§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I rise to move the Second Reading of this Bill. As your Lordships will see from the explanatory memorandum, the purpose of the Bill is to amend the Fire Services Act, 1947, in certain particulars. The administration of the public fire service in this country depends mainly upon the provisions of that Act. We are all aware of the magnificent work done by that Service, first under local authority control and then during the years of war, as the National Fire Service. The 1947 Act was the instrument by which the National Fire Service was returned, in accordance with a pledge given by the war-time Government, to local authority control, but with a substantially new administrative framework.
The arrangements for the administration of the Service which were introduced by the Act of 1947 have generally worked well. Throughout the country, the provision of fire cover has been placed upon a proper footing. Equipment has been standardised and modernised; training facilities have been provided for all grades of the service, and fire authorities have made notable progress in the new field of fire prevention. It is only after full consideration that the Government have decided to propose changes in the 532 administration of the Service, in the light of the cessation of the specific Exchequer grant of 25 per cent. which has been paid since 1947, and the introduction under the Local Government Act, 1958, and the corresponding Scottish Act, of the new financial arrangements by which the Fire Service has become one of the services aided by the general grant.
In those circumstances, the Government have thought it right to review the central controls over the Fire Service embodied in the 1947 Act, with the aim of bringing about a measure of relaxation, while at the same time ensuring that key controls, necessary for the maintenance of adequate standards of efficiency, would remain in the hands of the central Government. The results of this review are embodied in the Bill before your Lordships. The changes proposed have been fully discussed both with the local authority associations representing the fire authorities and with the service associations which represent the members of fire brigades. The Central Fire Brigades Advisory Councils. upon which both kinds of association are represented, have also had an opportunity of examining the main changes proposed.
The most important change effected by the Bill is that dealt with in Clause 5—the surrender of the statutory powers conferred on the Secretary of State by the Act of 1947 with regard to the determination of pay and other conditions of service in fire brigades. At present, when recommendations relating, for example, to pay are made by one of the two National Joint Councils for Local Authorities' Fire Brigades (upon which fire authorities and members of fire brigades are represented) they require the approval of the Secretary of State before they can become effective, and the Secretary of State has also power to initiate changes in conditions of service. The Government have reviewed these powers in the light of the introduction of the general grant, and they have come to the conclusion that ministerial intervention would no longer be justifiable in this field, and that the determination of conditions of service should in future rest with the National Joint Councils for Local Authorities' Fire Brigades. The necessary amendments to effect this decision are contained in Clause 5; and perhaps I should add that, under the 533 clause, the present arrangements will continue in force so far as concerns matters of discipline.
If I may here interpose a personal recollection, I am almost certain that this proposal was put strongly to me when I was Home Secretary and in charge of the fire brigades, and as that must be at least five years ago, since I have had the honour of being in your Lordships' House for nearly five years, your Lordships will see that this is not something which the Government are foisting on the associations but something which the associations have long desired. Other relaxations of central control are effected by Clauses 1 to 4 and by Clauses 6 and 7 of the Bill.
Clause 1 contains several alterations of this kind, and it may be appropriate to make it clear that the provision which is made in paragraph (a) of Clause 1 for the repeal of the provision in the 1947 Act which enables the Secretary of State to prescribe standards of efficiency is not inconsistent with what I have said. If I may put it shortly, at the moment there are two parallel powers, one under the Fire Services Act, 1947, and another under the Local Government Act, 1958, which give these powers to the Secretary of State, and we felt that he would be just as well off if he bad the powers under one Act of Parliament and that the matter should be tidied up. In the light of the general principle that fire authorities should have a wider discretion as to the best method of implementing their responsibilities, it is not proposed to retain the requirement that county councils should establish fire brigade committees and that county district councils should be represented on them.
