Section shall have effect as if the references to an authorised officer of a council included references to an officer of a fire authority authorised as aforesaid, and as if among the purposes specified in Sub-section (1) of that Section there were included the aforesaid purpose.This Amendment is intended to fulfil a promise which was given in Committee. Its object is to give officers of a fire authority 284 the right to enter premises for the purpose of carrying out the inspections required by Sub-section (2). I think the House will agree that it is a commonsense provision that they should have this power for carrying out what are really statutory duties.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Further Amendment made: In page 2, line 24, leave out "for," and insert "by the authority receiving the."—[Mr. Lloyd.]
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Maitland
I beg to move, in page 3, line 16, after "that," to insert:after the expiration of five years after the passing of this Act.This Amendment and two further Amendments which appear on the Paper in my name deal with the same matter. In Sub-section (6) there is a proviso which prohibits the employment of police constables other than the chief officer of police and the assistant chief officer or his deputy as part-time members of a fire brigade unless they were so employed at the date of the passing of this Measure. I understand that in a large number of towns, particularly towns of medium size, it is usual for fire brigade authorities to employ policeman as part-time firemen. They are found to be particularly helpful when the fire brigade is required at night time because they can easily be called out and they can be of great service to the brigade. In the event of the Bill passing in its present form, it means that hereafter a local authority will be unable to employ any additional policemen in that capacity and eventually the employment of police constables as part-time firemen will cease. In the event of an emergency, firemen and police constables may be required for the exercise of their respective duties, and it may be to the advantage of those responsible to have reserves who are not members of the police force. If that be true, the additional cost to the medium sized local authorities may be properly be regarded as arising from the preparations necessary for air-raid precautions. If that is the purpose of the proviso and it is not possible to accept the Amendment, I suggest that the additional expenditure involved by such a change should be part of the expenditure which will rank for Government grant. If the Government cannot take that view, I would ask my hon. Friend the Under- 285 Secretary to consider whether, if he cannot give the local authorities five years, he can give them some period in order to make other arrangements.
§ 8.2 p.m.
Sir C. Granville Gibson
I beg to second the Amendment.
I can conceive of some small authorities who have only a small police force, and who find it necessary to let their men fill in their time with the fire brigade. Nobody could be in a better position than the local fire brigade authorities to know what is necessary in order to obtain the highest degree of efficiency and at the same time to work the police force and the fire brigade most economically. If the Clause stands as it is, it may place on the shoulders of some small authorities a financial burden which they can avoid if they are entitled to use police constables on fire brigade duties.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I cannot do better in reply to my hon. Friends than quote the relevant passage from the Riverdale Committee with regard to the question of part-time police firemen:The employment of police auxiliaries has, however, the disadvantage in peace-time that, when fires occur, the police concerned have frequently to be taken off the streets. In emergencies, particularly in war-time, when both fire brigade and police would be heavily pressed, this difficulty would be much more serious and, in our view, it is definitely bad policy for the two services, police and fire brigade, to depend on the same set of auxiliaries. So far as we can gather, this factor in the organisation of fire brigades has not hitherto been provided for in local fire brigade organisation, but we attach so much importance to the matter that we recommend that in no case should a police fire brigade be dependent for its personnel on constables who may be engaged on other duties, nor should he police ever have to call on the personnel of the fire brigade in case of emergency. In brief, the two forces must be kept as independent entities from this point of view, and each should be of sufficient strength to carry out all the duties that may be required of it.That view has been accepted by my right hon. Friend, and the Bill is based upon it. Postponement for five years is a long time, and I am afraid that I cannot agree to it. Nor am I in a position to make any announcement about grants. Having regard to the importance that the Riverdale Committee attach to this matter from the point of view of emergency, at a time when we are engaged in considering the 286 question of emergencies from the point of view of general air-raid precautions work, it would not be right to make such a long postponement. I think that I can go so far as to say that we might consider whether some much shorter postponement is possible. We will consult with some of the interests concerned to see whether we can go as far as that.
Sir C. Granville Gibson
Will my hon. Friend visualise a case such as exists in a small town in my division, where they have a full-time officer for the fire brigade and call up auxiliary men when there is a fire? If such a town has to employ permanent men they might be faced with a heavy financial burden, and how is it proposed to deal with a case of that kind?
