§ 12 noon
§ Amendment reported (according to order.)
§ Clause 13:
§ Transitional Provisions.
§ (4) Where property used and vested as mentioned in paragraph (d) of the last foregoing subsection cannot conveniently be severed from other property vested in the authority last mentioned in that paragraph, but not so used—
- (a) the two properties shall either both be treated as used and vested as aforesaid or both be treated as vested as aforesaid but not so used, as may be determined by or under regulations under the last foregoing subsection, and accordingly both shall be vested in the fire authority for the purposes of this Act or both retained by the authority for the purposes of the Fire Brigades Act, 1938;
- (b) where property is vested by virtue only of the last foregoing paragraph, arrangements shall be made for the use of the property by the authority for the purposes of the said Act of 1938, and where property is retained by virtue only of that paragraph arrangements shall be made for the use thereof by the fire authority for the purposes of this Act, and arrangements under this paragraph shall provide for the terms (including terms as to payments) on which property is to be used as aforesaid;
- (c) notwithstanding anything in the last foregoing subsection, provision shall not be made by regulations thereunder for the reimbursement of interest and redemption charges incurred in respect of moneys
1009 borrowed in connection with property retained by virtue only of paragraph (a) of this subsection.
§ Any question arising in connection with the operation of this subsection shall be determined by the Secretary of State.
LORD WALKDEN moved to leave out subsection (4) and insert:
(4) Regulations under the last foregoing subsection may provide, in such cases as may be determined by or under the regulations,—
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have one Amendment to move, and there is another which will be dealt with by my noble friend Lord Morrison. Your Lordships will perhaps think that this Amendment is rather a large one, but it is really drawn in this form so that it can completely supersede subsection (4) of Clause 13 which deals with arrangements for the transitional period. The whole clause is thoroughly well drafted to cover everything we can think of that may arise in the transitional arrangements. The Amendment is drafted to give rather more elasticity. In the first place the clause was rather tightly drawn. It was amended in Committee, but we are amending it further, and I hope finally and completely, now by the Amendment which I am proposing.1010
§ This Amendment will, for instance, enable sensible arrangements to be made where an incoming fire authority will be requiring premises and accommodation for its work, but may or may not need all the accommodation that has been used in the past. Arrangements can be made under this provision for it to acquire what it wants that is separable from other premises, and if it is not separable arrangements can be made to hire that portion of the premises which is wanted. In any case it will be possible to make friendly and practical arrangements with the outgoing authority. We are hopeful that this will commend itself to the local authorities, and we are fully confident that it will work well in practice. I beg to move.
Page 14, line 14, leave out subsection (4) and insert the said new subsection.—(Lord Walkden.)
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
My Lords, the Amendment that is proposed now instead of the old subsection seems to make for greater flexibility. There will be quite a multitude of different kinds of arrangements to be dealt with in the transitional period, and I think that the Amendment is a wise one.
§ LORD ADDINGTON
My Lords, I would like to express my gratitude the noble Lord, Lord Walkden, and the Department concerned for the way in which they have met these points. I think they were probably met in response to two Amendments which I endeavoured to move in the Committee stage. They are now very satisfactorily covered. Paragraph (a) of the new subsection does deal with those properties which were originally acquired by the former fire authorities for some purpose other than fire purposes, were lent to or acquired by the N.F.S. during the war, and really are required by the former authority for the purposes for which they were originally acquired. At the same time it gives to the county council rights to use such property on terms to be agreed upon between the authorities or, in default of agreement, to be determined by the Secretary of State. With regard to property used for more than one purpose, it seems that this paragraph also makes satisfactory provision. I am grateful that in paragraph (b) there has been inserted the words "whether or not forming part of the same building." This also, I believe, 1011 has been done to meet a point that was raised in the Committee stage. I trust that the views of the former fire authorities will receive full consideration in the framing and administration of the regulations.
If I am in order while speaking on this clause, I would point out that Clause 13 is a very long clause. It takes between five and six pages of the Bill and deals with matters that are purely transitory. One hopes that within a comparatively few months the clause will cease to be necessary for use to any appreciable extent. But we have here a Bill that is going to be a charter for the new Fire Service for a good many years, and it will therefore be in constant reference. It has been pointed out to me that it might be very convenient if these provisions were not in the middle of the Bill, but were put in at some other place—probably in a Schedule. I thought that that was a suggestion which, might possibly be deemed worthy of consideration. I repeat my expression of gratitude for the way in which this Amendment meets points which were raised at an earlier stage.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ 12.6 p.m.
§ Clause 37 [Application to Scotland]:
LORD SALTOUN moved to insert in subsection 6:
Where it appears to the Secretary of State that the provisions of this Act are unduly onerous or unlikely to provide a satisfactory service, he may by regulation modify conditionally or unconditionally the application of any provision of this Act in any areas or portions of areas specified in the Fourth Schedule of this Act.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am very sorry that I was prevented from being in the Chamber during the Committee stage of the Bill to move a somewhat similar Amendment, but I have read very carefully all that passed, and I hope that the Amendment which I am moving to-day will remove some of the objections that were raised to the Amendment that was put forward at the previous stage. I have read very carefully what happened on that occasion, and I think it is only right that I should answer the case that was put up for the Government by the noble Lord, Lord Morrison. In 1012 the first place he said that "it would not be in the best interests of the citizens of these areas that they should have no fire protection at all." Of course, these things are relative, and they have already got fire protection commensurate with local circumstances. That is already there. I pointed out on Second Reading, as I remember very well, that no big organization could give more protection than they at present enjoy owing to the nature of the country. The noble Lord's point therefore boils down to this: whether, without getting any material increase in protection, they are to have this forced upon them with every appearance of much greater protection on paper. I should like to remind your Lordships that the Amendment is purely permissive. It leaves the whole thing in the hands of the Secretary of State.
