§ Section thirty-three of the Town Police Clauses Act, 1847 (which requires owners of property to defray expenses of fire brigades in attending fires outside the borough or district for which the fire brigade is maintained) as incorporated with or applied by any enactment or statutory order, whether with or without modifications, and Section thirty of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade Act, 1865, so far as it requires owners and occupiers of property to defray the expenses 240 of the fire brigade in attending fires outside London, shall cease to have effect.—[Sir S. Hoare.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Sir S. Hoare
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
I understand that it is your wish, Mr. Speaker, that we should restrict this discussion to the new Clause and leave the wider issue connected with some of the other charges for fire services to Clause 5. That being so, I propose at this stage to deal only with the payments for fire services outside the particular district to which a fire brigade belongs. We shall come to the question of the services within their own areas upon Clause 5. The broad reason for proposing the abolition of these out charges is that there is no longer any justification for them. The Bill presupposes that there will be a fire authority in every part of the country, and that therefore the inhabitants of any area will be able to demand the services of their own brigade without having to make any arrangement for obtaining the services of another local brigade by reason of the fact that there is no brigade in their own area. That being the main basis of the Bill, it is clear that such a provision as is contained in the Town Police Clauses Act, which authorizes charges to be made for these out services, no longer has any validity. There will no longer be any out services of this kind. Therefore, I move this new Clause, at the same time reserving the opportunity to deal with the wider issues as to the services in particular areas when we come to Clause 5. I propose to move the omission of the existing Clause 5 and I understand the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. Westwood), who has put down some Amendments to the Clause, will have sane observations to make.
§ Mr. Denman
On a point of Order. May I suggest that it will be very difficult to discuss this new Clause without reference to Clause 5? The new Clause repeals a portion of what is wholly repealed by Clause 5. Would it not be better to take the whole subject of the repeal of the existing law in one Debate and conclude it now?
§ Mr. Speaker
I can quite understand the difficulties of the position, and if it is the wish of the House I suggest that 241 we should take the whole discussion on this new Clause, afterwards dealing with Clause 5 without discussion.
§ Sir S. Hoare
If that is your Ruling, Mr. Speaker—and obviously I should accept any Ruling which you make on the question—I should desire to add some further observations to my opening statement, which dealt with only one part of the question and that probably the least contentious part.
§ Mr. Westwood
I think it would be to the advantage of the House if we were to take together the new Clause and the repeal of Clause 5 and the Amendments which stand in my name. They really cover the same subject, and we on this side of the House shall offer no objection to the Home Secretary amplifying his remarks. In that way we should have a full discussion on the point at issue and later if necessary could have the requisite Divisions.
§ Mr. Denman
I think the Home Secretary will agree that if Clause 5 were left as it is the Clause he is now moving would be wholly unnecessary.
§ Captain Sir William Brass
The difficulty seems to be that what the Home Secretary is doing now is splitting Clause 5 into two. He is leaving part of Clause 5 in order to be able to move to leave out Clause 5 later. If that course is agreed to, and we adopt this Clause, and he is then defeated on the proposal to omit Clause 5, we shall have two Clauses in the Bill which are the same.
§ Mr. Speaker
I had an indication on my notes that the Home Secretary was going to make a statement on Clause 5, but if the right hon. Gentleman likes to do it now it will have my approval.
§ 5.29 p.m.
§ Sir S. Hoare
I should welcome the opportunity of speaking on that Clause now. I feel that it is the most convenient way of dealing with the question, and I should have done it if I had not been given to understand that it had been decided to take the other course. The position under the Bill is that there will be fire authorities everywhere, and that the inhabitants of every area will be entitled to call for the services of thelocal fire brigade. That position raises at once the question of the charges that have hitherto 242 been made outside the rates for fire services. Those charges have been of three kinds. First of all have been payments made in London and other cities in England by insurance offices, in accordance with Acts of Parliament. In the case of London the sum that has been paid by the insurance offices has been based upon the amount of property insured in the London fire services area. The Acts affecting those areas we do not propose to repeal. We are leaving things as they were before. Next, there are certain boroughs in England and Scotland which have local Acts under which they can make a charge for services within their areas. There are about eight of them, I think, of which four are in Scotland. The question arises whether in those cases we ought to repeal those Acts or not. We are basing our proposals on the recommendations of the Riverdale Committee, which proposed that these charges should be brought to an end, but in view of the fact that insurance offices would be freed from certain payments, suggested that insurance offices should make some contribution to the improvement of fire services in the country.
When the question came up in the Standing Committee I explained to hon. Members that we were negotiating with the insurance offices. When I say "we" I mean that negotiations were taking place between the local authorities and the insurance offices, with the Home Office acting as intermediary between the two. During the Debates in Standing Committee we had not reached a point when I could say substantially that an arrangement had been made under which it was possible to bring these charges to an end and under which the insurance offices would make a contribution such as I have just mentioned. Since the Debates in Standing Committee, further discussions have taken place between the local authorities and the insurance offices.
§ Mr. Westwood
Can the House be told how these negotiations are carried on between the local authorities and the insurance offices? My information is that the local authorities have never yet been called into consultation with the insurance companies.
§ Sir W. Brass
Were these payments by the insurance companies part of their contract to insure against fire, or purely gratuitous?
§ Sir S. Hoare
These charges were made as a result of those local Acts in those areas which made it possible for the local authority to make these charges. The charges were then covered by the insurance companies in the policies that the insured persons took out with the offices.
§ Sir W. Brass
Do I understand that these payments were necessary and had to be made by the companies because they were included in the policies?
§ Sir S. Hoare
They had to be made by the insured persons, who arranged with the insurance companies to take over those payments.
§ Sir S. Hoare
I do not know whether they are gratuitous or not, but they are payments made between the insured persons and the insurance companies. I will look into the other points made and give an answer in due course. The position is that we have now discussed the question again with the insurance offices and that we are sending to the local authorities proposals that we think ought to be settled between the parties. I prefer not to go into details to-day as to the exact amount involved in these proposals. They are proposals for negotiation between the local authorities and the insurance offices and I propose to say nothing that might prejudice those discussions. What I do say to the House is that the proposals ought to provide arrangements under which on the one hand we shall be able to end those contributions and bring the areas concerned into general conformity with the rest of the country and, on the other hand, to obtain a substantial sum, in the first place for compensation to local authorities who may be losing a source of revenue, and, in the second place, on the lines of the Riverdale Committee's Report and for the general fire prevention purposes described in the report of the Committee.
That being the case, my advice to the House would be to accept the new Clause which I have just introduced and which raises the question not of payments inside the district but of payments outside the district. That proposal should be accepted, because if it is not, it runs contrary to the whole basis of the Bill. Secondly, in regard to Clause 5 and the payments made within the areas, I suggest 244 to the House that when we come to it we should omit the Clause, for the reason which I have given in my explanation to the House. I am sorry that the agreement is not sufficiently clinched to enable me to make a definite announcement to the House to-day, but we can deal with it in another place. In the meanwhile, we, the Home Office, acting as intermediary between the local authorities and the insurance companies, shall do our best to arrive at a satisfactory agreement. I prefer not to be drawn into the details of the actual proposals of the negotiation, as this is still going on, but we ought to be able to reach an agreement which will be satisfactory to all parties concerned.
§ Mr. Westwood
Are these negotiations conducted only with the authorities that have the existing powers to charge, namely, four Scottish and four English authorities, and the other three authorities that are able to get a direct contribution from the insurance companies; or, on the other hand, are they to be carried through in the spirit of the pledge that was given on 31st May? That pledge was as follows:I imagine that in particular the representatives of the local authorities who are going to lose these insurance payments under the Bill, when it becomes an Act, will be very much alive to that position and will insist that, supposing the insurance offices are going to make a contribution, one of the first. charges"—which presupposes that there will be other charges—upon that contribution should be compensation for those local authorities who are going to lose under these provisions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT (Standing Committee A), 31st May, 1938; col. 70.]The understanding in Committee was, when we argued the case for charges being made against the insurance companies for services rendered, that they should be called upon to make a contribution, not necessarily within the area—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Captain Bourne)
Is the hon. Member making an interruption, or a speech upon the Question "That the Clause be read a Second time"?
