HC Deb 23 June 1953 vol 516 cc1662-4
19. Mr. Hannan

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland the cost, separately, of the acquisition, adaptation, and equipment of the former Marine Hotel, Gullane, East Lothian, as a residential school for the fire service; and what will be the average cost per student per week.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

The purchase price of the Marine Hotel, which was generously met by the Fire Service Research and Training Trust, was £13,500, and the estimated cost of adapting the property and providing a drill ground, water tanks and a drill tower is £18,500. The cost of additional furniture and equipment is estimated at £3,000. The estimated average cost per student per week is £9 6s.

Mr. Hannan

Is not this a striking misapplication of money and material in the strenuous times through which the country is passing? Can the Joint Undersecretary state who are the Fire Research Trust? Are they appointed by the Secretary of State to administer funds apportioned by him, and what public funds are involved in this whole project?

Mr. Stewart

To deal with the latter point first, the public funds involved are the sums that I mentioned to the hon. Gentleman and include the cost of adapting the property and the cost of furniture. The other part comes from a trust which, as he knows, has a fund established by other means. As to whether it is a shocking waste of money or not, the fact is that the present training college for firemen is in an ancient building at Paisley which, as everybody knows is very old and the cost there is very high. By making this transfer the cost per student will be considerably less, more firemen will be trained, and that being the aim of everybody I should have thought that this step would meet with general approval.

Mr. Hannan

Does the Joint Undersecretary not understand the position? What is the point of having men who are trained to go to fires doing so with ageing appliances? Would it not be more sensible to spend money on up-to-date appliances and obviate having the men meeting the difficulties that they are experiencing at the present moment?

Mr. Stewart

I can quite understand the hon. Member's point of view, and I agree with him that we need better fire equipment. He will also agree that firemen must be properly trained. I took the greatest care before I gave my own approval to this matter. I went to see the place, I examined it, and I met all the leading firemen in Scotland. I was assured, after considerable doubts, that this was essential for the better fire services of our country.

Sir D. Robertson

Why do the Government consider that students have to be trained and accommodated in hostels at public expense? Would not it be possible for firemen to be trained, as they have been trained throughout the country for generations, by qualified firemen in fire stations without having to provide lodgings for them and a lot of other facilities?

Mr. Stewart

That was exactly the point that I put to the expert fire masters whom I met in Scotland before I agreed to this expenditure, but it was pointed out to me that the need was not only for instruction but for implements of instruction, which are not available except at a central place such as this.

Mr. McNeil

Would the hon. Gentleman tell us what implements he hopes to have in this training school which are not available in a first-class fire station, such as Glasgow? Will he tell us what benefits he hopes will derive from theoretical training in this school as opposed to practical fire service training in such a place as Glasgow; and will he also tell us further why the Government find it desirable to spend £20,000 a year on this scheme instead of making it a first instalment of the development of the pilot peat station in Caithness?

Mr. Stewart

I also thought of that idea of the Glasgow Fire Brigade providing this service, which they did during the war, but Glasgow is not willing to do that now. It is not a practical proposition. The right hon. Gentleman ought to recall that himself. Therefore, we had to find a central station. The one at Paisley is costly, out of date and inefficient, as everybody admits it to be, and this is an endeavour to provide an efficient station.