Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a further sum, not exceeding £50, he granted to His Majesty, towards defraying the charges for the following services connected with Civil Defence and the National Fire Service, for the year ending on the 3rst day of March, 1944, namely:
|Class X., Vote 7, Ministry of Home Security||10|
|Class III., Vote 1, Home Office||10|
|Class X., Vote 19, Scottish Home Department (War Services)||10|
|Class X., Vote 6, Ministry of Health (War Services)||10|
|Class X., Vote 18, Department of Health for Scotland (War Services)||10|
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Home Security (Miss Wilkinson)
This is the first general Debate on Civil Defence since the blitzes ended in 1941. We had a Debate last year, but it was a Debate that dealt only with a very specific point, the financial obligations of local authorities in London. Therefore when a body of opinion asked us to have this Debate to-day we felt that perhaps the House would like it if we reviewed the whole situation of Civil Defence at this stage. Of course, the position now is that our air raids on Germany are so terrible that they stretch German Civil Defence forces to the utmost, that the position has now arrived when either Germany must hit back at us or else confess to the world that Bomber Command can make rubble of their vital industries while they are helpless to do more than defend themselves, The Germans know as well as we do the effect such a confession would have on their own home morale, and so we have the vicious threats in the German Press. I have a number of quotations here, but I will only quote one of them, which is by a well-known German air commentator. He says:
1644Preparations for a counter air attack are already far advanced and are intended to take the enemy by surprise, so that not even hints can be given regarding the new methods which will be used.It may be said, "You cannot take these threats seriously." Unfortunately so many of us have not taken German threats seriously, but it is surprising how many have been carried out. But even if we regard these threats as made only for home consumption, it still remains true—and I would like to underline this—that if he is willing to pay the price, Hitler can still stage a -very nasty raid if he wishes to do so. As I say, the price will be high. But the question therefore does arise, What is the amount of insurance that we should carry against both the possibility and the probability of the Nazis carrying out their threat?
Insurance as regards Civil Defence general services was highest in 1941, though since then the insurance against fire has become still higher. But now that the country as a whole has swung from the defensive to the offensive our problem at the Ministry of Home Security has been to decide, I will not say what is the margin of safety, but what is the highest risk we dare run in order to release man—and woman-power for the offensive, and what is the standard of efficiency we can maintain. You have to balance that, and in balancing that I would like to tell the Committee what we have done to meet the situation, because the House has been very kind on this matter. Members have said, "Do you not think that you are having a bit of over-insurance; do you not think you are absorbing too much man-power?" Therefore I would like the Committee to look at what we have done on this problem with regard to Civil Defence services.
On our whole-time personnel we have cut our establishment by one-third in the past 12 months, and that does not include substantial earlier cuts of whole-timers in the London region. We are now about to make further cuts, though we cannot cut any further in what are regarded as the specially vulnerable areas. We reckon that this will amount to a further 12½ per cent. cut in the already reduced strength of the Civil Defence general services. Every whole-timer released is replaced by about three part-timers. That is to make up the rotas, and we secure these recruits by the powers of direction 1645 of the Ministry of Labour. But, of course, a large influx of new recruits, especially part-timers, does involve a strain upon the training facilities of the local authorities. Despite these difficulties, a pretty high standard has been maintained.
In addition, this work does involve some hardship, even a great deal of hardship, to the part-timers themselves. I sometimes get a little worried about the amount of things our people are expected to do. We are cutting and cutting into their leisure, and human beings must have some leisure and some recreation other than just sleep. I want to assure the Committee that we do not deal with our part-timers in a hard, bureaucratic fashion, that we do sympathise with and try to understand their difficulties. For example, we are reducing as far as we possibly can any unnecessary manning of posts and depots, and we are making it clear that except in specially vulnerable areas personnel need not sleep at their posts if they are readily available on the alert. Then we have given instructions that duty rotas are to be drawn up with suitable reference to the household and industrial circumstances of individuals. We are setting our face at the Ministry against, "You shall do this, and you shall not do that" for our part-timers. You get much better service in every way if the people who are in control will say, "Can we do anything to help, provided that we can keep our posts manned?" I hope that if Members come across any ultra-rigidity, they will let me know, because it will be inquired into at once.
We have now got rather more than in part-timers to one whole-timer, and I want to emphasise, in saying that, that every one of these part-timers is doing some other job, and further requisitions on a large scale will not be needed when present requirements are met. We had also to see how we could use our personnel to the best advantage, and we began a system of interchangeability between the Services, and training our people to do different jobs. This reduces the demand on the man-power and the vehicles, and it gives operational efficiency.
Then we had to see what our whole-time personnel could do to help the war effort in their stand-by periods, because however we cut we must have that core 1646 of full-time personnel. But what could they do in their stand-by time? It is remarkable how much they are doing. They are of course helping in the clearance of debris and in salvage work, and they have a great deal of such work, but they are also helping in harvesting when necessary. The women have done a great deal of clerical work for local authorities. They have written out millions of ration cards. Somebody had to do that job, and we all know that our local authorities' staff are simply cut to the bone—indeed, I sometimes think we have cut even into the bone. The amount of help that Civil Defence workers have been able to give in that clerical work has been, as I say, remarkable. The women also assist in clay nurseries and in maternity and child welfare clinics, and in every way that we can make use of them our whole-timers are making a useful contribution to the war effort outside their own sphere. If these whole-time Civil Defence workers were withdrawn from all the various forms of work which they are now doing for the local authorities, the local authorities would be hard put to it to replace them.
We are out to find still further methods of saving man-power, because we all realise that what I may call the man-using Departments are under continual pressure from the Minister of Defence—now we are glad to think also the Minister of Offence—to have released to him as much man-power as possible. Therefore, we have now a system of Regional Columns. These are highly-trained reinforcements, kept in certain areas from which they can go on the roads quickly and reach whatever town has been blitzed in the shortest possible time. They are manned by personnel transferred from local authorities, either full-time or in rotation—most of them in rotation—and the personnel live in hostels. These mobile columns constitute a very good training for local authority services. We average about three mobile columns per region. Their training is most intensive, and their primary purpose is operational. They are kept in reserve in case of a raid.
Another way of saving personnel is to train as well as possible those whom you have already got in the service. People 1647 who are just slopping around, who are just present bodily at a place, soon get bored stiff and are not much use in any case, whereas if they are trained they become interested. Our training for Civil Defence Service—I will say something later on about the Fire Service—is a part of the Ministry's work of which we are very proud. We have a special training department under the Inspector-General, and we have two national schools for every kind of Civil Defence work, dealing with such things as anti-gas measures, defence against high explosives and so forth. We have trained not only our own people but people from all parts of the British Empire, and we are running courses now for Allied nationals. The total number of instructors trained in these two schools now amounts to nearly 14,000. In 1942, we opened our Civil Defence Staff College. This is doing extraordinarily good work. It is not only training Civil Defence personnel, but it is providing separate and special courses for controllers, A.R.P. officers, borough engineers, and medical officers of health. We have also courses for chief constables and all sorts of people helping us. We have also regional schools where we can give the largest amount of help possible to the people who are working in the regions.
I would like here to pay a tribute to the work of the local authorities in training their own instructors. Wherever I go, on whatever sort of job I am engaged, the local authority always wants me to go and see its training school, usually a large abandoned house in some part of the district. I was looking over one on Sunday last at Oldham. There, the school has been built up by the men themselves, who have shown the most tremendous interest in it. The men themselves drew the charts and worked the whole thing out, planning and laying out in the grounds a miniature blitzed area. They really did have a hard time while they were doing it, but that illustrates the sort of thing we are trying to do in order to make our training interesting and also practical. We have 30,000 instructors now engaged in giving technical training to fire guards in stirrup pump drill. On the whole, by the amount of training that we have done and the issue of regular bulletins, with up-to-date information, we are making 1648 our force, which necessarily is being decreased in the numbers of its whole-time personnel and which also, both in its whole-time and part-time personnel, is bound to have been increased in age—I think, I say, we are making a pretty good force of it. We are giving a lot of rather elderly gentlemen who would otherwise be just moving around, with nobody wanting them, an opportunity of making themselves useful. Some of our very best work is actually being done by men who previously thought that their lives were over but now find that they are only beginning.
That is as regards the Civil Defence service. But the experience of all raids, including our own photographs of what we are doing in Germany, shows that the biggest single problem while a raid is actually in progress is the problem of fire. Our photographs from Germany show that the danger is not only the fire that breaks out while the raid is actually in progress. It is the insignificant little bombs which get lodged in gutters, or in the bits of phosphorous which become dried, and then, long after people think that the trouble is all over, start fires going once again. We say, "How splendid" when we see the result of this in photographs of German raid targets, and realise that fires are often burning five days after a raid. But it is not so fine when it is your own case, and that is why we have placed so much emphasis on the question of dealing with fire and on the size of the fires. Curiously enough, fire is the danger against which precautions can be taken which give the best return. After all, you cannot argue with a high explosive bomb. It goes off, and that is that. But you can argue with fire. You can argue with it by means of water, by sand, foam, human skill, and methyl bromide. There are all sorts of arguments; and you can get a fire under control.
It is not quite true, as we sometimes say in our training lectures, that every big fire begins as a little one. Places like oil depots or big stores or flour mills or a post office may be in a blaze in just no time at all, and, td course, such a fire needs the N.F.S. and the whole fire organisation to deal with it. But if there are sufficient keen eyes and willing hands, a small fire can be dealt 1649 with even in the middle of a big incendiary raid. We have had several examples of this. I give only one. The fire guard of one of our South Western coast towns had a very sharp incendiary raid, in which some 3,000 bombs fell and 20 fires were started. The N.F.S. were called to only two out of all those fires, the others being dealt with by the fire guard with stirrup pumps. Thus it is proved that an efficient fire guard may save whole blocks. We have had a very big problem in getting an efficient fire guard system, and I know there have been a great many criticisms both from Members of Parliament and also in the Press. But I do ask the Committee to look at the size of the problem with which we have to deal. No part of bur country is safe from incendiary attack; and one Focke-Wulf, with its 250-kilo fire bomb, can start a devastating fire. Therefore, if we do not want to lose valuable stores and valuable lives, we have had to provide fire guards for every factory, for every business premises, and practically in every street in all areas which could be considered worth bombing.
People used to ask me—they have not been doing so lately why we did not have a whole—time adult male fire guard. The answer is that if we had even tried to do that, industry would have come to a standstill. But the fire guard has taken as its motto "Britain shall not burn," and it is really doing a very fine job. We have not got exact statistics, because we try not to ask over-burdened local authorities and their unfortunate Town Clerks for any more statistics than are absolutely necessary, but we find that there are now about 5,000,000 fire guards. I want to pay my tribute to those thousands of fire guards who volunteered in the blitz of 1940–41 and who saved so much; but how much could have been saved if we had had a fully-trained fire guard in those months. I often say that by the time we have finished this war, we shall be thoroughly well trained to run a good war. But we have had to learn as we have gone along.
We have had to apply compulsion to get the numbers we need. I want to say this for the British people it needed no compulsion to get the guards for the streets. Men and women turned out and fought the fires in their own streets magnificently. It needed only a little 1650 persuasion to make them see that they must train as well as fight. But important stores, which are so valuable in this island country, and the factories, which are so desperately needed for the war effort, had to be protected too; so we had to resort to compulsion. The Government had laid it down right from the beginning that if men or women were doing 48 hours a month in Civil Defence or any other kind of voluntary duty they had done all that could be expected of them. So not all of the men were available. Men were in the Home Guard or in the Royal Observer Corps or Civil Defence, and many were on very long hours in the factories. Those were exempt, and I do not think there can be any complaint that we exempted them. But loopholes developed which caused discontent.
May I say, in passing, seeing that there has been such a lot of fuss about it, that when I spoke about the fire guard needing a shake-up, I was alluding to the large numbers of men who are managing to get through existing loopholes. I am sure I have the whole of the fire guard opinion behind me when I say that those loopholes should be closed and that those who are avoiding doing their job—perhaps partly through our fault—ought to be made to do it. The order for compulsion was made when London and 12 of our big cities were burning. You could not argue with anybody at that time. It was a case of "All hands to the pump, and get things out." But later the Minister formed a National Advisory Council on Fire Prevention consisting of representatives of the Trades Union Congress and the employers' organisations. It is not a Council which has any sort of Press value; it is a very quiet, hard-working Council; but I would pay my tribute, and that of the Home Secretary, to its hearty co-operation, patriotic spirit, and very wise advice. But it could only be advice, because the Minister must be finally responsible for decisions. The Council has been valuable, and we have consulted it at every point.
In 1942 we had to extend the compulsion to the women. It is very interesting that there were no protests from the women themselves and the women's organisations against women having to do the job. Their protest was against the use of women in certain target areas and the number of men who were exempt.. I hope that the Committee will forgive this bit 1651 of history. I give it to meet letters which Members of Parliament have sent me and Press criticism. The Minister gave a pledge to the women and to the large number of men who interested themselves in the matter that women other than volunteers would not be used as fire guards until all the available men were taking their share. Then we had to work out what that meant. It meant that we had to overhaul the existing order. First, we had to see how many of the men who were getting exemption really needed it, how many men were really dodging the column. We had to overhaul the machinery for medical exemption, and to consider whether the organisation of the fire guard, which had been hastily improvised under blitz conditions, could be improved to make the most economical use of personnel and to give relief to people who needed it. For instance, women with small children are exempt, but there is always the problem of the woman with housework, and so on. We had to do two big pieces of work: to have reconsideration and consolidation of the fire guard orders and, what was more difficult, of the Regulations upon which they were based, and then we had to have a new Fire Guard Plan, to economise in man-power.
People said, "Why has it taken such a long time; could you not just issue these Orders piecemeal?" The answer is, "No." The one thing this House has protested against is having a whole lot of fiddling orders: you do not know where they are to fit in, and what they are to alter. People said, "Why cannot we have a code? Then we shall know where we are." That is why we do not want to dribble the Orders out. But there was need for consultation at every stage; consultation with the National Fire Prevention Committee and also with a number of other organisations, and with other Government Departments. All the Departments which are themselves appropriate authorities come together in what is known as the National Fire Prevention Operational Committee, of which I am Chairman, and there we work out how these Orders will effect such Departments, the Ministry of Aircraft Production, and all the rest of them. Then we had to work out what we wanted to alter and how we wanted to alter, and decide what our new Fire Guard Plan was going to be. We 1652 had to decide on the Plan first, and then it had to be checked and tested in large-scale exercises. That Plan was promised at the beginning of December. It was in the hands of local authorities in February. The Minister of Home Security has been accused of delay in the issuing of the Orders, but, considering the complications of the matter and in view of the different interests involved, I can honestly say that I marvel at the speed with which the Department and our officers have worked. It was necessary all the time to test the Plan first, before we could decide on the Regulations and the amendments. As I say, the Plan was out in February, and it is being introduced all over the country; but it is not a Plan which you can just put on to people. People have to be trained in operating the Plan before we can make the necessary link-up with the National Fire Service and so say that it is in operation.
As regards the Regulations and Orders, I am very glad to say, looking at the past, that the Regulations have now been approved by the King in Council. That happened this morning, and so that makes the whole of the jigsaw puzzle fit into place. These new Regulations supersede Regulation 26A, Regulation 27A and Regulation 27B. Regulation 26A relates to the compulsory enrolment of fire guards by the local authority, Regulation 27A relates to fire guard arrangements at business and Government premises, and Regulation 27B governs the establishment of fire guard organisations by local authorities. Under these Regulations three Orders will be made. The Committee will be relieved to know that they are in an advanced stage of completion and will be ready almost immediately. We shall have the Fire Guard (Business and Government Premises) Order, the Fire Guard (Local Authority Services) Order and the Fire Guard (Medical and Hardship Exemption) Order. I will comfort the Committee at once by assuring them that none of these Regulations and Orders will impose any new obligation. In fact, most of them will relax existing obligations and will make concessions. I do not think that the Committee will expect me at this stage to give details of these Regulations and Orders. They have only happened this morning, and they 1653 will be the subject of a full statement to the House of Commons by the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke)
Ought we not to have an explanation of them? Could not the Regulations about which the Parliamentary Secretary is speaking have been got ready for this Debate in order that we could have given them consideration?
§ Miss Wilkinson
I say frankly that I wish that this Debate could have been postponed until we had them before us, but that is not in our hands. We were not really sure, when this Debate was fixed, that these Regulations would be out this morning. We have to go through a complicated machinery. We were able to get them out this morning, but I do not want the Committee to think—it would be unfortunate if they did—that we rushed them through merely in order to say to the Committee to-day that they were through. They had to go through to-day, and we could not approach the people who had asked for the Debate and ask them to postpone it. We could not honestly say to the National Liberals, who had asked for the Debate, that we could give a firm promise that they would be through. All this work depends upon so much other work that is going through the same machinery. What is this Fire Guard Plan? I will not go into it in detail, but briefly it is to provide a comprehensive fire cover with the latest technique working with the N.F.S., and to do this effectively it had in most cases to form a separate service from the wardens' service. Many hon. Members have written to me about that and asked whether it was really necessary to have a separate fire guard; was it not much better to leave it as it was, combined with the wardens' service? But to have a special service does not imply in any way any criticism of the wardens. No body of men and women deserve more from their country than our wardens, and, honestly, it would not have been possible to have had the fire guards that we have if it had not been for the devoted work of the wardens in training them so far. But, having said that, I also have to remind the Committee that now we are placing more and more burdens upon our wardens' service. 1654 We have now to ask them to do more and more things, and at the same time fire guarding, fire fighting, is becoming a separate technique in itself, for which we are having to ask our people to take a lot of training. Also another point is that our fire guards do form a reservoir of people, both voluntary and conscript, who are not available to the wardens. Although the wardens complained at the time, I can now say for most of the country that, when they have worked out what the Fire Guard Plan means, the wardens are among some of its most enthusiastic supporters.
Concurrently with the coming into operation of the Plan, Members will be glad to know that we shall be able to provide more powerful equipment for the fire guard. We have already started on the issue of light trailer pumps. We are now providing power-driven wheelbarrow pumps as they come into supply, and also we are providing, what was badly needed, reserve static water supplies for the fire guards. Therefore our Fire Guard Plan will secure, firstly, that fires that fire guards can tackle are left to fire guards, so that we do not have elaborate. appliances putting out small fires, and when National Fire Service appliances are called for they will be called for on a sound basis of the fire situation. Each block is being divided into sectors of the fire station area. We also want to make it possible for National Fire Service big appliances to be released as early as possible from the site of a fire and so made available for use elsewhere. So that the first line of the fire guard will be used as economically as possible to do all the jobs they can do and so release the National Fire Service.
Now we come to the National Fire Service itself. I do not need to give the Committee the history of the National Fire Service. In its early stages it was as much the subject of criticism and even more of controversy than the fire guard is at present. But I think I can say now, speaking for all of us, that the country is really proud of its National Fire Service. On 18th August of this year it will celebrate its second birthday, and yet it has already become a national institution. I want to consider what has been done in those two years under the conditions of the fiercest competition for man-power, when it has been drained again and again 1655 of its youngest and keenest and hardiest officers because we have had to release them for the Forces.
We have now 42 fire forces, replacing 1,451 local brigades. These fire forces are divided into divisions, so that in the congested areas the division is small and in the rural areas very large. The administrative problems themselves have been enormous, both in the selection of officers and in the organisation of men and training them on new lines. We have a training staff college, which is called the National Fire Service College. It was opened on 29th September, 1941, and up to to-day nearly 6,000 students have attended courses, of whom 1,300 are women. We have reason also to be grateful to the War Office, which has helped us, with a minimum of red tape and a maximum of generosity, in the selection of officers. We have been very interested in the new—and I emphasise the word "new"—War Office methods of selecting officers, and the N.F.S. men who have been through the test say they are both fair and effective. We have schools for male personnel which train men in all the branches of fire fighting work, and these schools have really been the greatest factor in producing an efficient service.