§ Mr. Westwood
I am making a rather long interruption to give the right hon. Gentleman an opportunity of explaining how negotiations are to be carried through in accordance with pledges which I have quoted from the Committee proceedings.
§ Sir S. Hoare
I can answer the hon. Gentleman's question in a single sentence. The negotiations to which I referred in the Committee and to-day are with those authorities who have local Acts under which they impose those charges. There has never been any question of the negotiations going beyond it.
§ Mr. Tomlinson
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the authorities who have not special powers have been able to get payment from insurance companies in days gone by because of services rendered? Would they come under this new arrangement? In other words, are they to receive any compensatory allowance in respect of the fact that they have been able to receive payment although they had no actual power for payment?
§ Sir S. Hoare
The hon. Member will see that you could not deal with cases of that kind. He is speaking of ex gratia payments which would not come within the scope of the Bill. They must be a matter of private arrangement between the individual, the insurance office and the local authority. We are not dealing with ex gratia payments at all, but with legal payments under certain Acts of Parliament.
§ Sir S. Hoare
I should not like to give an answer, because it seems to me a matter for the insurance companies whether a payment is ex gratia or not.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Sir Archibald Sinclair
The right hon. Gentleman seems to be asking us to take a lot on trust. At best he has not held out hope for much result from these negotiations. I understand the position to be that if the Bill is passed into law in its present form eight local authorities will have power to charge and that scores of local authorities and fire authorities will not be able to charge for the attendance of their brigades. Up till now it has been possible for local authorities to promote private Bills, and those who have not such powers have been able to obtain them from Parliament. That door is now to be finally closed. It seems to us who have been in touch with local authorities that they have made a strong case that consideration should now be given to their claim that when their fire fighting services 246 are used in relation to the property of a private individual it is right that they should be able to charge for the service and that the money should be recovered from the insurance company. Since the Derating Act was passed wealthy companies with warehouses have been paying only a fraction of the ordinary rates to the local authorities, and when fire-fighting appliances are used to put out a fire in the warehouses those companies will get off scot free, the ratepayers in the district paying for the fire services.
I am very doubtful, if we leave the position as it is and leave the Secretary of State to carry on the negotiations and embody the results in the Bill in another place, whether we shall get any satisfaction out of that procedure. It would be relinquishing a responsibility which we, as the House of Commons, ought to shoulder, and we ought to have a definite undertaking from the Secretary of State on the matter, that he will associate in the negotiations not only the eight local authorities to which reference has been made, but all the local authorities. Before the Bill is passed into law the obligation of the insurance companies to contribute to the expenses of the fire authorities should be made clear and definite.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Denman
Although this subject has been examined by a Royal Commission and by a Departmental Committee, and the opinion has been very definitely expressed that fire fighting should be a public service and should not be paid for out of the individual contributions of those who have suffered from fire, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) advocates that authorities should have fresh power to make these charges. That is, indeed, a surprising reversion to old days and old theories. I do not know whether within the lifetime of the right hon. Gentleman any local authority has obtained this power, but I do not think that any local authority has obtained it since I myself was two years old. It is an archaic suggestion now that local authorities should levy out of the pockets of those who have suffered from fires.
Having said that, I congratulate the Home Secretary on the course he has taken in making a general statement at this stage, because I think it will very 247 much shorten our discussion; but I regret the Amendments he is proposing. As I read the Bill as it came from the Committee, it seemed to me to adopt the opinion of the Royal Commission and the Riverdale Committee, and to accept the modern view that fire fighting is a social service. I cannot imagine, by the way, that tidy-minded Socialists on the Opposition benches would dissent from that attitude. Here is a public service performed on behalf of the community in general. That was the principle embodied in Clause 5, and it was something of a shock to see any suggestion that Clause 5 should be removed.
I do not in the least want to preserve the insurance companies from making a reasonable contribution, as they have done in the past, and they do not want to avoid a fair settlement; but hitherto the position as between different areas and as between different persons has been quite ridiculous. Sometimes there has been a claim against the owner, sometimes against the occupier; sometimes the owner or the occupier has been insured, and sometimes not. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners do not insure, and they are not interested in that side of the question, but the whole matter has been in a state of confusion and chaos as between different areas, and this orderly system of making it a simple public service is the obvious solution. However, on the distinct understanding that that principle will, so far as is possible, be preserved, and that negotiations will be carried on with the object of putting an end to this system of collecting from persons who happen to have suffered from fires, I am well content with the assurance that has been given.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Westwood
My surprise at the statement of the Home Secretary has only been surpassed by my amazement at the speech of the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr.Denman). We are told that it is an archaic suggestion to call upon the insurance companies—because we are discussing my Amendment as well as the new Clause—(HON. MEMBERS: "The owners")—my Amendment would make the owner directly responsible for the payment, and there would be incorporated in the insurance policy the right on the part of the owner to claim on the insurance company.
§ Mr. Westwood
That is not so now. We are dealing with three Amendments which are on the Order Paper at the present time, and it has been said that it is archaic to suggest making a claim against the owner. The hon. Gentleman has apparently forgotten that entirely new powers are being sought in this Bill. At the present time it is optional on the part of local authorities to provide firefighting services, but under the Bill, for almost the first time in connection with problems of local administration, the determination of a standard of efficiency is left to a central department, without any provision for State assistance to the local ratepayers in maintaining that standard of efficiency. In the case of at least 75 per cent. of these new fire authorities the service is a new one, because very few of our county councils in Scotland—and I expect that practically the same applies in England—have up to the present time made arrangements for firefighting services. This, therefore, is a new service which is being imposed upon them, and it is now being suggested that the whole charge for this new service shall be home by the local ratepayers, and none of it by the State, although the State is to determine the standard of efficiency in connection with the new service.
We have been told by the Home Secretary that fire authorities are now to be set up everywhere, and that, undoubtedly, is an argument for no fire authority having the right to charge out—with its own area. Immediately you set up fire authorities to cover the whole of Great Britain, it would be illogical to allow one authority to charge for services without its area. But what is going to be done under the proposals of the Home Secretary? Eight authorities are to be left with their existing powers to charge for fire services within their areas, but all other authorities are going to be denied for ever, so far as this Bill is concerned, the power to get the same rights which these eight authorities have at the present time. Undoubtedly, if a more efficient fire fighting service is provided, it is to the advantage of the fire insurance companies, and it is a fact, despite the statement of the Home Secretary, that negotiations have been carried on with authorities other than those which are 249 directly affected so far as their existing powers are concerned.
I am open to correction, but is it not a fact that representatives of the County Councils Association of Scotland were at the conference which was held at the Home Office to deal with this particular problem? I have yet to learn that a single county authority in Scotland has the power to charge under any local Act. It may be that I do not fully understand the English position, and I am not accusing the right hon. Gentleman of deliberately trying to mislead the House, but I am saying that negotiations have been carried on with those authorities that have not these powers. I go further, and say that there is bitter resentment on the part of the Scottish local authorities at the way in which the negotiations have already been carried on. The Scottish authorities were only met yesterday in connection with these negotiations, and there has been no time whatever to put down any adjusted Amendments prior to these proposals being discussed on Report. I can assure the House that there is bitter resentment on the part of the local authorities in Scotland at the way in which they have been treated, both in connection with the negotiations that are already taking place and as regards the lack of negotiations that ought to have taken place with a view to trying to get the necessary adjustments and harmonious working in connection with the Bill when it becomes an Act.
New duties are to be imposed on the local authorities, and the whole of the cost is to be borne by the local ratepayers. It is a new suggestion that this is giving effect to the Riverdale proposals. Why forget part of those proposals, and only adopt one part of them? While they suggested wiping out the charges presently made by local authorities, they also proposed a contribution of £700,000 a year from the State to enable the local authorities to maintain the standard of efficiency which they suggested should be set up. It is not fair, therefore, to argue in favour of the Riverdale proposals only when it suits you, and forget to take the whole of them into account. Undoubtedly, the local authorities are very grievously upset by the proposals of this Bill, which do not provide them with any financial assistance, but which, under the Clause we are now discussing, 250 would take away their right to charge. One of our local authorities, the City of Edinburgh, made application for the same powers as are possessed by the other four Scottish authorities which were mentioned in Committee, but the application was turned down.
