§ 11.55 a.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD WALKDEN
My Lords, in certain sections of the Press there has been published a statement to the effect that this is a measure of denationalization. It was suggested that it was rather queer that this present Government should start to denationalize a measure which was passed by the Coalition Government of 1941. I hasten to assure your Lordships that what appeared in the Press was only a rumour. We do not contemplate handing this valuable public service over to private contractors, and if any of your Lordships should be so unfortunate as to have a fire at your homes you will not have to ring up some such person and get him to bring along an early English pattern fire engine to deal with the outbreak. The public service will be maintained as before, and I believe in an even higher state of efficiency. So there is no retrogression.
This Bill will bring to an end the National Fire Service which, as I have said, was established in 1941 and will provide for a thorough reorganization through county and county borough councils. It will also provide a new pension scheme for the firemen, and permanent Whitley Council arrangements for dealing with all their conditions of employment. Further, it will authorize terms of compensation for persons who may become redundant in the Service by reason of changes in organization. That is done by Clause 5. The Bill also makes ample provision for the adaptation of the measure to Scotland. There will be representative advisory councils, both for Scotland and for England and Wales.
If I may, I would like to give a brief survey of the developments which have led up to the present position. Before 1938, the London County Council were the only local authority required by law to maintain a fire brigade. Other councils, did, in fact, maintain, fire fighting organizations but these were often allied with their police forces. They had widely varying degrees of efficiency and often they had to work with very out-of-date equipment. In 1938—just before the last war—the Fire Brigades Act was carried by the then Conservative Govern- 227 ment. It was based on the recommendations of a Departmental Committee over which Lord Riverdale presided. The Act provided for large-scale reorganization of the whole of the local services, and for the first time it brought them under national control, through the Home Office and the borough and county councils. The provision of fire brigades in all council areas was made compulsory, and they all came under the suzerainty of the Home Secretary.
The borough and county councils were all required to provide efficient fire services and to make effective arrangements for giving mutual aid to one another when called upon to do so. The old parochial individualism of former days was swept away just in time to meet the circumstances which developed on the breaking out of the war. The Home Secretary provided the fire brigades then with all the emergency equipment they needed. It reached a great total and more than made up for the absence of any financial grant-in-aid to the new authorities. Our new Bill will provide for regular grants up to 25 per cent. of their expenses. The Act of 1938 for the first time made the Home Secretary responsible for the supervision of all the fire services, and it authorized the appointment of Government inspectors to assist him in that work. He was also given a Fire Services Commission to help him. Then he was empowered to appoint fire service boards to supersede local authorities where they failed to provide efficient fire services.
By the time the war broke out we had 1,668 fire authorities and a total of 6,600 whole-time firemen. There were also 16,000 part-time firemen. But that was not nearly enough. It was soon found necessary to organize an Auxiliary Fire Service. That grew up until it had a whole-time personnel of 75,000, with 120,000 part-timers. They bore the brunt of the first German incendiary attacks, and bore them magnificently. We can never forget the debt of gratitude that we owe to them for preserving many of our towns and cities from utter destruction by fire. By 1941, however, it was found necessary to strengthen and improve the organization to provide for unity of command and the integration of the small units. For that purpose the National Fire Service was established, by the Fire Ser- 228 vice (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1941, to meet the increasing strain of the incendiary attacks. At its peak our National Fire Service organization included 120,000 whole-time men and women and 200,000 part-timers. They grappled with the notorious "Baedeker" raids, the blitz of 1944, and with the horrible results of the flying bombs and the still worse long-distance rockets.
In 1941 the then Home Secretary, Mr. Herbert Morrison, was induced to give an undertaking that after the war the fire service would go back to local authority control. This new Bill seems to redeem that promise and also to provide further improvements. After lengthy discussions with local authorities, the Government formed the definite opinion that it would be wrong to return to the pre-war system of 1,668 fire authorities. They were convinced that larger units would make for greater efficiency, both in operational work and in administration. They therefore decided that the best course would be to make only the county councils and the county borough councils the fire service authorities, with provision for joint administration where operational requirements showed that to be necessary. Effect is given to this in Clause 4, which is the main operative clause of the Bill. But district councils and other councils are to be kept in the picture and must be consulted by the larger councils in connexion with the preparation of the regional fire service schemes, as provided for in Clause 20 and in the First Schedule. They may also appoint representatives to sit on the county fire brigades committees.
I will now draw your Lordships' attention to Clauses 2 and 12. They are intended to ensure co-operation between neighbouring fire authorities in order that any fire may be dealt with as quickly as possible by the most conveniently situated brigade, without regard to local government boundaries. No political boundaries will separate the firemen from going straight to the job if they are the nearest people to it. I consider that a very sensible provision. The effective central supervision by the Home Secretary is retained, and it is strengthened by the powers given to him to prescribe standards of efficiency, standards of training and equipment, to run training institutions—quite a good innovation—to appoint inspectors and to make the pay- 229 ment of the Exchequer grant (which will reach up to twenty-five per cent.) conditional upon any fire authority fulfilling the requirements which he may have stipulated for their guidance and for the effectiveness of the service. Your Lordships may be interested to know that the total personnel in our fire services at the present time is approximately 27,500 whole-time men and 22,700 parttimers—in round figures, 50,000 in all. This compares with 130;000 whole-time men and 216,000 part-time men at the peak period, a decrease of 102,500 whole-time men and 193,000 part-time men—in round figures a decrease of nearly 300,000. We are now reaching normal peace-time strength, following these large reductions in personnel. Of course, they had to be enrolled during the war period.