I would like to say that the women are playing an ever-increasing and more important part in the National Fire Service, a uniformed and disciplined service. They are now extensively used as mobilising officers. I think with some amusement and pleasure of the good old type of fire guard officer who thought that the woman's job was to make a cup of tea when the men were coming off fire guard. They have had to face up to the fact that they can use women as mobilising officers, that is, working in control rooms with these huge boards in order to deal with all calls for appliances, get the right number and correct type of appliances to fires, and actually to make decisions, on which life may often depend, such as which fires take priority. A lot of that highly skilled priority work is now done by women. I am glad to say that some of the "old sweats" of the fire brigade are the most enthusiastic supporters and helpers of our women mobilising officers. We have women's schools in order to train them to the best advantage. I 1656 want to emphasise the training, because unless you have people trained to do this they are not any good. Our part-timers are among the most enthusiastic of our trainees. We have five Regional schools and 32 fire force schools for women, besides a number in the areas. I am glad to say that it was the head of the National Fire Service who sent me this sentence:To-day the trained firewoman is as valuable to the National Fire Service as the trained fireman.When I looked at that sentence I said "No." I altered it to read:To-day the trained firewoman is as valuable in her work to the National Fire Service as the trained fireman is in his.I must confess that when my house was on fire the sight of a few hefty males was a great assurance and comfort. Our women are helping in mobilising and reinforcing the men. They go with the men and attack fires on the spot and fill up the gaps which the rush of work causes. They have been showing their efficiency in some of the recent raids.
Our firemen are not only good, trained firemen, but they said that they wanted to use their spare time in order to help the war effort by doing other productive war work. It is good that that suggestion did not come from us but from the firemen themselves. It is always much better, when people want extra work to do, that they should ask for it instead of having it put upon them. Our whole-time N.F.S. are contributing in many ways to the war effort and to productive work. We have a system of both long and short-term releases to industry, although we cannot do much with regard to long-term releases because we need the men. The N.F.S. themselves undertake a very important programme of home work on stations and static water and public lighting and so on. Then there is the emergency work done by members of the Service as such. They go out in groups, for example, to give assistance to agriculture in rural areas by helping harvesting and so on. Then, almost as important as, though not more important than, the work they have done on the' stations and static water, which is the main job, they have done a great deal of productive work at the stations. I am very anxious to extend this work, but there are certain limitations which are 1657 imposed by the nature of the job. You must have work available that can be done in small parcels with a small amount of machinery, and also we must have suitable premises, but I am glad to say that up to the end of May over £20,000 worth of work had been done in the London area alone, and that work is increasing. This kind of work is the making of toys, hammocks, sea-boot stockings, camouflage netting, Sten-gun springs and all sorts of small ammunition parts. I am sure we can all say that the N.F.S. are doing a very good job, both in their own work and in the assistance which they give to industry.
I have been able to deal with only three aspects of the Ministry of Home Security. There are many others. There is the shelter problem, once so highly controversial. Our new ideas have been justified; the indoor table shelters have stood up to every kind of test and have saved a lot of lives, and now we have deep tube shelters in London, ready if they are needed. Then there is the system of air raid warning. A new system is being brought into use which I cannot tell hon. Members one word about, because that would be presenting information to the Germans. I can only say that it will be a vastly improved system of warning. Then we have the problem of lighting. The Department are doing good work for the railways. We have a system of relaxation, under control, of lighting in marshalling yards and in industry in order to save men's eyes as much as possible and, indeed, to save their lives. It is no joke doing shunting work in a marshalling yard, under complicated conditions. Again, I cannot tell hon. Members anything about it, but I can say that in close collaboration between trade unions and employers a great deal of work has been done.
The problem of gas is difficult. People are inclined to dismiss it too easily, but it is always there as a possible problem, and, therefore, we have had to keep our protection on hand. We are having continual inspections by wardens and through the schools, and the W.V.S. housewives' service is an essential part of our work. The W.V.S. has done a first-class piece of work. I cannot speak too long about welfare work. There has been a great deal of it both in the Civil Defence and the National Fire Service, who started the idea of discussion groups, which have gone like 1658 wildfire. But on the Civil Defence side we felt that they needed some lectures before they started discussions, and in close connection with the Workers' Education Association we worked out an educational scheme for our defence services and help the N.F.S. I hope it will not be held against me for the future, but I would like to say a kind word about the Treasury, because, poor things, they do not get many kind words.
§ Miss Wilkinson
We started a Civil Defence Comforts Fund in order to provide "woollies" for our men and women on blitz work. When the period ended for which these garments were needed we wanted to do educational work, but we suddenly discovered that education was not regarded as a comfort. Finally, however, the Treasury officials were persuaded to allow us to regard education as a comfort, and, therefore, we were able to do a good deal of this work through our Civil Defence Comforts Fund. The Treasury also pays the cost of outdoor equipment for games such as football and cricket, and I think that on this occasion we can offer them a kind word.
That is the end of the story as I can tell it. It is a story of civilians at war, a story of a vast army of volunteers putting in time on top of the other very heavy work they are doing for the war effort. I have worked with these men and women, yes, and boys and girls too, on roofs when bombs were falling in London, and on the streets. But it is not when a blitz is on that the testing time comes, for then every nerve is taut and one gets strength from the sub-consciousness of our race, which is determined to see this thing through. The real testing time of the individual comes in the long lull periods when there have been weeks and months with nothing to do but train and train and be ready. I think it says a great deal for our people that they have come through that difficult testing time of months of boredom to help whenever they could with any kind of job. I think we can say that Britain should be proud of its fourth arm—the army of Civil Defence.
§ Mr. Bernays (Bristol, North)
I am sure the whole Committee will be glad to see the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Sec- 1659 retary back at that Box in such splendid fighting form. If something of what I may say, especially about fire guards, brings her down to earth again with a bump, it will be no new experience for her, but it will, I hope, be less painful. With the tribute that she paid in her closing words to the Civil Defence forces, I would like to associate myself. I wonder whether at some appropriate time it would not be right and proper for both Houses of Parliament formally to record their thanks to the Civil Defence forces for their share in the Battle of Britain. They fought and won the battle of the streets; it was a battle no less vital than the battle of the air. I am sure we are all very grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister—whose absence now I entirely understand and who, I believe, will later reply to this Debate—for the production of the admirable book, "Front Line," which, in so vivid and moving a way, describes what was done by our Civil Defence forces.
My hon. Friends and I asked for this discussion on this Vote because we thought the time was overdue for a general review of Civil Defence problems. "Civil Defence" is really a misnomer; it is a branch of war, a branch that is a novel one and, therefore, one that I believe should be subjected to continuous review and examination, not merely from the point of view of strategy, but also from that of tactics. I had the privilege for two years of being a Deputy Regional Commissioner, and I was able to see at close quarters the battle in the Southern Region. What was the problem we had to face then? I remember in those days in the control room, night after night, watching a map of Great Britain and seeing it covered all over with red and purple discs. Then, as dawn began to approach, those discs began to disappear. The battle was coming to an end, and we were left to assess the damage and prepare for the next night. All England lay open to the attack. We had no idea where the blow would fall; we had to be strong at all points. The Civil Defence Committee of the Cabinet was, I understand, meeting every day, sometimes twice a day. It was a very grave situation. That situation, I suggest, is now radically changed. It is no longer necessary for us—and this is the argument I want to address to the Committee—to be strong at all points. There are now, as there were not before, front 1660 line regions and back areas. The front line regions are the coastal regions of the East and South. The rest of the country is to a great extent now behind the lines.
Is that change likely to be permanent? I believe it will be so, for these reasons. The enemy is no longer relying on long-range bombers. Rather is he relying on short-range fighter bombers, and that, I suggest, means localised attacks. There is some evidence that he is switching his production from long-range bombers to short-range fighter bombers, and with the havoc on the Ruhr it is unlikely, I think, that he will be able to switch back again should he so desire. Further, when the invasion comes on the Continent it will be on our ports, on our bases, that the enemy is bound to concentrate all his attention, and that means a further intensification of the localised attack. If this diagnosis is correct, then I suggest that it is a matter for consideration that there should be a radical alteration in the disposition and deployment of the Civil Defence forces. We have heard from the hon. Lady to-day of extensive cuts, amounting to a cut of one-third, but this, I understand, is a block cut, spread over the whole of England and Scotland. I would not for a moment suggest a single further cut in what I have called the front line regions, but it is a matter for consideration that there is still room for a reduction in what I have called the back areas. The hon. Lady mentioned a figure of 12½ per cent. over some areas of the country, but I wonder whether that cut is really sufficient. The war situation has been revolutionised. Cuts take a long time to put into operation, and the cuts the hon. Lady has mentioned to-day were, I imagine, decided some months ago, when the situation was very different from what it-is now. They may well have been made at the time of the Battle of El Alamein. Now that Cape Bon has been captured the whole position is altered. To the 2,000 miles of Western frontier which Germany has had to guard there is now added the 2,000 miles of the Southern frontier.
Germany is stretched to-day in a way that she has never been stretched before. I should like to ask if this new situation has been taken sufficiently into account. We want a new assessment of the regions in terms of their vulnerability. For the purposes of labour and materials the 1661 regions are divided into A, B and C areas, in terms of vulnerability. I suggest that what applies now to areas within the regions should apply to the regions themselves. They should be considered on the basis of vulnerability as A, B and C regions. This new degree of vulnerability should be the governing influence in all our allocations. There are areas which have been prescribed for compulsory fire guard which seem to me to be out of date. Many of them are in rural districts. It was quite right at the time that they should be prescribed, because there was imminent danger of invasion, but now that danger has enormously diminished, and I think these prescribed areas should be revised. After all, fire watching is a burdensome occupation, particularly on those who are engaged in the hard-driven factories. It is also extremely costly. No estimate has been given of what the fire guard costs. I would call attention 10 the Sixth Report of the Select Committee on National Expenditure, issued on 15th April, which makes some serious animadversions on this position. It says:No estimate was prepared in 1941, when the agreement was made, either of the cost to the Exchequer of a universal payment of 3s. or the additional indirect cost of the excess payments. Your Committee have made repeated attempts to obtain evidence from the Departments on this important point, but they have always been met with an admission of complete ignorance. No record of cost is kept by the Departments who are responsible for approving the various schemes. No statistics are available even at the Board of Inland Revenue, although inspectors of this Department have to examine these payments when the taxation returns of the firms concerned are agreed.That is a very unsatisfactory position, and we ought to explore further into it. Are we really getting full value from this immense expenditure on fire guard all over the country? I am informed that the insurance companies are getting rather concerned at the increase of claims owing to the increase in the number of fires. The hon. Lady herself the other day talked about dropping cigarettes and nagging husbands, and it seems that there is a danger that some of these fire watchers will themselves become unconscious incendiaries. Ought we to continue making it compulsory la areas where the risks are so remote as to be almost negligible? Take the question of labour and materials. In the Southern region there was a very limited amount available, but it was spread over all the 1662 region. Is there any attempt to concentrate this very limited amount of labour and materials on what I call the front line regions, particularly in the matter of shelter for schools, which I think very important? Is there scope for further' reduction in personnel in the back areas? The great trouble in the old days used to be transport and communications. I wonder whether there cannot be a greater development of the mobile column in the back areas. I wish, too, that the right hon. Gentleman would have a look at the administrative staffs of the Fire Service. We all have some evidence that they are still staffed by young men, and I hope that will be re-examined.
But in the matter of personnel I am particularly concerned with the staffs of the Regional Commissioners' offices. I think it well to recall the root system for the establishment of the Regional Commissioner system. It was established by the Lord President of the Council, to whom we owe such an enormous debt in the matter of Civil Defence. It was established with a view to preparing for a decentralisation so extreme that regions could operate on their own if they were cut off from London. Happily that eventuality has never arisen, and it is exceedingly unlikely now that it will arise, yet these staffs have increased since 1940, and we did not hear from the hon. Lady that there was any attempt now to reduce them. [Interruption.] I know it has vastly increased in paper work. We all know about paper work in the Army, but it is very heavy in Civil Defence. Of course, there is plenty for them to do. The Home Office sees that there is plenty for them to do by deluging them with circulars. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will do what he can to reduce the number of circulars that pour into these offices. I heard the other day of a circular which had been sent with regard to the fire guard which ran into upwards of 70 paragraphs. I hope the Ministry of Home Security will really tackle this problem of paper work. Grouped round these Regional Commissioners' offices are a host of satellite offices—Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Food, Ministry of Health, Office of Works, Department of Petroleum, Ministry of Aircraft Production and Ministry of Supply. Members who have 1663 visited the regions on these meetings called by the Regional Commissioners will know the formidable array of civil servants with which they are faced, and behind those civil servants are great staffs.
Can we afford this continued locking-up of trained personnel in the regions? There is a shortage to-day not merely of man hours but of brains, and there is obviously a shortage here, in the centre of government, of trained civil servants. I do not want to be dogmatic about this, but I suggest that the whole Regional Commissioner system now needs overhaul. I thought so 18 months ago, and, in spite of the most friendly relations with the Minister of Home Security, I decided to resign and join the Army. I felt that the need for this elaborate machine was diminishing, and my view has been reinforced by the course of the war. It may be argued that what I am advocating is the taking of more risks in the matter of Civil Defence. The right hon. Gentleman himself is not afraid to take risks. He has taken a risk with gas. There was a time when the boardings of the country were plastered with the poster, "Hitler will give you no warning." A few months afterwards we were informed that we need no longer carry our gas masks and that we should be told when to do so. That poster, "Hitler will give you no warning," might have had a slip pasted across it saying, "But Herbert Morrison will." I thought the right hon. Gentleman was quite right. In view of the shortage of rubber, it was essential that he should take that risk. War, after all, is a balancing of risks, and it is not the first time that we have thinned out one sector in order to strengthen another from which victory can come. What greater risk could we have taken than sending our one armoured division to Egypt when we ourselves were in imminent peril of invasion? But it was abundantly justified.
There is a desperate shortage of manpower. We are an Island fighting a Continent. It may be asked, What about reprisals? The hon. Lady quoted certain German authorities, to which certainly we should pay attention, but we must remember that it is obvious strategy for the Germans to go on threatening us in order that we may continue immobilising 1664 an unnecessary number of men and materials. But this is not a matter on which we could possibly rely for our judgment on our own personal opinions. We need the highest technical advice, and we have this in a speech made over the week-end at Birmingham by Air Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh Mallory, Chief of Fighter Command, He said:We have gone on consistently improving our defences as the war has proceeded and I feel convinced myself that the Germans will never be able to carry out consistent intensive raids on the industrial areas of this country again during this war.That is a very remarkable pronouncement coming from such a quarter and a very serious one and could only have been made after considerable deliberation and with the authority of the Air Staff. What, therefore, I am asking my right hon. Friend to do is, like the good commander that he is, to re-examine and to give continuous review to the dispositions and deployment of the Civil Defence forces. After all, the Armed Forces of this country have revolutionised their methods in this war, and it is for Civil Defence to show the same elasticity. This is the year of the offensive. The Navy, the Army and the Air Force are preparing to carry the battle from the streets of Britain to the coasts of the enemy.
§ Mr. Bernays
It is rumour, at any rate, and reasonable expectation. It is agreed that what was right for 1940 is not right for 1943. Substantial changes have been made. The hon. Lady has announced them to-day. The point for the Committee to consider is whether these changes go far enough. My right hon. Friend cannot go further than the House will allow him to do. I plead—and my plea is as much to the Committee as to my right hon. Friend—that the message of this Debate should be that he can make further changes and that he can take further risks and still receive the support and encouragement of Parliament.
§ Major Sir Jocelyn Lucas (Portsmouth, South)
I should like to congratulate the Secretary of State and the Parliamentary Secretary and her predecessor for the great improvement in the National Fire Service since its nationalisation, and for that matter while it has been gradually built up during the whole of the war. 1665 There has been an improvement both in efficiency and welfare arrangements. One of the great advantages of the nationalisation of the Fire Service is that it has given the best people an opportunity of promotion. For the first two years of the war it was very hard for many promising young people to get any chance of promotion because it was a question of first in, first served and a man was in one unit and could not be transferred to another. I know one man at the old 5W station who was a skilled mechanic and engineer who had great courage and qualities of leadership; one felt when working with him on a fire that he was a man in whom one could have full confidence. He told me, however, that he had no chance of promotion. He left and within a few months he got his commission in the Marines where he is doing excellent work. That kind of thing has been rectified now under the new National Fire Service and the officers training colleges. I am not going into the welfare details because the Fire Service is allowed to have a union which continually keeps in touch with the Home Office and keeps the men's case before it.
There are, however, one or two questions I should like to ask. One is about the National Fire Service Benevolent Fund since the amalgamation of the Service. Could the Minister say what the state of the fund is? There has been i2 months' discussion, but there is as yet no proper controlling authority. Could the inquiry be expedited? Another question is about production at the stations. We had a long fight to get the principle recognised, and some stations are now doing well. Others, however, are doing nothing. It is as well not to blink the fact that whereas the men get paid if they work on erecting shelters, if they work on production they get nothing. If some payment could be made, if it was only to the benevolent fund, it would increase the keenness of some of the men. Then there is the question of discussion circles. In one of the London areas Sir Ernest Gowers, the regional commissioner, has done good work in starting discussion circles and encouraging them. They have been a tremendous success. If something could be done to start them in other parts of the country it would be much appreciated. They form a welcome change from the boredom when there are no raids and little but darts and billiards to occupy the time. The Par- 1666 liamentary Secretary spoke about the fire training colleges. They have been absolutely excellent. I did a course at one of the part-time training schools but there is only one point I noticed there. That is that you have a different drill for every sort of pump. There may be a crew of four or five on a pump and you have to know the drill for each member of the crew. That means you have to learn about 30 different drills in a week. That should be much simplified, especially for part-timers like myself who are better perhaps at fires than at drill. It would be a good plan sometimes if somebody could pay a surprise visit to the stations, not merely Fire Service stations but ambulance stations, and ask for every engine to be started up. Possibly because of the petrol shortage pumps arc continually being started up, but they never get any running and the batteries are liable to run down. I know that some of the pumps can only be started from the engine by pushing and that is most unsatisfactory in case of urgent necessity. I feel more keenly about it than most people because when I got my "packet" two years ago, we were trying to get a dud pump running again. But for this I might have been under cover.
Another question I would like to raise is about decorations. I have noticed that when decorations are given out to the Fire Service they nearly always go to the officers. I do not mean that they do not deserve them because they undoubtedly do, but a very small proportion go to the men. This is a wrong principle in many cases. It is not always the fault of the officials. At Station 5W somebody came down and said "Can you recommend anybody for decorations?" The answer was that there were so many men deserving them that they could not pick anyone in particular. The result was that nobody got one. When I went to Portsmouth after a batch of decorations had been given out and asked one of the officers who had received a medal why so few men were decorated, he replied, "I recommended an entire pump crew for gallantry at the dockyard, but not one of them got a decoration." If something can be done to lay down that men or a certain proportion of men should be given decorations when there are only so many to go round, it would be well deserved and probably rather popular. One of the reasons why firemen do not get as many 1667 decorations as they might is that there is an idea that one must save life in order to get decorations. In Germany since the big Cologne raid, Goering gave orders that none of the firemen and A.R.P. workers were to go into action until the raid was over. In this country, however, we always go out in the raids. A peace time fire starts in the basement or ground floor and the people are upstairs asleep. Then the fireman comes along, rescues somebody with his ladder, and he is called a hero. I went right through the blitz as a part-time member of the A.F.S., and I never saw anybody needing rescue, because the incendiaries started fires in the roof and the people were downstairs. If that idea could be modified, it would be a great help to the Service. There was a case of an A.R.P. worker whom everybody said should be recommended. A round robin was sent to me asking me to get him something. I took a great deal of trouble and we got him the British Empire Medal, but it was not easy. That rather stresses the point that more decorations should be given to the men.
