§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I should like to express my thanks to the House for having so readily given us the facilities for the passage of this Bill through all its stages to-day. It is a Bill of urgency, because the sooner it is passed on to the Statute Book, the sooner we can proceed with the considerable amount of work which will necessarily be involved in shaping the new organisation and administration. To-day we are concerned with the subject of fire fighting in relation to the organisation and control of the fire-fighting forces of the country. Wider questions of Civil Defence with which this is inevitably associated in many ways are not before the House, but I understand that there is a desire in some quarters of the House that at an early date, as soon as it can conveniently be arranged, there should be a Debate on Civil Defence generally. I can say that, as far as the Government are concerned, we are willing and, indeed, anxious that that Debate shall take place as soon as possible. I shall personally welcome it very much indeed, if only to deal with some of the theoretical arguments which have recently arisen.
Fire brigades are administered in the administrative county of London by the London County Council and elsewhere by county boroughs, non-county boroughs, urban and rural district councils. This machinery of administration was decided upon by Parliament, unanimously as recently as 1938. The Measure which was introduced at that time by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare), who was then Home Secretary, commended itself to all quarters of the House. I remember raising among my own friends the point whether the preservation of 1,400 fire brigade authorities was right, but it was felt that, on the whole, we had better not raise any question as to the number of local authorities concerned as fire brigade authorities. I would remind the House however that 1414 that was a Measure not only for putting the fire brigades on some sort of recognisable statutory basis. It was stated to be a Measure of preparation for war conditions. It was one of the preparations for the war which appeared then to be impending. Nevertheless, it was the case, as recently as 1938, that Parliament and the Government of the day, having in mind preparation for war conditions, did deliberately preserve 1,400 fire brigade authorities including county boroughs, non-county boroughs and urban and rural districts. I admit that Parliament did take the rather dashing and bold course of abolishing parish councils as fire brigade authorities, but as most of the parish councils had not got fire brigades in any case, there was not a great deal in that.
That, as I say, was in 1938, and there was no discussion in the Press about it, no great comment and no great argument about it. The Measure went through harmoniously. I think my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) did raise a point as to the number of authorities, as also did a few of my hon. Friends of the Labour party, but, on the whole, Parliament was perfectly content with the arrangements proposed, and I am bound to say that many people who have been very active recently on the fire fighting issue were not active at that time. Moreover, that Measure followed on the recommendations of the Riverdale Committee, which had considered whether larger authorities should be established. The Riverdale Committee, after careful thought, deliberately recommended that boroughs and urban districts should remain fire brigade authorities; that rural districts should be constituted fire brigade authorities in place of the parishes and that the parish should cease to exist as a fire brigade unit. They did propose that joint committees of local authorities should be set up in order to establish fire-fighting forces over wider areas, but the local authorities were anxious that this should not be made compulsory, and it was not made compulsory though it was made possible under the Measure.
I must say that I do not regard the joint committee as an ideal unit of local government administration. I think a joint authority is a very doubtful instrument of administration, and my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West 1415 Bethnal Green was good enough in the Debates at that time to quote a statement of mine to the effect that a joint authority had too much joint about it, and not enough authority. That, indeed is the view which I take. The Riverdale Committee was unable to recommend the adoption of the county as the unit, or the formation of ad hoc fire brigade areas, involving the creation of new local government bodies and special rating arrangements. So, when the war broke out, this was the basis, administrative and organic, of the fire-fighting organisation in Great Britain. It was based upon these small units, with the exception that in Scotland the county councils had powers and in a number of cases there were county fire brigades. But we started the war on the administrative basis which I have described and which has been preserved up to the present time, namely the county thorough, the non-county borough and the urban and rural districts.
Having said that, I would add that fire brigade organisation, mobilisation, operation and expansion have changed out of all recognition since the war. Very large changes have taken place in fire brigade organisation since the war with the result that mobilisation and operations are almost unrecognisable as compared with what they were before the war. For example the bringing into existence of the Auxiliary Fire Service has had the effect of multiplying the fire-fighting forces of the country, their personnel and equipment, by from 15 to 20 times. I venture to say that, when it is remembered that this multiplication has been married basically to the local authorities' organisation, the House would be lacking in justice if it did not say that the local authorities have achieved a remarkable feat of organisation by absorbing that vast expansion of personnel and equipment. As an old local government man, I have pleasure in paying my tribute to the adaptability of our local government authorities in these times of stress, their enthusiasm and public spirit and in most cases, their very high degree of efficiency.
For myself, I am not yet converted to the view of those who seem to be anxious to undermine and destroy British local government as it is now constituted. I do not like to hear people urging that we should substitute nominated institutions 1416 for representative institutions. I prefer the representative authority to the Gauleiter. I prefer the elected body to the French system of prefects, and if today I bring forward a proposal which takes a great service out of the hands of local authorities, it is not because I want to do so, not because I like doing so, but because the work of fighting fire has, in substance, become a military operation and not a municipal operation. Nevertheless I want to sound a note of warning. In this war, which is being fought for liberty and democracy, there are in some quarters dangerous tendencies which seek —I do not know with what motives, whether snobbish, or political, or what they may be—to undermine our representative institutions and to substitute government by nominated authorities. There has been, as I said, this great expansion of the municipal fire services. The whole-time Auxiliary Fire Service consists of 80,000 firemen, and before the war the total professional fire force in this country was about 5,000 to 6,000.
§ Mr. Morrison
I am not certain, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will clear up that point later. The part-time Auxiliary Fire Service has reached the big total of 150,000. I would like to say that not only are we anxious that the existing part-time Auxiliary Fire Service force shall be maintained; we want to see it increased. I would therefore beg part-time A.F.S. men or women not to leave the service because of this Bill; we need them as much as ever, and indeed we need more of them. We have purchased and distributed to the authorities no less than 25,000 power appliances, heavy and light. That is an enormous addition to the fire-fighting equipment of the country. It is not only the case that the local authorities have had their fire-fighting personnel and equipment enormously extended and their responsibilities greatly increased. Behind that there is a very considerable Regional machine—and I mention this because it does not seem to be known to everybody —with Regional technical fire officers who are in close touch with local authorities, who visit them, confer with them and tell them what to do in relation to actual experiences of the blitz and in some cases help by taking over command for limited 1417 periods. That Regional technical general stuff, so to speak, has already been of the greatest value. Moreover, we have been able to move men and equipment in great numbers from place to place The Regional organisation has worked with very great success; and again I pay my tribute to the public spirit of the local authorities, because notwithstanding all the friction that did exist in peace-time between local authorities—rivalries, emulations, jealousies if you like, to use the worst word—my Noble Friend the Member for the Sutton Division (Viscountess Astor) says that it still exists, but I think that she libels or slanders them.
§ Mr. Morrison
I think that is not true, and I was going to say this—and this is true—that I do not know of one case in which a local authority has refused to help another.
§ Mr. Morrison
In not one instance has a local authority refused to help another, and I think it is a great tribute to the spirit of local government that that should be the case.
§ Major Milner (Leeds, South-East)
Was there not a celebrated difficulty between Salford and Manchester at the time of the blitz on Manchester?
§ Mr. Morrison
I do not think so. It did not come to my notice. They were always willing to help each other. The only difficulty I have met with, and that was in rare cases, was where a local authority wanted to be proud of coming through on its own feet and did not like to ask for help from another local authority. But those instances are very rare. As I have said, that Regional reorganisation took place, and at the Home Office there was a considerable strengthening of the fire brigade division, making it much more powerful than before. Then the war came, but, unexpectedly, the blitz did not come. There were quiet months. The basic local unit was maintained. But there was some difficulty in maintaining the numbers of the Auxiliary Fire Services at the numbers which the Home Office wished. It will be remembered that in this House and in the Press during 1418 those quiet months there was a very forceful and powerful demand that the numbers of the Civil Defence personnel, including firemen, should be reduced. There were crude jokes about firemen playing darts and draughts, and it was said that it would be better that they should be in the Army. There was a great campaign to reduce uniforms, and at the London County Council I had the struggle of my life to get us. a head for uniforms for women ambulance drivers and attendants. And it was not the fault of the Home Office. There was definite pressure against this great reserve army of Civil Defence from the Press and from this House in those quiet and deceptive months, when it was of the utmost importance that that personnel should be maintained at full strength, trained and properly treated, ready for bad times. The House will forgive me for mentioning these troubles through which my predecessor went.
Then the blitz started, but, at the beginning of the blitz, fire was not the important single element in the attacks that it is at the present time. In due course, however—and it was not very long—it became apparent that fire was, perhaps, the biggest single element in the enemy's attack. That was notably the case at Coventry last November. I do want to say this—and I know that the House will agree with me—that in these weeks and months of heavy fire fighting the regular and auxiliary firemen and firewomen have done a magnificent job of work of which this country can be proud. They have done splendidly, and we are very very grateful to them for their courage and their heroism. But when a battle begins with intensity, and when it goes on in that intensity, then on the military analogy I think that until you can get your second wind you have to do the best you can with the forces at your command. You cannot, right at the beginning of the battle, start turning the machinery of administration inside out, uprooting local authorities and trying to make a brand new organisation. You must inevitably wait a little until you have become accustomed more to the battle and gained experience, and, in this country, until public opinion is sufficiently educated to enable these changes to be made. But in any case, in the more exciting days of battle, in the early stages, it would have been impossible 1419 and unwise merely to uproot things. Instead, the wiser course was taken of development, rapid strengthening, and the transmission of experience from authority to authority throughout the country.
Next we had to expand fire prevention as well as fire fighting, and now we have come to the conclusion that we have reached the stage when it is safe and wise radically to change the fire-fighting organisation of the country, because the fundamental difficulty in the present arrangements is the relatively small basic unit upon which the whole fire-fighting machine must be built. It is very necessary for London Members like myself to recognise that the fire-fighting service in the provinces is very different from that in London—totally different. I went to one considerable county borough where there was a regular fire brigade of 30 persons in peace-time, plus a chief officer and a deputy chief officer. I was accustomed on the London County Council to a vast fire-fighting machine that was more like the army or the navy, with its chief officer, deputy chief officer, divisional officers, superintendents, station officers, sub-officers and men. But it is the rule in the provinces, outside a very few big cities, to have only a limited number of private soldiers, as it were, with a chief officer and, possibly, a deputy chief officer, over them. In another town which has had a very severe attack there was a professional fire brigade—all too small, I think, and a great reflection on the local authority—of about 10 or 11 professional firemen, with a chief officer and a mere handful of part-time volunteers. It was too small a brigade for peace-time. That was wrong.
The operational problem is for these small units of fire-fighting organisations suddenly to absorb very large reinforcements of men and equipment and to find it possible to handle them. That is really the operational case against the smallest or even the biggest local authority being the basic unit of the organisation. It must be remembered that many a provincial town of limited size has had to fight fires which were unrecognisably beyond anything that the fire brigades of the great cities, or of London, had to face before the war. And, if there have been difficulties, if there have been imperfections, and if there have been situations which 1420 no fire brigade in the world could have handled—and that is the case; and the Germans are experiencing the same thing —it must be recognised that where there is a big fire in a small town there is bound to be difficulty for the local brigade and for the incoming forces. Yet, when all is said and done it is the case, in our view, that the preservation of the local authorities, even the larger ones, as basic units is not good enough for the situation which is facing us.
The real weakness of present arrangements is the many small units of administration. The first consequence is that very small plans of operation and mobilisation may involve 20 or 30 separate local authorities and chiefs of fire brigades. That makes it difficult, if not: virtually impossible, to secure sufficient unity or breadth of plan for meeting major contingencies. Fire fighting has become a military operation. This situation is something like that of an army with nothing bigger than a squad or a company to handle. Secondly, it is impossible to secure the best use of the available personnel, especially of the limited numbers of officers with experience and of proved capacity. That difficulty must, I am afraid, persist for some little time. If you have local brigades in which there is no hierarchy of officers and N.C.O s., you have not the personnel out of which to select officers for a sudden expansion. I think that was the weakness in the conception of the Act of 1938. The need of rapid expansion in the number of officers to take responsible charge of these things was not foreseen. The Bill will enable us to evolve an organisation to provide a large number of officers and will, incidentally, be of great advantage to the firemen, by widening the opportunities of promotion to positions of responsibility in the service. It would be my instruction to my officers and to the Regions that they shall be on the look-out for bright and enterprising younger men for these responsible positions, and shall give them their head and let them take their responsibility.
Thirdly, there has been a shortage of man-power. With the need of recruitment for the Armed Forces and competition from other forms of employment, including the war industries, it becomes almost impossible to expand the fire- 1421 fighting services as quickly as we would wish. Recently, Parliament has been good enough to give us the National Service Act, which was passed in April and under which we can call men up for service in the same way as they are called up for the Armed Forces of the Crown.
§ Mr. Morrison
The machinery for calling up is now proceeding. I expect to get in a few weeks the number that I asked for. The machinery is running now, under that Act. Subject to that, we were in the greatest difficulty in securing the number of men. There has also been difficulty in getting a sufficient number of towing vehicles. Although the supply has been enormously developed since the war — and had been developed before the war—further large supplies have been ordered, in common with other equipment, to replace those worn out and to meet further needs and replacements. There has been some inadequacy of measures for emergency water supplies, despite all that we have done and are doing. Water is not to be found everywhere. When mains are burst, difficulties are met with. We have made very extensive arrangements for reserve supplies, static supplies, dirty water and so on, which have proved of great value.
