HC Deb 31 March 1947 vol 435 cc1794-812

Considered in Committee [Progress, 27th March].

[Major MILNER in the Chair]

10.44 p.m.

Question again proposed: That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to make further provision for fire services in Great Britain, to transfer firefighting functions from the National Fire Service to brigades maintained by local authorities, to provide for the combination of areas for fire service purposes, to make further provision for pensions and other awards in respect of persons employed in connection with the provision of fire services, and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid (in this Resolution referred to as 'the Act'), it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament: A. Of any expenses of the Secretary of State incurred—

  1. (i) in making grants to authorities in respect of expenditure in connection with the provision of fire services, of amounts not exceeding twenty-five per cent. of such expenditure;
  2. (ii) in the provision of instruction in matters relating to fire services;
  3. (iii) in the provision of equipment for purchase by fire authorities for the dis. charge of their functions under the Act;
  4. (iv) in giving effect to provisions of the Act relating to pensions, allowances and gratuities in respect of service in fire brigades and other service which under the Act is to be reckoned as equivalent to such service, and in making payments to other authorities in respect of liabilities incurred by them for pension purposes, and in the payment of compensation in respect of loss of emoluments or pension;
  5. (v) in defraying expenses of Advisory Councils constituted under the Act;
  6. (vii) in paying remuneration to inspectors, assistant inspectors and other officers appointed under the Act,
and of any administrative expenses of the Secretary of State incurred in giving effect to the Act. B. Of any increase in the sums payable out of moneys provided by Parliament under the Personal Injuries (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1939, the Superannuation Acts, 1834 to 1946, the enactments relating to the superannuation of persons employed by local authorities, and the Fire Services (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1941, being an increase attributable to the provisions of the Act; and to authorise the payment into the Exchequer of any receipts of the Secretary of State under the Act.

Mr. Grimston (Westbury)

I beg to move, to leave out lines 14 and 15.

If hon. Members will refer to paragraph A (iii) of the Financial Resolution they will see that it allows the Secretary of State to provide equipment for purchase by fire authorities. I want to know what is intended to be done under this heading. If this merely empowers the Secretary of State to dispose of equipment which might by left on his hands, we have no objection to that. But if it implies that the Home Office is going to set up a supply department for fire appliances then we have an objection. It seems to us that there is the Ministry of Supply at hand as the supply department and that it is merely duplicating matters if the Home Department is to have a supply section within itself to supply equipment to the local authorities. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will be able to dispose of that point right away and if so, it will save a great deal of time.

10.45 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Thomas Fraser)

The hon. Gentleman is, in part, right. It is no part of the Government's intention to set up supply divisions at the Home Office and the Scottish Office. We did have some equipment, and we shall have some equipment still to dispose of when the fire service is handed back to the local authorities, and we considered it desirable to put this provision into the Resolution, because, of course, provision is made in the Bill for the Secretary of State to provide equipment for purchase by the authorities. We have visualised that local authorities might wish to facilitate the purchase of standard equipment in future, and that we should play a part with them in organising the purchase of equipment which is, in turn, to be purchased by them. It was to facilitate that that the provision was put in. I should like to indicate the type of equipment, but I think that during the war years, and, indeed, before the war started, it was found to be of great convenience for the central authority to purchase equipment when it was hurriedly needed for supply to the fire service authorities.

Mr. Niall Macpherson (Dumfries)

I understood the Joint Under-Secretary, in what he has just said, to indicate that there was a certain amount of fire equipment available at present for disposal to the local authorities. During the Second Reading Debate, the Secretary of State for Scotland gave me a reply to the effect that the equipment necessary to establish the fire services would be handed over free of cost. That seems rather to affect what the hon. Gentleman has just said. Is this equipment to be handed over to the local authorities free, or will they have to pay for it? The Secretary of State, quite definitely indicated that it would be handed over free of cost to the local authorities.

