HC Deb 07 December 1948 vol 459 cc42-6W
Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is now in a position to make a comprehensive statement on the provisions for the compensation of members of the administrative staff of the defunct National Fire Service.

Mr. Ede

I have decided after consultation with the Treasury to make a compensatory payment to certain former members of the National Fire Service for whom it was not possible to and pensionable employment in the service of the local authorities.

During the war and for some months after the conclusion of hostilities resignatons from the National Fire Service were prohibited. It was decided towards the end of 1945 that this prohibition should be removed in the following year, and the actual date of "unfreezing" was 30th April, 1946. During the period preceding that date certain measures were taken to ensure that, when resignations became possible, a sufficient number of men would remain in the Service to provide an efficient fire-fighting organisation. As regards the operational side of the Service, as many of the existing temporary members of the Service as desired continued employment as firemen and were of the necessary standard as regards age and physique were accepted for permanent service, and new recruits were also enrolled. These men were assured that they would become members of the local authority fire brigades in due course.

Similar continuity of employment for persons on the administrative side of the Service was a more difficult problem. The administrative and clerical work was performed by approximately 3,500 members of the Service most of whom were employed at the 11 Regional Headquarters in England and Wales. After the transfer of the Service to local control the necessary administrative and clerical work would naturally be undertaken by civilian staffs of the local authorities, although some additions to the existing staffs would no doubt be required. As a result of inquiries made early in 1946, it became clear that a large proportion of the National Fire Service staff engaged on the administrative and clerical work, including the majority of those in senior and key posts, would resign as soon as they were free to look for permanent employment in which event there would be a breakdown in the administration of the Service. Accordingly I consulted the County Councils Association and the Association of Municipal Corporations and, with their concurrence, a scheme was prepared under which 584 members of the administrative and clerical staff were assured that they could rely on obtaining pensionable employment in local government service when the National Fire Service came to an end, provided they remained in the Service until that dale. In due course the individual fire authorities were informed of these arrangements and asked to consider these persons for appointments on their staffs, and actually 431 obtained pensionable employment commencing on 1st April, 1948—the date of the transfer of the National Fire Service to local control—leaving 153 persons who had not been placed. Throughout the period preceding the 1st April, 1948, and subsequently, every possible effort has been made by the Home Office, in collaboration with the County Councils Association and the Association of Municipal Corporations' to find pensionable employment for these persons, but I am sorry to say that there are over 100 who have not yet found such posts.

In March, 1948, a number of the persons concerned, who had not yet obtained posts, took legal advice and as a result I received a claim for damages for breach of contract for continued employment. Negotiations have since proceeded between the Home Office and the solicitors representing these persons, on the basis that there is no admission of legal liability for breach of contract, but that since their hopes of obtaining pensionable employment were disappointed the Home Office was prepared to make compensatory payments. Agreement has now been reached that this compensation should take the form of a lump sum payment equal to three years salary and supplementary allowance.

This offer of compensation is being made to all the persons concerned who did not take up pensionable employment on 1st April, 1948, whether or not they are represented by the firm of solicitors with whom the negotiations have been conducted, and whether or not they have since obtained employment, with the exception however that the offer is not made to persons who before that date refused an offer of a pensionable local government post. It would have been difficult to differentiate equitably between one person and another according to whether he has obtained employment at some date since 1st April or is not now employed but may obtain employment in the near future. Moreover those who took up pensionable employment on 1st April were able to count part of their past service in the National Fire Service as pen- sionable service for the purpose of the new employment, but this was not possible in the cases of any persons who obtained employment at some date subsequent to 1st April. The offer will of course be dependent upon a specific abandonment of any other claim in respect of the failure to secure pensionable employment with a local authority.