HC Deb 02 November 1944 vol 404 cc942-4
39. Mr. W. H. Green

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is yet in a position to make further relaxation of fire-guard duties in London, South and East England.

42. Mr. John Wilmot

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether, in present circumstances, he will reduce the hours of duty required of fireguards in the areas where fireguard duties have not already been completely relaxed, by requiring smaller numbers to be present or by any other method.

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

As my hon. Friends are, no doubt, aware, fire-guard, duties have been completely relaxed over a large part of the country, and this area is now being extended. It has also been decided, in consultation with the other Ministers concerned, to reduce substantially the amount of fire-guard duty at night in London and in all other parts of the country where fire-guard duties have not yet been completely relaxed. The scheme of relief will provide for a reduction in the number of fire-guards on duty at business premises at night to the minimum necessary for keeping watch during alerts and summoning the National Fire Service when necessary to deal with outbreaks of fire. The aim will be to reduce the number of fireguards required to be on duty so as not to exceed 50 per cent. of the number required by the existing arrangements, and in many cases, especially in the larger business premises, the reduction will be appreciably more. There must, obviously however, be some minimum in all cases, and consequently the only method of securing a reduction in numbers in small business premises will be to group together where possible suitable numbers of such premises for fire-guard duty. The re-arrangements will take some little time and fire-guards should continue to report for duty as hitherto, until notified by their appropriate authority, through the occupier of the premises, that the adjustment has been made. There will be no alteration in duties of street fire parties, whose members already sleep at home and turn out only when there is enemy activity in their neighbourhood.

The object of this relaxation is to release from duty during the present lull as many fire-guards as possible, but to maintain in being a skeleton service which can be brought back into operation speedily if the enemy renews, or is believed likely to renew, incendiary attacks on the areas concerned. The House will be with me when I say that the Fire Guard has rendered great service to the nation in response to the call that "Britain Shall Not Burn." Parliament and Government alike highly appreciate the work of these men and women. I am confident that we can rely on them to resume their duties promptly should they be called upon to do so.

Mr. Wilmot

Can my right hon. Friend give some further details of this very welcome relief? Can he state the minimum numbers that he has in mind for smaller premises, and give any idea of the date when this relief will come into force?

Mr. Morrison

I hesitate to give a figure for the minimum, because it will vary according to the circumstances of the case. In some cases it may be as low as three or even two, and in others it may go up to nine or more. It must depend on the size of the building. As to the date of operation, it is bound to vary in accordance with the practicability of administration in the circumstances. I thought I would make the statement as soon as I could, but I am sure the fireguards will stick it until their particular authority has passed the word that the relaxation can be made.

Sir Percy Harris

Is it not unwise for the right hon. Gentleman in present circumstances to be too optimistic in the London area? Could he not be realistic about it?

Mr. Morrison

I have taken all the realistic accounts into consideration.

Mr. Bowles

In order to assist the lighting of the streets of London, could not fire-guards be instructed to leave blinds up in premises where they are on duty, and pull them down when there is an alert, so that people may be relieved of some of the gloom?

Mr. Morrison

It would be a bit rough to put that duty on fire-guards.