§ Mr. Lloyd
It would be unreasonable if the provisions of this Bill compelled such an authority to have a whole-time fire brigade, but what it could do is to encourage other part-time personnel, but not police personnel, to join the brigade. Many local authorities do that, and they have very efficient brigades on that basis. It avoids the disadvantage that would be found if both the police force and the fire brigade were pressed at the same time.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Westwood
It is an accepted principle now that the police force and the fire brigade should be entirely independent; but the principle of postponement of the separation contained in this Amendment has been accepted in the case of Scotland and will be embodied in Clause 25. It will be a postponement for two years in that case. I suggest that there should be a period in the transition stage to enable local authorities to make arrangements to comply with this Clause. I am surprised that the Under-Secretary did not give a more definite pledge, for it will take time to work out this scheme so that the two services can be, as they should be, independent.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Maitland
I thank the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. Westwood for his support. I hope it will not be said that England must lag behind Scotland in this matter. My hon. Friend has made a limited concession and I think that in the circumstances I can accept it feeling assured that if the example of Scotland is followed, my point will be 287 met. I hope that my hon. Friend will not lose sight of my alternative suggestion that any additional expenditure should rank for air-raid precautions grant.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Amendments made: In page 3, line 17, leave out "partly on fire brigade duties," and insert "as part-time members of a fire brigade."
§ In line 18, leave out "partly."—[Mr. Lloyd.]
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Westwood
I beg to move, in page 3, line 34, at the end, to insert:and if any dispute arises between a fire authority and any railway company or statutory undertaking regarding the exercise of powers conferred by this Sub-section the question shall be referred to the Secretary of State. whose decision shall be final.In the event of a dispute between a fire authority and the Minister of Transport, or, in the case of railway companies, between the fire authority and a railway company, there is no machinery to enable a speedy decision to be arrived at, and to avoid the possibility of friction which would tend against the efficiency of the fire brigade. The purpose of the Amendment is that in case of a dispute between these two bodies the Secretary of State will have the right to determine the question at issue, and I submit that that will tend towards speed and assist in efficiency.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Lloyd
We appreciate very much the hon. Member's motives in moving this Amendment, but we hold a different view. It must be realised, in the first place, that the fire authority has the right to put the alarms where it wants them, and at once. It does not have to hold up its action and wait for objections, but has the right to take the initiative and then it will be for anyone to object who wants to object. Therefore, there should be no delay in fixing the alarms. If there is 288 any dispute which cannot be settled by compromise the normal practice is for it to go to the courts. That is a practice which we ought to preserve in this country as a general rule, from both the theoretical and the practical point of view, as against the alternative of putting too much power into the hands of administrative officers of the State.
I should like to make it clear on the theoretical side that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is not anxious to have these additional powers. We have had to explain many times that at the Home Office we are not grasping for power. Then consider the matter from the practical point of view. Is every little local dispute from every part of the country over the question where a fire alarm should be placed to come up to the Home Office to be settled by the Secretary of State, on the advice, no doubt, of his officials, who do not know the locality and will have to have some special machinery for finding out what the difficulties are? I can well imagine that local authorities would not accept with very good grace the decisions in such a matter of a remote Secretary of State in Whitehall. They would say, and it would be voiced in this House, "What does the Secretary of State know about the fire alarm in Great Smith Street, Birmingham—or Glasgow?" It would be better to leave any such disputes to be settled in the courts locally, which have the respect of the local people. I would urge the hon. Member to consider these arguments, which we put forward from the Home Office with a good deal of experience, and I would urge him to withdraw his Amendment.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Watson
I had hoped that the Under-Secretary would accept this Amendment. I am sure that local authorities would rather have a decision by the Secretary of State than be compelled to spend money in the law courts upon having their disputes settled there. I am not acquainted with the working of the Home Office, but its corresponding number in Scotland attends to matters even more trifling than this. The Secretary of State for Scotland has to answer questions in this House on matters of less importance than this. Whatever the railway companies may be prepared to do—and perhaps they want to go to court as often as they can—I am 289 certain the local authorities would prefer to have disputes in these cases settled by the Secretary of State. We may have local authorities engaged in serious litigation if objection is taken by persons to alarms being affixed to their property, though I hope it will not happen, and that it will be possible for the two parties to come to an amicable settlement. I believe that in most cases these matters will be settled between the local authority and the interested parties, and if the Amendment had been accepted I am sure that the Home Office or the Scottish Office would not have been troubled very often with these disputes.