With regard to the terms of employment of the men before the war, each of the 1,668 fire authorities settled separately the conditions of service for their own brigade. After nationalization, of course, the Secretary of State prescribed the rates of pay, hours of duty and other conditions for all. We cannot think of going back to the old diversities. Steps have been taken towards the establishment of permanent joint industrial council machinery for negotiating any changes in the present standardized conditions of service. The local authorities, of course, will act as employers in the place of the Home Secretary.
Now I will deal with advisory council arrangements. The Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council, which was set up under the Act of 1938, did not include representatives of the employees. Under this Bill, in Clause 30, advisory councils will be provided for both England and Wales, and also for Scotland, consisting of representatives of the fire authorities, the various ranks of their employees and of such other interests as the Home Secretary may think it desirable to be represented. A wide range of subjects will come before them for consideration, and they will also be free to tender advice on their own initiative. They are not bound by any considerations, and are quite free to recommend what they like. Pension provisions are dealt with in Clauses 27 to 29. The old complex and rather scrappy arrangements will come to an end and will be replaced by a new unified scheme. Retirement pensions will be given only after twenty-five years' ser- 230 vice, and the maximum benefits will only be granted after thirty years' service. The scheme has yet to be prepared, but it will probably be analagous to that of the police pensions scheme.
I have sketched the broad outlines of the Bill. I need only add that proper transitional arrangements are provided for in Clause 13, and that the question of adequate water supplies for fire fighting is dealt with for the first time in Clauses 14 to 17, which impose a duty on fire authorities to see continuously that sufficient supplies are always available in the vicinity of buildings. That is quite a new stipulation, and should prevent the waste of precious time that has occurred all too often through the absence of sufficient water to quench a costly fire. We believe that this Bill will permanently settle on sound progressive lines the structure and organization of the important public service with which it deals. It represents a wide measure of agreement, I am pleased to say, and that is largely due to the full and frank discussions which have taken place with the representative associations of local authorities and of the officers and men of the fire service. We are very grateful for the co-operative attitude they have displayed throughout the discussions. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a(Lord Walkden.)
§ 12.8 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
My Lords, let me say at once that I should like to associate noble Lords on this side of the House for whom I speak with the tribute which has been paid by the noble Lord opposite to all ranks who discharged their onerous duties during the late war with such efficiency and such bravery. If proof were indeed required, it would be sufficient to draw attention to the 700 decorations and commendations which were awarded to this Service during the late war.
The noble Lord, of course, finds himself in a unique position to-day. He is in the privileged position of introducing the first Bill in this Parliament to denationalize one of the services which were nationalized. I can only hope that my noble friend will live for many years to come, and that this will be the first of a number of measures of a similar character. When I heard the noble Lord's description of the work which he was doing on 231 this Bill—restoring the old and destroying the new—I could not help being reminded of a song which I used to hear in my cradle. I think the last lines went in this fashion:Restore the old, destroy the new, I am a good old boy.That song might well have been dedicated and written to the noble Lord after his speech this morning. The general proposition of this Bill, of course, has our support, and it is, as the noble Lord says, to return to the local authorities the fire services which were removed from their control in 1941. It is the fulfilment of a pledge that was given by the Lord President of the Council, and renewed by Sir Donald Somervell when he was Home Secretary. It happened that I had the honour to be present at the conferences in 1945, and also to introduce the Fire Brigade Act of 1938, to which the noble Lord referred in the course of his speech. I have no doubt whatever of the advisability of returning the services to local authorities of a reasonably large size, and speaking personally, I should never have acquiesced in this arrangement if it required the setting up again of a multiplicity of small authorities as was envisaged in the Act of 1938. I therefore welcome the proposal that in future the county councils and county borough councils will become responsible for the maintenance in many cases of far larger units than in the past.
In the Act of 1938 it was laid down, I believe, that the minimum provision for a fire brigade could be classed under three headings—first, there were the congested urban areas with important risks; secondly, the smaller towns, mostly of residential property, with smaller risks; and thirdly, areas practically entirely rural in character. I am glad to see in Clause I of the Bill that a similar provision is made whereby the standard of efficiency for each of these areas can be prescribed by the Secretary of State after consultation with the Central Fire Brigade Advisory Council which he is setting up under the Bill. We have moved far since 1938 and we have had better training facilities and better fire fighting appliances, both of which have naturally added to the efficiency of the service as a whole. The consequence which we must face under this Bill, however, is that the expenditure, both in money and personnel, will be far 232 higher than it was before the war. I can hardly believe that it is necessary to maintain the present strength of full-time firemen at the figure which the noble Lord mentioned. I believe I am correct in saying that before the war there were 6,600 full-time firemen, and to-day, if I understood the noble Lord correctly, there are no fewer than 27,500 full-time men. I should frankly have thought that this enormous increase, four times the size of 1938, was really using manpower somewhat lavishly at a time when we are so short of every available hand. I would like to ask the noble Lord who is to reply, whether some reduction is contemplated and when it will take effect.