Surely it is unfair to demand of local authorities that they should provide a new service entirely at the cost of the ratepayers, and of a limited number of ratepayers. In big industrial areas, where the big factories are de-rated to the extent of 75 per cent., the risk of fire is far greater, but the charge for dealing with those fires is to be borne entirely by the tenants in the case of Scotland. There are going to be stupid anomalies under the proposals we are now discussing. There are to be two sets of fire services, the one in connection with air-raid precautions and the other the normal fire fighting arrangement. In the case of the normal fire fighting arrangement, the whole of the cost is to be borne by the tenant, while in the case of those services connected with air-raid precautions 50 per cent. is to be borne by the landlord and 50 per cent. by the tenant. There are anomalies enough in Scottish rating, and more are being created by this Bill, instead of the matter being dealt with in a sensible way to secure efficiency in the fire fighting services. Where the risks are the greatest, the payment will be the least, and there will now be cases where the risks will be enormous and nothing will have to be paid.
I represent a constituency in which there are docks. If a foreign ship catches fire in Grangemouth Docks the charge for putting it out will be a liability on the local authority and the ratepayers, and there is no power under the Home Secretary's proposal to charge even the owners of that vessel for the fire services required. I suggest that it is unfair to place this new responsibility on local authorities, to provide no national assistance, and at the same time to refuse to allow them to make legitimate charges for services. The employment of arbitrary standards of efficiency by a Government Department are bound to make their problems still greater. The denial of the right to make any charges for fire services raises questions of the highest importance, in view of the fact that what is at stake is not merely the 251 property of the ratepayer but the interest of the fire insurance company in that particular property.
The Amendment which ultimately will be called, in accordance with arrangements come to, will give power to the local authorities to charge in accordance with a scale approved of by the Secretary of State, and will also compel the fire insurance companies to recoup those persons who have taken out fire insurance policies when their property is affected by fire. I hope that, even on the Report stage, in view of the inequity of the Bill and of this Clause, the right hon. Gentleman will withdraw the Clause, and accept the Amendment which stands in my name, which would enable the local authorities to make a charge in accordance with scales prescribed by himself. If we are to have an efficient service, it is wrong to put the whole cost on the shoulders of the ratepayers. The present proposal is unfair, and is resented by every local authority in Scotland: not only those composed of members of my party—and I am not prepared to take my Socialism from the hon. Member opposite; mine is not a hybrid brand, and I have never run away from it. I hope that, in the interests of efficient local administration, the right hon. Gentleman will accept the Amendment in my name.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Sir W. Brass
The hon. Member who has just sat down was perfectly right when he said that at present the insurance companies have not to pay the amount which is charged by the local authorities, and the Home Secretary was not correct in what he said. That is why the hon. Member put down his Amendment, in order to try to bring it about that that should be included in the policy. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) that the position is extremely unsatisfactory. The position appears to me to be this: the Government produce a Bill, based on the Riverdale Committee's Report, amongst other things, and included in it is a Clause—Clause 5—the effect of which is that certain local authorities which at present are allowed to charge the inhabitants in their areas for fire-engine services shall not in future do so. On the Second Reading, the Under-Secretary used these words: 252By this Clause all enactments entitling a fire authority to receive payments for services from owners or occupiers of property in which fires occur will cease to have effect. Charges for putting out chimney fires and for services rendered by fire brigades otherwise than by fire extinction, as, for example, the salvage work after a fire, or special services such as the rescue of persons or animals, are not affected by this new provision. In a few local Acts the local authority is empowered to make a charge for the attendance of their brigade at fires inside their own district.…This system, as was pointed out by both the Royal Commission, which reported in 1933, and by the Riverdale Committee, is wrong in principle, because under it the owner or occupier of the premises pays twice over for the services of the brigade, once through the local rates, and again if a fire occurs. Moreover, if a ratepayer knows that he has himself to pay for the attendance of the brigade he may hesitate to call assistance at once when a fire occurs, thus endangering his own and adjoining property."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th May, 1938; col. 1511, Vol. 335.]We are told by the Under-Secretary that it is very important to have this particular Clause in the Bill, that it is one of the cardinal points of the Bill itself. Now we find that the Home Secretary is negotiating—I do not know whether he is doing it himself—with certain insurance companies who are paying perfectly voluntary contributions to householders. I understand from the hon. Gentleman opposite that joining in these negotiations you have the local authorities concerned and, if I understand him aright, some which are not concerned. Now this important Clause is to be removed from the Bill by the Home Secretary himself, and is to be put in again in another place if certain negotiations which are going on are satisfactory. But if those negotiations are not satisfactory, what is to happen? Why should we in this House be dependent on some sort of arrangement which is being made behind the scenes? We are told that there is a sacrifice; the Government are being told by these negotiators, apparently, that they must sacrifice Clause 5, which they consider of paramount importance. Why should not the Government come to these local authorities and tell them what they are prepared to do? I am not going to enter into the question of the amount of compensation, but it seems to me ridiculous for the Government to have to wait on negotiations with certain insurance companies, to try to force the payment of a certain amount of money which was a gratuitous payment before. I hope that 253 when the Under-Secretary comes to answer, he will explain how this has come about.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Silkin
The hon. and gallant Member for Clitheroe (Sir W. Brass) seems to have completely misconceived the position. He refers to payments made by insurance companies as being perfectly voluntary payments. They are payments made under local Acts—
§ Sir W. Brass
The payments are made by the owners. The gratuitous payments are made by the insurance companies to the owners, but the payments, as far as the companies are concerned, are quite gratuitous. That is the reason for the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench.
§ Mr. Westwood
I dealt only with authorities in Scotland. There are authorities in England in whose case the payments must be made.
§ Mr. Silkin
I was dealing with cases where payments are made under local Acts. In those cases they are not gratuitous. They are made by owners, who have the right to recover those payments under contracts with the insurance companies. It is those payments that the insurance companies are to be relieved of if Clause 5 goes through. I submit that there is no earthly reason why the insurance companies should be relieved of those payments, which they are making at present under contracts and for which they are receiving additional premiums. So much for payments made under contracts. But I submit that there is no reason for the discrimination as against local authorities which are fortunate enough to have local Acts, those which are fortunate enough to have made arrangements, and those which have no local Acts but have the right to come to this House. If Clause 5 is lost in its present form, local authorities will be prevented for all time from making any charge. The hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) seems to regard it as an archaic principle that local authorities should make a charge for services rendered to their own ratepayers, but I submit that there is ample precedents for that.
§ Mr. Denman
I do not say that the principle is archaic. I only say that it is in its application to this particular subject. The Riverdale Committee has recommended against it.
§ Mr. Silkin
If the hon. Member suggests that it becomes an archaic principle because some committee has recommended against it, I do not understand why the Socialist party should be accused of following an archaic principle because the Riverdale Committee has reported against that principle. We do not take our lead from the Riverdale Committee. This is a principle which every Member of this House accepts in proper cases. The real point is whether or not a local authority should make a charge for fire services. I fail to understand why, in principle, it is wrong for a local authority to make a charge for dealing with fire fighting and right for it to make a charge, as it is obliged to under the Local Government Act, for treating patients in its local hospital. I should have thought that of the two it is more proper that patients should be treated free in local hospitals or pupils educated free in secondary schools than that a fire should be put out free of charge. Certainly a charge for fire extinguishment is the last charge that I would abate, and I will agree that it is right that a charge should be made in proper cases, especially having regard to the fact that, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, many of the biggest fire risks are in the case of ratepayers or bodies of ratepayers who in fact pay a very much reduced rate—only 25 per cent. of the rate. Having regard to that, I submit that there is a very good case, not only for allowing the authorities which have local Acts to retain these powers but even for extending those powers to other local authorities.
Whatever may be the position as regards making a charge for a fire inside the area of the local authority, I utterly fail to understand the justification for the new Clause which prevents a local authority from making a charge in respect of a fire outside its area. All the arguments are directly to the effect that there may be some case for a local authority extinguishing a fire inside its area without making a charge upon its ratepayers, but what is the case for compelling a local authority to extinguish a fire outside its 255 area and not make a charge? That is what the Home Secretary is seeking to provide in the new Clause. His case is that, if the Bill becomes an Act, it will no longer be necessary for any local authority to deal with a fire outside its area. I deny that entirely. It will still be necessary in certain cases for a local authority to come to the rescue of an adjoining local authority and to extinguish a fire outside its area.
