HL Deb 16 June 1959 vol 216 cc1222-8

6.25 p.m.

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this House do resolve itself into Committee on the said Bill.

Moved, That the House do resolve itself into Committee on the said Bill.—(The Lord Chancellor.)


My Lords, before the vote is taken on the Motion of the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, I might perhaps, as a matter of courtesy to the House and to the noble and learned Viscount, and with the permission of the House, mention one matter. Your Lordships may remember that on the Second Reading the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, and I mentioned a matter in which the County Councils Association and the Association of Municipal Corporations took an interest. That was the right and desire of local authorities to have power to appoint their own chief fire officers. It was intended and understood that an Amendment would be put down. Unfortunately, that was not done, and in the circumstances, particularly as I gather the Government desire to take not only the Committee stage but the Report stage to-night, I hope I may be permitted to put down the appropriate Amendment on Third Reading.


My Lords I have no objection. I think that in the circumstances it would be convenient to take that course. I am very willing to discuss the Amendment with the noble Lord. I dealt with it on Second Reading; I shall be glad to give it further attention. As it is the only Amendment I think that what he suggests would be a convenient course.

On Question, Motion agreed to: House in Committee accordingly.


I do not quite know what the procedure is in these circumstances. I did speak to the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor this afternoon. I should apologise to him for the very short notice I gave him that I had certain points I wanted to raise on the Committee stage of this Bill. I should point out, by the way, that the responsibility for the short notice is largely the noble Viscount's own fault: he was so extremely persuasive and convincing on Second Reading that I had decided that it was not necessary to put down Amendments dealing with any of the points I raised on Second Reading. However, certain events have arisen in the last few days which, had they occurred earlier, would have led me to put down Amendments.


I am very anxious to answer the noble Lord's points. He gave me notice before the House met. I should have thought he could do it on the Question that Clause 1 stand part, or on the Question that the House do resume, whichever the noble Lord likes, and whichever the Lord Chairman thinks right.


If the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, wishes to raise a point on any particular clause of the Bill, if he would indicate which clause I could put it so that the clause could be discussed before it was allowed to stand part.


I am very much obliged. I wish to raise points on Clauses 5 and 7.

Clauses 1 to 4 agreed to.

Clause 5 [Conditions of service]:

On Question, Whether Clause 5 shall stand part of the Bill?


On this clause very considerable anxiety has arisen as a result of an announcement in the newspapers yesterday evening about certain changes in the recruitment of men for the Fire Services. It was announced that the Home Office were considering the creation of a corps of cadets; that they were going to reduce the age of recruitment from nineteen to eighteen, and that they were going to consider, or recommend, the employment of local authorities' own employees as retained firemen. The first two of these points, the question of cadets and that of lowering the recruiting age, had, I understand, been referred to the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council. That Council has not taken a decision and has, I believe, referred the question to a special sub-committee, which also has not reported. In the circumstances, considerable anxiety has arisen, and I wonder whether the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor can tell me anything about it. Had I known earlier, I should have put down some Amendments to this clause.

The question of a retained fireman is something which, at any rate in the London zone, is entirely new—there have never been retained firemen. This idea of enrolling a local authority's own employees as retained firemen is a new idea; it is one which I believe has not yet gone to the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council, and of which, I believe, they have heard nothing. I hope, therefore, that the noble and learned Viscount will be able to tell me something about these proposals and whether they are, in fact, going to be enforced.


I think that the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, has in mind a cutting which I have in front of me. The heading is: Younger firemen may be recruited, and the text begins: The Home Secretary, Mr. R. A. Butler, is looking for new ways to encourage young men to become firemen. It is perfectly true that my right honourable friend is looking for new ways, in the sense that he is always considering that point; but I want to make it clear that he is not starting on schemes without consideration. That, I think, is the point which is worrying the noble Lord. As regards television publicity, which was the first matter that was mentioned, a little has been done. With regard to reducing the minimum age of firemen, the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, is quite right that a committee of the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council has been set up to consider whether the minimum age of entry should be reduced from nineteen to eighteen, and the same Committee is considering the setting up of a cadet scheme. There is nothing more to it than that. There is no intention on the part of my right honourable friend of taking any steps until he has had the advantage of seeing what the committee have said.

With regard to the recruiting of local council employees as retained firemen for an emergency, my right honourable friend has taken no special steps to encourage the recruitment of council employees. Of course, like myself, and every other Home Secretary, he is glad to hear of any filling up of vacancies in the establishment of retained men of which there is a deficiency in the country as a whole. But he is not aware of any plan to recruit retained firemen as substitutes for whole-time men, or to interfere with the general plans that are going on at the moment. I think it is simply a case that rather more could be read into the report—I am not corn-planting; I am sure it was clone with the best of motives in order to try to help—than the actual facts warrant. I have now endeavoured to put the facts as known to me fully before the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon.