I pass now to the damage which is caused every year by destruction by fire in this country, which I believe was recently estimated to amount to £12,000,000. Of course every effort must be employed, not only to put out a fire when it breaks out, but also to prevent fires from occurring at all, and for that reason I welcome the proposal in the Bill to set up training centres. I would like to ask the noble Lord how many local training centres are to be set up under the Bill. Under the Act of 1938 a training centre was set up, and it carried out research into the technical questions of fire protection under the supervision of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. Is it intended to employ that Government Department in future to help in the central training institution? Under Clause 25, the Secretary of State has power to appoint inspectors and assistant inspectors with the approval of the Treasury. Some years ago Parliament was very hesitant about giving a Minister complete and full power to appoint a large number of inspectors. Could the noble Lord give us some indication of the number of inspectors it is intended to appoint and the number of assistant inspectors?
At the present time these are the only observations I wish to make on the Bill. I am glad it has been introduced, and I hope it may, as the noble Lord rightly said, be a charter on which the fire services can rely. But I am still worried over the number of full-time firemen permanently employed, for the Treasury grant of 25 per cent. to local authorities is not of a very generous nature. Perhaps the noble Lord in his reply could give us some indication of how that figure was 233 arrived at, and whether it was a figure accepted by the municipal authorities.
§ 12.17 p.m.
THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, the fire services in this country have for so long won, and rightly won, the admiration and affection of the whole population that they have survived even a change from the magnificent and ornamental brass helmets to the unsightly and utilitarian tin hats. Those services reached a high degree of value to the community, which was never greater than during the recent war. Noble Lords on these Benches certainly desire to associate themselves with the tributes which have been paid to the National Fire Service for the part they played during these years. It is a remarkable thing that the local pride which in many places had centred upon the local fire service in the years when they had a separate existence, should not in any way have lessened or interfered with the very great pride and admiration which the country conceived and cherished for the National Fire Service during the period of its existence.
The time has now come when, in accordance with the pledges which were given, the National Fire Service is to revert, not to the excessive number of constituent parts which made up the fire service as a whole in pre-war years, but into much larger and for that reason much more satisfactory areas, represented by the county and county borough councils. It is obviously right that the breakdown should not go below that level. It was a contributory factor, both to inefficiency and lack of economy, that so many different fire brigades existed during the pre-war years and nobody would claim that all of them attained a standard one would wish a fire brigade to achieve. I have a recollection of a fire taking place at a country house not more than fifteen years ago, when after a prolonged pause the local fire brigade arrived in a hired landau. The fire had by that time got impatient at the delay, and had very wisely gone out. Any steps which can be taken to elevate the whole standard of the fire service will obviously be for the benefit of the country at large; and I think the standard set by the new subdivision imposed by this Bill, not going lower in the scale than county and county borough areas, is all to the good.
I have a good deal of sympathy with 234 the passing criticism made by the noble Earl, Lord Munster, as to the new powers of inspection which are apparently contained in the Bill. The average householder will soon be reduced to having a swing front door so as to save himself the constant wear and tear of going down to open his front door to the number of official callers who call upon him. I should like to support the noble Earl's request, that we should be given some indication of how these powers are intended to be exercised, and the scale upon which those inspectorates are to be officered. Subject to that possibly minor but also possibly major criticism, we welcome the principle of this Bill and look forward to it operating on satisfactory lines.
§ 12.22 p.m.
THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
My Lords, I do not rise of course, to oppose this Bill, but I cannot help saying that I do not think I have ever taken part in the proceedings of any Bill in the forty years during which I have been a member of your Lordships' House with greater regret than I do on this one. After all, we are proceeding to the execution of the National Fire Service, which has, I think, earned all the praise which has been given to it this morning but which, unfortunately—no doubt, for good reasons—is to be scrapped and wiped out. I may be told that as a Londoner I have no grievance. The London Fire Service has always led the world. If I may, I would like to give an example of that. Just fifty years ago I was in Melbourne, staying with friends, and I remember being told: "Whatever you do before you leave Melbourne, you must see the fire brigade. It is the finest thing you have ever seen." I spent a very happy afternoon with them, and even with my young and inexperienced eye I could see what a wonderful service it was. Why was that? It was because its senior officer and second-in-command had both been trained in London. No doubt there are hundreds of examples of that kind.