§ 8.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Westwood
I am certain that it will not tend towards efficiency to leave the courts to deal with these disputes. At the same time I do not think there will be the enormous number of disputes which the Under-Secretary indicated, because common sense will operate, and it will only be in exceptional cases that a settlement is not arrived at. I am certain that the method proposed in my Amendment would be the easier way of dealing with the problem, but in view of the statement made by the Under-Secretary I will not press it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Maitland
I beg to move, in page 3, line 34, at the end, to insert:(8) Nothing in this Section shall be deemed to render any fire authority liable to any action, proceedings, claims, or demands.I moved this Amendment on the Committee stage, but it was not accepted, and I expect that I shall meet with the same fate now. A very short point is involved, and I will try to state it concisely. When the Amendment was considered in Committee, discussion embarked on a rather wider aspect of the matter than I had expected. The discussion in Committee rather turned upon the point that a local authority could not escape, whether in regard to its fire brigade or any other service, the ordinary common law obligations, in the event of negligence.
It is not for the purpose of dealing with the question of negligence that I have put 290 forward this Amendment, wide as are its terms, but because local authorities are rather apprehensive. The Sub-section sets up an obligation upon every local authority to provide an efficient fire brigade, and empowers the Secretary of State to make an order having statutory effect with regard to standards of efficiency. The local authorities desire to be advised upon the point whether it would be possible for any person to bring an action against a local authority on the ground not that there has been some act of negligence, but merely a breach of the Statute. That is the point of my Amendment, and I desire the Home Secretary to consult with the Law Officers. I understand that the local authorities yesterday restated their fear to the Home Office and that they were assured that the Law Officers would be consulted. I should like to have a statement that the Law Officers have been or will be consulted in order that the apprehension, which may or may not be well founded, might be met, in which case I should be prepared to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ 8.27 p.m.
The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Wedderburn)
When the hon. Member moved a similar Amendment in Committee, the Home Secretary pointed out that we must consider whether, when practically every other local authority was liable to redress for negligence, that should not apply also in the case of a fire authority. He went on:I would say that as long as this redress lies against other branches of local administration the private citizen must have it also against the fire authorities."—[OFFICIAL REPORT (Standing Committee A), 24th May, 1938; col. 19.]That view commended itself to the Committee, and the Amendment was withdrawn. I understand that a new point of uncertainty has arisen. The hon. Member referred to Sub-section (3) of Clause 1, which reads:The Secretary of State may by order prescribe standards of efficiency for local fire services, and may prescribe different standards for different localities.He expressed the apprehension that action may lie against local authorities if it be shown that they have not come up in some respect to the prescribed standards 291 of efficiency. We are anxious to consider this point. The Amendment was put on the Paper only yesterday. I need hardly remind the House that this Sub-section has often been relied upon by us in a precisely opposite sense, namely, that, while we desire to raise the standards of efficiency, it must not be to so high a pitch that local authorities cannot reach it; and to that end the Secretary of State may prescribe standards of efficiency which are lower, and which will not put too great a strain upon certain local authorities. If the words were put in, it seems to me that paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d) in the previous Sub-section might be a greater danger than Subsection (3) itself, but we are willing to consider the point and we are consulting the Law Officers in regard to it. If we find that it is necessary to move any Amendments to meet the point we undertake to do so in another place. Perhaps the hon. Member would now move to withdraw his Amendment.
§ Mr. Maitland
I am very much obliged, and, on that assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
I beg to move, in page 3, line 34, at the end, to insert:(8) The provisions of this Act shall not come into force in the area of any county fire authority in Scotland unless the Secretary of State, after consultation with the fire authority concerned, shall by order direct that the Act shall apply within such area or any part thereofI speak with no hostility to the Bill, but, on the contrary, as one who regards it as a useful and necessary Measure. In its present form, however, it is open to a criticism which might be made, and is indeed widely made in Scotland of many other Acts of Parliament, that while it is well designed to meet the needs of the great industrial centres in the South, it does not fit the conditions in the Islands of Scotland and many Highland counties. I would ask the House to consider the situation in a vast county like Sutherland, with its population scattered around the seaboard. It would be impossible to make any provision for fire-fighting on the 600 miles of road in Sutherland. If you could stretch out the roads of Sutherland in a line they would reach to London. It would be impossible to make 292 any efficient provision for fire-fighting in a county of that size, except at a cost which would be quite prohibitive to the ratepayers.
Consider for example the burgh of Dornoch, a fire authority, with 732 inhabitants. It could hardly be expected to maintain a very efficient fire-fighting apparatus. On the other hand, the need for the Bill is not felt in the Highlands of Scotland where there is no great demand for fire-fighting apparatus. The burden upon the ratepayers would be very great. I do not want to bandy across the Floor of the House the names of any particular local authorities, but I know and the Secretary of State for Scotland knows that there are local authorities in Scotland whose jurisdiction covers quite small communities of a few thousand people, that they have debts running into hundreds of thousands of pounds, that their income is falling owing to depression, mainly in the fishing industry, that their obligations are accumulating and that even now they are unable to obtain from the Government the loans necessary to carry out the housing policy of which Parliament has approved.
