§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Samuel Hoare)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I am obliged to my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) and to the House for giving me such opportune assistance in my task to-day by assenting to the introduction of an important Measure with the unanimous approval of all sides of the House. This is the first Fire Brigades Bill for more than 40 years. I am very much interested in it for personal reasons. I had the opportunity last week of saying good-bye to the Chief Officer of the London Fire Brigade, who was retiring from his high post at the end of 30 years' public service. He reminded me of the fact that I was Chairman of the Fire Brigade Committee of the London County Council, 30 years ago when he was appointed, and it is interesting to note that at that time—I wish it was so to-day—the combined ages of the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Fire Brigade Committee was 50. I remember also that the first time I ever appeared in print was in an article that I wrote about the history of the fire brigade, in particular of the London Fire Brigade. It is indeed curious that after 30 years and the changes and chances of public life and certain varied experiences in a good many of its departments, I should come back again to the pursuits of my youth.
The history of fire protection in this country is one of the most interesting chapters of local history. A good deal of it is very scrappy and rather haphazard. Perhaps the feature of it that is most constant is the fact that we have seldom taken action in the development of fire protection unless we have been stimulated by some calamity or the threat of some calamity. The country began to think about fire protection seriously only after the Fire of London in 1666. It is true that before that time the City of London, being then as always a very progressive organisation of government, appointed a number of 1430 bellmen who went about the streets of London and rang their bells at night calling out to London citizens, "Take care of your fire and candle, be charitable to the poor and pray for the dead." I regret to say, however, that those words of warning were inadequate to stop the great Fire of London. Only a few years afterwards the great fire took place, and it is from that date that a good many of our fire precautions really ensued. For instance, the fire insurance companies started after the great fire, and curiously enough the first firemen in London were watermen engaged by the fire offices. The watermen of the Thames, who were put into the liveries of the fire offices, were expected to attend fires, but only to attend fires at buildings that were insured by their particular offices. Then we jogged along in these rather haphazard methods for the best part of a century, thinking a little bit about the protection of property, apparently thinking not at all about the safety of human life.
In this chapter of the history of fire brigades the outstanding personality was a lady of Hackney named Mrs. Smith, the first great woman worker in London, who used to appear at the fires in the neighbourhood of Hackney hurrying about in her pattens directing the firemen. There, again, you could bring the pump into operation only if she and her gang had been previously paid by the householder whose house was on fire; without that payment they went back to Hackney and did nothing at all. Hon. Members will see the point of this ancient history when I come to the Bill. We jogged along to a further chapter, but we were greatly jolted up by a series of great fire disasters. First of all there was the great Drury Lane fire in 1812, about which, it will be remembered, the brothers Smith wrote a delightful poem called "Rejected Addresses." I wish very much that I had time to quote to the House one or two passages of this picturesque poem. Let me give the House only the first verse:The summon'd firemen woke at call, And hied them to their stations all; Starting from short and broken snooze, Each sought his pond'rous hobnail'd shoes, But first his worsted hosen plied, Plush breeches next, in crimson dyed, His nether hulk embraced.A series of most picturesque passages ending with the tragic death of the leader of one of the brigades that attended the 1431 fire, who rejoiced in the historic name of Higginbottom. After the Drury Lane fire came the great fire that destroyed the Houses of Parliament 20 years later, and then 3o years after came the first of the great London conflagrations since the Great Fire of London, known as the Tooley Street fire, at which the Chief Officer of the Brigade was killed, and very extensive damage, to say nothing of serious loss of human life, was the result of the conflagration. That fire must be within the memory of a number of men and women still living, and it is very interesting to note that so short a time ago as the 'sixties of the last century it was possible for the then Commissioner of Police to make the following report on the conflagration:Sir Richard Mayne, Chief Commissioner of Police, stated that parish engines were mostly kept at churches and workhouses, under the authority of the beadle or private persons, who were paid a trifling sum by the parochial authorities. At great fires they were inefficient; at small fires they were not wanted. He thought it rather an advantage that the parish engine should not be brought to fires at all.Mr. John Bowring, Clerk to the City of London, speaking of the engine-keepers, said:They call them parochial engineers, but in many cases they are parochial old women or schoolboys who happen to run up with their little engines. With respect to a good many of these engines for which engine-keepers are paid, one of them, I know, is bricked up behind a blacksmith's shop, and in fact, if a fire happened you must pull down part of the house to get the engine out.That state of affairs existed within the memory of many men and women now living. There was, not unnaturally, a considerable agitation when these facts were brought to light, and accordingly there was created the Metropolitan Board of Works to deal with the problems of fire protection in London. But I regret to say that a very short time afterwards "Punch" very irreverently referred to the Board as the "Metropolitan Board of Perks." I understand that the fire organisation of the Metropolitan Board of Works was not one of the most efficient sides of its activities. Fortunately, in the course of time there emerged a very great man, Captain Shaw, the first of our great public servants to treat fire problems seriously, Captain Shaw made a great reputation which culminated in an honour which, I imagine, is given to very few 1432 public men. Whilst he was attending the first night of the Gilbert and Sullivan opera "Iolanthe" at the Savoy Theatre, the principal lady and the chorus lined up in the front of the stage and sang a song to him glorifying his activities in London:Oh, Captain Shaw,Type of true love kept under!Could thy brigadeWith cold cascadeQuench my great love, I wonder?This great man in the course of time came to the end of his years of public service and was able to write to the Metropolitan Board of Works a record of services which should be the envy and the model of every public man. He ended a description of what he had done for the fire services in London with these words:I have completed every reference made to me from committees and answered every letter which I have received, and there are no arrears of work in my Department.What a record for any great public servant. What a record for any Minister to aspire to at the end of a long period of public service. These historical odds and ends will have shown to the House that our system of fire protection has grown up somewhat haphazard, has grown up, as many other activities of our public life have developed, very much by uncoordinated public effort, and it has left behind quite a number of anomalies even in our own time which need to be dealt with, and which I am attempting to deal with in this Bill. It is a curious fact, as I have already mentioned, that this is the first Fire Brigade Bill for more than 40 years. During this long period we have had great changes of population, revolutions in the methods of building and, further, the development of the internal combustion engine, with the result that we can now have mobile appliances covering very much larger tracts of ground than was possible with the old hand-pumps of 30 and 40 years ago. Yet this is the first Bill dealing with fire brigade organisation that we have had for more than 40 years. It follows a number of inquiries, the first of which was held more than 30 years ago; then there was a Royal Commission after the War, and within recent years the very important report of the Riverdale Committeee. I should like to take this opportunity of thanking Lord Riverdale and his Committee for their valuable recommendations and to point to the fact that the greater part of the Bill is based 1433 on the recommendations of this committee.
The main drawbacks to the present system are two. Apart from one or two exceptional areas, as for instance London and one or two of the Scottish burghs, there is no obligation upon any local authority to provide fire protection. I am aware that in spite of that fact the great majority of fire brigades in the country have brought themselves up to a high state of efficiency. None the less there are areas in the country without adequate fire protection, and there are local authorities that are doing little or nothing in the matter. There is, therefore, a serious gap in our peace-time organisation of fire precautions. There is an even more serious gap in our war-time precautions. Here, as we all regretfully have to acknowledge, we are faced with the new danger of the incendiary bomb in air raids, and if we are to deal with this new and particularly formidable danger we must take special precautions. We must, in particular, make it easier for fire brigade areas to co-operate for common action, and we must make it easier also to obtain new mobile engines and machines in connection with air-raid precautions. Under the Bill we ensure that in every part of the country there will be a statutory obligation upon some local authority to take fire precautions. That is a great step forward. It should have been taken years ago, and it should certainly be taken now without any further delay.
Secondly, we are making proposals to facilitate joint action between one area and another. It is easier to take this joint action now when fire appliances have become more mobile. It is more necessary than ever to take it now when we are faced with the possibility of air raids in time of war, and great conflagrations. A considerable part of the Bill, therefore, is concerned with provisions for making joint schemes under which areas will work together and come to each other's rescue in times of emergency, or in times when they are faced with a great conflagration. Attempts, I am aware, have been made 'to organise joint action even without the provisions of the Bill. There was an interesting experiment in North Derbyshire on these lines, but the evidence before the Riverdale Committee went to show that without further 1434 statutory powers it is difficult for the local authorities to work joint schemes of this kind. So far we have followed almost exactly the recommendations of the Riverdale Committee, namely, in making it a statutory obligation on local authorities to take fire precautions and to make it easier for them to combine together.
I now come to a point where, although we are following their recommendations in principle, we have adopted a somewhat different method from that which the committee recommended. The Riverdale Committee recommended that for the purposes of this joint action joint committees or boards should be set up over the whole of the country, upon which would be represented the various local authorities within the areas. When we came to discuss 'the question with the representatives of the local authorities, they took the view that they did not like to set up a new series of local bodies of this kind with precepting powers in their areas. They preferred that the question of joint action should be worked out in the first instance by the local authorities themselves, with a power to the Secretary of State to intervene in case of default. It seemed to us that this was essentially a matter on which we should defer to the feeling of local authorities, and, accordingly, we are not in the Bill proposing to set up joint committees or boards over the whole of the country, but we are proposing that the Secretary of State should have a commission to advise him as to the progress of these schemes in the country; that local authorities should be left to develop their schemes and that the Secretary of State should be specially empowered to take over the duties in an area only in the event of default. That was the proposal made by the representatives of local authorities, and we have accepted it in the provisions of this Bill.
Then there is another direction in which we have taken a somewhat different line from that recommended by the Riverdale Committee. The Riverdale Committee recommended that there should be an Exchequer grant to fire brigade services for the purpose of helping backward authorities, namely, the smaller rural authorities who had not yet made any adequate fire brigade provision, and, 1435 secondly, to provide fire authorities generally with emergency appliances for air-raid precautions. It is our view as the result of our investigations of fire precautions from the air raid point of view that emergency appliances must be provided on a much greater scale than was contemplated at the time when Lord Riverdale and his colleagues made their report. They contemplated a comparatively small contribution for this purpose, and I imagine that that was one of the reasons why they proposed an Exchequer grant for peace time purposes.
We are proposing, under our air-raid precautions schemes, to spend no less than £1,500,000 in this financial year upon emergency appliances which are to be supplied to the various fire authorities in the country. Lord Riverdale's recommendation was a £1,000,000 grant in all, but here now is a grant for appliances alone that amounts to something in the nature of £1,500,000. As regards training, we are proposing to take action, not in the form of a grant, but by establishing a Training Centre at the Government's expense for the higher technical training of fire brigade officers, and we propose to set up this Training Centre in connection with a Research Centre. It is a remarkable fact that, although there is this very large loss from fire year by year, amounting to something like £10,000,000 a year, to say nothing of the consequential losses of wages, business, and so on, up to this time there has never been any centralised organisation for research into fire extinction problems, nor has there been any training centre for the training of the higher ranks of the Fire Service. We propose to set up a Training Centre.
§ Sir S. Hoare
Either one or more, but I am speaking now of the one which we contemplate setting up in connection with the research side of the question. We take the view that work of this kind would best be carried out in connection with the Centre for Research, which we propose should function under the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. That Department, has a research station at Watford, tho which the building industry has made a very large contribution, for investigating structural problems, problems of material, ventila- 1436 tion, and so on. We would hope that our fire research establishment would be something on those lines and that it would be worked under the wing of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. We think also it would be of great value to the fire service if the training establishment was worked in close connection with the scientific work. Our idea, therefore, would be to set up the Training Centre contiguous to the Centre for Research.
So far as the Training Centre is concerned, it will be financed by the Government, and I hope to obtain the services of Major Morris, formerly Chief Officer of the London Fire Brigade, as its first Director. Then we propose to have an Advisory Council, upon which the various fire interests will be represented, to advise the Secretary of State upon fire questions remitted to them. I think this will be the means of pooling a good deal of knowledge that now needs much better co-ordination than it receives. As regards the Fire Service Commission, which was recommended by the Riverdale Committee, I have asked Sir Vivian Henderson, who was for several years Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office and who has an almost unrivalled experience in these branches of local work, to be the first Chairman.
§ Sir A. Wilson
Will my right hon. Friend indicate whether Sir Vivian Henderson will also have some responsibility for the scientific side of the work?
§ Sir S. Hoare
I would prefer not he to precise on that point at the moment. I think the Fire Service Commission will have to be separate, but I am strongly in favour of keeping the closest possible liaison between the Training and Research Centres.
§ Mr. Westwood
Can the right hon. Gentleman give an indication of the form in which the Government are going to set up this Research Station?
§ Sir S. Hoare
I ought to have said that it is not necessary to take power in the Bill for setting up this Research Centre. We shall do that with a grant from the Exchequer.
§ Sir S. Hoare
Yes, both these proposals emerged from the Riverdale recommendations, and that is why I was dealing with them together.
§ Mr. Westwood
It was not for the purpose of catching the right hon. Gentleman out that I put my question, but because I wanted to know exactly how the Research Station was to be financed.
§ Sir S. Hoare
I beg the hon. Member's pardon. I gave him an inadequate answer. We shall finance the Research Centre out of grants under the Vote for the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. The establishment of the Training Centre is provided for in the Bill in Clause 18. I have given the House a general picture of the policy behind this Bill. Let me finally say a word to hon. Members about the provisions that we have in mind in particular for air-raid precautions. I inspected one day last week a number of the new appliances that we intend to issue under the Air-Raid Precautions Act. It was extraordinarily interesting to me when I remembered that at the time to which I referred at the beginning of my speech, 30 years ago, we had a most bitter and heated debate in the London County Council on a proposal that I made to introduce the first motor appliances in London. I remember the eloquent speeches that were made in favour of the white horses with their long manes which used to rush so dramatically out of the fire stations in those days, and when I saw these appliances in the quadrangle of the Foreign Office the other day I could not help being amazed at the changes that have come over the picture in so short a time.
Here was a series of comparatively cheap appliances, much cheaper than many of the existing appliances, very light, fitted with all sorts of ingenious devices to make them adaptable in the easiest and quickest way in times of emergency. For instance, there were appliances that took with them very light and improvised tanks of their own; there were appliances that had very happily devised parts so that quite quickly you could adjust one of these trailer pumps to an ordinary car; there was another appliance which could be used in a very small space that went round almost on its own base and reminded me of one of those people whom I sometimes see pirouetting on the ice, going round and round without moving either forward or backward. These appliances seem to me to be very cleverly designed, and I think 1438 that, so far as human ingenuity is concerned, they will go a long way towards helping local authorities to deal with the terrible danger of a fire emergency in times of air raids. We are producing them now upon a big scale, and we have already started making the distribution to the local authorities. I think it will be found that they will be of immense value in an emergency. I think also they will be found to be of use in certain circumstances in peace time as well.
We are not going to be meticulous and pedantic about their use in peace time. Obviously if there is a large number of auxiliary firemen recruited over the country, as we all hope will be the case, it will be a very excellent thing that both auxiliary firemen and these emergency appliances should be used comparatively often and that both the appliances and the men should have regular practice. We are contemplating, therefore, that whilst every local authority will have to make adequate provision for peace-time services, these emergency appliances will be there to be used upon really serious occasions, and I believe that they will be found to be of great help, particularly in areas where large distances have to be covered and where it may be that the ordinary, normal peace-time organisation is very small, but occasionally there comes a day when there is a great conflagration, which, as things are now, strains the resources of the neighbourhood to breaking point.
I think I have covered the main provisions of the Bill. It is the result, as I say, of a series of inquiries. It is also the result of a series of discussions with the representatives of the local authorities. So far as I know, no highly controversial point has arisen in the course of these discussions, and I very much hope that, apart from the details contained in it, it will meet with the general approval of all Members of the House.
§ Sir A. Wilson
Will the right hon. Gentleman indicate how the finances of the research will be arranged?
§ Sir S. Hoare
It will be done by grants on the Vote for the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Westwood
I feel sure the House thoroughly enjoyed the opening part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. His personal reminiscences and his historical review of the development of our fire services were not only of keen interest to hon. Members but provided a certain amount of amusement. There was one outstanding statement in the right hon. Gentleman's speech. He said that it was always calamity, or the threat of calamity, which caused us to consider reforms.
§ Mr. Westwood
What applies to the danger of fire, applies also to reforms generally. It is not because of a genuine desire for the improvement of the fire services—which are in drastic need of improvement—that we are introducing this legislation. Frankly, it is the threat of war, which has compelled the Home Office and the Scottish Office to take this action arising out of the report of the Riverdale Committee. I was also keenly interested in another statement in the right hon. Gentleman's historical review. He said that fire engines in the past were usually kept at churches or at poorhouses. That must be the explanation, for which I have often sought, of why those engaged in this very dangerous work were usually so miserably paid and so inadequately provided with equipment. It must have been because these services, or at least the necessary accommodation and equipment for them, were formerly provided by the churches which seldom paid those who did the actual work, or by the poor-houses in which those who did the work were never paid.
The right hon. Gentleman also said that the Bill set out to remove anomalies. We on this side will help as far as we can in the removal of the anomalies associated with the equipment and organisation of the fire brigade services, but in removing anomalies we ought to avoid creating new anomalies or fresh injustices. The right hon. Gentleman said that thanks were due to the Riverdale Committee for the effective way in which they had done their work. I associate myself with that statement but I must at the same time complain of the manner in which that 1440 committee was set up and also of its composition. There was no Scottish representative on it, and only one representative of the Scottish Civil Service was asked to give evidence before it. No representative of any public authority in Scotland was called to give evidence before it. Yet this Bill, arising out of its report, is to apply not only to England but to Scotland as well. Having lodged that protest against the way in which the committee was limited in its inquiries, I do not withhold the praise that is due to it for the active way in which it pursued its investigations and the valuable report which it has submitted.
