HL Deb 06 February 1968 vol 288 cc1046-9

2.45 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have received front numerous Auxiliary Fire Service groups offers to continue voluntarily and without any personal remuneration to perform their duties; and whether, if this is so, the interest of the community, which would benefit without cost, would not be best served by the acceptance of these offers.]


My Lords, the payments for which members of the Auxiliary Fire Service can qualify are a bounty, which for firemen is £10 a year, and an allowance to cover out-of-pocket expenses when training. My right honourable friend has received a number of offers from groups and individual members of the Auxiliary Fire Service to forgo payment, in whole or in part, if they are allowed to continue to serve The Government are deeply appreciative of the spirit which underlies these offers; but bounty and subsistence payments to all members amount to 8½ per cent. of the cost of maintaining the Auxiliary Fire Service and savings of this order would be only a fraction of the reduction in expenditure on emergency services which the Government have decided must be made to meet the economic situation.


My Lords, I did not catch the amounts of money involved. Supposing the offer were accepted, could my noble friend tell me how much would still remain as a cost in the maintenance of the Auxiliary Fire Service?


My Lords, the Auxiliary Fire Service would have cost about £1,300,000 in the coming financial year; the bounty and expenses are estimated at £110,000.


My Lords, will the Minister of State represent to his colleagues in the Government that the country is not at present in a position to damp down voluntary effort?


My Lords, arising out of the original reply and Lord Brooke's supplementary, are Her Majesty's Government aware that not only members of the Auxiliary Fire Service but also other Civil Defence bodies, and that section of the Territorial Army which it is proposed to disband, have also offered to continue their services on a voluntary basis? In view of what the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, has said, will the Government not reconsider the whole position, and not pour cold water on the patriotism of those who are endeavouring to back Britain?


My Lords, it is not a question of pouring cold water, nor is it a question, as the noble Lord, Lord Brooke seemed to think, of unawareness on the part of the Government of the tremendous service rendered by these people and the impossibility, as it were, of damping down voluntary enthusiasm. It is the case of a choice between disbanding this particular Service or continuing it, and it is purely a question whether or not we can pay for it. With regard to other considerations, particularly those put by the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, I shall be answering tomorrow a Question on Civil Defence from the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, and I hope then he will address to me questions on that subject.


My Lords, are Her Majesty's Government aware that the cost of implementing the Trade Descriptions Bill, which was sent to another place from this House yesterday, would be more than sufficient to cover the Auxiliary Fire Service, the Territorial Force and everything else?


My Lords, I should have thought that that compari- son was scarcely relevant. It is equally obvious to every one of us that every single reduction proposed in the Government's plans is capable of having a convincing case built up against it, if one concentrates on one case. But, taken collectively, the Government are making those economies which are regarded as essential in the country's economic interests.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the figures relating to the losses by fire in this country? These are colossal, and I believe it is false economy—and I would ask the Government to consider this matter—that the Fire Services should be understaffed and that these people should be unable to do the work for which they have joined. They are now offering to do the work for nothing, and I suggest to the noble Lord that this is a question of the encouragement of public spirit which is, in itself, valuable, particularly in connection with protection from fire.


My Lords, of course I am aware that the fire losses are appalling—something of the order of £80 million a year. But I should have thought that my noble friend, who has such long experience of the Fire Services, would have been aware that the relationship of the Auxiliary Fire Service to these losses just does not exist, because the Auxiliary Fire Service have no peacetime fire duties at all. Indeed, by agreement of the Fire Brigades Union and the local authorities with the Home Office, the Auxiliary Fire Service are precluded from taking part in fire fighting of this kind. Deeply as I am concerned about this matter, it is quite wrong to introduce irrelevancies and misunderstandings of that kind.


My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his answer. I am wondering whether these men will be permitted to retain their uniforms when they have disbanded.


My Lords, that is one of the many things which are to be discussed with local authorities when they are met by officials of my Department on February 14. But it is the case with uniforms and many other things that the local authorities pay 25 per cent. of the cost and the Home Office pays 75 per cent. of the cost. So far as the Government are concerned, and subject to the agreement of the local authorities, they would be very willing for volunteers to retain their uniforms.