In these conditions, to throw upon such local authorities the additional burdens which would be involved by this Measure would be altogether unreasonable. The burdens are much greater for dealing with the problems of these scattered areas and rural districts than in towns or cities in the South. None of us knows exactly what the standard of efficiency will be. The Secretary of State will lay it down after consulting with the advisory council, set up in later Clauses of the Bill, but if the cost would be 2d. or 3d. on the rates for Edinburgh and Dundee it would be 1s. or 2s. for Caithness or Sutherland.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
Yes, perhaps even worse for Orkney and Shetland. The Secretary of State for Scotland knows well that this is a case which will have to be met, and that therefore he has put down Amendments upon the Order Paper with the object of meeting it by enabling him to exempt local authorities from the obligations which he is asking the House to lay upon them. My submission is that we ought not to lay these obligations upon these local authorities, at any rate unless we provide that: 293The provisions of this Act shall not come into force in the area of any county fire authority in Scotland unless the Secretary of State, after consultation with the fire authority concerned, shall by order direct that the Act shall apply within such area or any part thereof.The local authorities would much prefer this or some similar form of words, rather than that the obligation should rest upon them unless and until the Secretary of State chose to relieve them of it. Moreover, under the Secretary of State's Amendment a number of Sections of the Act would apply in the Highlands—for example, Section 2, which imposes the duty of providing and maintaining fire hydrants. But in the part of the country for which I speak there are no water supplies, and, before fire hydrants are provided, water supplies are necessary. I am very glad to have this opportunity of reminding the Secretary of State of the promises that were made by the Government at the last election, to provide water supplies in these scattered areas of Scotland. His Amendment also contains a very curious reference, which I have not been able to understand, to Sub-section (8) of Clause 2, in which, the Amendment provides, the word "may" is to be substituted for the word "shall." When I look at Clause 2, I cannot find Sub-section (8). Perhaps the Secretary of State will explain that to us if and when we come to his Amendment. In the meantime, I hope he will accept my Amendment, which would meet the needs of the local authorities in the Highlands and other rural districts of Scotland.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Sir E. Findlay
We have to remember that this Bill is an air-raid precautions Bill, and air-raid precautions in regard to fire appliances cannot apply to the North of Scotland in the same way as to the more populous districts. There are other Amendments on the Paper which apply to what are now known as the crofter counties, which the right hon. Baronet represents, but those Amendments do not go far enough in my submission, because I think that Morayshire and Banffshire should come within the scope of these exemptions. It is quite impossible, under such a Measure as this, to bring into operation fire appliances, hydrants and so forth in Morayshire, Banffshire and the crofter counties. I should be delighted 294 to approve of this Clause if I could have an assurance from the Secretary of State that it meant that hydrants and water supplies would be provided in every district in which fire appliances were expected to be provided. If my right hon. Friend could give that assurance, I am sure that the right hon. Baronet would withdraw his Amendment.
I should be delighted, also, if he could give us the further assurance that these fire brigades, which in many cases would have to travel 30 or 40 miles, would be given telephone facilities. In Banffshire, which I represent in this House, and which, pehaps, is more highly populated than Sutherland and Caithness, we still have to bicycle occasionally some 10 miles to a telephone kiosk, and it is fantastic to suggest that a fire brigade which has to travel 30 miles after a 10-mile bicycle journey to a telephone call office can be efficient, particularly if, when it arrives, it finds no water. I have some personal experience of that matter. I have tried to persuade my tenants to keep their mill dams filled with water, but nearly always, when I go to see them, I find that they are empty, and without these mill dams you would need a mile or a mile and a half of hose to make any fire engine or appliance effective.
I am convinced that nothing but a grievous waste of public money will occur unless, before the Clauses of this Bill are put into operation, two things are made certain in the counties where they are put into operation. The first is that the fire brigade shall be called quickly by telephone, and I suggest that my right hon. Friend might make inquiries of the Postmaster-General as to whether a further increase in the number of call boxes might not be arranged. The second is that water supplies shall be available. I believe it would be of inestimable value if my right hon. Friend could incorporate in this Bill, as he refused to do in the Housing Bill, a provision as to water supplies. In that case he would perhaps at some time get a water supply for the outlying districts of Scotland. But, until we are given a water supply, it is fantastic to suggest that we should put in fire engines which would require water which is not there. I hope that this Amendment will be accepted.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Sir Murdoch MacDonald
I support the Amendment, because my position is similar to that of the right hon. Baronet. I represent a county where this Bill will be wholly inapplicable, and I think it would be very desirable if the Secretary of State for Scotland would accept the second Amendment of the right hon. Baronet—in page 3, line 34, at the end, to insert:(8) This Act shall not apply to the counties specified in the Schedule (Highlands and Islands) to this Act.