Consider what may happen in an air raid. Somebody sees fire raging while the fire brigades have no water. There is, not unnaturally, a tendency to regard that as a failure on the part of the fire brigades. Such situations are regarded as conclusive evidence that the whole organisation is wrong and fundamentally bad. I venture to advise a little caution in coming to such judgments. There is a local authority which recently examined an allegation of this kind. On the face of it, the position was tragic. Considerable fires were in progress, and the fire brigades were without water. The chief officer was, quite rightly, called upon for an explanation. He agreed that the situation was bad and even terrible, but he said, "Before you pass judgment you had better know what happened" His explanation will show the House the kind of thing which happens in fires during an enemy attack. First of all, the water mains were broken by high explosives. 1422 The fire brigade at once proceeded to adjust its pumps to use the reserve, static supply. It had foreseen the possibility of the water mains being broken, and had got ready for that situation by providing a reserve, a static supply. It proceeded to fix its pumps to this supply, whereupon the enemy dropped bombs upon that supply, which was some distance away from the damage already created. The bomb destroyed the static supply and smashed the pumps that were being used. It smashed up the men, killing or injuring them. So that plan went wrong. Lines of hose were then run from dirty water, at a very considerable distance. This water was brought up. Then a great building, which was either struck by high explosive or had become undermined by fire, fell, crashed over the hoses and cut the supply again. Damage to the roads prevented the access of vehicles.
Sometimes, when I read wise letters from some of our strategists or hear of public speeches complaining that, as fires are allowed to go on, there must be something wrong with the whole organisation of the fire brigade service, I wish that such people were, now and again, in the middle of the battle and were not so quick to pass judgment and criticism, not only upon Civil Servants and Ministers, but upon brave men who do their best in the midst of the greatest difficulties. The House and the country must face the fact that an air atack is not a treat. It is a grim thing. It is an act of war. People who think that it is only a matter of going out next morning and sweeping up the waste paper are quite wrong. Raids are acts of war which create very considerable disturbance. Firemen faced with incidents of the kind I have related deserve our sympathy and support, so do local authorities which have to handle such situations, and so do the Ministers and Civil Servants concerned.
We have come to the conclusion that the remedy for these situations is not the mere extension of local services. That has been done and has made a very big contribution to the battle. The creation of ad hoc authorities is not a clean method. It does not give you the necessary administrative elbow-room or operational elbow-room. The right thing is the transfer to the State, for the duration of hostilities, of the administration and control of the fire-fighting services, 1423 to myself in England and Wales, and to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, in Scotland. This is made possible by this enabling Bill, and it will be seen that Clause 1, Sub-section (1) enables either my right hon. Friend or myself to make regulations for the coordination of fire services provided by local authorities, for unification in whole or part of those services, and for the improvement of arrangements for fighting fires. The Schedule, without prejudice to these general powers, which I certainly intend to use, sets out particular matters on which regulations may be made. Under the Bill local fire brigades will cease to exist as such, and all firemen will be transferred to the service of the Crown and put under direct State control. Their pay, conditions of service and discipline will be regulated by the State.
§ Mr. Leach (Bradford, Central)
Is it the intention of the right hon. Gentleman to introduce a minimum wage all round?
§ Mr. Morrison
I do not think we had better deal with that point to-day. It is one of the problems which I shall have to face, in addition, as my hon. Friend appreciates, to many others. I can assure him that his point is under consideration, but I am not ready for it to-day. The State will secure the use of all fire stations, appliances and equipment in the hands of the local authorities, and will bear the peace-time cost of the regular fire brigade, subject to a contribution of 75 per cent. of that cost, that is to say, the local authority will, for the first time, get in respect of the cost of the peace-time fire brigade a grant of 25 per cent.
§ Mr. Morrison
Yes, that will run on. We shall make suitable arrangements with the local authorities in that connection. The local authorities now bear part of the cost of the Auxiliary Fire Service. In the new circumstances they will bear no part of that cost, and they are therefore saved any contribution towards the cost of the Auxiliary Fire Service in all cases where they are taken over. There were local authorities with no fire brigades at all, but who ought to have had them. They are not a great number, but in those cases we shall require from them the 1424 equivalent of 75 per cent. of the product of a 2d. rate. We feel that they should not escape some contribution to the cost of the fire protection now to be provided merely because they have not provided a fire brigade.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
Since the local authorities will still have to pay 75 per cent. of their peace-time expenditure, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether they will have any right to be consulted in an advisory capacity in regard to what is being done about their local brigade?
§ Mr. Morrison
With regard to the local services, I cannot promise that they will be specifically consulted. Naturally, so far as the interests of local authorities are involved, the Regional and sub-Regional organisation will, I think, be wise to keep in touch with them, not only as a favour to them, but because they are authorities likely to be helpful. It is my intention to set up nationally a consultative body representative of the local authorities so that they can know what we are doing, discuss with us what we propose to do and give us their advice and help. After all, they have great experience in these matters, and I do not want to lose that experience in the new arrangements.
§ Mr. Neil Maclean (Glasgow, Govan)
If the local authorities are to have representation on such a body, the smaller local authorities which have been behind in their fire-fighting preparations may be able to out-vote the larger bodies with up-to-date fire services, and consequently the best advice will not be available. Has the right hon. Gentleman any statement to make on that subject?
§ Mr. Morrison
Representation will be through the associations of local authorities. Representation must be limited, otherwise the consultative body would become unwieldy. No doubt it will be the tendency for local authorities to appoint proper people to these positions. I am sure they will not appoint somebody connected with an authority which has not done its job.
§ Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he and the Secretary of State for Scotland will make proper provision for trade union representation of the men concerned?
§ Mr. Morrison
The actual way in which they will be paid is not finally decided, but it is quite probable that I shall seek to use the machinery of the local authorities for the purpose. There will be a number of ways in which we shall use the machinery of the local authorities to avoid too much of a State bureaucracy, and that is why so many and varied powers are contemplated in the Bill. In regard to the trade unions, I will come to that point in a minute.
§ Sir Joseph Lamb (Stone)
The right hon. Gentleman has dealt with the question of authorities which have made no provision at all, and has said they will have to pay a contribution of 75 per cent. of the product of a 2d. rate. What about those authorities which have made inadequate provision? Will they be expected to pay the same contribution?
§ Mr. Morrison
That will be a matter for consideration. If I were to try to make a precise adjustment of the contribution in relation to the relative efficiency of each local authority, I should be faced with a most difficult administrative problem. We will consider the point, but I cannot promise to make a precise adjustment of the contribution in relation to efficiency. It will be open for me to make arrangements with the local authorities for them to act as, my agents in a number of matters, and that is why I am very anxious that the House, in passing this Bill, shall seek in its Debate to preserve the good will and co-operation of the local authorities towards the change.
That is the case for the Bill. The House will realise that I have not been able to speak in complete detail about the experiences we have undergone, because had I done so, I should have been in danger of giving valuable information to the enemy. In fact, I think some of the publicity given to certain fire experiences has almost encouraged the enemy to go on with what he has been doing. Some of it has been very dangerous, and I am therefore sure the House will forgive me if I have not gone too far into detail about the strategical aspects of fire-fighting. I am sure hon. Members will follow what I hope has been my good example in that respect.
§ Rear-Admiral Beamish (Lewes)
The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of a consultative body of local authorities. Is there to be anything in the nature of what I might call a Fire Service Council, a sort of central advisory body to keep in contact with the areas he speaks of?
§ Mr. Morrison
If the House would be good enough to let me proceed, it would save time. The consultative body to which I have referred would in fact discharge that function, but we shall have our own fire inspection staff, and the Regions will have theirs. There will also be conferences with fire brigades officers, and the actual fire fighters. I have said that, broadly speaking, we are going to make over this great service to the State in England and Wales. But we shall have to delegate many of these matters to the Regions. To run it under a centralised Whitehall command would be ridiculous, and indeed, as soon as I went to the Ministry of Home Security, I decided, and I let it be known, that the more we could delegate to the Regions the better I should be pleased. I do not believe in cluttering up Whitehall with administration which can be done on a local basis. We shall therefore delegate as much as we can to the Regions, which in turn will delegate to the new basic units of fire-fighting organisation, namely, the area or sub-regional forces. That will involve the union of possibly 20 or 30 fire brigades into one fire brigade as the basic unit of the new organisation in an area or a sub-region.
By this process I hope to achieve as soon as possible the remarkable result that 1,400 fire brigades will be reduced to less than 50 large fire brigades. It will take time, for there is much work to be done, and we must go about it in an orderly way. But I think that if we achieve this reduction from 1,400 to less than 50, we shall have achieved a great administrative change. The basic units, the sub-regional brigades, will be under the command of an officer with wide responsibility for operation and control, subject to supervision by the Regional Commissioner, who will have his own staff and responsibilities. There will be regional reserves, which at a moment's notice can be sent anywhere. It will not be always the same reserve. There will be camps, or something of the sort; and we shall transfer the men from reserve to front line, and from front line to reserve, to give 1427 them a change of occupation and opportunities for combined training and wider experience. That regional reserve, which can be thrown in at a moment's notice, will be of the greatest value, and the members will become accustomed to operating on strange ground. There will be, I hope, points of mobilisation outside towns, so that aid coming into a town will be made more effective. The Regional staffs will be increased and improved.
§ Commander King-Hall (Ormskirk)
Can my right hon. Friend say anything about industrial fire brigades? As he knows, some of them are fairly large, using equipment provided by the State. Will they come under Clause I?
§ Mr. Morrison
No, Sir. These brigades, which are associated with railway companies, industrial concerns, and so on, have a limited sphere of operation, and I think it will be best for them to stay where they are, subject to the Regional authorities knowing all about them. My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mabane), under my direction, and in accordance with the policy I am pursuing, has already been actively engaged in consulting officers and provisionally approving schemes of central reorganisation. I shall have a principal staff officer, who will be a Chief Staff Officer for Fire. There ought not to be any misunderstanding. Actually, the command of fire-fighting must be on the ground. I want a Chief Staff Officer for Fire. We shall also need an Inspector-General. The inspectors will not be attached to Regions, but to headquarters. It will be my job to arrange for the inspection of Regional fire brigades.
§ Mr. Mathers
Are we to understand that my right hon. Friend is now confining his remarks to England and Wales?
§ Mr. Morrison
Certainly. I have left any specifically Scottish aspects of the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who alone can speak with authority about them. The Regions will be controlled by headquarters, under my direction. I am confident that this new organisation will speed up all necessary measures. I have dealt with the financial provisions, and I think they are quite clear. I may say that the cost of the 25 per cent. to be borne by the State will be about £750,000. It is 1428 estimated—I cannot be quite sure—that the cost of taking over the whole outgoings of the A.F.S., including that part hitherto borne by the rates, will be about £1,250,000. It is probable that additional expenditure will come along, as the brigades are developed on more efficient lines. I am very grateful to fire officers all over the country and to local authorities for the attitude they have adopted. As far as I can see, they recognise, in most cases, that this step is inevitable.
My hon. Friend opposite raised the question of the position of the firemen in relation to trade unions. The point was raised by friends of mine; and, indeed, I raised it myself. I was a bit apprehensive whether there was not trouble ahead, and whether, if the State took over the fire-fighting personnel, those people would not become Civil servants technically, and be thereby prevented from being members of a trade union, under the Trade Disputes and Trades Unions Act, 1927. I am going to keep my remarks on this matter in a very narrow compass, because I do not want to get into matters that may be controversial. I have made careful inquiries. Quite naturally, the trade unions would have held strong views —and I fully understand why—but I am advised, after careful consideration, that Section 5 of the Trades Disputes and Trades Unions Act, 1927, deals with established Civil servants—that is to say, those granted certificates by the Civil Service Commissioners—and also that firemen transferred to the Crown would not be established Civil servants. Therefore, the Act does not apply to them. It is known that at present firemen belong to a number of trade unions, and many of them to no trade union. There have been meetings from time to time, for consultative purposes, between representatives of my Department and of the trade unions; and I see no reason why those meetings should not continue, for consultative purposes.