There was the recent case of the Crystal Palace fire, with which the right hon. Gentleman is familiar, where there were at least two authorities outside London whose duty it was to deal with that fire. They had efficient fire fighting services, but the Crystal Palace fire was an exceptional one and their resources were inadequate for dealing with it, and they had to call in the London County Council. The London County Council was in a position to make a charge for dealing with a fire outside its area. If the new Clause goes through, the London County Council if it happened to be in that position, might be called upon to deal with a fire outside its area, and it would not be able to make a charge. If the right hon. Gentleman takes the view that under this Bill every local authority will require to provide a service which should be sufficient for any possible contingency, however remote, he is going to put upon local authorities a very great burden indeed. The sensible thing is that it should be open to any local authority to call in the services of an adjoining local authority to deal with an exceptional case of fire fighting, and, in such a case, the local authority that was called in should have the right to make a charge.
The new Clause is ill-advised and will have the reverse effect of what is intended, because if the views of the Home Secretary are correct, it will compel local authorities to inaugurate a far larger service than they would really need. Alternatively, he is going to make adjoining local authorities very reluctant to come in and deal with a fire outside their area when they know they are not to be paid for dealing with a fire with which they are under no legal obligation to deal. I hope that the Home Secretary will give further consideration to the new Clause, and that, whatever he may do with Clause 5, he will reconsider this matter 256 and enable local authorities to make a charge for dealing with fires outside their area.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Crowder
As far as I understand the position at the present moment, eight towns have powers to charge their ratepayers for the attendance of fire brigades at their premises, and under the Act of 1847 all local authorities who possess fire brigades have power to charge for attendance at fires outside their own area. That appears to be the position to-day. The position raised by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin), when he suggested that, as local authorities have to pay for their patients in hospitals, therefore, the insurance companies should pay for fires which occur, does not seem to be quite sound. It has never been suggested that accident insurance companies or those that do accident business should pay for ambulances.
§ Mr. Silkin
I would inform the hon. Gentleman that insurance companies pay hospitals for the cost of treatment of people who suffer as a result of accidents.
§ Mr. Crowder
But they do not pay for ambulances, which do a tremendous amount towards saving the lives of people who are run down in the street. But that is a small point. This Bill deals chiefly with extra fire precautions and appliances required for air raids, and neither insurance companies nor Lloyds insure war risks in this country, and, therefore, they are not interested in any way in damage which may be done in this country by air raids or on account of war. As the Bill has really a good deal to do with equipping fire services so as to help in putting out any fires which might arise from air raids, I do not see that they are particularly interested in paying for fire services required for the purpose.
As to the argument that insurance companies should pay for the brigade in putting out fires, I would point out that the premiums are adjusted all over the country on outgoings and incomings, and if there were no fire brigades the insurance premiums would ve very much higher. Therefore, if insurance companies were made by law to pay in every case for the services of fire brigades throughout the country, the obvious result would be that the premiums would have to be increased. The hon. Gentleman on 257 the Front Bench opposite suggested that the Riverdale Report says that the Government should make a grant to the local authorities. I do not propose to argue that one way or the other, but I do not think that the insurance companies should be asked to pay these fire brigade charges. This view of insurers has been supported since 1878, because Parliament has refused since then to give local authorities the power to charge for fire brigade services.
§ Mr. Westwood
Can the hon. Gentleman say whether the insurance premiums are higher in Glasgow, where they have the power to charge the insured person, and payment is made by the insurance company, than they are in any other towns where they have not the local powers to enforce a charge against the owners?
§ Mr. Crowder
I should say that there is no difference as regards private houses, but I cannot say whether the assessor, who goes over the buildings and delivers a report to the underwriter concerned, takes that fact into consideration when he rates the whole buildings or works. I should certainly rate a building a little higher if I thought an extra charge could be made on the insurance company. I thought that the Government were going to give effect to the principle, which insurers have long contended, namely, that fire brigade services should be a public service either paid for by the local authorities entirely, or by the local authorities with a grant from the Treasury. The speech of the Home Secretary on the Second Reading seemed to indicate that he rather agreed with this scheme. In fact, he gave us to understand that one of the main objectives of the Bill was to give effect to this section of the Riverdale Report and the Royal Commission. But the Government seemed to have given an undertaking that they would allow these eight towns, who possess special powers to charge their own ratepayers, to continue to do so, unless a satisfactory arrangement was come to with insurers which would make it unnecessary. The Government seem to express their readiness to depart from the principle that fire services should be given throughout the country without charge unless insurers did what neither the Riverdale Committee nor any other committee has ever suggested, namely, 258 give satisfactory compensation to those eight local authorities concerned. I certainly recognise that the Government are in a certain difficulty, being obliged to give effect to the principle of free fire brigade services throughout the country, and also, in certain cases, to depart from it.
I thoroughly agree with what one speaker has said, that we ought to decide the question here in this House and not leave it until conversations come to a satisfactory or unsatisfactory conclusion between insurance companies, Lloyds, the local authorities and the Government. I understand that Lloyds and the insurance companies have offered to make a contribution such as will enable the Government to give these eight local authorities full financial satisfaction and also to make a valuable payment to the research school suggested in a later paragraph. If I am rightly informed that that is the case, I cannot see why Clause 5 should be withdrawn. I hope that the Under-Secretary will deal with these few points which I have raised. I feel now that these committees have reported, and, following the speeches of the Home Secretary and others, both on Second Reading and in Committee, that the principle is that fire brigade services should be provided free either through local authorities or through grants from the Government, and that insurance companies should not in future be asked to pay towards fire brigade services, except in so far as they have already agreed with the companies and the local authorities.
§ 6.29 p.m.
The source from which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Finchley (Mr. Crowder) obtained his information must have been very much more optimistic than the information which I have obtained with regard to the conferences of local authorities on the question of insurance. I understand from representatives of local authorities who attended that the insurance companies took up a very high-handed attitude on this question and practically refused to discuss the question with the local authorities, and that the position remains the same to-day. Therefore, it is well, in asking to leave this question for further discussion with the insurance companies, to remember the attitude they have already adopted, which, I understand, has 259 created considerable dissatisfaction not only among Labour Members but among Members on all sides of the House, and on the Ministerial Bench itself.
I cannot say, after Mr. Dolland's meeting with the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War last week, that I represent the Glasgow local authority. I have been in communication with the councillors who are on the committee of the Glasgow Council with regard to this particular matter, and they regard very seriously this taking away of rights that local authorities have obtained by coming to this House and obtaining a Provisional Order. Now we are asked to consent to those Provisional Orders being set aside until discussions have taken place with the insurance companies, who have proved themselves to be highly unsatisfactory in the negotiations.
This ought to be treated as a non-party Measure. Politics ought not to enter into it. We are trying to build up an efficient fire brigade service that will be able to cope not merely with the difficulties of fires at the present time but with the greater difficulties that might arise in the future should any untoward conflagration take place in regard to foreign Powers. This Bill is designed to assist us in our air-raid precautions schemes. Although it does not come directly in the category of air-raids precautions and does not rank as an air-raids precautions scheme, it must be correlated to the air-raid precautions. Therefore, I say frankly to the Government that if they cannot gain the co-operation of the local authorities and if they antagonise the local authorities towards this scheme by taking away certain powers which they already possess, they are creating a condition of affairs which will mean that the fire brigade service will not be efficient in the future.
In Glasgow we have a Provisional Order which allows the Glasgow authorities to charge a maximum price of £15 for a turnout within the area. They do not very often charge the maximum amount, but they are allowed to charge £15 towards the cost of the turnout within the area, that is, 50 per cent., and they are allowed to charge 100 per cent. outside the area. In Glasgow, Dundee and other Scottish local authorities areas they have these Provisional Orders which give them a certain amount of freedom 260 and allow them to make a charge for their fire brigade service, and without exception those local authorities have efficient fire brigades. I can speak personally in regard to Glasgow, which has very efficient fire services. Glasgow receives from its Provisional Order an annual sum of, roughly, £7,000 a year. Fire brigade services, generally speaking, more particularly in the rural areas, are bad. They have part-time workers, voluntary firemen, old-fashioned fire engines, if they have any fire engines at all, they have no proper hydrants and no adequate appliances. Therefore, the Home Secretary came forward with a Bill to bring the country up to an efficient standard.
