§ Mr. Cooper
(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will make a statement concerning the fire which occurred at High Road, Ilford, on the night of 16th March, at approximately 19.50 hours.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Miss Patricia Hornsby-Smith)
The fire, of which the cause is at present unknown, began in a large departmental furniture store. My right hon. Friend is informed that the first call was received by the fire brigade at 19.49 hours on 16th March, and that three appliances attended immediately and were at the fire three minutes later. Reinforcements were called for at once, and 39 pumps, from five brigades, attended altogether.
Preliminary reports indicate that the fire had gained a certain hold at the time the first appliances arrived. The fire spread to a drapery store and several small shops as well as the furniture store, The fire was under control by 23.33 hours.
§ Mr. Cooper
May I pay a tribute to the extraordinary services rendered by the fire service, the police services, the voluntary organisations and the officials of 208 the local borough council in this, the greatest disaster sustained by the Borough of Ilford in peacetime? To refute statements made in the Press, will my hon. Friend confirm that the Ilford Fire Brigade was at the scene of the fire within three minutes, and not 20 minutes as stated in the Press? Also, will she confirm that the fire precautions in the store in which the fire started were in accordance with the regulations? Further, may I be informed whether it is intended to hold an official inquiry into the fire?
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
I am very glad to confirm what my hon. Friend has said. There was certainly no delay in the operation of the fire services. Indeed, in having three appliances there within three minutes, the fire service gave its normal standard of efficient service to its area.
As regards the fire precautions within the store, I am sure that my hon. Friend will appreciate that I would prefer to await the report of the fire authority, which is the usual practice following a fire of this magnitude, before making any comment on that.
As to the third part of his Question, again my right hon. Friend must wait for the usual report of the fire authority before deciding whether there are any grounds for holding an inquiry.
§ Mr. Iremonger
Despite local appreciation of the way in which the local services—the fire service, the police service, the local voluntary welfare services—rose to the occasion, and in spite of our thankfulness that there was no loss of life, there is one matter on which there is very considerable concern, for it raises a question of national interest, namely, whether it should be made obligatory for commercial firms to comply with the requirements of the fire prevention recommendations of the local council as is the case in factories. Will my hon. Friend please consult her right hon. Friend about the desirability of looking further into this?
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
I will certainly look into the point my hon. Friend raises, but I am sure that he will agree that we must await the fire authority's report on this very disastrous fire. I am sure that we all have great sympathy for the people of Ilford in the very great loss that they have sustained in their main highway.