I thank the noble and learned Viscount very much for that explanation. It is not wholly unexpected, of course. I rather anticipated that it would show that somebody had "jumped the gun" and that this was intelligent anticipation, or perhaps even more than that.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 [Establishment Schemes]:

On Question, Whether Clause 7 shall stand part of the Bill?


This is a point which I raised on Second Reading, when the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor gave what at that time seemed a satisfactory reply. Within the last few days, however, my anxieties have been raised considerably, because I am given to understand that at a disastrous fire just recently it was found that the fire cover was considerably inadequate. As this happened in a county where the fire authority had failed to carry out the directions of a Home Office circular based upon the advice of the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council, it makes one wonder a little how effective will be the authority of the Home Secretary in cases where fire risk has increased and where additional cover may be needed. Particularly in view of the payment to local authorities of the block grant, there may be a strong tendency to fail to give the cover in newly built-up areas or in areas where there are new factories, and I am extremely anxious to know just how the Home Secretary is going to make his authority felt. The noble and learned Viscount gave me, as it seemed to me, a perfectly adequate reply op Second Reading, but in view of what has happened so recently I rather wonder whether the authority which he says—and quite rightly, of course—the Home Secretary will have, will in fact be adequate: and if he thinks that it will be adequate, how the Home Secretary is going to make it effective.


I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, has in mind the fire at Ilford, but my honourable friend Miss Hornsby-Smith, in answering a Parliamentary Question in another place, gave details about the times of attendance and mentioned that thirty-nine pumps had attended the fire from five brigades. She said that there was certainly no delay in the operation of the fire services.

The noble Lord may have had this in mind, and perhaps I may take as an example the Home Office Circular of November, 1958. He will remember that that recommended that in an area of the type where the Ilford fire occurred one appliance should attend within five minutes and the second within eight minutes. The reports received from the chief fire officer show that in the case of this fire one appliance was on the scene within three minutes, and, while the exact time of arrival of the next appliance has not been established, we do know that two were on the scene eleven minutes after the first call, and they may well have been earlier; and reinforcements which were sent for arrived quickly. From the full report which the Home Office have received, there is no occasion to doubt the efficiency of the manner in which the fire was tackled. But if there is any specific point it will probably be more convenient if my noble friend were to let me know, and I will look into it.

On the general point, whether my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has adequate powers to compel a fire authority to increase its establishment if industrial development is taking place in its area, I do not know that I can go much further than I did on Second Reading. Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to repeat what I then said, for I feel that it is important that it should be said again. In our view, if the scheme in force is unsatisfactory, the power of the Secretary of State to intervene, and make a scheme under subsection (5), in conjunction with regular inspections by Her Majesty's Inspectors of Fire Services, will provide a sufficient safeguard for cases of this kind. That is the view we have formed. But again I should be very glad if the noble Lord will let me know about any point he has in mind, and I will look at it with great pleasure.


I thank the noble and learned Viscount very much for that answer. I had not intended to bring up the case of that particular fire. It was simply that it had made me feel a little anxious, in that it had been reported, not that there had been any failure on the part of the brigades concerned but that the fire cover was considered inadequate; or so I understand. I had reason to believe that the Home Office circular had not in fact been operated in the case of the local fire authority, and therefore I was anxious to know that the Home Secretary would be able to make his fiat really effective. But I thank the noble and learned Viscount.

Clause 7 agreed to.

Clause 8 [Firemen's Pension Scheme]:

On Question whether Clause 8 shall stand part of the Bill?


On this clause might I ask the noble and learned Viscount whether he has anything to add to the reply which he gave me on Second Reading concerning the pensions payable to men seconded for duty at the Fire College? He then said discussions were going on.


I told the House, at the instance of the noble Lord, that discussions were proceeding and—I touch the wood of the table in front of me—my information is that the discussions are going very well. I have nothing more concrete to report to your Lordships at the moment, but, as I told the noble Lord, if I have I shall let him know and will deal with it accordingly. But all the information I have is good news.


I thank the noble Lord for that statement, but it occurs to me to wonder where we go from there. We are to have the Report stage to-morrow and there will remain only the Third Reading. If an agreement is reached, presumably there will have to be an Amendment.


I believe the noble Lord has forgotten, for once, that this Bill started here, so that there are still the resources of another place to deal with it.

Clause 8 agreed to.

Remaining clauses and Schedule agreed to.

House resumed.

Bill reported without amendment.