The London Fire Brigade has always led the world. I think that was largely proved by the fact that when the National Fire Service was started a number of senior officers were sent from London to take their place in the provinces and in Scotland, Obviously that was necessary. I cannot go so far as the noble Lord, 235 Lord Walkden, in regard to the results of the Act of 1938 in some parts of the country. I cannot get the impression out of my head—I have had it for some years—that if the fire services all over England, Scotland and Wales, had been as efficient as they are in London, the damage done by the Germans would have been much less than it unfortunately was.
The noble Marquess, Lord Reading, has made clear that we are not going back to 1,600 authorities; I believe we are going back to about 400. I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Walkden, mentioned that, but it is a figure that has got into my head, although not on any authority. We are going back to a much smaller number. What I am delighted to see in the Bill, above all, is the power which the Secretary of State has retained to himself. First of all, no officer commanding will be appointed in any fire brigade without his approval. I think that is a very valuable retention of central power. He will have the inspectors, referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Munster, and he will be concerned with training and with pensions. I do hope that those powers will be fully exercised by the Home Secretary; indeed, I have no doubt they will.
There is one matter on which I would like a little more information. There is a word that does not appear in this Bill at all, and that is the word "firewoman." What is the intention of the Government as regards the employment of firewomen? The noble Lord, Lord Walkden, gave us some figures, but they were for the whole fire service, and I do not know if they included women or not. I am told there are still about 2,000 women in active service in the fire brigade, of whom 700 are actually operational. Those who watch these matters with interest will remember that quite recently there was a fire in Mitcham which was put out by the women before the men arrived. That shows that they are not merely passengers in the service, and not only decorative. They are decorative, it is true, but not solely decorative. I have never been a woman's rights man; I have rather been a man's rights man. But in this particular case, I have no doubt the women have enormously justified themselves, and people have told me that there are some things the women can do better than the men. For instance, as wireless operators I am 236 told that for some reason they are more efficient.
The Home Secretary's attitude seems to be that he hopes some of the local authorities will retain the women in their service. I do not think that is a very satisfactory attitude of mind. I am only comforted a little by the knowledge of the fact that all the new authorities have to produce a scheme and submit it to the Home Secretary. I hope the Home Secretary will never approve a scheme which leaves women out of the service, and prevents them from doing jobs which they are most suited to do. Surely, in these days when we are short of manpower, it is unwise not to continue to employ women, and more particularly in this case where they have proved their efficiency. As my noble friend said, the number of decorations for bravery won by members of the National Fire Service has been very considerable, and amongst those decorated have been some splendid women, who have done good work which has been commended by the governing authorities.
There is only one other small point I would like to make. Again, I am not a woman's rights man, but when we come to the question of pensions, if, for instance, a wireless operator goes out to a fire and a wall falls on her, she ought to get the same compensation as a man gets. That is not clear in the Bill, and has not been made clear in any of the discussions which have taken place. I thought I must raise that point. I hope it is in the minds of the Government more strongly than I had reason to believe hitherto, because I think that in continuing this service, which has been proved efficient, the Government will be doing a great deal to ensure the continuance of the efficiency of the new fire service on the same lines as the N.F.S., to whcih we are all so sorry to say "Good-bye."
§ 12.30 p.m.
My Lords, without disassociating myself from anything that has been said by my noble friends on this side of the House, I would like to make a plea for common sense in one matter in regard to this Bill. The whole area of Scotland north of the Grampians will be very severely dealt with by this Bill, and for no purpose. I have to remind your Lordships that that area is very largely one-roaded—by which I mean that there are no alternative routes from one 237 place to another, and therefore it is not susceptible of any high degree of organization. I should like also to point out to your Lordships that in the whole of that area, with the exception of a few mansion houses and outside the few burghs that exist, the vast majority of the houses are of one storey and the remainder are low two-storey houses. If your house catches fire, it is the simplest thing in the world either to put out the fire or to walk out of the house.
I should imagine that if you were to take the deaths in Argyll, Inverness, Ross-shire, Caithness and Sutherland and the islands over the last fifty years, you would find that by far the greatest number of deaths by fires within that area were deaths of farm servants who had insisted on going into the stables to try to save their horses. I have had knowledge of a good deal of that kind of service and, at the risk of delaying your Lordships further by one sentence, I would like here to put on record my intense admiration for the character and spirit of the numerous men who have undertaken the duty and the few who have lost their lives in carrying it out.
In the 1938 Act those areas were excluded from the Bill, and very rightly. If I may take the County of Inverness as an example, at the present moment there is a fire service in Inverness, there is one in Fort William, there is one at Grantown-on-Spey and a small one at Kingussie. I think that of those, Grantown and possibly Inverness are the only burghs which have three main roads leading out of them, but those have proved amply sufficient in the past for all the duties that they were called upon to perform. The organization is very complete and it does not seem to me that there is any justification for the inclusion of these counties in the Bill. They themselves would very much prefer to be left out. I am told that the expense that will be laid on the County of Inverness under the provisions of this Bill amounts to £35,000 and one authority says that that amounts to a rate of 6d. in the pound, and another authority tells me 8d. in the pound, to be applied to the whole area of the County of Inverness, and, I presume, also the islands which belong to it. That is a very heavy tax on a very poor county for a service from which they can obtain no possible 238 benefit. It is quite clear that this reorganized fire service cannot bring any benefit to the islands, to commence with, and, in point of fact, in by far the greater area of Inverness, if a fire takes place and you cannot deal with it locally, you have very small chances of dealing with it through any National Fire Service. I wish that my noble and gallant kinsman, Lord Lovat, was here today, because he is very warm on this subject and very well informed on it in common with all of his friends in the area and he could put it very much better than I can.