§ Sir M. MacDonald
I am arguing at this moment in favour of a particular Amendment which the right hon. Gentleman has on the Order Paper. It is quite true that there must be other parts of the country which would find themselves in a position almost identical with that of these Highland counties, but in these other cases there are as a rule large burghs which would be able to supply services to outlying districts, and the counties probably are not so large. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) spoke of 600 miles of road. In Inverness, in my own district, there are 1,600 miles of road to be covered, and these roads are not continuous. Even if you wished to put up fire-fighting appliances at specific points all through the county you could not carry them to the islands. The small islands would be left without any services. The practical fact is that they do not require such services as are contemplated in the Bill, and I hope that the Secretary for Scotland will find it possible to accept the second Amendment.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Gentleman must not deal with the second Amendment until we come to it.
§ Sir M. MacDonald
The position is met partly, but only partly, by Amendments which the Secretary of State has on the Paper. He proposes to insert words which would partly cover the point at issue. But I would suggest that, if he cannot accept this particular Amendment, 296 he should consider whether he could not accept the succeeding Amendment. This Amendment which we are now discussing asks that consultations be taken with the fire authorities concerned, but that leaves these fire authorities subject to the discretion of the Secretary for Scotland as to what fire appliances they shall put in their respective areas. My submission is—and the county authorities, I understand, hold the same view—that in the great part of my constituency no such appliances are required, and that the position of my county goes further than the Amendment on the Paper.
§ 8.49 p.m.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not accept this Amendment. The speeches we have heard from the right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) and the two hon. Members who followed him typify exactly the Highland temperament, and indicate exactly the reasons for the position of the Highlands of Scotland to-day. They ask to be exempt from a national scheme—
§ Sir E. Findlay
I beg your pardon; we do not. We ask to be exempt from a national scheme until we get a water supply which will enable us to use the appliances.
They ask to be exempt from a fire-fighting scheme until the Home Secretary goes up to the Highlands and provides them with a water supply. Here we have landowners, supposed to be representing the safety and the public health and the rights of the people of Scotland, asking the Home Secretary to go up to the north of Scotland, look over the land, and tell the people on the spot how they are going to obtain a water supply. This type of old-world mind is the reason why local authorities in the Highlands have not provided decent roads and decent facilities, why the young people in the Highlands want to get out of the Highlands and go into areas where the local councils do their business seriously for the people. I trust that, so far as this scheme is concerned, it will be operated. The hon. Member spoke as if this applied only to the Highlands of Scotland, but the Amendment takes in all the counties of Scotland, and that includes a much greater area than the Highlands. It would be dangerous, and 297 would result in a complete stoppage of the whole scheme. It would affect such a large area that the scheme would not be operative at all, except in certain burghs which have already taken the interest that they should have taken and provided adequate fire facilities.