With regard to the local authorities, I know that many of them will be hurt that this service is taken from them. The fire brigade is often the brightest jewel in the municipal crown, and the local authorities are very proud of their fire-fighting services. I am sorry that this step should be necessary, but fire fighting is now an operation of war. I will give the House this assurance, which I gave to the local 1429 authorities last week:It is the very definite intention of the Government that this is a war-time expedient only, produced by war conditions, made necessary by a battle, an active fight that is going on day by day. It is certainly my very definite view that after the war the fire-fighting forces should again be a local authority service; that is to say, that they should not be permanently run by the State, but should again become a local authority service."It is only fair that that should be so. The brigades are taken over for a war-time purpose; and I do not think there is any reason why after the war they should not again become a local service, subject to the State then making provision for mobilisation on a national bas is in the event of a new emergency. That can be done. Many of our towns and cities have suffered very greatly from fire. The experience of these proud cities has been severe. The enemy has had his troubles, too. I believe that this Bill is necessary, not for the complete solution of this problem—the complete solution is the defeat of the night bomber—but to enable us to make material improvements in fire-fighting organisation. I commend the Bill to the House, and ask that we may be given it with rapidity and good will, so that we may go forward.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker (Derby)
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the introduction of this Bill, and I hope that it will have a speedy and satisfactory passage. Speaking for myself only, I think the Bill is belated. Without in the least desiring to attack my right hon. Friend or his associates, I wish that its proposals had been made law long ago. I believe that its principles will have to be applied in this sphere, and perhaps very soon in other spheres, of Civil Defence. I did not take part myself in the Debates on the Act of 1938, but, speaking on the First Air-Raid Precautions Bill, in 1937, I ventured to say:What will be needed at a time of air raids will be the power of command of a character which the Chief Air Raid Officers of local authorities will not have. Suppose that at Birmingham, the electrical system and gas mains were smashed, they would need breakdown gangs from over a wide region to put it right.Then I spoke of the fire services, and so on, and I said:When war comes you will require a power of command from the central Government itself. If we need it in time of war, it ought to be organised in time of peace1430 I thought in 1937, and I still think to-day, that we were wrong when we thought that air bombardment would present us with a series of local problems which could be dealt with by local officers and local volunteers under the authority of local councils, using equipment locally owned and under the control of the local authorities. I thought, and I still think, that air bombardment constitutes a national problem which ought to be dealt with by national services, working with national equipment under national orders and control. I thought, and I still think, that command was the essential problem which could not be solved on a local authority basis, and that in a dozen other ways, recruitment, training, promotion of competent officers, provision of equipment, the organisation of essential facilities on many matters, the more nearly national the system was, the more successful it was likely to be. To say that is to make no reflection upon the local authorities. Miracles have been performed under the existing system, both by the Ministry of Home Security and by the local authorities, and certainly, if there have been a few local authority failures —and we all know of them—there have been many cases where the courage and devotion which have been shown have been beyond all praise. But that does not even alter the fact that air warfare is a national problem, and, whatever the advantage of it—and I am not disputing for a moment that there were some advantages on the other side—to canalise preparation for defence or attack through a vast number of small and autonomous administrations, differing a great deal in size and personnel, co-ordinated from Whitehall, was a system which was bound in practice to be difficult to work.
I believe that a national system could have made full use of all the local spirit, enthusiasm and knowledge on which we rely, and if proof is needed—it is not an exact analogy, but the main point is there —I think the experience of the Home Guard proves that to be true. What I am saying now has been proved to be true already of other things besides fire fighting. It is perhaps true of the provision of food and rest centres for bombed-out civilians, and indeed, I think, the organising of the Ministry of Food upon a national basis has been necessary and has rendered great service. The problems of 1431 gas, electricity and water supply really ought to be dealt with by a national service, and also transport, and above all, problems of evacuation, though I recognise the great difficulties in the matter. I believe that the evacuation of those who are bombed out, their billeting, and the provision of camps and other temporary accommodation for them, is a business which perhaps ought to be organised on a national basis as our fire services are now to be. I am not complaining that my right hon. Friend has not put all these things into his present Bill. He is right not to have done so, because he must have this Bill at once, and the other matters are a good deal more controversial than this is likely to be. I was very glad that he said that we are soon to have another Debate on the matter, and I hope that then perhaps he will consider whether he cannot extend the same principles which he is putting forward to-day to other spheres of Civil Defence.
If we have not yet been brought to see that it is necessary and right, I believe it is because the weight of the attack, the casualties and the damage are a good deal less than most people, including the Government, expected that they would be, though they are bad enough in all conscience. In April the rate at which civilians were killed was about half the average rate at which the Army, Navy and Air Force had been killed over the 4¼ years of the last war. That is a formidable figure, but we all expected that the weight of attack would be greater and that it would come sooner and have a bigger success in daylight. Looking back, we can see now what a tremendous mistake Marshal Goering made when he failed to bring up his training for night bombing to the same pitch of technical perfection as ours. We can see that, relatively to the German army he made his air force much too small, and thank God he did. If we had, as we now regard it, good fortune in this regard, we must, as my right hon. Friend so rightly said, be prepared for anything that may happen in the future. The destruction of the night bomber is the real solution. Our present night-interception successes are gratifying in the highest possible degree, and if there was no heavy blitz last night, as I understand, it is the tenth night in succession on which we have been rela- 1432 tively free from heavy attack, unless I have misunderstood the communiqués which have been made. Our day interception is so good that for the present at least the problem of day bombardment has almost been banished from our minds. I believe that we shall keep the lead which we at present seem to have over the enemy both in scientific research and in the skill of our personnel, but we have to be prepared for whatever may come. The Nazi scientists, even without Jewish assistance, may make a lucky scoop, and therefore our passive defence must be so organised as to be ready for any trials which time might bring.
The first necessary step is the Bill which the Minister has presented to-day. Everybody will agree with my right hon. Friend that his most urgent and dangerous problem is that of fire. I remember that it was in the middle of 1939 that a Spaniard, who had been in charge of A.R.P. in Barcelona throughout the Spanish war, told me that he thought that fire in England would be the greatest danger, particularly in London, and if we look back to Guernica, Chungking, and Finland before we had attacks here, we can say that experience has shown us that fire here may be the greatest danger. In any case, not thinking in terms of casualties but in terms of our war effort, I feel sure that the whole House will agree that that was true when he said it. We see how great is the defeat which our fire-fighting services have already inflicted upon the Nazis. That is undoubtedly true. I hope and believe that we can make that defeat more and more complete, but to do so this Bill is imperatively required.
My right hon. Friend told us that the Bill was to replace the Bill of 1938 to which the whole House agreed. That was the first Bill dealing with fire fighting which we had had in this House for 40 years. Until it was passed there was no legal obligation upon local authorities to provide protection against fire, and, in fact, as my right hon. Friend said, there were some few areas where no adequate system of fire fighting then existed. Looking back now, it is very easy to say that that Act was a hasty and an unimaginative Measure, but we also see, as he reminded us, that what has been built upon that strange and inadequate administrative foundation has been remarkable. The 1433 service has been multiplied some 15 to 20 times in important areas. Emergency equipment has been produced and furnished on the enormous scale which he described. A very elaborate and successful emergency communication system has been built up, and a Regional reinforcement scheme has been added. There have been Regional technical general staffs, of which he told us, which occasionally have taken over command. That Act had some good effects. I remember the alarm with which I heard some words used by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare), when he introduced the Act of 1938. He was talking about the joint action board recommended by the Riverdale Committee, of which my right hon. Friend has just spoken, and he said that when they came to discuss that proposal with the local authorities the latter took the view that they did not like to set up a series of local bodies of this kind with precepting powers in their areas. I do not think the joint committees was a good plan. I do not think they made a clean job of it and would not do so now but when I thought of war conditions the phrase about "precepting powers" did seem to me extremely ominous.
The fundamental weakness of the Act of 1938 and its system was this: Under its arrangements efficiency depended inevitably on the attitude, action, enterprise and energy of local authorities and their officers. There is no doubt that in the vast majority of cases the attitude and energy of the local authorities had been beyond praise. But there is also no doubt that there remains something of what was indicated by the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea—that they do not like other bodies with precepting powers. (An hon. Member: "Quite right") Yes, quite right in peace-time, but, as the Minister has said, this a battle. In his broadcast the other night my right hon. Friend said of this battle that even in its milder form it is war. Things moved with the speed of war. He said that it called for the intense sustained effort of battle. It demanded, as war did, advance planning, firm central control, the power to improvise at any instant and take a decision immediately so as to meet a situation which transforms itself almost from minute to minute. That could not be better expressed, and that is what you 1434 cannot get without precepting powers, without central command which is instant and absolute, allowing no refusal and no delay.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
It was a phrase used by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea when he introduced the Act of 1938. As I understood him, he meant that local authorities desired that nobody should have any right to give them orders in their own area.
§ Mr. Morrison
There was once a Metropolitan Asylums Board in London which was an elected body representative of local authorities. They collected money by telling the local authorities how much money they wanted, and the local authorities did not like it, because they had no control over the expenditure.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Perhaps I am using the wrong language, but I hope my point is plain. Local authorities did not like it then and probably do not now like other bodies giving them orders in their own areas.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Yes, they have been very good, and I am sure that they will accept this Bill. I have believed since 1937 that you must have central command, and unless you have it you cannot evolve a system which will work in battle. I think the working of the system has shown two principal defects which will become increasingly important as each week goes by. In the first place, under a system with 1,400 different fire brigades, each of them the servant of a different authority, you cannot make the best use of available personnel and particularly of trained officers, on whose leadership so much depends. I think the Minister said that in some of these quite considerable towns there have been brigades with no whole-time chief officer at all, where the job has been doubled by the chief constable of the borough. That is all right in peace-time, but it cannot be right in time of war.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
It must often happen that an officer well suited to fire fighting in time of peace is not the right man for battle conditions, because he is too old, too slow, or too tied to old traditional methods. Yet it is an extremely difficult thing for the local authority to get rid of such a man, particularly before a blitz occurs. They cannot put him on a quieter sector of the front or ask a neighbouring town to take him off their hands. They can only throw him out, and that may be extremely unjust to him. I have heard—I do not know whether it is true— that some dismissals have had to be made. Without a national system the removal of unsuitable officers may be slow and difficult and may involve real hardship. To reverse that proposition makes it equally plain but much more important. Only with a national service can you get the right men—men with initiative, energy and resource, born leaders, to put into posts where they can lead. It cannot be done under the present system and in this new form of warfare, as my right hon. Friend said in his broadcast:where everything is different and unexpected leadership is vitally important.The other weakness of the present system, in spite of the remarkable arrangements which have been made, is that you cannot make the fullest and most effective use of the fire-fighting forces which exist when in a single show you have to call in 20 to 30 fire brigades which have to work under difficult conditions. They may have to work at night in a place which they do not know, or do not know at all well, where communications have been blocked, where the water system is out of order and there is no one superior man in charge of the lot who knows them and whose orders they are accustomed to taking. Thus things must be very difficult for them. That applies to personnel and equipment. Under the present system there is no superior who can order brigades with the right or the best equipment to the vital spot, distribute equipment in advance to the most vulnerable places and keep it there. There is no one who can build up the strategical reserve of man-power and equipment which there ought to be in every area at the disposal of the man who has to direct the fire fighting exactly as a divisional general disposes of his divisional reserves and 1436 divisional artillery to meet the enemy's most serious attack.
For these reasons—and I have largely repeated what the Minister has said—I think my right hon. Friend's new system is right. I am glad he is putting it through, and I hope that at a later stage he will extend it to some other sphere. I would like to ask a few questions on points which were not entirely clear to me. First, about priority of the local authorities in their fire station, fire engine, and other equipment. I understood my right hon. Friend to say that the State will acquire that property.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
That clears up the point. As I understand the matter, this is a war-time plan, and although we may not go back completely to the system which we had before the war, nevertheless the ultimate property will remain in the hands of the local authority. I suppose that any of the property which survives after the war will go back to the local authority, unless, with the authorisation of Parliament, the Home Secretary buys it. Questions have been raised on the financial side. If the property given back is in a very poor condition, no doubt my right hon. Friend will be prepared to consider what would be just in the way of compensation to the local authorities. As I understood my right hon. Friend's statement about the finance of the plan, it seems to me at first sight that the arrangements he proposed are necessary, in view of the system we have had so far, and that they are fair to the local authorities, who, I am sure, will recognise that that is so. In any case, if there are difficulties they can be raised in the National Consultative body, which is so wisely being set up. I think I understood what my right hon. Friend told us about the kind of command that is to be created. It is, so to speak, an Army system of command, depending on the Home Secretary directly, and on him alone.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
On the Home Secretary, with his chief staff officer and his inspector-general, who will be in charge of the whole forces. I raise this point because there have been suggestions that 1437 the Regional Commissioners would be brought in at some stage and have executive powers. I do not for one moment doubt that the Regional Commissioners might very usefully advise on how the scheme was working, and that they might have consultative powers of various kinds; but I cannot think that it would be right to invest them with executive powers for fire-fighting and make them the people who give orders.
§ Mr. Morrison
I think there is a misunderstanding. There will not be a fire-fighting commander-in-chief nationally in the sense that the Army has a fighting commander-in-chief, if that is the right description, because the actual operational units must be in the sub-regions, aided by the regions and co-ordinated by us. I referred deliberately to the chief of fire staff at headquarters rather than the commander-in-chief. With regard to the regions, the Regional Commissioners actually give orders now, and they are obeyed. That system will continue, and, in fact, I should think that their executive responsibility in the new circumstances will increase. Only by that means can I get enough delegation from Whitehall.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I am glad that I raised the point. It is the man on the spot who will give the orders, and in the sub-regions it will be the officer in charge who will give the executive orders for fighting the fire. The regional command will send him reinforcements from the remainder of the region.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
That may be, but in respect of a given emergency in which he requires reinforcements, it will be the regional officer who will give the orders.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Will that officer be acting under the authority of the Regional Commissioner or on his own authority?
§ Mr. Morrison
He will be acting on the authority of the Regional Commissioner. That does not mean that every time he wants to do something, he will have to ask the Regional Commissioner personally. There are times when, in these operations of a quasi-military character, the officers 1438 must act on their own initiative. My own officers do many things and tell me afterwards, and I back them up, although privately, if I believe they are wrong, I tell them so. The area commanders will act with the authority of the Regional Commissioner and will order people about, and, moreover, they will in all probability have, under the direct command of the Regional Commissioner and his officers, those mobile reserves which will be regional rather than sub-regional forces.
§ Viscountess Astor
Will the Regional Commissioners have power to get the local authorities to get rid of people who are not satisfactory?