I should like to pay a tribute to the public. I never went to a fire in the blitz without little men coming out of darkness, coming forward to help get the hoses out, to couple them up and to get into action. When you turned round to say "Thank you" nobody was there, but they always turned up. Possibly the people for whom I have the greatest admiration are the rescue squads. I particularly remember the work of No. 55 Westminster on the night the Café de Paris was bombed at a small hotel by Trafalgar Square. There were seven people known to be trapped. We rescued four alive. The men in this rescue squad were marvellous. They tunnelled under the debris from both sides with the usual pouring water and escaping gas and other complications, and then a woman doctor crawled through to get to a trapped man and feel the pulse in his ankle to see if he were alive. He was not alive. Outside were two ambulances. The raid was still on, and two young girls were sitting in front with only their tin hats and the wooden roofs to cover them. They were sitting there calmly waiting for three or four hours while the people were got out. No tribute can be too high to the rescue squads and the ambulance drivers who did such wonderful work in the blitzes. A 1668 word about the wardens who deserve a special mention. I can only say that in nine cases out of ten they spoiled the fun for the firemen by getting the fires out before the Fire Service got there. If heavy raids come again all the A.R.P. services will be ready and willing, and I only hope that when the time comes for demobilising them their services will not be forgotten by the country.
§ Mr. W. H. Green (Deptford)
I should like first to congratulate the hon. Lady on the very fine speech she made in introducing this Debate. In my view it was a much finer speech than the scheme which it was supposed to embellish. I am sorry if I shall be unduly critical, particularly of a lady of my own side, but unfortunately that is often necessary, because so many of our people in the Government are given the jobs which it is almost impossible to carry out and are open to the widest measure of public criticism. That, I regret. Judging by the speech of the hon Lady, one would think that everything was all right in the fire guard garden. In fact, I agree with a great deal of what she said, but unfortunately it was not warranted by what is actually happening outside. There was her suggestion that we should treat the fire guards in a spirit of: "Can we do anything to help you? We can get so much more done that way." I agree, but it is just the absence of that spirit of which I complain, and that is the feeling among the fire guards. It is very different from the atmosphere which the hon. Lady's speech would suggest. Then she said that we needed no compulsion. That is my point. I am sorry we ever introduced compulsion. We have done a grave disservice to a wonderful voluntary service.
§ Miss Wilkinson
I did not say that we needed no compulsion. I said we needed no compulsion for the streets when the bombs were falling, but we certainly have needed compulsion both for the Fire Service and the streets. I must get that right, for the purposes of the record.
§ Mr. Green
The record will show the actual words used by the hon. Lady. Then she suggested that one of our jobs now was to close loopholes. There is one colossal loophole which apparently 1669 no efforts are being made to close. I understand that anyone who feels he has a right to exemption can sign a form and put in a claim, and henceforth for an unlimited time, he will be exempt from doing fire guard duty. I understand that some municipal authorities find it difficult to put fire guards on their own municipal depots because of the large number of applications for exemption which have been put in but which are not being heard. What steps are being taken to hurry up the hearing of these applications for exemption? I have relatives who are on tribunals, and they hear some of these exemptions. They are months and months in arrears with the work, and no efforts appear to be made to overtake those arrears. It is said that chairmen cannot be found for these tribunals. That is all nonsense. I should say there is not a Member of this House who could not from his own locality nominate half a dozen chairmen who would be prepared to give up time to hear these applications. That is a loophole which must be closed if any fire guard system is to work efficiently.
The hon. Lady paid a well-deserved tribute to our wardens' service. I wonder what has been behind the attempt, and it appears to have been a successful attempt, to separate the wardens' service from the fire guards' service? Those of my friends who are most intimately acquainted with the workings of these services are convinced that to separate them would be a great mistake. There is some reason behind it which they have not been able to fathom and which it is difficult to discover. The hon. Lady said it would not have been possible to have the Fire Service we had but for the wardens' service in the old days. Seeing that union was so successful, Whitehall now says "We will separate them. We will go in for a huge gamble." I suggest that it will prove to be a great loss to the Fire Service. I speak with some experience on this question because, like many of my fellow Members, I have been personally engaged on fire guard duties in a voluntary capacity since the outbreak of the war. Further, I have mixed with those fire guards who are organised, and I have even been chairman of a fairly large fire guard association. I have also been and am intimately connected with London's local government. 1670 There is a feeling in all these services of extreme resentment, a feeling that if something radical is not done soon the fire guard service as we know it will very largely cease to function.
While many of the war organisations which the Government have introduced are worthy of the greatest praise, it is different with the organisation of the fire guard service. It is the worst war attempt the Government have made in any sphere, as far as I can gather. There have been indecision, delay and vacillation. Those responsible for carrying out schemes never knew 'from one day to another where they stood or when the next order was coming out, or how soon it would be after an order was issued before it was countermanded. I speak with knowledge of those who are working in some of the administrative offices in London trying to carry out this scheme. We have to remember the type of people we are dealing with in the fire guard service. The hon. Lady spoke of elderly men and women, over 40. She will agree that we are not dealing in the main with young people, but with those getting on in years and we have to be a little lenient and a little thoughtful towards them. The latest plan for fire guard watching is entitled "The Fire Guard Plan." It consists of six closely typed foolscap pages of instructions. In my view, and I know that it is shared by many fire guards and watchers, it is the finest example of red tape and officialism yet issued from Whitehall. It is bureaucracy at its absolute worst. It is calculated to cause the greatest amount of friction and resentment that could possibly be aroused. It seems to have been built up on the idea "We will regiment cur people for the sake of regimentation." I invite hon. Members to study this plan.
§ Mr. Green
They can get copies of it at the offices of their local authorities. It is a great scheme on paper. That is my criticism. I can well imagine the smug satisfaction of the officials in Whitehall as they drew up this scheme. It is a proper revelation of Whitehall mentality at its worst. Instead of the simple scheme which was so effective in the early days of fire guard duty, we now have sector points, block points, assembly points, block leaders, street party leaders, messengers and clerks; and quite a number of full-time and well-paid administrative 1671 officers are to be brought in. I say frankly, and I believe that nine out of ten practical fire watchers will agree with me, that the scheme will not work. It is suggested that when stuff is falling and the blitz is at its height we are[...]o have what the hon. Lady describes [...]a, elderly men and women running—the word "running" is used—from point to point to convey certain information instead of, as heretofore, relying on the telephone. Those who do not run, these elderly men and women, are to ride cycles through the blitz to these various points.
I regret that the voluntary scheme of the early days was not given sufficient encouragement. It was not. It was taboo; it was cold shouldered. It was denied equipment, denied recognition; everything, was done to cold shoulder the voluntary effort. Yet we must pay all due credit to that voluntary organisation for what it did in the worst days of the blitz in London. It is of London that I am speaking, because it is the place which I know intimately. In blitzes worse than we are likely to get in the future they did the job and did it successfully, and without all this regimentation, without all these irksome compulsions. They fought the fires in a way which I doubt whether we shall see excelled in the days that are in front of us. I further doubt—and I say this as a result of conversations I have had—whether many of the local authorities in London have tried to work this scheme. It is all very well to sit in Whitehall or in our private rooms and think that everything is lovely, but go down to the people who are doing the job and find out what their reactions are, and I believe it will be found that there is a feeling that this scheme is so impossible that they will barely try to work it, being convinced that it is not workable. Why have the people mainly concerned not been consulted? I suggest that officials in Whitehall do not know the main difficulties that surround the question, only the people who are called on to do the jobs. Why have they not been consulted?
§ Mr. Green
I have heard that before. It is all very well for the Minister of Home Security to tell the House, "We have consulted all interests, including the trade unions and employers' federations." That is all right, that is as it should be, 1672 but the trade unions are concerned almost entirely with fire guard duties at business premises to see that certain hours are worked and that certain remuneration is granted. But what about the watchers of residential property? Have they been consulted? I have had a letter from what I should imagine is the finest and largest organisation of fire watchers in this country. I believe there are only three or four others in the country which in any way approach it in size. It is the Deptford Fire Guard Association, numbering between 1,000 and 1,100 fire guards. They meet frequently to discuss their problems, and they would endorse every word I have said up to now. The letter is dated 26th June. I believe it has gone to the Home Office. It starts:I am directed by the general committee of this Association, which at its monthly meeting held last Tuesday had under review the Fire Guard Plan, to write and inform you that this Association has carefully studied the latest plan and finds it impossible for the following reasons:Lack of personnel; 90 per cent. of existing personnel can and would immediately resign from street parties by virtue of civic duties being performed elsewhere.There is a point to which I feel that sufficient prominence has not been given. Many who do compulsory fire watching need not do it. I know quite a number. It says volumes for their patriotism. Very often they are business watchers or they do home guard duties and in addition they are prepared to do their street fire watching. If the sort of thing which is embodied in this plan is persisted in they will simply resign. They will not be messed about as they have been up to now. The Home Office would have been wise to consult an organisation such as this. I believe that if this sort of scheme is persevered in, the result will be to destroy the fine feeling which was so characteristic of our fire guarding in days gone by. This elaborate organisation looks well on paper but I do not for a moment believe that it will work. If it were attempted, I believe that many fireguards who are now trying to do their best would come out of it.
I would like the Minister to deal particularly with three points. Behind what I am saying is the old story of delay. Months go by, while we have all been waiting for this fire Order. In answer to Questions and to correspondence we 1673 have been told that we should wait for this, that or the other because the Order was coming out. Will the Minister see that street leaders, who are largely responsible for the organisation at the moment, are not called up for the watching of business premises? I have been told in answer to a Question to the Minister that the matter would be dealt with presently in the Order. I ask whether the Minister intends to exempt those street captains, who have done a great job and have shown great enthusiasm. Another question, which again I have put to the Minister but have received no satisfaction, is as to when we are to be told about the scheme which will exempt women from fire watching in danger areas, I imagine that this also may be in the Order, but some of us are getting a little tired of waiting for some decision. I understand that some women are watching in those areas. If that is not so, we ought to have a clear definition of the matter from the Ministry as to what constitutes a danger area, and there should be a positive assertion that women will be exempt from watching in those areas.
Another point put to me by practical fire watchers is that there should be some mark for captains or sector leaders to distinguish them from the ordinary fire watcher. I do not suppose for a moment that that idea occurred to Whitehall. The practical people, who go about these matters without any circumlocution, suggest that their tin hats might have words painted on them so that it should be apparent to anyone who wants information during a blitz who is the leader. I should have thought this would be an elementary thing right from the beginning. I hope the Minister will not think that I am being too critical, but I feel it is time that the opinions of some of our people who are doing the job should be known to some of the others who are sitting down and planning the job.
§ Lieut.- Commander Joynson-Hicks (Chichester)
I wish to support a very great deal of what has been said by the hon. Member for North Bristol (Mr. Bernays), and to devote my very few remarks not to the subject of fire watchers but to another aspect of Civil Defence which has not been specifically referred to yet. I should first like very warmly to associate myself with the tribute which the hon. Member paid to the courage, 1674 tenacity and ever-growing skill of the members of the Civil Defence services. I do not think anybody would disagree that they have put up and are continuing to put up a very wonderful show indeed, and that they deserve well of the nation as a whole. I think that the members of that service, in all its branches, are probably more closely associated still with civil life than any of the other Services that are operating in the defence of this country. For that reason particularly they realise to the full the incidence of the war and the absolute need for the maximum of proper economy in expenditure.
The aspect of Civil Defence to which I wish particularly to refer, and the facts of which ought to be brought to the attention of the Committee, relates to the very excellent scheme which has been put into operation by the Minister for the establishment of training centres for the civil defenders. The facts happen to be within my knowledge in one case of which the Parliamentary Secretary has particulars. She has already very kindly interested herself in that case. The expenditure has, however, taken place—if not completely, it is committed—and nothing can be done about it, but I hope it will be possible for the Minister to indicate that a repetition will not he occurring elsewhere. In this place to which I refer the premises were used for some 18 months as military premises under a military requisition. That is relevant to the point at issue. While they kept the premises the military used them as headquarters for their troops, and at one time, for a period of anything up to, or it may be exceeding, three months, something like 250 troops, including an officers' mess, were in those premises.
That requisition came to an end, arid the premises were transferred to the Ministry of Home Security, who initiated a training centre there—a very admirable project. It was a very excellent decision. Instead of having 250 men, it is the intention to house only 150, a substantially lower number. The premises having been taken over, an immense body of workmen and immense quantities of material have proceeded there, and are being used concurrently with the Civil Defence. I put a Question to the Parliamentary Secretary to the. Ministry of Works to ascertain the expenditure on the conver- 1675 sion which is taking place. The reply which I received was that the estimated expenditure was near to the figure of if £10,000. That may be a very good estimate, but I shall be very surprised if it is not immensely exceeded. I hope hon. Members will realise that I should be the last person to grudge proper and reasonable amenities to the Civil Defence for the work which they have to do. Their life is tedious; it is a period of training and waiting. The Parliamentary Secretary has pointed that out, and it is reasonable that the circumstances in which they live should be as conducive as possible to the efficiency of their training and of their life. Why, if the premises were good enough for the Army, could they not also be good enough for the Civil Defence? It may be necessary to make this alteration, but it certainly strikes me as being extraordinary, considering the reduced personnel, that an enormous and exceedingly modern and efficient—and very permanent—sewage plant should be installed. Garages are also being installed. I have no doubt that garages are convenient to the Army, which is a mechanised Service, but they did not find that additional garage provision was necessary. Additional accommodation which is being provided almost gives one the impression of a garden city being created in the neighbourhood. It may be regarded as temporary, but I am certain that it will outlast the war and my life, and also the lives of any of the civil defenders there. I very much hope that the excellent work which is being put in will not be considered temporary, because it will be a very long time before the work falls down, and a very long time indeed would be required to take it down.
It is said that that we do not grudge reasonable amenities to the Civil Defence service, but I think hon. Members would grudge not only the money which is being spent unnecessarily in such large quantities but also the particular labour and materials which are being used. The erection happens to be in a locality where there is a very pressing need for agricultural cottages, and when the local people see funds, labour and materials being used for their present purpose instead of for building cottages, although they would be sufficient to complete many cottages, those people are apt to feel that the matter is very exasperating. It does not appear, 1676 from the reports which I have received, to meet with the approval of the people in the Civil Defence Service themselves; they consider it unnecessary. The practical people, the builders' people who are doing the work, laugh at it in derision. This wastage of money is something that this Committee should know about.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)
Could the hon. and gallant Gentleman disclose where the premises are, without breach of security?
§ Lieut.-Commander Joynson-Hicks
While I have no objection personally to disclosing the name, and I will certainly give it to my hon. Friend privately, I feel that such a disclosure should really come from the Parliamentary Secretary. I cannot tell whether this establishment is one which may or may not be referred to in public. I have concluded my remarks, but I feel that the facts to which I have referred should be known. I have cited one instance alone, but it is reasonable to suppose that this is going on in centres all over the country. If it is being duplicated, for all I know perhaps 5o or zoo times, there must be an enormous source of money, labour and material which could be put to a very much better use.
§ Mr. Higgs (Birmingham, West)
I also should like to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on her excellent speech. If she had spoken for a longer time, she would have included much more information, but I was very disappointed that she did not refer to one section of the Fire Service, known as the privately owned works fire brigades. I am glad she is taking an interest in the remarks I am making. These fire brigades consider that they are not receiving a fair deal, and they would appreciate much closer cooperation with the N.F.S. I would like to inform the Committee that there is considerable dissatisfaction. They have done excellent work; they have been tested during the worst blitzes that have occurred, and they feel that they are receiving the cold shoulder at the present moment. The industrial brigades should be a special branch of the N.F.S., obviously with limited obligations, the N.F.S. to have general control.
One of the greatest complaints at the present moment is in reference to uniforms for these part-time volunteers. 1677 The hon. Lady is familiar with this point. We all appreciate that people consider themselves far more important and feel that they are doing a more important job, if they are in uniform. Uniforms are the order of the day. Obviously it is a problem. The Board of Trade will not supply the coupons and the men cannot provide them. Consequently, being a very considerable proportion of the Fire Service, they feel that they are not having the attention that they deserve. I would inform the Committee that the material is available. In the first place the Ministry say it is not. I cannot understand how they can reconcile the statement with the fact that uniforms and greatcoats are being issued to part-time Civil Defence workers under local authorities. I would also remind the Committee that youth organisations are receiving uniforms—the A.T.C., the G.T.C., and the Cadet Corps. If these organisations can receive uniforms to-day, surely an important branch of the fire-fighting organisation is entitled to the same consideration. I do not know how many people in this Committee have ever tried to hold a hose. You cannot do it without getting wet through. [Interruption.] The hon. Member is very clever. I have tried on several occasions, and, if the wind is blowing in a particular direction I find that one can get wet through. A lot of these men have to go back to their normal work even after practices, which involve such wettings. I feel it is one of those cases to which the hon. Lady should give some further consideration.
The private fire brigades are rather under the impression that they are not wanted. It is one of those organisations which, for the services rendered, cost the State very little. Surely an organisation of that description is far more worthy of consideration than one which the State has to provide 100 per cent. support? The work of these fire brigades is not brought to the public notice as is that of the N.F.S. Another complaint these private fire brigades have is with regard to the allocation of ranks. A memorandum was issued by the Home Secretary in May, 1942, saying that ranks would be allocated after the agreement had been signed between the firm and the N.F.S. That is simply like signing a blank cheque. This question of ranks should be looked into. It is giving just as great dissatisfaction in the organisation as that 1678 of uniforms, I would refer the House to the fact that industrial fire brigades man nearly as many pumps as the N.F.S. during black-out hours and considerably more during working hours. Their present status is repugnant to the organisation, and I am very pleased to note that the hon. Lady has listened to what I have said. I hope to have some favourable comment when she replies.
With regard to the N.F.S. it has been requested on many occasions that the King's Badge should be given to men discharged from the N.F.S. through injury or sickness attributed to a mishap while on duty. It has been refused. The hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Touche) asked a Question in this House on 12th February, I think, this year. The Home Secretary replied and said that this question of badges for these men would have careful consideration. We all know what is the outcome of careful consideration. The N.F.S. is a Crown service and conscripts are posted to it in the same manner as they are to our Forces. I am asking that a badge should be issued to the men who are discharged as the result of injury when on duty. A precedent exists in the cases of the Merchant Navy and the Fishing Fleets, which are already included. I ask that this badge should be issued retrospectively to the outbreak of war. This question was raised by Mr. Ellis, the hon. secretary of the N.F.S. Association. He wrote to the Ministry of Home Security, whose reply on 11th May, 1943, included the following wording—this is after the matter had been given careful consideration:It is impracticable to work out a scheme for the issue of a badge without causing a volume of work.I extract another few words from the same letter:It is, however, hoped that it will be found possible to arrange at an early date for the issue of certificates.Is it really more difficult to issue a badge than to issue a certificate? For some reason, the Minister does not want to issue this badge. Why does he not say so and give a reason and stop the agitation for it if his reason is logical, rather than give a ridiculous excuse of that sort? He can issue a certificate but cannot issue a badge. The administration involved in issuing a badge is no greater than in the issuing of a certificate. The cost of the material is very little more, and the satis 1679 faction it would give to the service would be considerable. It would outweigh all the disadvantages. I hope the hon. Lady will give further consideration to that suggestion.
Another point I wish to bring up has been voiced before—the question of the use of canteens by the N.F.S. I ask for further consideration to be given to the admission of N.F.S. personnel to the Y.M.C.A. and other canteens. I think it was the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) who asked for this concession, and it was refused. As usual, illogical objections were raised, such as that the additional strain on the canteens would be great, indicating that tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands would use the canteens, in addition to those using them at present. The plea is that these canteens should be available for full-time workers of the N.F.S. personnel who are posted away from their homes. Part-time workers do not want the use of the canteens, and the total number of people who would want the use of them throughout the country would be of the order of a thousand. When it is said that the additional strain would be too great, it is again an instance of things being refused without any reasonable consideration having been given to the request. It would be a very simple matter for the officers of the Y.M.C.A. to prove that the applicants were not local residents. Men away from their homes obviously want opportunities of recreation, reading, writing and so forth.
Another objection to the use of these canteens that was put forward—and I have made a note underneath this—the word "rot"—was that the Minister of Food was pressing for reductions in food supplies and that the thousand additional men who would have used these canteens would increase the amount of food consumed. But the men have to be fed, whether at these canteens or at other places, and it would not increase the total consumption of food in any way whatever. It is only another argument, to get out of granting a disliked concession to an organisation which has contributed much to the war effort, as was pointed out by the hon. Lady. Moreover, meals are not generally required. It is the facilities for entertainment that are wanted. The Women's Land Army has obtained 1680 the concession and there are tens of thousands of them. I am asking for the same concession for only one thousand.