Sir John Mellor (Sutton Coldfield)

It seems to me that this provision is quite unnecessary. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, in his Second Reading speech, justified the provision for central purchase on the ground that it was most necessary to have standardisation, but he has ample power to secure standardisation under Clause 20, under which he may give to any fire authority directions, determining equipment of any description specified in the direction, to be maintained by the authority. Therefore, the main argument about having any provision of this kind has been thrown away by the Home Secretary himself. I cannot see why the fire authorities should not be competent to decide upon and purchase what equipment they need, and, if measures of standardization are necessary, the Home Secretary has ample power under Clause 20 to secure that standardisation.

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

I thank the two hon. Members for their contributions, and I will endeavour to make the point quite clear. We have at the moment a certain amount of equipment which is used by the National Fire Service. We propose to distribute that equipment free to the incoming local authorities, on a basis which will be agreed by them. It was represented to us, in the course of the negotiations, that some local authorities would prefer that certain equipment, such as hose, with the couplings which it is very desirable should be standardised in construction, should be obtained centrally, and should be available for them by purchase. It is not proposed to set up inside either the Scottish Office or the Home Office a supply department to deal with that equipment. If it is found that local authorities desire this service, it will be carried out by the Ministry of Supply. I propose to move an Amendment in Committee to make it quite clear that no authority shall be compelled to purchase from the central store, if set up. If they desire to purchase their own materials, they will be free to do so, but they will, of course, have to have regard, as the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor) has pointed out, to the absolute necessity of having a standard form of equipment for those parts that may have to be used in conjunction with an adjoining fire service. I hope. therefore, that this power will not be operated unless there is a demand for it to be used from local authorities, but, should they so desire, they will get their supply from the Ministry of Supply, and it will not be through any department of either of the two Offices promoting the Bill.

Mr. Shurmer (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

The Home Secretary has indicated that this Fire Service equipment from the N.F.S. will be distributed free to the different local authorities who may require it. I would like to ask him what will be the position of the large local authorities—I have in mind my own city which, at the outbreak of war, had one of the finest fire brigades in the country—who had some of their equipment taken from them. Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to see that such authorities receive back such equipment, so that they may get back to the position in which they were at the outbreak of war? I have in mind, of course, the position of Birmingham under this new Bill. The fire service cost Birmingham a fivepenny rate in 1939. Under the new set-up, it is going to—

The Chairman

The hon. Member is getting on to a point quite outside the Bill. It seems to me that he is raising a matter which might properly be raised in Committee on the Bill, but which certainly cannot be raised on the Money Resolution.

Mr. Shurmer

With due deference, Major Milner, I would point out that the Home Secretary talked about giving away surplus equipment I want to know what is going to happen to the local authorities who had to give up some of their equipment at the outbreak of war

The Chairman

The hon. Member has made his point, but, as I have said, it cannot be discussed on the Money Resolution.

Mr. Grimston

I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his explanation. As he has satisfied me on the point I wished to raise, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question again proposed.

Mr. Marlowe (Brighton)

I only wish to ask two points on the Motion. It is a usual criticism, when we come to a Money Resolution, that the Treasury is going too far in the expenditure of public money, but I must point out that on this occasion, the reverse is the case, because, in line 11, as the Money Resolution stands at the moment, there is a limitation of 25 per cent. of the grant which the central authority can make to a local authority. I want to ask the Home Secretary to reconsider that amount, because the limitation is really too small. It would be quite out of Order at this stage to go into the question of what the Bill compels, or may compel, a local authority to do. Indeed, I do not want to make my Second Reading speech again. The point is that the general effect of what the right hon. Gentleman has done in this Bill is to throw a very considerable burden on to the local authorities.

The Bill is something in the nature of a sham because, while maintaining central control, the right hon. Gentleman has given the appearance of giving the fire brigades back to the local authorities; but at the same time he is pulling so many reins himself as to have complete control. He is now in the position, with the large expenditure of money with which he is concerned at the moment, that he is able to give directions to local authorities on a hundred and one different things which they may have to do in the regulation of their own fire brigades. There is nothing here to indicate where the limitation is to be drawn. It virtually amounts to this, that the right hon. Gentleman may say to a local authority that he wants them to do this and that with their fire brigade, and may involve them in considerable expenditure and, when it comes to meeting that expenditure, he may say, "I am only going to give you 25 per cent. as a maximum." It is not necessarily 25 per cent., according to my reading of this Resolution; that is the maximum. I do ask the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider that figure, because this is going to throw a considerable burden on to local authorities in financing fire brigades over which virtually they have no control. There are considerable precedents for doing so. The right hon. Gentleman will remember the grants which are available for road undertakings and in the Police Bill, and in a number of other authorities. I think the grant is up to 50 per cent. in most of those cases. I ask him to consider these a least, and to come into line with them before this matter is finally concluded, and to decide to give local authorities more than a 25 per cent. grant.