Clause 2 removes the power of the Secretary of State to modify a reinforcement scheme when it is notified to him. These reinforcement schemes are arrangements between authorities for obtaining in emergency reinforcements from neighbouring authorities. Clause 3 dispenses with the need for the Secretary of State's approval for the appointment by fire authorities of a joint committee under Section 91 of the Local Government Act, 1933. Clause 4 removes the present requirement that fire authorities have to obtain approval to arrangements for the discharge of their functions by another fire authority. These arrangements, made 534 under Section 12 of the 1947 Act, are appropriate where it is necessary in the interests of speedy attendance and of general efficiency that a fire authority should take over the responsibility for providing fire cover in all or part of its neighbour's area. Much use has been made of these arrangements and a network of them extends round the borders of many fire authorities' areas. Because of the importance, from the point of view of national fire cover, of ensuring that the arrangements are made efficiently, it is proposed in Clause 4 that the Secretary of State should have power to intervene and make or alter an arrangement if it is considered necessary for efficiency that he should do so.
Clause 5 I have dealt with. Clause 6 limits the powers of the Secretary of State with regard to appointments and promotions in the Fire Service. Broadly speaking. for ranks below that of chief fire officer the Secretary of State will cease to have power to regulate the procedure for promotions and appointments, but he will keep the power to prescribe qualifications. As regards chief fire officers, the Secretary of State does not propose to alter the existing arrangements, under which he has power to require that his approval should be obtained to the appointment of chief fire officers. My right honourable friends the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland have given careful consideration to the question of whether this particular control should be retained, and the Home Secretary has had the advantage of hearing the views of representatives of the associations representing fire authorities., The Government feel that in a disciplined operational service, like the Fire Service, where the quality of the leaders is as important as the content of ministerial regulations, it is vital to the operation of the service in peace, and it could be equally vital in war, that every possible care should be taken to secure the appointment of the right man as chief fire officer; and accordingly it is proposed that this power should be retained.
Clause 7 modifies and reduces the scope of the powers of the Secretary of State with regard to fire brigade establishments, and is a good example of how the Bill will operate. At present a fire authority can make no change in the establishment of fire stations, appliances and men, without the approval of the Minister. This 535 has resulted in an extremely detailed control which it is proposed to relax to a considerable extent. It will be left to fire authorities to reach their own decisions about increases in establishments. That is with regard to increases. Certain kinds of reduction in establishments will, however, still require ministerial approval, and the Secretary of State will retain power to make an establishment scheme himself if the existing one appears to be unsatisfactory from the point of view of efficiency. These are the relaxations which are proposed.
Your Lordships may like to consider for a moment what matters are left with the central authority. I have mentioned some of them, and I should like to remind your Lordships that in particular, even after all the relaxations, it would not be possible for any fire authority—should such authority wish to do so—in its discretion, to whittle away the establishment, and so to reduce the number of firemen and appliances below the level considered necessary by my right honourable friend for the efficient working of the brigade. It does not seem unreasonable that the Central Government should act as a long-stop in this matter, and I suggest that that is a reasonable retention.
I will not go through the other matters in detail, but I will point out one or two. The Secretary of State will continue to have power to make regulations providing for standards of training and equipment, and for uniformity in fire hydrants. That is obviously a sensible and important matter for the central authority to be able to do. Secondly, he will have power to hold inquiries into the manner in which fire authorities are performing their functions under the Act; and thirdly, he will retain power to maintain the Fire Service Inspectorate. I am sure that everyone who has had anything to do with the Fire Service would want that, because it has been not only very good but very helpful. Lastly, under the Acts of 1958 (subject, of course, to approval by the House of Commons), the Secretary of State will have power to reduce the general grant payable to a fire authority if he is satisfied that the authority has failed to achieve or maintain reasonable standards. That, of course, can be done only with the 536 approval of the House of Commons as a matter affecting the financial issue of the grant.
I do not think I need deal with the other provisions; for the most part they are designed to make minor improvements in the working of the existing pensions scheme which have been shown to be desirable by the experience gained in the last ten years. If any of your Lordships has any pension points, if between now and the Committee stage he will be good enough to let me know, I will give detailed answers by letter, and of course I will deal on the Committee stage with any questions which are raised. I hope I can fairly claim that a just balance is struck in the Bill between the admitted need under the new financial arrangements to allow fire authorities greater freedom in running their brigades, and the equally important need for the Central Government to retain a close interest in the efficient working of the Fire Service upon which the lives and belongings of any of us may depend.