It is not necessary for me to enlarge upon what the N.F.S. has done and what it may have to do in the future. The requests I have made are very small, but I am sure that these concessions would give the organisation very considerable satisfaction. My final remark is to point out to the Committee that casualties in the N.F.S., up to the beginning of this year, were 5,700. It is not a game or play, this fire-fighting. Men are willing to do it. They do not get the Victoria Cross for it. I know that they may get the George Cross. But hundreds have lost their lives, and while we are singing their praises here, they would appreciate far more some of these minor concessions to which other hon. Members and myself have referred.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
In making some remarks on this all-important question of defence and fire fighting, I would like to start with a homily. It would be a very good thing if Members on this side of the House showed a little more loyalty to their colleagues in the Government. If they want to advise Ministers where things could be remedied or on how to avoid trouble, they could do it, as I do, by letters to those Ministers. I object very much to people being prepared to take advantage of a party in order to get into positions, and using those positions to their own advantage whenever there is an opportunity, regardless of the difficulty in which they place Ministers, and then going on public platforms and talking about the disloyalty of other people. The subject of this Debate is one in which I have always been very deeply interested. In the early days of the blitz I visited quite a number of shelters, and inspected the sanitary conditions and what was going on, and prepared what I at any rate considered a very useful report for the Home Secretary of that time, who is now Lord President of the Council. He was good enough to say in this House that I was the first to draw attention here to the great problem of sleep and to the problems of sanitation and so on. The Parliamentary Secretary's immediate chief, the Home Secretary, has stated that I believe in force and he believes in persuasion. I would not ask the Minister to join me in the use of force, but I hope 1681 that he and the Parliamentary Secretary will not object to my joining them in a little persuasion.
I have always been very much concerned about this matter. I remember my landlord, a comrade of my own, a post warden, being out at night every second week, during the terrible blitz; and he lived through all of it, and then, during that last night of the blitz, in May of last year, my comrade and landlord, and one or two others with whom I was closely associated, were killed by a mine which came down over in Finsbury. We should do everything possible to encourage and help the wardens and fire-fighters. It is often said on platforms, and it was said the other day by a Member of this House, that the Communists were not interested in the people of this country and the defence of this country until Russia came into the war. There could not be a more mischievous slander. I have here quotations from a speech on defence which I made in this House in July, 1940. That was just after Dunkirk, when there was the danger of invasion. Here is the line we took in connection with that question. I drew attention to the fact that one of the best areas from the point of view of the organisation of defence at that time was the area I represent in this House, and that the very worst was Birmingham, an area represented in this House by Conservatives. I declared that Communists are deeply interested in the welfare of the people, and that they will fight by every means to save the people of this country from the menace of Fascism, from within or without. I showed how at that time we were arousing the workers at mass demonstrations on this question of defence against invasion and how we were preparing them for the difficulties that would arise out of invasion. I make these remarks merely to get on record once again the fact that what has been said about Communists is a slander. I do not hope to stop these slanders. Stalin said that with the liquidation of the Comintern, slanders would stop, but he was wrong. They still go on.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Sir Douglas Thomson)
The hon. Member should confine himself to the subject which is under discussion now.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I am dealing with defence and the part my colleagues and 1682 I have played in defence, and I want that to be understood. But I will not continue on that line. The immediate question in connection with Civil Defence is that of fire guards. Apart from compulsion, it is possible to give greater encouragement to fire guards. I had a talk the other day with some of them in my home town. It is a fact that many of these fire guards are continually training women in fire fighting. I never go to Euston but I see them there with the tin hats. They start a fire, and then teach the women how to approach it and play the hose on it, and what to do when the bomb explodes and so on. But fire guards are not properly equipped. It is possible to give them some equipment and some clothing. It is stated that in my home town there is a whole stock of overalls not being used, yet fire guards have to turn out in their own clothes to train women; and you know how great the wear and tear on clothes is in doing such training. We are not getting the best results from the men and women fire guards. The greatest praise must be given to those who come out night after night, week after week. I have many friends, men and women, who never in any circumstances would miss a turn. I have often thought of that landlord of mine, and of others, who were out in the streets all night. I have often gone all shaky at night when I heard the planes overhead and thought of those lads.
I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary realises that, no matter how much compulsion you may use, it is no good unless you win the spirit of the fire guards. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will see that bureaucracy is completely eliminated in the approach to these women, and that everything will be done, too, to eliminate the impression, which exists in many parts of the country, that working women have to come out and watch business premises while business people living in the country can escape. It would be a good thing if all our women and all our men saw the film "Stalingrad." In Stalingrad there was no question of exemption. Under the most terrible conditions, the women and the men carried on attending to fires, attending to civic duties, attending to barricades and to work of every kind. Have hon. Members seen the film "De- 1683 feat of the Germans before Moscow"? In that film you see women engaged in the most arduous occupations, and there is no question of exemption; but the spirit is there. That is the important thing. It is not simply a question of compulsion. It is a question of getting them to understand, and getting the spirit that will carry them forward.
Take Leningrad, under siege for 17 months. If you see some of the films now displayed, showing how life was carried on in Leningrad, with bombs dropping continually, and fires having to be fought, you see that men and women are standing equal with one another, sharing the dangers and the tribulations equally. It is essential, at all costs, to avoid bureaucracy, and the impression that any section of the community is being discriminated against, and to make it clear that, in the spirit of Stalingrad, Moscow, and Leningrad, every man and woman is prepared to face the training and the tasks, if the necessity should arise, for carrying on as they carried on in those brave cities. We all hope that we shall never have to face anything like the destruction at Stalingrad, like the siege of Leningrad, or like the threat to Moscow, but at the same time, we should be certain that if such a menace should befall us, if such a responsibility should be ours, the men and women of this country would be thoroughly prepared to meet that danger.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)
I am glad to follow the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher). He reproved the hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. W. H. Green) for saying what he thought, instead of putting it in a letter. That reminds me of a letter once written by a trade union secretary to a member of his union: "Dear comrade and brother, On account of your lousy attack, you are expelled from this branch. Yours fraternally—." I wonder whether that is the kind of letter the hon. Member writes to Ministers who at the Labour Conference the other day decided that he and his colleagues are not to be allowed to join up. But that is in passing, and is nearly out of Order. As Chairman of the Special Inquiries Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on National Expenditure, I had the interesting experience of carrying out an inquiry into the National Fire Service, and, in the early months of 1684 this year, into certain aspects of the fire guards. I listened with interest to a speech from my hon. and gallant Friend whom I call my own Member of Parliament, because I happen to have a house in his constituency. He was describing waste in certain directions in the Chichester division, but, on grounds of security and under terror of the Parliamentary Secretary, he would not tell us where they were. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will look into that matter, however, because we know that there is a tendency on the part of officials to be a little careless with public funds.
I want to direct my remarks to certain problems of fire guards. I am not blaming anybody for what happened, because things were done in a great rush at the time of the blitz in the autumn of 1940. It became evident at that time that the incendiary bomb was probably a more serious menace than the high explosive bomb, and that a good deal of damage to property and injury to persons, and sometimes fatal casualties, arose out of the fact that premises were not protected at that time. It was the previous Minister of Home Security who was responsible for the Order which laid an obligation on employers that premises should be watched, without laying any obligation on anybody else to do the watching. The result was that employers hired people to some extent to do the job when they could not get volunteers, and later on, when the situation became more difficult, a further Order was issued which made fire-watching an obligation. In the meantime a curious situation grew up and the result is that there are about 5,000,000 people who do fire watching on the basis of about one day a week. Probably some get nothing, because they are doing what might be called domestic protection; a substantial number draw a subsistence allowance of 3s. a night which just about reimburses them for extra travelling expenses and the cost of a simple meal. The 3s. is a reasonable payment. On the top of all this, there are about 100,000 people who are being paid at rates of pay ranging up to 2s. an hour for doing what 4,900,000 people are doing either for nothing or a bare subsistence allowance. It is rather a scandal that these payments to a narrow aristocracy in fire guards should continue.
§ Sir H. Williams
Some of them belong to the union to which the hon. Member belongs. Employers enter into arrangements, in some cases, with trade unions but more particularly individual employers rather than employers' associations make arrangements with individual bodies of workpeople. In most cases this money is not coming out of the pockets of employers at all but out of the public till. We could not get the actual figures but perhaps I may be permitted to read the last two paragraphs in the Sixth Report from the Select Committee on National Expenditure presented on 15th April:There is no doubt that the prime cause of the present deadlock is the fact that the original Orders were issued in a great hurry without any previous consultation with the Employers and the T.U.C. Occupiers of business premises were required to provide fireguards, but employees were not required to undertake fire prevention duty. It should have been obvious that it would be difficult to convince employees that they were not merely guarding other people's property but were also performing a service in the interests of the whole community; and equally obvious that the reimbursement of expenses incurred by fireguards was justified and could not be refused. It was not until July, 1941, however, that the Government decided that fire prevention duty was a national obligation and that the cost should be a national charge. In these circumstances it is not surprising that the present anomalies have arisen and that there has been an unnecessary expenditure of large sums of public money.We are not blaming anybody. We recognise that this sort of thing grew up because of the present circumstances. We were concerned with trying to bring it to an end. We went on to say:Your Committee have taken into careful consideration all the arguments put forward both for and against any change in the existing practice. They are disturbed to learn that the present anomalous and unfair system is having in some places an adverse effect on the efficiency of the fire prevention service. If payments throughout the country were limited to the standard rates of subsistence, several million pounds a year would be saved. All men between the ages of 18 and 6o may now be required to act as fire guards. In fairness to all concerned any scheme of remuneration should ensure that every one receives the same allowances for performing the same public duties. Your Committee, therefore, recommend that the present variations should be brought to an end without delay and that only the standard rates of subsistence allowance should be paid.1686 We put it bluntly and plainly. There was no party division because the Select Committee was unanimous I think I can say that without impropriety. It was a definite recommendation. We realise the difficulties with which the Home Office is faced in this matter but I hope that before this Debate ends some announcement or indication of policy will be made.
I turn to the National Fire Service. My information here is perhaps a little out of date. It was on 23rd July, 1942, that the report on the National Fire Service by the Select Committee was laid on the Table of this House. My colleagues and I spent some three months on it and had the opportunity of taking evidence from several Regional Commissioners. We visited a number of provincial cities, including one which was the subject of a recent blitz. We took evidence from all ranks, from the firemen to the supreme uniformed head of the fire service, from the administrative head at the Home Office and from the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary, who was most helpful. It was rather interesting. After we had taken evidence from four or five separate towns and all sorts of different people I said to my colleagues that I thought I could answer all the questions I put, because wherever we went we got the same answers. That was rather satisfactory.
It was clear that the decision to nationalise the Fire Service in war-time was right. If we are to fight the menace represented by large-scale incendiary attacks on this country, the force must be one and not a series of isolated forces without proper co-ordination. The system now in existence is far superior to that which prevailed before. If there is a heavy raid on a particular city, within a few minutes, owing to the arrangements which exist, reinforcements move in from outlying districts, and forces are moved into the districts which have been depleted, and the whole country is treated as one, from the point of view of the firemen. The standard of training has been very much raised. We have certain large forces of a very high standard, but some of the smaller forces made up of volunteers cannot necessarily have quite the same high standard, though I would pay a high tribute to the voluntary and part-time workers in the 1687 Fire Service. They have rendered valuable service which could not have been carried out but for them. It would break down without them. What we are imposing on the Germans is something unimaginable. I do not know whether people realise what it means. You have many thousands of Germans standing by who have been taken away from industry and the Fighting Services. You have only to develop the Air Force sufficiently and there will be no one left to fight. They will all be engaged in Civil Defence. If they knew the facts about this country and about Germany, people would be appalled at the amount of labour which has to be kept standing by merely on account of these services. The part-time volunteers are of immense value. They are available and yet doing another worth-while job at the same time.
There was a certain amount of criticism when the National Fire Service was started on the ground that there was an abnormal waste of petrol and it was largely arising out of that fact that our inquiry was started. I have not the slightest doubt that in the very early stage there was some waste of petrol. There was the notable case of the football team that was sent from Bolton to Dumfries. That was a stupid thing to do and the Home Secretary took very drastic action and it had a very beneficial effect. But apart from that there was a good deal of misconception. We took evidence from local authorities who had been the petrol issuing authorities to the local fire brigade. Very often they were issuing petrol for a force covering a larger area. When we got the actual figures from the Ministry of Fuel and Power we found that the allegations of waste were not justified. Broadly speaking, the increase in the consumption of petrol arose mainly out of the more intensive training. flaying regard to the great misconception which existed it was clear that that should be said. There was a certain amount of waste because some of the officers had used high-powered cars but that was cleared up. As to the administrative system, it is the fact that civil servants are so anxious that things should work perfectly that they spend 99 per cent. of their efforts on the last 1 per cent. of efficiency. The ordinary man says, "Let that go; why worry over 1688 it?" The civil servant is terrified that someone will ask a question and there must always be the perfect reply. The Minister is partly to blame. The Minister should say that he did not mind a certain number of mistakes being made in his Department, so long as they got on with the job and showed a proper amount of zeal.
There has been built up under the National Fire Service a most extensive administration. There were three tiers. We recommended that one tier was unnecessary. I have no complaint at all with the way in which the right hon. Gentleman received our Report. He adopted the right attitude. He took the view that the Report was helpful and his reply has been published. He has given effect to the greater part of our recommendations and I am grateful to him for that. I do not think there has ever been a report to which more effect has been given than to the Report on the National Fire Service. I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman winds up the Debate he will be able to tell us how things are going. I said that my information is 12 months out of date. I and my colleagues spent a great deal of time and heard the greatest experts on the subject. Before the right hon. Gentleman came into the Chamber I made reference to the fireguard question and the abnormal payments made to people, and no doubt he will make some statement on that point.
There is one last point I want to raise and that is the position of members of the National Fire Service. We have the Navy, Army and the Air Force which are described as the Armed Forces of the Crown and there are all sorts of institutions which cater for their comfort, canteens and the like. I understand that up to the present members of the N.F.S. are not regarded as being eligible for consideration in Y.M.C.A. and other canteens. Now members of the N.F.S. are combatants in the real sense of the word; they have been exposed to perils of the war of the most awful type and their high standard of courage entitles them to every consideration. So, I hope it will be possible for the Minister, in the course of his reply, to say that he has already made representations, or will do so, that members of the N.F.S. shall receive in the various canteens the same kind of con- 1689 sideration as is extended to our gallant friends in the Navy, Army and Air Force. I think I should be voicing the views of my colleagues who serve on the Special Inquiry Sub-committee of the Select Committee on National Expenditure in saying that, on the whole, we think the National Fire Service is a good job. It may be necessary, in the course of time, to consider what is to be the future of our fire services. In peace-time our fire service was about one-tenth of the size of the present Fire Service. On the other hand, fires do not recognise municipal boundaries and we may have to consider the lessons we can derive from the present organisation in order to decide post-war policy. Although we cannot discuss legislation for post-war policy now, we can at least ask the Minister to compile information which, in due course, he or his successors may produce in order to provide legislation for our future fire services. What is of importance is that we should never forget the valuable service which part-timers and volunteers have done in country districts. We shall finish this war with vast numbers of people who have an intimate knowledge of fire fighting and the security against fires will be much higher than it has been in the past because of the valuable experience which has been gained. Therefore, I hope that the Home Secretary and his officers will accumulate information which will guide future Governments as to the best way in which to carry on our fire services in the days to come.
§ Sir Ralph Glyn (Abingdon)
I rise to support my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) as one who is also a member of the Select Committee on National Expenditure. These Supply Days are days when the House of Commons can consider with the greatest convenience the recommendations of that Committee. I would like also to support what my hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Higgs) said about amenities for members of the N.F.S. I am quite sure we all want to do what we can but I would like to put in a word for the managements of Y.M.C.A. and other canteens. It is putting a difficult task on an already overworked superintendent of a canteen to say that he shall go to a member of the N.F.S. and ask whether he is a permanent, whole-time member or not. That is a situation which 1690 can only be remedied by a mark on the uniform to distinguish between one and the other. There is no desire to deny facilities which voluntary organisations are giving to members of the Armed Forces, but I am sure the Minister knows that the pressure by members of those Forces on canteens is already such that it is very difficult to meet the demand and it is not very easy to get more money with which to put up more buildings. Possibly it is easier for the Civil Defence Service to increase the number of their own canteens. I understand they can do so.
There is one question which I want to raise and which has not been dealt with so far to-day. It is only on these Supply Days that matters of this kind can be raised publicly here. I know the Minister takes a very intimate interest in the work of his Department and that as one who has promised us fearless administration, he will not tolerate inefficiency by any individual which leads to a gross waste of public money. As the Committee knows, local authorities were made aware of a great blunder made by someone in the construction of shelters throughout the country. Inquiry leads one to believe that the specification approved by the engineering department of the Ministry of Home Security was definitely at fault. When the specification was put out to contractors, it was found that brick shelters had no holding mortar whatever to keep- the bricks together. This was pointed out but in spite of that, by the orders of the Ministry—so I have been informed—the work proceeded. The result was that these shelters, instead of being safe, were a menace. Blast blew them down because there was no holding material to keep them together. Every local authority in the country was aware that this type of shelter was being put up and hon. Members must have seen workmen engaged in remaking shelters which, if properly designed in the first place, should not have required this extra work.
It is no use saying that there was not an error. I believe it is true that the Minister appointed a committee to inquire into the matter. Various Questions were asked in the House, but no very factory reply was given and when we consider the total cost of employment of building labour, which was required in other directions far more urgently, together with the material which was 1691 required, I think it will be found that there was involved a gross amount of hundreds of thousands of pounds. I hope the Home Secretary will take the opportunity to-day to reassure us that the person or persons responsible for making mistakes of that sort, are not still in a position to make more mistakes. It is difficult in war-time to discuss the efficiency of administration because for security reasons matters cannot be debated as in peace-time but it is obvious to everybody that when a mistake has been made confidence can only be restored when it is known that the Minister has taken action to see that the persons responsible have been dealt with adequately. It is the duty of hon. Members to raise these matters and that should be accepted by the responsible Minister as a good opportunity for dealing with them. There is another point about these shelters. I understand that when the original specification was made there was some difficulty with regard to the material available and a new design was worked out. It is rather extraordinary that it was the responsibility of the Ministry of Home Security to design and draw up the specification of the shelters whereas it was the responsibility of another Department to put them up.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
I do not quite follow the hon. Member. Perhaps he will explain. There may be a misunderstanding.
§ Sir R. Glyn
I understand that it was the responsibility of the Minister's Department to design the shelter, but I also understand that his Department had not a permanent staff to supervise the erection of the shelters and, therefore, the work had to be done by borough surveyors or, in some cases, the Ministry of Works and Buildings. All I want to be clear about, however, is who was responsible for drawing up the specification and allowing work to proceed on shelters without using mortar, or at any rate using material in the mortar which did not keep the bricks together. I understand that what happened was that there was a shortage of the necessary ingredient for the mortar and something else had to be used, which disintegrated, with the result that after a few weeks the whole thing fell to pieces. That 1692 is not a good example for a very efficient Department and I think it rather unfortunate that an explanation was not given earlier.
I want to deal with another aspect of this matter which was also dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham, namely, our so-called private fire brigades. They have done extremely good work but there is one difficult aspect of the matter which the Minister might clear up. Members of the Home Guard who are in factory companies have, in some instances, been detailed to act as private firemen in their firms' fire brigades. It is very difficult for a Home Guard to be in two places at once and it is necessary that it should be laid down quite clearly which has priority. I think it is important that this matter should be cleared up publicly so that firms can know where they are. An instance occurred recently of a man being told to join his firm's fire brigade while a member of the Home Guard. The employer said, "Unless I get efficient people to man the fire brigade what is the use of having them?" There is a real necessity for close liaison to be established between private brigades and the N.F.S. The N.F.S., as my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon said, are a very magnificent organisation on paper, but I think that on the whole they are efficient and it seems extraordinary that they have never been able to work more closely with, and give more assistance to, private fire brigades.