§ Mr. Morrison
I am afraid that I cannot have made myself clear. One of the purposes of the Bill is to transfer to the State the local authorities' fire forces. In so far as the local authorities will no longer have control, I cannot see how that point arises.
§ Mr. Buchanan
As I understand it, the Bill establishes regional control under Regional Commissioners who are already there. There will be an officer in charge. To whom will he be attached—to the Regional Commissioner or the Home Secretary?
§ Mr. Morrison
He will be responsible to the Regional Commissioner, who, in turn, will be responsible to me.
§ Mr. McKinlay (Dumbartonshire)
Is the Secretary of State for Scotland to be superseded in this matter in what are normally his functions?
§ Mr. Morrison
I was scrupulously careful to say that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has to deal with Scotland. I did not presume to discuss the conditions in Scotland, which are not my business, but his.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I am obliged to my right hon. Friend for elucidating this matter. To carry it a stage further than the explanation he has given, orders from the Home Secretary to the regional fire officer would be sent through the Regional Commissioner?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I hope it will be made quite plain that the executive powers of these fire officers are very wide and that the fire officer has as great authority as a general in the field, who can give orders without turning often to his civilian chief. The only other point on which I want to ask a question concerns the conditions of the firemen. I understand that my right hon. Friend does not want to deal with that question during the passage of this Bill, and I fully understand, but I hope he will consider again what I am sure he has considered already, namely, the question not only of equalising the conditions of the professional long-service firemen, who are working for 1,400 different fire brigades throughout the country, but if he can, the question of improving and perhaps equalising the conditions of the Auxiliary Fire Service as well. I am sure he has seen reports of a meeting which took place in London yesterday. The general secretary of the union said that whenever soldiers, sailors, airmen and regular firemen are injured through enemy action, but not permanently incapacitated, they are looked after indefinitely on full pay, whereas auxiliary firemen are dismissed after 13 weeks and are given the same injury allowance as ordinary civilians. He went on to say that each severe raid brings, after the 13 weeks' period expires, a further batch of auxiliary firemen who are reduced to comfortless penury for doing their duty. As my right hon. Friend has said, these men are showing splendid courage in the work they have to do. In the Army, we make no difference in conditions between long-term professionals and war-time recruits. These firemen really are soldiers, and I hope that, following this Bill, the purpose of which is to give these men the leadership they need, my right hon. Friend will, if he can, give them a rather greater measure of social justice than they are getting to-day.
§ Mr. Messer (Tottenham, South)
Is my hon. Friend aware that if a member of the Auxiliary Fire Service is injured and his injury, at the end of eight weeks, shows that he will not be able to resume at the end of 13 weeks, he is cut off at eight weeks and not at 13?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
That reinforces my argument. That is a matter which is caus- 1440 ing anxiety, not only to the men of the Auxiliary Fire Service, but to large sections of the public. I do not want to sit down without reinforcing the appeal with which my right hon. Friend ended his broadcast on Saturday night, namely, the appeal to the people of the country that prevention is better than the cure. Fire fighting can be made far easier by fire watching. Up to the present fire-watching schemes have already produced great results, but they are not all working perfectly. In the great blitz on the City of London 10 days ago, there were fires which could and should have been prevented if people had been on the job. I am sure that the willingness to serve is there, and I am sure that the objections which are made are superficial and can be got rid of if this duty is brought home to the public conscience. It is the duty of all hon. Members to help my right hon. Friend in this regard, and to help the people to see that it is in their fundamental interest to stop all fires, and to take their own part in stopping them. If we can make people understand that, then, with this Bill giving central direction, and, I hope, giving powers to the great service which will be under my right hon. Friend's command, we shall succeed in conquering one more of the means by which Hitler believes he can bring us down.
§ Viscountess Astor (Plymouth, Sutton)
I think the very fact that the Government are bringing in a Bill like this after we have had six months of fire blitz and bomb blitz shows there is something fundamentally wrong with the home front. I welcome the Bill, but it horrifies me to think that we have waited six months to bring it in. I know that if people criticise the Government in these days they are told that they are defeatists, bought politicians, or Fifth Columnists. I am not a defeatist, or a bought politician. I never wanted a job until last month, and then, when I saw what was happening, I came to the conclusion that you had better be an un peaceful politician to fight this war on the home front than have a tremendous respect for the past and such a worship for local authorities. I have come to the conclusion that this respect for local authorities has really been the cause of an absolutely useless waste, not only of lives, but of property and all things that matter most. This is not the time to think 1441 of arguments, party politics and the feelings of people; you have to have quick decisions and above all a plan. I know that the Home Secretary is not entirely to blame.
I put this to the House: Supposing you had a general who had lost 12 battles, would you not begin to wonder whether you ought to get rid of him? The Home Secretary has lost 12 battles, because there have been twelve towns blitzed, bombed and burnt. I do not blame him entirely; I blame the whole of the Government. But he has lost these battles, and now he brings in a Bill to deal with the problem. Everyone knows that you cannot expect the Home Secretary to be blunt and rough with local authorities, because they are his babies. A doting parent is not the best person for a spoilt child. I maintain, with due respect, that this is a time when we should get someone who has not such a profound respect for local authorities to fight this Battle of Britain. I have great respect for local authorities, but peacetime politicians are the very worst people in the world to fight a battle. We know very well that our local authorities were elected for peace-time politics, and that part of peace-time politics is the fight on the home front. There is no time for that now. I know that people in all local authorities have been elected because they have served their party faithfully. But faithful politicians in war-time are not what the country wants. The country is not in the least interested in politics. It is interested in only one thing, and that is to win the war. I say, with due respect, that the Government have to wake up to this Battle of Britain, because so far we have lost heavily, and, I think, quite unnecessarily. I know the Home Secretary, and I have the greatest respect for him, but I feel, and feel very strongly, that we ought to have a man like Lord Trenchard at the head of this Battle of Britain. We want a man who is a great organiser, who is not frightened of anyone, who has proved he is a fighter, who is not thinking of politicians, past or future, and who bears one thing, and one thing only, in mind, and that is what is best for the country.
I hope very much that the Government will wake up to the fact that although the country is loyal, courageous and willing to do anything, it has got a little dis- 1442 couraged about the home front. Nobody wants to be hard on anyone, and we want to do what is right, but how any Minister could have waited while these 12 towns have been burnt and blitzed for six months before doing something drastic is beyond my comprehension. It is not my opinion that the Home Secretary would have had all this trouble with local authorities. I know that when the battle came to Plymouth I had no respect for the feelings of local authorities. I was not thinking of them, but of the people. I believe that if we had not written to the "Times," we should not have had even this Bill. From personal experience, I know that what people need in a battle is leadership. They do not want words. They will listen to anyone who will give them a lead so long as they are perfectly certain that that person has only one thing in mind, and that is the good of the country.
The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) spoke of the fires. The tragedy has been that there has been no leadership. Our whole fire services have been just as they were before the war. The chief constable at Plymouth is at the head of the fire-fighting services there, and although he may be a good man, he has had very little experience of fire fighting. Everyone knows, in the country and in these blitzed towns, and in the House of Commons—I do not know whether the Government knows it—that the first thing a local authority wants to do when a town has been blitzed is to cover up its mistakes. My job is to see that they do not cover them up. I was not going to have mistakes covered up at Plymouth. We have said fearlessly what was wrong and what should be put right. In London it is nothing but a public scandal. One local authority may be efficient and another absolutely useless. They should be gone over and told that this is a war, and that people who are useless must get out. We have waited patiently, and at long last we have a Bill to deal with the situation. I am glad we have brought the Bill before the House, but I want to register my protest again. I think it is unworthy of the people of this country. I wish the House could have seen the people in Plymouth, their courage, endurance and their willingness to do anything.
1443 It is not only the Home Secretary. I think it is the Government themselves. We are losing the battle on the home front, and we shall go on losing it unless we are more active and more courageous and come out and speak seriously and try to get things put right. We have to have more co-ordination all round. If you could see the muddle after a town has been blitzed, you would see how the homeless people walk out into regions already filled with evacuees. A blind man might have known that Plymouth ought to be an evacuation area. The Lord Mayor has been appealing for it for 18 months but has been told by the Government that it could not be. The country round about is filled with people from other areas. There is no planning. The Prime Minister is a magnificent military leader, but we want a home-front leader as well. No one wants to do anything to weaken him, but it is weakness on the part of the House of Commons to have gone on so long and not protested and helped him. I am here to help him. I wonder why the Government in some of their work do not use the best people, whether men or women. I never wanted a Government job until lately, but I have come to the conclusion that men are timorous animals. They write out minutes and think a thing is done. They are always "passing the buck" on to someone else. Women are not like that. When we see something wrong, we go for it until we put it right. There are plenty of women standing about idle when we have doddering old politicians in all parties who ought to have been buried long ago. Government is still too much on party lines. You want to get above that.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Clifton Brown)
I must remind the Noble Lady that we are not discussing party lines but fire services.
§ Viscountess Astor
The fire services have been fought on party lines, and respect for local government, and local governments are all governed by party politics. [Interruption.] I wanted to say it, and I have got it out. I appeal to the Home Secretary. Let him make his speeches, let him rouse the country, but for heaven's sake get Trenchard to do the job.
§ Mr. Graham White (Birkenhead, East)
The noble Lady has spoken from the full- 1444 ness of her heart of her experience in a town which has suffered as much probably as any other in the country. She has spoken some words which it was good for us to hear, and I hope we shall profit in this Debate from the experience of those who have been brought face to face with actual facts. But when she suggested that there was action which the Home Secretary or the Government could take which would render any town scathe-less against bombardment from the air, she was suggesting something which might arouse hopes that could not be fulfilled.
§ Mr. White
I understand the noble Lady, and I have no wish to cross swords with her. If the qualities of courage, self-sacrifice and endurance could ensure a perfect fire-fighting organisation, there would be nothing more to be done. The services have been tried, and the qualities of endurance and self-sacrifice have excited the admiration of everyone who has been brought into contact with them. Let us never forget that they have already paid a very high price in life, and also in injury, which leads me to raise my voice in support of what was said by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) with regard to the treatment of injured firemen of both services on the same lines as those of any other of the Fighting Services. If personal valour could have achieved this result, there would have been nothing more to be said. To fight a fire under any conditions calls for great qualities of courage and resource, but to fight a fire to the accompaniment of high explosive and incendiary bombs is to call on men to face an experience which is outside all human experience hitherto. I have seen something of it, and it makes me feel very humble when I compare anything that I could have hoped to do myself with the achievements of these men.
The sooner we have the Bill, and the sooner it is in operation, the better. I heard with some misgiving the Home Secretary's statement that there was a great deal of work to be done and that it would require some time before it came into operation. There are some things which, I believe, can be done the moment it is passed. Some of us are familiar with what has been done by the Regional organisations. We know the immense development that there has been. The 1445 Bill is to transfer the conditions for righting a skirmish into those for fighting a battle on a large scale. One of the difficulties that have arisen is that of employing mutual assistance schemes to the best possible advantage. Unless you have them under some sort of unified command, as the Bill proposes, you are bound to have divergencies of view as to the number of firemen and appliances which can be sent from one district to another and as to the amount which different authorities will release. With unified command all difficulties of that kind will be combed out and dealt with, without the expenditure of undue time and labour.
We are all familiar with the fire-fighting service in peace-time, when the local fire chief sallied forth with a dozen or 20 brave men and dealt with a fire, very often quite adequately. To-day that same man is called upon to deal with fires on an enormously larger scale, to direct operations in a number of places, to be prepared to receive reinforcements and, moreover, to take decisions of the utmost consequence. He has to decide, if his resources are unequal to the task, which buildings he shall attempt to save and which he shall not. Up to now we have been working too much with a platoon commander in place of a brigadier or a corps commander, and that is the essential thing which the Bill will deal with.
A few words have been said in the Debate about the relation of the Bill to the Act of 1938. It is not, perhaps, a matter of immediate consequence, but it is a matter of considerable importance. We propose being wise after the event. Being wise after the event is generally treated with disparagement, but I can never understand why, because it is better to be wise after the event than never to be wise at all. What does it mean except that we are prepared to profit by our experience and better information? My hon. Friend the Member for Derby said that this Bill might take the place of the Act of 1938, but that is not the case. This is an emergency Measure which will live a life which is coterminous with the Emergency Powers Act. I think that all will admit now that it would have been better if, in considering the 1938 Act, we had adopted the recommendation of the River-dale Committee and had the Regional board which was recommended by them but was not accepted by the Home Office 1446 or the House. It may well be, as the Home Secretary suggested, that this body would have had certain disadvantages, but nevertheless it would have been better than the organisation under which we have been working. I listened with interest and agreement to the observations which my right hon. Friend made on the subject of representative government against nominated bodies. I hope that in all these matters in which we have delegated authority to Regional Commissions —matters of health, finance and fire fighting—we will not neglect and forget what we have learned during the war as to the advantages of Regional organisation. There are many lessons to be learned, and I cannot think that there are not some which would be most important for the fire-fighting services which it would be wise to embody in those services when we come back to the times of peace.