My Lords, this is a great Service. When I was in charge of it about seven years ago, I went to the Fire Service College. By one of those curious coincidences of history which make such a fascinating background to government in this country, that was situated in the House of Evelyn, the diarist. Evelyn had taken part in the extemporised fire service to deal with the Great Fire of London in 1666. At the end of a competition of the Fire Service, I had to say a few words to the competitors and congratulate them on their work. I got an extract from Evelyn's account of his own work, Along the Strand in 1666. I thought it was going well, but one or two of the firemen who had been through the blitz of London in the last war came up to me afterwards and said, "That is exactly how we felt." It is an extraordinary thing, after nearly 300 years, getting the same feeling about the same place. I quote that only to make your Lordships feel that when I am talking about the greatness of this Service, and how much we owe to it, my remarks are not mere figures of speech: they are my own view, formed after contact and after having the fortunate responsibility for the Service. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)537
§ 5.27 p.m.
My Lords, in rising to welcome this Bill, I think I should in all honesty say that had it been introduced into your Lordships' House five years ago I could not have felt an equivalent enthusiasm for it. If I may say so, with the greatest possible respect, I think that the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor rather understated his point. Perhaps that was done of a set purpose, but, as he said, not only is this Bill the result of the introduction of the block grant, but it is also in response to the demands of fire authorities and also with the approval of the Fire Brigades Union. A great deal of negotiation and discussion has gone on, and I think that all the parties concerned are satisfied that the administration of fire services in this country will in fact benefit from this Bill. I say this as a form of tribute to Her Majesty's Government, because this is not, I think, solely a Government Bill—a Conservative Bill, if your Lordships' wish—as would be implied if one took the Lord Chancellor's point that it was only because of the block grant that it had been introduced.
In actual fact, it is on account of the block grant that I have some slight doubts about the merits of the Bill. Personally, I regret that the fire services, unlike the police, were not excluded from the block grant. I think there is as good a case to be made for the exclusion of the fire services as there was for the police. May I put it this way? A well known lady may have a substantial quantity of jewellery stolen from her. That is very distressing to her or to the insurance company, but no great national damage has been done. On the other hand, if a factory like the Jaguar factory catches fire, there is a national loss which affects us all, directly or indirectly. I believe, therefore, that if there is a case for leaving the police outside the block grant—and I think there is—then I believe an equivalent case exists in the case of the fire services. However, that was not to be, and it has been decided to keep the fire services still under the local fire authorities and to have them paid for out of the block grant. Some of us, and I think clearly some of those who took part in the negotiations before or during the preparation of the Bill, had that anxiety very much in mind, and provisions have 538 been put into the Bill under which it will be impossible for any local authority to reduce the fire cover which they are giving; that is to say, without the consent, of course, of the Minister.
However, it does occur to me to wonder about one point, and I should be glad if the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor when he comes to reply could solve it for me. It is perfectly clear that without the consent of the Minister no fire authority can reduce their cover. There is, however, as it seems to me, no means of forcing them to accept necessary measures for increasing their fire cover. In November last the Home Office issued a circular to fire authorities requiring them to review their fire cover of manpower in the light of the recommendations accepted by the Minister from his Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council. I would ask the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor what powers the Minister has to force local authorities to accept even these, his recommendations. Because, my Lords, there are many areas in this country where the size of industry is increasing enormously and where the need for fire cover is increasing at the same rate. It is in those areas that additional fire cover will be needed and where local authorities, who will have to find the money out of the block grant, may feel disinclined to spend their money. That, I think, is my major objection to the Bill, or my major, if not criticism, at least dubiety.
I have one or two other points that I should like to put to the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor; they are perhaps, as he himself suggested, really Committee points, but if I put them now perhaps he will be able to answer them and therefore save me from putting down Amendments at a later stage. There is this question of other duties for firemen. Nobody in the world, least of all the firemen themselves, would not wish to bring help in cases of emergency. On the other hand, it is perfectly clear that firemen should not be called upon to do regularly, under standing arrangements, duties which interfere with their basic duties, which are in the fire services and the fighting of fires. I quote very briefly what was said by the Minister when lie introduced the 1947 Act. He said:Frankly what I do desire to protect myself against is having the Fire Brigade used regu 539 larly for purposes that might interfere with its work as a Fire Brigade.The Minister is depriving himself of the power for controlling these particular standing arrangements for the use of firemen. I will admit that it seems to me a very difficult problem. I do not quite see what wording you could put into the clause if you are still going to allow the local authority to take over this power. I would suggest, therefore, that perhaps it is a power which the Minister should retain.
