HC Deb 15 May 1916 vol 82 cc1138-9W

asked the Under-Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that the Hastings and St. Leonard's volunteer fire brigade has recently asked for the exemption of five single and twenty-two married men out of the existing strength of about seventy-two, the peace establishment of the brigade being about eighty-five all ranks; whether he is aware that the application was withdrawn in the matter of the five single men, but that full exemption appears to have been granted for the twenty-two married men; whether he is aware that Hastings and St. Leonard's are largely residential as distinct from manufacturing localities, with together under 70,000 inhabitants, that the number of fires during the five years ending 1913 only averaged fifteen per annum, and that localities of like area and population find a volunteer fire brigade of from twenty to forty men sufficient; and whether, arising out of this instance at Hastings and St. Leonard's and other instances regarding the demands of volunteer fire brigades for the exemption of men who only give a few hours annually to local fire brigade service, he will give some intimation to the tribunals and the military representatives that the value of the occasional service rendered by volunteer firemen of a military age cannot be considered an indispensable service, seeing that some brigade officers have shown that they are able to obtain suitable substitutes who are not eligible for military service, as also to arrange for the suitable co-operation of special constables, Training Corps, Boy Scouts, etc., to meet the present War emergency?


I agree with the hon. Gentleman in thinking that the services rendered by volunteer firemen of military age cannot be considered as indispensable. The Reserved Occupations Committee sitting at the Board of Trade have considered this question most carefully, and have decided only to give protection to full-time permanent firemen engaged in a public professional fire brigade. Single men under the age of twenty-five do not receive even this protection after 1st July, 1916. The case of voluntary men who assist volunteer fire brigades and whose whole time is not given to the fire service must be considered from the point of view of their principal and usual occupations. There are, I understand, several fire brigades in the United Kingdom who have not retained in their employment one man of military age eligible for military service. In view of the fact that men are now very urgently required for military service I trust that every fire brigade, professional, private or volunteer, will endeavour to find substitutes so as to release eligible men for the Army. The co-operation of the Volunteer Training Corps should be encouraged. The co-operation of boy scouts and the training of special constables in the simple fire duties has also been found satisfactory in many localities. Women substitutes have been found most useful in several private brigades. I entirely agree, therefore, with the hon. Gentleman when he says that the exemption of volunteer firemen of military age should be discouraged.