In regard to another Sub-committee of which I am chairman, it turns out that the Services have nothing to do with the N.F.S. The Navy, Army and Air Force have their own fire services and it is rather extraordinary that on all questions to do with fires the N.F.S. should not be automatically consulted and joint plans made. I am told that at the present moment an N.F.S. fire service pump cannot enter on Government property without permission, which is perfectly ludicrous. The N.F.S. ought to be able to go anywhere, without having to ring up whoever is responsible for the Government's property to say, "I hear your place is on fire. May I come in?" On page II of the Civil Estimates we have the present total of the headquarter staff of the N.F.S.—1,730 individuals who cost the taxpayer £612,350 for salaries alone. 1693 That is a very large organisation—it may be necessary—but that is only for the Fire Service department and I take it that that does not include the very large number of officers who are with each of the Civil Defence regions. Assuming that it does not include them—and there is nothing to show that it does—it is very difficult to understand why, after the first orgaanisation of the Service has been completed, an increased establishment should be required at headquarters. The figure has gone up from 1,670 last year to 1,730 this year.
We all know that when somebody is put in a Government office and given a typist and a telephone, one has only to wait a week or so before they breed like rats or rabbits and the person with the telephone thinks it necessary to ring up someone in order to show that he is working. That is an exaggerated statement, but one must put it in an exaggerated way in order to get the Home Secretary to give us an answer why it is necessary after four years of war to increase the staff at headquarters. It is most extraordinary if you go down to the Regions to find that it has been necessary there also to increase the staff. I cannot believe that any organisation at this stage of the war in connection with defence—for it is defence—should be bigger than it was when we were facing the utmost hour of the blitz. Assuming that the danger was 100 per cent, when the war began from air attack, have our defences in the air, night fighters, anti-aircraft and all the rest of it. not improved at all? Is there no ratio between the improvement of our defensive Forces and the organisation for fighting fires? The Parliamentary Secretary said that so much was that taken into account by the Minister that they had now been able to reduce the personnel by one-third, and that there are 10 part-time fire watchers to one whole-time. But that does not alter the fact that this is an adequately manned Fire Service. I am not criticising the people who are doing the work in the country. The efficiency of the Fire Service in the country is very good. If a hay or straw rick catches lire, you cannot ring up your friends to come and help. Now it has to go to every kind of official, because, very rightly, the Home Secretary has had to make a rule that someone has to fight fires. Otherwise you might have all your 1694 pumps occupied with a comparatively insignificant fire which could not do much damage when there was a whole series of fires that mattered very much.
It is an absolute necessity, though we cannot discuss it to-day, that some consideration should be given as to what is to be the future of this Service. Some officers and men of the National Fire Service have shown courage second to none that has been shown in the war. Their exploits and actions have helped to win the war, and I hope and believe they will be retained afterwards, but it would be most painful and appalling if we were permanently saddled with anything like the headquarters staff that appears in the Estimates to-day. I shall be very grateful if the right hon. Gentleman will answer one point. I entered the House in 1918. In those days the Home Office was a small Department. According to this year's Estimates the right hon. Gentleman now possesses a General Staff—it is called a General Staff. Does that mean that there is any fundamental change? In the Estimates pre-war it was only the War Office that had a General Staff. The Navy had a War Staff and the Air Ministry an Air Staff. Now the Home Office has a General Staff. It is true that the National Fire Service is most valuable, but is it necessary for the Home Office to put on red tabs and all the rest of it,, and is Civil Defence going to blossom out in something like the German way so that it will have a Minister, a principal Secretary of State, temporary administrators, a head of the General Staff, superintendents and typists arriving at their offices at the goose step? It is time we asked whether these terms of war are going to be continued in what used to be a very peaceful office. There is nothing the Committee appreciates more than the work that has been done by the right hon. Gentleman and his assistants, and we all feel very glad that the Parliamentary Secretary is well enough after her accident to take her place in the House to-day.
§ Dr. Edith Summerskill (Fulham, West)
I should like to join with those who have paid a tribute to the National Fire Service, and I should like to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on the interesting and colourful picture that she gave us of the work of the Service. Every speech in the Debate has been instructive. Everyone recognises the magnificent work 1695 that has been done, and we are only anxious to help the Minister and to indulge in constructive criticism, but there are details in which some of us have a special interest. I should like first to ask my eight hon. Friend whether he is satisfied that the new 48–24 hour week is working satisfactorily. I should like to know whether he thinks this is an improvement on the old arrangement, because I am not satisfied that it is. I am thinking of those who work in the control rooms and the watch rooms. One night in the blitz of 1940 I left the nice, clean, fresh air outside and went down into a basement which was the control room. I found myself in a stuffy, vitiated atmosphere, and I wondered what the effect would be on the health of the workers. It would have been almost frivolous to suggest to anyone in that room that she was not working under ideal conditions; there were unpleasant sounds outside and things were much more dangerous outside than inside. But since then three years have passed, and I am a little concerned at the conditions of these workers who have been compelled to work in basement rooms and rooms which have been reinforced, which are artificially lighted and in many cases artificially ventilated. I am speaking for all workers, men and women, but I am aware that for the most part women work in the control room, and, looking at the pallid faces of some of them, I wonder what is the result of those conditions, under which no one is expected to work in any factory, on the health rate of the Service. I was a little alarmed to discover that one of the responsible officials of the Ministry has admitted that the incidence of disease in the Service is unduly high.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I have been given it as a quotation. I have good authority for making the statement, and I shall be very happy to give it to the Minister afterwards. There are no official statistics. I want him to realise that the personnel of the National Fire Service have to rely 1696 upon the insurance doctor and that the only official statistics of the incidence of disease are found in the certificates which the officials of the Service possess. I would not bring this to his notice if it was a question of minor complaint, but I was rather alarmed when I was told that the Minister of Pensions recognises that watch room duties may predispose to tuberculosis and that tubercular workers who have contracted their disease in the National Fire Service are having their claims met and are being given the war service injury allowance. I think the Committee will agree that this is alarming, because those of us who know the Minister of Pensions know that he is not so generous that he will grant a pension without being convinced beyond a shadow of doubt that the illness is attributable to service. If this is so, I think I have made out my case that the conditions under which the workers have been working for the last three years are not really conducive to good health. I realise that we cannot change these control rooms. They have to be in reinforced buildings, and in many cases they have to be underground. They have perhaps to be artificially lit. But I want to know if my right hon. Friend is satisfied that the new arrangement of hours is an improvement on the old, or whether there should be some rearrangement in order that these workers may have more fresh air and have their hours arranged in such a way that they are able to have more exercise.
There is one point about which I feel very strongly, and I do not think it has been raised since the war. It concerns the pay of the women in the National Fire Service. They have been very patient. In all the Services of the country, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the National Fire Service and Civil Defence, women have been playing their part. We have been told on many occasions that, when it comes to replacement, it takes two women to replace one man. Therefore, we have not grumbled when we have heard that women working the same number of hours are not being paid at the same rate. But as the years are passing conditions are changing. The Minister of Labour said two days ago that he had always believed that it needed three women to replace two men, but to his amazement he has discovered that it needs only two women to replace three men. That is an amazing pronouncement, and, because of 1697 that, I ask the Committee to reconsider the whole question of the remuneration of women. We heard from the Parliamentary Secretary to-day that the "old sweats" of the National Fire Service—I think that was her expression—who had been rather reluctant to recognise the part women could play in the National Fire Service in the early years, now realise that women can replace men in all sorts of spheres. She quoted the mobilisation officer, and I know full well that in the control room women have replaced men. In all those cases one woman is replacing one man, and I want to ask the Minister if he can to-day justify paying these women in the Service at a lower rate than the men, in view of the fact that they are doing precisely the same work and are working under exactly the same conditions.
I would remind the Minister of one division of the National Fire Service, of which I am willing to give the name, where many of the men are coming off the pumps and replacing the women in the control room because there are not sufficient women in that area. These men are, of course, paid at a much higher rate. Take the despatch riders, men and women, on motor bikes. Has it been proved to the Minister that women are less efficient and less conscientious than men or are afraid of danger? Of course it has not. Why should the women despatch riders not be paid the same rate as men? [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) will stop interjecting in this frivolous manner, I shall be much obliged. He might be interested as an engineer in my next point. May I remind the Minister that he now has women mechanics in the National Fire Service? He used to have only a few, but now the numbers are increasing. The trade union side of the Civil Defence Joint Services Committee asked him for the full plus rate for firewomen mechanics. They asked for 20s. for skilled and 10s. for unskilled, but the Government decided that they could grant only 14s. for skilled and 7s. for unskilled. Again I would refer to the statement of the Minister of Labour. Nobody can argue that the Home Secretary has made this decision because the output of women is less than that of men. It has been proved that that is not so.
1698 I know that the Minister will tell me that it is Government policy to pay women in the Services at a lower rate than men. In other words, in all Government work where women are employed—the W.A.A.F.S., the A.T.S., the W.R.E.N.S., the National Fire Service, the Civil Service and Civil Defence —they are all paid at a cheap rate, two-thirds the rate of men. I am going to speak strongly. It is in fact the Government's policy to exploit women labour, and I want to know what the Ministers in the War Cabinet have done in respect of this matter. Has any Minister brought it to the attention of the Prime Minister? I want to know whether strong representations have been made. We listen to the radio and we listen to Ministers coming to the public and exhorting employers to become more public-spirited. Surely the Government should be the model employer, and yet what is the Government's example? The Government, so far as the employment and payment of women are concerned, are one of the worst employers in the country. I am getting a little tired of hearing speeches on the post-war world. We are told time after time that the post-war world must be based on justice and equity. We have in this country 2,000,000 more women than men listening in to these speeches on the radio. It is a little difficult for them to believe that the Government are sincere in their high-sounding phrases when they fail to do justice even to their own employees in war-time. I would suggest to the Minister that justice should begin in Government Departments. Let us convince the world of our sincerity not by words but by our example. We cannot expect our Allies to believe our protestations of good faith towards the people in our Colonies when we cannot even keep faith with the women in our Services.
§ General Sir George Jeffreys (Petersfield)
In the remarks I want to make I shall speak from the point of view of the chairman of a Civil Defence emergency committee in a county which, although I am aware that conditions differ very much in different parts of the country, is a fair example of the conditions of Civil Defence at the present time. Generally speaking, I should say that Civil Defence has made steady progress, that the constructional programme of 1699 shelters, etc., is mostly completed, that the machine is running smoothly and that training has progressed. What are known as the "tip and run" raids, whatever their nuisance value, are really of some assistance and value in keeping Civil Defence workers of all kinds on their toes and in keeping the organisation in good order and everybody ready to act. They have been in some ways a nuisance, but they have had a special value in that respect. I have no hesitation in saying that the establishment of the National Fire Service, whatever the criticisms that may be offered on details may be, has resulted in a marked improvement in both organisation and efficiency.
There are certain matters on which I. would like to comment. The first is the position and functions of the Regional authorities and the relations of the regions with scheme-making authorities. These relations have undoubtedly improved and are generally most friendly, yet there is now such an army of Regional officials that the machine has become altogether too cumbrous, and it seems as though work has to be made for some of the officials which is not always absolutely necessary. The Regional organisation, with the Regional Commissoner at its head, was originally planned to carry on the functions of government in case of Regions being cut off through invasion or heavy bombing. Now that invasion in force is perhaps less likely than it was the original picture seems to have been lost sight of, and the functions of supervision and checking of scheme-making authorities have increased and been assumed to a much greater extent by Regions. There is in fact more and more supervision, resulting in swollen Regional staffs, as was pointed out by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn), and sometimes these Regional staffs are composed of not entirely competent officials. There is certainly less and less latitude allowed to scheme-making authorities.
There is, moreover, a constant tendency at Regions to create new directorates. I will give only two examples Quite recently in the Region in which am situated there has arisen a directorate 1700 of laundry services. That is under the Ministry of Health. There is also a directorate of footwear under the Ministry of Supply. What the exact functions of these directorates are I have not yet been able to discover. Often the first one knows of the existence of a new directorate is a letter from it holding up some scheme or questioning some proposition made by a scheme-making authority. There are other directorates under various Ministries, but I think I am correct in saying, as I think my right hon. Friend told us on a previous occasion, that there are no fewer than 15 Ministries concerned in Civil Defence. Many Regional officials are quite ignorant of local government, although it is with local government authorities with whom to a great extent they have to deal. They have to feel their way and learn and, indeed, learn from those authorities which they are supposed to be supervising.
I suggest that some of these officials, perhaps a considerable number of them—for they are ever increasing—are really unnecessary. Scheme-making authorities are not minor authorities. They are the large local authorities—county councils, county borough councils and so forth—and they have large and experienced staffs. The Regional officials appointed to supervise them are quite often less competent and less experienced than those of the scheme-making authorities. For instance, I would say that it is questionable whether Regional works advisers are necessary. We heard from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Abingdon of the defective construction of certain shelters which were approved by the Ministry or its representatives. I would suggest that county architects and directors of works are usually more competent; they are certainly always competent to direct all the work that may come within their purview. In that respect more use might be made of standard plans for the work of Civil Defence, for instance, depots, garages, shelters and so forth. These could be worked to according to the locality and the labour and materials available.
Is the Regional organisation really necessary, except for an operational staff for advising, planning and training purposes under normal conditions, but ready to function as was originally contemplated for the central Government in case of 1701 emergency? For administrative matters it would be better if we could deal direct with the Ministry. At present the man with the local knowledge puts up a plan to a man at the Region who has less local knowledge, and possibly very little, and from him it goes to the Ministry, which has no local knowledge at all. The result is delay and very often friction. The Regional organisation seems unable or unwilling to give any real degree of latitude to scheme-making authorities. I suggest with some diffidence that perhaps this is due to the Civil Service tradition. The functions of the Civil Service, as I understand, under normal peace-time conditions are, possibly quite rightly, to scrutinise, query and to delay, certainly to delay any hasty decision from being made. That may be suitable for peace conditions, but for a war organisation these practices and customs are out of place and result in delay and checking and unnecessary work. It would be far better if some latitude were given to scheme-making authorities which deal in other matters with large sums of money and they were permitted to spend up to a small limit, say £100, without seeking Regional approval.
The devolution to scheme-making authorities would permit of a reduction, instead of an increase as at present, of the large Regional staffs, with a consequent saving of time, paper and money. Some comparison has been made by the hon. and gallant Member for Abingdon with military and naval staffs. In the Services it is generally recognised that, generally speaking, a staff has two functions—first to help its own chief, and second to help that chief's subordinates. I am no judge to what extent these large Regional staffs help their own chiefs, but I am sure that they do not to any great extent help the subordinate authorities, namely the scheme-making authorities for Civil Defence.
I would say a word as to the fire guard service. I entirely concur in the very satisfactory statement which the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary gave at the beginning of the Debate. I agree entirely with everything she said, and I am sure it must have been a satisfaction to her as well as to the Committee to be able to give such a good account of the fire guard service, but I would suggest that the creation of a separate organisation for the fire 1702 guard service has intensified the competition for man-power and woman-power, and none too much of either is available nowadays. If separate organisation for the fire guard is necessary, would it not be better for the National Fire Service to take over the fire guard service, thus ensuring co-operation? Failing this, I suggest that it would be better that the fire guard service should be under the scheme-making authority. The fire guard is a form of air raid precaution, and the duties of the A.R.P. officers and the fire guard staff officers can very often be combined. In spite of what the hon. Lady said, I think that in many cases the wardens' service could usefully take over supervision of the fire guard, thus avoiding overlapping and economising in man-power, and also avoiding what there certainly has been, and that is competition in salaries and pay and conditions between the fire guard staff officers and A.R.P. officers.
At present there is too much discrepancy between the pay of fire guards and other Civil Defence workers. The scheme-making authority, with a small additional staff, could take over the fire guard and could co-ordinate the fire guard and Civil Defence work. I am only too well aware that what I am saying is contrary to the policy which has been decided by my right hon. Friend, but I would ask him whether it could not be reconsidered and whether in any case, instead of there being a hard-and-fast rule, there should be more latitude as to the possibility of making use of the A.R.P. service in connection with the fire guards. The National Fire Service is an example of how a national service can be quickly built up when only one Ministry or Department has to deal with a Service. In that respect the National Fire Service has a great advantage over A.R.P., for instance. Various Ministries are concerned in air raid precautions and in Civil Defence generally. I think my right hon. Friend mentioned last year that 15 Ministers are concerned. The National Fire Service, on the other hand, has only one authority over it, and in consequence it has the best equipment and the best communications, and undoubtedly it is extremely well organised. Moreover, it has very little difficulty in getting adequate staff. I still wish it could be possible for us to have one Ministry dealing with all Civil Defence. I believe that 1703 would make for efficiency and for simplification in working, but, as matters are, I suggest that one small improvement which could easily be carried out would be to have periodical conferences between National Fire Service and Civil Defence officials. This would ensure liaison and understanding between the services. I believe it is carried out in some instances, but it certainly is not universally the practice.
I would say one word about the decision to amalgamate first-aid and rescue parties. I am quite sure that this is right in principle, and I am sure, too, that it is going well in towns, but there are difficulties in the rural districts, where first-aid parties mostly consist of women. They are very efficient at that particular work, but they are being disbanded because they cannot do the heavy work of the combined rescue and first-aid party. There is also difficulty over training of rescue parties in country districts because the personnel are scattered and not easy to get together. The result is that rural districts have to depend upon a few reserve personnel who are lacking in transport and equipment and moreover they have first-aid parties handy. This, of course, is rather unpopular in the rural districts, and they are not pleased about it. The expense due to purchase of more powerful cars to take the equipment and personnel of these combined parties is not inconsiderable, and there is also considerable expense in building garage accommodation for the larger cars, and new depots. In Hampshire, besides 140 mobile parties which have been approved, we proposed that there should be 30 reserve parties with light equipment based on the towns but intended to work in the country districts. The Ministry disapproved of these detached sections, as they call them, being based on the towns, and they will only allow these detached sections to exist in the rural areas, but it is difficult to assemble them in a rural area, whereas from a town they can go anywhere, with transport, in a very short time. In rural areas they are practically immobile. I suggest that they could function from the towns and that they would be useful to augment the mobile parties in the towns in case of there being no call to the country districts.
I should also like to refer to the relations between Civil Defence and the Home 1704 Guard. They are certainly much better than they were. There has been considerable enrolment of Civil Defence personnel in List 2 of the Home Guard, in my own county certainly. I believe my right hon. Friend agrees that it would have been better if originally the two services had been branches of one service, yet none the less that was impossible in the circumstances in which the Home Guard were created, long after the other Civil Defence services had been raised by local authorities and were going concerns. If someone had had the foresight before the war to see what would happen and to raise the Home Guard and Civil Defence as one service with different branches I am sure things would have been less difficult and the co-operation would have been better, and probably there would have been a more efficient organisation than exists to-day. As matters are, everything depends upon mutual understanding between the official heads of the respective services and there being some give and take. That applies not so much to Pie senior officers as to the junior officers. In some cases junior officers are not broadminded enough to see that they have to work together, that they have two parts of the same great job, and where that is the case relations are perhaps not as satisfactory as I believe they are in most places at the present time.
Finally, I venture to endorse what has been said by the hon. Member for West Fulham (Dr. Summerskill) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn), and that is that both the House and the country do owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the voluntary part-time workers in Civil Defence. I am not always sure that these part-time voluntary workers have received all the gratitude which is their due. In some cases I am afraid they may have received more kicks than ha'pence, but we do owe them a very great debt of gratitude. It is they who have enabled the very substantial reductions to be made in the paid personnel of Civil Defence, and day in and day out, sometimes in boring conditions, when nothing important is happening, they keep going, keep efficient, keep learning and are uniformly cheerful under what are not always very exhilarating conditions. I hope they will receive their due meed of praise from my right hon. Friend, as I am sure they deserve it, and from the whole country.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Heneage (Louth)
I should like to ask the Minister whether he will accept the proposition that what is known to the enemy ought not to be secret in this country. In the country districts we are very much worried by the fact that children often pick up dangerous objects, and according to the papers there have been some accidents. Can we have it from the Minister that where possible we shall have pictures of these incendiary bombs? It is a most extraordinary thing, but I have seen a picture of a German bomb which has been called secret by one Government Department, though it is openly illustrated by another Department. That sort of thing causes considerable confusion in the official mind. Are people to be allowed to see pictures of this bomb when there is another Government Department which has marked it secret? Children are liable to pick up incendiary bombs, and it is not safe to allow children to pick up bombs at all. These remarks are applicable also to the bombs of our Army and Air Force. I would ask the Minister to say something about educating children to leave things of that sort alone. It is not very easy to do damage to crops, as is admitted, but it is possible. We have found that some damage can be done, and suggestions have been put forward whereby threatened damage might be avoided. I would ask the Minister whether he will allow me to bring certain suggestions to him. As we are not in Secret Session, it would be better not to mention' them.