Another small point which I would put to your Lordships is the question of the fire brigade committees. County fire authorities are no longer to be required to set up such committees and therefore will not have as they do at the present time, the necessity of naming to those committees—on which, incidentally, they already have a majority—representatives of local authorities. Most of your Lordships who are interested in this matter will be aware that this provision was put into the 1947 Act to meet the wish of the small authorities, who had control previous to the war, when, frankly, the organisation of fire fighting over the country as a whole was chaotic. It was put in to meet their wish to have their fire brigades back under their own control. This had been promised them when they were originally taken over, and as a result of the war-time experience the local services had been found to be highly unpracticable and undesirable. They were therefore given, as a consolation, representation on the county fire brigades committees.
Although that may have been the reason, in practice it worked out very well, and I would point out to your Lordships just why, in my view at any rate, it did work well and why I think it should be retained. Take, for example, a very large county authority, such as Essex. In Essex there are very substantial boroughs, let us say Ilford. I suggest that representatives of Ilford on the county fire brigade committee would be extremely valuable and, indeed, would have a very important part to play. Therefore I suggest to the Government that it might be desirable to retain the representatives of these authorities on the fire brigade committees.
I was glad to hear the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor 540 when he spoke about the retention of the right of appointment or the right to approve appointments of chief fire officers. I have heard criticisms of this particular provision, but I think it would have been most unfortunate had chief officers been put in the same position as other members of fire brigades and had they come solely under the local fire authority, and for this reason: no fire brigade in this country is an independent body. Every fire brigade may, and most of them do at one time or another, require assistance from outside their own area. If a chief officer sends for assistance from a neighbouring brigade he must have the assurance that the officer who comes in charge of that assistance will be a man in whom he can put the reliance that in these very serious emergencies is essential. I therefore welcome the Government's decision to maintain this control over the appointment of chief officers. Obviously control over the other appointments was previously carried to a ridiculous point. I believe it was a fact that the appointment of even a firewoman to work an exchange in the fire station required the Minister's approval.
There is one pension point—and the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor mentioned pension points—which I would ask him to explain. Apparently if any fireman or fire brigade officer is seconded to the Fire Service College or fire school as an instructor, in the event that he suffers an accident during his employment in that college his pension will be payable by the local authority from whom he was seconded. This seems to me to be not wholly fair. His employment at the time of his accident will, I suppose, be by the Minister—the College will still, I think, come directly under the Minister—and his employers will no longer be the local authority. However, that is a point which perhaps the noble and learned Viscount will explain to me. I have no doubt that there is some good reason, but frankly I do not see it.
Finally, I deeply regret that Lord Conesford is not in the House. I had hoped to bespeak his assistance on a grammatical point. I deplore the use of the words "authority" and "council" as plural words; in particular do I deplore the use of the word "authority" as anything but collective. However. that is perhaps a point upon which I 541 can hope that the noble Lord will support me when perhaps, remembering practically the only other success I have ever had in your Lordships' House, I may be allowed to carry an Amendment. I think this is a good Bill. It is not a perfect Bill, but probably no Bill ever is. On behalf of my noble friends I am authorised to welcome it.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
My Lords, I hesitate to find myself in conflict, even on a detail, with my noble friend and with the Government, but I have had a communication from the County Councils Association about the appointment of chief fire officers. I would ask the Lord Chancellor—his helpfulness is well known in this House—whether he will consider again, and perhaps make some further answer at an appropriate time, the reasons which have caused the Home Secretary to override what appears to have been the general desire of the county councils, that this appointment should be, like the others, removed from his control.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords, I should like to say a word or two in this discussion, as I think I moved the Second Reading of the 1947 Bill, as it was, in your Lordships' House, and I have had a great interest in the Fire Service ever since I served as a deputy regional commissioner during the war. May I remind the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack that I had the pleasure of being present on the occasion at Wootton to which he so charmingly referred in his speech. I do not think I am happy about this Bill. The situation in the Fire Service at the time when the war started was, as the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, has pointed out, completely chaotic. The organisation of the National Fire Service during the war was one of the great features of the war, and I do not think it has ever really received from the public as a whole the appreciation which it deserved. I myself should have preferred to see some sort of National Fire Service retained after the war, rather than the system which was adopted by the Government under the 1947 Act.