We are told that a serious gap already exists in connection with peace-time precautions for dealing with fire that a still greater gap exists in so far as war precautions are concerned. I hope that as a result of the Bill we shall get a little more "drive" in dealing with fire precautions than we have had up to the present in dealing with air-raid precautions. It is clear that something more must be done by the Home Office and the Scottish Office to jog the more reactionary local authorities who are not at present doing their duty. I believe that I myself belong to one of those because I was appealed to specially to go on the air-raid precautions committee to try to "get a move on" in this matter, and after they had "got a move on" they wasted 10 days in preparing a scheme to send out to the Air-Raid Precautions Department. So, I am not apologising, all through, for the local authorities. Sometimes they require somebody behind them to give them an occasional kick so that they may get on with the job in the interests of the safety of the community.
No one desires to see the reorganisation of the fire services more than those of us on this side who have had something to do with fire brigade work. I have never had the satisfaction—why I do not know —of having been a fireman, but there are hon. Members behind me who have acted as firemen and I have been convener of a fire brigade committee and I know the difficulty of getting even such a local committee to understand its responsibilities in connection wit hfire precautions. It is not because they do not want to do their duty. It is because no financial provision has been made by the 1441 State to enable them to carry out what they believe to be their duties in providing precautions against fire.
The usual procedure has been followed in connection with this Bill. First, we set up a committee for the purpose of discovering the obvious. Before the Riverdale Committee was set up everybody knew that the fire services were inadequate. Everybody knew that in several urban areas good fire prevention services were provided, but in the counties it was different. Speaking for Scotland I can say that only one county authority had set up anything in the way of fire precautions, and the counties were dependent on the work done in the cities or large burghs to safeguard them against the effects of fire. As I say, we followed the usual procedure in setting up this committee, and, effectively as it did its work, it was too small and too unrepresentative, as I have already pointed out. The committee carried out its work speedily. It was set up in August, 1935, and reported in July, 1936. We have had, therefore, almost two years' delay in the introduction of this Bill, and it would be interesting to have an explanation of that delay. If the existing services are inadequate, as some of us believe, then, particularly in view of the great rearmament programme which the Government started two years ago for the purpose of defending the people of the country from the effects of war, and with the knowledge that it would be necessary to defend them from the effects of incendiary bombs in case of aerial warfare, there can be no justification for this delay in the introduction of the Bill.
The procedure followed in other cases has been followed by the Government in this case. They have picked out the conclusions and recommendations which impose new duties upon local authorities. It is optional at the present time to carry out fire precautions, to set up fire brigades and to provide necessary equipment. Now the Government are imposing the duty on the local authorities. It is now to be mandatory upon them. The Government have, as I say, picked out the recommendations, which impose new duties on and increase the financial responsibilities of the local authorities, and in many instances weaken the powers of the local authorities. As a rule if there is any recommendation of a Committee set up 1442 by a Government Department which gives dictatorial powers to a central Government Department, you usually find effect given to that recommendation in the resulting Bill. Under the Bill which we are now discussing the Home Office or the Scottish Office will determine the standard of efficiency, and if the Departments are to have the responsibility of setting the standard of efficiency, the local authorities have a legitimate claim for a definite contribution from the National Exchequer because of that standard being demanded by the central body.
Then, we usually find that any recommendation suggesting Treasury assistance towards the fulfilment of new duties is either given effect to in a niggardly fashion or ignored. The right hon. Gentleman skilfully skated over the refusal of the Government to give effect, in principle, to an Exchequer grant for these new services which are being imposed in some cases on the local authorities, or the increased financial responsibility that will have to be borne by practically all authorities under this Bill. I do not wish to be misunderstood about this. It would be wrong to provide the capital cost of the efficient equipment of fire brigades in areas where nothing has been done, but there are local authorities who have done their best to make their fire brigades effiecient. But, having set a standard of efficiency, and compelled reactionary or lagging authorities to reach that standard, it should be the duty of the Government then to provide ample payments towards the maintenance of that efficiency. That is the claim made by the local authorities. I am speaking mainly for the local authorities in Scotland. They are willing and anxious to work the Bill. They realise the danger of prospective war and the use of incendiary bombs, but if we impose these increased liabilities upon them, they claim, legitimately, that there ought to be special Exchequer grants for meeting this increased responsibility.
This new duty has been imposed, I suggest, as far as the actual provisions of the Bill are concerned, without consultation with the authorities, despite what the right hon. Gentleman has said. There were preliminary conversations with the local authorities but they did not get any indication of the real provisions of the Bill. The local authorities in Scotland were un- 1443 able to get this Bill before last Saturday and have not had time to discuss its provisions. The Bill was not available in the Stationery Office, George Street, Edinburgh, before last Saturday morning, and, consequently, local authorities in Scotland have not been able to discuss its details. These provisions, therefore, have been introduced without consultation, and without financial provisions to help the local authorities who, unlike the National Exchequer, have only one basis of taxation, namely, the rateable value of dwelling-houses or shops. The land and industrial undertakings to-day are de-rated and any increased cost in the provision of adequate and efficient fire-fighting services will have to be borne by a limited section of the community. It is unfair to place these new burdens on their shoulders without providing an annual Exchequer contribution.
I often wonder whether this is part of a policy designed to destroy local government, the pride of the British people. In another place this week they will be discussing the increase of local taxation. Members in this House are interested in the question of the increased cost of our local services. Increasing new duties are being placed by this House upon the shoulders of local authorities without adequate financial provision being made by the Exchequer to meet those new duties. Let me refer to one or two new duties which have been imposed upon the shoulders of the local authorities during the last two years. There was the Maternity Act. It is to the credit of the Government that although they did not provide sufficient money they did provide some new money to meet that new service. Then there was the Physical Training and Recreation Act. On that Bill, as on this Bill, I protested against the lack of provision to meet the increased duties being imposed upon the local authorities. Then we have the Superannuation Act which compels local authorities to provide superannuation for its officials but left it optional to provide superannuation for the workmen.
These are all increased charges for which no additional financial arrangements were made so far as this House is concerned. Last, but not least, there was the Factories Act, which was absolutely necessary, but if its principles are to be given effect to much expenditure 1444 is involved. Speaking for the borough on whose council I happen to sit, it will cost us anything from £600 to £700 a year for the additional staff that will be required. That Act was necessary and we supported it because we believed it to be necessary, but there was no additional financial provision made by this House to enable us to carry out the proposals of that Measure. When I consider all these additional costs, and also the costs in connection with housing, I ask the question whether these Bills, including the one we are now discussing, in which the Government make no provision for financial assistance to meet the additional costs, are being designed for the purpose of destroying our local government, the pride of our people.
I have already indicated that in fire brigade work we have ever increasing costs incurred by local authorities who have been trying to do their duty. The report of the Riverdale Committee gives an indication of those increasing costs. In 1921 the cost in England and Wales was £1,464,500, but in 1935–36 it was approximately £2,500,000, an increase of £1, 000,000. Let me give an indication how this applies to the local authority of which I have particular knowledge. I admit that it had an out-of-date fire brigade service. Some of the conditions in that town were even more humorous than the conditions mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. In 1932–33 that town could not call the auxiliary fire brigade up unless the "pubs" were open. That is absolutely true, because the "pubs" happened to have telephonic communication with the fire station. There were no telephones in the homes of the auxiliary firemen, and the only way in which they could be called up was if the fire so arranged itself that it started during the time when the "pubs" were open. At one time that particular fire brigade could not start its work under its methods of training unless the fireman blew his whistle. It is told in the history of Kirkcaldy that a fire took place on one occasion and a fireman, without the instruction of the fire master, turned the water on quickly. He was told at once, in rather strong language, that the water had to be turned off until he blew his whistle.
I am not defending efficiency of that kind. We want to see real efficiency, and 1445 we set out in that town to try and get it. What is the result? The expenditure in 1932–33 was £860, but only a week or so ago, towards the end of last month, we opened a new fire station, and the cost next year, because we have tried to bring our fire-fighting service up to an efficient state, will be £3,100. Our rateable value brings us in only £1,200 on a penny rate, so that for this purpose we have had an increased expenditure of approximately 2d. on the rates. I claim now that, having brought our fire brigade service up to efficiency, we are entitled to ask that the Government should give us an annual grant in order to maintain the efficiency. That is the line I took in the earlier part of my speech and I shall take the same line throughout in asking for efficiency and financial assistance.
What is the position of the local authorities? I have here a letter which came into my possession last night because I happen to be a member of a local authority. I was there last night instead of being in the House, and the occasion provided me with some of the shot and shell for my speech to-day. A statement has been issued to the town clerks and clerks of urban and rural district councils in England, Wales and Scotland. Two important conferences have taken place, one of which was held in Edinburgh, and they came to certain decisions. They were all in favour of a complete reorganisation of the fire-fighting services but they all wanted financial assistance for the purpose of maintaining efficiency once it had been obtained. The statement says:With reservations, the committee,that is the committee set up at the Cheltenham Fire Brigade Conference,welcome the Bill.It substantially embodies the recommendations of the report of the Riverdale Committee and provides for the administration of the fire service by borough, urban and rural district councils in England and Wales, parish councils ceasing to be fire authorities, other than by way of delegation. In Scotland the Bill constitutes county and town councils the fire authorities.The Bill makes no provision for Exchequer assistace. For the first time local authorities are placed under a statutory obligation to make provision for the extinction of fires. The Secretary of State may by order prescribe standards of efficiency. Provision is made for the appointment: by the Secretary of State of inspectors, and default provisions are provided. The committee, on urging the necessity for financial assistance, is referred by the Home Office to the assistance for which pro- 1446 vision has already been made by the Air-Raid Precautions Act, 1937,"—On this point I have a few questions to ask, which I hope will be answered—towards the emergency fire service and to the provision in the Bill for use in peace time of emergency appliances and equipment lent by the Government, and informed that no other measure of financial assistance could he given by the Government. The committee is disappointed also that no provision is in the Bill to secure a measure of uniformity in service conditions.I suggest that the risk to a fireman in London is no greater than the risk to a fireman in Edinburgh and that there is no difference in the risk of a fireman in Kirkcaldy and the risk of a fireman in Glasgow. There should be something in the way of uniformity of conditions affecting the men who are willing—particularly our auxiliary staffs, who give their services voluntarily—to take risks. There ought to be some standard which is common for these men who are willing to risk life and limb in dealing with the fires that so often break out. Therefore, the committee is disappointed that no provision is in the Bill to secure a measure of uniformity in service conditions:The committee has urged the Home Office to give this matter appropriate attention so that, amongst other things, co-operative area working, where appropriate, could be facilitated.The statement goes on to say:In the light of the resolutions passed at the fire conferences in Edinburgh in 1936 and at Barrow and Cheltenham last year, the Bill, though otherwise to be welcomed, must in these two major matters, and especially as to the absence of financial assistance, be considered deficient.I submit that the Bill is deficient so far as the lack of provision for these two things is concerned. Then there is the Scottish position:The representatives of the Local Government Associations present at the meeting with representatives of the Secretary of State have considered the memorandum of the Scottish Office regarding the proposed Fire Brigade Bill. As it appears to the representatives of the associations, the proposals mean that the fire brigade service, hitherto a service controlled locally without central direction or grant, is now to fall under central supervision. The Government proposals contain no reference to any payment from the Exchequer, but on the contrary would deprive certain local authorities of certain statutory rights of recovery of the cost of extinguishing fires.However weak the Bill may be in regard to its omissions, I think it is terribly weak as far as Clause 4 is concerned, in 1447 that it will take away certain rights which local authorities have at the present time to charge for their fire services, particularly against the fire insurance companies, who stand to gain most by an efficient fire brigade service.Before they discuss the machinery of administration the representatives feel that the Government should state clearly the extent to which thy propose grants in aid should be paid to local authorities. They also feel that fundamental to the discussion of any legislation the approximate areas should be delineated. On receiving the desired information the Associations will be glad to go into the matter further and give their considered views to the Secretary of State.Those were the views of the representatives of the Local Government Associations which met the representatives of the Scottish Office and they remain their view at the present time. There has been no real consultation with them as far as the Clauses of the Bill are concerned. May I suggest, following up the point that I have made on Clause 4, that the Bill will subsidise another form of big business, the fire insurance business? When the Bill goes through there will be no power to claim expenses from the fire insurance companies, whose shares will rise just as the local rates are going to rise under the Bill. I suggest that it is grossly unfair to take that right away from the local authorities. Let me refer to what was done in another Act of Parliament. By the Local Government Act, 1929, it was made possible for local authorities, where they had set up a general hospital, to compel those who received the services from that hospital to pay for those services if they were able to do so. Surely, if it is right to compel sick people to pay for services rendered by a hospital, it is equally right—indeed, more so—to compel fire insurance companies which benefit by the expenditure of local authorities to pay for the services rendered to them.
What happens at the present time, at any rate in Falkirk, Stirling and Kirkcaldy, is that a charge is made to the individual who calls out the fire brigade. If the premises are insured, the charge made against the person in question becomes a charge against the insurance companies. If the premises are not insured, and there is thus more chance of the man being bankrupt than being able to pay the charge, the local authority 1448 does not pursue its claim. Where it is possible to recover the money, and particularly where the premises are insured, the very fact that there is no fire brigade service in the area in question justifies a local authority which has provided the service in charging for it. I submit that between now and the Committee stage it would be wise for the Government favourably to consider some Clause being placed in the Bill giving to local authorities which are providing the fire brigade services the power to charge the insurance companies for the services rendered to them. I understand that that is done in Australia, and that 40 per cent. is charged against the insurance company. If it can be done in Australia, surely we are justified in doing it in this country when dealing with a scheme for reorganising the fire services. In trying to meet the need for efficiency, surely we are entitled to consider minimising the cost to the local authorities.
I would like to know what is to be done in connection with air-raid precautions. Am I right in assuming that proposals have already been made to Glasgow and Edinburgh? Am I right in assuming that Glasgow, which has 29 fire engines, is to be offered 115? Am I right in assuming that Edinburgh, which has 12 fire engines, is to be offered another 57? If they are to house these gifts and to see that they are kept in good order, ready for any emergency, will they have to provide the additional expenditure at the cost of the ratepayers, or will it be a legitimate charge for air-raid precautions purposes? I hope that, in the interests of the local authorities, those questions will be answered. I would also suggest that in the case of air raids, there will be just as much danger from incendiary bombs to Falkirk, Stirling and Kirkcaldy as to these two cities. I am entitled to know, I think, what are the proposals, with regard to the large burghs, in dealing with air-raid precautions. It would certainly relieve the minds of many of the people who are responsible for the administration if, before this Debate concluded, we could be given some indication of the provision that is to be made in connection with air-raid precautions to enable them to try to carry out, to the best of their ability, their duty in giving as much safety as possible if the horrors of war should come upon us.
1449 I wish to ask also that there should be at least a little delay before the proceedings begin in the Committee stage. On previous occasions there has been such a delay. I know that there is anxiety to get the Bill through, but I suggest that we might have a little breathing space between now and the Committee stage, so as to give the local authorities time to consider the implications of this far-reaching Bill, especially in view of the fact that no copies of the Bill were available to the local authorities until after last Saturday morning. In the interests of safety of life, which to me is more vital than the safeguarding of property, the fire brigade services of this country ought to be, and must be, reorganised. Because of the need, if such a horrible thing as war should ever afflict our people, of reducing to the minimum the effects of man's inhumanity to man, by the use of incendiary bombs, it is our duty to see that our fire services are made efficient as speedily as possible. But in doing those things, I urge the Government not to violate all the canons of local government by changing an enabling power, as it applies at the present time in the provision of fire brigades, to a compulsory duty to provide those services, as is proposed in the Bill. With a central department setting the standards of efficiency, undoubtedly there would be a distinct violation of those canons of local government unless, in fixing those standards and in seeing that effect is given to them, the Government provide an annual grant towards their maintenance.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Sir Thomas Cook
As one who has been interested in the fire services all his life, and who has, incidentally, maintained a private fire brigade since he left school, I welcome official recognition of this important subject. Undoubtedly this Measure savours of municipalisation, but I feel that the majority of those who are opposed to this principle have only themselves to blame for having neglected this important matter in the past. I wonder why we have had to wait 15 years after the findings of a Royal Commission and two years after the findings of the Riverdale Committee which, in point of fact, reaffirmed the statements of the Royal Commission 13 years previously and brought up to date the facts and 1450 figures produced by the Royal Commission. Surely, as has been emphasised already this evening, ever since light and heat became recognised as elements essential to the human frame, the danger and risk of fire should have been apparent. One is forced to the conclusion that the necessity for air-raid precautions has brought to the notice of the powers that be, if they did not realise it already, the desirability of effecting drastic improvements in regard to the British fire service.
I have always held that the fire brigades, the St. John's Ambulance Brigade and the Lifeboat Institution constitute the greatest trinity of useful service which we possess. Many amusing stories about village fire brigades, most of them, unhappily, true ones, can be told. The one which appeals to me most is the result of happenings in a village in the Home counties just before Easter. A fire broke out in the parish. Upon the wall in the shed which housed the pre-war manual, there was a nominal strength of 14 men. Only two old men answered the call on this occasion. It was later discovered that the remaining 12 had been dead for several years.