By the Bill we are asked to agree that in the name of efficiency those local authorities which have done their duty in the past, which have built up efficient fire brigades and have had sufficient interest in their local affairs to come to this House and obtain protection for their fire brigades, are to have those rights scrapped, because of the inefficiency of certain other fire brigades in rural and other areas. Such a position cannot be accepted by the efficient local authorities, and it is essential that the Government should have the co-operation of those local authorities in regard to the Bill. They may have a majority of 500 Members here for 50 years, but if the local authorities, whatever their political complexion, are opposed to the Bill, it will not be successful and we shall not have fire brigade efficiency.
I would ask those people who suggest that local authorities should be divested of these powers, to visualise the position that would have arisen if the fire brigades had been left in private hands. In that case what would be the demand for charges to-day? I believe that if the fire brigades had been left in private hands instead of being controlled by the local authorities, in view of the nearness or the danger of war, in view of the European situation, there would be a demand by those private owners for an increased subsidy or grant. I have been amazed to hear men who are well known in the insurance world standing up in the House and claiming that there should be a rebate and that the Provisional Orders granted to the local authorities should be 261 assisted in the name of efficiency, and that they should retain their provisional orders.
Encouragement should be given to more local authorities to act on the lines of those local authorities who already have efficient, well-manned and capable fire brigades. In Glasgow, the city council, looking to the future, are involved in a further expenditure of £90,000 in the setting up of a new fire brigade, with appliances, engines, manning, etc. We differ from many areas which are going to benefit under this particular scheme. I should like to tell the Home Secretary that I went to Rothesay for my holidays and there I met the captain of the fire brigade. Rothesay is one of the areas that will benefit under the scheme. It is an area that has not had an efficient fire brigade in the past. They have had a captain of the fire brigade who was also assistant master of works and had to look after the drainage and sewerage of the district. He had to look after the municipal tennis courts and putting greens. He was also sergeant of the Rothesay municipal band, in addition to being the captain of the fire brigade. That is an inefficient fire organisation.
In our efficient areas, under our Provisional Orders we have had the best fire masters, with the most efficient fire brigades, capable of dealing with the biggest of fires, and we have been enabled to make what must be looked upon as a very small charge to assist in this valuable work. Nevertheless, those authorities that have set such an example to the rest of the country are to be singled out and their Provisional Orders are to be scrapped. The Glasgow local authority, which has built up a very efficient fire service, is to have its Provisional Orders no longer in existence. I have here a copy of a Provisional Order, the Glasgow Corporation and Police Act of 1895, which cannot be improved upon, having regard to the circumstances that obtained in the past. That Provisional Order obtained the sanction of Parliament, the sanction and blessing of a past Home Secretary, and this Provisional Order and other Provisional Orders are to be scrapped because certain insurance companies want special facilities.
I have been disgusted to listen to the claims made by people who are better off 262 than the average citizen. In any emergency that may arise in regard to war, or air raids causing fires, working-class men and women will be expected to give their services and to make their sacrifices as citizens, without counting the cost, but to my disgust I have heard representatives rising in their places and asking whether this particular section of the community or that section is to be guaranteed this and that, and whether they are to be guaranteed against loss. The local authorities, as the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary have stated, have put their elbows into the task of setting up efficient fire brigade services in their areas, and we ought to assist them and not to place obstacles in their way. I am sure that Members of all parties in this House and Tory, Labour and Liberal councillors on the local authorities, are opposed not only to the taking away of the Provisional Orders but the taking away of the right to obtain Provisional Orders in the future. If the Government insist on their proposal, I venture into the realms of prophecy and say that their Fire Brigades Bill will be a complete fiasco.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Moreing
I cannot hope to rise to the eloquence of the hon. Member who has just addressed the House, but I should like to bring the discussion back to the point raised by the right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Sir W. Brass), and that is the way in which the House is being treated in respect to the new Clause moved by the Home Secretary. The Government attach considerable importance to Clause 5, and now we are informed that certain negotiations are taking place, and, as a consequence, Amendments may be made, and a different Clause may be moved in another place. In that event it will come back to us too late for discussion here. We are not being treated fairly in this matter.
There is a growing tendency on the part of the Government to rely on their majority and on the docile support of their followers to carry Measures through without adequate support from the House generally. This Bill is not being introduced for the first time. It had a Second Reading some time ago, and I understand there was a protracted discussion in Standing Committee. We are now discussing 263 the Report stage, and we are informed that if certain negotiations take place and are concluded in a satisfactory manner, certain alterations may be made in another place. I understand—I am not certain, and speak subject to correction, because the proposal does not appear on the Order Paper—that there is a possibility that the Third Reading may be taken to-night. Hon. Members will recollect that a similar thing took place on the Road Haulage Wages Bill recently. That Bill was on the Order Paper for the Committee stage. We considered it in Committee, the Minister in charge gave undertakings that Amendments would be moved to meet various objections that had been raised, and he said that they would be embodied in the Bill in another place.
The Bill came before us on a Friday, when hon. Members wanted to get away from the turmoil of Westminster to their week-end avocations, and we were told that the Report stage would be taken at once. The Report stage was a mere formality, and then we had the Third Reading of a Bill involving the interests of a great many people, employers and employed, in a great industry. The same thing is being done on this Bill. We are now on the Report stage and the Home Secretary has moved a new Clause, and has informed us that as a result of certain negotiations which are taking place certain Amendments may have to be made in another place. I do not think we are being treated fairly by the Government, and as far as I am concerned, whether it is by voting against the new Clause or in any other way, I intend to enter my protest against being dragooned by the Home Secretary or any other Member of the Government into accepting a position which takes away any of the rights of hon. Members.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Watson
In Committee we had a speech from the hon. Member for Finchley (Mr. Crowder) on this subject, but it was a different speech from that which he has made on the present occasion. In Committee he was polite and amiable, and gave us an assurance that as far as the insurance companies were concerned there would be no attempt on their part to get out of any of the obligations which they have recognised in the past. He led us to believe that the insurance companies 264 were prepared to enter into negotiations with the Government and to come to an amicable settlement on the question of the contributions from insurance companies to local authorities. He gave us a definite assurance on that matter. When the hon. Member for Falkirk and Stirling (Mr. Westwood) was addressing the House, there seemed to be a doubt as to what exactly has happened in regard to these negotiations. I do not think there was any doubt in the minds of hon. Members on the Committee that any contributions to be made by the insurance companies would be shared by local authorities whether they had definite arrangements through an Act of Parliament or simply an understanding with the insurance companies. The hon. Member for Falkirk and Stirling told us that these negotiations were going on yesterday. I do not understand this matter at all. I cannot understand why these negotiations should still be going on. There seems to be no finality. It is within the knowledge of the Government that information has been given to hon. Members as to the result of some of these negotiations. I hold in my hand a circular issued by the Association of County Councils in Scotland, dated 10th June, and there is one paragraph which reads:At a conference held at the Home Office on the 8th instant, at which representatives of this Association were present, it was announced that after considering the matter the insurance companies, embracing Lloyds Underwriters as well as tariff and non-tariff companies, desired to establish the position that they were not required under the Bill, and should not be required, to maintain the contributions previously made by them to local authorities, and in any event that they would not be prepared to contribute by way of lump sum any amount which might be mentioned in perpetuity of present receipts to the local authorities before mentioned. They did not, therefore, consider it necessary to continue the negotiations, and regard the negotiations at an end.My hon. Friend has informed the House that negotiations with these same companies were taking place yesterday. The question has been asked whether the negotiations had reference only to those local authorities which have an Act of Parliament entitling them to get a contribution from insurance companies, or whether it applied to local authorities generally. The hon. Member for Finchley said that in the negotiations which were going on now there was an understanding, or an agreement, between 265 the insurance companies and, I suppose, the Government. The hon. Member told us that the contribution that is to come from insurance companies is to be devoted to work in connection with the central training organisation. The same question was discussed in Committee, and I objected to this contribution being devoted to the central training organisation which is to be set up. Provision is made in the Financial Resolution for that service to be undertaken and paid for by the Government, and here the hon. Member for Finchley, speaking on behalf of the insurance companies, as he did upstairs in Committee, tells us that this contribution is to be devoted to some purpose for which the Government have already the sanction of this House to make a financial payment. Local authorities are evidently to get nothing whatever from the insurance companies, and the Government are to have a substantial contribution from the companies to help them to set up this central training organisation. When they understand this, local authorities will be more bitter than they have been.