I hope that the Home Secretary will reply that the remedy is for the local authorities themselves to formulate their schemes, to take a greater interest in the local areas and to submit to the Home Secretary schemes that can be operated under the Bill. For Highland Members to come here, on a question of national safety and the provision of efficient fire brigades, and to plead that they have so many miles of roadways, that the conditions are not conducive to a good fire brigade system, that they have so many more difficulties than other areas, and that the Home Secretary himself should supply the cure, is a very great reflection on their own administration. I trust that the Scottish Secretary will make those derelict areas—derelict in thought and derelict in progress—toe the line with other areas. If we accept this Amendment we encourage inefficiency.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Erskine Hill
I must confess that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has gone a great way towards meeting my objections, but there is a difficulty to which I should like some answer. My hon. Friend the Solicitor-General for Scotland may provide the answer, but, subject to that, I think that some Clause which would allow the local authority to get out or be allowed to get out where physical or practical considerations made fulfilment impossible, ought to be accepted. Sub-section (3) of Clause 1 of the Bill provides thatThe Secretary of State may by order prescribe standards of efficiency for local fire services, and may prescribe different standards for different localities.I imagine the object of putting in that Sub-section is to allow the Secretary of State in either country to "temper the wind to the shorn lamb," and to make regulations that would assist the local authority which could not, for physical reasons, comply with the ordinary standards. But that must be read in relation to Sub-section (2), which says: 298A borough or district shall not be deemed to be provided with efficient local fire services unless"—and there follow four definite obligations which are imposed on fire brigades. I take those two lines to mean a minimum standard of fire efficiency wherever the fire authority is. As a lawyer I strongly feel that the court, in all probability, would say that those four conditions would have the effect of establishing a minimum standard and that no regulations could have the effect of taking any local authorities out of these requirements. I would like the House to consider what the effects of these requirements would be, particularly in relation to paragraph (a) of Subsection (2), the condition being there should be available for the fire authority in each district a fire brigade andsuch fire engines, appliances and equipment as may be necessary to meet normal requirementsIt is obvious that, in respect of any far-distant cottage, it does not matter where it is, one of the normal requirements would be the provision of the services of a fire brigade for that cottage. In those parts of the county which are very sparsely populated, I do not think that it is possible to provide such a service. I further think that you would have the somewhat absurd situation that you would be imposing a duty upon the local authority in a district which it could not by any stretch of the imagination ever obtemper. There would be the power for the Secretary of State to make regulations, but if I am right in my submission, the court would not allow those regulations to get the local authority out of such a situation because they would be ultra vires by the terms of the Act. I should be very much obliged if my hon. and learned Friend or my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland could tell me how the Act would propose to get out of that difficulty.
§ 8.58 p.m.
I hope that the Government will accept the Amendment proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair), which I prefer to that put down by the Secretary of State for Scotland. I do not represent a Highland constituency, but one which views this Bill with very great misgiving and feels that it will place a very heavy financial burden upon it, 299 which it is unable to estimate. It depends very largely what the Secretary of State means by the word "efficiency." I do not like this Bill, because I think it will be detrimental to the supply of water in different districts in my constituency. I view the Bill mostly from the point of view of how it is going to affect the daily supply of water in my constituency, and I feel that if it is put on to the Statute Book it will make it more difficult and not more easy for rural districts to obtain a supply of water. In my constituency we try to obtain certain water from the Town Council of Dundee, and in other parts from Kirriemuir, which are different burghs. If they are to give us water in these areas they will have to consider how much water will be required to meet the requirements of the Bill, and the additional requirements to be thrown upon the rural areas and local authorities to meet the requirements in the rural districts. That will make it more difficult, and make the authorities who have command of the water less inclined to give us water in the rural districts for the ordinary supply. For that reason I hope that the Amendment may be accepted. I should like to see Scotland taken out of the Bill altogether.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Watson
I am surprised at my fellow-countrymen from the North of scotland. They must be aware that the Home Secretary is proposing to distribute £1,500,000 worth of fire equipment to the local authorities in the country, and I suppose that crofting counties will get their share of that fire brigade equipment. Why they should seek to be taken out of the Bill, or that Scotland should be taken out of the Bill, when there is a distribution of that kind to take place, is more than I can understand.
§ Mr. Watson
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Forfar (Captain Shaw) had better tell someone else that there is no water in Scotland.
§ Mr. Watson
There is plenty of water in Scotland. The lack of the distribution of water in Scotland is not confined to the 300 crofting counties. There are counties in the industrial belt where we have not proper water supplies, and where there is no need for a fire brigade. I come from an industrial county, half of which is only very indifferently supplied with water. We have had a plea put forward by our friends from the North of Scotland that not only the crofting counties, but the whole of Scotland should be left out of the Bill. It is not because we want a share of that £1,500,000 worth of equipment, that some of us, at any rate, want Scotland kept in the Bill. Some of our English friends could, if they cared, make out as good a case for some of the English counties to be left out. What about Westmorland and Cumberland? There are counties in England which have as much claim even as Ross and Cromarty to be left out of this Bill.
