§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
My Lords, the Bill which I present to your Lordships' House for the Second Reading today is one to make further provision for fire services throughout this country. There are undoubtedly in this House many noble Lords who will and can recall the days of the horse-drawn firefighting appliances, the capabilities of which for the organisation of fire defence on a broad basis were both inadequate and ineffective to modern ideas and conditions. The history of fire brigade services is an interesting one and can be traced back to the time immediately following the Great Fire of London in 1666 when the fire insurance companies provided their own customers with fire 729 protection and a customer placed upon his house the mark of the company with which he dealt. Upon many old buildings that mark remains to-day, and it is a reminder to the observer that those companies were undoubtedly the pioneers of the modern system that we know. Since the beginning of the present century three inquiries have been made into the fire brigade system prevailing in this country, the most recent being that of the Departmental Committee on Fire Brigade services which reported in July, 1936, and was under the Chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Riverdale. This Departmental Committee reviewed the fire brigade services as a whole, and its advice was sought upon what further steps were required to improve both organisation and co-operation for the purpose of meeting danger from fire.
Under existing Acts of Parliament there is neither obligation on any local authority—subject, of course, to certain exceptions to which I shall. refer later—to make provision for maintaining a fire brigade, nor any statutory powers for central control and organisation of fire brigades. Certainly as far as my advice goes, there is no recognised standard of efficiency either as regards training or equipment. Apart from London, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen the maintenance of a fire service is a matter directly and entirely at the discretion of the local authorities. It is perfectly true to say that, while most local authorities have provided fire services and many brigades have reached a high standard of efficiency, in the smaller towns at any rate and in rural areas the position is far from satisfactory.
If your Lordships would consider for one moment the danger that might materialise from outbreak of war and the magnitude of possible fire due to incendiary bombing, it is clear that the organisation of fire services is quite inefficient and inadequate at the present time for such an eventuality. From newspaper cuttings that I have before me, but with which I need not weary your Lordships at this stage, there appears to be an absence over the whole country of any systematic or well-defined arrangements for co-operation between fire brigades. I could give your Lordships typical examples where assistance was lacking when the very need arose. Noble Lords who 730 have read the Departmental Committee's Report will have found that it gave an indication of what the Committee considered to be the minimum provision necessary for a fire brigade in certain areas. They divided these areas into three: firstly, the congested area, the congested urban centre, with important risks; secondly, the smaller towns, with mainly residential property and few risks; and lastly, the area practically entirely rural in character. They further suggested a minimum provision in terms of appliances, personnel, turning-out arrangements, and water supplies, and their recommendations are reflected in Clause 1 of this Bill. For the first time in English history every fire authority in the country is now placed under a statutory obligation to make provision for the extinction of fires and, further, for the protection of life and property in case of fire, by providing and maintaining an efficient local fire service.
I turn from that to give your Lordships an explanation of one or two of the principal clauses of the Bill. Under Clause 2 a fire authority will be required to survey all water facilities in their district which might be required for fire extinction purposes, and there is also in that clause a provision that where there is a pipe water supply they will be under a statutory duty to provide and maintain hydrants. Under Clause 6 of the Bill the function of parish councils with respect to fire extinction is to be transferred to the fire authority of the district in which the parish is situated—that of course would be the rural district council. Your Lordships will note that suitable compensation will naturally be paid in cases where the parish fire brigade is taken over by the rural district council. Clause 8 and the First Schedule set up a Fire Service Commission, to be appointed by the Secretary of State. The Chairman of this Commission will be Sir Vivian Henderson. They will consider the arrangements made by fire authorities to secure assistance for dealing with exceptional fires, and review generally the fire services provided under the Bill.