I have explored Europe in order to glean information on fire brigades from an international point of view. In 1935, I organised in conference representatives from 16 different nations, and 12 months ago I organised representatives from 21 different nations for a similar purpose. It matters not whether one is watching brigades at exercise or in action in distant Carpathian Ruthenia or nearby Paris, or whether one is touring large or small countries, one is forced to the conclusion that there is an atmosphere of national support and enthusiasm for "les sapeurs pompiers" on the Continent which is notably absent in Great Britain. Making people fire-minded or fire-conscious is like playing an up-hill game. The average property-owner will secure his possessions from theft and will take precautions against corruption by moth or rust, but unfortunately, as far as the risk of fire is concerned, he is usually wise only after the event.
My one criticism of this Measure is that it pre-supposes the existence at the present time of sure foundations upon which to build an efficient fire service in this country. When one discusses the 1451 merits or demerits of the British fire services, one must of necessity divide one's observations into two categories. On the one hand there are the London fire brigades, the provincial city brigades, most borough fire brigades and many of the town brigades. If I may say so here, I consider that under Major Morris and now under his successor, Commander Fire-brace, London, as a city, is provided with a fire brigade organisation which is second to none in the world. A similar compliment could be paid to other brigades in proportion. But I wish to deal chiefly with the situation in the country, where the arrangements are hopelessly inadequate, where local associations are rare, and where schemes of co-ordination are few and far between. I once spent six months in trying to bring about a scheme of co-ordination in part of the county of Norfolk, and I cannot mention this without paying a tribute to the help and advice which I received from my right hon. Friend's chief advisers on this subject, Mr. A. L. Dixon and Colonel Guy Symonds. Unhappily, this scheme failed to come to fruition, because there were members of some of the local authorities concerned who were not convinced of the wisdom of such expenditure.
Surely the proceedings of the recent inquiry into the fire fatality at Hendon must convince us that if we cannot have an efficient fire service in Great Britain in times of peace we cannot hope to have an efficient one in time of war. The abolition of the parish as a fire authority under this Bill is not likely to give the average parish councillor many sleepless nights, for 75 per cent. of our parish councils have never made any endeavour to exercise their existing powers. The problem which I believe confronts my right hon. Friend in respect to this Bill is the fact that the new fire authority which he proposes to set up will be comprised of the self same people who, in many instances, have not been overwhelmingly enthusiastic for his scheme of air-raid precautions. They have, of course, under this Bill the added incentive that if they do not perform their statutory obligations they will be superseded by a fire board, which in its turn will have the power to precept upon them for the money which they themselves should have collected and spent. What will be the position 1452 where a fire authority is heading for default under this Bill and takes no particular step in respect to air-raid precautions? Is it not likely that as soon as it foresees danger ahead under this Bill it will apply to the fire division of the Air-Raid Precautions Department and obtain from the Government that which they should obtain under this Bill from the local rates?
I hope it will be the instruction of my right hon. Friend to the fire authorities in their initial schemes and the fire service commission when dealing with these schemes in quantities, that they will use their best endeavours to retain the services of the smaller brigades. There are many of these scatterd throughout the country and isolated from schemes of coordination who owe not only their standards but their very existence to the public spirit and self-sacrifice of the chief officer and his men. I would cite as an example of this the town of Reepham, in Norfolk. When setting these standards there is a risk that the backward brigades may benefit as a result of this Measure. I believe that nothing would be more fatal, because it would place a premium upon inefficiency. The wider schemes which it is proposed to evolve whereby a number of brigades will be enabled to receive a call to large conflagrations, such as dockyards, big mills, food stores and munition works, will come as a long-felt want. I would like to ask what is likely to be the position of private fire brigades under this Measure. I take it that they will not be suppressed unless that is essential. They will, therefore, have the alternative of being augmented or of carrying on in their specific private responsibilities. If the latter is to be the case, will the owners of these brigades be exempt from the general rate which is to be levied for this purpose?
With regard to Clauses 2 and 3, which refer to water supply, I consider that they are too optimistic. There have been dozens of cases of brigades receiving calls to isolated mansions where, after a few moments' pumping, they have had to stand idly by and see the property reduced to ruin through lack of water. It is this lack of water which, I believe, will greatly retard the putting into practice of schemes to be submitted by the new fire authorities. Would it be possible, therefore. for His Majesty's Government to make a loan to fire authorities which can prove that 1453 the cost of the setting up of an efficient water system would be prohibitive? The question of the standardisation of equipment is of paramount importance. Unless, for instance, we are to have instantaneous couplings or adaptors to meet differences in dimensions of the water system, such a scheme in a specific neighbourhood would become unworkable. The best example we have of standardisation of fire equipment in the Empire is to be found in the States of Australia, where the equipment in the city of Perth is adaptable in the city of Brisbane 4,000 miles away. I would emphasise that if we are to have standardisation of equipment in this country, it will not be brought about without considerable expense. Reference is made in the Bill to the question of street alarms, which, of course, apply only to more thickly populated areas.
I trust that it may be possible for my right hon. Friend to arrange with the Postmaster-General so that the system of dialling "999" is set up throughout the country. At present there are some stations which are on the telephone. Other telephones are housed by individual members of brigades. I hope that this matter will be pursued further so that eventually every member of every brigade will automatically be dialled "999." Such a system would be infinitely preferable to the firing of maroons which only cause undue alarm to the population especially at night time, and which are dependent for their effectiveness upon weather conditions, the contour of the land, and so forth. May I express the hope that when this Bill has reached the Statute Book that cooperation which has existed between country fire brigades and county police will continue? The setting up of this training centre will be a great asset and will have the effect of amassing an amount of useful information in respect of fire brigades throughout the country. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that he should take this matter one step further and should consider the dispersing of the staff at the training school to points along the coast throughout the summer months, and there set up camps where members of local brigades could receive an intensive course lasting seven days to a fortnight.
Allusion has been made to the question of insurance companies. I have never 1454 thought that the insurance companies of this country have played their fair part in the past history of tire brigades. It is true that from time to time they have made ex gratia grants, but there has always been an atmosphere of "hush hush" throughout these transactions and the details seem to have been confined to the four walls of the office. It is correct to say that when brigades have turned out they have generally been compensated according to arrangements entered into between the insurance companies and the National Fire Brigades Association. As a rule, however, insurance companies are unwilling to subscribe to the activities of local associations and they are reluctant to provide capital for the provision of apparatus. On the Continent the relationship between fire brigades, insurance companies and the government are undisguised. In Norway, for example, the insurance companies pay a tax levied solely for the purpose of fire brigade administration to the extent of 100,000 kroner per annum. Sweden has been provided with two of its finest fire stations in Stockholm solely at the expense of the insurance companies at a cost of 650,000 crowns each. In 1932 the Greek Government accepted a non-recurrent sum amounting to no less than 7,000,000 drachmae for the same purpose. The Dutch, the Danish and the Lithuanian Governments are among those who have definite arrangements in this respect. I want to make reference to two concessions existing in Latvia. One is that all apparatus which cannot be provided within that country is allowed to go in duty free. The other is that functions promoted in support of fire brigades are exempt from entertainment tax.
I have read with interest the booklet produced by the Home Office entitled, '' Fire Prevention—Hints to Householders." I trust that once this Bill becomes law it will be made possible for every householder to be acquainted with the rudiments of fire fighting. I should also like considerable attention paid to the teaching of this important subject in all our schools. If the fire service of the future is to be the success we hope for, the conditions of engagement must be those which will attract the right men. The hours of labour must be beyond dis- 1455 pute throughout the service and there must be a greater esprit de corpsthan exists at the present time. I congratulate my right hon. Friend upon the introduction of this Bill. I feel that by introducing it he is laying the foundations of a great and effective British fire service.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Sir Percy Harris
We have listened to an interesting speech by a man who has made fire protection his study for many years. One of the features of the House of Commons is that in it we have experts on almost every subject, and the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Sir T. Cook) has wisely concentrated upon this problem, and as it has now become one of special urgency I hope that his technical knowledge will be made use of by the Home Office in the administration of this Measure. I should also like to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on his very interesting speech, particularly because I was a colleague of his 30 years ago when we were both new members of the London County Council. During his first or second year he became chairman of the Fire Brigade Committee. I believe he was a member for only about three years. His has been a very different career from mine. I am, unfortunately, always in opposition, and the right hon. Gentleman has always been lucky and had the opportunity of exercising authority in responsible positions. It is a good thing that he served his apprenticeship to this important problem with such a great authority as the London County Council, in those splendid days when the work of a fire brigade was so much more thrilling, attended with so much more pomp and circumstance than in this mechanical age.
I am not quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman's history was correct on one point. The Metropolitan Board of Works did not come into existence in order to deal with fires. It is more correct to say that it was created to deal with the problem of main drainage, largely because of the perfume from the River Thames which reached the nostrils of Members of this House through our wonderful ventilation floor. At last Parliament was persuaded to take action and created the Metropolitan Board of Works as a drainage authority. The fire brigade was rather 1456 incidental. I mention that as an hon. Member referred to insurance companies. Prior to the creation of the Board of Works fire extinction was largely carried out with equipment and staff provided by the insurance companies. Even today the Salvage Corps is still run by the insurance companies and is a relic of the time when the companies, in their own interest, had to finance the business of extinguishing fires.
I am afraid that it is my business today to be a little critical. I wish I could avoid it, because on the whole this is a good Bill, and I shall certainly support its Second Reading: but it is a belated Bill. That is my criticism of everything which this Government does. This is a belated Government, always a day late. It is the criticism which applies to the air-raid precautions scheme, which is all right in its way but in which the Government has been behindhand. The air-raid precautions scheme ought to have been brought into operation at least a year ago, but it is still, to use an appropriate phrase, hanging fire. This Bill is subject to the same criticism. A Royal Commission reported on the subject 15 years ago. We always say that Royal Commissions are appointed in the interests of procrastination, and it is only now, in 1938, that we have this Bill to give effect to some of the recommendations of that Commission. The Riverdale Committee, whose report is, I understand, the foundation of this Bill, reported two years ago. For the life of me I cannot understand why the Bill was not brought in last year. It is largely a Departmental Bill. I do not think there will be any obstruction as far as my friends are concerned, and I do not think there will be any obstruction by the official Opposition.
Why did not the Home Office introduce the Bill a year ago? In the present state of affairs the matter has become exceptionally urgent. The weakness of it is that much of its success will depend upon co-operation between local authorities. The time is long overdue for dealing with the whole question of local government—the size of areas, and the like. Many areas are far too small in the light of modern rapid communication and the new problems which are arising in modern life. Of course, we are to have joint authorities. As the right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) 1457 once wittily said, the objection to joint authorities is there is always too little authority and too much joint. The great danger with them is that they act slowly. They are all right when the problem does not require rapid action, but when speed is essential and action is vital joint authorities are far from satisfactory. It is questionable whether it would not have been better to make use of the county councils, or to have had larger areas, in order to ensue effective action. If there should be, which God forbid, an attack from the air, the aeroplanes will not recognise any county boundaries or the areas of local authorities. The experience in Shanghai, Barcelona and Madrid —fortunately we have practical examples to guide us—is that as a rule bombing aeroplanes are quite indiscriminate when dropping bombs. In attacking London they will, no doubt, aim at the centre of London, but the suburbs and other outer areas are just as likely to suffer from fires caused by air attack as is the centre.
Nor will the rural areas escape. I remember during the last War being invited by a friend to go to St. Margaret's Bay for a quiet week-end. I was told that it was a peaceful spot. I arrived in lovely sunshine, all was calm and quiet, there was no sign of war, and I went early to bed, feeling rather tired. At 10 o'clock I heard the loudest explosion I ever heard in my life. A bomb fell and made a hole as deep as a large house, only missing our hotel by a few yards. The air-raider, I was informed, and probably correctly, did not aim at peaceful St. Margaret's Bay but at Dover, which was a military objective. There was then no properly organised fire brigade in St. Margaret's Bay, and I doubt whether there is to-day. No doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Sir J. Withers), who has been for many years a resident, will know.
§ Sir John Withers
I do not think there is a fire brigade at St. Margaret's Bay. I think the hon. Member is a little wrong in his story about that particular attack. It was investigated, and I have a piece of one of the bombs dropped upon that occasion. What happened was—
§ Sir P. Harris
With great respect I think this is a little bit irrelevant to my 1458 point. Still, I am quite ready to give way to my hon. Friend.
§ Sir J. Withers
I want to say that what happened was that the raiders were not aiming at St. Margaret's Bay at all. A German airman came over, and his machine got out of order or something, and he dropped his bombs to get rid of them, in order that he might be able to get back.
§ Sir P. Harris
With great respect to my hon. Friend I think his interruption was irrelevant, although it confirms my point that these air raiders are not too particular whether it is a military object or a town where they drop their bombs. They will drop the bombs somewhere and, unfortunately, the rural areas will not escape. That is why this Bill is so important. I think I am right in saying there are hundreds of parishes in the country which have inadequate fire brigades—often they are voluntary organisations composed of men working in all sorts of jobs—and, further, an insufficient water supply. Attention is called to the inadequacy of the water supply in this Departmental Committee's report, and the question is whether, in the light of that report, it is not vital to speed up the provision of water supplies in rural areas. On page 48 the report states:The question of the adequacy of the supplies of water available for the purpose of fighting fires has been prominently in the minds of a number of the witnesses. We gather that, in the country districts especially, this is definitely a problem which is causing concern to the fire service.They go on to express doubt whether there is an adequate pressure of water to extinguish fires. In the rural areas, where there may be a number of munition factories in the near future, something should be done to speed up the provision of water supplies if this Bill is really to achieve its object.
A point of urgent importance concerns the personnel of brigades. I have a vivid memory of the London Fire Brigade during the Great War. A very large percentage of the men in the London Brigade were naval men, and they were called up—and not only were they called up, but they desired to join either the Navy or the Army. The result was that when there was the greatest need for the efficiency of our fire protection services 1459 there was an actual shortage of personnel. I hope that whoever replies for the Government in this Debate will make it clear what the policy of the Government is in this respect. Is it to be made clear to the members of a fire brigade that they have a prior obligation to continue in that service to answering the call as Reservists? In London during the last War we had to improvise a volunteer force. I happened to be responsible for that organisation. In the early years of the War there was a volunteer training corps, and we had to provide a rota of men to take over a great deal of the work of the London Fire Brigade. Fortunately, they proved efficient, and fortunately the demand upon their services was not so very great, but if there should be another war the demand would be greatly increased.
My right hon. Friend referred to the heavy cost of fires to the community, something like £10,000,000 a year on the average, and he might have added that in an average year no fewer than 1,300 persons lose their lives in fires. What I am afraid of is that on top of the delay in bringing the Bill to the House there will be delay through unseemly wrangling between local authorities and the taxpayers as to who is to foot the bill. One of the causes of the delay is the operation of air-raid precautions. We want to avoid that delay but we cannot blame local authorities for hesitating to embark upon new expenditure when they are already forced to face grumbling ratepayers because of the high rates from which those ratepayers are already suffering. On page 61, paragraph (34) of this report states:The national Exchequer should make a direct contribution to the fire services in future, on the grounds (a) of the urgent need for development of the fire service, mainly among local authorities which would not be in a position to shoulder added responsibilities by themselves, (b) that the new organisation proposed is not purely local in character, and (c) that the fire service has become an essential factor in the scheme of national defence.If the Bill is to go through without much friction and is to operate for the purpose for which it is designed we must get the good will and co-operation of the local authorities. The best way to do that is to be generous in finance. We must let the local authorities feel that 1460 the Home Office is not their taskmaster but their friend. The best way of proving friendship is to be a partner and it would be wise of my right hon. Friend to make a more generous provision. His Department is to ask local authorities to take on not only new but urgent responsibilities. We do not want to have delay. All we are told is that the world position is serious. Unfortunately we have been asked to embark upon new expenditure of all kinds for air-raid precautions, but I would say: Do not let niggling finance be the cause of a breakdown. I agree that local authorities must pay their part. They have a responsibility for protecting the lives and property of their ratepayers, but the national Exchequer and the State would be wise to show willingness to share the burden and to make the one excuse for delay, that is to say, the excuse of cost, unreasonable, by becoming the real partner in the cost of this great organisation against the danger of fire.
§ 6.3 p.m.
Mr. David Adams
We all enjoyed the Home Secretary's speech, delivered with his customary urbanity and with those mellifluous notes for which he is the most distinguished occupant of the Treasury Bench. Having said that, I have said about all that I desire to say in laudation of the Measure before the House. We all recognise that this is an essential war requirement and, if that be so, modern standards of efficiency in this vital direction are imperative. Nothing is more singular than that co-operation among local authorities in this matter is not a normal feature, except for securing the assistance of neighbouring brigades for extinguishing exceptional fires. If that means anything. it means that the relationships between local authorities in this matter will be very largely of a voluntary character. We may say that lack of that co-operation is the most essential characteristic in this Measure.
We are glad to observe that research centres are to be set up, as well as training centres; they are a pre-requisite of success for the future, but, as other speakers have observed, they are belated. The Home Secretary expressed the view that local authorities will come together in case of emergency and that the local authorities, unless they appeal to him, are to be left to develop their own schemes. That is a very serious admission, upon 1461 which the whole Bill might well founder in regard to efficiency. May I quote the well-known findings of the Royal Commission upon Tyneside local government, with reference to fire brigades and fire-fighting questions? The commission dealt with the whole of the local authorities on Tyneside, on both banks of the river, comprising a population of close upon 2,000,000 people. On page 51, in paragraph 178 of their report, the commission stated:Having reviewed the situation, we have formed the opinion that the present system of fire brigades and fire fighting is not only unsatisfactory, inefficient and uneconomical, but that it fails to meet the requirements of the present day. It is our view, that in a case of national emergency "—which the Government are anticipating—it should be possible for all fire-fighting facilities to be available for use when the national need is greatest and that this can best be obtained by having one authority responsible for this service over a very wide area. We deprecate the use of police officers as auxiliary firemen as we consider the firefighting service to be of sufficient national importance to warrant a distinct and specially trained personnel. Also, occasions may well arise when both forces would have their own particular duties to attend to simultaneously, and the use of members of the police force at fires might easily create a very awkward and undesirable position. We therefore recommend that, as a national need and in the interests of efficiency and economy, the firefighting services should be co-ordinated over a large field and placed under the control of a single authority.The Bill does not do that, and to that extent it fails to meet the imperious needs of the present hour.