This is, of course, an emergency Bill. It is a very small Bill in number of words to deal with such an immense and complicated matter. I take it that the effective part of the Bill is in the first paragraph of the first Clause, under which my right hon. Friend and his organisation can do practically anything which they judge to be for the benefit of the fire-fighting services. I would like to ask whether under that provision they have in mind the rapid completion of the arrangements for dealing with additional water supplies, more particularly from the riversides. When the last return was made expenditure for that purpose was several hundred pounds in arrear in respect of the amount authorised and this is urgently required to be made good. I take it that under this paragraph the Home Office will be able to deal with matters of that kind. I should also like to ask whether the Home Office are satisfied that there is not in the Services to-day a considerable number of trained firemen who are performing duties which are not in the service brigades but are of a comparatively unimportant character. I am aware of the steps which have been taken to withdraw from the Services men qualified in fire-fighting, but it is not an uncommon experience with me, and, I think, with others, to find that there are men doing duties in the Army, such as orderly duties, barrack-room duties and things of that kind, who might be doing better service in the fire-fighting force at home. I had a call the 1447 other day from a man who was a London fireman, who described his day in the barrack and camp, and who wants to join his comrades in the fire brigade and to help them in the real work in which they are engaged. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider whether we are making the best use of the trained firemen we have in the country.
We have an immense asset in the firemen and the auxiliary firemen who have been taking part in this battle up to now. Parliament owes it to them to deal promptly with difficulties that arise and to set in train the best possible form of organisation which will enable their efforts to be brought to bear with the greatest possible speed. That is a matter of justice to them as well as of safety to the nation. We are hoping for great things for the development of the fire services from the fire-watchers who are coming forward. I believe that we shall make a great advance, belatedly it is true, but there can be no greater encouragement either to Parliament in seeking to help this organisation or to the multitude of fire-watchers who are coming forward to do their duty than the example which is shown to them by those who have been fighting up to the present too much alone.
§ Rear-Admiral Beamish (Lewes)
I am sorry that the Minister is not here, and if I say anything in criticism of him, I hope he will forgive me, but it will be well-meant criticism. We have heard to-day a sort of inquest on what to me and to most of us is a great failure, a great national failure, which does no credit to any citizen of the country, and certainly does no credit to the head of a great State Department or to his predecessor. I do not always agree with the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) but I cannot help agreeing with her in her comparison between the way in which the Home Secretary's Department is "being treated and the way in which the Air Force, the Army, or the Navy would be treated if they had had similar failures to their discredit. It is a very proper comparison. I am confident that not only in this war already, but in all wars, when failures of this magnitude have occurred, someone has had to go. The comparison with the military operation cannot be bettered, 1448 although it breaks down here and there. It is not comparable in one particular respect. When the Army had to expand to meet the needs of this war it had to deal with Territorial units and commands in different parts of the country which had similar ideas and objects. In the present instance, however, we find, as has been stressed over and over again to-day, 1,400 or more different ideas and different authorities. The comparison of the expansion of the Army with the expansion of the fire-fighting forces is not, therefore, quite accurate.
It is not possible to judge what will come out of this scheme until we have seen the Regulations. I have great hopes that they will be very helpful. If the public and this House had before them the reports from the cities which have been attacked by the enemy, and have suffered so seriously from fire, it is safe to say there would be a very grave public outcry. Fire which is not under control is, perhaps, the greatest enemy, certainly the greatest destroyer, known to man, and yet we have dealt with it in this comparatively light-hearted manner. But far be it from me to withhold praise, and the highest praise, from those who have been struggling for so long against a rotten, mediaeval system. The hon. Member who spoke from the Liberal benches never said a truer word than that we who have not been taking part in this actual battle ought to withhold criticism as far as possible, because anybody who goes round in daylight, after the danger is over, and can realise what has been happening during the night, with high explosive bombs succeeding the incendiaries, has no right to sit down and draw up a series of criticisms from an air-raid shelter.
At the same time, it is necessary to criticise, because in this war, in some queer way, crime and fire have combined to put us all to shame, for the reason that we were not ready. Great inroads have been made on the national wealth because of our mediaeval methods of fire prevention and fire fighting, and I say respectfully that many lives have been sacrificed unnecessarily. Worst of all, we have to remember what the world says about it. We have lost national buildings, from cathedrals and abbeys to lesser gems of architecture, which were really the property of the civilised world, and that civilised world is rightly indignant and 1449 filled with sorrow. To me, that is a very notable aspect of the situation. Excepting our relentless enemy, there is no nation in the world, probably, which does not deplore the frightful damage which has been done to our cathedrals and abbeys, as a result, very largely, if one is to believe the reports and letters in the Press, of inadequate fire-fighting and fire-prevention methods. There has been no ordered retaliation against fire. No reasonable person can withhold his praise of those who have stood up so wonderfully to what has happened, but I have come into contact with a number of people, some of them in this House and others whose views have been expressed through the Press, who are very impatient indeed with the delays of the Home Office. Sometimes they are the victims of their own ancient systems. There have been the objections raised on the part of the controllers of fire brigades, ranging from brilliantly-efficient fire-fighting units to those who are nothing more than museum pieces. When some time ago I called for the centralising or combining of fire-fighting units I was told that the local authorities would be up in arms against it. But it is a great deal better that they should be up in arms than up in flames, as they have been, and I would remind the House of what Dr. Johnson once said, that nothing would ever be attempted if all possible objections had first to be overcome.
Therefore, I am delighted, knowing the hard work which has been put in by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and others, that we really are making progress. The Minister himself well knows the discreditable confusion and shortcomings from which we have suffered. He has seen all the reports. I have only had the opportunity of moving about the country and meeting people who have been interested in this matter or directly concerned. There have been cases of a fire brigade looking on at a fire and not going to the help of a neighbouring brigade. It is all very well to say that one local authority has never refused to help another. I agree that it is inconceivable that they should refuse to help, but it is certainly open to proof that brigades have not gone over the borders of their own areas to help in another area because they had not had orders to do so. That has happened in a good many instances. The 1450 personnel of brigades have been totally uncared for—the Home Office knows this perfectly well—and their equipment has been totally inadequate. The spirit and the courage have been there, but we have not made use of it.
Now I should like to say a word or two about the terms of this enabling Bill as far as I understand it. There does not seem to be any provision for what I should call a central council. I hope there will not be what I should call a commander-in-chief of the fire service, because that is not necessary. We should, however, have something better than the fire fighting department in the Home Office. It has admirable personnel, who are hardworking people, but that is not sufficient. We must have something more on the lines of what the Air Force and the Army and the Navy possess, a sort of Board. We have heard of a consultative body which is to be set up among the local authorities. That is good in its way, but it is necessary to have some form of central council. Then the Minister said that fewer than 50 fire brigade units—call them what you will—will be set up, and how much better that system would be than the present one, with 1,400 units. I am not so sure about that. I know it is easy enough to criticise, but my own impression is that even 50 fire-fighting units will be too many, a great deal too many. I should like to see the number reduced, so as to fit in with the existing regional commissioners' areas.
I would respectfully remind the House, of what it already knows, that in almost every large conflagration that has taken place the dynamic, or running, water supply has been cut off. Several fires at which I have permitted myself to be an onlooker have been burning away merrily with not a drop of water played on them. The explanation was that high explosives had burst the water mains. Only last Saturday week, when London suffered so badly, there were hundreds of fires, some of them vast fires, burning at large and triumphant because there was no water with which to tackle them. I ask the House to press the Home Secretary to proceed at once with the provision of what I call static water supplies. It might take some time to provide the necessary equipment, but there need not be enormous delay. Glancing round the Chamber in which we are meeting, I have come to the conclusion that it would 1451 hold comfortably 500,000 gallons of water. That would be a nice lot of water with which to fight a fire. If we provided numbers of reservoirs of that size then a good supply of water would be available, even though the dynamic, or running, water supply had failed. Another suggestion is to flood basements which should be made water-tight.
Let me say a word about personnel. I ask the Home Secretary to make the most generous use of, and give the most generous treatment to, the Auxiliary Fire Service. He has told us of their numbers, and his statement was extremely interesting. There are, I understand, something like 80,000 full-time fire fighters, and, now, 150,000 part-time fire fighters. Let us make the most perfect fire-fighting service in the whole world. I advocate very strongly—although I know that the Army Council will probably not like my suggestion—that the Government should insist upon making the full use of the Royal Engineers and of military units. As a naval officer I can tell the House that whenever fire broke out in any town or harbour of any foreign country which ships visited, a fire party was launched forthwith. It was the duty and the business of every man-of-war in His Majesty's Service to provide the best possible fire-fighting service that it could, although armed only with inadequate little pumps. Nevertheless, these tire-fighting parties had plenty of courage, plenty of ropes, and plenty of good will. They did admirable work. It would be good training for military units, even to have to face the danger, and they would be providing plenty of assistance to the fire-fighting organisation.
Improve the fire watching. When any attack takes place on London there are grave and well-merited complaints about the lack of proper fire watching in many districts. I would press the Government also on the subject of bringing pressure to bear, and prosecution, upon property-owners. Property-owners know all about this. Unless this House deals very severely with property-owners who clear out and leave their premises locked, we shall go on having terrible losses. I beg the Home Secretary to go ahead with this great and splendid enterprise, and above all things, to set up a thoroughly sound central body, a sort of board of fire ser- 1452 vice, for the whole country, and thus bring to an end a state of things which has really not been to our national credit.
§ Commander King-Hall (Ormskirk)
To begin with I would support two of the points made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just sat down. I agree with him that, on the face of it, 40 to 50 fire brigades appear still to be on the large side. I recognise that this is a matter on which one should have technical knowledge which is not at my disposal, if one is to form a reliable opinion, but I hope that, before any decision is finally made, further consideration will be given to these numbers, with the object of getting nearer to the size of the Army commands throughout the country, and the regional commissioners, or at any rate to having a system of loose grouping among the 40 or 50 brigades.
The second point which the hon. and gallant Gentleman made was that more use should be made of military resources. Much can be done with advantage to the country and to the services themselves in that way. It is not unfair to say that, up to fairly recent times, we have had the rather extraordinary situation of an Army unit lying apprehensively in its billets at night wondering whether it would be adequately protected against enemy invasion by the Town Clerks of England. I do not wish to say a word of criticism about local government, which, nevertheless, was not designed to tackle this problem. Since 1938 I have said that local government was not designed by God or man to tackle the problems of total war, and I am still of that opinion. I do not think it is fair to expect local government to tackle the kind of problem that total war has brought upon us. It is not in any spirit of criticism of the efforts of local government or personnel that I say that, but because I feel that the matter Has become a military operation which must be dealt with along military lines. As in the past we found it necessary to take the management of the Royal Navy out of the hands of the burgesses of the Cinque Ports and make the Navy into an organised national Service, so the time has come when we must take this service of fire fighting out of the hands of bodies which were not designed to deal with it. It is unfair to expect them to deal with it.
1453 The principles embodied in the Bill must receive the, whole-hearted approval of anyone who has practical experience of the disadvantages to national security inevitable in the system with which the Bill will deal. The Bill does not seem to go far enough, but, as far as it goes, it is on the right lines, in dealing with this battle of the flames. The Government have decided to centralise and coordinate the fire-fighting service, but I still wonder whether it is sufficiently realised that success in this battle of the flames demands an approach to fire fighting which is fundamentally different from that which prevailed in fire-fighting services before the war. Professionals were then engaged more in fire fighting than in fire prevention. The attitude of a professional fireman was that, if he were shown a big blaze, he would go and put it out, even at the risk of his life. All that is now altered. And here may I add my testimony to that of those who have paid tribute to the magnificent work of our firemen, both the professionals and the A.F.S. But just as we have discovered in medicine and other things that prevention is better than cure, so we have learnt from the German fire blitz that proper means of fire prevention are complementary to fire fighting.
It is better if we can arrange matters so that fire brigades, with all their apparatus, are not called into action, but are like Army reserves which have not been called into action because the advanced units have mastered the enemy. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson) has been placed in charge of fire fighting. I hope she realises that it is her duty to be the Dr. Marie Stopes of the fire world. What we want is birth control of these fires. That is why I regret that no provision is made in the Bill for fire watching and fire prevention. It may be that because I am inexperienced in navigating the tortuous channels of Parliamentary draftsmanship I have been misled. But there are Clauses in the Bill in which the Secretary of State is given power to make regulations forany other matters which appear to him to be necessary or expedient …with a view to improving the arrangements for fighting fireIn my innocence I should have thought that that would cover regulations for fire watching and fire fighting, and in 1454 Clause 2 (3 f) fire personnel is again defined asany other person employed in any such capacity connected with the fighting of fires as may be specified in that behalf in regulations under this Section.When I read that I thought it meant personnel for fire watching, and it certainly seems to me to cover it, but in paragraph 5 of the Schedule to the Bill I read that the right to transfer fire personnel does not apply to personnel employed part time or without remuneration, which seems to show that fire watchers, who chiefly fall within that category, are excluded from the operation of the Bill. I gather, however, from what I have heard in this Debate that the Bill is not intended to cover problems of fire watching and fire prevention.
If that be the case, it seems to me that what we are discussing may be likened to a measure intended to unify and coordinate a number of privately-owned battleships into a battle fleet for the exercise of sea-power, but doing nothing about arrangements for cruisers, destroyers, reconnaissance aircraft and coast watchers. Or, to take the analogy into the air, it is as if we were dealing here with the co-ordination of certain aircraft but saying nothing about the observer corps, searchlights, or the balloon barrage. It seems to me that the fire brigades all over the country which this Bill will coordinate into a national fire service ought to be intimately connected with the fire-watching and fire-prevention services in the areas in which they work, just as a battle fleet lying in its base is intimately connected with the web of patrols and so forth which lie between it and the enemy.