Clause 11 provides for the appointment of a fire service board, to be set up in cases of default by a fire authority to carry out their statutory obligations under Clause 1. Clause 19 give power, again, to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to set up a training centre, 731 at Government expense, to provide special courses of instruction for members of fire brigades. Major Morris, until recently the Chief Officer of the London Fire Brigade, is the Director-designate of this training centre, and we propose to link this establishment with a station for carrying out research into technical questions of fire protection and fire extinction. The research organisation, as perhaps your Lordships are already aware, will be under the general supervision of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, and no special legislation is required to deal with this aspect of the matter. I have drawn your Lordships' attention to what I believe to be the principal clauses in this Bill, and the ones which I think will be of interest to noble Lords. If there are any questions to which noble Lords desire to have an answer, I shall endeavour to reply to them to the best of my ability. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Munster.)
My Lords, I rise only to say that we have no opposition to offer to this Bill. As far as I know it is the only Bill dealing with this particular subject of fire brigades which has been introduced into Parliament in my time; that is, since the end of the War. It is undoubtedly necessary. There may be one or two Amendments which we wish to put down in Committee, but they are not on important matters of principle, and we reserve our remarks on those Amendments until the time arrives.
§ LORD MANCROFT
My Lords, I desire to offer a few remarks on this Bill, with the terms of which I am in general agreement. There is, however, one point of omission to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention. If your Lordships will look at Clause 5, on page 7 of the Bill, it will be seen that there is provision for repealing certain enactments requiring owners and occupiers to defray the expenses of fire brigades, when a fire occurs outside the borough or district, under the Act of 1847. I am in agreement with that. But I am disappointed to find that there is no clause to give effect to principles which have been adhered to by the House of Commons for 732 the last sixty years, certainly, and perhaps for longer. These principles have been endorsed by the two Committees to which my noble friend who introduced the Bill referred. I have a copy of their Reports here, and I will, if your Lordships will allow me, read two paragraphs which will give expression to what I have in mind.
The Royal Commission of 1923 said, on page 172, paragraph 297:
In our opinion, therefore, the fire service should be maintained by and on behalf of the whole local community and the expense of the upkeep and working of the brigade should be charged on the public funds of the locality.
That is plain enough. Then the Riverdale Committee of 1936, at page 33, paragraph 72, said this:
Under the organisation we propose, specific charges levied on the individuals on whose premises fires occur for the services of a fire brigade will be abolished, the service becoming, as in our view it should become, available to all ratepayers as freely as other public services such as street lighting and police protection.
That is the text for my remarks. This Bill does not repeal the powers which have been given to certain local authorities to obtain payment from their own ratepayers for putting out fires, other than chimney fires, in their own districts. There are at present eight towns or cities which have that power to charge, but since 1878—that is sixty years ago—Parliament has refused to allow any municipality, any local authority other than those eight, to charge for fire brigade services inside their areas.
§ I address myself to this problem rather as one who has been connected with a great municipality, a great city, and I know this, that if we had been trying to get a Bill through the House of Commons asking Parliament to include power to that city to make a charge such as is possessed by those eight municipalities—perhaps I had better name them: they are Manchester, Newcastle, Stockport, Tynemouth, Aberdeen, Dundee, Glasgow and Greenock—the House of Commons would have refused that permission. We should not have been treated in the same way as these other eight municipalities. The two Committees to which reference has been made have endorsed the opinion that these eight municipalities should, in the interests of the public, not possess powers of charging, and presumably that 733 they ought no longer to be allowed to charge. Bearing in mind the advice of the Riverdale Committee I think that those who are responsible for the present form of this Bill have been ill-advised in not putting in a clause to deal with the anomaly or omission to which I have just drawn attention.
§ I understand that offers have been made in an informal way—without any idea of a bargain—by certain persons who are interested in the insurance world to give sums of money with which the Government and the municipalities could embark upon fire research experiments—all for the good of the public. Such experiments were recommended, I believe, by the Riverdale Committee. They have gone further. Without making any bargain, the insurers have said that, if there is some money over, they are willing that that money should go to these eight municipalities to indemnify them, if they think they are making a monetary loss in surrendering the charging powers which they now possess. I believe that conferences have been going on, but that no result has yet been attained. If the Government do not propose to impair the principle which Parliament has held sacred for the last sixty years or to throw aside the recommendations of the two Committees—the one of 1923 and the other of 1936—I would suggest that there should be a further conference, and it should be pointed out to these eight municipalities that they are asking for something which is not quite fair. They are asking for something more than they are entitled to—legally they are entitled to it but in the public interest they are not.