I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will not agree to accept the Amendment, whatever he may do with the later Amendment dealing with the crofting counties. In fairness to our English friends, we have no case for any exemption for Scotland any more than that English Members and Welsh Members should make out a case for some of their counties being excluded from this part of the Measure. There are counties which have difficulties in obtaining adequate water supplies. The question of a water supply has been discussed over and over again. It was discussed on the Second Reading, and upstairs in Committee. Reference has been made to the difficulty of providing water supplies and the need for water supplies being introduced as speedily as possible. As I have said before in connection with this Bill, if it enables local authorities to put in water supplies so that they may have the efficient fire brigade service required, it may be a blessing to many districts which have had no proper water supply up to the present time.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Westwood
In the event of this Amendment being pressed to a Division, I cannot advise my hon. and right hon. Friends on this side of the House to vote for it. It is far too wide. We are not dealing in the Amendment with the Highland counties as such. It seeks definitely to exclude the county areas throughout the length and breadth of Scotland from the general provisions of the Bill. That will be the effect of the 301 Amendment. The result will be that in the county areas, in many instances, we shall have populations far more numerous than in burghs which are scheduled under the Bill as fire authorities. Take the county of Lanark. If the Amendment were agreed to and the Lanark County Council did not desire to set up fire fighting services in Bellshill and Uddingston, which are not burghs but are really county areas, it would be impossible to set up that fire-fighting service until an inquiry had been carried through by the Secretary of State for Scotland. What applies to Lanarkshire would apply equally to Stirlingshire in respect of Stenhousemuir and Larbert. The small burghs would be compelled to make their fire-fighting arrangements, but the Stirling County Council would not be compelled until after an inquiry by the Secretary of State, to set up fire-fighting services in any particular county area. When I come to the county where I reside, we have Kelty and Wemyss. If the county council of Fife, which is the fire authority for 25 small burghs, did not want to set up fire services in the county areas, they could refuse to do so until an inquiry had been held by the Scottish Office. What applies in Lanarkshire, Stirlingshire and Fifeshire applies equally in Midlothian and Dumbartonshire, where we have very populous areas that are not burghs and where the counties are responsible for the administration and would be the fire authorities.
The counties for too long have depended upon the fire-fighting services of the burghs and have got off cheaply as far as their responsibilities are concerned. No one has protested more than we have on this side of the House against the lack of provision to enable local authorities to provide adequate water services and to meet the liabilities imposed upon them by this Bill. We have been told by the Secretary of State that this is a war Measure, or somehing to that effect, and that there is need for speed in dealing with the problems referred to in the Bill. If that be true, these counties will require as much protection in the case of air raids as the more populous areas. For the reasons that I have given I hope the Government will resist the Amendment, in the interests of efficiency in dealing with fire-fighting services. We shall go on protesting against the lack of proper 302 financial provision for the local authorities, and when the local authorities get together we hope they will fight for the purpose of getting financial assistance. However, in the event of the Amendment going to a Division I cannot advise my hon. Friends on this side of the House to vote for it.
§ 9.9 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Colville)
As this Amendment refers solely to Scotland, it may be suitable if I speak on it now. It is a wide Amendment and, apart from other difficulties, it has one defect which makes it unworkable. It would result in imposing upon the Scottish cities and burghs a handicap from which the cities and towns in England and Wales would not suffer. They would be left within the Act as far as the compulsory provisions of the Act are concerned, but so long as the Act did not apply to the county areas the towns would be deprived of the benefit of the statutory co-operation and the pooling of resources which are an integral part of our proposals. Therefore, the Amendment would have a serious effect in that way.
I want, however, to get behind what is in the mind of my right hon. Friend in moving, and other hon. Members in supporting, the Amendment. It is, I suppose, an anxiety on the part of the county councils that they may be subjected to unreasonably high standards of efficiency by Orders made by the Secretary of State. I will advance two or three considerations to show that they need not be unduly apprehensive on that point. These Orders cannot be made by the Secretary of State until he has consulted with the Scottish Central Advisory Council for fire-fighting services. This Advisory Council, in the formation of which I hope to invite the assistance of the local authorities in Scotland, through their organisations, will include representatives of all classes, including the county councils, and the representatives will have the chance of making representations on the question of the standards of efficiency. Moreover, when the Secretary of State for Scotland has made an Order, it requires to be laid before Parliament, and will be subject again to discussion.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine Hill) expressed some anxiety as to the wording of Clause 1, and feared that, 303 even with the assurance which I was able to give in regard to standards of efficiency, the wording of the Bill as it stands might make it impossible to take fully into account the physical difficulties of certain localities. I have been looking at that point, with the assistance of my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General for Scotland, and if my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Edinburgh will look at an earlier part of the Order Paper he will see that already we have inserted, on the initiative of the Secretary of State for the Home Department, an Amendment which reads: "In Clause 1, page 2, line 14, leave out from "and" to the end of line 15, and insert:the standards may vary according to the requirements of different kinds of locality.We have been looking further at that Amendment and, while I cannot give a definite undertaking, we are considering the possibility of the insertion in another place of such words as "and available facilities," after the word "requirements." I cannot give an undertaking that those precise words will be inserted, but my hon. and learned Friend will, I think, see that they would meet the point about the physical difficulty. With that assurance I hope that he will be content.