As to keeping personnel separate, and unification, we read, in Sub-section (4) of Clause 1 of the Bill:Every fire authority shall, so far as practicable, enter into arrangements with other fire authorities and persons who maintain fire brigades to secure the provision of assistance by those authorities and persons for the purpose of dealing with fires occurring in the borough or district of the first named authority which cannot adequately be dealt with by the local fire services.That relates to cases in which a fire cannot be extinguished by one authority alone, and is a weak-kneed provision for dealing with a most grave situation. The Bill goes in a contrary direction to keeping the police as a separate organisation, because Sub-section (6) of Clause states:Where a fire authority, who are the council of a borough having a separate police force, 1462 delegate to the watch committee their functions under this Act, the watch committee may employ the chief officer of police, an assistant chief constable or the deputy chief constable on administrative duties in connection with a fire brigade maintained by that authority and may employ other constables as members of the brigade.Clearly that is action which will certainly not bring the very best results from the propositions embodied in the Bill. I hope that the Government will take serious notice of the protest which I am making and which is based upon the judgment of a unanimous and most important inquiry, probably the most important inquiry for many months, and which, after examining technical and other witnesses, came to important and unanimous conclusions on the very matter that we are now considering.
There is the question of an adequate supply of water in case of fire, and I make a very strong protest that the capital cost of new works established to make provision for that need is to be borne by the local authorities requiring the supply. What an amazing position ! Local authorities will certainly be up in arms against any such proposal. It is unjust and it will be described, I am afraid—I know, rather—as an intolerable and unnecessary hardship. Proper charges may be required for any additional supply, and local authorities would be delighted, as of aforetime, to meet their liabilities in that respect, but why they should be mulct in charges for extensions to water companies I am completely at a loss to understand. I hope that the Home Secretary or some other Government spokesman will enlighten us in this respect.
If the local authorities are to pay the total costs, will the extensions become the property of the local authorities or not? It would be as reasonable to ask a local authority to pay for a railway extension or for any other extension which might take place for the greater convenience of the local authorities or for shopkeepers engaging in new ventures for the greater advantage of new districts, as to ask local authorities to pay this charge to water companies. Clauses 2 and 3 are a deliberate invitation to trading dividend-earning concerns to inflict financial burdens upon ratepayers and to swell their dividends in that way. Comment has been made in the Debate that the right of local authorities to charge for 1463 services in connection with fires is to be abolished under the Bill, but the Home Secretary gave us no enlightenment upon that very important particular.
We have been advised that some £10,000,000 is the amount of the loss due to fires in this country, and it is to be observed that local authorities must undertake exceedingly heavy burdens from time to time. Why are we, at this time of increasing financial pressure upon local authorities, taking away and destroying their age-long statutory right to make a charge for services which have been rendered? That is certainly putting back the clock; it is a return to a mediaeval point of view. If the local authority is to be debarred, for some occult reason which we have not yet had explained, from making charges, it ought to be an obligation on the Government under some Clause of the Bill, which does not appear to exist at the moment, to reimburse local authorities for the charges which they are occasioned in this direction. I have received a letter from the Consett Urban District Council with reference to this Bill. It says:While the provisions of the Bill will generally he welcomed, my council deplore the fact that no provision is effected for Exchequer assistance and for securing a measure of uniformity in service conditions.That is a statement which will be echoed by every local authority in County Durham. The burdens on those authorities have increased during the past year to the extent of 1s. 8d. in the £. Some of these authorities have a rate burden of 24s. 6d. in the £. These burdens throughout the whole of County Durham, as I have mentioned in the House before, fall upon an extremely poor section of the community, about 96 per cent. of the ratepayers being of the poorer working-class type. It is clear therefore, that they cannot bear the additional burdens which are to be placed upon their shoulders in the present Measure. I hope that the Home Secretary will take our reasonable protest, not as any indication of a desire to make party capital, but merely as a request that the elementary rights of local authorities may be preserved in the direction I have indicated, if we are to have. as we ought to have, the good will and whole-hearted co-operation of all the local authorities in the United Kingdom on this most important matter at the present 1464 time. The Measure is very belated, but the hour has not yet struck when the Government cannot by generous treatment get the willing co-operation of the local authorities concerned, and so secure the aims which I believe the Government have in introducing the Measure to the House.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ Sir A. Wilson
I desire to join with previous speakers in congratulating the right hon. Gentleman, both on the Bill and on what he said in introducing it. I join equally with those who followed him in expressing the hope that there will be some breathing space before the Bill goes to Committee, or, at least, before it comes back to the House, for the reason that nearly every Amendment that can be proposed to the Bill is likely to impose an additional liability on local authorities, and, therefore, under the Rules of the House, cannot be discussed on Report. Whatever has to be done, therefore, must be done upstairs in Committee. It will not be possible for the Government to say, "We will put this right on Report." It cannot he done, and it canont be put right in another place, so that whatever is done must be done in Committee, and there should be some time for conference and discussion before the Committee stage takes place.
I wish that somewhat greater emphasis had been laid by previous speakers on the Report of the Royal Commission of 1923. It was a great document, and a great many of its recommendations have been put into operation by the Ministry of Health. But there are a great many which are of general,application, and which are just as important to-day as they were then—for example, the suggestions as to further educational work, measures for fire prevention, and a whole series of measures to make the country more conscious of fire dangers; and legislative action is required in some cases. Apart from that, I regret that the Bill is not more comprehensive, and is not drafted more on the lines of an enabling Bill, so as to enable the right hon. Gentleman to take far more drastic action if he thinks fit. I should have liked to see something on the lines of Sub-section 1, (l) of Section 677 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, giving power to pay the expenses of establishing a research station and of rewarding 1465 the preservation of life from fire in such cases as the Home Office may direct, and authorising the Home Secretary to recoup the cost by a levy, which I think might very well be on fire insurance policies by an ad valorem stamp. It would, I am sure, be of immense assistance to him to have at his disposal a fund like the fund which is at the disposal of the Board of Trade, and out of which the Board of Trade have built nip great rocket stations all round our coasts and have, under statutory power, awarded the Sea Gallantry Medal, which has made the name of the Board of Trade known throughout the length and breadth of the Seven Seas. This is not a new idea; it has been on our Statute Book for nearly 100 years.
I feel that derating has had a profound effect, and will have a much more serious effect upon the Home Office precautions in the matter of fire than perhaps we have hitherto realised. Ninety per cent. of the cost of all fire losses is in respect of commercial premises, and three-quarters of all the serious fires arise in commercial premises which are derated and pay, as I understand, no contribution. The local authorities have to pay. I believe that in the long run this Bill will have to be followed by another Bill authorising local authorities to impose a Ere rate, as they now impose a water rate.
§ Sir A. Wilson
No; I was not including shops, but the great timber and oil establishments, factories and the like, which I believe are three-quarters derated, and, therefore, pay very little towards the expenses of putting out the fires for which they are mainly responsible. My hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Sir T. Cook) asked what is to be the position of private fire brigades, and I also want to ask that question. There are only 60 of them in the Association of Private Fire Brigades. They are of very great value, and ought to be encouraged. I think that all large and important establishments which have an appreciable fire risk attached to them ought to be required either to pay some part of the cost of dealing with their own fires, or to have an efficient private fire brigade of their own. 1466 I have in mind timber yards, which at present are in effect derated and which have a very great fire risk. They are scattered all over areas where they cause great danger to local property, and they are derated, so that for practical purposes they pay none of the additional cost. While I greatly welcome the Bill, I do not think it goes anything like far enough so far as the voluntary fire brigades are concerned, and I hope their position will be further considered. I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman has said with regard to scientific research. We are only at the very beginning of our expenditure, and every penny spent upon research will, I am sure, be recoupted 10 times over in economies, if we know what we are buying and if we can ensure a far greater measure of standardisation than is now possible.
The next point that I wish to make is with regard to Clause 14. I make it now, because when the Bill is in Committee I shall be told that anything I have to say in this regard would impose a charge on the rates. I do not like the words in Sub-section (1):injury received in the execution of his duty without his own default.These words, which occur twice in the Sub-section, lend themselves to injustice under the cloak of law. I know that they occur in the Fire Brigade Pensions Act, 1925, but my submission is that the protection afforded to firemen by Parliament should not be less than that afforded by the Workmen's Compensation Act, and I should like to see substituted some such words asarising out of and in the course of his employment,instead ofin the execution of his duty without his own default.I have in mind several cases which have actually occurred. One was that of a man who was told by a foreman to do a job of work, and, as a consequence, received an injury. It was held in a court of law that the foreman in question was not his foreman, and that he should not have taken an order from him. In consequence, he was non-suited in the court, and deprived of his compensation, on the ground that he was in default, because the injury was not received in the execution of his duty. I believe we should do well to amend the Fire Brigade 1467 Pensions Act and this Bill to the extent of assimiliating their provisions regarding compensation to those of the Workmen's Compensation Act. I should like, incidentally, to see a beginning made, and I hope it will be possible under the Bill, in driving a carthorse through the Public Authorities Protection Act, 1893. At the present moment people employed by public authorities have only three months in which to make their claims. I should like them to have as much time as is given under the Workmen's Compensation Act, and I am reinforced in my suggestion that it should be put into this Bill for fire brigades as a token of our good will, because the Lord Chancellor's Committee on Law Revision have already suggested that this particular change is overdue and should be made.
I would also ask the Minister to consider, and perhaps find some room for it in the Bill, the giving of protection and assistance to men employed in private fire brigades. Under the doctrine of common employment, which is part of our law as it now stands, if anyone receives an injury in the course of his duty as a member of a private fire brigade in extinguishing a fire or saving life on the premises, he is estopped from getting any more than workman's compensation, even if he gets that. It might be held, and I believe it has been held, that if a man cares to join a voluntary fire brigade, which is not a necessary part of his duty, he is not entitled to any compensation at all, because volente non fit injuria,and it is not a necessary part of his duty. Having asked two or three competent authorities, I think that the position of the rescuer and the member of a voluntary fire brigade under the law of England as it stands requires clearing up, and I am reinforced in that by an article in the "Cambridge Law Reporter" by Professor Goodhart on the voluntary rescuer and the voluntary assumption of risk, in which he makes it quite clear that theobiter dictumof the late Lord Justice Scrutton in the case of Cutler versus United Dairies, to some extent modified by the later case of Haynes versus Harwood, has imported into English law a doubt as to whether a rescuer is not, by the mere fact that he endeavours to save life of his own free will, putting himself in a much more unfavourable position than was hitherto held to be the case under 1468 the English law, on the strength of Lord Chief Justice Cockburn's dictum in the case of Scaramanga versus Stamp in 1880. I do not suggest that it could be put into this Bill, but I would ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to consider the possibility of referring it to the competent committee, in order that that particular aspect of law, which has a very close bearing on fire brigade work and on rescue, may receive fuller consideration than it could receive at the hands of a committee of this House.
I would suggest to the Home Secretary that he should inaugurate this new scheme by establishing a Fire Brigade Medal, independent of the King's Police Medal, both for long and meritorious service and for gallantry. The King's Police Medal, limited as it is to 120 per annum for the whole of the British Empire, is quite inadequate to meet the reasonable needs, for gallantry alone, of the fire brigades of this country. The Board of Trade has had its own gallantry medal since 1864, by Act of Parliament. There are already four or five local authorities in this country which have instituted such a medal, but how much greater prestige it would have if it came from the King himself, and was a nationally-instituted medal, with a ribbon which the world would recognise. The London County Council has had a medal for many years past, the Liverpool Shipwreck Society has had one for years, and the Corporation of Glasgow, greatly to its credit, is the only corporation in this country which has its own medal for its own citizens, presented by the corporation from the common fund. There is the Carnegie Trust medal, the Life-Saving Medal of the Order of St. John, and the medal of the Society for Saving Life from Fire. All these unofficial organisations might be asked to discontinue their presentation of medals, restrict themselves to pecuniary awards, and leave it to the Monarch, on the advice of the Home Secretary, to give these marks of favour. There are at present five official medals for gallantry in the gift of His Majesty—the Board of Trade Sea Gallantry Medal, the Order of the British Empire Medal, the Albert Medal, the Edward Medal, and, lastly, the King's Police and Fire Brigade Medal. Last year there were only five awards of this medal among all the firemen in Great Britain. But 1469 there were far more firemen than that who deserved something.
The authority which is to be set up under this Bill ought to have some fund at its disposal in order that it may bestow awards for gallantry. The London County Council has such a fund—awarded out of the Foot Bequest—and very valuable it is. The Society for the Protection of Life from Fire awards at present about,£120 a year in cash for England and Wales, and also awards bronze and silver medals and silver watches and certificates. I think it is essential, now that the right hon. Gentleman has created a fire authority under the aegis of the Home Office, that that fund should be transferred to the central authority, and that they should be given the prestige which come from the authority both to give money and to award medals. We have, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) said in another connection last week, sometimes neglectedthe things of the spirit, the things of character…which weigh far more than all the other matters concerned."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th May, 1938; col. 1080, Vol. 335.]No one suggests that medals are the cause of gallantry, or that men will do a gallant deed and rescue life at the risk of their own in order to get a reward; but, as Plutarch said in his "Life of Coriolanus ":Deep and solid minds are improved and brightened by marks of distinction which serve, as a brisk gale, to drive them forward in the pursuit of glory. They do not so much think that they have received a reward as that they have given a pledge, which would make them blush to fall short of the expectations of the public, and therefore they endeavour by their actions to exceed them.I believe there is a cast-iron case that could be made for the Fire Brigade Medal, which would indicate to the public at large and to the individual members of all fire brigades that the Government value their services no less than they do the services of the police. Those who "maintain the state of the world, for all their desire is in the work of their hands "merit, when from the marriage of opportunity with nobility of soul there springs a gallant deed, no less recognition at the hands of the State and of their fellows than those marks of favour which His Majesty is pleased to bestow on people who have served the State in other walks of life. I hope that one result of 1470 this Bill will be that the fire services will have as great a prestige as the police, and will be regarded as something in which it is a distinction and an honour to serve, equally with the Forces of the Crown.
§ 6.38 p.m.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. Westwood) welcomed the Bill but made certain criticisms. I also must welcome it, and if I have certain criticisms to make, they are only made in the hope that they will be of some service in improving the Bill. From the standpoint of air-raid precautions, which is the standpoint from which I approach the matter, I am glad to see it, because, by extending fire prevention all over the country and to small and rural areas, it makes our position much safer. It has been a matter of very grave difficulty to all concerned with air-raid precautions to consider how it will be possible, in existing circumstances, to deal with incendiary bombs, particularly in some of the rural areas; and, as the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary has said, it is perhaps due to the stimulus of the possible disaster of war that we have the Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman dissented when it was suggested from this side that it is only by such a stimulus that reform comes. May I just remind him in an historical excursion, of a kind parallel with that he gave: that, in point of fact, public health administration on a large scale only started after a terrible cholera epidemic, which cost a great number of lives; that it took the horrors of the Crimean War and the heroism of Miss Nightingale to bring about an adequate nursing service for the Army; that it took the horrors of the industrial system of the early nineteenth century to bring about an educational system; and that the Factory Acts, in the same way, evolved from the contemplation of what was realised to be an impossible and inhuman situation in the factories. I think we may reasonably say that it does take a very considerable stimulus to wake up the people of this country to doing something on a very large scale. I am glad we have been wakened up now to bring about the reorganisation—the effective reorganisation, I hope—of the fire prevention services for the whole country. I must associate myself with my hon. Friend 1471 the Member for Stirling and Falkirk in his criticism of Clause 4. It seems to me that, rather than greatly restricting the power of the local authorities to charge for services, it would be better to regularise the matter and to have a levy on the insurance companies. Such a levy would be one way of dealing with this matter. There does not seem to be any reason why insurance companies should be relieved of an obligation they have had up to the present time, when the general obligations of the Government and the national exchequer are so steeply increasing.
An aspect of the Bill which I welcome very cordially is that it provides in a definite way for co-ordination and cooperation between the local authorities in regard to fire prevention. Anyone who has considered the matter of air-raid precautions in detail is bound to realise that this question is one of the most urgently necessary features of air-raid precaution work. An attack, if it occurs, will not be made all over the country, but obviously at that point it may produce effects of such an intense character as to need, for the prevention of fire, the co-operation of fire-fighting apparatus from a considerable area around. Under this Bill, that co-ordination and co-operation will be part of the ordinary business of fire-fighting authorities; and it will be an extremely valuable service. With regard to private fire brigades, I think it highly desirable that they should be linked up with the ordinary fire brigades, as some kind of voluntary annexe.