Of course, those areas would like to be out altogether, and I think the whole of Scotland north of the Grampians would like to be out of the Bill altogether, but I do suggest to the Government that they might give the Secretary of State power to exclude these areas if he wished to do so. I think that would be a very wise and statesmanlike thing to do, because, if you consider what the Bill provides for—first of all, for fire service arrangements for mutual assistance—what effective and useful arrangements for mutual assistance can you make in an area such as I have described? It provides for many other things and a great system of organization which has to be set up, and it is not a sufficient answer, I submit, if the Government tell me that they have power to apply varying standards of efficiency to the service, because that is not the point. The point is that, if you have these fire services, you have got to have all sorts of people, such as inspectors, and these people have to be paid. There is no possible service, as far as I can see, that they can give to the community in an area of that kind, but, if they have to be paid by the community, they would be very much better employed in doing some really useful work. These people having been paid by the community, the Government which has forced this establishment on these communities is going to come along with an extravagant gesture of generosity and reimburse them to the amount of one quarter of what they have spent for something which can be of no possible service to them. I am quite convinced that, if the Government would be willing to leave it to the common sense of the Secretary of State, these areas for which I am speaking will get what they want. I very much hope that when the Bill comes to be discussed in Committee 239 we shall be agreed on a Amendment somewhat of that kind.
§ 12.37 p.m.
My Lords, I hope the noble Lord who has just spoken will excuse me if I do not follow him altogether. I must confess to a complete ignorance of the conditions in Scotland with which he dealt. The only point I have to make may seem a very frivolous one in comparison with those already mentioned to your Lordships. There is in Scotland—and perhaps your Lordships will either agree with me or contradict me—a dislike of the word "firemaster" for what in England we call "chief officer". I do not know if the noble Lord knows anything about that, but the Scottish officers would like to use the same title as the English officers, that is to say, "chief officer" and "deputy chief officer" instead of "firemaster" and "deputy firemaster". Personally, I find the Scottish phrase picturesque and agreeable, but they dislike it.
I am afraid I do not know anything about that, but I call people by the name with which they are most pleased.
I really share the feelings of the noble Earl, Lord Donoughmore. I cannot really greet this Bill with any great enthusiasm. I thought perhaps that some of the tributes which were paid to it were slightly inconsistent in themselves. For example, the Earl of Munster said that he himself would have been strongly and resolutely opposed to any return of the fire services of this country to the very small authorities who managed or mismanaged them before the war. I agree with him of course naturally, and the only thing that I find difficult to explain is exactly why, in those circumstances, the noble Earl, like other noble Lords, should be satisfied with the present arrangement.
I know the argument, I think, as the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, put it—in fact several noble Lords mentioned or implied it—that it is desirable, and the service itself does feel that it is desirable, that it should have close contact with and roots in the localities. The only thing that seems to me curious about that is that, when it was the function of the very small local authority to recruit, to organize, and 240 to finance the fire brigade, then clearly its roots were there in the village or small town to which it belonged. When you come to the county council, that, it seems to me, makes a village very considerably more remote, and I am not at all certain that you are in fact going to get the resultant intimacy which is desired by the arrangements under this Bill any more than you would if you got it by a continuation of the national organization of the fire service. I am sure that this is the main argument which has influenced His Majesty's Government, but it is not, I know, the argument which has earned the acquiescence if not the actual enthusiasm of the Service itself for this Bill.
The disadvantages must be clear. It is obviously easier to organize an efficient service if it covers very wide areas. Similarly it is also clear that you are more likely to recruit a really intelligent type of man in a large service which offers numbers of really interesting responsible commands than you are in a service where there is perhaps a general staff in the Home Office, and below that nothing above what might be called regimental level. I am sure your Lordships will appreciate that. Moreover, promotion is complicated where the service is not co-ordinated, and where the man who desires promotion has to apply to an entirely different authority and be interviewed and all the rest of it. May I say how very much I welcome the powers of the Minister, particularly in respect of controlling the appointment of chief officers?
I welcome very much indeed the clause which authorizes the combination of authorities. I also welcome the power given to the Minister to impose combinations of authorities where it seems to him desirable. I welcome this clause because I have myself a close experience of certain localities where it seems to me that without combination or at any rate without the very closest relations between county and county boroughs the fire service can only with great difficulty be really efficient. It is a common case, and certainly well known to me, that county councils will very frequently have nothing but part-time brigades in their areas which therefore must ask for full-time cover from the county borough which is constituted in or adjacent to that county.