I feel bound to say a few words on the general proposition which the right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) has raised. His proposal really is that the county councils should be left, until otherwise directed by the Secretary of State, with purely permissive powers. I must justify the action which we are taking in the Bill which departs from that idea. It may be argued that the needs of the case would be met by leaving them with permissive powers only, but the right hon. Gentleman will remember that the Royal Commission on Fire Brigades, which examined the situation in Scotland as well as in England in 1923, said:We are of the opinion that the existing provisions will be susceptible of improvement without heavy expenditure, and we regard it as a matter of some regret that more advantage has not been taken of the provision in the Local Government (Scotland) Act providing for the organisation of fire brigades on a county basis.It is a significant fact that in 1923 two of the 33 Scottish county councils had fire brigades. At present only four have fire brigades, and two of those have no 304 motor fire engines and cover only a small part of the county. In 1923 there were seven county councils, apart from those which have their own fire brigades, which had some form of agreement for fire protection with other authorities. At present the corresponding number is nine. Twenty of the 33 Scottish counties, therefore, have made no use yet of their existing powers, and In our view it is right to insist that further provision should be made where it is practicable. Therefore I cannot accept the Amendment, but I hope I have assured the House that physical difficulties will be taken into account. In the case of the crofter counties I propose to make a case for exceptional treatment. For these reasons I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not press the Amendment.
§ Sir E. Findlay
It is most unfortunate that the North of Scotland should be divided into those which are crofter counties and those which are not.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
In view of what the Secretary of State has said I think it will meet the general view of the House if I withdraw the Amendment, and concentrate on the next Amendment which stands in my name.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
I beg to move, in page 3, line 34, at the end, to insert:(8) This Act shall not apply to the counties specified in the Schedule (Highlands and Islands) to this Act.I do not want to argue this case again because the same arguments I put forward on behalf of the last Amendment apply to this with even greater force. I thought they were valid on the last Amendment, notwithstanding what the Secretary of State has said, but certainly they apply with more force to this Amendment. The hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. Westwood) has said that this is a war Measure. In so far as it is a war Measure it clearly ought not to be applied to the Highlands, because no one can suppose that they would be a war area or a target for enemy attack. I cannot say that I feel very much satisfaction in the assurance which the Secretary of State gave us on the last Amend- 305 ment. I do not like leaving it to another place to deal with matters which are of great importance to our constituents. They are matters which should be settled here; but if the Secretary of State will meet our point of view by accepting this Amendment I shall be satisfied.
The other assurance he gave us was that local authorities will be represented on the Fire Advisory Council, but I imagine that the people he will want, and who ought to be represented on the Fire Advisory Council, are people who are actively interested in measures of fire precautions. He will not want dead-heads to give reasons why the Bill should not be applied to their areas. He will want people who are really concentrating on fire-fighting efficiency. Those parts of the country which do not need these precautions on this scale, and for whom it will represent an incalculable burden, naturally cannot expect to be represented on the council or to carry very much weight if they are represented. I hope, therefore, that the Secretary of State will accept this more modest Amendment and allay the anxieties which are felt in some parts of the country.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Colville
The right hon. Gentleman has argued a case for the complete exclusion from the operation of the Bill of what are called the crofter counties. He will see that later on I have an Amendment on this matter which I feel is the utmost to which I can go in this direction consistently with the principle of the Bill. There are also grave defects in the proposal which the right hon. Gentleman makes from the point of view of the counties themselves. There is the point which I raised on the previous Amendment, that it would deprive the burghs of the benefits of statutory co-operation with counties round about, and also it might be construed as having the effect of depriving county councils of powers to make provisions which they are now able to make for the extinction of fire and the protection of life. The right hon. Gentleman does not want his Amendment to have that effect. I recognise, as I have shown by the Amendment I propose to move, that there are certain problems which these counties have to face which are peculiar to that part of Scotland. I agree that there are certain other counties in which the same problems arise although to a lesser degree; but when you consider 306 the population factor in the counties mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, and the means of communication I think that there is a case for special treatment.
For the reasons therefore that it would place burghs in an invidious position, and possibly deprive local authorities of the power to provide appliances—
§ Mr. Colville
—and thirdly, that it would run counter altogether to the principle of the Bill, I cannot accept the Amendment. My proposal, therefore, is that while the Bill should apply to Scotland as a whole, there should be power for the Secretary of State to exempt certain areas. That is the utmost to which I can go.
§ Amendment negatived.