A great many of the difficulties in which the Home Secretary finds himself at the moment are due to the fact that he has not consulted local authorities on the matter as he should have done. Up to the moment local authorities have been able to save their ratepayers to some extent by getting this contribution from insurance companies. Now, under the new Clause which the Home Secretary is asking us to accept, that contribution is to be cut off and an additional burden thrown on the shoulders of local authorities. In Committee the Home Secretary told us that, instead of this contribution from insurance companies being devoted to a central training establishment, it was to be devoted to regional training centres. As far as I can discover, there is no provision in the Bill for the establishment of regional training centres. It shows to what extent the Home Secretary is being driven in this matter. He told us, first of all, that local authorities ought to undertake this service, and that it should be a service provided free to the ratepayers, but now it will not be possible for local authorities to get a contribution even if it gives these services outside its own area, because of this arrangement which allows insurance companies to get off with this money. Clause 5 is one which has given the greatest concern to 266 hon. Members for the simple reason that it will throw on the shoulders of local authorities an additional burden which they should not be called upon to bear.
In Committee the hon. Member for Finchley said that insurance companies were not only willing but anxious to enter into negotiations with the Government, and I must confess that I was under the impression that all local authorities who were getting any relief at all by the contributions from insurance companies would benefit under the scheme. Now we are told that those who are protected by Acts of Parliament are not to have this protection. I hope the House will divide against the new Clause, and will insist upon the Amendment of the hon. Member for Falkirk and Stirling being inserted so that local authorities will have some protection against insurance companies. The hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) was amazed that we should ask that a contribution should be made by insurance companies; he thought that local authorities should bear the whole cost of putting this into force. What do people insure for? Is it just to give premiums to insurance companies; and that they should have no responsibility? It is anew doctrine, and I hope that local authorities will insist upon getting a share of these contributions which ought to come from insurance companies in order to relieve them of some of their burdens.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Hunter
I am sure that many local authorities will be rather perturbed at what the Home Secretary has said this afternoon. It seems to me that the position is that we are to accept the statement that the matter will be put right in another place, that we are to trust the Government. If these negotiations had taken place with all local authorities in Scotland who are interested I do not think there would have been much trouble in coming to an arrangement. There will be a difficulty in putting the Bill into operation in rural areas where there is an isolated population. I represent a city and a very large proportion of a rural area. The county council in this instance will for the rural area be the fire authority, but it would be madness for the county council to set up here and there throughout the isolated areas fire appliances to deal with a fire which may occur.
267 In the city of Perth there is a well equipped and most efficient fire brigade, and a voluntary arrangement has been entered into between the county council and the city whereby the city fire brigade, on a stated scale of charges, is available for all fires in those rural areas. There is a scale of charges against owners whose properties have been on fire. There has been not the slightest trouble through that arrangement. It has proved one of the most efficient and economical that could be imagined. The insurance companies have freely and willingly agreed to pay to the owners of the property the charges of the fire brigade for a turn-out. It is only right and proper that the ratepayers shaould pay the costs of the standing fire brigade but, when special services are required surely the local authorities should be entitled, under agreement whereby the owners pay the cost of the turn-out, to reclaim it from the insurance companies.
I do not believe that the insurance companies will wilfully try to escape their responsibilities in the matter. If the Bill goes through without an arrangement common to all local authorities, the fire brigades will say, "We are not responsible for this," and the ultimate result will be that the local authorities will have a very heavy burden put upon them in addition to the present burden of maintaining fire brigades. The fire brigades are saving the insurance companies without a doubt and, if the companies would come to an arrangement, or if power were given to local authorities to make arrangements themselves with the fire brigade, a great deal of the trouble that has arisen would be avoided, but as it is proposed now, it will be adding a burden to the local authorities and relieving the insurance companies of their responsibility. They have never asked to be relieved of that responsibility but, if they are not bound in some way to contribute to the local authorities, it is certain that they will not do it and the local authorities will have to carry this burden. It will be a very serious matter for the rural areas in Scotland if this goes through as at present. Some reservation should be made whereby the House would know that the insurance companies are not only to compensate boroughs which have Acts of Parliament but will also compensate boroughs and counties which have had an honourable agreement with them. If 268 there is not to be a common level, the Bill will create great dissatisfaction throughout the country.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Tomlinson
I intervene lest the House should get the impression that the Bill applies only to Scotland and that only Scottish Members are concerned concerned about the bawbees. Many English local authorities are concerned about the Clause. I believe the illustration given by the hon. Member who spoke last could be multiplied a hundred-fold in every English town where an efficient brigade has been established. I wish to come to the question of authorities which have not had Acts of Parliament but have, nevertheless, had an understanding and which, as I see it, under the negotiations now taking place are being left out almost entirely. It seems to me, if the negotiations continue on the lines suggested by the right hon. Gentleman, those authorities which have provided efficient brigades, and which as a consequence of their efficiency have established, I will not call it the right—the privilege if you like—of coming to an arrangement with insurance companies, will be deprived under the Bill of what they have received in the past. No one will suggest that so-called ex gratia payments from insurance companies will be forthcoming in the future if it is laid down in the Act that they are no longer necessary. If you are excluding the right of the authority which has undertakings under Act of Parliament to receive payment, you are excluding for all time those ex gratia payments which have been made in the past. I have wondered whether the Bill was one for the benefit of insurance companies or one for the purpose of establishing fire brigades.
It has been suggested on several occasions by hon. Members opposite that insurance companies ought not to be called upon to pay contributions. It has been suggested that a fire brigade service should be a public service and should be free to all, and we have been chastised because we have gone back on our Socialist principles to the extent of arguing that services should be paid for. If an insurance service were a public service there might be something in the argument. Are you not relieving the insurance company of a great liability by creating an efficient brigade? The suggestion has been made that they should no longer be able to 269 charge outside the area of their own authority, and there may be some justification for that if you are having uniformity of service throughout the country, as is suggested by the Bill. But, if you are depriving the local authorities of what they are now receiving from the insurance companies, and at the same time making the same guarantee, you are doing it at the expense of the ratepayers. The insurance companies will, as the result of Parliamentary action, be in a favoured position compared with what they were before. My right hon. Friend suggests that those authorities which have an Act of Parliament entitling them to claim are entitled to compensation, and I understand that conversations are going on with regard to the amount of compensation that will be available and the way in which it should be allocated. Allocated amongst whom? All the authorities which have had in the past an efficient brigade, according to the standards now being laid down, are entitled to a share in these compensatory payments.
§ Mr. Crowder
As far as I understand it, agreements have been come to whereby insurance companies would pay compensation only to the eight authorities which are allowed to charge under Act of Parliament.
§ Mr. Tomlinson
As I understand it, the authority has come to Parliament for power to charge people because it has been unable to come to a voluntary agreement with the insurance companies. Where you have local authorities exercising all the powers that Parliament has given to other authorities, and receiving sums equal to those that are being paid to those authorities, surely they are entitled to consideration when the question is being discussed and a settlement is being arrived at. Are they to be left in a less favoured position because by agreement with insurance companies they have been able to achieve that which others have achieved by Act of Parliament?
§ Mr. Crowder
As far as I know, the companies have no agreements with local authorities. All they do is to pay the insurance charges if they think they are fair and reasonable.
