§ Mr. Grimston
I beg to move, in page 12, line 32, after "may," to insert:after consultation with such associations representing local authorities as appear to him to be concerned.We had a discussion on this point on the Committee stage. It will be remembered that the local authorities were concerned that, when the right hon. Gentleman was making regulations with regard to the transfer of property, and so on, he should consult them. At the time, the right hon. Gentleman gave a pledge that he would so consult them. It happened that he received the local authorities that afternoon. He told us that he had given them the pledge, and that he would consider, later on, the necessity for putting the words into the Bill, if we desired it. In my own view, I think it would be a good thing to put the words into the Bill having regard to 1432 the fact that he has given a pledge. I hope, therefore, that he will see his way to accept this Amendment.
§ Mr. Ede
It is true that I had a consultation with the local authorities, and, indeed, our proceedings were so harmonious that afternoon that they did not press me to do anything. I regret that the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Grimston) should be more distrustful of me than were the local authorities. But, nevertheless, I have a great respect for his estimate of my character, and I realise that it is desirable to protect oneself from one's frailties, and, therefore, I accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. Grimston
Might I say that if I were assured that the right hon. Gentleman would always remain the Home Secretary, I would not press the Amendment.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Grimston
I beg to move, in page 13, line 30, at the end, to insert:Provided that any property vested in a local authority being a fire authority for the purposes of the Fire Brigade Act, 1938, and used only partly for the purposes of the National Fire Service shall not be transferred to fire authorities except with the consent of the local authority which shall not be withheld unreasonably and which may be given subject to reasonable terms and conditions and if any question shall arise under this provision it shall be determined by the Minister of Health.This Amendment raises a slightly different point, which was also discussed on the Committee stage. It is that on the transfer of the buildings to the fire authority, some of those buildings will have been used in the past both for the fire service and as depots, or for other purposes, by the local authorities. The local authorities are concerned about this. The question of the ownership of a site or building arises. The local authority may have to transfer a property which is in part use by them and for which they have paid. The object of the Amendment is to put local authorities in a strong position to assert their rights in this matter, with the proviso that in the event of a difference of opinion it should he submitted to the Minister of Health. This matter was discussed in the Committee, when the Home Secretary said he would look into it again. I am now inquiring what result has come from the talks he has had with local authorities on the matter.
§ Colonel Wheatley
I hope the Minister will accept the Amendment. It is very reasonable and it gives the authority protection which they want if their property is likely to be taken away. The fire engine may be kept in the building which is also used for other administrative purposes, or for the storage of council property like carts or lorries. It will be very inconvenient if it is taken away from them without consultation. We ask that they should be consulted. My hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Mr Grimston) has asked that the Minister of Health may give a decision, so that local authorities will not be holding up any arrangement unreasonably. The Amendment would give them full protection.
§ Mr. Ede
We discussed this matter in Committee and I undertook to consider the best way of dealing with the situation. I have very considerable sympathy with the point of view of the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Grimston) but I do not think I could include the Amendment in the Bill. Let us be clear on the point. If the depot of the urban or non-county-borough has been partly used for fire services, the whole depot cannot be transferred to the county council, but only that part which has been used for the fire services, or the laying out of which has been charged to the fire service account. It would be almost impossible in the old days to spot what was charged to fire service account, unless there had been a loan. Expenditure on the fire service was part of the general district rate and was lumped in with all the other general expenditure of the area. Therefore, only the part which was in fact used for the fire service can be transferred under this Clause.
The appropriate thing to do is so to frame the regulations as to provide that there shall be consultation, and that, if there is no agreement, the matter shall be submitted to arbitration. I would not welcome this matter being submitted to the Minister of Health. After all, this is a fire service, and you might just as well say that a dispute with a police authority should be referred to the Minister of Health, or that when he has a dispute with a health authority it should he referred to the Secretary of State, or that a question of doctors' remuneration should come up with a health authority, the Secretary of State should settle it. 1434 That is not the way we conduct our administration in this country. The appeal should lie to the Secretary of State. It should be made clear that where that kind of situation has arisen, in which part of a building belonging to the county district council has been used for fire services, the county council will either have to find a new building or will have to rent the part of the old building, which can sometimes be done without any detriment to the county district council's-services.
Sometimes a fire station is part of the municipal offices or the municipal depot. It should be easy to arrive at the appropriate rent for the new fire authority to pay to the old fire authority for the use of those premises. I hope that we shall be able to cover by regulation the points raised in the Amendment. I do not think, except in one or two cases, great difficulty is likely to arise.