§ If these towns cannot come to some arrangement with the Government by which they surrender their rights and perhaps receive compensation, which those who are interested in the matter are willing to give, then I say there are three possible courses to pursue, any one of which I myself would be willing to support. The first is that the Government should withdraw this Bill now until some arranged clause can be put in of the nature of the old Clause 5 which appeared in the Bill in another place. There is another way. If a few days are allowed to elapse conferences between the interested parties may produce an agreed Amendment to be put down in Committee to deal with the anomaly to which I have drawn attention. If that cannot be 734 brought about, then, as I understand there are several noble Lords in the House who take a view similar to that which is held by myself, if they would like to put down their own Amendment to embody my views in broad terms I should be perfectly willing to support it on the Committee stage.
§ But it should be pointed out in the meantime to these eight towns that, if any of them are still standing out and this Amendment is carried, they may get nothing. On the other hand, if they are willing to come to some arrangement with the insurers—whether they are big companies, or members of Lloyd's, or private insurers—money will be provided for the purpose of fire research, and, further, a little over for them to become possessed of as compensation for what they may lose by a surrender of their rights. If an Amendment such as I have in mind were carried here, to form part of this Bill in final form, they would get nothing for compensation. I take it that there would not be a breach of honour by the insurers who have offered to pay money for fire research and for compensation, for they will be relieved of their offer as part of an agreement because legislation will have been carried which will render it unnecessary for any payment. If any of the municipalities are standing out it may be that it is a question of time rather than determined opposition—that they have not had time to decide the point. But if there is opposition it is as well that they should know that if we carried an Amendment and if it formed part of the Act it would repeal the advantage which they have had in the past and without compensation.
§ LORD LOVAT
My Lords, it is with considerable embarrassment that I address your Lordships as an inexperienced and very junior member of this House, but the Bill before us this afternoon, which is to provide free fire brigades and fire engines throughout Great Britain, will have a very alarming effect in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. For that reason I venture to make a few remarks. Your Lordships are aware that a village in the English sense of the word is unknown in the North. The scattered groups of houses that represent the Scottish equivalent cover a wide area—they are isolated and independent. They are without water hydrants and many of them have no access to a road. In the Islands in 735 the event of a fire the fear of a general conflagration is negligible. In my part of Scotland the question of rating is always a very severe and anxious one. A penny rate is mentioned in the memorandum. I will not weary the House with figures. It is sufficient to say that in my County of Inverness a penny on the county rates brings in a revenue of less than £1,000. We are already heavily burdened. To comply with the conditions of this Bill a further two shillings would have to be added to the existing rates. That is an impossible thing for a county which is always verging on the edge of bankruptcy.
Dr. Johnson, during the course of his journeyings through the outer isles, remarked to Boswell that there were more gentlemen than shoes in the Highlands. If this Bill passes without amendment, the Johnson of to-morrow will find the glens untenanted and the gentlemen will be fire brigades. I would beg your Lordships to do your utmost to prevent the already impoverished Highlands from being compelled to carry this unnecessary and unjustifiable expenditure and that special treatment be granted to those districts which in no way conform to those for which this Bill was drafted.
§ VISCOUNT HORNE OF SLAMANNAN
My Lords, I am sure that you would like me in the first place to congratulate the noble Lord on his maiden speech in your Lordships' House. Everyone of us who liked and admired his father will be glad to feel that he has made such an auspicious start in his career in the debates in this House, and the speech to which we have listened with lively satisfaction will lead us to anticipate with pleasure his future appearances in our debates. So far as this Bill is concerned, I am sure that its general principles will commend themselves to all of us, and I propose to take exception to only one feature in the Bill which is that already dealt with by my noble friend Lord Mancroft. He omitted only one item of note—namely, that the Government themselves were so impressed with the Reports of the Royal Commission and of the Riverdale Committee that they inserted in the Bill as originally drafted the very clause that we require. Provision was made to the effect that these eight towns to which reference was made should come into the common 736 practice of the country and should no longer be entitled to charge for the services rendered by their fire brigades to the ratepayers. In fact, as was pointed out in another place, the people who get the advantage of the fire brigade really pay twice, because they pay both the rates and for the services which are actually rendered.