Mr. H. D. Hughes (Wolverhampton, West)

I want to add a word on the lines of what has been said by the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe). I do not want to labour this point. It was made during the Second Reading Debate, but I was not fortunate enough to have a chance of speaking on that occasion. The county borough which I represent takes a very serious view of this 25 per cent. limitation. Before the war it managed to get by with a rate of seven-eighths of a penny for its fire services. During the war, that had gone down to five-eighths of a penny under the National Fire Service scheme. Now, under the regulations which are being imposed upon it—quite rightly, to get an efficient fire service—the rate is going to be something in the neighbourhood of 8½d. That, in view of the rises in other local authority expenditure at this time, is a very serious matter. The Home Secretary, when he moved the Second Reading of the Bill, rather congratulated himself on having got 25 per cent. out of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he quoted a learned friend of his, Alderman Dale, in an earlier stage of the proceedings, in a very congratulatory mood.

Mr. Ede

May I say that he is no friend of mine.

Mr. Hughes

I apologise to my right hon. Friend, but I would like to assure him, that many county boroughs are not feeling in any congratulatory mood about this 25 per cent. limitation. I should have liked the opportunity to argue this point in Committee, but because of the way this Resolution is drawn, that will not now be possible. Therefore I have taken this opportunity of putting this point to the right hon Gentleman again.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan (Perth and Kinross, Perth)

I also would like to emphasise this particular point, because, as the hon. Member for West Wolverhampton (Mr. H. D. Hughes) has said, we shall not be able to discuss it after passing the Money Resolution. I think there is no doubt that the associations of local councils, especially in Scotland, are deeply moved about this particular figure of 25 per cent. There may be some good reason for it, but they argue that as education gets 50 per cent. and police gets 50 per cent., why must this figure of 25 per cent. be fixed in this case? If the right hon. Gentleman would give a direct answer to the question why this 25 per cent. has been fixed, it might help to allay the troubles of the local authorities who are deeply concerned about this question. If the right hon. Gentleman will do that and will give us a good reason, that may end the argument, but we ought to know why. I hope he will not say that in 1938 they got nothing. In 1938 they may not have got a grant, but they did have complete control of the fire services.

Mr. Ede

indicated dissent.

11.0 p.m.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

It is no good the right hon. Gentleman shaking his head. Even if they had not got complete control, they had far more control than they have under this Measure. Will the right hon. Gentleman say on what the 25 per cent. is based, and why that figure is chosen? —because the local authorities are deeply moved about this, and I do not blame them.

Mr. Shurmer

I am sorry to intervene again, but on the Second Reading of the Bill I felt rather "sore" because, having been a member of a local authority for 26 years and having been on the fire brigade committee, there was a lot I would like to have said, but, unfortunately, there is not much I can say now. My local authority in Birmingham are very much opposed to this figure of 25 per cent., in so far as a great local authority like that, controlling one of the finest fire brigades in the country, in pre-war days had a 5½d. rate. The new set-up will cost half a million pounds or a 1s. 1d. rate, and, whether the Home Secretary likes it or not, we shall have no control over that fire brigade. We shall be told what men we must employ, what equipment we must have, what wages we must pay, and we shall be directed as to disciplinary action, the appointment of the chief officer and the schools to which the men shall go for training. A local authority, if they are going to control their fire brigade, do not mind what money is required to be paid out of the rates, but they strongly object to having to pay 75 per cent. of the cost and to have virtually no control over their fire brigade. I wish to make my protest on behalf of the City of Birmingham. I hope the Home Secretary will reconsider the matter before the Bill comes to this House for its Third Reading, and will give a larger grant to local authorities. As it is, they are going to lose control of their fire brigades; they are going to put out the fires, and pay for it.