§ The next point that my noble friend Lord Morrison made was that the local authorities in those areas were opposed to their being brought under the Bill. I have had communications from those local authorities and I can bear that out. My noble friend went on to say that "you cannot allow the public to suffer merely because local authorities, month by month, go on failing to agree." That is not the point. The local authorities, seized as they are with the circumstances of their own districts, are perfectly convinced that the Bill can bring them no help. The question is whether, for the sake of some fancied uniformity, you are to force on these people something for which they realize that they have no need.
§ The population of the greater part of these districts is sparse. There would be no men to spare for a fire service. There is hardly a house—with the exception of a few mansion houses which probably have their own private means of protection—in the whole area in need of a complicated and highly-organized fire service. In nine cases out of ten it could not get there in time. The noble Lord said he believed that a great deal could be done to prevent fires, and that that was most important. I entirely agree. Most of the houses are farmhouses and the best way of getting people to take the trouble to protect themselves is to make them so prosperous that they really feel that a fire would cause them a great deal of damage. Men become careless if they are overworked and do not receive enough for it.1013
§ There is another point to all this. As the noble Lord, knows, and as all of us know, the fire insurance premiums over the whole of this area have been greatly increased in recent years, not because of the increased danger of fires but because of the low value of the pound or, if you like, the higher value of commodities. Of course the Government derive a certain profit from this because Income Tax is paid on the amount received in fire premiums. I should like to ask the noble Lord whether there is the remotest prospect of the fire service which he is going to introduce under this Bill reducing by one penny any single one of these fire premiums. I do not think he can say that it will. In fact, I am sure it will not.
§ The noble Lord said that if effect were given to this Bill there was no reason why a fire service of a standard appropriate to the Highlands should not be given without the ratepayer being involved in an oppressive rate burden. But the cost of the service represents an addition to these insurance premiums and the people are to get nothing for it. The noble Lord said they cannot have it both ways: If they are relieved of any obligation to provide a fire service, they have no case for Exchequer assistance for that fire service. I am sure the noble Lord did not mean to threaten the Exchequer assistance to local authorities. I think that is exactly the position which ought to exist—that the people of the Highlands should not be called on to pay anything towards this service. They do not want the assistance; they want, if possible, to be exempt from the Bill. I realize that I have no hope of pressing this Amendment in your Lordships' House. If the Government can accept this Amendment, all the parties concerned will be delighted and grateful. If the Government are unable to accept it I hope that my noble friend will see that the local authorities in the areas concerned have communicated to them not only the contents of the excellently expressed letter of explanation sent by the noble Lord to myself but also the Government's considered reply to the considerations which I have, I am afraid, rather feebly endeavoured to urge this morning. I beg to move.1014
Page 37, line 32, at end insert the said new words.—(Lord Saltoun.)
§ LORD MORRISON
My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, is unable to be here, because of the interesting point he raised at the previous stage of the Bill. The noble Lord has pointed out that his Amendment is purely permissive; my case is that what the noble Lord asks for in his Amendment is already possible under the Bill. Obviously in a place like Scotland, where the population varies so much—speaking from memory the population in Sutherland is seven per square mile compared with a population in the county of Renfrew of 1,400 per square mile—you cannot hope to deal on a national basis with such varied circumstances; and with fire prevention it is necessary to have completely different standards. The standards applicable to Renfrew would be ridiculous in the case of Sutherland.
I am glad that the noble Lord returned to the point I mentioned previously about fire prevention. In all sparsely populated areas it is necessary to do more than has been done previously in educating the population to realize that it is much easier to prevent fires than to extinguish them after they have started. It may be possible to achieve more along these lines. I was in a difficulty at a previous stage because it was uncertain until the last minute whether the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Lovat was going to be moved. That Amendment asked for complete exemption and I am certain that no noble Lord was prepared to support such an Amendment, because it was not a remedy for the peculiar problem of the Highland areas merely to cut them adrift altogether. It is possible under the Bill to do what the noble Lord desires. The local authorities will not be required to provide a more expensive service than absolutely necessary or one involving them in unreasonable financial expenditure.
The noble Lord referred to the correspondence which passed between us and to the letter I have sent to him, which explains the exact position more than I have thought it necessary to do now. The noble Lord suggested that it might be possible to communicate its contents to the local authorities who are exercising their mind on this. I think that that 1015 would be a desirable thing to do. If the noble Lord himself would care to pass on the letter to the local authorities, I certainly should have no objection; on the contrary I would be very pleased. On the other hand, if he prefers it to come from the Department that is for him to say. But I welcome that the contents of the letter should be passed on, because I think the letter may result in some reassurance of the local authorities that they will be fairly and properly treated under the Bill.
My Lords, I am much obliged to my noble friend for what he has said. I think in regard to circularization that it would be more convenient if he would kindly ask the Department to do so. There are various county councils and other bodies and I might omit some of them. I do not think a very big organization will be needed to teach people fire prevention. First of all, people are not always very willing to be taught and, in the second place, I do not think you have powers to do very much. But I am very much obliged, and in the circumstances beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned during pleasure.
§ House resumed.