§ Mr. Tomlinson
No statutory agreement. I agree. I am not concerned whether it is a statutory agreement under which an insurance company is granting money to an authority or not. You can 270 call it what you like. You can make it ex gratia, or it may be compulsory. If the money is forthcoming, that is the thing about which the local authority is concerned. If it is not forthcoming, as it will not be in these circumstances, that is the thing about which my local authority is concerned, and it is asking why an authority which happens to have through an Act of Parliament the power to insist upon payment should be compensated, but an authority which has received the same payment without an Act of Parliament should not be compensated. It is the smaller authorities, which have made themselves efficient at a higher price because of their smaller rateable value, which will be hardest hit. I plead that, if these negotiations are to continue, all local authorities with efficient brigades—they are known: the Home Secretary can put his fingers upon them—should be brought in and some settlement arrived at that is fair and above board as far as they are concerned.
The companies, which are receiving great financial advantage out of this improvement in the fire service, should not be free from liability. We are relieving them of a great responsibility that they have carried in the past. If the firefighting services are efficient, the contingency against which the insurance company puts up the money is not likely to arise so readily. If an efficient service is there on the spot, the liability that the company is called upon to meet is of necessity much smaller. If you get two services where you have only had one, the danger of a mill or workshop being entirely burnt out is only half what it was previously. I ask that those who have been covering that contingency should pay a contribution towards it being covered in the new arrangements that are being made, and particularly local authorities ought not to be called upon to pay through the nose all the time, as they will under these arrangements.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Sir S. Hoare
May I deal first with the question of procedure? It was suggested by more than one speaker that the House is being asked to pass my new Clause, and subsequently to omit Clause 5, on the undertaking that negotiations were proceeding, and an arrangement might be reached which could be imple- 271 mented before the Bill is finally disposed of. I had to make this choice. If I had left Clause 5 in the Bill, I think hon. Members opposite would have said that I was prejudicing the position against them. Therefore, I decided to leave Clause 5 out of the Bill, and I thought that, on the whole, that was the fairest course to adopt. I wish very much that I had been in a position to-day to announce that an agreement had been reached. I assure hon. Members who have asked me this afternoon why an agreement has not yet been reached that it has not been for want of trying. Ever since the House gave a Second Reading to the Bill, conversations have been proceeding either with the local authorities or with the insurance offices.
At first, there was a very big gap between them. I can tell the House to-day that the gap is very much narrower, and I would not have asked the House to adopt the procedure that I have urged this afternoon did I not think that an agreement would be reached which would be fair to both parties. By that I mean an agreement that would abrogate these charges and would, first and foremost, compensate the authorities which now have a statutory power to impose these charges. I meant, secondly, much more than was suggested by the hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson), that there would be a sum available, not for the Central Training College, which is now going to be financed out of Exchequer grants, but for the improvement of fire services generally. The hon. Member for Dunfermline will remember that in the Standing Committee I gave one or two illustrations of the ways in which the other part of the sum could be used. As I have said, we pressed on with the negotiations. I should have been glad if I could have delayed the Report stage of this Bill until they had been completed, but unfortunately, I am working under pressure, for hon. Members must remember that the primary object of this Bill is to deal with emergency measures, in particular with air-raid precautions, and I regarded it as my duty to push on with the Bill and get it through as quickly as I could. That is the sole and only reason I am asking the House to-day to omit Clause 5, without knowing precisely the terms of the agreement which I hope will be reached.
272 I come now to another question of procedure that was raised by the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. Westwood), who asked me about the negotiations. Several other hon. Members also asked what exactly took place at the negotiations. I will tell the House what has happened. I gave an undertaking in the Standing Committee that I would bring the parties together and attempt to help them to reach an agreement. Accordingly, there was a meeting with the representatives of the local authorities on 8th June. It is true that the representatives of the local authorities who attended on 8th June came not only from the eight areas where local Acts are in force, but from the local authorities' organisations generally. It is, however, a fact that the subject of the conference was not the subject of the general contribution by insurance offices to fire authorities generally, but the specific question of the contribution in the areas where there is at present a statutory enactment. I am informed that at that conference the question of the three authorities to which I alluded at the beginning of my first speech, London, Liverpool and Salford, was treated on a somewhat different basis. It was taken out of the discussion, because it seemed that there was no possibility of an agreement on that side. Accordingly, the position in regard to those three cities is left exactly as it was. The discussion subsequently took place on what should happen in these eight areas where there are local Acts. I regret to say that on 8th June there was still a very wide gap between the local authorities and the insurance offices, but I am also glad to be able to say that since then other discussions have been proceeding, and I believe that the gap is now a narrow one and that we shall reach an agreement, on the one hand abrogating these charges, and, on the other hand, compensating the local authorities in an effective manner for the loss to their revenues that they would otherwise suffer.
§ Mr. Westwood
There was a suggestion made at that conference by at least one representative who did not represent those authorities having local Acts. I have a note here from which I will quote, if necessary, even though it may be secret information.
§ Sir S. Hoare
I am told that one of the representatives present said that the general question of the contribution to all local authorities would be raised in the House and that someone—I suppose the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. Westwood)—was going to put down an Amendment on the subject. Apart from the exception of that one gentleman who was present at the conference, I can say that the subject of the discussion was the contribution in these eight areas. Having disposed of these questions of procedure, I come now to the merits of the case. Several hon. Members have claimed that the insurance offices should bear the expenses of fire precautions, or at any rate a proportion of those expenses. That was not the opinion of the two authoritative Commissions which inquired into fire brigade administration. The Royal Commission, in 1923, and the Riverdale Committee, in more recent years, took the view that this was an obligation upon the local authorities and that the ratepayers had a right to expect fire protection without making any contribution apart from their liability for rates.
§ Sir S. Hoare
Inside those areas. As far as out-district payments are concerned, I gathered from the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk that there is no disagreement between us and that those payments, in the nature of things, are bound to come to an end.
§ Mr. Westwood
Always provided that the House accepts the Amendment standing in my name, which would entitle every authority to charge for services rendered.
§ Sir S. Hoare
It was with the general proposition, rather than with the hon. Member's special point, that I was dealing. As far as the general position is concerned, I cannot see what general justification there is for calling upon the fire offices to pay fire precaution expenses any more than there is for burglary offices to make a contribution to the police to avoid burglary risks or life insurance offices to make a contribution to the sanitary authorities on the ground that better sanitation leads to a greater length of life. As far as the general question is concerned, I take a diametrically opposite view to the view that was 274 expressed by some hon. Members this afternoon; I consider that the continuance of these contributions is an anomaly—that was the view of the Riverdale Committee—and that it is an anomaly which, under this Bill, ought to be brought to an end. There is the fact that, in spite of this being an anomaly, there are these vested interests in the eight areas in which there are local Acts. I agree that as long as there are vested interests—and I would say, in passing, that that was an interesting argument to hear from hon. Members opposite—they should be taken into account. I can assure hon. Members that we are taking them into account, and we intend in any agreement that we reach to obtain satisfactory compensation for these areas.
I have dealt with the main brunt of the argument which has been made this afternoon, but there are one or two minor points that were raised in the course of the Debate. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) quoted the De-rating Act as a reason why the insurance offices, or those people who are insuring, should continue to make a contribution. I was astonished to hear him make a claim of that kind. As he will remember, the Derating Act paid full compensation to the local authorities for the loss of their rates upon industrial premises and in addition to that, made a lump sum contribution—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—to the local authorities. Compensation was paid to the local authorities for their losses. It is altogether unjust, on top of that, to insist upon this further compensation being paid in connection with these charges for fire protection.
There was another important question that was raised by the right hon. Baronet and by the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Moreing). Both of them claimed that if the House followed the advice I gave this afternoon, it would lose control of the ultimate stages of these negotiations. That is not so. If the negotiations succeed, it will be necessary in another place to reinsert, at any rate, part of Clause 5. That will mean that Clause 5 will come back to the House for discussion. If on the other hand, an agreement is not reached, the power to charge will still remain with the insurance companies in these eight areas. Therefore, I think the House will see that in adopting the course which 275 I am recommending this afternoon, it will not part with ultimate control, but will still retain it. I hope I have dealt with the criticisms that have been made against the Government's proposal, and I shall be very glad if we can now proceed to a Division upon it.
§ Members representing and speaking for local authorities which, for the public good, organise efficient fire brigades are supporting a vested interest comparable with insurance companies?