We are interested in the country in whether the fire-watching side of Civil Defence is entirely effective. There have not been many official pronouncements about fire watching and fire fighting in the rural areas. The hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) mentioned the question. While there is difficulty in mentioning special danger points and also special methods, I do hope that the Ministry, which has pointed out that certain areas in this country are more dangerous than others, will not forget that during certain seasons country districts are quite possibly in the front line. I ask the Minister to give his attention to this aspect of the matter and if possible to say something about it.
§ Mr. McLean Watson (Dumfermline)
I am pleased that the Ministry of Home Security is receiving our attention. It is 1706 a very important Service, and while we do not claim that it is as important as the Fighting Services, it is certainly worthy of more consideration and discussion than it normally receives in this House. We now have an opportunity of saying how the Civil Defence services have stood the test that has been applied during the past three and a half years. The Civil Defence force has done very well, and that praise applies not only to the areas that have suffered from air attack but to others where there has been no attack at all, and where the services have been kept up remarkably well. I am not sure that it is not more difficult to keep up the services in areas where they are not brought into actual operation than where they occasionally ,.;et an attack from the air. When men and women who are giving voluntary service arc expected to serve week after week and month after month, during which nothing happens in their areas, they are apt to get fed up and to feel that they are not prepared to go on with that work. I know an area that has been specially blessed because it has had no air attack worth mentioning, yet the services have been kept up to scratch and are in a state of high efficiency, so that they will be there if they are required.
I am very pleased that the Home Secretary is to reply to the Debate, because there are one or two points about which I should like to be satisfied. They relate mainly to the National Fire Service. I want to congratulate my right hon. Friend who has built up that Service. It is a splendid organisation and is a credit to him and to all those who have taken a part in building it up. I am not going to complain about the way in which it has been developed up to now. In the past things have not run smoothly between the Minister and the National Fire Service Union. There were differences of opinion and disagreements. I am not sure whether these have been completely got over. I should like to be sure that the Minister is satisfied with their hours of service at the moment. I am not sure that the system of 48 hours on and 24 hours off is the best that can be arranged for that Service. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give us an assurance either that he is in contact with the union on that aspect of the matter or that there is some hope of getting away from that system. I hope he is not expecting that those will be the normal hours of work 1707 in the National Fire Service in peace conditions. I do not think it is a good system, and I should be surprised to know that the Minister has reached agreement with the National Fire Service Union on the question. I think he should get to grips with the matter and try to settle the thing satisfactorily before we reach the end of the war. I hope that the Service will be well organised and that we shall not require to change it when we pass into peace conditions. I am prepared to admit that my right hon. Friend is handicapped because he has not the personnel to organise a properly houred Service, but he should endeavour to get the matter on a satisfactory basis as speedily as possible. I think the question of wages was disputed as well for some considerable time between the Minister and the union.
I should like to get a little information from the Minister as to what is likely to be the future of the National Fire Service. We have had one or two hints to-day about not having a national system; I hope that we shall retain this national system now that we have it going and that we shall look upon this Service in future as a national system, much as I believe in local government, there are certain services that can very well be retained for the nation.
I should like to draw the attention of the Minister to the fact that for some reason a number of firemen have been transferred from England to Scotland. In some cases they are men of middle age who had been doing part-time work in their own areas, very useful work, in some cases market gardening. Part of their other time was given to the local fire brigade. Those men have been taken out of their home district and transferred to Scotland, where they are whole-time firemen. They want to continue their work at home, but that work may pass away, and when their National Fire Service work is finished they will not have their old occupation to go back to. I wonder whether the Minister can do anything in this respect to keep men engaged in useful occupations locally and use their services part-time in the fire brigades? Would that not be very much better than to insist upon their devoting their whole time to the fire brigade service? It would ensure that at the end of the war, when the authorities are wondering what to do 1708 with thousands of firemen whose services will be dispensed with, they will have an occupation. Would it not be better to look ahead to that time and as far as possible employ men who can render part-time service to the fire brigade and who use their services part-time in another occupation?
I agree with a good deal that was said by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn), who raised some very interesting points. His reference to shelters was to a period some time ago, when a number of them were very defective, and it was not very long before those shelters became a heap of rubble. That has not been true during the past year or two. A very considerable amount of waste went on at that time, although I do not blame the Minister for it. He has had a pretty hard job all the time he has been in his present position. In building up the National Fire Service and in running the Ministry of Home Security, he has done his work very well, and I congratulate him on the Service that he has built up. I hope that when the testing time comes and we have to decide whether local authorities are once again to have control of local fire brigades, we shall decide to keep the National Fire Service as a nationalised institution.
§ Mr. Ritson (Durham)
It was pleasing to hear just now that Englishmen are being taken to Scotland, and I am sure that my hon. Friends from Scotland will not object to the presence of a few enlightened Englishmen. I wish the Home Secretary would take a tighter grip of some of the local authorities and compel them to provide decent places for the Civil Defence Service to work in. The hon. Lady who said that many of the present places are artificially lit was quite right. Some have plasters on the windows and the people inside have to sit in artificial light for the whole 24 hours. There is nothing more depressing than that. In colliery districts I found miners doing this work without fires, and if there is anybody more justified in complaining at being without a fire it is the pitman, who provides the fires for other people. I am sure that the discomfort of sitting in the half dark means danger to health. In many cases there is not sufficient air space.
I want to speak about the mixing of the Home Guard, the Fire Guard and the 1709 Civil Defence Service. One of the officials at a colliery lodge was complaining to me the other day. He joined the Army in the last war when he was 16. He was decorated and was there the whole four years. Since this war he has been doing every form of work one would think it possible for a man to do. He is an alderman, he is on the watch committee, is chairman of the fire brigade, and I think he is running a canteen for miners, in addition to working in the pit on every day it is possible to work. He was asked to fill in his time by taking on fire guard duties at night or joining the Home Guard as an old soldier. I think that is carrying the thing too far in industrial areas where these men are working 12 to 14 hours a day, working through every shift in the pits and doing extra work on top of that.
My hon. Friend who preceded me wondered what would happen to these services after the war. The Home Secretary knows my opinion on that. That is where he and I rather differ. Like the other hon. Members whose speeches I have heard today, I must congratulate the Department on doing its work well and fearlessly, but I am not satisfied with the National Fire Service as a whole. Some of us who had very efficient fire brigades in our cities and towns, took a lot of time to settle down and to agree that it was the best thing to do. A mistake was made in the beginning by drawing off the best men we had from the centre. I complained about it at the time. I have complained about it in the House, and I think the complaints I have made have been necessary. I wish they had been acted upon. I could give examples. The district I come from has had its share, and more than its share, of this. When you drew away your most efficient men from the places where there was most life and most industry, the place which it was most necessary should be kept going, it was taking away men who knew the geography of the town and knew the buildings. It is highly important that they should know something about the buildings they are protecting. A delay of three minutes in dealing with a fire may mean the difference between the saving or destruction of a building. It has been possible for this human being who is speaking to have been trained as a fireman as well as a policeman, and I know from practical experience that the fireman must be on the job at once, and that if he 1710 lacks certain knowledge which is familiar to the man trained in the town, it may mean starting something that will not stop until thousands of pounds' worth of destruction has been done.
The Home Secretary—I am not blaming him personally—gave the Regions power to select, and many people who were anxious to evade military service got themselves roped into this thing in a voluntary sense, and then arrived as firemen in an official position. I can give an instance where a furniture-maker has arrived at a very high position in the Fire Service, without ever having been a fireman before—very much to the disgust of the man who has been in the Fire Service all his life, and finds himself under the orders of someone like that. On the watch committees, we were very proud of the firemen because watch committees were responsible for the fire brigades. It does not matter how much brains you have: if you do not know about fires you do not make a good fireman. We believed that the man who had had practical training was worth two men who had not had any. It kills discipline and causes trouble to appoint people who have never had any experience, and there are many men in the Regions to-day in high positions who never dreamt of being firemen until war was in the offing.
I hope that these things will be remembered. I agree about the Fire Service in some of the backward districts. There were miserable people in some of those small councils who would not spend a penny on a fire brigade, as long as they had a big city or borough within reach on which they could depend. In my present state of mind I would rather have the kind of fire brigade that I created myself, than the kind of one you have to-day. By that I mean the local authority.
The hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn), I think, complained that the cost was greater now than at the beginning and yet raids were not as bad. He must have had very little experience of raids. It is no secret that we have put down a heavy fire power on the other side of the water. If he will come with me, I can show him that sometimes it will take two men, as against the one man required two years ago, to deal with the fire bombs, which are now dropped by the enemy. It is not a question of cost. It is a question of saving, at whatever cost, lives in the 1711 areas in which these terrible conflicts are going on. If it is considered to be too expensive, consideration should be given to the position of those country areas where people have never seen a bomb or heard an enemy plane. We had better get efficiency, whatever the cost, in the districts likeliest to be targets when an attack comes. I am not worried about the monetary cost, so long as we can do what is necessary, and can help the morale of people in the towns where they have to work long hours at present and where they are giving valuable time, after hours of work, to the voluntary part of the national effort.
Let me say a word about the fire watchers in the larger establishments. I know that some of the very big firms get their girls to do three or four hours of fire-watching. I know they pay them a fee to do this, but it is of little use getting a fee for something, if in the -process of watching one is half starved to death in rat-ridden places that are a disgrace to the country. I get lots of complaints about girls who have to do fire-watching without heating, without facilities, in rat-infested places as some of them are doing. It is a terrifying experience for young women. If any firm, great or small, asks for volunteers, apart from the girls they have in their employment, to watch buildings at this time, conditions should be laid down by the Home Secretary or the local authority that these girls are to have places fit to sit down in Some schools in some of the large towns where teachers have to do fire-watching, are a disgrace to any local authority. I have had complaints from young girls in certain schools I know very well, where they go regularly, two nights a week, and are terrified by jumping rats and mice. After the children go away these creatures come out and terrify these girls. After all, you cannot drive courage into people, and I have known women who would face anything—any man alive—but not a mouse.
I think all these things ought to tie taken into consideration by the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary. I am confident that when he is not there his Parliamentary Secretary will manage to get on without him, because though she may be small in stature she has high opinions, determination and a knowledge of the people, and she will come through 1712 all right. We congratulate her. We are pleased she is here to-day, after coming through the air as she did at a speed she ought never to have attempted, and that she has recovered to make the speech she has made to-day. I emphasise that the Minister and Parliamentary Secretary are sympathetic persons but there is often a barrier between a Minister and the people. Sometimes certain officials take upon themselves more than they ought to. I feel that if they are going to ask for volunteers those volunteers should receive proper consideration. I came across a miner's widow the other day who was fire watching under terrible conditions and never flinching in the least. She was determined to do it because she felt that while her husband had gone, she had a duty to this country. She is doing it, and I say that she and others are not getting that courtesy and help from officials of some local authorities and from the Civil Service as a whole, that they ought to be given for the work they are putting into this greatly needed service. The Home Secretary knows my views on the position of men who have no experience. Time is healing that now, but I hope it will never happen again that men who know the work, and were brought up to the work, are superseded by men who have escaped other service at the expense of these fellows.
§ Mr. Ralph Etherton (Stretford)
I would like to join those who have congratulated the Home Secretary and his Parliamentary Secretary and all the officials in his Department who have worked to organise the Civil Defence and the National Fire Services into the very efficient organisations they are to-day. The country owes a deep debt of gratitude to all those who are working in the Civil Defence and National Fire Services. I want in a very few moments to raise a matter which creates an injustice for a substantial number of small manufacturers and small firms in my constituency. It affects approximately 150 firms in the Trafford Park area of Stretford and Urmston. It is a problem I believe special to Trafford Park and part of Birmingham and Slough and possibly two or three other areas.
Under a joint scheme the Ministry of Aircraft Production have become the 1713 authority for fire prevention in the Trafford Park area in my constituency and I believe for the other areas I have mentioned. They are shortly to become also the civil defence authority for these areas. As a result of a joint scheme a burden has been imposed on the firms in Trafford Park which necessitates a levy on each and all of the firms in the Park, a levy that is not made on any other firm in any other part of the country except those I have mentioned. It works in this way. The firms in the Park under the joint scheme operated by the Ministry of Aircraft Production are called upon to make contributions towards the cost of the organisation of fire prevention and civil defence in that area, so as to defray the costs of the controller and the assistant controller and the fire prevention officer and various other officials, and also for office accommodation and typing and printing expenses affecting the Civil Defence and the fire prevention services in that area. They are not, of course, called upon to pay the remuneration of any of the individual fire watchers or personnel taking part in Civil Defence other than the broad class of persons I have mentioned.
The effect of this scheme is that if you have a factory on one side of the Manchester Ship Canal you are called upon to pay this levy, and if you have a factory on the other side of the Canal you are free from the levy. It creates an extraordinarily unfair position for small firms. It does not affect the big firms, because they have probably a substantial Excess Profits standard, and they are able to pass it on to the Government by charging it against their Excess Profits Tax, so that the Government pays either way. But it affects the small firms, whose present profits are not up to their Excess Profits standard and, of course, those firms who are trading at a loss. I ask the Home Secretary to look into this matter, to see whether it would not be proper to put these officials and their organisation under the Civil Service. They are in effect employees of the Government, employees, I suppose, of the Ministry of Aircraft Production. In the light of those facts, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to see whether it would not be proper for their salaries and the expenses of the office which they control to be paid by the Government, so as to relieve these small firms and small traders of that unfair burden. If he will 1714 look into it in a sympathetic way, I am sure he will appreciate the justice of the case I am putting forward on behalf of these people.
§ Mr. Butcher (Holland with Boston)
I think it is right for someone who represents an area which has not suffered too heavily from the enemy to pay tribute to the Civil Defence services, not only those who have been engaged for a great part of the time in opposing the enemy, but those who have gone through the equally difficult job of waiting and watching. I join with the hon. Lady in paying a tribute to all branches of Civil Defence, which have helped in every way they could at this time, when we are so pressed for man-power. We know that many of the young men are away in the Armed Forces, but somehow this British race, in this peculiar organisation of Civil Defence—and I am sure the Minister of Home Security would be one of the first to say that, viewed on paper, there is no regularity or unity about it—somehow has thrown up natural leaders in the various areas, and a great debt of gratitude is due to these men.
I would like to give the Minister full marks for what he has done up to the present, but my plea to him is to realise that the people of this country do not take too kindly to paper rules and orders. When my hon. Friend pointed out that the amount of paper had increased, he was told that so has the work. I do not think that is how it should be. We have our shelters built, we have our pumps in position, and we have our people manning the pumps. It is time that we started cutting down the paper. It is easy to have people in Whitehall sending long communications to overworked officials in the regions, and those officials having cyclostyled copies made and sent out to overworked officials in the local areas, and everybody being kept very busy. But if we cut out the circulars, we shall cut down the overwork and cut out some of the ill-feeling—I will not say the bad spirit—that some of these regulations cause.
I turn to this vexed question of fire guard. Nobody likes the job of fire-watching. An hon. Member referred to the inconvenience under which much of it is being carried out. Everybody regrets that inconvenience, but it is not possible to make proper arrangements in an office 1715 which is used for working during all the hours of daylight for it to be turned into a hotel in the night. Provision should be made, however, for the people who in all sorts of circumstances have scratched around and made themselves comfortable in all sorts of irregular conditions, without a great deal of grumbling. The Minister has had a very difficult task. Perhaps his task has been a little easier than that of his predecessor, because he assumed office at a time when the burden was evident to everybody. When the Lord President of the Council started this planning he had to do it in those rather dreadful days of peace. I think that the Lord President would pay a tribute to the right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) for the help which he then gave. We are equally anxious to pay tribute to the Minister, but we warn him that this paper work must be reduced. If it is not, he is going to get a lot more paper work in the shape of Parliamentary Questions.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke)
Hon. Members will agree that we have had a helpful and constructive Debate. The Parliamentary Secretary gave a very informative and clear report of the work which has been done by the Civil Defence forces during the war, and in practically every speech there has been a tribute paid to the opening speech of the Parliamentary Secretary. The Minister and the Ministry of Home Security have passed through some very difficult times. During the regular and heavy night air raids they had great responsibility. The Ministry had at that time to take quick decisions and quick action, often of a serious and urgent character. We had some difficulties with the Ministry at one time, on account of lack of consultation, but now consultation takes place with representative organisations, and there is a complete recognition of the Fire Brigades Union, a fact which is appreciated throughout the country. I am instructed to say, on behalf of my party—and I hope on behalf of the whole Committee—that we want to pay a tribute to the people who, in no matter how humble a capacity they have served, have played a part in Britain's Civil Defence, especially during the nightly raids on our country, on our homes, on our schools, hospitals, churches, cities and industrial centres. It is necessary to remind some people of 1716 that. The experience of those days has been impressed on my mind indelibly. My task as long as I live is to prove worthy of those who played that part during that difficult period. Many of them have passed on. Here am I, a relatively young man, having passed through two world wars, having seen men as young as I cut off in the prime of their lives. Strong, healthy and well clad as some of us are, the question we have to face is whether we are to play a part worthy of them. When I look around sometimes I wonder whether we shall be allowed to. But that is a fatalistic attitude; we must remain optimistic. That question will dominate my attitude in future.
When the history of 1940 and 1941 is written, when the history of this period in particular is written, the record of Civil Defence will stand out. The British people's heroic resistance, the efficiency of the organisation which was built up, has given the reply to those small but powerful circles in this country which, before the war, used to look towards Nazi efficiency and to make us feel concerned about our position. The way our people helped one another during that difficult period is to their everlasting credit, and proves what a great people our fellow-countrymen are. In the main, it was the industrial centres and the ports upon which the attack was concentrated. During that period of heavy night raids I walked miles in London, Manchester, Salford, and centres of that kind. After heavy night raids I walked among the women and stood with the children who were holding their frocks and skirts, and listened to their talk, in order to equip myself to put questions here to the Minister of Home Security. We remember the nightly raids in London and the raids in Manchester and Salford, one of which lasted from 7 o'clock at night to 6 o'clock in the morning. Two instances are impressed upon my mind. One is of a large air raid shelter which had received a direct hit. For days men worked as I have never seen men work before, because there were four very young children trapped underneath. The doctors and the other officials stood there. Here, I thought, is human nature expressing itself at its best, and when we have a system of society which enables people to express 1717 themselves in that way men and women will blossom forth as they have never done before.
§ Mr. Smith
What I am saying is that during this period men and women paid no heed at all to their own position, no regard was paid to profit; what mattered was saving human life when it was at stake. As the doctors brought the children out, one after another, it was something I shall never forget. Another experience I had was when one of the most important and largest factories in this country had been very severely bombed. It was in the depths of winter. The roof was off; it was pouring with rain, it was as cold as it could be, and the men and women carried on at their employment behind tarpaulins, while others worked as quickly as they could to get a roof up, in order to get the machinery working again. That has been the spirit of the men and women of this country throughout this war. It reminds us of what we owe to them.
It used to sicken me to hear some people who had hardly even done a tap in life talk about absenteeism at that time. At that period men and women were working in the factories 60, 70 and 80 hours a week, and at night when they were going there would be a raid on. They would have a little food and then go into the shelters with their families, and it would be the next morning, in many cases, before they got out of the shelters. The wives would then go out and prepare breakfast for the men. That was the period when production was more important than it was at any other period; it was when the tools were being made and the jigs were being prepared in order to turn out the Lancasters which are now causing such havoc over Germany. Therefore, to-day it is good that the Committee should pay tribute to our people for the part they played at that time.