I will give only one example of the type of thing which should not be allowed to continue. Within two miles of where we are now assembled there is a large block of flats tenanted by about 600 tenants. After many efforts, some 40 of these volunteered to do fire watching. The majority of the volunteers are young girls and women, most of whom are employed in Government offices during the day—and in passing I should like to pay a tribute to the work done by the women of England and to the way in which they have gone out and tackled incendiary bombs. The management of this building pays a woman of 65 to organise the fire services, but according to my information 1455 have not otherwise been very helpful. The fire watchers found the roof of the building a mass of pipes, and since it is surrounded by only a low parapet they asked for these pipes to be painted white so that they should not trip over them in the darkness and fall eight storeys to the ground. But it was very difficult to persuade the management to paint the pipes white. It seems to me that this system is unsatisfactory and in every way inefficient, and that it is a matter of particular concern to the fire brigade which is going to operate in that district. I assume that the man in charge of the fire brigade will have in front of him a roof map of the area, and I hope I am not assuming too much in thinking that such a roof map is available in all our towns. In such a case he ought to be able to feel that in that building he has a strong point, so that in the case of a blitz he would not have to bother to concentrate his efforts there but could pay attention to other areas of a more vulnerable character. The fire brigade chief in that area is, therefore, directly affected by the inefficient and unsatisfactory state of affairs in that building.
I conclude by saying that this Bill is a good Bill as far as it goes, but that it only covers half the problem. The reforms which will arise from this Measure will fall far short of what they might be—indeed, of what they have got to be—so long as we leave fire watching and fire prevention in their present haphazard condition.
§ Mr. R. C. Morrison (Tottenham, North)
I agree with the last speaker that this Bill does not tackle the whole problem and that a great deal more attention ought to be paid at a very early date to the problem of the prevention of fires. I think there may also be some difficulty, when this Bill is passed, in connection with the link which exists at present in many districts between the street fire patrols and the fire brigades. These street fire patrols arose spontaneously; they were not brought into existence by any action of the Government, but sprang up as a result of the spontaneous action of neighbours who wanted to do something. An attempt was made at first to link them up with the ordinary wardens' organisation, but in some districts that was not too successful and it became necessary to link them 1456 up with the fire brigades. From the moment when they were linked up with the fire brigades they began to be more useful and more enthusiastic. They felt that they were part of the fire brigade and were very proud of it. I wonder therefore whether the passing of this Bill, which takes the fire brigades away from local authorities, will break the link which exists between fire patrols and the fire brigades.
Another point I should like to mention is this. One hon. Member spoke of trying to visualise the amount of water which could be contained in the room in which we are now meeting, and said he thought it would contain half a million gallons of water, which would be enough to put out a very decent fire. It may be of interest to the House, and can be of no value to the enemy, to know that frequently, in recent raids, the Metropolitan Water Board has used 100,000,000 gallons of water during one night. It is a truism to say that fires cannot be put out without plenty of water, and it is equally true to say that when an air attack takes place water mains are bound to be damaged. I do not propose to say how many water mains have been broken in the London area during the blitz, but I can say that the number is considerable and that it naturally interfered with the fire services. Over99 per cent. of the water mains are now in action again, which I think is a tribute to the efficiency of the people handling them.
That brings me to my next point. Outside the London area the supply of water has in some places been left in the hands of private companies who sell water for their own private profit. At this time the Home Office ought to be doing a great deal to see that adequate supplies are available in those areas. It is generally difficult in the summer months for many of these privately owned water companies to supply enough water for drinking and domestic purposes, apart from fire fighting. The Home Office ought to be bestirring itself now to see that these companies are making adequate storage arrangements for the coming months. If they are not storing every gallon of water they can get hold of, it will be a very serious thing for them in the months of June, July, August and September.
I do not appreciate the necessity for taking the Bill through all its stages in one 1457 day. Many of the things which it provides for have been done for many months past. I was in Birmingham on the: day of its first blitz, and on the following morning I saw brigades from Bristol, Bath, and Manchester operating in the area. Even then—last October or November—something of the kind which this Bill envisages was going on. In my district, which is outside the area of the London County Council, for every large fire that we have had at the docks, the London Fire Brigade has been present. The London Fire Brigade has been to Southampton and to Birmingham. I do not say that this Measure is not very urgent; but I do not think it is so urgent that we should have to take all its stages in one day, so that many important points cannot be adequately discussed.
As the right hon. Gentleman said, there will be a great deal of feeling aroused locally—as far as I have any influence to prevent it, there will be none aroused In my area—for the fire service is one of the services of which the people have been most proud, and it will be a wrench to see it go out of their own control. Many will resent having to pay 75 percent. of the cost without having any voice, for some time to come, in the control. The right hon. Gentleman might answer what may be a very simple question, whether the 75 percent. of the cost will be 75 percent. of the cost in a normal year? I hope that it will not be 75 percent. of the cost in, say, last year. I think it will be necessary, in order to find a normal year, to go back to 1937, before the A.F.S. was set up.
I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the battle of the flames can best be fought under national direction, but I hope that he is not going to interfere too much with brigades which are efficient—as most of them are—and that he will not make any unnecessary changes. An analogy has been drawn, over and over again in this discussion, between the fire brigade and the Army; but the fire brigades and the Army are entirely different propositions. If the right hon. Gentleman envisages moving large numbers of men in the fire services from one locality to another—and his speech gave me that impression—I hope he will think a long time before he does so. If he really is going to move men, perhaps he will move single men first. 1458 This war has torn up the roots of most people's lives, but there is no reason why Parliament should do more of that sort of thing than is absolutely necessary. There are many excellent officers and men in the fire brigades who have settled homes in their own localities, and they will take it badly if they are to be uprooted. I know that they will be no worse off than many other people, but we should not make that tendency worse than we can help.
What is to happen to the fire brigade committees of the local authorities? Does the right hon. Gentleman wish them to go out of business altogether or to continue in more or less shadow form, ready for the time when they will be able to take up again the work which, in the national interest, they are now giving up? There will be very little for them to do, but there will be something; for instance, there will be the street-watching patrols, under the Fire-Watching Order. At present, the local authority is charged with the responsibility of prosecuting under the Fire-Watching Order, but the local authority depends upon information from the officers of the fire brigades. It is these officers who report whether fire-watching is being adequately carried out and who recommend to the town clerk whether proceedings should be taken. It will be very difficult for an officer to do will at when he is no longer in the position of accepting orders from the local authority.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
That system is not universal. The duty is frequently associated with the wardens' service, with which, indeed, it has a considerable analogy. I do not think that there will be any difficulty about that.
§ Mr. R. C. Morrison
I leave the point there, but I think it needs clarifying. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will make it clear—he did not do so to-day—whether it is his desire that the fire brigade committees of the local authorities shall go out of business altogether.
I would like to speak about the fire department of the Home Office. I think the right hon. Gentleman should take the opportunity of this Measure to overhaul that organisation thoroughly. There are people there—I do not say this in any unkind sense—who are known as "good old has-beens" They have been fine fire officers in the past, 1459 but they are now, after having been superannuated for some considerable time, giving orders to people who, having been in the thick of the vast fires of the past 12 months, must know a great deal more than they do about the special measures which will be necessary. To give one instance, there has been during the past 12 months a failure to provide adequate feeding arrangements for firemen at large fires. People who have had experience of these fires are more likely to understand how to make the necessary arrangements. Nobody sitting in an office can be expected to devise the necessary plans. I would ask my right hon. Friend to look into the matter to see whether, in view of the remarkable experience of many of these officers and men, he could not get many of them to help to strengthen the fire department of the Home Office, preferably to supplement present officers.
There is a suggestion in an article in one of the leading papers to-day dealing with this Bill with which I profoundly disagree. It is that the right hon. Gentleman, in choosing the executive officers and those whom he will need in order to carry out the work of the service, should call upon the Army and the Navy. I am sure that he wants the Bill, and wants it to work efficiently without any trouble, but if he intends to appoint Army and naval officers to principal positions in connection with this work, he will be making trouble, and trouble there will be. I will not follow up that point further beyond saying that some of the criticism of the Bill to-day has been rather misplaced. It has not taken into account the circumstances of the first 10 or 12 months of the war, and of the year before war broke out, and the terrific task that has faced the service. It has not visualised the fact that there were thousands of young men who volunteered right back to Munich time to build up this fire service. After doing a whole day's work, they worked in the black-out, dragging hoses about and climbing ladders, and kept on night after night during the whole of the winter. That fact has not been taken into consideration. At the time many Members of this House sneered at the kind of thing that they were doing, and there was a cry from the newspapers, and the military authorities proceeded to drag these men into the Army as quickly as possible. It has been 1460 a job to get any of them out of it. The men who went through all that, and who have been through the fire fighting ever since are those from whom my right hon. Friend will have no difficulty in getting experienced and efficient men who will make excellent officers. I therefore recommend, not only the officers and men of professional fire brigades, but also those of the auxiliary fire brigades. These brigades are an excellent field from which to obtain officers, rather than incur the risk of causing bad feeling by putting Army and naval officers at the head of these brigades who perhaps know nothing about fire fighting whatever.
The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary is to set up a consultative body of local authorities with experience:, knowledge and good will. I do not know whether it would be possible also to include representatives of officers and of men, but, better still, I would like to see him set up a joint industrial council consisting of the Home Office and the representatives of the men's organisations. The success of the Bill, as we all realise, will depend partly upon the Regulations. We do not know what they will be, and it is therefore difficult to discuss the matter. I hope that my right hon. Friend, before the Debate finishes, will be able to give an assurance that there will be no reduction of wages or worsening of conditions in the fire services. There is a fear—I do not know why—that an attempt may be made, where the conditions are good, to bring them down to the level of the conditions that are less good. An assurance that there will be no reduction of wages or worsening of conditions will be helpful.
The last point that I want to make is that of the question of a disciplinary code. Some authorities have had a disciplinary code. I understand that the London County Council has not had one up to now.
§ Mr. R. C. Morrison
Some authorities have had a code which has worked fairly well, but only because an assurance has been given that any of the men dissatisfied with punishment meted out to them by the officer shall have the right of an appeal to the local Civil Defence committee. What I and other people are afraid of is that, if you have a disciplinary code, you 1461 may try to militarise the fire brigade. I hope that my right hon. Friend is not going to do that. Everyone knows that many of the severe sentences passed by the Army are out of all proportion to the offences committed. I hope that the kind of sentences about which we are accustomed to hear in the Army will not be allowed to enter into the fire brigade service. I hope also that a disciplinary code will provide for some other method, and that when a man commits an offence and is to be punished his wife and children shall not be penalised through money being stopped from his pay. If there must be a disciplinary code—and personally I think there must—opportunity ought to be provided for rewarding men when they do exceptionally well. There ought to be some form of proficiency award.
I should like to see my right hon. Friend give some attention to the question of efficiency pay. I am sure that the House will expect that one of the earliest things he will seek to do when the Bill becomes law will be to see that the pensions and disability allowances granted to firemen are at least equal to those in the Armed Forces. Nobody will ever be able to understand the logic or reason, if there is any at all, why a soldier who is severely injured or incapacitated for life should be treated better than the fireman who is inside a building when a bomb explodes and is injured and perhaps incapacitated for life. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend will give his early attention to that question to see that the disability pensions and allowances for sickness, illness and accident to men belonging to the national fire service shall be at least on the same level as those granted to members of the Services.
§ Captain Cunningham-Reid (St. Marylebone)
I want to draw attention to one matter, and I think I can best illustrate it in the following manner. During the last big night blitz on London in one street alone, there were 14 houses that were affected by fire, and 50 percent. of these were burnt out, for the trouble was that when entry was made into these houses though a certain amount of sand was available, that was all soon used up, and subsequently those who tried to put out those fires were powerless, because these houses being unoccupied have been left without any water whatever—turned off 1462 at the main and baths empty. Compulsory powers should be given to local authorities and possibly to the Metropolitan Water Board to allow them to enter houses which are unoccupied in order to see whether proper precautions have been taken for the prevention of fire. The difficulty they are now up against is this: occupiers have gone away and have taken no precautions. At present it is illegal for local authorities to enter such houses subsequent to an air raid. On some occasions local authorities have tried to get hold of the occupiers' keys and have been unable to do so, and I would ask the Minister whether it is intended that compulsory powers should be given to local authorities to enable them to enter empty houses without keys and without permission. At the moment every consideration is being given to those who have left London and their houses while no consideration is being given to those who remain in London, and I do suggest it is important that power should be given to local authorities to enable them to enter houses prior to raids to see whether baths and other receptacles have been properly filled with water. Incidentally this would entail far less strain on fire brigades because at the moment they are being called to put out fires that could easily have been extinguished if only the occupiers of the houses concerned had left behind them an adequate supply of water. I hope I shall hear from the Minister whether he intends in this Bill or subsequently to take powers for this purpose.
§ Mr. Ritson (Durham City)
I have been rather interested in this Debate because of my connection, in my younger days, with fife fighting. I can assure my right hon. Friend that he need not worry too much about what editors and their newspapers say. I think editors are far more concerned about sitting in front of a comfortable fire than fire fighting. If we depend on them for fire fighting, or anything else, believe me, we are wasting our time. As regards comparing this period with the days of peace no one with any common sense would suggest that the two periods are in any way alike. This is the most violent form of warfare we have ever had in this country. All the new avenues of fire fighting which we have recently explored have developed from our experiences of the last few weeks.