The question of compensation in the event of injury or death of members of those organisations ought to be boldly tackled. I do not see why they should not be given a status equivalent to that of Territorials, as it were—looking upon the ordinary fire services as a Regular Army. They should be given all the protection necessary, because it would not be reasonable to except people to volunteer for the dangerous and arduous work of fire-fighting in time of war if their future and the future of their dependants were left unprovided for. I particularly welcome the statement of the Home Secretary on the question of research, because I had looked through the Bill and found no mention of research. It seems that with the extension of the areas of fire-fighting services, the extension of 1472 services to volunteer brigades, and the co-ordination and co-operation of firefighting services under the Bill, the crowning of this with research should make this a very effective constitution—if I may use the word in this connection —for the fire-fighting services of the country.
We have not finished with the question of incendiary attacks in the case of war when we have talked about the present kind of thermite incendiary bombs. There may be others. It has, in fact, been shown by actual experience in Spain that the small type of incendiary bomb weighing about 2 lbs. is not effective from the standpoint of the attacker. It does not cause as many fires as he would wish to cause. Therefore, the attacker has been driven to give that up and to try to cause fires by using bombs of very much greater weight. Whereas there is much value from the attacker's point of view in being able to carry a thousand 2 lb. bombs, with the possibility of causing a very large number of fires by scattering them broadcast, obviously, from the point of view of the attacker, his ability to cause a number of fires is very seriously diminished if he has to carry a number of bombs of much greater individual weight. That has meant, in effect, that the incendiary bomb now has come to be the less feared because either the small bomb will be used and be ineffective or the bigger bombs will be used and there will not be the opportunity of causing so many fires. That means inevitably, in the course of this horrible science of chemical warfare, that people will at once set out to discover other methods of causing fires by using other materials. Our research department under the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research will, I hope, counter any such research in the methods of destruction by discovering, also, methods of prevention.
In view of the fact that in many parts of the country there is a very great dearth of water supplies, and of the urgent necessity of finding some method of putting out fires in the absence of water, I hope that there will be intensive research into the possibility of using methods of extinction of fires which do not depend upon the use of water alone. I have had recently brought to my notice by various people who wish to have 1473 them used for air-raid precaution purposes, a number of proposals of various kinds for the extinction of fires by the use of powders, gases and other means. It may be that some of these are useful —it is certain that some are not useful —but it is along these lines that some progress might be made. I hope that research along these lines will be promoted so that, if any means of putting out fires without the use of water can be found, they may be put into use. It is certain that the putting out of fires without the use of water is not so easy as putting out fires with the use of water, but there are conditions under which water is not available. Let it not be forgotten in connection with this Fire Brigades Bill that, if it is necessary to have a fire brigade service everywhere, it is also very urgently necessary to have water supplies everywhere so that fire brigades can make use of them. It might be, in the curious and rather lopsided way in which things sometimes happen in our country, that because we want water to put out possible fires caused by a possible war, we might supply water which the inhabitants of country districts have been wanting for ordinary domestic and human purposes for many years.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Maitland
I will take up the last observation made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest), and say that it has been assumed by some hon. Members that there is, in fact, a real shortage of water in the country. I happened to serve two years ago upon the Joint Select Committee, and up to that time until I heard the evidence submitted to that committee, I held the same opinion which has been expressed in several quarters of this House, and which was expressed by the hon. Gentleman in his closing sentence this afternoon.
I was referring to shortage in the distribution of water and not to the shortage of water itself.
§ Mr. Maitland
The reference to which that committee was entrusted was the rather comprehensive one of water resources and the distribution of water. It arose out of the great drought which had been experienced the previous year. The evidence submitted compelled that committee to come to the unanimous conclusion that the water resources of this country were much better than had been 1474 anticipated, and that the fear of a shortage which had been referred to in many newspapers and in Parliament had been greatly exaggerated. It is true that in certain districts there was a shortage, but the point that I want to emphasise, so as to get the picture right, is that the water resources of this country are quite adequate for all reasonable and expanding requirements of the people, whether for drinking purposes or for the purposes of fighting fires. I make that observation because another hon. Gentleman who spoke also referred to the fact and asked, in terms rather of apprehension, whether or not it was the right thing that local authorities should be charged with the cost of providing water for their own fire services?
In the consideration of this Bill we are perhaps rather apt to assume that its provisions include entirely new charges upon local authorities. That is not the case. For the last 40 years, as the Home Secretary has said, notwithstanding the enormous loss of life and property from fires, this House has not attempted to deal by legislation with any matters arising from fires. This is the first attempt for 40 years to define the duties of local authorities in regard to fires. I am sure that many hon. Members were as surprised as I was when they first found out that there was no statutory obligation upon local authorities to provide for fire protection. Most of us would have assumed that there was a statutory obligation upon local authorities. This Bill in one respect affirms what is, in fact, an efficient duty carried out already by many local authorities, and the operations of the Bill will not cost them a penny more than they are paying to-day. I entirely sympathise with hon. Members who are averse to the imposing of heavier burdens upon local authorities without having had consultation with them beforehand. I was glad to hear the Home Secretary say that in England, at any rate, conversations had taken place with representatives of local authorities, and that as far as they were concerned they were satisfied that this is a proper Bill to bring before Parliament.
Unlike an hon. Gentleman who spoke from the benches above the Gangway, I was very glad that the Home Secretary took the view of the local authorities and decided that they should have the first opportunity of making such arrangements 1475 as they possibly could with regard to coordination. It is very essential and indeed vital, if we are to have anything like sound organisation in order to fight the terrors which will come from aerial warfare, that we must have as the basis of that organisation a sound organisation in peace times on the best possible basis. I believe that local authorities themselves are quite competent, and, with great respect to the Department over which my right hon. Friend presides, I think that many local authorities will do the job more efficiently if they are given the opportunity of arranging for co-ordination. The Home Secretary has the power under the Bill, where such arrangements have not been made, to set up a new organisation, but I am very glad that, in the first instance at any rate, the authorities to whom we owe so much for so many services in other directions are to have the opportunity of making arrangements for co-ordination.
We all welcome the fact that there is to be an extension of the research into the question of fire-fighting methods, and that officers are to have additional and better facilities for training. I have had some association with the National Fire Brigades Association and I believe they appreciate the fact that the Home Secretary has considered the representations made to him. I am sure that he has every reason to be glad of the response and reception which the Bill has received. I hope that there will be no delay, as was suggested by one or two hon. Members, but that the Bill will be proceeded with as quickly as possible.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Ritson
The Home Secretary gave a very interesting historical account of the apathy that there had been in the past, and I was very pleased to note that this Bill means a new beginning. When I was younger I was very often seated on a fire engine, soaked to the skin, and after coming back from a fire had police work to do. I am glad that this Bill has been brought forward. I can assure the hon. Gentleman the Member for Faversham (Mr. Maitland) that the words of the Home Secretary at the beginning that we have been driven to this decision by force of circumstances are quite true. In Sunderland, with a population of 150,000 or 160,000, we used to be dependent upon pressure from the hydrants. On one occa- 1476 sion there might have been very serious losses had there not been a floating pump in the river that threw about 2,000 gallons of water per minute. I welcome the Bill, but I hope that it will be improved in Committee. On the financial side the administration of the provisions of the Bill will cost local authorities more than is the case at the present time. Ever since the experience to which I have referred we have had the best of everything, and we have a fire brigade that is second to none. The added financial burden will be one of our chief complaints, and it is a matter which ought to be considered by the Home Office.
§ Mr. Maitland
If the hon. Gentleman contends that his authority is one of the most efficient in the country with regard to its fire brigade service, can he tell me precisely how this Bill will add to the cost of this efficient service?
§ Mr. Ritson
The hon. Member forgets the increased cost of everything. If we are to have a fire service I want the very best, or the money will be wasted. I am very pleased that local authorities are to be allowed to come to some agreement. If there are any people who know their own affairs it ought to be those on the spot. Take a town like my own, which has been called upon to go as far as Durham, or even further, perhaps to protect a cathedral or a place of that kind. We had to say that calls upon us, as an efficient service, could not be expected to carry us so far away geographically from our heavy responsibilities at home. I should be the last to wish to see a beautiful cathedral destroyed. I think we ought to get in touch with the authorities and say, "We are prepared to link up with you on condition that you undertake your proportion of the responsibility and the expense." I am surprised that representatives of rural areas have not taken a keener interest even in the peace time aspect of the question. In scores of places in rural areas you can have the finest materials but, if you have not got water, they are absolutely useless. There was once a fire near a hospital in my area and, to my horror, we found that the fire brigade could not be called upon except by the police. The fire was outside the borough area, and there was no one who could take the responsibility of calling upon the fire brigade unless the policeman was informed, and he had to be found first.
1477 Interlocking is going to be a blessing to us in every way. Experienced and practical men are needed in this matter, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will put on his advisory committee not some academic mind but someone who has had to turn out night after night in all sorts and conditions of water supplies, having to find the necessary material for his work. There are many canals and rivers on which floating pumps could be kept and in many country areas, if you had good practical firemen on your committee, they could advise where water could be stored, and they would be of great service from their experience and knowledge. I am pleased that we are to have research in the fullest sense of the term. There are many new methods of putting out fires without water. Always give me water to start with but, where you have not got water, chemicals are coming on to the market day by day of a very effective order. There is now wonderful machinery for fire fighting. It used sometimes to be impossible to get an engine anywhere near the fire, but now there is a little trailer which is hardly any size at all, and it is cheap and will go anywhere. I hope the authorities will be given samples of these things. If they are not wanted in wartime, they will be useful in peace.
It is always wasteful to allow machinery to lie about idle. I once went to a doctor and he told me I had better get out and work. I was rather offended, because I was in the police force. I had just come from work in the mines and was not going back. He was a little man, but he was too big for me mentally. He said, "If I had two engines and took care of one arid oiled it and worked it as it ought to be worked and let the other remain idle, intending to work it in five years, it would be dead before the end of the five years." That is true of machinery everywhere. I have seen a fire engine that was more useful in pumping out of something than pumping on to it. I remember a dam burst and we put the fire engine to work pumping out the flooded cellars, so it was useful not only in giving water but in taking it away. If you only give it that kind of practice you are keeping it in order and keeping your men trained to their job. Some of these little things will be useful to local authorities for dealing with things like flooded sewers.
1478 I hope we shall try to stir up rural authorities on this question. Sunderland has agreed to link up with the county of Durham in the matter of air-raid precautions. If I were an enemy of this country I should not always drop my bombs on large towns, but destroy cattle and sheep and cereals and foodstuffs stored in farming areas—a very effective way of putting alarm into the minds of people. I am very anxious that there should be a water supply in rural areas, but there is any amount of facility for using the water from rivers and canals and pools. In the past we have kept hundreds of thousands of police protecting property which fire will destroy in a few minutes; but we have never thought it worth while to keep an up-to-date fire brigade. It is absolutely necessary to have a police force to protect property and life, but, having been in both services, I think it is equally important to have an efficient fire brigade to protect property and life.
An experienced fireman, who has served his time from the beginning, who has pluck, energy, and foresight, is as enthusiastic in his work as any policeman. If you want to have a good fire brigade you must pick the best men; you must not depend on someone coming in with a voluntary fire brigade. I am not decrying the spirit of the voluntary fire brigade, but I have never known a case where the blending of a public authority and a voluntary association has been satisfactory. There is always professional jealousy, and when a fireman has been in the service for 20 years he is an expert at his work. I hope we shall make provision so that when time hangs heavily on their hands firemen will be given opportunities to prepare and to improve machinery. They will become keen on their job and will not allow someone to come in who hardly knows a fire engine from a dredger. Such men are proud of their profession, and to get them we should train them from the first and give them the same status as the police. Firemen should get the same pension and the same conditions of service.
We want, and it is necessary that we should have, even in times of peace, the best men, and it is even more necessary with the fear of war hanging over us to obtain the very best men for the fire brigade, and to do that we shall have to 1479 pay the price. An expert fireman is as valuable to the community as the best policeman. I hope the Secretary of State will bring in the best practical men to give lectures in these centres. I am not an educated man myself and I have always had my doubts about these academic people. I was working in a colliery hewing coal on one occasion when one of these highly spirited but rather conceited people came to the colliery and complained bitterly that I was making small coal, which was not allowed. Anyone who understands mining conditions knows that before you can get large coal you have to lie on your side in a place 18 inches to 20 inches high and cut away under the coal so that it can be blasted down. This gentleman who had been to the University but had missed something did not know that you cannot get large coal without curving, and the practical manager who was present, but who was a very subordinate person in the presence of the individual who was in charge of five other collieries, forgot that he was speaking to his superior and said, "Ninny, you cannot get coal without curving." The man said, "It does not matter what it is; he must not make small coal." It is well known in mining circles that you cannot get big coal unless you make small coal.
I am sincere in this matter. I am anxious that the Home Secretary should make this service, with which I have been connected all my life, effective. The joy of a thing is when it is done well, and that is particularly the case where life and limb are concerned. I would say to the Home Secretary that he should bring to these centres anyone with brains and ideas, any practical man who may not be grammatical but who knows the difference between one end of a hose and the other. I wish we could have been granted the means to cover the expenditure of local authorities. I think this is justified considering the very heavy burden local authorities have to bear, but if we cannot have that I hope the Home Secretary will apply this Measure with zest. We have in the police force to thank God that we have had a Home Office able to apply some compulsion to local authorities who otherwise would never attempt to move. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will keep hold of 1480 the reins, and say to these local authorities that they must link up with their fellows in the interests of life and property. I wish him well in his Bill, and I hope in Committee that we shall have an opportunity of putting some things right, and be able to convert him to the belief that if he wants a good job well done he must pay for it himself.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Captain Heilgers
We have listened to an interesting speech from the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Ritson), an expert on this matter, and I thank him for his championship of the rural areas. I cannot claim to be an expert myself, but I was honoured in succeeding the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Sir T. Cook), who made such an interesting speech, in the presidency of a number of fire brigades in Suffolk and Essex. I should like to say to the Home Secretary how much we appreciate his bringing forward this Bill. I think it is a very good Bill, and that the Home Secretary has been wise in abandoning the proposal of joint area boards, that is, judging from my experience of catchment boards and precepts. It would have led to a considerable amount of trouble. I am also glad that he has accepted a recommendation in the Riverdale report not to make the county council the area, a proposal which was urged by the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris). It would have been a great mistake to have had the county council area, as a county area is seldom conterminous with a fire brigade area. The Home Secretary spoke of the local authorities who are doing nothing. I read in the "Evening Standard" about the Lancing Sussex Fire Brigade. It said:The twelve members of the Lancing Sussex Fire Brigade are worried about their engine and uniforms. Both are about 12 years old. The engine suffers from heart trouble and can no longer manage the Sussex hills, while the uniforms do not fit properly. The brigade applied for a new outfit and have been told that they could have new uniforms but not a new engine.That is the sort of thing we do not want to happen. In general I think the Home Secretary is wiser in giving up the parish fire brigade, but I hope that in certain circumstances he will not exercise his powers in this direction. I understand that he retains in Clause power to postpone by order, the transfer of any parish fire brigade to a rural district to such a date 1481 as may be specified in the order. I urge that for this reason. I have in my constituency the second largest parish in England, with 6,000 acres and a population of 3,500. They have an extremely efficient fire brigade service, and I should be extremely sorry if that fire brigade were transferred willy-nilly to the district council. I hope that in such cases the Home Secretary will exercise his veto. There must be other cases as well because in the report of the Riverdale Committee they say that in the 14 South Eastern counties there are no fewer than 77 motor fire brigades in the hands of parish councils.
Then as to the rural district councils. It seems to me that they are rather stingily treated in the Bill. The bigger authorities have already had their expenses in providing efficient fire services. Therefore it may be argued that it is only right that rural authorities who have not done anything should now incur the expense, and we are told that it is not likely to exceed the produce of a penny rate. That is quite a large item to some rural district councils, and I would emphasise that it is being provided, not really to meet the needs of those councils, but to meet the needs of air-raid precautions. The Home Secretary shakes his head, but perhaps he will explain the matter later. The local authorities are supposed in many instances to meet their requirements by means of arrangements for the provision of the necessary local fire brigade services by existing fire brigades. What happens if no arrangement can be made? Upon whom does the provision fall?
Then I would like to turn to the question of air-raid precautions. Will the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who, I believe, is to reply, tell us a little more about the distribution of the auxiliary appliances? I was rather alarmed to hear, according to the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. Westwood), that Glasgow and Edinburgh were going to get such a large proportion. Can he tell us also anything about the number of auxiliary firemen? I want particularly to draw attention to the needs of the rural areas as regards these appliances. The Home Secretary made a point of the fact that the auxiliary fire appliances would be of great help where long distances had to be covered, and I would like to stress that. 1482 In East Anglia, where the hon. Member for North Norfolk and I come from, there are the greatest distances, except possibly in Scotland and Wales, that have to be covered, and we are much more vulnerable to air raids than any of the other districts where the population is scattered.
There are two aspects of the matter to which I think the Home Secretary ought to direct his attention. One is ought to direct his attention. One is the question of corn. During and before the harvest it will be possible for incendiary bombs to be dropped in East Anglia and to set practically one-half to three-quarters of the corn harvest of the country on fire. That may not be likely, but it is a danger that has to be faced. Then, even if raiders were not successful at first in dropping incendiary bombs on the corn crops, we have now in East Anglia a very big forest, which is very nearly as big as the New Forest and which is mostly composed of exceedingly inflammable wood. There is very little water there, and I wonder whether the Home Secretary has any idea of sending the modern mobile appliances to the area of the Norfolk Forest; otherwise, I can see it catching on fire and the flames spreading far and wide and setting the corn crops afire over a very big district. Fortunately perhaps the Fen district is one part of the world where there is a really adequate water supply, but we in Norfolk and Suffolk have no water supply, and I hope the Government will look into that matter.
The hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk made a complaint that no Scottish witness had been called before the Riverdale Committee, and I should like to point out that, although the Home Secretary is a native of East Anglia, no East Anglian witness either was called before that Committee. I would like, in conclusion, to say that we thoroughly appreciate the fact that the Home Secretary has tackled this age-old problem, and I only hope that keenness will be displayed in this matter and that the time will come when the people will be as proud of their firemen as they are of their policeman at present.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. McLean Watson
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Maitland) has left the Chamber, because I wished to draw his attention to some 1483 of the things that have happened to-day. I think he was too optimistic with regard to the expense that will fall on local authorities. He claimed that, in so far as more efficient services are concerned, they will not mean an increase of a penny on the rates of the local authorities, but he cannot have noticed some of the points made by the Home Secretary himself, because the right hon. Gentleman made it clear that under the air-raid precautions scheme he is proposing to spend £1,500,000 in providing additional appliances. If it be for nothing more than for the housing of those additional appliances, the burden of that cost will fall on the local authorities, and the maintenance of those appliances will have to be borne by them. How, therefore, the hon. Member for Faversham can maintain that no increased cost will fall on the local authorities is more than I can understand.
If the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is going to reply, I hope he will tell us something with regard to the point made by the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. Westwood), who, in leading off from this side, mentioned that Edinburgh and Glasgow have been promised some of the additional appliances. I suppose they will be part of the £1,500,000 worth of new appliances to be provided by the Government. If that is not the case, I hope the Under-Secretary of State will deny it and assure these local authorities that they will not require to provide any additional accommodation and that no additional cost will fall upon them in respect of these new appliances. I do not know how the Home Secretary expects to get the efficiency for which he hopes, not only the ordinary efficiency for meeting the ordinary requirements of the community, but a service sufficient to tackle anything that may develop out of war conditions, unless the local authorities are to be called upon to bear a great deal of additional expense; and that applies to the local authorities which up to now have provided themselves with what they have considered to be an efficient fire service.
I want to emphasise what has been mentioned by one or two representatives from South of the Border. I do not think my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling and Falkirk drew specific attention to the fact that, while it may be true that there 1484 is no shortage of water in Scotland, it can be maintained that the water is not distributed by the local authorities at the moment. Although we might have these fire appliances in abundance, there are areas where they would be of absolutely no use. I would like to remind the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland that we have recently discussed two Measures in Committee upstairs which have had a direct bearing on the question of water supply. Not long ago we discussed a Housing (Agricultural Population) Bill for Scotland and a Rural Housing Bill for Scotland as well, and during the discussions on both those Measures the attention of the representatives of the Scottish Office was drawn to the fact that in many areas it was useless to provide bathrooms and lavatory accommodation, because there was no water supply for the houses, yet we solemnly placed into those Acts of Parliament provisions in regard to bathroom and lavatory accommodation and we knew very well that in many of those areas there was no water supply available for those houses. This question of water supply is very important, and if the Bill which we are now discussing will compel local authorities which have not up to the present provided adequate water supplies to make such provision, then it may be a blessing in disguise, because unless some of our local authorities are compelled to do some of these things they are not done.
Personally, I welcome this Measure. I welcome the provision that is made for co-operation between the burghal and county authorities. I think there should he a great deal more of such co-operation than we have had up to the present. Right up to now burghal authorities, on this question of water supply at any rate, have gone ahead to provide a water supply. Outside of these burghal areas, in many cases no provision is made for supplying the rural population at all, and unless a population of considerable proportions is found in any particular area, no attempt is made by the county councils to provide a proper water supply. I should be very much surprised to know that many fire brigades exist in any county, with perhaps the single exception of Lanarkshire, outside the burghal areas. The Under-Secretary of State will correct me if I wrong, but I think I am right in saying that there is hardly a county outside of Lanarkshire that has a proper 1485 fire brigade service in Scotland. Outside of Lanarkshire, the rural areas in Scotland have to depend on fire brigades that have been set up by burghal authorities, and in many of these counties the fire brigade service is not adequate—it may be quite adequate for the service of the particular burgh that has set it up—but under this Measure it will be possible to set up fire brigades on a more extensive scale, so long as we can find co-operation between the burghal authority and the county council.
There ought to be no particular difficulty in getting this Measure to work, and there is just the possibility that the Home Secretary may not require to set up all the machinery that he is proposing in this Bill if we can find the necessary spirit of co-operation between the county and the burgh authorities. I hope it will not be necessary to set up a great system of boards throughout the country. It may be necessary that the Home Secretary should have this Advisory Committee to advise him, but I hope it will not be necessary to set up a great system of boards up and down the country and, in addition, a great system of inspectorates to see that these schemes are properly carried out. I hope there will be sufficient good feeling and co-operation between the county and the burgh authorities to get what they require under this Measure, which is a really efficient system of tackling fires, not only in populous areas, but in the country districts as well.
There are one or two points that will require to be discussed more closely in Committee, but I hope the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will give us some reply with regard to Clause 4. We, would like to know where the Government stand with regard to that Clause in particular. The idea that fire insurance companies should be relieved from any payment in the future, after this Measure is passed, is not very pleasing to those of us who sit on this side of the House. I hope the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will be able to give us an assurance that this is not a Government scheme to put money into the pockets of the fire insurance companies. In addition to this point there are questions with regard to the type of fire brigade to be established—whether it is to be a part-time system or whether the 1486 men are to be those who know the business and have been trained and equipped for the work of fire fighting. Those are points, however, which we can discuss in Committee, but I hope that on the principle laid down in Clause 4 we shall have a definite assurance that the insurance companies are not to be relieved of their responsibility.
I am prepared to say here and now that local authorities will have to pay a great deal more than they are paying at present if this Measure comes into operation. The ratepayers in the burghs who have their own fire brigade arrangements now will be called on to pay more and the county ratepayers who, up to now, have paid little or nothing for fire brigade services in the rural areas, will also be brought in under this Measure. That is only right, and it is to be remembered that while they will be called upon to make their contribution, they will have the advantage of the fire brigade service when they require it. I hope the Measure will not occupy too long in its progress towards the Statute Book. It is true that the local authorities have not had an opportunity of discussing its proposals. They were consulted on the general principle, but that is a very different thing from the detailed proposals now before us, and while I hope the Bill will have a speedy passage, I also hope that we shall have an opportunity of discussing these matters with the local authorities who have the right to examine the Bill and express their views upon its details even before it goes to Committee.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Sir John Wardlaw-Milne
I rise particularly to ask one question relating to the provision of water for fire-fighting services dealt with in Clause 2 (4). I am advised by persons who have legal training and who are exercised about the effect of this Bill, particularly in certain districts of Worcestershire, that it is not certain how urban district councils who have water schemes at present will be affected by these provisions. It is clear that where there is to be a new water scheme, Clause 3 permits the fire authorities to require that the scheme shall be of such a character that it will be suitable for use in fire fighting in the neighbourhood. Under Clause 2 (4) the authority can enter into an agreement with a water company to secure the provision of adequate supplies in case of fire. The 1487 difficulty put to me concerns cases where arrangements exist with a water supplying company, and where the water supply is insufficient for the growing needs of the neighbourhood, apart from the new requirements which will be made under this Bill. In such cases, is the urban district council authorised to demand the scrapping of the existing water supply scheme and the establishment of a new and enlarged scheme of supply? I am not a lawyer, and it may be that the point is covered in the Bill, but I am told it is not clear and that urban district councils are not certain of what their position would be if they found their water supply insufficient, or whether the Bill would enable them to call for a larger water supply which would mean, I am told, in many cases, the scrapping of existing systems. In those cases, who is to pay for the new works? I hope my hon. Friend when he replies will set at rest, on this point, the minds of some people in Worcestershire, and I daresay in other parts of the country, who are concerned about the matter.
I welcome the Bill, as I think everybody must. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on having introduced it, and, incidentally, I congratulate him on the tribute which he paid to a worthy of past days, namely, Captain Shaw, of whom we hear but little nowadays. I would congratulate my right hon. Friend still further on having shown himself to be a keen student of the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. I was delighted by his reference to that charming opera "Iolanthe," but I am bound to say, if the House will forgive the digression, that my own view has always been that Gilbert inserted those lines merely because he could not think of anything else that would suit. I was pleased to gather from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that, in his view, the sole object of those lines was that of paying a tribute to a very worthy citizen. On the whole, I welcome the Bill and I hope the point which I have mentioned will be examined.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Brown
The hon. and gallant Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Captain Heilgers) expressed the hope that the Home Secretary would not deal ruthlessly with the rural authorities. He need not have made any special appeal of that kind. I am certain the Home 1488 Secretary and the other Members of the National Government will deal very kindly with the local authorities for reasons which are very obvious and need not be enumerated. The right hon. Gentleman opened with a series of interesting historical allusions and went on to describe how all the necessary preliminary steps had been taken in connection with this Bill. He told us about the Royal Commission of 13 years ago and the Departmental Committee of two years ago. All the recognised actions, forms and ceremonies had been gone through, he said, and now was the time for the introduction of the Measure itself. But in spite of the disarming attitude of the right hon. Gentleman, we all know that the real reason for the introduction of a Bill at this time, is the close association between the proposals in this Measure and air-raid precautions.
I rise for one purpose only. I, too, wish to make my protest against the increased burdens which will be placed on local authorities by this Measure. It is not a case only of what is directly involved. It is also a case of the indirect consequences of what is being done under the air-raid precautions scheme, and by this Measure. The Memorandum refers to the possibility of a penny rate covering the costs which certain local authorities will be bound to incur under the Bill, but estimates of that kind have a way of being exceeded. There is, as everybody agrees, a close association between this Measure and air-raid precautions and what is being done in connection with air-raid precautions is having a direct effect in increasing the burdens on local authorities. Everyone knows that county councils are being asked to prepare air-raid precautions schemes and as regards co-operation with other local authorities, they are proceeding in some cases on what I consider to be rather autocratic lines. Some local authorities will not have much control over the money that is to be spent on air-raid precautions or in other ways. For instance, an air-raids precautions officer will say to a local authority, "Such-and-such an official must carry out certain duties, and such another official must perform certain other duties." It is assumed that those services are to be free. That is the understanding, but what will happen in practice? Those officials will have to perform many of those duties during their ordinary office 1489 hours. They will ask for fresh assistance, and thus, indirectly, an additional burden will be placed on the local authority for which the Government will make no special payment at all.
Consequently, one views with alarm the possibility of increased expenses falling on local authorities under this Measure, and I ask the Home Secretary to give more consideration to the burdens which are being placed on local authorities by various Government Measures. We cannot banish from our minds the fact that protests are constantly being made by hon. Members who support the Government, against the increase in local rates. It is a theme on which they harp constantly. Directly and indirectly the Government are making increasing demands on local authorities which involve increasing the rates. The Government must be responsible for those increases in local rates, and not the local councillors in various parts of the country.
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Lewis
I was not clear from the speech of the Home Secretary how far the need of taking precautions against risk of fire resulting from air raids in time of war, was responsible for the introduction of this Bill. But even if there is no connection, even if it is a mere coincidence that this Bill should come before us at this time, it seems to me that its introduction now is singularly opportune. Obviously, it is on our peacetime system of fire fighting that we must build as a foundation, in creating an improved and extended system for dealing with the extra risks involved in war. The hon. Member for North Norfolk (Sir T. Cook) was very gloomy about what he described as the impossibility of making the people of this country fire-conscious. Whatever difficulties might have been experienced in the past in that respect, I think they are very much diminished to-day. The publicity given to the risk of fire in air raids has, I think, made the people of this country very fire-conscious indeed. From that point of view, also, the present seems a very good time for the introduction of a Bill of this kind.
There does not appear to be anything very controversial in the Measure, except the one point which was immediately seized upon by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. 1490 Westwood). He referred to a question which on these occasions is liable to make us a little heated, and that is the question of who is to pay the bill. The hon. Member pointed out that the derating proposals had affected the position, and that it was not fair that the owners of certain classes of property, such as private houses and shops, should bear the whole burden of protection against fire for premises of all kinds, including those which were derated. The hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) said that 90 per cent. of the losses from fire were in respect of commercial buildings, and he said that those buildings were de-rated. I intervened. I think the hon. Member is wrong. That figure of 90 per cent. includes also shop property.
There is substance in the argument put forward by one hon. Member that all these properties which were de-rated were subject to fire risk, and that if the whole burden of protection against the risk had to be borne only by the owners of certain properties, there is an element of injustice. But that is not the whole picture. The Home Secretary pointed out that the Government are spending large sums of money in respect of fire-fighting appliances, which they are presenting to various fire brigades. He said that in the current financial year that expenditure amounted to nearly £1,500,000. It is evident that this question will crop up on the later stages of the Bill, and it would be helpful if the Government would give us some calculation showing what proportion of the burden of fire fighting is borne by the rates; secondly, the effect of that burden on the de-rating of industrial premises and to what extent the proposal to provide for the cost of certain fire-fighting apparatus for fire brigades may fairly be regarded as a set off against that extra burden. We might reasonably ask for some calculation on those heads so that we may see where we stand.
The Bill as a whole follows very closely the recommendations of the Riverdale Committee. Where it leaves the Committee's recommendations I think the Government have been wise in their action, notably in regard to the question of area boards. To have set up a complete network of area boards would have been undesirable. In the first place, it would have meant an unnecessary expenditure of time and money, and, secondly, if you had a complete set of 1491 area boards throughout the country the tendency would be for the authorities in a given area to feel that it was only in their area that they were expected to combine together. Authorities in the one area would not feel called upon to combine with authorities in another area. There are, of course, areas where some villages lie on the outskirts of the area, and it might well be that the natural people with whom they should combine would be in that other area. The suggestion of the Home Secretary to encourage local authorities to combine as seems best in the circumstances is probably the wisest thing we can do.
There are two points to which I should like to draw the particular attention of the Government. In the first place, the Home Secretary reminded us that in respect of industrial research very large sums are forthcoming from the building industry in aid of that research so far as it affects that industry. I suggest that if the great fire insurance offices were approached they might be willing to contribute towards research into fire-fighting problems. It seems to me that the parallel is a very close one, and I suggest that the fire insurance offices should be approached and asked to contribute towards research into fire-fighting methods, in which they would be very great beneficiaries.
The second point is this. It is suggested that the extra appliances which are really to be provided against war risks, and the volunteers who are to work those appliances, should both be used from time to time in the case of ordinary fires in peace time. More than one hon. Member has pointed out how desirable it is in the case of machinery that it should be used occasionally. Obviously, in the case of volunteers excellent experience could be gained if they were used from time to time in the case of fires under peace conditions. That proposal appears to meet with general approval, but I cannot see any provision that has been made for volunteers who are called upon in peace time to deal with a fire, and who may meet with injury or death in the course of that work.
There is provision in Clause 14 in respect of a limited class of persons, who are described as those who have been professional firemen or members of police forces in the past; but that is nothing like the end of the resources from which we 1492 hope these voluntary helpers will be drawn, and I suggest to the Government that some provision should be made for compensation or pension in the case of dependants in the event of injury or death when the volunteers are taking part in these activities. Otherwise, as things stand, that is a most unfortunate gap in the Bill. Were it to happen that there was some prominent or sensational case, widely reported in the Press, where grave hardship resulted from the lack of any such provision, it might very gravely affect, first, the recruiting for this service for war purposes, and, secondly, the use of any part of this service in peace time. I hope the Government will be willing to give favourable consideration to that suggestion, or, alternatively, that they will tell us whether they have definitely decided not to do that, In conclusion, I would add my voice to the voices of other hon. Members in all quarters of the House in congratulating the Home Secretary on having introduced this very useful Bill.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Sexton
The general principle of this Bill has been accepted by all speakers. It was amazing to hear from the Home Secretary that for the first time fire authorities are to be established in this country in order to combat the disasters of fire. It has been well said that fire is a good servant but a bad master. To prevent the fire getting the mastery we have now for the first time a Fire Brigades Bill. Calamities very often precede the investigation which leads to protection, instead of it being the other way round and investigation and protection preceding and preventing the calamities. It is a deplorable fact that such is the case not only as regards fighting fires but as regards fighting explosions in coal mines. We have the explosion first, the terrible loss of life, and then we have commissions set up to consider safety in mines.
Previously, the whole question of fire fighting has been left largely to chance, especially in the country areas. In the large industrial centres we have had fire engines and fire brigades efficient in their promptitude and effective in fighting fires. They have shown their value by saving property and human life. The Home Secretary told us that the value of property saved in a year amounts to £10,000,000, while the value of life saved 1493 cannot be estimated in money. The victories which fire brigades have won belong to the victories of peace. We all know that:Peace hath her victories no less renowned than war.Those victories in the cities and towns have been won because the equipment has been good. The fire engines, the water supplies and the trained men have been available because the finances of the district have been able to meet the expenses. In the cities and towns and industrial areas the rateable value is high, and therefore the rate to be paid in the pound is low, but when we examine what has been done in the rural districts we find a different story. There, we have equipment of a most primitive kind. I remember going into the country district where I now live and finding that when a fire was signalled by the alarm bell in the village school yard, out trundled a barrow, conveying a small pump and a length or two of hose. Our fire engine, if so it might be called, was a mere toy in comparison with what is used in efficient cities and towns. There were no prancing horses dragging our fire engine, there was no motor drawing the equipment, but human hands had to push the barrow and use the pump. Very often when we got to the scene of the fire we found that there was no water within reasonable distance because the water in the rural areas is usually obtained from wells, springs and burns. Even if there was a burn, we found that our hose very often was 10 or 15 yards too short.
