§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)
There are 140 volunteer fire units in Scotland, mostly in highland and islands areas.
§ Mr. Beith
Does the Minister agree that volunteer fire units provide a vital service to island communities and remote areas? Is there any danger that substantial numbers of those units will be disbanded because of difficulties in applying the health and safety regulations in full'? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that that was the reason given by Labour-controlled Northumberland county council for disbanding the Holy Island fire brigade, one of the few in England? Will that problem arise in Scotland or will the hon. Gentleman find a solution to it?
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
I agree that volunteer fire brigades have performed an extremely valuable role in Scotland. Volunteer units can render initial cover in advance of the arrival of full-time or retained fire-fighting crews. I envisage volunteer units in Scotland remaining an important part of the Scottish fire service, because volunteer units give confidence to people in remote areas and the islands in a way that is effective and provides value for money.
It is for each fire authority to consider what needs to be done within its area according to the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1988. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman follows up this matter with the responsible home affairs Minister. I understand that the hon. Gentleman will have a meeting with him shortly.