No more eloquent speeches could have been made in support of the principle which my noble friend has enunciated than those delivered by the Home Secretary in another place and by the Under-Secretary for Scotland. The Home Secretary has never recanted nor has the Under-Secretary for Scotland, but that unfortunate Minister had put upon him the burden that is usually put upon Under-Secretaries—the burden of bowing the knee to a process of duress which seems to have been put upon Ministers in another place by the great municipalities in question. He it was who announced that the clause in the Bill as originally constructed should be withdrawn except to the extent of a very small modification. I think that we here should reinstate the clause which was originally in the Bill, or something like it. The principle has been well recognised, as my noble friend has said, for sixty years, and so far as I am concerned, if no alteration is made, I should be prepared to support an Amendment at the Committee stage of this Bill to the effect of reinserting that which the Government had originally put in the Bill.
I understand, as my noble friend has said, that certain negotiations have been in progress. One knows that the insurance companies, in effect, pay for the greater part of the services rendered by the fire brigades to people who were insured in the cities which have been referred to. Four of these cities are in Scotland and four in England, and one of them is Glasgow which I was proud and honoured to represent in Parliament for many years. It seems to me it would be becoming on the part of these cities to conform to the general law and come to terms with those who are eager to put this matter into a position in which no cavil can be made regarding the general practice. I hope the Government will be able to announce to us before the close of the Second Reading debate that the negotiations are going on in a satisfactory way, and if that is so one would 737 not seek to move in any direction which would upset these negotiations; but in the event of the negotiations failing it would be incumbent upon your Lordships to see that this matter is dealt with in the Bill upon the ground of approved principle—a principle well recognised, as I have said, for over sixty years.
My Lords, there is one question I should like to ask the noble Earl with regard to the composition of the Fire Service Commission and the fire service boards, and that is whether the appointing authority will consider appointing gas or water engineers as members. As your Lordships are aware, the most vital services endangered by any large-scale fire would be the gas and water mains in the public highways, and it is a very important thing that the Fire Service Commission and boards should have the advantage of the services of such experts as I have mentioned.
§ LORD JESSEL
My Lords, I should like to reinforce what has been said by noble Lords behind me as regards the insertion of the clause which originally appeared in the Bill. As your Lordships know, there are eight towns that now require payment and, as has been pointed out, that is not in consonance with the general principles of to-day. I need hardly labour the point, and I only wish to say that I hope the representative of the Government who so very ably described the purpose of this Bill will give us some assurance that the Government are seriously concerned in this matter. On the other hand, I cannot see how it is going to help any one if we adopt the suggestion made by a noble Lord behind me that the Bill should be withdrawn. In view of the present state of affairs and the great advantages of this Bill I hope it will not be withdrawn. At the same time, I sincerely trust that the Government will make some statement, especially as I know from certain quarters in the insurance world on whose behalf I have been asked to speak, that they are very anxious that something should be done in the direction already indicated.
My Lords, before addressing your Lordships on the subject of this Bill I would like to add to what has already been said in congratulation of my noble friend Lord Lovat on his maiden speech in your Lordships' House. I am not able, I regret to say, to recall 738 memories of his father in your Lordships' House, but I remember him well. The noble Lord brought great credit to the name we bear. The whole of Scotland is covered with his father's memorial, for in Scotland, if any one sees a plantation of trees, he does not pause to ask whether they belong to the Forestry Commission or to a private owner—he says, "Those are Lovat's trees." I am sure that the memory of the great services which his father rendered to the State will be an additional incentive to the noble Lord and will give him additional value in our counsels.