1463 In my own town, the Works Committee, on which I sat for many years after I was a fireman, have always made our firemen as important as our police. We believe that they are entitled to the same conditions, wages and pensions as the police. I have always taken a keen interest in seeing that this was done and I hope the Home Secretary will realise that a fireman, imbued with the spirit of fighting flames is as useful as any policeman can be. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish) started off with a real onslaught against the Home Secretary, but then the mild nature which I know so well asserted itself and his criticism fizzled out before he got very far. However, I can assure the House that there is nothing to be ashamed of in the work that local authorities and firemen have done in fighting this new form of warfare. I am pleased that the fire services are to be taken over by the State.
I will not mention the name of the town in which I live, although I do not think "Haw Haw" will worry very much whether I live or not. We had an experience the other day of the sort of jealousy which I believe this Bill will eradicate. In a certain part of the North of England some important industrial plant took fire and our fire brigade went to do their best to put out the flames. In the meantime, "Jerry" dropped a few bombs on us which caused no end of trouble, as the majority of our firemen were away. The question people asked was, "Where is our fire brigade? Why have we lent our men to such and such a place?'' People must realise that the fire service has been built up for the purpose of helping one's neighbour as well as oneself. I saw some criticism the other day about using a river as a source of water supply, and I appreciate what my right hon. Friend said with regard to the cutting of water mains. In one of the largest fires in the provinces, in which I had to take part, we used hoses which were so worn that the water came out in every place but the nozzle. Interfering people tried to help us as they thought we could not manage the job and I remember that somebody turned the nozzle under my nose so that I could not breathe properly for hours afterwards. It is not the fault of firemen if a main is 1464 destroyed by a bomb. It is a serious thing for them. What we had to do on that occasion was to get to the river and hope the Home Secretary will see that the best use is made of the River Thames. It never struck us until we had to use the river that it could be so useful. I will never forget the added pressure that was given to us by the 12 ft. tide.
Any fireman knows that the most effective fire can be most effectively tackled immediately after it breaks out. The hon. and gallant Member for Ormskirk (Commander King-Hall) brought birth control into the question. I certainly agree that the best way to fight a fire is to get it at quickly. What matters at a fire is the force of the water, and on the occasion to which I have referred, when the thing began to pump at 2,000 gallons a minute, we soon finished the fire. I hope the Home Secretary will see that the fire-fighting power of the river craft is at his disposal, because even if these craft cannot pump directly to the fire, they will always be able to pump the water to a place where it can be collected and applied to the fire. With regard to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison), I do not know of any body of people more jealous of their rights than the firemen are. They have served a long time and their practice and experience gives them a claim above anybody else. I believe that the Army ought to do its job and confine itself to its job. I have never believed in Army or Naval chief constables, and much less do I believe in Army or Naval fire brigade chiefs. Their job is not to fight fires, but to fight the enemy. With regard to the collection of water at places where it may be required, a long time ago I prophesied that in many parts of the country there would be difficulties, particularly in rural areas. Deep pools of water ought to be made and supplies placed in appropriate spots, so that the fire can be tackled immediately, before it grows.
I am glad this scheme has been introduced. All the small jealousies, local and otherwise, will be eliminated, because everybody will feel that he is fighting a great national issue. We have to fight the enemy and we have to fight the flames. I am convinced that the local authorities, particularly the watch committees, who 1465 now understand what has to be done and who know that it is in the national interest and that it is only for the period of the war that their powers will be taken from them, will co-operate whole-heartedly. I am convinced that not only the fire brigades and their personnel, but the management of the watch committees and fire committees, will willingly give their assistance and experience to the State as they have given it to the local authorities. We ought to give all encouragement to them. Let us get on with the job, and let us have a useful and determined combined force of men and women prepared to stand up against the enemy, whether flames or men. I am convinced that the country is determined to protect from fire both people and property.
§ Mrs. Hardie (Glasgow, Springburn)
No one wishes to criticise unduly a Bill which has for its purpose efficient fire fighting, but there is a fear among certain local authorities that instead of the Bill making the services more efficient in their particular areas, it may make them less efficient. This might happen in an area where they have spent time and money in building up what they consider to be a very efficient fire service. Apart from the financial arrangements, which are, of course, subject to negotiations, I understand there is a fear that an efficient fire service, by being spread over a big area, may become less efficient in a certain area. I raise the matter because I would like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to deal with it. There is a fear that because other districts have been lax when they ought not to have been, and have not had their fire services properly prepared, the efficient areas may suffer. The city a part of which I represent has the feeling that it has done everything possible to make its fire services efficient, and it fears that some of its equipment may be moved away into other areas where better preparations ought to have been made. I hope my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will explain that matter. As the Bill is an enabling Bill, it does not give many details, and we do not know exactly what body will be set up to deal with the services. Naturally, many of us hate to see power taken away from an elected body and given to a nominated body, but if my right hon. 1466 Friend will explain exactly how matters will work in that connection, he will be doing us a service. I think that, even more than the financial position, the point that is worrying many of us in Glasgow is whether that city will be as well protected under the new arrangements as under the old arrangements.
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
The Government having decided to bring forward this Bill, I feel it would be foolhardy for anybody to oppose it. Once the Government, having examined the problem and considered every aspect of it, have come to the conclusion that the scheme contained in the Bill is the best way of fighting fires at this time, I feel that any Member who dared to oppose the Bill would be taking a greater responsibility than he was entitled to take. It may well be that this scheme should have been introduced at an earlier stage. That criticism is always made against everybody who attempts to do anything. It ought to have been done earlier, but now that it is being done, the Government ought to have the credit for it. I want to refer to the matter from the point of view of the city of Glasgow. Many of us who belong to that city believe that in many things we are efficient. Most of our social services have been run in an efficient way, and I think the fire service there compares well with any in the country, whether run under State management or local management.
I put it to the Secretary of State for Scotland, that transferring the management of the fire services from a local authority to the State will not in itself make for efficiency unless there are efficient people to manage the services and run them. It may make the general level, in an area more efficient, but at the same time ft may lower the efficiency in a given place. In other words, we might raise the general average of the services but lower the services given in a particular area. One of the things which slightly worries us is the question of the Regional Commissioners. The City of Glasgow contains one quarter of the population of Scotland and is possibly more densely populated than any other area in Britain. Glasgow have provided as good a machinery for their fire services as any other part of the country, but they fear that in time of crisis, by this arrangement of committees, decisions may be pushed 1467 from one person to another. I hope and trust that whoever is responsible will see that some body or authority is set up which can act and, if it fails to act, can be subject to proper criticism.
I do not think the noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) made a speech which was a laughing matter. The events in Plymouth have been terribly serious. I have seen what can happen in my own native city, where we had two or three nights of blitz. When I consider that Plymouth has been visited far more times than that I can realise what Plymouth is like, and I cannot blame her if she feels bitter or angry about it. But I counsel her to show patience in her citicism of local authorities. Local authorities are not always good, but they are not always bad. I have crossed swords and hope to cross swords again with the Glasgow Town Council. In passing, although it does not arise on this Bill, I should like to ask the Secretary of State for Scotland to consider the question of demolition. There is room for a good deal of criticism in this respect. The City of Glasgow has run a fire brigade with great credit. It has a proud record and has nothing to be ashamed of. The defence of this Measure is that if a town outside the Glasgow area has, through meanness, failed to provide an efficient fire brigade service, it would be wrong if that town were burning to say that it should not be helped. At all times we must mobilise our resources and safeguard life. I would point out to the Secretary of State for Scotland and he would be the first to admit it—that it would be unwise to neglect the administrative ability of a town which has successfully organised a fire brigade service for a population of 1,250,000. The details of the work have been mastered, and valuable experience has been built up.
§ Viscountess Astor
Is the Glasgow fire brigade under the supervision of a fireman or under the supervision of the police?
§ Mr. Buchanan
It is under the supervision of a fireman. Indeed, I think we brought him from the North-East coast, which only shows that we are not narrow in our view. We are the most tolerant part of the country. I wish people would learn toleration from us in Glasgow on the question of Sunday opening for 1468 theatres and many other things. As I was saying, the fire-master and other members of the fire services in Glasgow have built up great experience. Here let me say that the question of fire services ought to be a national charge. From the nation's point of view, the firemen are just as important as the soldiers, sailors and airmen—indeed the Home Secretary has already said that. This pettifogging book-keeping entry of whether it is 75 per cent. or 25 per cent. is just nonsense. Whether the money is taken from the ratepayers in a particular locality or from the citizens of the country does not seem to matter because, to a great extent, it comes out of the same pockets.
I ask the Secretary of State for Scotland to remember. Glasgow's history in this matter. I think that Glasgow can help the country at the present time. I do not wish to impede this Bill, but I ask, when the machinery is brought into operation, that the Secretary of State for Scotland, in pursuance of his duties, shall take into account the vast experience of the fire committee, fire-master and officials of Glasgow. The situation is very different in our part of the country, because whereas we have a quarter of the total population of Scotland in Glasgow, the rest of the population is scattered in small towns all over the country. I can imagine that in negotiations these towns may have almost the same rights to consultation as the great city of Glasgow. All I am asking is that the Glasgow fire service, with its knowledge, should not be set aside in that regard and that it should be given its proper place in any consultations that may take place.
§ Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)
Before the Secretary of State intervenes, I should like to say a word from what I conceive to be the wide Scottish point of view. I am certain that the Bill will be favoured in Scotland. We have had indications that there are fire-fighting services which are claimed to be at least not inferior to those in any other part of the country. We are proud of that and we hope that the experience which has been gained will be fully used and blended into the new organisation. There was, however, on the part of some of my hon. Friends a certain amount almost of alarm at the statement that we were to have one of the Parliamentary Secretaries in the Home Office in London in the position of what 1469 might be described as tire-fighting king of Great Britain, in the same way as his colleague is sometimes not unkindly described as "the Shelter Queen." I am glad to have that idea dispelled by a statement from the Home Secretary himself. I could conceive of nothing more calculated to lose the good will which I am certain will prevail in Scotland with regard to this Measure. We have felt this urge from the Southern part of Great Britain impinging upon our particular preserves to a very considerable extent, and I do not think I am saying anything out of place in indicating that, with a number of my hon. Friends, I have taken part in an effort to urge upon the Government the need for even greater Scottish authority in Civil Defence matters. The great bulk of the Civil Defence services are co-ordinated by the Secretary of State for Scotland. That is what Scotland wants and expects, and I hope will always claim and receive, at the hands of any Government in London. To make a statement of that kind is not to indulge in sentimental nationalism. It is based upon hard-headed common sense arising out of the experience of getting things done effectively, as we consider it, by having authority in Scotland, and sometimes not so effectively by having to consider Ministers who are 400 miles away. Scotland has good experience to place at the disposal of those who will control this great new development, and I want to see that experience taken full advantage of.
Some references, rather vaguely praised by the Home Secretary, have been made to the question of advisory committees. I should like the Secretary of State for Scotland to be a little more explicit, if possible, about the advisory functions which will be performed, either centrally or in the Regions. I want to see them 5n the Regions as well as at headquarters. I want to see them properly manned. We are sometimes inclined to look upon advisory committees as merely an opportunity for providing some reward for services rendered. I do not want to see membership of these advisory bodies reserved for those who have been producing pious and platitudinous perorations on political platforms. I think they ought to be manned by those who have actual experience of this very important aspect of our civil defence.
When the Home Secretary made his statement a week ago I asked him if what 1470 he was proposing involved the bringing into the State organisation of all the fire-fighting arrangements in the country. He indicated that that was not so, but that what was being nationalised was simply the local authority fire services. There ought to be at the very least provision for co-ordinating all the fire-fighting services in the country, making it an all-in service when it comes to a real emergency. I cited, for example, the case of the different Ministers who control fire-fighting arrangements. In respect of docks and railways the Minister of Transport is the responsible authority, in respect of shipyards the Admiralty, and where it is a question of factories the Home Office. The homes of the people come within the local authority purview under the Secretary of State for Scotland. If there happens to be a military depot, the War Office is responsible for the fire-fighting that has to be organised. I want to see, if the need arises, all those services, and the private fire brigades organised in factories and other places throughout the country, available for tackling fires that may come along, either through enemy action or in any other way. That may perhaps appear to be getting outside the scope of the Bill, which is looked upon as a purely war emergency Measure, but I take the view that we are taking a step forward in the organisation of fire fighting which will never be fully retracted. I do not see these services being taken back fully to local-authority control out of the hands of the State. I believe we are taking a step which future Governments will be well advised to continue.