We might get up against the kind of thing which has arisen in Lancaster with regard to the police offices, and which also arose curiously enough in Lancaster also with regard to some of the school buildings which had been given to the old non-county borough, and might have passed to the county education authority, when the non-county borough education powers were withdrawn. I do not think we shall come up against this kind of thing in the fire service. Certainly, it would be most exceptional, in view of the fact that the fire service has been a much more co-ordinated service in those non-county boroughs than either police or education. The arrangement that I suggest will enable us to deal with the practical situation.
§ Mr. D. Jones
A large number of county districts have in the past used a centralised repair depot for their fire service vehicles. What will happen in the event of a dispute about the occupation of the repair depot when the services are transferred? I do not quite agree with my right hon. Friend when he argues that disputes ought to be referred to the Secretary of State, who, in this case, is an interested party. The arbitrator should be a disinterested party. There is the other point in regard to a building used for administrative purposes by more than one service of the local authority. There again, there may be difficulties. Indeed if my 1435 information is correct, there is some difficulty now in regard to the transfer of part of one building, as a consequence of the Police Act, 1946. Perhaps my right hon. Friend would like to say a word about that matter now.
§ Mr. Pargiter
There is a further point upon which we should like elucidation on the question of paying rent for part of a building. It will involve some difficulty in the case of a building used both as municipal offices and as fire station. If the fire station was on separate premises, they would be transferred to the new authority. But the fire station may be in part of a building used for other purposes. All the loan charges on it may have been paid off, and, consequently, if the building is to continue to be used by the fire service, there ought to be no rental charge. I hope my right hon. Friend will elucidate that point.
§ Mr. Ede
With the leave of the House, I will reply to the points which have been raised. I think where a new fire authority has to use rooms or buildings which are part of the equipment of a county district council and which cannot be divorced from the equipment of the county district council, some financial arrangement will have to be made, because it is so difficult in these cases to trace what was bought out of fire service money. It is not like the police station, the school or the education offices which, in the main, were built out of a loan, in respect of which the authority had to get the sanction of the Ministry of Health or some other Government department to the raising of the loan for that specific purpose.
My hon. Friend the Member for the Hartlepools (Mr. D. Jones) asked what would happen in the case of a county district—and it would have to be a fairly large one—which had its own vehicle repairing depot, and so on, part of which was used by the fire service. Every case will have to be examined on its merits, and I should have thought that in that case, if the county desired to use those facilities, they might very well do so on a customer basis. That is to say, they might make some arrangement whereby vehicles which they wanted repaired could go to the county district council's depot and be dealt with there on some agreed scale of charges. I think generally an 1436 arrangement in respect of labour and materials plus a certain percentage for overheads is agreed between the two authorities, and this is regarded as a suitable arrangement. But, of course, there is a variety of arrangements which can be made. I think the same principle applies to the other points which my hon. Friend raised with regard to the relationship between the old and the new fire authorities.
I hope that in the spirit which now prevails, we shall be able to launch this new system without any great difficulties with regard to these problems of the joint use of buildings, some of which will only be required for joint use for quite a short time until the county can make the appropriate arrangements. During the existence of the National Fire Service, arrangements have had to be made, and reimbursements from the National Fire Service to the county district councils have been made without, so far as I know, raising any difficult questions between the county district councils and the Home Office. I imagine that the same kind of spirit will prevail between the county district councils and the county councils.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Grimston
I think this short discussion has shown that many general problems will arise, but, so far as the Bill is concerned, the position we have reached appears to be this: The Home Secretary will have to have consultations with the local authorities. The right hon. Gentleman has given a pledge that in these particular cases also he will have consultations, and has also given a pledge that in the regulations there will be provision for arbitration in the event of complete deadlock. They will have to come before the House, and so it seems to me that we have covered the position as far as we can. In those circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Ede
I beg to move, in page 13, line 31, to leave out paragraph (e), and to insert:(e) for the reimbursement of interest and redemption charges incurred, by an authority for the purposes of the said Act of 1938, in respect of moneys borrowed in connection with property vested in pursuance of the last foregoing paragraph for rendering the fire authority in which the property is so vested liable for 1437 the reimbursement, and for the determination by the Minister of Health of questions arising under this paragraph.This is a drafting Amendment, designed to meet certain criticisms of the wording of the Bill which were made by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe) when we were in Standing Committee.
§ Amendment agreed to.