Every moment of leisure to-day has been taken up by calls to the telephone from one or other person asking me, if I was in your Lordships' House to-day, to say a word in criticism of this Bill. The criticism falls generally on three grounds. First of all it is pointed out that the Bill does not really refer to Scotland at all. The whole mentality of the Bill is quite alien to Scottish conditions. Clause 6 refers to parish councils. As your Lordships know; parish councils have long been abolished in Scotland. The whole mentality of the Bill, as I say, is not Scottish. I am told, and I believe it, that the application of this Bill to Scotland was arranged by the Scottish Office in consultation with one or two county clerks who were pledged to secrecy, and no single elected member of any Scottish county council was aware of what was going on or was allowed to offer any criticism. I believe that the Association of Scottish County Councils is unanimously against this Bill.
The Bill enjoins the provision by the local authorities of counties and boroughs of fire brigades and fire engines. Except in a very few important particulars, it follows closely the recommendations of the Departmental Committee. This Bill is recommended as a peace measure, but, as common sense would take alarm at the extravagance of the means adopted, it is also recommended as a war measure. The war alarm is sounded, and I had better deal with that point first. If there is a danger of incendiary bombing in time of war, then it is surely essential to concentrate all our energies upon those places which will be subjected to attack—that is, of course, the boroughs. No enemy is going to incur the expense and risk of an air raid on the country- 739 side in order to set fire to a few isolated farmhouses or mansion houses. Therefore the application of this Bill to the countryside is a bad mistake in strategy. It amounts to a dissipation of our energies. If this Bill is a matter of strategy, it should be taken up by the State as a whole. If it is merely a question of the boroughs, then apply it to the boroughs—to the crowded areas—and leave the countryside out.
One of the very strongest recommendations of the Report was that the Government should make a contribution of at least £1,000,000 a year to the expenses of these fire services. That has been absolutely disregarded by the present Government, yet that was perhaps the strongest recommendation of all the recommendations made by the Committee on whose Report the Bill is founded. There is no question of life saving here. In a bad year perhaps sixty lives are lost of persons trapped in burning buildings, and of those sixty lives probably very few would have been saved by a more efficient fire service. The Report assumes, and I think I am entitled to assume too, that the only really efficient way of coping with a large fire is by means of water. The standards laid down by the Report envisage motor fire engines and motor pumps for the country districts. As a matter of fact motor pumps are chiefly of service, as your Lordships are well aware, in checking a conflagration. Even in towns motor pumps are not required to deal with fires on private property unless the whole of the premises are involved. Where the whole of the premises are involved then the motor pump is called into play. The result may be the practical wiping out of everything that is of value on the premises themselves but the checking of the spread of the flames in other directions.
For the reason I have indicated these motor fire engine pumps are not applicable to country places. Moreover, I do not think there are very many country places where the local water supply will feed these motor pumps for ten minutes, and in most country parts of Scotland they would not feed these motor pumps for ten seconds. I do not think my own water supply would feed 740 them for more than a few minutes. The old system was that the nearest burgh fire engine was summoned, and if they attended they were paid for their services. As far as Scotland is concerned I think that is by far the better way. There are, after all, very large districts in Aberdeenshire, in Fifeshire, and in Berwickshire extending for many hundreds of square miles where the local water supplies are such that the use of a motor pump there is quite out of the question. The Report itself says, on page 50:There is no object in developing an efficient fire brigade service if that service is going to find itself put out of action by the failure of water supplies …For this reason the Bill is inapplicable to many parts of Scotland.