There are one or two points that I should like to put to the Secretary of State for Scotland. I have referred to the need for recognition of the trade unions, and I was glad of the reply that I got from the Home Secretary. I hope the Secretary for Scotland also can give us a definite guarantee that, as far as he is concerned, there will be full opportunity for the trade unions to make their representations in a proper and authoritative way. Arising out of that, naturally, there will be the question of what the payment of these men is to be. There is need to approximate the pay and other service conditions of the Auxiliary Fire Service men and those of the regular fire fighters. I hope that we may have some indication that that will be done. There is the possi- 1471 bility under the new arrangement of men being taken from one area and transferred to another part of the country. Under the Essential Work Orders there is provision for appeals committees in respect of men being removed from their homes. Are any arrangements of this kind contemplated to meet the position of the fire fighters? Some of the points I have raised are detailed points that might better be examined later, but from the point of view of the principle of the Bill I feel sure that the House will give it a Second Reading very readily.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Kilmarnock)
I promised that I would speak for only a few minutes, now I do not wish this Bill to be impeded one moment in its passage. I wish that the Home Secretary would treat criticism in a slightly less sensitive manner. I am one of those who have great admiration for, and have long championed, his administration in local government, but I want to put a question to him. Surely he has got this local Regional government question the wrong way. There has been a considerable body of agreement on his old side of the House, and there is no point in introducing a discussion about Gauleiters. The point is that there are certain services which can be better done in a larger area. I have served in London local government and have a great respect for it and for the whole democratic process of local government. No one pretends, and he did not, that the best method of fire fighting can be achieved by local units. The Lord President of the Council, when he was Home Secretary, set up a flexible piece of machinery which could be easily moved in any direction. Six months ago I urged him in writing and privately to take action on these lines. I have had the privilege, if it is a privilege, of trying to see at first hand and to endure at first hand several of the blitzes. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has seen them too. It is not a question of having to rely on officials and of not having information coming up to him as Minister. He has been round himself, and I cannot understand why he has delayed so long. Has there been any opposition from the local authorities? Have the spokesmen who usually get up representing county councils and local authorities raised any objection?
1472 I thought that my right hon. Friend would regard this whole matter from a larger view, and I am terribly disappointed. From previous remarks that he has made I thought that he would also tackle this problem speedily, bearing in mind its nature and utilising the past experience of local authorities. This is not a question of fighting against local authorities; it is a question of releasing new energies from them. In Scotland it is the same problem. As the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish) said, these small fire-brigade units do not easily fit in, even to a peace-time organisation. In view of what my right hon. Friend said that we would welcome a Debate on the larger aspects of Civil Defence, I appeal to the Government to let us have it, because the Prime Minister said to me to-day that he did not consider a radical change in the present chain of responsibility was necessary or desirable in present circumstances. I have a body of first-hand evidence to show that the position is very different and that the chain responsibility is cut up at a whole series of points. I have had many letters in the past few days from responsible people and from wives of Members of Parliament who are working on the spot. The chain of responsibility as far as fire is concerned has been proved to be inefficient.
Is it not much the same in the other services connected with Civil Defence? My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers)said that the Secretary of State for Scotland has Civil Defence in his own hands. In the long run he may, but the Regional Commissioner has the immediate responsibility. As my right hon. Friend has been Regional Commissioner, I hope that he will be on top of his job; the answer he gave me to-day about the evacuation of neutral areas showed that he appreciated the problem. He has seen what has happened in the last fortnight. I understand that in one area of Scotland the Regional Commissioner went to the scene a week before and carefully examined arrangements on paper and said that everything looked to be all right. But paper arrangements are not the same as actual conditions. Is the Minister of Home Security certain that his machinery for circulating the best experience of different areas is in efficient order and working 1473 properly? I asked this several months ago, and he said that he had in train the machinery for this purpose.
§ Mr. Lindsay
If that is so, I can only say that the machinery is not working very efficiently. What are the arrangements to be for co-ordinating fire watching and fire fighting? The present arrangements are both shocking and disgraceful. I am part of a team in London, and I have seen time after time fires with which we were incapable of dealing because there were not sufficient people to guard the buildings. What sort of person will the Regional staff officer be? It is important to know what his status will be. Will he or the Regional Commissioner be responsible for co-ordinating the fire-fighting arrangements of different bodies which come under other Departments? I understand that some have efficient arrangements to deal with their own buildings, and no doubt they have a good bit of equipment too.
I had hoped that the Home Secretary would say that he had all the organisation under the Bill ready and that he had waited to bring in the Bill at the last moment, so that it could be put into operation as soon as the Bill was passed. Can the Secretary of State give us some idea how quickly the leaders can be obtained? We want men of personality and leadership. Are there the schools or extra facilities for training, which is very important? Is there the standardisation of equipment? I will not press that point, because there are some things which, in the interests of home security, none of us wishes to say. Are these matters going to be dealt with more speedily and efficiently, because this Bill could have been brought in any day, except for the necessity of getting the local authorities behind it? I appeal, therefore, to the Secretary of State for Scotland to see that it is put into operation with as little delay as possible.
§ Viscountess Astor
There are plenty of men in the Army and Navy who have shown real understanding of local problems and welfare. A quick way of getting the type of people whom the Minister of Home Security says that it will be difficult to get would be to take these men 1474 out of the Services and put them quickly through a school for a month or two months. They represent the kind of person we want, someone who is used to command and knows how to handle people and who has what I call a comprehensive and understanding heart.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. T. Johnston)
The Minister for Home Security cannot but feel gratification at the reception of this Bill. There have been criticisms, it is true, but they were not directed to the central principle of the Bill. Every speaker has welcomed its central principle. There have been two major criticisms directed against the Measure. The first concerned, what is not in it—some matters about fire-watching which could not be dealt with in this Bill. The second major criticism was that the Bill was belated, that though it was all right, it was too late. I am not so sure about that. The point has been made that my right hon. Friend and, to a lesser extent, the Secretary of State for Scotland could have minimised some of the blitzes which have taken place if this Bill had been in existence. I beg the Noble Lady not to believe it.
§ Mr. Johnston
I listened with patience to the Noble Lady, and I beg her to listen to what we have to say in reply, the more so as we are greatly handicapped by security reasons in presenting our case for this Bill. Some hon. Members, including the Noble Lady, have rather overstepped the bounds of discretion, in my view. They took risks by specifying places, towns and incidents which might conceivably lead to further attacks there. Therefore, I must begin by saying that we are handicapped in specifying some of the outstanding reasons why this Bill has been introduced. The Noble Lady said the Bill was belated. I had one experience of severe incendiary bombing. If this Bill had been in existence, it would not have made twopence difference. On the first night of that bombing a lucky, or an unlucky, bomb hit a junction of a water main, and on the second night we could not get sufficient pressure of water to deal with the conflagrations. All the national organisation in the world could not have prevented what took place then. Further, it is not only this country 1475 which has this problem. Only in this morning's papers we read of a German military leader, General Milch, pleading with the German people to line up in defence of German cities and towns against the terrible conflagrations which they are experiencing as a result of our air attacks. I endorse every word of what my right hon. Friend said about our local authorities. By and large, they have played their part splendidly. Many members of local authorities have died fighting these flames. Some of them have spent three days and three nights in giving service to the community by fighting flames. I yield to no one in my respect for the local authority system in this country, or in my determination to do everything I can to preserve local democracy against—I rather regret my hon. Friend's remark—the Gauleiter system.
§ Mr. Johnston
I know, but as I understood my hon. Friend, he seemed to say that when you have the Gauleiter system—
§ Mr. Lindsay
I must make this clear. Whenever anyone mentions the Regional Commissioners it is said, "You are talking about Gauleiters," whereas it is only a question of illustration.
§ Mr. Johnston
I want to say that there is a fundamental difference between us here. So long as and to the extent that we can preserve local democracy, I propose to do everything I can to preserve it as against the Gauleiter, however he is called or with whatever powers he is entrusted. But I agree, and this Bill is evidence of it, that circumstances arise when old shireval and parish boundaries no longer fit the situation, and the Government would have been foolish not to recognise that changes in the fire-fighting system had got to come, and at the earliest possible moment, consistently with carrying with us the almost unanimous consent of the local authorities, because that is vital.
§ Mr. Johnston
It is vital that we should get the general agreement of the people on the spot who know most about things. 1476 But the time has come when there should be a general user—not a national ownership—of all the fire appliances and plant in the country with the sole object of dealing for the duration of the war with this menace from the sky. What is the problem which we have to face? Could the existing personnel and equipment be sufficiently expanded in the vulnerable and potentially vulnerable areas to deal with this menace? To the extent that we can expand them, that will be done, but there are questions of buildings, fire stations and training of personnel which cannot be dealt with successfully within the limits of the mutual-aid scheme which has been the basis of our fire-fighting arrangements up to now. Someone said earlier in this discussion that little had been done; as a matter of fact, a great deal has been done. We have multiplied equipment and personnel 15 to 20 times. That is a remark-able result to have achieved since the outbreak of the war. Moreover, we had a mutual-aid scheme—we have it in existence now, under the operational direction of the Regional Commissioner, whereby plant, equipment and personnel in regions A, B, C and D would be drafted in, as speedily as may be, to the assistance of any part of the country. That system is not enough. It has been found insufficient. Repeated blitzing of large towns has shown that the mutual-aid scheme is tending to break down Therefore it is the duty of the Government to come forward with the most practical proposals they can devise, and, with the good will of practically all the local authorities in the country, men who know most about the subject and who are fighting fires, to go forward with the Bill which we have now before us.
The hon. Member for Springburn (Mrs. Hardie) and other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) asked me some specific questions about our arrangements in Scotland. We have not the same conditions to contend with there as our colleagues have in England. For example, in one-third of the counties, fire brigades are organised on a county basis. There is no similar or comparable organisation in England. We have some crofting counties which are exempted altogether from the operation of the Fire Brigades Act. We have geographical differences. We have one region; England is divided into a number 1477 of regions. Fortunately, we have not had the same experience of intensive blitzing that some English areas have had to endure. If the Bill is passed we propose in Scotland, for the period of the war, to set up what I may call a Fire Service Commission. That Commission will be representative of men of experience who have the good will of the local authorities in Scotland. The chairman, whom I have asked and who has accepted the post as chairman, is Mr. Bryce Walker, who, for 15 years, was clerk to the Lanark County Council and who is the Scottish representative on the Fire Service Commission. We propose, in addition, to have assessors to sit with the Commission. I cannot give their names here because I have not yet received their agreement, but they will be men of experience in fire-fighting.
§ Mr. Johnston
Yes, and they will have the confidence of the local authorities. One of the primary duties of this Fire Service Commission will be to consult with the local authorities.
§ Mr. Johnston
I do not want to be pressed as to the exact details to-day. It may be far better for them to continue supervising their present jobs as well. I do not want to be pushed into the precise details. The Fire Service Commission will consult with the burghs, cities and county councils. It will consult direct with the local authorities. That was the point on which the hon. Member for Springburn was exceedingly anxious. It will consult with the local authorities prior to the passage in this House of the Regulation which must be laid upon the Table in accordance with the Bill. In addition to that, the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will still be able to consult with the local authorities in any case in which cordial 1478 agreement has not been reached. Furthermore, we have already consulted with the associations representing all the local authorities in Scotland, and I do net think I am putting it too high to say that we have practically unanimous concurrence— with the exception of one doubtful authority— of all the small and medium size authorities.
§ Mr. Johnston
Among the big ones we have the concurrence of Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen. I do not want to get on to that track. Generally speaking, we have their concurrence. It will not be for any lack of good will on our part if agreement is not reached and the matter goes forward unanimously, to fight this menace from the skies. I can understand the annoyance of an efficient local authority, but I put it that they stand to gain most. It is the efficient local authorities, which with the best will in the world could not build up their fire brigades to fight this kind of blitz, which will, in the vulnerable and semi-vulnerable areas, have the organised assistance of all the other fire brigades in Scotland, so that for all practical purposes the areas which will gain most are those situated in what, for want of a better term, I might call the Clyde Basin.
How long will this Bill take to come into operation? With good will, it may operate at once. Why should it not? There is no time to be lost; my right hon. Friend, I know, has his arrangements pretty well in hand, as we have in Scotland, and all that we are asking from the House this afternoon is this enabling Bill to give us power to make Regulations which will have to be laid on the Table of the House. We have given an assurance that we will meet the local authorities and try to reach agreement with them. Some points that have been raised this afternoon are really all but irrelevant to the Bill. There is the question of pensions for instance; that raises very many vital questions about all Civil Defence organisations which cannot be treated here as a side-line. Then the hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison) raised a very important point about feeding arrangements for fire brigades when they are drafted from one area to another. There is only one solution for that, and that is the mobile 1479 canteen. You cannot possibly provide fixed restaurants in blitzed areas. They may in their turn be blitzed out of existence, and the only way in which we can feed these people successfully is by having power to send in not only equipment and personnel but also feeding facilities. We shall also have to see that when they get there there is an organising leader who can take command of all the various brigades, sent in to assist in putting out fires, because with the best will in the world there are always jealousies.
§ Mr. R. C. Morrison
The reason I raised that point was to stress my other point to the effect that in making executive appointments to this type of position it is essential to appoint people who have actually had experience. Proper arrangements could not be made by people who have only seen the fires or just read about them in the papers.
§ Mr. Johnston
I have no idea as to who will be the regional officers, but neither my right hon. Friend nor myself would willingly agree to the making of stupid appointments of persons who have had no previous experience of combating incendiarism, and whose only title would be that they had held some Army or Navy command. That, I think, is obvious. I would beg my hon. Friend and others to believe that our only purpose in bringing in this Bill is to combat fire, and that nothing would have induced us to take away any powers from the local authorities but sheer necessity. I therefore ask the House, on the ground of sheer necessity, to give my right hon. Friend and myself the powers asked for in this Bill. If we misuse them, if we fail to use them, we can be attacked in this House, but I can assure hon. Members that it is our intention first of all to get the co-operation and good will of the local authorities, and then to take every possible step in our power to see that the provisions of this Bill are used in the most effective way.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House — [Mr. Grimston.]
§ Further Proceeding postponed, pursuant to the Order of the House this Day.