Sir J. Mellor

Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have protested that the way in which the Money Resolution is drawn will restrict discussion. The trouble is that exactly the same figure has been put in the Money Resolution as has been put in the Bill. I submit that the figure in the Money Resolution should have been somewhat greater so as to widen the terms of the Money Resolution and permit adequate debate. In the Second Reading, it was obvious that every speech, except those from the Government Bench, advocated an increase in the rate of grant to local fire brigade authorities. That being so, it is rather unfortunate that the Government should persist in keeping the terms of the Resolution so tight. I interrupted the Under-Secretary in his winding up speech, to ask if the Government would withdraw this Money Resolution and substitute one drawn in rather wider terms, in order to enable Debate to take place in Committee, and he replied that, of course, Debate would be able to take place, because there was a Clause in the Bill.

It is true there is Clause 25, which provides for exactly the same rate of grant as appears in the Money Resolution, and it would be competent for anyone in Committee to move to reduce that amount to something less than 25 per cent., but, as I have pointed out, every single speech on the Second Reading, except from the Government Front Bench, advocated an increase. So the Clause will not be helpful to the Committee. What the Committee will want to discuss will be whether or not 25 per cent. is adequate. While they might be able to discuss it, to some extent, on the Question that the Clause stand part, in order to discuss it in a proper way it should be possible for an Amendment to be put down to increase the amount. With the Money Resolution as drawn, that, of course, will be quite impossible. I submit that the Government are not being fair in dealing with this matter of, perhaps, the most vital importance of all. Compared with the Second Reading, hon. Members will hardly be able to touch on it at all. The Government should reconsider the terms of this Money Resolution so that the Debates that take place in Standing Committee may represent the feeling which was shown on all sides of the House during Second Reading, and in order that this very important point may be fully thrashed out. I hope the Government will consider this point very seriously, because it is not a party point at all; it is one on which there is universal feeling that the matter ought to be seriously considered.

Mr. Pargiter (Spelthorne)

The Committee should remember that the agitation to get the fire services handed hack to the local authorities started with the local authorities—and very rightly. They wanted the services back. It is equally true to say that they would have undertaken, presumably, to have met the cost of those services, as they did prior to the war. The alarming fact is the estimate in this Bill as to what the cost of those services will be. It is appalling to think that our fire services in the country, having regard to the known efficiency of all the larger authorities, will cost approximately four times as much in the postwar period as they did in the prewar period. That is a factor which is most alarming to the local authorities who will be charged with this responsibility. What they are afraid of is, that the Department will have a tendency to ask them to live up to the £12 million rather than concentrate on the question of the efficiency of the service, which might be maintained at a lesser figure. They are not left very much scope, if they are given orders to do things which they might not think absolutely necessary in the interests of an efficient service.

There ought not to be this very wide gap between the prewar cost and the postwar cost, to justify the figure which is included in this Bill. If it were possible to bring that figure down and the Home Secretary agreed, even if the figure were to be reduced the cost to the Treasury need not necessarily be reduced, but could remain at the maximum figure of £3 million, which has been suggested. That might be worth consideration and examination with the idea of maintaining an efficient service. In the knowledge that the efficiency they produced would not necessarily reduce the amount they had to recover from the Treasury, they would at least be given some degree of encouragement. I hope the Home Secretary will be able to consider the possibility of giving, at any rate for some fairly considerable time, a fixed maximum grant based on the maximum figure provided, if that is all we can get out of it, with a view to seeing whether we cannot get the figure of £12 million down to some more recognisable figure within the purview of the local authorities.