Clause 1 of the Bill empowers the Minister to lay down standards of efficiency, and the Report indicates what those standards are likely to be. I am not qualified to criticise the standards for burghs, but I should like to call your Lordships' attention to the standards laid down for the country. The minimum standard is laid down in pages 26 and 31 of the Report. It is to be a service which will turn out eight men at any time within six minutes, and which will arrive at the scene of action within twenty minutes of the alarm being given. I have made calculations which I am quite ready to put at the service of the House if it is so wished, or at the service of the noble Earl in charge of the Bill. I find on the most moderate estimate that such a service will cost between £3 and £4 per square mile, and in all probability that it will cost nearly double that sum. Now the average annual fire losses of the country districts of Scotland may be gauged from the calculations that I have made for the county in which I live. I think the figure will be very much the same in other parts. The amount is about £11 per square mile, so that a tax is going to be imposed by this Bill of about one-third of our average annual fire losses in country districts. And what will be the result? It may diminish the risk of fire by as much as about 5 per cent. No insurance company would ever make a bargain for itself on such terms, and why such a bargain should be made in their favour at the public expense is more than I can understand.
741 After all, it was the insurance companies who originated the fire brigades, as we all very well know. I do not often differ from my noble friend Lord Man-croft, but I sincerely hope that his suggestion will not be carried out. It appears to me that it would be a very great pity to put in the Bill anything to give effect to the recommendation of the Departmental Committee that anybody should be stopped from charging for the use of the fire brigade. I refer for a moment to our own history. After the Norman Conquest, as your Lordships know better that I do, the Norman kings had great trouble because of an epidemic of fires. They endeavoured to combat that in the first place by establishing curfews, and in the second place, if my memory serves me, they imposed fines on anybody on whose premises a fire originated. Those fines caused a great amount of grumbling, but they stopped the fires. At the present time in the City of Edinburgh and in most Scottish burgh areas you hear a certain amount of grumbling from time to time because of the fines imposed by the authorities on any person on whose premises a chimney gets alight, but the result of those lines has been that very few chimneys catch alight.
I think that if the Government really wish to minimise the risk of fire in this country they have a very simple and inexpensive method of doing so at their disposal, by imposing fines upon all persons present on premises when a fire has broken out, and by making it a condition of every contract of insurance that the insurer shall have some suitable means of fire extinction on the premises. I believe those two things would do more to diminish the risk of fire than almost anything else that I can think of. I have myself investigated a certain number of fires and have taken some small part in putting on the market a device for releasing cattle at one movement from a burning building. I once in fact set a house on fire myself by accident. The lesson that I learned from my experience is that in peace time most fires are due to human carelessness, and that in many cases where you read that a fire originated through the fusing of an electric wire the real cause was not that but the careless dropping of a cigarette end. For these reasons I am sorry to see even the vestige that remains of Clause 5 of the 742 Bill. In general I think it is a great mistake for legislation to be formulated especially designed for England and then by a single clause extended to Scotland. I shall be very sorry indeed if Clause 27 (Application to Scotland) remains part of the Bill after it has passed the Committee stage in your Lordships' House.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, I am very sorry to have to differ from my noble friend Lord Saltoun, but I only differ to a very small degree. I differ from him in what he said towards the close of his speech. I gather that he speaks from personal experience. Personal experiences are always very interesting. He began by referring to this as a war measure, and then went on to advocate fines for people who had fires. I am afraid that fining people will not do much to prevent incendiary bombs being dropped on houses by enemy aircraft. I should like to take the opportunity of expressing agreement with what he said about the application of the Bill to Scotland. The Bill is not drafted in a suitable manner for application to Scotland. Although I appreciate that the Government have done something to meet that point of view, I venture to suggest that a good deal more ought to be done, and if the noble Lord sees fit to move an Amendment at the Committee stage I shall hope to be able to support him. On the other hand, I wish to support what fell from my noble friends Lord Mancroft and Viscount Home. There is no doubt whatever that if the Government do not do it we at a later stage ought to put back Clause 5. That point ought to be made with considerable emphasis in your Lordships' House. It is a matter on which I think agreement ought to be reached before the next stage of the Bill, and if agreement is not reached then I think we ought to accelerate the matter by putting back Clause 5.
