HC Deb 03 July 1959 vol 608 cc828-30

2.0 p.m.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Anthony Greenwood

There is one point which I should like to put quite briefly to the hon. Lady, and which it is possible she may have dealt with in answer to one of the Amendments on Clause 1. As it appears to me, the existing arrangements make it impossible for a fire authority to increase its fire cover and establishment without previous approval. From time to time, I have had occasion in the House to criticise the way in which the Home Office has withheld approval. Now it will be possible for fire authorities to improve their fire cover without Ministerial approval, and we welcome that fact.

We welcome, too, the fact that it will no longer be possible for them to reduce their establishment—the number of fire appliances or the fire cover generally.

Can the hon. Lady tell us how the Home Secretary will ensure that a local fire authority will keep its establishment up to the requirement of the immediate situation in a locality? If, for example, there is an addition to the fire risk in an area, what will be the powers of the Home Secretary to ensure that the local fire authority is not wanting in that respect?

Miss Hornsby-Smith

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) for raising this matter, because I know that the fire brigade union has expressed some concern about how this Clause will operate.

At present brigade establishments, which lay down the number of fire stations, appliances and men to be maintained by an authority, have to be approved by the Secretary of State, and this has meant a very detailed control. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman thinks that this particular control should go.

Under the new Clause approval is required only to certain reductions in establishment and subject to this, fire authorities will be free to vary their schemes. The Secretary of State will, however, retain the power to make a scheme if the scheme in force is unsatisfactory or inadequate. I think that this meets the hon. Gentleman's point. I know that in another place certain legitimate representations were made in relation to areas which have new populations coming in and there is a much larger catchment area to cover.

I believe that the Clause strikes a balance because it gives local authorities more discretion and makes the procedure more flexible. On the other hand, it gives the central Government power to ensure that there is no material reduction in the standard of fire cover and that the fire cover remains adequate in newly developing areas.

There is, I know, a certain anxiety in some quarters about the adequacy of the Secretary of State's powers in relation to fire cover, but I think, for example, that a fire authority failing to increase its establishment to the degree necessary to meet increased fire risks would come under the powers of the Secretary of State in regard to the provision of efficient and necessary cover for any given areas.

I would ask the hon. Gentleman to note that while the fire authorities will no longer have to seek the approval of the Secretaries of State to particular increases in establishments—this is one of the relaxations that we are effecting—the Secretaries of State are retaining the power at present given to them under the 1947 Act to intervene and make establishment schemes if the existing schemes appear to them to be unsatisfactory from the point of view of efficiency or inadequate for increasing areas, and they will be kept informed, in relation to the demand and the necessary cover a brigade can provide, by Her Majesty's Inspectors of Fire Services.

I assure hon. Members that we are alive to the necessity of keeping watch on growing areas, new towns and the like, and that this is one of the powers which still resides with the Secretaries of State.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 8 and 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.