Mr. Niall Macpherson

The hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Pargiter) started his remarks by saying that local authorities clamoured for the return of these services. I do not know quite what happened in England, but in Scotland, at any rate, the position was, that something like one in six, in reply to a request by a circular on choice, answered that they would like to have the service handed back to the National Fire Service. I should think one of the main reasons why they said that was because in so doing, presumably, they would have to pay nothing and the National Fire Service would pay everything. Of the remainder, quite a number said they would like to have the services handed over to the joint committees. But one or two, like my own county, for example, very cannily said they would like to have them handed over to the committees, provided that there was an adequate Government grant. I do not know whether this has been taken into consideration sufficiently. There is no doubt whatsoever that these local authorities do not regard 25 per cent. as an adequate Government grant, especially as it involved rural districts, particularly, in an enormously increased cost. In some cases it is six, eight and ten times more than they were paying in 1939–40.

In those circumstances, it is quite obvious that the 25 per cent. grant from the Treasury is quite inadequate. There is no means of compensating it otherwise, particularly as joint committees have already been set up in Scotland. They have more or less committed themselves to sharing on a flat basis between burghs and rural areas. They have committed themselves, so that now they cannot have differential rates. Thus it is that rural areas are particularly hard hit in this matter, and the 25 per cent. grant would go nowhere near giving them anything like justice in this matter. I quote one example, the example of the County of Dumfries, where, in 1938, the cost of the fire service was a little over £1,000. Under the new scheme it is going to cost something like £20,000 in the whole county, and would go to 25,000 on the three-shift basis. In those circumstances, the 25 per cent. grant would be a mere drop in the bucket.

Mr. Younger (Grimsby)

I should not be addressing the Committee at this stage if we had had any argument so far for this 25 per cent. grant to which we could attempt a reply. During the Second Reading Debate hon. Members on both sides of the House referred to this point. My right hon. Friend will forgive me if I say that neither he nor the Under-Secretary of State told us anything about the method by which this figure had been reached. We were told by the Secretary of State simply that there never before had been a grant, and we had been lucky to get this; and when the Under-Secretary came to reply, he was at pains to say this was not on all fours with the police force; but the only distinction he was able to draw was, that in deciding the remuneration costs local authorities were directly concerned with the joint industrial machinery, whereas now that machinery would be worked as between the council and the Home Secretary.

That may be true, but, of course, in practice, it is not a very big distinction, when we think of the great expense that is going to fall on the local authorities in this matter. They will take pretty cold comfort from the fact that they themselves are concerned directly in the joint in- dustrial machinery. The Under-Secretary admitted immediately afterwards that the discretion of the Secretary of State in questions of remuneration will be closely limited by the fact that he will have to take the advice, and abide by the decisions, of those engaged in the joint industrial council.

The expenditure in which the local authorities are involved is very heavy, and the restrictions or their discretion in running these forces are very considerable, covering every phase of their activities. I think we are entitled to hear from the Home Secretary why he is offering a grant which, so far as I know, is the minimum of grants that are offered in any comparable case, and much lower than in most of the other cases, whether we take education, health, or the police. The Government have given no argument in the Debate on Second Reading, and have excluded the thing from discussion on the Committee stage of the Money Resolution. It would be a lamentable thing if we were to allow this Bill to go right through the House without any argument having been advanced.

11.15 p.m.

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

There have been three Home Secretaries concerned with handing back the National Fire Service to the local authorities—my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council, my immediate predecessor, Sir Donald Somervell and myself. My two predecessors, which shows that on this matter at any rate there was no party bias, told the local authorities brutally and frankly that they would get these services back but that there would be no Government grant.

Mr. Shurmer

But no control of the fire services.

Mr. Ede

I was just going to say that. There would be greater central control than before. I read the appropriate quotation from a speech by Sir Donald Somervell during the Second Reading Debate. When I took office I had at a very early date a meeting with the local authorities. They asked me whether it was possible to get a grant. I told them that I thought it was unlikely. I could make them no promise at all, but I said that I would go to the Treasury. I quoted the remark that was made by the leader of the Association of Municipal Corporations when I said I would go. They did not expect that I would get a penny. I did not expect myself to get very much. The reason that the grant is 25 per cent. is that that was as much as I could get. It is infinity per cent. more than anybody else ever obtained for the local authorities in this matter.