§ Question put, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 210; Noes, 130.277
|Division No. 268.]||AYES.||[7.31 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Li-Col. G. J.||Green, W. P. C. (Worcester)||Nicholson, G. (Farnham)|
|Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.)||Gridley, Sir A. B.||Nicolson, Hon. H. G.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G.||Grimston, R. V.||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh|
|Anstruther-Gray, W. J.||Guest, Lieut.-Colonel H. (Drake)||Palmer, G. E. H.|
|Aske, Sir R. W.||Guest, Maj. Hon. O. (C'mb'rw'll. N.W.)||Peake, O.|
|Astor, Viscountess (Plymouth, Sutton)||Hambro, A. V.||Perkins, W. R. D.|
|Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.)||Harbord, A.||Peters, Dr. S. J.|
|Barclay-Harvey, Sir C. M.||Harvey, T. E. (Eng. Univ's.)||Petherick, M.|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Beauchamp, Sir B. C.||Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton)||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h)||Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.||Porritt, R. W.|
|Beechman, N. A.||Hely-Hutchinson, M. R.||Procter, Major H. A.|
|Beit, Sir A. L.||Hepworth, J.||Raikes, H. V. A. M.|
|Bennett, Sir E. N.||Herbert, Capt. Sir S. (Abbey)||Ramsbotham, H.|
|Bernays, R. H.||Higgs, W. F.||Ramsden, Sir E.|
|Birchall, Sir J. D.||Hoare, Rt. Hon. Sir S.||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)|
|Bossom, A. C.||Holdsworth, H.||Rawson, Sir Cooper|
|Boulton, W. W.||Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J.||Rayner, Major R. H.|
|Bower, Comdr. R. T.||Hopkinson, A.||Reed, A. C. (Exeter)|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Horsbrugh, Florence||Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)|
|Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)||Reid, J. S. C. (Hillhead)|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (Hexham)||Hulbert, N. J.||Reid, W. Allan (Derby)|
|Bull, B. B.||Hume, Sir G. H.||Remer, J. R.|
|Burton, Col. H. W.||Hunloke, H. P.||Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)|
|Butler, R. A.||Hunter, T.||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir T. W. H.||Ross, Major Sir R. D. (Londonderry)|
|Cayzer, Sir C. W. (City of Chester)||Joel, D. J. B.||Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)|
|Cayzer, Sir H. R. (Portsmouth, S.)||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k N'w'gt'n)||Rowlands, G.|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Jones, L. (Swansea W.)||Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. N. (Edgb't'n)||Keeling, E. H.||Russell, Sir Alexander|
|Channon, H.||Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.)||Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)|
|Christie, J. A.||Keyes, Admiral of the Fleet Sir R.||Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)|
|Clarke, Lt.-Col. R. S. (E. Grinstead)||Kimball, L.||Salmon, Sir I.|
|Clarry, Sir Reginald||Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Salt, E. W.|
|Clydesdale, Marquess of||Lambert, Rt. Hon. G.||Samuel, M. R. A.|
|Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston)||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Scott, Lord William|
|Colfox, Major W. P.||Levy, T.||Selley, H. R.|
|Colville, Rt. Hon. John||Lewis, O.||Shakespeare, G. H.|
|Conant, Captain R. J. E.||Lipson, D. L.||Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)|
|Cook, Sir T. R. A. M. (Norfolk N.)||Lloyd, G. W.||Shepperson, Sir E. W.|
|Cooper, Rt. Hn. A. Duff (W'st'r S.G'gs)||Loftus, P. C.||Smith, Sir Louis (Hallam)|
|Craven-Ellis, W.||Lyons, A. M.||Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)|
|Crooke, Sir J. Smedley||MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.||Somervell, Rt. Hon. Sir Donald|
|Crossley, A. C.||M'Connell, Sir J.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Crowder, J. F. E.||McCorquodale, M. S.||Spens, W. P.|
|Culverwell, C. T.||McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.||Stanley, Rt, Hon. Oliver (W'm'l'd)|
|Davies, C. (Montgomery)||McKie, J. H.||Storey, S.|
|De la Bère, R.||Maclay, Hon. J. P.||Stourton, Major Hon. J. J.|
|Denman, Hon. R. D,||Magnay, T.||Strauss, E. A. (Southwark, N.)|
|Dixon, Capt. Rt. Hon. H.||Maitland, A.||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton- (N'thw'h)|
|Doland, G. F.||Manningham-Buller, Sir M.||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Drewe, C.||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.|
|Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side)||Marsden, Commander A.||Tasker, Sir R. I.|
|Ellis, Sir G.||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Tate, Mavis C.|
|Elmley, Viscount||Meller, Sir R. J. (Mitcham)||Thomson, Sir J. D. W.|
|Entwistle, Sir C. F.||Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)||Thorneycroft, G. E. P.|
|Erskine-Hill, A. G.||Mills, Sir F. (Leyton, E.)||Titchfield, Marquess of|
|Fildes, Sir H.||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Touche, G. C.|
|Fox. Sir G. W. G.||Mitchell, H. (Brentford and Chiswick)||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|Fremantle, Sir F. E.||Mitcheson, Sir G. G.||Turton, R. H.|
|Furness, S. N.||Morgan, R. H.||Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon, Euan|
|Fyfe, D. P. M.||Morris-Jones, Sir Henry||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Gibson, Sir C. G. (Pudsey and Otley)||Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|Gluckstein, L. H.||Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J.||Watt, Major G. S. Harvie|
|Gower, Sir R. V.||Munro, P.||Wedderburn, H. J. S.|
|Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral)||Nall, Sir J.||Wells, Sir Sydney|
|Grant-Ferris, R.||Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H.||Whiteley, Major J. P. (Buckingham)|
|Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.||Wise, A. R.||Wright, Wing-Commander J. A. C.|
|Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)||Withers, Sir J. J.|
|Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir A. T. (Hitchin)||Womersley, Sir W. J.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.||Wood, Hon. C. I. C.||Captain Dugdale and Major Sir|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Parker, J.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Hardie, Agnes||Parkinson, J. A.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Harris, Sir P. A.||Pearson, A.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Hayday, A.||Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.|
|Banfield, J. W.||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Poole, C. C.|
|Barr, J.||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Pritt, D. N.|
|Bellenger, F. J.||Hicks, E. G.||Richards, R. (Wrexham)|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W.||Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Ritson, J.|
|Benson, G.||Jagger, J.||Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)|
|Bevan, A.||Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Rothschild, J. A. de|
|Broad, F. A.||Johnston, Rt. Hon. T.||Salter, Dr. A. (Bermondsey)|
|Brown, C. (Mansfield)||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)||Sexton, T. M.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (S. Ayrshire)||Jones, Sir H. Haydn (Merioneth)||Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)|
|Buchanan, G.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Silkin, L.|
|Cape, T.||Kirby, B. V.||Silverman, S. S.|
|Casells, T.||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. G.||Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)|
|Chater, D.||Lathan, G.||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)|
|Cluse, W. S.||Lawson, J. J.||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Collindridge, F.||Leach, W.||Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Lees- (K'ly)|
|Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford||Lee, F.||Smith, T. (Normanton)|
|Daggar, G.||Leonard, W.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Dalton, H.||Leslie, J. R.||Stephen, C.|
|Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||Logan, D. G.||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Lunn, W.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Macdonald, G. (Ince)||Stokes, R. R.|
|Dobbie, W.||MacDonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||McEntee, V. La T.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Ede, J. C.||McGhee, H. G.||Thorne, W.|
|Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)||McGovern, J.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)||MacLaren, A.||Tomlinson, G.|
|Findlay, Sir E.||Maclean, N.||Viant, S. P.|
|Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.||MacNeill Weir, L.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Gallacher, W.||Mathers, G.||Watson, W. Mcl.|
|Gardner, B. W.||Maxton, J.||Welsh, J. C.|
|Garro Jones, G. M.||Messer, F.||Westwood, J.|
|George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)||Milner, Major J.||White, H. Graham|
|Graham, D. M. (Hamilton)||Montague, F.||Wilkinson, Ellen|
|Green, W. H. (Deptford)||Moreing, A. C.||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)||Wilson, C. H. (Attercliffe)|
|Grenfell, D. R.||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Naylor, T. E.||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||Noel-Baker, P. J.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Guest, Dr. L. H. (Islington, N.)||Oliver, G. H.|
|Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||Paling, W.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Mr. John and Mr. Anderson.|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.