While the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor has reassured me in a number of respects in regard to this Bill, I still have a feeling that it is relaxing control rather too much. I entirely 542 agree that, granted the set-up which was adopted in 1947, there were a number of ways in which centralised control was perhaps retained in too detailed a manner; but I am not at all sure that the present Bill is not going a little too far. I certainly would not agree with my noble friend Lord Stansgate in wishing to remove the control of the Home Office over chief fire officers. In the emergencies of fire-fighting the chief fire officer is a most important person: he is as important as a General in a great battle in war, and it seems to me that it would be quite wrong to allow local authorities to have complete control over an officer of this importance. After all, the Central Government control the appointment of town clerks and other local authority officers in high places, and I am quite sure that to remove this veto, so to speak, on inappropriate decisions would be a great mistake. Indeed, I should like the central control extended a little further down.
The Fire Service is a disciplined force: it is really like the Armed Forces of the Crown. In dealing with fires, leadership is, of course, the essential element. Leadership depends upon training and discipline and other matters which, in my submission, must be laid down on a national level; and I am a little afraid that in various ways this Bill is going a little too far in devolution. It is a problem of striking a happy medium. Reinforcement arrangements are changed. It may be that the new arrangements under which the Home Secretary retains a good deal of power are adequate, but I can remember the completely chaotic conditions which occurred in the North West Region during the great bombing raids on Manchester and Liverpool because there were no co-ordinating arrangements in existence at the time. When the Manchester fire brigade reached Stockport it could not connect its appliances to the local water mains because the pipes were all of a different calibre, and we had to spend the rest of the war putting matters of that kind right.
As I have said, I am not at all sure that this measure does not go a little too far in relaxing the very important central control which was established in the vital national interest at that time. But I do not propose to vote against the 543 Bill. I have no doubt that on the whole it is a useful measure.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, could the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor tell us whether, apart from Clause 11, this Bill applies to Scotland?
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ LORD MILNER OF LEEDS
My Lords, I had not intended to intervene, and I am sorry to put forward a different view from that put forward by my noble friend Lord Chorley, who has had practical experience of the difficulties which existed in the recent past—not, as I understand it, because of the Home Secretary's final control which my noble friend desires to retain, but because there was no co-ordination between the different fire brigades of different local authorities. It does not seem to me that the question of whether or not the Home Secretary controls or would have to approve an appointment has anything to do with the co-ordination between different authorities. However I may he wrong in that.
The other point that I wish to make is this. I gather that my noble friend Lord Stansgate has had a communication from the County Councils Association. I have had a similar communication from the Association of Municipal Corporations, who take the same view—namely, that they regret that the Home Secretary has decided to retain the power whereby he has to approve the appointment of chief fire officers by fire authorities. They also raise the question of pensions. The Association of Municipal Corporations are of the opinion that Clause 10 might well work to the considerable disadvantage of an individual fire authority if that authority were obliged to pay the cost of a pension which a fireman might be able to claim because he was injured during his period of seconding as an instructor at a training school. It would appear somewhat unreasonable that the fire authority should have to pay that cost when the injured employee was not working for them. I put forward those views as being the views of the Association of Municipal Corporations, and I hope that they will have your Lordships' consideration.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, if I may deal first with the various points made by the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, I would begin by congratulating him on the force and clarity with which he made them. Neither his force nor his clarity has declined since we were both members of a certain club at Oxford. With my deep regard for his political future I feel that, as a friend,should not disclose the name of the club.