Therefore, I welcome the arrangement in this Bill for the co-ordination of the fire services of neighbouring authorities. Geographical neighbours ought to be true neighbours, and in facing a common foe such as fire, they ought to have no hesitation in helping each other. The fact that water is not available in some rural districts is not due to there being no water there. Ten miles from the place where I live, for instance, a huge dam has just been built, holding up millions of gallons of water. The remarkable thing is that that water is not for the use of the villages, but is to be sent right away to the boroughs in the eastern part of Durham, passing by the very villages which ought to have the first claim on that water supply. It used to be said during the War that when we wanted allotments in rural areas, where we were surrounded 1494 by green fields, we had to send to the Minister of Agriculture, asking him to send down a representative, in order to be able to get a small piece of land, whereas in the towns, where there was no land at all, they had no trouble in getting allotments.
The men who man the fire brigades, if they can be designated as fire brigades, in the rural areas are just as good as the firemen in the towns. They are just as brave and just as earnest, but they are sadly handicapped by their poor apparatus and by the limitation of water supplies. The reason is the lack of finance in the rural districts. In the district from which I come, the firemen are part-time firemen; they are paid at the rate of 2s. for every practice which they put in, and when a fire breaks out the payment which the men receive depends largely upon what can be extracted from the fire insurance company. I see that by Clause 4 the Government intend to take away the little extra finance which the rural districts get from the fire insurance companies. I wish to endorse all that has been said with regard to that Clause. I hope it will receive serious consideration in the Committee, and that some alteration will be made. The rural areas have always been condemned to inferior amenities. In the rural areas there has always been poverty of protection. In the matter of housing, which is protection from ill-health, our people have to live in reconditioned cottages. Why is it that agricultural workers have to have reconditioned cottages, whereas in the industrial areas the workers have new cottages? Why is it that in the agricultural areas the schools are such poor buildings? The protection from ignorance there is limited indeed. In the matter of wages and unemployment insurance, the agricultural workers are on a lower level than the industrial workers.
So, in the matter of protection from fire, we have for years endured the inferior amenity of very amateur fire brigades. It is because a low valuation is placed on the villages. I protest against that low valuation. I believe that something will be done by this Bin to remove the stigma of inferiority from the countryside. The rural areas are just as important to the community as the urban areas, and rural people are just as valuable as town people. In the Memorandum accompanying the Bill, 1495 there is reference to a penny rate, and I should like to hear what some of the rural councils have to say with regard to that matter. I am very doubtful whether they will be satisfied that a penny rate will suffice to provide the efficient fire protection demanded in the Bill. I feel that the Special Areas and the rural districts, particularly owing to de-rating, will be very hardly hit. Hon Members know how much concern there is in the rural districts about the increase in rates due to air-raid precautions. I am afraid that when we open our post-bags during the next few days, we shall find a great many communications from the rural district councils pointing out that they are afraid the penny may rise to 2d. or 3d. In some small rural areas, a penny rate produces only £50, and it is not possible to do much with that sum.
I wish also to emphasise the remarks that have been made about pensions, allowances and gratuities. I sincerely hope that something will be done for what I may call the amateur firemen. By the 1925 Act, professional firemen are well covered with regard to pensions when they retire, and in the case of death, something is given in the form of a gratuity or a pension to their dependants. In the rural areas, however, we have no professional firemen. What is to happen in their cases if they are injured? What is to happen to their dependants if they are killed? There is no provision for them in the Bill. These amateur firemen may be fighting a fire alongside professional firemen, because by the coordination which is provided for in the Bill, professional firemen may be brought in. If anything happens to the professional fireman, his family will be safeguarded, but the amateur fireman is left out in the cold. There ought to be no difference in treatment between these two sets of persons, who do exactly the same work. I hope that during the Committee stage these details will be carefully considered by hon. Members and the Government for the purpose of making this Bill, the general principles of which are accepted, even more of a blessing, not only to the cities and towns, but to the rural areas for which I appeal.
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Leonard
As the general attitude of hon. Members on this side towards the 1496 Bill has been sufficiently explained, I intend simply to put one or two questions to the Secretary of State for Scotland, and I hope that if he is not able to reply to them to-night, they will be dealt with at some other time. I think that if an answer were given to these questions, it might eliminate the necessity for putting down a good many Amendments in Committee. I was interested in the statement of the Home Secretary, and the first point I wish to raise concerns the questions which were put to the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the research department and its upkeep. If I understood the Home Secretary aright, he stated that it was within his power to meet the necessary expenditure of this department under the same heading as that which covers the Industrial Research Department. I would like to know whether, if the expense is covered in that way, it will be possible to make this a research section—not merely a unit of the Industrial Research Department, but a special unit specialising on fire fighting. No one reads with greater interest the annual report of the Industrial Research Department than I do, but a great deal of their work is confined to the laboratory. I am inclined to think that the application of research will be more greatly needed in the case of fire fighting than ordinary research work of an industrial character. Therefore, I wonder whether it is contemplated that this research department will be a specific section of the Industrial Research Department and not just a sort of sub-section upon which certain research workers from time to time will apply their thoughts.
Connected with that is the Advisory Committee which is to be set up, and I would like some explanation of it. The Home Secretary, of course, could not have been expected to give every detail of the Bill, and the only term he used to give us any guidance was that the Advisory Committee would be made up from fire interests. What do fire interests cover? It may be that he has in view the recognition of insurance companies as people interested in fires. If that be so, it lends weight to the idea that insurance companies have a place to fill in lending more financial help to the nation in the machinery that will be erected. There has been some discussion on the question of water. I can understand that water is looked upon kindly as a means of fighting fire because it is relatively cheap, 1497 but I want to see that the co-ordination of fire services between the poor areas and the financially stronger areas shall be worked to the greatest mutual advantage. I notice that while Clause 3 gives statutory power to force water undertakings to erect whatever works they contemplate in such a manner that the use of the water will be available for fire-fighting purposes, it is contemplated under Clause 19 that the air-raid precautions equipment shall be available.
The point I want to bring to the notice of the Under-Secretary is that in determining the efficiency of a fire-fighting machine the factor of speed has to be taken as one of the important elements. The Home Office itself has laid it down that in an industrial area with a high fire risk the brigade to be efficient must turn out in one minute and reach the fire in five minutes. In a residential township the brigade should be able to turn out in four minutes and reach the fire in 12 minutes. In a rural district they should be able to turn out in six minutes and reach a fire in from 16 to 20 minutes. It is possible that after the ride of 16 to 20 minutes the brigade might find that water was not available. Could the offer of the use of equipment for air-raid precaution work not be amplified in large districts outwith contact with efficient tire brigades? Could they not be helped to instal chemical apparatus, which is now becoming highly efficient? I would like to see the offer which has already been made to these localities to allow them to use the air-raid precautions equipment for fire purposes extended a little so as to give help to the outlying districts to have efficient chemical firefighting apparatus.
An expenditure of £50,000 is contemplated for training, and I notice that the Bill says that it is for the training of fire brigade officers. I have had the advantage of being a member of the Glasgow Fire Brigade, and it is, therefore, within my knowledge that we have many men there, and, I have no doubt, many young men in fire brigades elsewhere, who do not come within the category of officers, but who try to make themselves efficient as fire fighters. The Bill should be extended to allow them to be included in the training. May I ask consideration of the possibility of another training centre, say, in Glasgow? 1498 That would help considerably in allowing fire fighters other than those within the category of officers to have recognition. I am in a difficulty with regard to the inspectorate. Clause 17 says that the Secretary of State will cover the expense of the inspectors for the purposes of this Bill, but in the explanatory memorandum it says that the cost of the fire brigade inspectors will be borne by the air-raid precautions machinery while the Air-Raid Precautions Act is functioning. There thus appear to be two methods indicated of maintaining the inspectorate, and I shall be glad if the Under-Secretary would clear up that point.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Marshall
The Minister has reason to congratulate himself on the reception his Bill has received from the House. Many points need amplification, and I have no doubt that when the Under-Secretary for Scotland replies some of them will be cleared up. On the whole, the principles of the Bill have received general approval, and I want to associate myself with that approval, with one or two rather important reservations. The right hon. Gentleman, in introducing the Measure, referred to his early work as chairman of the London County Council Fire Brigade Committee, pointing out that he was a young man and that it was the beginning of his public life. The thought struck me that he is not the only young man who in his early days has played with fire, but it appears to have had very few bad effects upon him. He gave an interesting history of firefighting through the centuries, commencing, I believe, with the year 1660. It is now 1938. It has taken a Government Department something like 286 years to recognise the vital and supreme importance of the fire-fighting services of this country. It is only in 1938 that we get a Bill to bring a measure of coordination and to impose co-operation upon fire brigades.
I sincerely hope that when the Bill becomes operative and we have a thoroughly efficient fire-fighting service all over the country all the fund of good stories about fires will not be dried up. Fires are always supposed to have had a great attraction for the Hebrew race. It is recorded of one member of the race that he said "Nothing succeeds like a good fire" and "A fire in your own house is better than a fire in your neighbour's." There 1499 is also the story of two men of the Hebrew persuasion who were talking about fires. One said to the other: "Abe, I see you have a very fine house there." Abe replied: "Yes, it is all right, it is well equipped, and we have beautiful furniture "; at which the other remarked: "Then what are you waiting for? "
Apparently it has needed a contemplation of the terrific destruction from fire which would result from air raids in war to galvanise the Home Office into activity in this matter. The necessity for a good and efficient fire-fighting service is evident now even to the man in the street, and I am sure that he will look forward with anticipation to what this Bill is able to accomplish. At the earliest possible moment our fire-fighting services should be brought to the highest state of efficiency. In saying that I do not want it to be thought that there is even an implied criticism of even the most primitive of our fire brigades. On the contrary, I want to pay them a tribute. If there are defects in the existing system it is not due to them; the responsibility rests upon the Government, which has never thought it important to impose a measure of co-operation upon the fire-fighting services or to give them a Government grant, but has left them to their own devices. The men of our fire brigades discharge their duties at great personal risk. We are all moved by the accounts we read of efforts to save human life in which firemen have been grievously injured or have, possibly, met death. The courage of the firemen is one of the traditions of the service which is common to all fire brigades. Although some of our rural areas may lack the equipment to deal with an outbreak, courage and determination have never been lacking in the men.
I am sure that fire brigades themselves would be the first to admit that some uniformity in the service available for all sections of the community is a crying need. A fire burns just as fiercely in the thatched cottage of the farm labourer as in the half-timbered mansion of a millionaire in the suburbs of a great city. It is because it has been nobody's business to bring about co-operation and coordination among the fire-fighting services that one of those houses will have the latest fire-fighting appliances on call in 1500 case of fire while in the other case the poor man has to depend upon very primitive equipment. But I am not going wholly to blame the poor local authorities for not providing themselves with those efficient services which we all think are so desirable.
The Minister has been faced with two alternatives in putting forward this Bill. He could have based his reorganisation scheme upon either a regional arrangement or upon the existing structure of local authorities. Personally I do not like the regional system, because it obliterates local government boundaries and abolishes that keen local patriotism which is the heart and soul of local government. Under a regional scheme the men who administer affairs begin to lose interest, because they have not that keen interest in larger localities, and I think there are definite reasons why the right hon. Gentleman should have chosen local government boundaries as the foundation of his scheme. I see that the right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) gave evidence before the Riverdale Committee and what he said is applicable to this particular point. He said:A large number of independent brigades are at present responsible for the fire protection of Greater London. Looked at purely from a fire brigade standard a case could be made out for a Greater London fire brigade, and for the view that the fire protection of London would be more efficient if the means of fire fighting were organised under a single command. It must be borne in mind, however, that equally good cases for a Greater London administration exist as regards other services of the Council, and that the creation of an ad hoc authority for a Greater London fire brigade is undesirable in that it would have grave repercussions on the structure, stability and comprehensiveness of normal local government machinery.I think it was the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) who suggested that the county should be the area for the new fire-fighting services. The arguments against it are very strong, and provided there is efficiency in the arrangements made for the rural areas I think the smaller the area the better. I am expressing there more or less a personal view, but I am not speaking without some experience of local government. I am pleased that the right hon. Gentleman has chosen the latter method, which will secure the ardent co-operation of the local authorities, and I feel sure that they will 1501 ultimately make a good job of it. Up to the present fire fighting has been a purely local government activity, and it is significant and important that the localities have had to bear the whole cost. The service has grown up haphazard, but in spite of that fire fighting in the towns has reached a high pitch of efficiency. If it has failed to give protection to rural areas that is due to the fact that no one has tried to bring about that degree of co-operation which would give the whole country a uniform service.
There is in this country one very notable exception to that general rule; I refer to the North Derbyshire scheme. There are great similarities between what the right hon. Gentleman desires to do by means of the provisions of the Bill and what has been done in that scheme. In 1934, certain local authorities got together and worked out a scheme that would be applied to the rural areas and to their cities. I have here a description of the scheme; it comprises the City of Sheffield, the borough of Chesterfield, the urban districts of Matlock, Bakewell, Bolsover, and Dronfield, the rural districts of Chesterfield and Bakewell and part of the rural district of Chapel-en-le-Frith. In the whole of the area there is imposed, I believe, a rd. rate, with the exception of a part of Chapel-en-le-Frith. Although brought into being against exceptional difficulties, which were not inherent in the areas but were due to the fact that there were no statutory regulations upon which they could rely to bring such a scheme into operation, the scheme has worked exceptionally well. I will not trouble the House by going into the details of it, but we are entitled to point out to the Minister that his idea of co-operation and coordination has been brought into being in that very large and important area in this country, and that up to the present the scheme has worked very well.
Many points have been raised about the Bill itself, and I shall not talk about its provisions in detail. For the first time in the history of fire fighting we shall place a statutory obligation upon fire authorities to provide a good service. The law will be consolidated, simplified and extended. I notice that we shall repeal about 13 bits of law which all have some relation to fire-fighting services. Parishes go out, and I agree with the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Sir T. Cook) that no 1502 one will lose much sleep about that, because the parishes are not big enough to tackle such a job as this. For exceptional fires, a certain degree of co-operation will be imposed that will give the necessary service to conflagrations and fires of that character.
There may be some difficulty about water supply, but I incline to the view that, with an ordinary and normal rainfall, it will be possible in practice to provide water in any rural area in the country for fighting fires. As a matter of fact, when the local authority is the water authority they make provision now in that respect. A water undertaking in the hands of a private company is an anomaly and requires to be attended to very quickly. We shall all agree with the establishment of a Fire Service Commission to review co-ordinating schemes and to take certain action with defaulting authorities. We are investing the Commission with very large powers which need some clarification. I can imagine certain difficulties arising, in a case of a village asking a big local authority to provide it with water and when the local authority have a good and sound reason to refuse that request. Will the Fire Service Commission be able to say to the local authority: "You must do that "? We want to know what these powers are to be and to know much more about the Fire Service Commission.
I should eliminate from the Bill the idea of fire boards. It may be said that the Bill may be useless without fire boards to put in the place of defaulting authorities, but if the right hon. Gentleman were providing the finance of the Measure or a considerable grant-in-aid, fire boards would be in their proper place. Greater financial burdens are being imposed upon the local authorities. You are telling them that they have to do certain things and are providing inspectors to see that they do them, and you then tell them: "We shall compel you to do all these things, but we shall not provide you with a halfpenny in order to carry them out." This is the first time in the history of our legislation, so far as my knowledge goes, that a Government have placed themselves in such a position. Take the example of catchment boards. Hon. Members know how difficult the administration of those boards has been. In one catchment area we had a first-class row 1503 —I am not going into the merits of it because some of my hon. Friends who are interested in the area might fall out with me. That catchment board has the right to precept upon the local authority, but we have representation on that catchment board.
It is proposed in the Bill to set up a fire board upon which the local authority will not be represented but which will have the right to precept upon the local authority, possibly to the extent of a 1d., 2d. or 3d. rate, notwithstanding that the local authority have no representation upon the board. It is simply saying in effect: "We are going to put our hands in your pocket, and you have no say in the matter." I should like the right hon. Gentleman to look at that position more closely. It has about it a flavour of the Public Assistance Commissioners when the committee of any district have not carried out the terms of the Act. It certainly has a very unpleasant flavour. The Home Office have gone the whole hog in this case, and are taking very drastic powers, of which I should like to see some modification when the Committee stage of the Bill is reached. I should have thought that the Fire Commission would have been able to induce the necessary cooperation among local authorities and, in order to maintain the good will of local authorities, I would have tried out that suggestion first. It may, be that fire boards will not be necessary, but it is like putting a threat into the Bill. I should certainly leave it out. I do not like it.
In regard to training centres, I notice that the Riverdale Commission did not recommend them in the sense in which the right hon. Gentleman proposes to establish them. I have some suspicion about them. I do not think they will quite effect what the right hon. Gentleman desires. I should imagine that the best training school would be to appoint a certain number of approved fire brigades in this country, some of the best, including of course London as the star turn. If it were necessary to train officers for fire fighting, the best experience they could have would be to spend a certain number of weeks with some of those nominated or approved fire brigades. That would be much more effective training than the absorbing of theoretical knowledge in a training centre. I believe that something 1504 of the sort was attempted with the Metropolitan Police and that very keen criticism was levelled at the proposal. Fire fighting calls out to a great extent the complete resource, enterprise and initiative of man, which cannot be achieved by a mere theoretical education. I have no doubt that Lord Riverdale and his committee thoroughly examined that aspect of the matter, and they came unanimously to the conclusion that the best way of dealing with it was to appoint or nominate certain approved brigades to which would-be officers could go to get their training.
