HC Deb 12 June 1947 vol 438 cc1447-51

Amendments made: In page 40, line 36, at the end, insert "AND MANAGEMENT SCHEMES."

In line 40, after "matters," insert: or to which management schemes relate (hereafter in this Schedule referred to as 'management matters').

In line 41, at the end, insert: Provided that in the case of an authority constituted by a combination scheme so as to become a fire authority on the appointed day, provision for management matters may be made either in the scheme constituting the authority or by the variation of that scheme as soon as may be after the appointed day. (2) In this Schedule references to a fire authority constituted by a combination scheme shall be construed, in relation to management matters, as reference to such an authority the area of which consists of or includes one or more counties other than the County of London.

In page 41, line 2, after "twenty," insert: and Subsections (3) and (7) of Section (Fire brigade committees in counties).

In line 6, after second "authority," insert: and in the case of an authority being the council of a county the management scheme for the authority.

In line 11, after "establishment," insert or management."

In line 15, after "establishment," insert or management."—[Mr. Ede.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

8.47 p.m.

Mr. Grimston (Westbury)

Before we pass the Third Reading of this Bill there are one or two things I should like to say. I should like to express appreciation to the right hon. Gentleman for the way he has met us in the Committee stage and on Report both in the matters we have discussed this afternoon and on other questions. The coming into law of this Bill will mean the demise of the N.F.S., and I do not think one ought to let the occasion of the Third Reading of this Bill pass without paying a tribute to the magnificent Work done by the National Fire Service. In saying that I am quite persuaded that the set-up under this Bill, whereby the fire-fighting services pass back again to the local authorities, is a far better arrangement for peacetime.

One of the consequences of this Bill compared with prewar is that there is going to be a higher expenditure both in money and manpower. Whereas the strength of the full-time firemen before the war was 6,000, at present it is 22,000. I was glad of the assurance that the Home Secretary gave us during the Committee stage that the figure will be considerably reduced, although, of course, the level left will be higher than before the war, and I think he said today that by the time the appointed day came the figures would be down somewhere in the neighbourhood of the envisaged establishment for peacetime.

The real answer to the fire menace is not an expensive and large fire-fighting service. It lies in the old proverb, "Prevention is better than cure." What we look for is the improvement of building structures, the segregation of dangerous processes, the installation of sprinklers, and other preventions against fire. I only express the hope that a good deal of attention will be given to that side and that the knowledge of the existence of a far better fire-fighting service will not diminish the efforts being made in that direction. I will not refer to Scotland. We have had a discussion about that, and I would conclude by saying that it will be agreed that, as far as England is concerned, we spent our time well on the Bill, which leaves this House a much better Bill than when it entered it. I again thank the Home Secretary and I commend the Bill to the House and to those who have to work it

8.50 p.m.

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

I must thank the hon. Gentleman the Member for Westbury (Mr. Grimston) most sincerely for the generous words which he used about me. It has been a very great pleasure to pilot this Bill through the Committee and through the House. We had rather a rough passage on the Second Reading, but I was very gratified at the way not merely the Members of the Committee, but also the local authority associations buckled to the task of making as good a job of this Measure as we possibly could. I join with him in his tribute to the National Fire Service, and I was very pleased that my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council, who was the father of the National Fire Service, came in to be present at this preliminary stage in the funeral of the child which has done him so much credit. I am not at all sure that if my right hon. Friend had had his way we should have got away with this Bill quite as easily as we have in the matter of cutting the throat of this very promising and efficient child. At any rate, the Government are one and united and the views of the Government have been put before the House most emphatically by me at all stages of this Measure.

It must be borne in mind that the National Fire Service saw this country through the greatest ordeal by fire it has ever had to face. It enabled reinforcements to be brought to the aid of very sorely stricken districts in a way which the previous system would not have contemplated, let alone have expected to perform. I join with the hon. Member also in expressing the hope that those measures which deal with the prevention of fire will receive more attention in some places than they have hitherto. I hope that one effect of a more efficient rural fire service will be that the fire authorities themselves will undertake instruction in various forms in order to minimise the risk of fire. I consider that the new service, whose shaping we have now finished so far as this House is concerned, will prove worthy of the very high traditions that have been set for it by the work of the National Fire Service during the period when the service has been withdrawn from municipal control.

I regret that we have not been able to have today's proceedings without a Division, but at any rate those of us who represent English constituencies are not responsible for any delays which may have occurred today. I want to thank my hon. Friends on this side who were in touch with local authority associations and who took part in our deliberations upstairs for the very helpful way in which they brought to the notice of the Committee the points that were perplexing those associations. There are one or two matters in this Bill which are of very great complexity, particularly the effort to rewrite the pension and compensation schemes for these people who have had so varied a life in the last six or seven years. I am quite sure that the House will realise that the regulations which will have to be made to carry out as far as one can the points that have perplexed the House today will need very careful study.

I have undertaken to let the hon. Member for Westbury know when these regulations have been tabled so that we may have ample opportunity of discussing any points which are still doubtful after the regulations have been drafted. I desire that every person who came from the municipal service into the national service and now returns to the municipal service shall have nothing but happy memories of his time in the national service and shall not be prejudiced in his future municipal service because of this second transfer in the course of what, for many of these men, is a comparatively short professional career. I thank the House for the response it has given to the Bill.

8.55 P.m.

Colonel Wheatley (Dorset, Eastern)

I do not want to encourage any further internecine strife on the Government Benches, but I think the Lord President of the Council should be very grateful to the Home Secretary for the way he has undoubtedly satisfied the local authorities over the contentious point of what was meant when the Lord President, as Home Secretary, said, "I am going to hand the fire brigades back to the local authorities." No doubt most local authorities thought they would get back the ones they had before, but the Home Secretary very cleverly got round that difficulty. I think everybody will now be quite happy and satisfied over that. The First Schedule will clear up that difficulty and everyone will be satisfied that all will now be well.

We have, quite rightly, heard praise of the National Fire Service, and we might also say a word of appreciation of what the old fire brigades did. Many of them were extremely efficient, and the local authorities responsible for them were rightly very proud of them. I only hope that the local authorities will take the same pride in the new fire brigades. I have one word of warning for the Home Secretary on the question of expense. The local authorities are very worried about the undoubted extra expense of this new system, and responsibility rests with the Home Secretary in making his schemes to see that the authorities, especially in the country districts, are not too ambitious in having too big a brigade or too many brigades, or too many buildings out in the country. Fires take place mostly in the towns. We may get houses burnt down in the country—Himley Hall and Lulworth Castle were examples—but such incidents are few and far between compared with the dangers in the towns. I am sure the local authorities will be very contented if the Home Secretary will bear that in mind. I would add my word of thanks to the some Secretary for the very sympathetic and amiable way in which he has accepted our Amendments. I hope he will agree that the Opposition have been able to assist him in improving the Bill

8.58 p.m.

Mr. Maclay (Montrose Burghs)

I find myself in rather a quandary because, as far as I understand, 38 Clauses out of the 39 Clauses in this Bill have a very reasonable degree of support in all parts of the House, but unfortunately there is no harmony or agreement about the 39th Clause—39th not in number but in total. Owing to the peculiar device of the Scottish application Clause which produces a scheme which is not acceptable in Scotland, whereas the English Clauses are acceptable, one is left wondering what on earth to do about it. I do not really want to divide against the Third Reading in these circumstances. The only thing I can do to meet my position—the Procedure of the House does not fully provide for the quandary I am in—is to stop speaking at once, collect my papers, and, with as much dignity as possible get out of the House before I can be accused of having agreed to this Bill.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.