The noble Earl, Lord Munster, and the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, referred 241 to the question of personnel. The answer is that frankly the service before the war was grossly and dangerously under-staffed. The very large increase in the cost of the services which is alarming some local authorities arises from the reasons I am going to put forward for increase of personnel and also because the wages were formerly so low that the local authorities may have been said to have been exploiting their services before the war, not only in that they paid them very inadequately but also in the long hours which they then expected them to spend on duty. In a county borough of my own knowledge before the war there were nine full-time personnel and now there are twentyseven. There has been a very large increase in their pay and also in their numbers, but I do not think this can be considered unreasonable when one realizes that in that particular county borough there are on an average 400 fire calls in a year. That is rather more than one a day, but since fires cannot be relied upon to come in due order and at such times as the fire brigade is at home, your Lordships will understand that in fact there may be several fires continuously or even at the same time. Therefore, in a borough of this kind there can be no doubt that its pre-war establishment was grossly inadequate. This is a small example of the real reason behind increased numbers.
This county borough I am speaking of, and it is a common case, stands in the middle of a county that has nothing but part-time service. Clearly it will not be easy. The Bill makes provision, and I hope it will work, for cross-boundary calls, but it will not be so easy to obtain the assistance of this full-time brigade as it would be if they were all on one footing. However, if the provisions work that difficulty will be met. But, in fact, that particular county borough should have a brigade adequate to cover not only its own needs, but the needs of the surrounding country. You cannot expect that county borough will itself be prepared to go to very considerable expense to keep a brigade in excess of its own needs. Whilst it will, of course, be open to county councils to subsidize their own neighbouring council, I am not at all certain how willing county councils whose constitutent bodies in the past showed themselves far from generous in their provision of fire services, will be at the present time. This 242 is a typical case where, in my view, the powers of combination would be invaluable, and I hope they will be exercised with or without the consent of she authorities.
I hope that this Bill—though, as your Lordships will have gathered, I am not its most enthusiastic supporter—will come into operation on the, appointed day. There is very considerable unsettlement and anxiety in the National Fire Service at the present time, which I am sure your Lordships will understand, on account of the uncertainty of their position. The Service, of course, is naturally very anxious about pay and conditions, and in this respect I think the Bill is to be commended. I trust that one of the duties, of the inspectorate will be that of inspecting conditions. I do not share the alarm of the noble Earl, Lord Munster, and the noble Marquess Lord Reading, as to the establishment of an inspectorate. I did not quite follow the noble Marquess's remarks about having a special bell on one's door for inspectors, because I gather that these inspectors are very unlikely to appear on any of our doorsteps. They are likely to go to fire brigades and see that they maintain the standard for which the Central Exchequer will be paying. On the other hand, I would recommend that, if possible, your Lordships arrange for a visit, for your own security and fire prevention. It is an extremely illuminating experience to go round your own premises and have a professional eye cast on your "war risks." Were this inspectorate made available for the private householder, it would be a service for which I, personally, would be most grateful.
The professional officers of the service are somewhat disturbed at the present time about the future conditions of employment. It may be necessary for some of them to revert to their previous rank. Owing to the decrease in the size of the service, that is inevitable; but they are not quite happy about the provisions for compensation which are put in this Bill. It would appear from Clause 13, under which the Minister may make the necessary regulations, that it is possible that this compensation will be calculated on the basis of the man's pre-war rank. I think there would be an obvious injustice were this to be done, because during seven years a man might be assumed to have 243 made a certain progress in his career. To calculate his compensation on the basis of his position before the war would, it seems to me, be extremely unfair. It would not be true to say that the whole of the promotion that this man may have had has been due to the war-time condition of the Service, though perhaps some of it may have been so. Quite clearly, in those seven years any man who was any good at all would naturally have made progress, and I hope, therefore, that His Majesty's Government may perhaps be able to say something on this head.
I should like, if I may, to welcome Clause 16 which deals with water supplies. Living myself in a rural area, I am glad to have any other department which can bring pressure to bear to expedite the provision of adequate water supplies in a rural area. Of course, I suppose this does not really amount to very much, but if it is a little additional pressure so much the better.
One noble Lord—I think it was the noble Earl Lord Munster—has already spoken about the provision of training centres for the Service. I would like to join with him, and I would also, if I may, like to express regret that Clause 24, which deals with this particular thing, is only permissive. It must be quite clear, of course, that small, or even now the fairly large, local authorities will be quite unable themselves to provide the training centres necessary in a profession which has, in the last few years, made very considerable strides and is now very largely technical. I hope, too, that His Majesty's Government will continue the Officers' College. I have very little doubt that they will, but I should like an assurance on the point. I would add, in connexion with training, that I do very much hope that opportunities for study will be made available to firemen. A man who is doing a twenty-four-hour tour of duty finds it extremely difficult to attend night classes. However, nothing is more necessary at the present time than the study particularly of new industrial methods by firemen, since this has a technical result on fire fighting. If I may say so, this is not covered by the powers of inspection which are given in Clause 1. Very much more than mere inspection of conditions is required. A real study is required of the new conditions in industries. I hope, therefore, that His Majesty's Government will be able at 244 future date to look into this—I do not ask for an answer today—and that the Home Office will bring pressure to bear, when the new Service is set up, so that full facilities for study are made available to men, both while they are serving and, in the training schools and the colleges.