The question of pensions needs clarification. The hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) raised a substantial point with regard to pensions, and I want to raise another. There are two types of fire brigades in the country. There is what is known as the police fire brigade, the personnel of which are policemen used for fire brigade purposes, and there are the professional fire brigades. The pensions of these latter are regulated by the Fire Brigade Pensions Act, 1925, but the pensions of members of a police fire brigade are regulated by the Police Act, 1921. The Police Act, 1921, both as regards years of service and amount of pension, is far more favourable than the Fire Brigade Pensions Act, 1925, and I know that some feeling exists in regard to this matter. If the right hon. Gentleman could look into it and try to see that there is, as there should be, some uniformity of treatment for the whole of the fire brigades of the country, perhaps by the issue of regulations by the Fire Commission, I think it would allay a good deal of criticism, and it certainly would be an act of justice to those people who now, when they retire, receive a smaller pension for the same number of years of service.
The real effect of this Bill lies in its financial provisions. The Home Office are bringing about a reform at somebody else's expense. It is useless to tell the House that war possibilities have not been the moving influence in the framing of the Bill. Under its Clauses the fire fighting services of the country can be placed on a war footing almost immediately, and we cannot obliterate that aspect from our minds. I should have imagined that there would be a case for a grant-in-aid purely on the merits. You have your police force, many of whom are employed in the fire brigade service 1505 as well, and your police force, for its activities, receives a Government grant. A policeman, it may be, works for one week in the police force, and the service in which he is working attracts a Government grant. The next week he may go over to the fire service, dealing with equally important matters, the saving of lives and property, and yet the service in which he works in that week does not rank for grant. This is one of the anomalies that need clearing up. There seems to be no good reason, especially in view of this Bill, which imposes upon fire authorities greater obligations, why the fire services should not be placed on exactly the same footing as the police forces of the country.
Looking at the local government services which attracted grants before the passing of the Act of 1929, one found that education, the treatment of the blind, the care of mentally defective persons, police, various aspects of the health services, housing, and other services, all attracted Government grants. Fire fighting appears to me to be just as important as those services, and I see no reason why it should be treated differently, unless it is that the nature of its growth has enabled the right hon. Gentleman to come here and say, "I refuse that grant." The Riverdale Committee in view of the expansion of the services and the necessity for co-operation, and in order to improve the peace-time firefighting services, definitely recommended that a grant of £1,000,000 should be made from the Exchequer. I know Lord Riverdale very well. He is a man of outstanding ability, and exceedingly well fitted for the task he undertook on that occasion, and I know that he and his Committee would not recommend a proposal of that character without having thoroughly looked into it. I would like the right hon. Gentleman to tell the House that he is prepared to look at the matter —I do not want him to make a decision to-night—and to implement the recommendations of the Riverdale Report. If he will do that, I think I can promise him that the Bill will be heartily endorsed by practically every local authority in this country, and I see very little difficulty in the speedy coming about of that expansion and co-operation which will give the right hon. Gentleman and all serious people in the country the satisfaction of knowing that at last the fire-fighting ser- 1506 vices of the country have been placed on a proper and efficient basis, and will be of great help both in times of peace and in times of war.
§ 9.2 p.m.
The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Wedderburn)
The Riverdale Committee, on whose recommendations this Bill is principally founded, was set up with the purpose of examining the position of fire brigade services in England and Wales. Its terms of reference were:To review the fire brigade services in England and Wales, and to advise whether any steps are needed to improve organisation and co-operation for the purpose of meeting danger from fire.The terms of reference do not therefore extend to Scotland. It is true that, as the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. Westwood) reminded us, one of the witnesses called was an Assistant Secretary of the Scottish Office; but the hon. Member must not omit to notice the name of Mr. Methven, the Edinburgh Firemaster, who was also one of the witnesses.
He and the representative of the Scottish Office were called for technical and professional reasons, and the committee's terms of reference had no application at all to Scotland. The statutory provisions for the establishment of fire brigades in Scotland at the present time are the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1908, so far as counties are concerned, and the Burgh Police (Scotland) Act, 1892, so far as burghs are concerned, with the exception of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee and Greenock, which have local Acts of their own. Those local Acts, however, are, with certain exceptions, the same as the Burgh Police Act, 1892, so far as it relates to fire brigades. The powers are, except in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, permissive; in these three cities the provision of a fire brigade is compulsory. No charges are made for the services of a county brigade within the county boundaries. A charge may, however, be made against the owner or occupier of premises beyond the brigade's own area. In the burghs of Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee and Greenock, the owners and occupiers of buildings within the burghs in which fires break out are liable to pay 1507 half the expenses of extinguishment, up to a limit of £15. Except in the case of putting out chimney fires, there is no power in any other burgh to recover expenses. Charges may be made only for the services of the burgh brigade when it has gone beyond the burgh boundaries.
As for the position of the insurance companies, it is usual for them to pay such charges ex gratia. Brigades both in Scotland and in England and Wales have derived revenue from these indirect payments. The Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1908, empowers two or more county councils to combine for fire brigade purposes, and also empowers the conclusion of agreements whereby the fire appliances of one county shall be available in the district of another. Joint action by fire brigade authorities may also be taken under Section if of the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1929. As regards the number of fire brigades in counties, about which the hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson) questioned me, the position is that only four out of the 33 counties in Scotland have so far taken steps to provide their own brigades. They are Aberdeen, Lanark, Renfrew and Roxburgh. The most important of these is the Lanarkshire brigade.
The Lanarkshire brigade certainly covers the whole of Lanarkshire. In Aberdeen and Roxburgh the appliances, I understand, are not motor appliances. In 13 counties the landward areas are only partly provided with motor brigades. There are also 20 counties where the landward areas are not, except for isolated districts, protected by agreement, though a measure of protection is in fact realised without agreement. As for the burghs, 71 out of a total of 195 have motor brigades of their own, and 65 have non-motor brigades. Eighteen burghs without brigades of their own are now protected under agreement with other authorities; 32 are without a brigade or an agreement for protection by a neighbouring authority. In their case protection is frequently forthcoming without an agreement.
Although the Riverdale Committee's deliberations were not directly addressed 1508 to Scotland, many of the criticisms made by them, regarding defects in the fire brigade services in England and Wales, are also applicable in respect to Scotland. While I think it can be said with truth that most of the fire brigades in the larger towns do reach a high standard of efficiency in fire fighting, the position in some of the smaller towns and in the landward areas is much less satisfactory. There are a good many areas which are inadequately covered, and many districts depend on assistance which cannot be on the spot except after long delay. Nor has enough attention been given to the co-ordination of resources, particularly with a view to dealing with exceptionally serious fires. The provisions of the Bill will go far to remedy these defects, and it is desirable, I think, that Scotland should he placed on the same footing as England and Wales with regard to the principal matters dealt with in the Bill—that is, the obligation on all local authorities to provide fire protection under Clause 1, the obligation to improve water supplies under Clauses 2 and 3, the abolition of charges under Clause 4, and the appointment of a Fire Services Commission under Clauses 5 to 7.
For those reasons my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State decided that the same provisions should operate in Scotland, and since last November he has been in consultation with the local authorities there. A conference was held on 9th November last year between representatives of Scottish local authority associations and representatives of the Scottish Office, in order to discuss the rough draft of a Bill. It was at that time that the local authorities, among other points, raised the question of a Government grant, and the views of the Scottish Office on that matter were expressed to them on 25th November. We had another consultation in Edinburgh on 8th April, at which the local authorities' representatives had a full opportunity of offering observations on a revised draft of the principal heads of the Bill. They were aware at that time of the main substance of the Bill as it is now published. I do not think, therefore, that they have been at any disadvantage, as compared with English local authorities, in respect of the information which they have received. Of course, nobody, either in Scotland or in England, knew the precise details of the Bill until it was printed 1509 last week, but they had equal opportunities of consultation and of representing their views.
§ Mr. Marshall
Did the local authorities contemplate any compulsory powers being provided in the Bill?
Yes. That is not a matter which applies peculiarly to the Scottish local authorities. In regard to the composition of fire boards, that was the local authorities' own suggestion. Our original suggestion was that committees appointed by the local authorities themselves should be set up for that purpose. They did not like that, and it was at their instance that the provision in the Bill was adopted.
§ Mr. Westwood
Can the hon. Member tell us how many of those representatives represented the cities and large burghs and how many represented the counties? I can understand the counties, with the figures the hon. Member has already given, being willing to agree to anything that would get them out of their responsibilities, at the expense of the large burghs and cities, which already had brigades. I am sure that local authorities in Scotland will be anxious to know how many represented counties and how many represented cities and large burghs.
I cannot, without notice, say how many representatives from the large burghs and how many from the counties attended these conferences. I think that representatives of counties and large cities and burghs must all have been present. I have a copy of a letter sent from the Scottish Office arising out of the first conference on 9th November in which we gave our views on the question of the grant. This letter was addressed to the Clerk of the Association of Counties of Cities in Edinburgh, and it was he who, on behalf of the local authorities, made the representations to the Department.
§ Mr. Westwood
If that letter was merely addressed to clerks of counties and cities, on the facts given by the Under-Secretary to the House at the present time, three of these county authorities already have a duty imposed upon them by Parliament to provide fire-fighting appliances, whereas none of these authorities has that duty. It is optional, and 1510 surely it was wrong to consult those upon whom a duty is imposed, and not to consult those upon whom no duty is to be imposed.
I think all the local authorities concerned were represented. But the point made to us, and in reply to which the letter to which I have referred was written, was obviously a point made more in the interests of the counties than of the large cities, because the large cities are clearly not going to have their expenses increased very much as a result of this Bill. The main burden of the criticism of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stirling and Falkirk and of the other hon. Members who followed him have been centred upon two questions, first, the abolition of charges under Clause 4, and, secondly, the general question of State assistance to local authorities. What the hon. Gentleman is concerned about, I gather, is not that individual householders should be relieved of the necessity of paying these charges, but that the insurance companies should be relieved of making payments indirectly to the local authority.
There are three ways in which payments may now find their way from an insurance company to a fire authority. There are certain areas where there is a statutory obligation upon insurance companies to make payments to the local fire brigade. I do not think that there are any in Scotland. The principal ones in England are London, Liverpool and Salford, and the position in this respect is not affected by the Bill. There are also certain places in which the insurance companies of their own volition make ex gratia payments to the local authority to help towards the support of the fire brigade. In Birmingham last year the insurance companies paid the city brigade a sum of nearly £3,000, and I believe that the voluntary contributions made in Glasgow were quite considerable. These are not obligatory payments, and are not affected one way or the other by the Bill.
The third way in which money might find its way from an insurance company to the fire brigade would be indirectly through the insured person whose house was burnt, and who might find himself liable to make a payment to the local authority for the service rendered to him in putting out his fire. If the insurance 1511 company decided to make good that payment to him, they would then indirectly be paying that contribution to the local authority. By 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. I mentioned a little earlier the four Scottish authorities, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee and Greenock, and there are also a few in England, including Gateshead, Ashton-under-Lyne, Manchester and Newcastle.
This system, as was pointed out by both the Royal Commission, which reported in 1923 and 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.
Under the provisions of Clause 1 the services of an efficient fire brigade will become available to all ratepayers. The cost of the service will fall upon the local rates, and all ratepayers will be able to summon the brigade maintained by their own local authority, or, if their local authority has decided to make an arrangement with some other brigade for the normal protection of the district, to summon that brigade immediately a fire occurs. They will know that they are entitled to the services of a brigade to the support of which they themselves contribute, and that they need not hesitate to summon it at once if a fire occurs. I do not really see how it would be possible to draw a distinction between the personal liabilities of householders who may not be insured against fire and those who are, particularly since in the ordinary insurance contract it is not obligatory on 1512 insurance companies to make these payments. But the Home Secretary hopes soon to have consultations with the insurance companies, in which the local authorities will no doubt take part, in order to see whether, since by this Bill the insurance companies may indirectly be relieved of some of the voluntary contributions that they are now making, they may be willing to make some arrangement by which they will continue to contribute. I cannot at present indicate details of any possible arrangement, but my right hon. Friend hopes to find some means by which the companies may be willing to make a contribution towards the upkeep of the fire brigade system.
§ Mr. Westwood
Do I understand that these negotiations have already been opened up with the insurance companies, or do they await the passing of the Bill and, if that is the case, can we have an assurance now that the local authorities who are directly interested in these financial arrangements will be taken into consultation in the negotiations with the insurance companies?
Yes, they will be taken into consultation. It will, of course, have to be a purely voluntary arrangement, replacing, as it will, what is now a voluntary contribution. My right hon. Friend hopes it may be possible that these negotiations may take some definite shape before the Bill has passed through its stages in this House.
I come now to the question of grants —the question whether local authorities shall receive any grants from the Exchequer. That has been the chief criticism directed against the Bill. But it has to be pointed out that, while the Riverdale Committee recommended Exchequer assistance towards the peacetime organisation of fire brigades as well as towards the provision and maintenance of appliances and personnel for air raids, the situation has fundamentally changed since the Committee reported. The State assistance now to be granted towards emergency fire brigade measures is on so much larger a scale and is so much more far reaching than the Riverdale Committee contemplated as to supersede the committee's scheme of financial assistance, and the Exchequer will be bearing a greater share than was contemplated in that report without making any 1513 special contribution towards peace-time expenditure.
Let me give one or two instances to indicate the amounts that are being supplied by the Government in the way of additional material to certain local authorities. Although this assistance is being given in respect to equipment and personnel required for emergency purposes over and above peace-time requirements, it will confer on local authorities a great deal of indirect assistance in their peacetime measures for providing against exceptional fires and affording mutual support under the area schemes contemplated in the proposed fire brigade legislation. Glasgow, with 25 appliances at present, has been offered no fewer than 115. That is an initial offer only. Edinburgh, with nine, has been offered 57; Paisley, with two, has been offered 14; and the county of Lanark, with nine, has been offered 27. I have quoted these figures primarily to show the scale on which the State is augmenting, at its own expense, the resources of local authorities. But there were one or two questions arising out of these figures. One was whether the expenses of accommodating these additional appliances would be wholly borne by local authorities.
§ Mr. Westwood
Before that I asked, if 115 additional machines were being provided for Glasgow and 57 for Edinburgh, could the hon. Gentleman give an indication of the appliances to be provided for other places, and I mentioned Kirkcaldy, Falkirk and Stirling.
Perhaps I was taking the hon. Gentleman's questions in the reverse order. With regard to maintenance, the necessary cost incurred by local authorities in storing and maintaining equipment issued for air-raid precautions will qualify for the air-raid precautions grant, which varies from 60 per cent. in the lowest cases to 85 per cent. in the highest. Nearly all the authorities in Scotland are in the 75 per cent. region. As to other authorities, whether they have been offered additional appliances or not depends entirely on whether a scheme has been submitted. The offer cannot be made until the local authority has submitted a scheme, which Kirkcaldy has not yet done. Stirling, which now, I think, rejoices in the possession of one motor pump as well as two trailers, has 1514 been made an initial offer under its scheme of three further appliances from the Government. Falkirk, which has a peace-time establishment of two motor pumps, has been offered five additional appliances.
§ Sir P. Harris
Will those areas which are well supplied and equipped with machines have nothing while districts which have neglected their work will have appliances supplied? Is that the principle that we are working on?
§ Sir P. Harris
In London and urban districts where they have organisations provided out of the rates there will be no assistance?
London will get a great deal, because in order to resist air raids they will need an enormously greater quantity of equipment than they use for ordinary peace-time purposes.
§ Mr. Westwood
I must defend my own constituents. I presume there is no suggestion that Stirling and Falkirk have not done their best to provide an efficient peace-time service?
§ Mr. Marshall
The Under-Secretary has given the impression that these air-raid machines are to be extensively used for peace-time fire-fighting. I have here a schedule of the yearly calls on the fire brigade and on only two days—I am speaking of 1936—of that year there were eight calls and on six days six calls. My conclusion from these figures is that a fire brigade like Sheffield will not need to use these machines to any possible extent except on one or two days in the year.
Sheffield has a very efficient fire brigade and may not perhaps want to use this additional material for peace-time purposes. If that is so, Sheffield will not be under any additional expenditure under the provisions of the Bill.
I have taken note of the technical points raised by the hon. Member for St. Rollox (Mr. Leonard) and other hon. 1515 Members. I have not the time to deal with those matters now, but I can assure hon. Members that they will be given attention. I should like to thank the hon. Member for Brightside (Mr. Marshall) for his most helpful and knowledgeable speech, and the points which he raised will also be considered by the Government before the Committee stage. The hon. Member began by expressing the hope that the results of the Bill would not prevent a peculiar and an entertaining use being made of the fire brigades by the Jewish race. Use has been made of fire brigades by Christians as well as by Jews. A few years ago General Feng-Hu-Tsian, a Chinese Christian general, who was leading a Chinese Army in the war, decided that it was time the troops under his command were converted to the Christian religion, and he accordingly ordered them to parade in mass formation and, having commandeered a fire engine from Tientsin, proceeded to the simultaneous baptism of the whole army.
While thanking the House for the very sympathetic and helpful reception they have given the Bill, I hope they will now see their way to pass the Second Reading of a Measure whose introduction may perhaps have been hastened by the danger of war, but which is equally necessary for our requirements in time of peace.
Clause 14 applies only to ex-policemen and whole-time firemen who rejoin the brigade. As to auxiliary firemen and volunteer firemen, their position is provided for by means of an insurance policy taken out by local authorities to cover all their auxiliary firemen against these risks, and these premiums rank for grant under the Air-Raid Precautions Act of last year.