§ Mr. Reakes (Wallasey)
Does not the hon. Gentleman, in paying this wonderful tribute to the people of this country, exclude the number of people who ran away from the bombed cities into the funk holes in the North, South, East and West of this country?
§ Mr. Smith
I agree that there was a certain amount of that, but I do not think it is a good thing to raise that matter now. I hope that we have all profited by that time, and surely these people will have been shamed by the example set by the rest of the country. The local authorities, the police, the wardens, the whole Civil Defence forces, the Women's Auxiliary Service and the women's cooperative guilds during this period made a notable contribution. We are all pleased now with our successes in North Africa and are all grateful for the growing strength of the United Nations. I cannot speak too highly of our Russian Ally in respect of the contribution they are making. The confidence of the United Nations is growing, and, while we recognise that we have a big task before us, victory is on the horizon. But this fact should never be forgotten. All this has been made possible by the heroic resistance of the British people during the time when we were bombed almost nightly and when Britain fought the world's battle of freedom alone. When we remember Guernica, Warsaw, Rotterdam and Lidice we should realise that that is how they would have treated us, only in a more intensive form, had it not been for the efficiency of the Royal Air Force, our defensive system, and our Civil Defence forces. Here is what they broadcast from Germany in September, 1940:It is a question of time. London is facing riots. The authorities prove to be helpless. Everywhere there is the wildest confusion.From Italy they broadcast:Traffic in the City appears to he completely interrupted, and from the number of fires in gas and water works the public services must have ceased to function.From Italy they broadcast on 12th September, 1940:However immense London is, however immense her resources, the day will come—it must come—when it can hold out no longer.Well might the Fascist Hitlerite murderers squeal as they are doing at the present time. They know that they are guilty, and against that historical background we stand here to-clay with pride in our country, in our people and in our Civil Defence. Now they are getting a taste of what they gave to others, and the Nazis are now complaining of vandalism. Who are they to complain at all? Their philosophy is based upon 1719 vandalism, and we are fighting in order to save the world from it. Well might Dr. Evatt pay the gracious tribute he did on the B.B.C. on Sunday night to our people. We are most grateful to Dr. Evatt for the tribute he paid, and it will give our people some encouragement. I often wonder whether American people fully realise what our people have gone through. How many copies of that very fine publication of the Ministry's "Front Line," were sent to the United States? Have films been sent there showing our cities on fire and the effect of the bombing of our industrial centres? The reply that may be made may be that it is a matter for the Ministry of Information. But to-day we are considering Civil Defence, and the heroic response of our people was a factor in Civil Defence, and the British people are now entitled to the maximum support from all the United Nations engaged in the war. Our people have earned it.
We want to get this war over as quickly as possible, and with complete victory. The National Fire Service is now well organised. It was a difficult time for the Minister when he carried through the much-needed reorganisation. When I think of what we risked during that period I am reminded of an incident during a heavy air raid which caused a gas main to burst in an important industrial centre, and the fire lit up the docks and other important industrial establishments. As quickly as possible two gangs of men arrived with handcarts, one gang on one side of the gas main and the other gang on the other side, and both gangs were wondering whose responsibility it was to deal with the fire at the gas main. It was on the border of two local authorities. That was typical of the sort of thing with which we had to contend. It was typical of the chaos with regard to fire fighting. Therefore it was good to see the Fire Service reorganised. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, What is the Fire Council? May we have an explanation? Who are the personnel, and when did they last meet?
I have here an advertisement which appeared in yesterday's newspapers, issued by the Ministry of Home Security and headed:Over 1,000 fires a day are helping Hitler.1720 It is agreed that there are many of what are known as lull fires, and the Fire Service personnel are profoundly disturbed at the increase of these fires. Will the Minister consult at once with the technical associations, the representative trade unions, the Fire Brigade Union, in order that they can put forward their constructive ideas for dealing with the problem of lull fires? Could some information be given to those who are mainly interested with regard to post-war security for those who are playing their part at the present time. Has the Minister considered causing more education facilities to be placed at the disposal of those who are serving in the National Fire Service? Is he encouraging them to develop sport, interest in plays, in music and bands? Has he considered the kind of education being carried out in the Army and the way it is appreciated, and can more lectures be carried out in this Service? Is anything being done to bring the Service into more intimate touch in the localities? I was thinking about this when my hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Ritson) was speaking of his experiences. Periodically in all centres the National Fire Service should take part in public demonstrations in the locality in order to attract and stimulate interest in the locality and they should be followed by brief talks on the microphone, in which there should be impressed on the public the importance of maintaining the maximum efficiency in all fire-fighting appliances and of maintaining a sufficient water supply so that there would be the maximum efficiency in every area. Could not officials of the N.F.S. and ordinary men and women, in particular, because it is about them that I am mostly concerned, be asked to attend schools to give lectures and brief talks to children appealing to them not to throw stones and other rubbish into the static water tanks? I am convinced that education of this sort would lead to the necessary response.
Under the Compulsory Enrolment Order, 1942, some municipalities are concerned about failure to register for fire watching being a continuing offence. What is the position in regard to that? In many cases whole-time Civil Defence personnel are now being withdrawn and being substituted by part-time personnel. Are the arrangements for the provision of uniforms and allowances satisfactory? Are local authorities satisfied with the 1721 financial arrangements? Are there still difficulties in regard to the provision of uniform? If so, I hope they will be remedied as soon as possible, because the Ministry have had ample time to deal with this matter. We all know that a decent uniform helps to stimulate pride in a man's Service, gives him more authority and in times of crisis gives the Service greater recognition. The provision of uniforms is, therefore, an urgent matter.
The Ministry has laid down national standards which are appreciated. What steps are taken to see that these standards are maintained in every locality? Are conditions for fire guards as good as they should be? I understand that Fire Service men and women are now doing munitions work at their fire stations. We want to get the best possible contribution from these people, and I want to ask the Minister whether he will apply the National Engineering Trades Agreement to their work? I think that is a reasonable request. All it means is that those who are engaged on munitions work will be paid by results. Prices would be fixed by mutual agreement to enable a person of average ability to earn at least 27 per cent. The output of munitions is most important at the present time. I have here the minutes of a committee of the General Council of the Trades Union Congress, and they are very concerned about this matter. They state:Letters dated 13th May were read from the Minister of Pensions disagreeing with our contention that decisions concerning injuries to fire guards who were injured should not he based on workmen's compensation law on the grounds that fire guards are in an entirely different position from an employed person.Has anything been done about that? If not, will the Minister consult the Minister of Pensions with a view to getting satisfaction? I also have here two letters which contain questions which should be put to-day. One says:What is the position of a disabled man as regards fire watching, as there seems to he a slight difference of opinion between fire guard people and local private firms? A fire guard office will not employ any disabled men unless they are forced, but other works do have them on duty. When a man has entered an application for exemption on the ground of disability does he have to do fire watching pending the hearing of his case?Here is the other letter:The City A.R.P. authorities, acting on instructions from the Midland Regional Com- 1722 missioner, have merged the Civil Defence First Aid and Rescue Service into a new section called the Combined Rescue Services, from which a mobile column was to be formed. I, together with others from our depot have had a medical examination to see who is fit for it. My case is this: that at nights I work for a firm and this firm is covered by the Essential Work Order and also has large Government contracts. If I am called upon to do mobile work this takes me from production and, being a tradesman, this will affect production. I make this appeal because of the Prime Minister's appeal for a total war effort and Mr. Bevin's appeal for the utilisation of all labour available.It appears that there is some need for examination of these matters. I have here a pamphlet issued by the Fire Brigades Trade Union. I have not time to go into details, but I want to ask, now that we have a National Fire Service, whether the time has not arrived when we should have uniform conditions for those engaged in the Service? If that reasoning were accepted, we should have a nationally uniform pension scheme, and I would like the Minister to consider that matter. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary said that on 18th August the National Fire Service would hold its second anniversary. May I suggest that it would he a tribute to the people of that Service and would help to improve their status and would give great satisfaction if we suggested to-day that that clay should be held as National Fire Service Day, on which fire fighting demonstrations were given in all localities? There was a fire recently at a post office at which two of my hon. Friends overheard some remarks while it was being fought. If what they overheard was correct, it makes us very concerned, and I want to ask the Minister whether an inquiry has been held as to how the fire got going as it did.
The hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) raised several other matters on the Sixth Report of the National Committee on National Expenditure, and I want to direct the Minister's attention to page 5, where it says:The Trades Union Congress have, however, taken the view that any modification of the existing agreement would be a breach of faith"—and we on this side stand by that—and would lead to grave unrest and they reaffirmed their opinion in evidence. Employers' representatives were also of the opinion that existing arrangements must stand, owing to the danger of unrest if they were now 1723 altered. Both parties stated that they themselves had received no evidence that any difficulties or discontent had arisen.The Civil Defence machine is now well organised and is functioning efficiently. Strategically, the position of the war has changed since this policy was adopted. Cannot there be some relaxation, within limits? Do we still need to call on women over 35 years of age for this Service? Cannot we relax fire watching outside a certain radius in a vulnerable area on the condition that all attend at once in the case of an alert? We could keep a skeleton service in being in certain areas, and as soon as the alert sounded the full service would have to come into operation. Let me say that there is no complacency about me in making this suggestion. I realise what is at stake and that our enemies are desperate men who would stop at nothing in order to try and create difficulties for us. Nevertheless, I am asking, in view of the changed strategical situation, our production needs, the response of our people and the fact that they are now beginning to feel jaded, for a review of this fire-watching policy to be made in the light of the new situation.
The observations that were made at the Engineers' conference at Blackpool are typical of the feeling in industrial centres. Anyone who has had any experience of manual work knows that it is impossible to work from seven in the morning till seven at night for six or seven days a week for months together, but our men have been doing it in many cases since 1938. The engineers are asking which comes first, production, home guard, parades, fire watching, or digging for victory. I want to quote from the "Soviet War News":In the raids on Moscow during the summer and autumn of 1941, and in the frequent raids on Leningrad, the people of those cities have given brilliant examples of skill and organisation. In July last year a group of these people received Government awards. Now the Soviet Press quotes the award of Orders and medals to 518 local civil defence workers.Our people have also given brilliant examples of bravery, skill and organising capacity in these raids, but they have not received the recognition that they should have done. Members of the Government have given them recognition in speeches, but the time has arrived when they should be given that recognition in a more con- 1724 crete form. The Honours List should be democratised more than it is. If we are living in a democracy, if we appreciate the services of our fellow countrymen, surely when honours are given out the people who should come first are those who have played their part in the Armed Forces, the Civil Defence workers and those taking part in the industrial life of the country.
The Parliamentary Secretary referred to a new system of air raid warnings. Cannot we be told more about it? Is it intended that the sirens should be changed? Are we satisfied that all our gas masks are as ready and as efficient as they should be? We have to-day reviewed Civil Defence and have paid a rightful tribute to all concerned in it. We have placed on record our gratitude to those who stood so firm when Britain fought the world battle for freedom. My last observations are addressed to the Prime Minister. He needs no reminding of this story. He knows how great our people have been. They do not require pampering, but they deserve more consideration and courtesy and kindlier treatment by public officials than they have received. I was reminded of this when I saw a queue of women and children waiting for their food ration cards. They had been standing for some time. They ought not to be standing in queues of that kind after what they have gone through. The least the responsible officials could have done was to provide them with seats. I want to ask the Prime Minister to issue a circular to all Government Departments pointing out how great our people have been, asking that they should be given by all public officials the maximum of courtesy and that their legitimate grievances should be immediately dealt with. If a policy of that kind is pursued, I am convinced that the spirit of our people is as good as it was at the beginning of the war, and that it will remain till the end of the war.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
The Committee has been exceedingly kind in its references to the work of the Ministry of Home Security and to the Fire Service Department of the Home Office and the other Civil Defence departments concerned, and it has been very kind to me. I was otherwise engaged earlier in the 1725 Debate, and I am very glad the Committee accepted the difficulty in which I was. I was with the Prime Minister when he received the freedom of the City. I very much wanted to hear his speech; it was a great occasion, and he made a great speech. Moreover, apart from the joy of listening to him and seeing the great assembly, one always, as a speaker oneself on and off, learns very much from listening to the Prime Minister, and I was anxious to improve my technique. I have been rather out of practice lately, as hon. Members may have noticed.
I congratulate the hon. Member for North Bristol (Mr. Bernays), and his colleagues of the Liberal National Party, for having initiated an exceedingly valuable discussion, and having put the Ministry of Home Security under review after the lapse of a quite considerable time, because the last Debate was limited to an argument about local authorities and finance. The last substantial review of Civil Defence work was two years ago, and it was time the subject was reviewed again. I will not go over the very considerable changes in Civil Defence organisation which have taken place since 1941, because I understand this was dealt with by my hon. Friend. I heard very good accounts of the admirable exposition which she made, and I am grateful for the ability with which she expounded the work of the Department. I will read the OFFICIAL REPORT and comment on it in due course, but I am very glad she has been so successful. The hon. Member for North Bristol approaches this matter with considerable experience as a former Deputy Regional Commissioner who rendered valuable and useful work to the Department and the State. His main point was whether the Ministry of Home Security is careful in trying to relate and adapt its organisation, its personnel, its numbers and its expenditure to the changing situation as time goes on.
That is a perfectly fair and sensible point to raise, and, if I were unable to answer that in the affirmative, I think the Department would be legitimately subjected to a great deal of criticism. I can assure the Committee that I have sought, in conducting this service, to do that very thing, In the days before the blitz the organisation was built up with considerable ability by my predecessor, the present Lord President of the Council, on an admittedly theoretical basis. He had to 1726 try and guess the shape of things to come if and when war arrived and air attack took place. On the whole, the guessing was not bad guessing. He would not claim, and I would not claim, that the organisation was perfect, but it was not far wrong. It was not fundamentally wrong, and on the whole it stood up to the test. But it was the case that in the period of the blitz of 1940–41, there were many things that we learnt were not quite as they ought to be. Certainly my hon. Friend went through experiences in which he would say quite properly that that was so.
We made adaptations as we went along. We made strengthenings here and there. We developed co-operation. We had the Regional machine, and, finally, the greatest revolution of all—we merged in England and Wales 1,450 fire brigades into one National Fire Service at one blow —one of the quickest administrative revolutions that ever took place. There were 200 brigades in Scotland taken over by the Secretary of State for Scotland, and the Government of Northern Ireland independently, took the same course, and they have very much the same organisation there. The chief of the fire staff and the inspector in chief inspects the whole of the Fire Service ac Great Britain by arrangement between us and the Scottish Office. The case for the National Fire Service has been admitted. The House was very good when it passed the Bill, and, broadly speaking, everybody agreed at that time, and would agree now still more, that it was a wise and sensible move to take. An hon. Member on the other side of the Committee who spoke earlier was not at all sure that it was right to set up the National Fire Service. I refer to the hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson). There have been other references to the subject, but I would say that the general judgment of the country and of those experienced technically in fire fighting is that it was right. I should mention also the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Ritson), who speaks with great authority on many things, having been a miner, a policeman and a fireman. In consequence, I always deal with him with great circumspection.
Another change that took place in that critical period was the expansion of the Regions. It has often been said, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) said in his 1727 well-informed speech, that the Regional machine with the Regional Commissioner was created solely or practically solely from the point of view of the possibility of invasion, when the Commissioners in the Regions or parts of Regions would have to become de facto His Majesty's Government and take action. I am not quite sure how far that is historically accurate. I would not argue about it, but I am bound to say that whatever the original intentions were, that is not the fact at the present time. As far as I am concerned, it would be wrong if it was. We learned as we went along. We gathered experience, and it was found, broadly speaking —I do not say it is necessarily true of every local authority or of Hampshire—that if in the areas which were hard hit the individual local authorities, even county councils, had been left to stand on their own feet without the Regional machine to give them outside aid and leadership, with the strength of Govern-mint Departments behind them, and the co-operation and mobilisation of local authorities, they would have been in the soup in the days of the heavy blitz. At the time when the Regions were established I was leader of the London County Council, which is the greatest municipality in the country and a very powerful body, but, believe me, despite the power of that body, despite its great resources and the high qualities of its official staff, when the present Lord President of the Council and I discussed this set-up when he was Home Secretary, and I was a municipal man, I never took up any attitude of superiority as far as the London County Council was concerned. I recognised that that great authority might be in great difficulties unless the whole of the resources of the Region or the country could be pooled.
It is true that the Region has developed into an almost general utility machine. There has been discussion about the staffing, and it is true that the Regional staffs went up at one stage. I have since reviewed the staffing position more than once. I have cut the staffs and held them as firmly as I can, and I will continue to do so, because one must keep a watch on these outlying semi-dominions as well as on Whitehall itself It is true that the shelter work declined, and I insisted on redactions both in Whitehall and the Regions
1728 Round about that time the fire prevention and fire guard work rapidly increased. What we had to do was to take on an enormous piece of detailed organisation and administration, probably one of the most detailed and necessarily elaborate pieces of organisation anywhere to be found in the civilised world. It meant the building-up of a part-time army. I do not know the number, but I imagine that it includes round about 4,000,000 or 5,000,000 people. Before the fire guard proper came into existence we had the spurious and unsatisfactory scheme of employing full-time fire guards. It did not work. When the incendiary raids came it was clear that we had to cover every inch of the ground in vulnerable areas. This meant the organisation of millions of people, first on a voluntary basis and then on a compulsory basis. I admit that this meant that Whitehall was partly imposing its will, but there were much more cheerful things about it than that. It was also partly providing the machine in which the voluntary civic effort of our people could be organised—because the bulk of the people had been perfectly willing to play their part although it meant a pretty hard strain on them. It meant Whitehall seeing to it that this vast organisation did not start from Whitehall and lead to the street. It had to start from the street and lead right up to Whitehall, and from individual business premises and up to the Supply Departments. That was the problem, and I think the Committee will agree that it was an extraordinarily big piece of organisation.
These things the region have had to do. They have had to act for a wide variety of State Departments. I assure my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Peters-field and my hon. Friend the Member for North Bristol—and I think he will be disposed to agree with me from his own experience—that if we had not built up the regional machine—which I believe has been a considerable success—on a basis of proper delegation from Whitehall to the regions, we should have had to have enormously swollen staffs in Whitehall, we should have had to centralise the detailed administration and Whitehall would have been choked with a mass of local detail, and it would not have been able to do the job. It is said by some people, including some town clerks, that they do not want to deal with regions. If they 1729 have an argument about the administrative work of a State Department they want to deal with Whitehall. That is a ridiculous point of view. It really is absurd, except on the basis that it is nice to come to London.
§ Mr. Morrison
There is a lot in that. I remember the disappointment of the first Scottish deputation which I received in connection with transport matters when I agreed with them straight off. They were quite clear that they had not had full value for their money. Just as it is true that the strength of British local government is its local initiative, its local self-reliance, its ability to settle things between the town hall and the individual citizen, so I believe it is equally true that the more we can settle on the regional level the better it is. For these reasons the regional machine has expanded, and in the case of the fire guards it has relieved my office of an enormous amount of work which we could not well have done.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Bristol also mentioned the change in the military situation, and referred to the recent speech of the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Fighter Command, which the newspapers, I am sure, faithfully reported, even though the headlines perhaps gilded the pill, or the lily, just a little. It is difficult enough for politicians to keep a clear balance when they are, making a tricky statement of the sort the Air Marshal was making, and we sometimes fall down and get into trouble with superior authority. If it is difficult for us who are accustomed to the finesse of debate, how much more difficult must it be for the commander-in-chief of a great and vitally important service of the State? For myself, I do not dissent from what the Air-Marshal said in principle. I think that what he said, broadly speaking, was sense. Perhaps I would not have put it in that particular way, knowing the reactions of public opinion, and the headlines perhaps ran it a bit hard. What he really meant was that as far as he could see—this is what I think he meant—it was not likely to be possible for the Germans to resume the heavy and continuous raiding that took place in the winter of 1940–1941.
§ Mr. Morrison
That is what he thinks. He is not without reason for that view. It is not an unreasonable view. The situation might change, but, as far as one can see at present, that is not a bad judgment. But this is the point that must be kept in mind. It is the case that the German air force is heavily occupied and stretched over a wide area. So are we. That is quite true. On the other hand, the relative strength of the Allied Air Forces has gone up, and that of the Axis air forces has gone down. That is the truth, and as far as I can, see it is likely to be the truth, and the wider that gap becomes the better the situation becomes.