Members of the Service feel very strongly on the subject of the retiring age. The age has been fixed at fifty-five, with an extra five years in the case of senior officers. I believe that an analogy is in fact drawn between the Fire Service and the Police Service. This, the Fire Service members feel to be quite inaccurate. The duties of a senior police officer, I am told—at any rate, I speak without personal experience—are very largely, if not wholly, administrative. This is not true in the case of a chief officer in the fire brigade. He may, and indeed should, at any time not only be present at the fire, but actually go into a fire. He may have to climb about on an icy roof in winter, or go through a building which is on fire, which is a place where very very considerable activity is required, if his own life and the lives of his men are not to be endangered. It is felt, therefore, that it is desirable that a retiring age of fifty-five should be fixed not only for firemen, but also for senior officers.
There is provision in the Bill for the pensionable rights of men who have a claim for pension under their prewar terms of employment, and, where those pensionable rights are superior and better and more favourable to the men than the rates which they would enjoy under this Bill, there they may opt to maintain their original pensionable rights. There is, however, a condition attached, and the condition is that the man shall return to his own original area. Of course, the principal area which is affected by this provision is London. As your Lordships may, or may not, be aware, there are very few vacancies in London. I think in fact it would be correct to say that there are no vacancies in London, and it would be extremely unjust if a man who was entitled to the advantage of this particular provision was debarred from taking that advantage owing to the fact that he could not return to his original area, since there was no room for him. I would suggest to His Majesty's Government that they might be prepared to accept an Amendment by which per- 245 haps, if a man signed a certificate or declaration that he was prepared to return, and would be prepared in the future to return, then he should be able to take advantage of this particular provision.
I have taken up rather more of your Lordships' time than I would have wished, and there are other points which I wanted to mention. One of these I cannot pass over, it is the question of the pensionable rights of war-time firemen. There are a considerable number of firemen who have elected to remain in the Fire Service but who were not in the Service before the war. There is a suggestion that their war-time service should count for pension on the payment of back contributions for that period, and I am informed that their gratuities will be sufficient to cover those payments, of which they can therefore take advantage. However, there does appear, if this is agreed, to be an inequity as between the war-time fireman and the pre-war professional fireman who has served though the war, because he will have paid his contributions out of his salary during the war and will not, of course, be drawing the gratuity. He will, therefore, have paid out of his ordinary pay—which will have been the same, of course, as the war-time fireman during the war—his pension contributions. The war-time fireman, however, will have got the whole of his salary during the war, but, at the end of the war, he will be entitled to a gratuity which will enable him to pay the arrears of contribution. Is the point clear?
There is a certain inequity in that, and whilst it is recognized that there is considerable difficulty in the payment of gratuities to professional firemen, might I suggest to His Majesty's Government, with the greatest respect, that this point could perhaps be met if war-time service were allowed to count in the ratio of two years for one? I do not know if His Majesty's Government would consider that, but it seems to me that by the adoption of such a proposal a considerable injustice might be avoided.
In the Fire Brigade. It is with regard to pensionable right that I am speaking. I hope that His Majesty's Government may be able 246 to give me a few assurances on some of the points that I have raised. I am afraid that some of them may seem to your Lordships to be Committee points, but I thought that if I raised them at this stage it might perhaps save the moving of Amendments later.
§ 1 p.m.
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords, as sometimes happens in your Lordships' House at the end of an interesting debate, we are a little pressed for time, and I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I deal perhaps a little more cursorily than I would otherwise have done with a number of relevant matters which have been raised by noble Lords who have taken part in this discussion. The noble Earl, Lord Munster, made a number of what I thought very useful points, and in doing so he asked for certain information. He could not, of course, refrain from poking a little fun at my noble friend Lord Walkden, but I think that he was well answered by the noble Earl, Lord Donoughmore, who pointed out that on the first occasion on which a national scheme is being repealed there may be a great deal to be said against the repeal.
What I think worried the noble Earl more than anything else was the question of what he referred to as the swollen numbers in the Fire Service as it exists at the present time. That point has been to a very considerable extent answered by Lord Faringdon, who pointed out that the pre-war situation could not in any way be compared with the existing situation. In a number of cases pre-war fire brigades were quite inefficient, as the Riverdale Committee made very clear in their Report, and the Act of 1938, which, as your Lordships know was passed in order to give effect to the recommendations of that Committee, had never really come into operation. So it is impossible to say that the figure of 6,000 firemen which we had before the war in any way represents what the Riverdale Committee regarded as an essential minimum force of whole-time firemen under their scheme. The firemen at that time worked the whole twenty-four hours right through—though, of course, they had a little time off. The result was that you could, in effect, man a pump with nine men.
