HC Deb 24 April 1941 vol 371 cc236-9
12. Mr. Vernon Bartlett

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will make it compulsory for householders who have voluntarily absented themselves to take adequate precautions to facilitate the work of fire-watchers, and to make financial contributions towards the employment of paid fire-watchers in areas where the supply of volunteers is of necessity insufficient?

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Herbert Morrison)

I sympathise with my hon. Friend's desire that unjustifiable absenteeism should not enable householders to transfer to others the responsibility for fire-bomb fighting, which would otherwise fall to them, and I am watching the position carefully I do not think, however, that a cash contribution, applicable to particular areas, is the right solution of the difficulty. Apart from the undesirability of constituting a special paid class of substitute fire watchers for residentail areas, in an organisation intended to function without payment for the benefit of the whole locality, there would be practical difficulties in determining the cases to which any arrangements on the lines suggested by my hon. Friend should be applied, and in distinguishing between circum- stances in which absence is justifiable, or, indeed, in the public interest, and those in which it is not.

13. Rear-Admiral Beamish

asked the Home Secretary what arrangements are in force or prospect to enable fire-service officers employed by different local authorities to receive recognition and exercise authority when they are called upon to assist in quelling fires in districts other than their own?

Mr. Morrison

All fire brigades have been instructed to provide a distinctive armlet for use by such officers, to show that they are acting under proper authority.

Rear-Admiral Beamish

Is this particular aspect of fire fighting now functioning perfectly?

Mr. Morrison

Nothing is ever working quite perfectly in these circumstances, where things cannot be exactly planned in advance, but I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that in the whole of this business we are not only studying, but planning and revising in every possible way, to make the best of a difficult situation.

Rear-Admiral Beamish

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a pretty big measure of public opinion which thinks that his Department is not functioning well on this subject?

Mr. Morrison

I can only say that I do not agree with it.

21. Mr. Mander

asked the Home Secretary whether he is aware that it is impossible to carry out adequately the recommendations with regard to the provision of refreshments of fire-watchers contained in the memorandum on the Fire Prevention (Business Premises) Order, 1941, owing to the fact that the use of rationed foods, including tea, is not permitted; and what action he proposes to take in the matter?

27. Sir Percy Hurd

asked the Home Secretary whether he will assist the successful operation of the Fire Prevention (Business Premises) Order, by ensuring that fire-watchers at night have refreshment facilities such as are obtainable by air raid precautions, Auxiliary Fire Service, and other services?

Mr. Morrison

The provision of amenities for fire watchers at business premises is primarily a matter for the occupiers of the premises concerned. I am aware that there may be some difficulty with regard to the provision of refreshments by occupiers in present circumstances and the matter is under consideration by my Noble Friend the Minister of Food. I may point out that it has been explicitly stated that an allowance may be provided in lieu of refreshments.

Sir P. Hurd

What are firms to do if they are told that they must provide refreshment and the food control department refuses to give them facilities to do so?

Mr. Morrison

I have said in my answer that that point, which is an important point, I agree, is under consideration by my noble Friend the Minister of Food, with whom we have been in communication.

Mr. Mander

Is the Home Secretary aware that they are not allowed to provide tea for fire-watchers although roof-spotters and others can have it?

Mr. Morrison

I will keep that point in mind.

23. Mr. Cocks

asked the Home Secretary whether a decision has now been reached on the question of enabling fire-watchers, under the compulsory scheme, to obtain their out-of-pocket expenses and, in particular, their travelling expenses from the owner or occupier of the premises concerned?

Mr. Morrison

Yes, Sir, occupiers of business premises have been asked to reimburse such expenses. I am sending my hon. Friend a copy of the memorandum in which this request was made.

Mr. Cocks

Is it in the nature of a Regulation or is it an Order? Are they compelled to pay it?

Mr. Morrison

They have been asked to do so, and there is a recommendation in the Order. Perhaps my hon. Friend will have a look at the Order, and I will consider that point.

29. Mr. Wootton-Davies

asked the Home Secretary whether, in the case of large-scale enemy air-raids, such as the one on Wednesday, 16th April, investiga- tions are made in all cases where buildings have been burned out to ascertain whether the existing system of fire watching in respect of such buildings was adequate and, so far as possible, effective?

Mr. Morrison

The general efficiency of the existing fire prevention system under raid conditions is reviewed as necessary by my officers. It is, however, for the appropriate authorities under the Business Premises Order to satisfy themselves that arrangements for fire prevention at individual premises are adequate. Inspections can be made at any time to see whether the Order is being complied with. Such measures are more likely to be effective than investigations after a building has been burned out, when it may be difficult to establish the facts.

Mr. Wootton-Davies

Is the Minister aware that many people are greatly disturbed about our present fire fighting arrangements, and will he have the whole matter reviewed?

Mr. Morrison

I have already informed the House that fire fighting has been reviewed ever since I have been at the Ministry, and I understand that it was reviewed under the jurisdiction of my predecessor. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that every day this matter is considered. Great changes in the fire fighting department have been made, both nationally and locally, and there Has been much improvement. Further changes are under consideration, and I can assure the House that they need not suspect me of suffering from any complacency about this very dangerous matter.