§ LORD CORNWALLIS
My Lords, I am heartily in agreement with the points put before your Lordships by other noble Lords who have spoken and I do not wish to go over again the case of the eight authorities who still have power of charging for fire brigade services. I should like to ask the noble Earl in charge of the Bill whether he can make any statement at this moment as to how far the Government have got in negotiation with 743 the local authorities. I think it is now common property that a very substantial sum has been offered, and gratuitously offered, to the Government to compensate these eight local authorities—not only to compensate these eight local authorities, but to give them a very considerable sum in their pockets as well to enable them to go into the necessary question of fire brigade research. I would ask the noble Earl whether he can make any statement at all about the way in which negotiations are progressing.
I should like to make just one other point. It must be clearly a matter for the Government alone to decide how that particular parcel of money, which they may or may not receive, but which I believe was offered to them purely and simply on the basis that fire brigade services were going to be free, is to be apportioned between local authorities and research. I hope that the noble Earl may be able to give us some idea of the progress of these negotiations, because the Government as I read it in another place have, subject to these negotiations, asked your Lordships' House to restore that principle of free fire brigade services in the Bill. I agree with noble Lords who have spoken before me that unless the Government propose to do so it is our bounden duty to put that clause back into the Bill before it leaves your Lordships' House.
§ THE UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (LORD STRATHCONA AND MOUNT ROYAL)
My Lords, perhaps it would be for the convenience of your Lordships if I deal very briefly with those criticisms of the Bill which have emanated from Scotland on purely Scottish questions. Perhaps I may also be allowed on behalf of His Majesty's Government to extend congratulations to my noble friend Lord Lovat on his maiden speech. We shall look forward to having the benefit of his views and experience in all future Scottish debates, and I am sure that all your Lordships will share that hope.
The noble Lord referred to the condition of affairs in his own County of Inverness. I would like to assure him that the Government, as well as I personally, completely understand the condition of affairs which exists there and have great sympathy with the conditions 744 which exist in that County. I think that possibly he overlooked the fact that what are known as the crofting counties of Scotland are exempted from this Bill, or at any rate may be exempted. He will find those counties set out in Clause 27, subsection (4). I understand that if circumstances so require the Secretary of State may exempt those counties and the burghs therein from the compulsory provisions of the Bill. In that case only the enabling provisions would apply. It is recognised that in these counties special problems exist, as they do also in the case of the Islands, and it would be impossible to apply all the same considerations there that apply elsewhere. That means, I understand, that in these crofting counties set out in Clause 27 the statutory duty to provide these fire services could be exempted on the authority of the Secretary of State for Scotland.
If I may come now to the criticisms made by the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, and other noble Lords, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, referred in the first place to the fact that Scotland was not dealt with by the Riverdale Committee. I understand that although the terms of the Riverdale Committee did not extend to Scotland, many of its recommendations are considered to be applicable as regards Scotland, and if the opportunity were not now taken to include Scotland in the Bill there is no question that the efficiency of Scottish fire services would lag behind those of England and Wales. It is, I am sure, the wish of all your Lordships that in no event should that take place. The noble Lord also referred, as did the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, to the amount of money that would be expended under this Bill. Like some of the other points which were made, I think that is a question which can be better dealt with in Committee.
The noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, went on to refer to the question of water supplies and he was good enough to inform me beforehand that he intended to do so. He and I have had a good many talks about this on other occasions in your Lordships' House, and I think I may perhaps be able to set his mind at rest to some extent by saying that the provisions in Clause 2, subsection (7), which deal with the water question, are only meant to indicate a review of water resources. It is not supposed that in every case water 745 would be available, and indeed it is known that in many cases water may not be available, but equally it is important that this opportunity should now be taken of encouraging local authorities as far as possible to look round at any rate and see whether water supplies which may be made use of are available. By that I do not mean that local authorities are going to be asked to provide, construct or improve reservoirs and so forth, but it is the view of the Government that in many areas there may be sources of water such as ponds which with a little improvement could be made available for fire-fighting purposes. It would be indeed unwise if this opportunity was lost of taking what steps can be taken to improve these sources so that in the event of a fire in these isolated districts, should water be available from any source whatever, the best means were not adopted to make use of it. I think most of the other points which the noble Lord made were largely points which we can deal with more correctly and more completely on the Committee stage, when we can take each subject point by point.