The first point that he had in mind was the difficulty about fire cover, when there was a question of extending the provision, and he suggested that in providing for central control of decreases only the Bill would not effectively ensure that the fire cover is adequate where here has been building development or where the fire risk has increased to the point where more men and appliances should be provided. We think that the power of the Secretary of State to intervene and make a scheme if, unfortunately, the existing scheme in force is inadequate, in conjunction with the regular inspections by inspectors of the Fire Services (to whom I will return) will provide a sufficient safeguard. That is under subsection (5) of the clause. If the noble Lord has any further worries about the matter, or any occur to him between this and the next stage of the Bill, I shall be very pleased to look into them. But that was the consideration, and that would also apply if there were a review of the fire cover in a few years' time. There would be, in the background, the power of the Secretary of State to make an establishment scheme if, unfortunately, the scheme in force required that, or if, for example, a fire authority showed no signs of increasing their establishment where an increase was needed. That is the answer we have.
On the second point, raised by the same noble Lord, which, as I understood it, was concerned with the use of brigades for other purposes, that again is a matter which has received a great deal of attention from everyone concerned with this problem. We did anticipate that objection might be raised to the proposal that the requirement should be done away with, on the ground that it has acted as a check to the use of brigades for other work which might interfere with their 545 primary function. But representatives of the fire authorities on the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council for England and Wales assured the Fire Brigades Union that the power to use brigades for other than normal fire-fighting purposes would be reasonably exercised; and while I have to accept that in future there would be nothing in the Statute to prevent an individual fire authority from using a brigade on work which might be criticised as inappropriate, the experience of the Home Office (and they have given me specific information on this point, which I foresaw would be raised) is that the danger involved is so small that for the Secretary of State to retain power to approve standing arrangements would be quite contrary to the general principles under which fire authorities have been given wider freedom to administer their own brigades. If a particular fire authority were to use its brigade for a disputed purpose that would be a matter for local negotiation.
The third point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, was with regard to committees of county district councils. It is worth remembering that county councils have now had eleven years' experience of the administration of fire brigades, and after those eleven years there is no longer a strong case for requiring participation of county district councils in the work of administration. Moreover, under the provisions of the First Schedule to the old Act—perhaps the noble Lord will look at that—a county council is required to consult the councils of all county districts about making or amending an establishment scheme. That may often be extremely irksome in practice. For example, it is necessary for a county council to inform all district councils of even trivial amendments to an establishment scheme, and to consider their replies. If the noble Lord will consider that he will see that there is something in the point.
The position was that representatives of Departments and local authorities on the Working Party which was set up by one of my right honourable friends to consider the relaxation of Government controls over local authority functions expressed the view that the statutory requirements in relation to certain committees, including the fire brigades committee, should be removed in order to 546 give local authorities greater freedom to decide the most suitable arrangements for the administration of their service. That is why the repeal has taken place. I simply ask the noble Lord to consider these points, and I think it is right that he should know that they were considered, not only in the drafting of the Bill but in the preliminary negotiations.
The fourth point about which the noble Lord asked was in relation to the position of officers seconded to the Fire Service College. As I understand the matter, in the circumstances which he described the Home Office would pay a sum representing the employer's contribution which takes into account the possibility that a special pension ought to be paid as a result of injury. But I should like to tell the noble Lord that this matter is still under discussion between the Home Office and the local authority associations, and there are some points which are unresolved. If I am in a position to give the noble Lord any further information I will certainly write to him about it; but there are these outstanding points.
I come now to the point raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, under. written (if I may put it in that way) by the noble Lord, Lord Milner of Leeds. Perhaps I might marshal the arguments which seemed good to us. I think they can be put in this way: that the position of a chief fire officer can be distinguished from that of other chief officers whose work has to do with the public safety, because he is responsible for a disciplined operational service which, as I said, is vital to the community in peace and would also be vital in war. On this point I feel that it is relevant that it was previously publicly announced that the Fire Service would be re-nationalised if there was war. That has been made clear. Again there is no Party politics, so far as that is concerned. I cannot even remember whether it was under myself or Mr. Chuter Ede (though I believe it was under Mr. Chuter Ede) that that announcement was made. There is no recognised prefessional qualification for the post of chief fire officer. This is not a case where one can say that he must have a certain qualification.