§ Mr. Reakes
What is the point of speculating on whether the German air force is down or not, or whether there is a likelihood of heavy air attack?
§ Mr. Morrison
That really is an extraordinary question. A point was put to me by my hon. Friend, and I thought it right that I should deal with it to the best of my ability and as shortly as I could This must, however, be remembered. On any night, and within reason at any place within Great Britain, a substantial raid might be made by the German air force. Remember that even if only 20 aircraft come loaded with high explosives, under modern conditions the damage is a fair amount, and it the 20 aircraft come three-quarters loaded with incendiaries to create fires they can cause a lot of trouble, unless there are on the ground an adequate number of fire guards—and trained fire guards at that—and a strong National Fire Service. Fire is, perhaps, the most dangerous single element in the business, because of the speed with which it spreads and the enormous damage it can do, and therefore when it is stated that the relativities of the position are materially better than in 1940 and 1941, that must not, I suggest, obscure the fact that any night, anywhere—and I do not know which night, and I do not know where; I wish I did, it would be much 1731 simpler—I have to take account of possibilities.
Therefore, although the Germans cannot, I think, give us the widespread continuous raids we had in 1940 and 1941, nevertheless at any place, any night, they can give us a raid which may be, in its effects, not very far short in intensity of the raids on many provincial cities in 1940 and 1941. That I think is a fair and balanced picture. My dilemma, is that I must have a machine which is capable of standing up to the "any night anywhere" attack, even if I know it will not come all over the country, Therefore, I must be a little cautious in reducing the machine, because otherwise some unfortunate locality may get a terrific raid one night, and the House would be indignant with me afterwards if the machine was in a state of neglect and was too small. But I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for North Bristol that, all the same, the reductions which we have made in personnel have been very substantial. Figures were given by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. I admit that I run risks. Some of the local authorities have said, "You are really endangering the future as far as our town or city is concerned, and you must take the responsibility." It was a fair request on their part, and I have taken it.
But having run some risks, for it was my duty to do so, in favour of the offensive rather than the defensive mobilisation of the country, because that was in accordance with the spirit of the people, and on balance the wish of the House, I am sure the House would not wish me to take foolish and reckless risks, even though it is proper to take risks up to a point. I can only give this undertaking to my hon. Friends the matter will continue to be watched. I do not want to keep one person in the Civil Defence Services who is not reasonably and properly required for the necessities of the Services. I do not want to order one fire guard or other person into compulsory part-time Civil Defence unless there is reasonable public cause for so doing; I really do not, and I will try to be as sensible, as adaptable and as rational as possible in this business as time goes on and circumstances change.
The hon. and gallant Member for South Portsmouth (Sir J. Lucas) who was him- 1732 self until recently a member of the National Fire Service, complained that too small a proportion of decorations go to the men and too many to the officers. I have made inquiries, and I am informed that my hon. and gallant Friend must be misinformed. That would be an inaccurate and unreasonable point of view to take. The hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Higgs) wished uniform to be supplied for part-time works fire brigades throughout the country. I do not disagree with my hon. Friend, but there arc two things I would say about works fire brigades. Taking them by and large, they have done useful and valuable service in fire fighting in the country. They are of advantage to the National Fire Service in two ways where there are proper co-operative arrangements, and one is that they provide a first line of defence against fire at the factories to which they are attached. That is a substantial advantage to the National Fire Service, whose task is to that extent relieved and lightened.
Secondly, many of the works firemen are willing to fight fires outside their factory hereditament, in co-operation with the National Fire Service, to which many of them are, so to speak, affiliated. Our relations with them are good. They were a little bit cold to us at first, which was perhaps quite understandable, but now there is every tendency for the works fire brigades to wish to join up with us. If they are part of our show, we must seek to determine the official ranking of their officers; we must seek to secure that the grading is broadly right. With regard to the uniform I would like to have all the works firemen in National Fire Service uniform in the same way as part-time firemen, and I agree with the hon. Member that there is a strong case. It is mainly a practical issue. We are stumped for material or, rather, not we but the Board of Trade. The nation is badly short at the moment, and the battle with the Board of Trade is not about their wanting to give us material for uniforms but rather that the Board of Trade are getting stickier and stickier about textiles. I am not grumbling. In the circumstances it is a matter of supply. I can assure my hon. Friend that my heart is in the right place, and, if there is anything I can do, I will certainly do it.
1733 A point was raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Chichester (Lieut.-Commander Joynson-Hicks), of which I already had some knowledge. He referred to alleged extravagance in altering a house for a Regional column. I put my head on the block straight away and admit that there were imperfections. The lessons have been learned, and while I am not aware that the position is quite as bad as my hon. and gallant Friend alleged, I admit that we were perhaps in some aspects naughty. I will try my best not to be naughty again. The people concerned have been suitably conferred with, and I hope that good will result. The question is being followed up and dealt with by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, and we hope to improve matters.
I gather that the only really critical and rather unhappy, sad and depressing speech in the Debate came, which surprises me, from my usually cheerful and hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. W. H. Green). I am interested to hear that a stern lesson on his duties to his colleagues of the Labour movement was read to him by the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), to whom I am grateful for having read to my hon. Friend the proper doctrine. I have asked the Parliamentary Secretary to remember the services of the hon. Member for West Fife in the proper place, when she goes to the next meeting. I cannot follow the complaints of my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford. I gather that he was complaining about the separation of the fire guard service from the wardens service, and upon it he built up a considerable case—I will not say a substantial one, but a vigorous one—of complaint and criticism. My information is that the Metropolitan boroughs have not separated the fire guard service from the wardens service, acting with the consent and concurrence of the Regional Commissioner. He, within the discretion that I gave him, did not disturb the old system, and the fire guards are still tied up with the wardens. I cannot quite follow, therefore, the complaints of my hon. Friend, which presumably were made in respect of the borough that he represents. No change has been made in that respect. Therefore, if something is wrong in Deptford, the fault is in a system which I rather wanted to modify but which London, within the 1734 discretion that I gave, have contracted out of.
§ Mr. Morrison
I will certainly read my hon. Friend's speech, and it may well be as he has said. Experience is showing in the provincial areas that they have come to the conclusion that it is not reasonable any longer to expect thief wardens to do all the complicated and varied tasks of the wardens service as well as the variety of tasks connected with the fire guard service, made more heavy as they now are because of the tie-up with the National Fire Service. I came to the conclusion that we were asking chief wardens to do too much, and that their service was so big that it had better stand on its own feet. I gave a discretion to Regional Commissioners, who have quite properly used it in a number of cases.
The hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams), for whose interest in these matters I am grateful and of whom I always speak with very great respect, remembering his position as chairman of the Sub-committee of the Select Committee on National Expenditure that deals with the National Fire Service, has always taken a very great interest in the work of the National Fire Service. The Report which that Committee presented was one about which I certainly had no complaint. It was a fair Report. There were some points with which I did not quite agree, on matters of fact or even on conclusions, but it was helpful, positive, constructive, and my instructions to the officers of the National Fire Service were: "Don't be cross about this. Take it seriously. Learn from it, and treat it with respect." In the early days there was some little laxity in the use of petrol, and there was one dramatic case—which became still more dramatic before we had finished with it—but which had a beneficial effect. The situation rapidly improved. I will not say that everything is absolutely perfect in this vast machine, 1735 but it is substantially right. It is certainly wrong for us to be reckless about the use of petrol, but, on the other hand, we must do exercising and training in the interests of the efficiency of the Service.
The hon. Member referred to the Civil Service and its nervousness sometimes, and the fears that make it afraid to chance its arm. Sometimes the reason is that civil servants are afraid of the Minister or of political embarrassment to the Minister. This is perfectly true. They are, of course, apprehensive of Parliamentary questions, including those of the hon. Member for South Croydon himself. I will not go quite as far as my hon. Friend, but in principle I do not dissent from what he said. If a man is capable and generally efficient and, because of his desire for speed and efficiency, sometimes makes a mistake, I am not disposed to be too hard on him. I would sooner he were that sort of man than one who is always trembling like a leaf and making for cover on every occasion, with the result that he moves at about one-third of the speed he should. I like quick moving civil servants. I like speed in the machine and decisions implemented without delay. We have very good service in my Department. I have every reason for gratitude to the civil servants in the Home Department and the Ministry of Home Security. On the other hand, it is the case that civil servants must not get into trouble too often.
My hon. Friend was followed later by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn), who pursued us with great vigour about certain shelters. I forget whether it happened in my time or before, but this was the position: There was a need for the rapid building of shelter when war broke out, and later on during the blitz there was a shortage—[Interruption]—and France fell, and that brought air attack much nearer to us. It was a nasty moment when France fell, nasty for France, not too nice for us either. It brought the enemy much nearer. Consequently, we had to extend the building of shelter, and a great deal of work had to be done. There was a shortage of cement. I remember this, because I was up against it at the Ministry of Supply when I was dealing with the problem.
§ Mr. Morrison
I will not go into that, because that would be touching on a Ministry of Supply matter, but at any rate there was a problem, and people could not get cement. The Ministry of Home Security could not get cement, so the technicians looked out for something to mix with it. They did their best and produced certain formulae with which they thought they could get a substantially good product by diluting. The Army was taking a lot of cement for works as protection against military invasion, some of which has not survived military experience. A circular went out to the local authorities giving them formulae as to how this particular type of cement should be used. The trouble, quite frankly, was that while the circular was accurate, and the technical terms were accurate, they were very technical, and they were in many cases misunderstood by the local authority technicians. I wish my people had been a little more expansive and that local authority technicians had been a little more bright in understanding the circular. Mistakes were made, though it was not altogether a mistake, because in some cases the condemned mixture when used at certain times of the year stood up to the weather conditions. [Interruption.] Weather conditions had a lot to do with it. When weather conditions were bad, it went wrong. While we did not come out of this 100 per cent. perfect, the officers were well-meaning. They were trying to alleviate a pressing problem of supply. If the mistake had happened in a private concern, probably no one would have heard anything about it, but it being a Government Department, Parliamentary Questions came along. That is as it should be under democratic conditions—but I think my hon. Friend made too much of it. I would add that the officers were suitably spoken to and given guidance for the future in language of clarity and firmness. That is an example the other way round of the matter to which my hon. Friend was referring.
The hon. Member for South Croydon referred to the special agreements regarding fire guards. There is a history behind this. I tried my best to get general agreement to the view that fire guard duty was a part-time civic service and should be upon the basis of civic service, not upon the basis of wages or making what one could out of it, which would be perfectly legitimate in the ordinary way of 1737 employment. Before the Orders were made many commitments had been made, agreements had been freely entered into between employers and trade unions, and the trade unions said, "If you try to upset these agreements, there will be so much bother that you will lose rather than gain on the transaction." Let me say that the employers agreed with them. [Interruption.] I know, but the employers and the unions did agree. These temporary suspensions of the class struggle are not without their embarrassments. There was agreement from both sides about it.
I take the view in principle, I still take it, that this is a civic service, that it is desirable that all should in principle be on the same fiat-rate basis of expenses and that there should not be payment as remuneration at all. It is purely a matter of expediency as to whether the row involved in making a change would be worth the candle. We have not yet decided about it. In this, another of his Reports, the hon. Member for South Croydon is giving me rather more to think about, but I thought it would be best not to stir up this trouble while I was in the middle of remodelling the fire guard Orders. Now that we are nearing completion we will have to see what can be done. In principle I cannot argue with my hon. Friend, and if the position remains as it is, with people getting different rates, it will be on grounds of expediency, not on grounds of principle, so far as I am concerned.
On the question of the N.F.S. and the Y.M.C.A. and other places, which several Members have raised, I am sorry about the position, but we have done our best with N.A.A.F.I. and the others. Their trouble is that their administration would be complicated, and that they are really congested already. There are repercussions in various directions, and they say they cannot do it. I would like it done, but the position up to now of the responsible authorities on the other side is that it cannot be done.
Questions have been raised about the future of the National Fire Service after the war. I do not know what that will be. I frankly admit that I gave an absolute promise that the brigades would go back to local government after the war. I did not say they would go back to the same authorities, but I said that they 1738 would go back. I said that sincerely and categorically, and no other decision has yet been taken by His Majesty's Government. I am bound to say in all fairness to the Committee however—it is not I alone who say it; a good many other observers say it—the experiment of a National Fire Service has taught us a great deal, and we must not be unwilling to think again when we come towards the end of the war as to what it would be right to do in the national interest. The general interest must prevail.
I am perfectly clear that the part-time service which was a feature of many local brigades must remain, particularly for the rural areas. The part-timers have proved their worth. They have done a good job, and I am grateful to them. In the whole field of Civil Defence part-time people have been a great asset. The great bulk of the members of these services are part-timers. In the Civil Defence general services an overwhelming majority are part-timers. This is less true in London, where there are exceptional difficulties. It is especially true of provincial areas. All this part-time service has been in itself a great demonstration of the fine character and spirit of public service of the British people.
The hon. Member for West Fulham (Dr. Summerskill) was rather concerned about the 48–24 hour week, and that had already been mentioned by the hon. Member for Dunfermline. We did not adopt it on grounds, so to speak, of what the right and fair hours of duty would be or on grounds of amenity but on grounds of assuring fire fighting efficiency. In the man-power situation we really could not help ourselves. It meant that if we had not done it, the fire fighting power of the country would have been materially less than it is. That was the basis on which it was done. It is the basis on which I defend it. Let me say that it has not been as unpopular in the Service as certain people thought it was going to be. Some people prefer it to other shifts. From a firefighting point of view, it was undoubtedly an improvement.
My hon. Friend referred to some bad and unhealthy conditions down below. I forget whether she referred to tuberculosis —I think not—but there has been reference to tuberculosis in connection with this matter. I can find no evidence of any connection between these conditions 1739 and tuberculosis, nor any dramatic evidence of bad health. There have been allegations, but not evidence. When I interrupted my hon. Friend I was not trying to score a debating point, but it is difficult to deal with a matter if one has not the evidence before one. If it is an allegation, I will treat it as such, but I shall be glad to consider any evidence that my hon. Friend may put before me. We have improved the conditions at the fire stations. At many the conditions have not been all that they might have been, but they are improved, although I will not say that even now they are all that they should be. My hon. Friend tempts me to go into the question of equal pay for equal work, but I do not think that I should use this restricted Vote for that purpose. Besides, the work is not all equal. The hours are often different, and so is the nature of the work in many respects. But this raises a wider issue than I can deal with within Departmental limits.
I have dealt with many of the points raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Petersfield in the interesting speech to which I have already referred. Quite a number of the regional officials are familiar with local government; some we have borrowed from the local government services. On the other hand, we have taken a number of people in who were not formerly local government officials. Many of them could not be, because they had technical jobs unconnected with local government. I admire the local patriotism of my hon. and gallant Friend—I have had some of it myself—and I am sure that his view is that if I would leave the County of Hants alone, give them the grants and not ask too many questions about what is done with them, things would be much better. He may have a good case, but I cannot run the whole country on that basis. But while we do not want to check every penny, we have to exercise reasonable care; otherwise the State could lose a great deal of money.
§ Sir G. Jeffreys
I suggested that it might be possible to make strictly limited grants —I think I mentioned £100 as a maximum —which scheme-making authorities might be allowed to spend—and which undoubtedly they would have to account for in time—without question or leave.
§ Mr. Morrison
The difficulty is that there is a large number of authorities, and there might be a large number of items upon which £100 might be spent. While we try not to be any more meticulous than we can help, especially with authorities like the Hampshire County Council, which is a big authority, it is difficult for the State not to concern itself about these amounts. But I do not think we are as sticky and bureaucratic as might be thought. I have responded to the invitation to express my opinion on what the Civil Defence volunteers have done. No praise can be too high.
I shall be very glad to talk to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Louth (Lieut.-Colonel Heneage) about the problem of fires on agricultural land. The Ministry of Home Security and the Ministry of Agriculture have circulated advice to the appropriate people, but it is quite right that we cannot go into much detail on this matter in public. To the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline I have referred. I cannot say that the 48–24 hour week was agreed by the union. The union objected, and I reluctantly disagreed with their view. There was a great agitation, which made both of us, the union and myself, cross, but we have settled down now, and I think it is working well. We have a joint consultative committee between the unions and the Ministry on Civil Defence, and our relations are good. We have also the National Advisory Council for Fire Prevention, on which the employers, the unions, local authorities, and others are represented, and that has been of great value to me.
My hon. Friend the Member for Durham referred to the strain of part-time compulsion. In principle I have already dealt with that by saying—and I very much mean it—that I do not want to compel anybody to do anything for the pure fun of compelling them. There is no fun in it. But the difficulty is so great, and I have to make people do things, as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour has to. We try to take into account the human factor as we go along. The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Etherton) referred to the fire guard joint schemes. It is a bit complicated, and perhaps he would be good enough to have a talk with the Parliamentary Secretary, 1741 who is expert on this subject. I know the problem, and I think that that course might be helpful. My hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Butcher) paid a tribute to local citizens, and he was very anxious that the volume of paper should be cut down. He said that if we did not cut it down in one way, he would increase it in another, by Parliamentary Questions. I absolutely agree with him. The paper has been decreased on shelters, but it has gone up on fire guard matters, and it is bound to go up a bit more for a time because of the new Regulations. We try to keep it down, even if we do not altogether succeed, and in the light of the warning my hon. Friend has given. I will try a little harder to be good in this respect.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) paid a tribute, for which I am grateful, to the Ministry and to the Service. He asked how our relationships were with various bodies, local authorities, unions, and the advisory committee. Broadly speaking, they are very sweet and good, although we have an argument about something now and again, which is inevitable. He did right to recall the conditions of the blitz, and I am grateful for his favourable references to "Front Line." Not many copies of the British edition have gone to America, because I wanted to get an American edition published. I am glad to say that that has been done. There have been a number of editions in foreign languages as well, and I am hoping to get one published in Russia.
§ Mr. Morrison
About 2,000,000. It is very successful. It is a fine story.
The Fire Service Council does not do as big things, but it is in principle something like the Army Council, the Air Council, and the Board of Admiralty. Various elements of administration are represented on it, and we meet from time to time as matters of common interest arise. It is the case that many matters are dealt with direct by me administratively and, therefore, the body does not meet very frequently, but it is useful to have it. It is a corporate body, and we meet on occasions when business has accumulated and requires a meeting. The educational 1742 facilities are developing. The discussion groups have on the whole been very successful. They have worked smoothly and so far have not got us in to any political trouble. The Civil Defence Comforts Fund looks after a good many things and is presided over by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, and I can assure my hon. Friend that we try to run it in the spirit of his speech. We will look at what he says and if we can make any improvements we will do so.
With regard to the N.F.S. and production work, I cannot say that this is based on trade union agreements and I do not see how it could be. The fireman is employed by us full time for a full weekly wage. The firemen do this work on State premises and we pay for the heat, power, rent and rates. We are safeguarding the union's and the employee's position in this way. The job is costed on the basis of what it would cost any commercial enterprise. A certain sum is deducted for overheads and goes to the Exchequer, and the balance is divided, 50–50, between the Exchequer on the one hand and the service on the other for its collective enjoyment. I think it is better than individual payment, which would create a lot of unions' and the employee's position in this friction. It would be a matter of sheer luck and of where men were employed, whether they got advantage of this work or not. It is as fair as we can reasonably make it.
The N.F.S. anniversary is being celebrated. We intend to have a reasonable celebration this year, and I hope that every year as long as the National Fire Service exists there will be some sort of recognition of this birthday of the National Fire Service. It will be found that in the fire guard—I say this in reply to another point raised by my hon. Friend—some relaxations are already being made possible in the new Orders which have been made. I note the points about rewards and recognition of good service, and I will try this system as far as I can. I am very grateful to the Committee for the kindness of their reception of the Estimates, and while I may not have dealt with every point raised, they will all be duly noted by me. I will have them reported on, and every one will be examined and considered. 1743 Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again"—[Major Sir James Edmondson]—put, and agreed to.
Committee report Progress; to sit again upon the next Sitting Day.