An arrangement has been made with the local authorities, whereby a 60-hour week will be worked. Now with a 60-hour 247 week it is necessary to have nearly three times as many men per pump, including the administrative staff who have to be on duty. In the circumstances, I am sure that the noble Earl will agree that it is impossible to compare the pre-war figure with the figure that is now essential. My right honourable friend is now working on the question of numbers, and I can assure the noble Earl that there is every hope that the present numbers will be reduced quite substantially. But I cannot hold out any hope that it will be possible to get back to any figure comparable with that which existed before the war. As the noble Earl well realizes, under the Bill these are matters for the local authorities who will take over the fire services, and they will have to be discussed with them.
The noble Earl then raised questions relating to training institutions. That matter was also referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon. The Fire Service College which was established, and which did most valuable work during the war, will, of course, be continued. Power is taken under the Bill to set up other training institutions, but the main job of training firemen will be for the local authorities, and the main training institutions, obviously, will be set up by them. At the moment, my right honourable friend has not in mind the setting up of any further Home Office training establishments. But this power has been taken because it may appear in future necessary to set up some further central training establishments in other parts of the country. The noble Earl remarked on the necessity of maintaining close contact between the fire services and the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. I am glad to be able to assure him that the very closest contact does, in fact exist, and the Department is represented on the technical committees which are at the present time working on these matters. That close contact will certainly be maintained in the future.
With regard to the matter of inspectors which seemed to worry not only the noble Earl but also the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, I may say that there is no intention to have a vast swollen inspectorate. Of course, this again is a question which will have to be discussed with the local authorities. At the moment, no figure has been arrived at. I can, how- 248 ever, assure the noble Earl that it will not be more than just into two figures or something of that kind. He will realize that the county councils are new authorities as fire authorities. They have no experience of running fire brigades, and they will clearly require assistance and advice over a number of years while they are, so to speak, getting into their stride. So it may be the case that during the first two years a rather larger number of inspectors and assistant inspectors will be necessary than in the final establishment.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
I do not wish to delay the proceedings, but may I just interrupt here to say that I am horrified at the suggestion that the number of inspectors may run into double figures. Will the noble Lord, between now and the next stage of this Bill, look at the measure which was passed in 1945 for setting up two further inspectors of constabulary? The number of police in this country will probably be double the number of firemen, and it seems that nothing like so many inspectors are thought to be necessary now or are contemplated for the police force.
§ LORD CHORLEY
It is quite impossible to make any comparison between the fire service and the police in this respect. The Fire Service has a large number of technical sides to it—that dealing with fire-fighting appliances, for instance, is one—and all those sides require men with very specialized knowledge in the inspectorate. At headquarters a number of men engaged on technical work will have the rank of inspector. I cannot hold out any hope that it will be possible to reduce the number of inspectors to the same sort of numbers as have been found sufficient in connexion with the constabulary. I think that I have now dealt with the main points which were raised by the noble Earl, Lord Munster.
A point which the noble Earl, Lord Donoughmore, emphasized was that of the reduction in the number of authorities. He thought that the number would come down to 400. I am informed that in round figures the number of authorities under the Bill will be about 150, and I hope that the noble Earl will agree that that is a much more satisfactory figure than 400. He also spoke of the position of firewomen. That will be a 249 matter for the local authorities to consider, but I entirely join with him in the tribute which he has paid to the admirable service done by these women, particularly in the controls, which is very difficult and wearying work. There can be no question that firewomen will continue to play an important part in the organization of the local fire brigades, but I am not in any way able to commit local authorities to the attitude they may adopt on these matters.
The noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, raised, as one would expect, a matter which is obviously of considerable importance in connexion with large areas north of the Grampians and I listened with great interest to what he said. I can assure him that I will bring his very pertinent observations to the attention of my right honourable friend. I am unable to give him any further assurance at this stage. The noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, raised a number of interesting and valuable points, but as he described them they are perhaps more Committee stage points than Second Reading points. I have taken note of what he said and I assure him they will all be considered.
In asking for the Second Reading I would like to thank your Lordships for the tributes which have been paid to the National Fire Service during the war; and to those tributes I would add my own, as one who had a close association with that service over three happy and eventful years. The work of that service certainly stands out in a war which was full of remarkable service, not only of the whole-time men referred to so often, but also of the tens of thousands of part-time men who often, after seventy hours a week in field and factory, went out to train or to deal with fires in a magnificent way. I am sure that all members of the National Fire Service will be grateful for the tributes paid to their work in your Lordships' House. I ask your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading.
THE EARL OF PERTH
My Lords, before the Second Reading is given, will the noble Lord deal with one question? With the large increase in the number of inspectors it appears that there is going to be another survey, and we already are having a housing survey. This is a point which is giving us some anxiety.
§ LORD CHORLEY
On a rather cursory glance I do not see that any very large increase in the number of inspectors should be entailed under that clause. I think it would be rather rash for me to give any assurance on that point, but I will look into it further, and if there is anything in it I will communicate with him.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
§ [The sitting was suspended at fourteen minutes past one o'clock, and resumed at half past two, The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.]