I think it was the noble Lord who criticised the negotiations that took place—anyhow as far as Scotland was concerned—before this Bill was issued. I should like to assure your Lordships that the consultations with Scottish local authorities, confidential though they may have been, were not more so than are similar conferences which take place before a Bill reaches Parliament. That means to say that the bodies concerned, the local authorities, who may be or may have been consulted, are given and were given the opportunity of consulting their constituent members, and therefore it would not be true to say that no chance had been given to the local authorities to consult with their various engineers and so forth on this point.
Because my noble friend is going to answer what might be called the English points of the Bill, I want to emphasize once again, partly in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, the view of the Government that this Bill gives an opportunity of doing something for Scotland which should not be lost sight of. It is true that in Scotland, in the larger towns, the fire brigades already reach a high standard of efficiency, but equally, as your Lordships well know, in some of the smaller towns and in the landward 746 areas they do not. A large number of areas have no protection at all or are only very inadequately covered. Many districts depend upon assistance which cannot be on the spot except after far too long a delay. Not enough attention has been given to the co-ordination of such resources as are available, particularly with a view to dealing with large and serious outbreaks of fire. The possibility of providing light fire appliances in small hamlets and towns where no major appliance is stationed has not always been given that consideration which we hope it will now receive. Again, in many other areas it cannot be said that a systematic survey of the water resources, to which I have just referred, for fire fighting has yet been carried out.
It is the view of the Government that the provisions of this Bill will go far to remedy these defects. It is also clearly desirable that Scotland should be put on the same footing as England and Wales as regards the other improvements dealt with in this Bill, such as the obligation of all local authorities to provide fire protection which is referred to in Clause the obligation to improve water supplies referred to in Clauses 2 and 3, the abolition of charges referred to in Clause 5, and the appointment of a Fire Service Commission referred to in Clause 8. Points regarding Scotland to which I have not been able to give a completely detailed answer now will, I hope, be dealt with when we come to the Committee stage of the Bill.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
My Lords, perhaps I might reply to some of the points which were made during the course of this debate. There appears to be a general agreement among noble Lords on all sides of the House on the necessity for the Government to introduce a Bill such as this. One or two pertinent questions were put to me which I shall en-deavour to answer. My noble friend Viscount Mersey asked whether gas and water engineers could become members of this Fire Service Commission and the fire service boards. The duties of these bodies will be mainly administrative, but technical advice will be available; I will communicate his remarks to the Secretary of State and no doubt the point will be considered.
The noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, raised the question of a grant from the Govern- 747 ment towards the fire brigades. It is perfectly true to say that the Riverdale Commission recommended that a grant of £1,000,000 only should be given to the fire brigade services. I must, however, remind him of what the Government have in fact done. We have for this year alone given grants of £1,500,000 for appliances for local authorities, and in addition percentage grants towards the expenses of recruiting and training auxiliary firemen. We have reached the conclusion that, as the Exchequer will be bearing the full share of fire brigade expenditure as a whole for a number of years to come, without any direct grant towards peacetime expenditure for the local authorities—
I beg the noble Earl's pardon, but it is £1,000,000 annually according to the Report—on page 38.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
But the noble Lord will recollect that we are already providing £1,500,00o this year, plus the additional cost towards the expenses of recruiting and training auxiliary firemen. Lastly, I come to the question of the various towns to which many noble Lords referred and which are at the moment, under Acts of Parliament of ancient date, eligible to make certain charges to the owners and occupiers within the district for fire services. I think that noble Lords generally will realise that negotiations with the insurers and with the eight towns concerned are continuing now, and if these conversations are successful the Government will make an Amendment on a later stage of the Bill to repeal the powers of the eight Local Acts affecting these towns. I propose, subject to your Lordships agreeing, to put down the Committee stage of this Bill for July 20, by which date it is hoped that the negotiations to which I have referred will have reached a succcessful and a final conclusion.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.