Figures have been quoted tonight and were quoted last Thursday which must indicate to anyone that there are some people who have shamefully neglected their duty in this matter in the past. There are some great local authorities, like that represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Shurmer) which had efficient services before the war. I do not accept the figures that have been compiled by municipal treasurers and town clerks and handed to Members for Parliament to use in these Debates, because the establishments have not yet been fixed, and I propose that the responsibility for the first draft of the establishments should be placed fairly and squarely on the local authorities.

Mr. N. Macpherson

In Scotland it was the Secretary of State who himself said that his Department at St. Andrew's House worked out the establishments on the estimated cost.

Mr. Ede

Yes, but the Secretary of State for Scotland managed to reach a greater measure of agreement with the local authorities than I was able to do. I understand that the Schedule to the Bill represents I do not say complete agreement—and I am not going to enter into the difficulties of Scottish local government and the relationships with the Scottish Office—but a general agreement as to the appropriate areas into which the country is to be divided.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

But they were never consulted.

Mr. Ede

I happen to know that that is not the truth.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

The Secretary of State for Scotland himself said that he consulted the fire committee or some body but the counties themselves were never consulted.

Mr. Ede

I was present at a conference at which the Scottish counties were repre- sented where they expressed their agreement with the Schedule to the Bill. I took no part in the discussion. It was a rest for me. I was wrestling with the English local authorities, and I was amazed at the skill and energy with which so small a person, physically, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland disposed of his differences with the local authorities.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

With great respect—

Mr. Ede

I am not going to give away again.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

The Secretary of State for Scotland told us otherwise.

Mr. Ede

Probably he was very modest. So far as expense is concerned, that is entirely governed by three factors—the number of men employed, the hours fixed for their employment and their rate of pay. So far as the hours fixed for their employment are concerned, that is a matter which has already been decided for England and Wales by a Joint Industrial Council on which local authorities and representatives of the men have been in negotiation with one another. As the local authorities were to take over from 1st April, 1948, it did not seem right to me that the negotiations should be conducted between the Home Office and the employees, and then for the local authorities to be asked to foot the bill after negotiations in which they were not concerned. As regards hours of duty agreement was reached on a 60-hour week: it is true that as regards rates of pay no agreement was reached, and the matter went to arbitration, and then, as a result of that arbitration, the present rates of pay were fixed. No local authority had a 60-hour week before the war started. London had agreed in 1938 that there should be a 60-hour week, but had not implemented that up to the outbreak of the war. The 60-hour week represents, even in a progressive area like Birmingham, a very substantial increase in the cost, and, of course, it will mean a substantial increase in the number of whole-time men employed in the big centres.

The rates of pay, again, were settled as a result of an arbitration agreed to by a Joint Industrial Council on which the local authorities were represented, and they were arrived at with their knowledge and consent before any promise of any grant at all had been made. Such expense as has been incurred has been reached by local authorities through the Joint Industrial Council machinery before the date when any grant could have been anticipated by them. The grant, therefore, is a matter which has come, to the extent that it has come, as a relief to the expenditure they had consented to bear. It would be out of order for me at this stage to deal with the question of how far the Government has obtained additional control under this Measure as compared with the 1938 Measure, because these are matters which can be dealt with during the Committee stage of the Bill.

I venture, however, to say this. I heard It said so often on Thursday last that the Government were taking additional powers that I thought it must be true, and I went very carefully through the 1938 Act and compared the powers the Secretary of State had then with the powers that will be given to the Secretary of State under this Measure. I think that it is safe to say this. There is nothing in this Bill which was not in the 1938 Act, but, I have weakened my powers in one respect. That is that I have no power in this Bill to supersede a local authority—a fire authority—whose fire service I regard as inefficient. I regret that it is not possible to hold out any hope that this grant can be increased. I would say that I believe that it represents a reasonably generous—and I will not put it any higher than that—gesture by the Government. No other Government, neither the Coalition nor the caretaker Government, was prepared to look at a grant for the fire service. The line of argument has been that there is no service as local as the fire service, and, therefore, the cost should be borne one hundred per cent. by the locality. I have succeeded in securing a grant for the service. My own experience is that I have never known a Government grant, once made, to be decreased. I am making no prophecies regarding the future.

The hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe) made the point that it is to be a maximum of 25 per cent. This is the one weapon which I think I have to secure an efficient fire service throughout the country. The way in which grants are operated to secure efficiency is to make deductions if a service in a given area is not efficient. Therefore, no matter what figure was put in the Bill, it would always be "grant not exceeding X per cent.", so that the Secretary of State could, by withdrawal, or reduction, express disapproval and take such steps as might be necessary to bring the service up to efficiency. I have known in the education and police services substantial deductions made from grants because it was thought that the authority administering the service was not efficient. If the Secretary of State gave a 50 per cent. grant, the complete withdrawal would be far more effective than the complete withdrawal of a 25 per cent. grant, and to that extent the power of the central authority to control the fire authorities is diminished, and I have no doubt that some of the local authorities will be able practically to disregard any threat made to withdraw the grant.

When I went to the Treasury to get this grant I expected to be disappointed. When I came back I hoped there might have been, here and there, some slight whisper of praise. I have been so much abused for having got more than anyone else has ever got that I shall be very chary in future of going to the Treasury arid asking for the local authorities any contributions of that sort. It may be that Amendments will be made in the Bill and in the end some local authorities will say, "Give us the 1938 position and keep the 25 per cent grant." I am quite sure that if they do, the Treasury will instruct me not to refuse the offer.

11.30 p.m.

Mr. Grimston

I am surprised at what the Home Secretary said in his opening remarks. I wonder if the Committee were fully seized of it. He said that three Home Secretaries of different political complexions had had discussions both with the local authorities and the Chancellor, and that he was the first one to get anything out of the Chancellor. But he is the first Home Secretary who has brought this matter to the House of Commons and surely the House of Commons, at the end, is the master. I must say that I was astonished that he should simply say, "Well, I have managed to get 25 per cent. out of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and my two predecessors could get nothing, and so that is my case." But this is the first time that this matter has come to the House of Commons, and Members on both sides have said "This is not enough." It is an extraordinary attitude to adopt to say that these discussions went on before, and to say therefore that this must be the right thing, ignoring the fact that this is the first time that the House has had an opportunity of saying anything about it. The Home Secretary complained of the reception he got. But imagine what reception his two predecessors would have had, if they had come to the House and said that they could get nothing. But there was a point in what was said by the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger). It might be that the total cost of the fire service, by means of reforms, could be reduced, and that the Treasury need not produce any more money than the £3 million which was expected, and that might perhaps come to a 35 per cent. grant.

Our complaint is that we cannot even discuss it under this Financial Resolution. The Home Secretary has made it impossible to discuss any application of this money, in any different manner from the one set down, although it might not in the end cost the Treasury any more. The Financial Resolution is restricted so much, that we cannot even discuss these matters on it. It will be within the recollection of the Committee that the Chancellor of the Exchequer previously came down to the House and said, "I have £11 million or so which I can give away. I can let the House discuss it, and I will decide how I will distribute that money in the light of the discussion in the House." That seemed to us to be a reasonable proposition. Why should it not be possible for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say, "I have so much money to allow under the fire services Estimate—£3 million"? Why not let the House discuss how that is to be spent? But it is not possible under this Financial Resolution. We are tied down to 25 per cent., although the Committee on all sides is against it as being too small, and it precludes us discussing any other method such as that adumbrated by the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Pargiter). We do protest that this Financial Resolution precludes proper discussion on the Committee stage of the Bill. All we can do is to register our protest. We cannot change the Financial Resolution, and we shall not vote against it, for that would merely be voting against what we have got. I emphatically protest against the drawing of this Financial Resolution in such a manner that when we get to the Committee stage this question cannot be discussed, although on all sides of the Committee views have been expressed that this amount is insufficient.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

On a point of Order, Major Milner. I am in rather a difficulty as a Scottish Member. So far as the Home Secretary has replied to this Debate, he seems to be completely in the dark as to what the Secretary of State for Scotland has already said, and our argu- ments were based rather on what that Minister said. Is there any way in which we can get some redress on that matter?

The Chairman

That does not seem to me to be a point of Order which I can answer at this stage.

Resolution to be reported Tomorrow

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