As to the position of the Home Office, it has, of course, a wide experience of the 547 Fire Service and a knowledge of the individuals in it, which is acquired mainly through the Fire Service Inspectorate, as I mentioned, and it is in an especially good position to advise on particular appointments; and if the approval of the Secretary of State is not required there is no guarantee that a fire authority will consult the Secretary of State or take his advice if they do consult him. That is the position of the power which establishes the locus of the Secretary of State as a giver of advice. One never wants to drive analogies too far, but there is a certain analogy between the offices of chief fire officer and chief constable. A chief constable is in a different position because, as noble Lords are aware, chief constables are not servants of the local authority, but there are similar considerations. The sort of point which arises—and, again, this is one of the practical problems of central Government and has nothing to do with who happens to be holding the position of Home Secretary at the moment—is that it is necessary to consider whether a good candidate for the position of chief fire officer from another brigade should be preferred to the existing deputy chief officer, who may have strong local support. That is a practical problem which arises.
Now I should like to tell your Lordships about the position as it happens and howith is actually dealt with. There has been no case so far when the Secretary of State has found it necessary to make formal use of his power to reject the choice of a fire authority—that is, under Mr. Chuter Ede, myself, Lord Tenhy or Mr. Butler. There has been no case at all, although it has been indicated to individual authorities on the basis of the short list that a particular individual would not be regarded as suitable; and the fact that the power exists has undoubtedly influenced fire authorities in taking Home Office advice before an appointment is made. Local authorities have accordingly had no ground for complaining that their freedom has been infringed in practice. But the present system of informal prior consultation with this power of approval in the background has worked, and it has worked smoothly and it has worked well. So both from the point of view of theory—in theory we believe the appointment, with the potentialities, is so important that it 548 should be a matter of central Government approval—and from that of practice, the system has worked smoothly and it has never been necessary to use the power. I have tried to give an answer to the noble and gallant Viscount. He asked me to develop the point. If there are any further considerations that occur to him, of course I shall be pleased to deal with them.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
My Lords, not for the first time I am deeply grateful for the courteous and painstaking attention that was given to the point.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, that, I hope, covers the point of the noble Lord, Lord Milner of Leeds. I have tried to cover the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, too. On the general matter, there is obviously room for difference of opinion, as has been shown to-day. I think it is one of the problems of administration to keep the balance between local authority interests and, at the same time, the assurance on the part of the central Government that the work is being well done and the money is being well spent. I have always hoped that both sides would look at the relationship as a real partnership. I believe that in most cases they do. I myself have always found that the local authority association were most helpful and reasonable and appreciative of my side of the problem; and although it is only healthful that there should be different views as to where the balance should be, it is interesting, and again healthy, that it is not a Party matter that there are different views—I am not over emphasising them, but there are differences of view between the noble Lords, Lord Faringdon and Lord Chorley. We might equally get a difference of view between myself and some of my noble friends. But I think that, on the whole, the partnership between central Government and local authorities has worked extremely well in this country and I hope that this Bill will continue to improve the work.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Viscount. I made a note of his point, but on another piece of paper. I am afraid that he is not right in his idea. If you look at the arrangement of clauses, you will see that 549> the only mention of Scotland in the arrangement of clauses is, he said, in Clause 11. But, again, one of the interesting features of government in this country is the office of Secretary of State. There is only one Secretary of State in theory; those holding the office are all joint holders of the same office (I think that the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, will agree with me in this matter), and so the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland are referred to in the Bill as "the Secretary of State." But in all of the points in which I indicated that there were relaxations, the Secretary of State for Scotland will, I think, make corresponding relaxations with corresponding provisions. As the noble Viscount is well aware, there are the three local authority associations in Scotland, and they have been consulted in the matter. I hope that that satisfies him on his point. I cannot say how sorry I am that I should have forgotten it, but I think the noble Viscount will appreciate the difficulty of making notes as one goes along.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords,I am most grateful to the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.