HC Deb 17 November 1942 vol 385 cc200-3
Mr. Ridley

(by Private Notice) asked the Home Secretary whether he has any statement to make in regard to possible changes in the Fire Prevention Orders?

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

When I introduced compulsory Fire Guard duty for women I promised the House that I would carefully watch how the scheme worked and would not hesitate to make such changes as experience might show to be wise. The experience of the past weeks has not shaken my conviction of the necessity of applying compulsion to women; but it has satisfied me that certain modifications of the existing scheme should be adopted. I have accordingly decided on certain changes designed to ensure that the number of men not belonging to exempted' groups who do not perform full Fire Guard duty is reduced to the minimum and that the fullest possible measure of service is obtained from all. These changes have been decided upon in consultation with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland who will be responsible for carrying them into effect in Scotland. They may be summarised as follow:

  1. (1) A local authority will be empowered to enrol compulsorily for duty 201 in any part of its area men who work in that area, but do no Fire Prevention duty at their place of work, and live in another area to which compulsion has not been applied.
  2. (2) Instead of Fire Prevention duty being shared equally among all workers at business premises, the required number will be designated for the regular performance of 48 hours' duty per month at the premises and the remainder will be available for duty elsewhere in the area. There will also be safeguards against the regular employment of substitutes.
  3. (3) A local authority will in future be empowered to maintain a running registration so as to bring in regularly all who may change their address or status.
  4. (4) Women will not be liable for Fire Guard duties at business premises until all the available men are fully employed as Fire Guards. Any balance of duty then remaining will Be provided from the women workers.
  5. (5) I shall have power to prescribe particular business premises, or parts of them, or classes of premises, as unsuitable for the compulsory performance of Fire Prevention duty by women.
  6. (6) And lastly, by an enabling order I shall take power to prescribe as a "Special Area" any district which is judged to require a special scheme. Such scheme may include any one, or more, of the following provisions:—
    1. (a) Power to the local authority to enrol for duty, in any part of its area, men who work in that area but do no Fire Guard duty at the place where they work, even if they live in another area to which compulsion has been applied.
    2. (b) Power to the local authority to enrol all men, or if necessary all men and women, who work in its area and to post them to any part of it, with power reserved to myself to take certain premises out of the Business Premises Order so that their manpower may be distributed to the best advantage over the whole area.
    3. (c) Power to myself to prescribe areas in which women will be exempted from compulsory duty in 202 business premises, but not from duty in the residential areas where they live even if within the prescribed area.
These proposed changes, and other provisions still in force, will be embodied in consolidated Orders, with an accompanying explanatory memorandum as soon as possible. I believe that their effect will be to simplify considerably the administration of Fire Prevention by the local authorities and other appropriate authorities, as well as to provide for this intricate and difficult problem a just and reasonable solution.

I have consulted the National Advisory Council for Fire Prevention, who concur. I am grateful to that body for its helpful advice and co-operation in this matter.

Mr. Ridley

Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that in his view the announcement he has just made will have the effect of limiting the traffic on what is commonly called, and scandalously know as, the "funk express"?

Mr. Morrison

That train has now been derailed.

Mr. Simmonds

Could the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that in business premises where there is an insufficient number of male employees it will be competent for the management to call upon the local authority to provide the necessary quota from the local pool before the female employees of that establishment are called upon?

Mr. Morrison

I will give consideration to that point, but there are arguments as to the bringing-in of women at that stage.

Mr. Kirby

May I ask whether my right hon. Friend is prepared to make a rule that employers living in one place and getting their living in another should be subject to the same conditions as will apply to the workers?

Mr. Morrison

There is no distinction between employers and workpeople in this matter.

Sir H. Williams

Why is the right hon. Gentleman applying compulsion only to those persons who are already doing a full day's work and exempting these who have no income-earning employment?

Mr. Morrison

They are not exempt if they live in an area to which the Business Premises Order applies, and they will be liable for local authority or other service.

Sir H. Williams

Does that apply to women?

Mr. Morrison

Yes, Sir; if the hon. Gentleman examines my answer, I think he will find that aspect covered.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

May I take it that where these conditions apply to Scotland the Secretary of State for Scotland will take power to prescribe whatever the right hon. Gentleman himself can prescribe?

Mr. Morrison

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will have exactly the same powers as I have. He will be entirely responsible for administration in Scotland.

Mr. Granville

While I welcome the statement which the right hon. Gentleman has made to-day, can he say why it is that an almost exact replica of it appeared in the week-end Press, and can he say whether it came from his public relations or Press department?

Mr. Morrison

Wishing to be helpful, we give the Press a little guidance now and again, and, moreover, I wanted employers to know that something was moving, because it was a matter of convenience to industrialists throughout the country that they should know in good time that some modification was coming about. As the hon. Gentleman has noticed, however, I have saved the explicit statement, quite rightly, for the House.

Mr. Mack

Will my right hon. Friend see that in blitzed areas and in cities like Liverpool, where there are docks and warehouses, the fire guarding should be done exclusively by men and that women should not be called upon to serve in locations of that character?

Mr. Morrison

It will be possible to give consideration to that point.

Sir Edmund Brocklebank

May I tell the right hon. Gentleman that the Liverpool authorities will be grateful to him for the new arrangements he has announced?

Mr. Morrison

Anything that is conducive to sweetness and to light in the city of Liverpool will have my approval.