HL Deb 25 January 1978 vol 388 cc336-8

2.41 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 what consultations they have had with the Ministry of Defence concerning the number of hours needed to train Servicemen to use fire fighting equipment in general and breathing apparatus in particular.


My Lords, Her Majesty's Government carefully studied the question of Servicemen using breathing apparatus and other specialist fire fighting equipment normally used by civilian firemen. Any specialist equipment requires not only training in its operation but also considerable experience—in the case of breathing apparatus, several months—before it can be used effectively and without endangering the operator.


My Lords, will the noble Lord bear in mind that the Question asks whether, not Her Majesty's Government, but the Ministry of Defence, had been consulted; and, if so, to what extent? Will he also bear in mind that there is evidence that well-trained and well-disciplined soldiers could have learnt to operate this breathing equipment not in a matter of months but in a matter of hours? Is the Minister receiving the best possible advice in the interests of the public?


My Lords, the noble Lord must be well aware that Her Majesty's Government and the Ministry of Defence are one and the same organisation. However, consultations did take place and the decision was that the timescale did not permit training in fire fighting apparatus for the ordinary soldier who was not already a specialist.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware, or is the Ministry of Defence aware, that the whole of the Submarine Service was already trained in the use of oxygen equipment? Does that not point to two facts: first, that our Services are so small that we cannot take anything off to deal with these other crises; and, secondly, that the biggest mistake ever made by the present Prime Minister when he was Home Secretary was in abolishing the Civil Defence Corps, because that would have provided us with up-to-date fire fighting and other equipment?


My Lords, is it not enough that the men in the Services have done a first-class job in most difficult circumstances?


My Lords, I am certain that the whole House is grateful to my noble friend for putting his finger on a very key point.


My Lords, would the noble Lord be prepared to put before us figures of the number of fires and incidents attended by the Services during the strike period, and comparable figures for the normal fire brigade in the previous year?


My Lords, that is another question, but I am certain that, if put down, it could be answered.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether the Government have actually thanked the Army for the work they have done over a period of several weeks? I think that this would be a good opportunity to see that this is done.


Certainly, my Lords. But I think that the views of your Lordships' House will be much appreciated.


My Lords, would the noble Lord consider the point put by my noble friend here, that as we have now had experience of the volunteers of the Army manning the fire brigade over a long period, would it not be worthwhile comparing the degree of manning, and the number of calls made on their time, to make sure that we have got the very best experience and results of this crisis? We then might be able to judge how we might better and more efficiently construct the fire brigade in the future.


My Lords, that is an interesting point, but I think it is wider than something to be raised at Question Time.