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Fire Guard Duties

Volume 389: debated on Thursday 20 May 1943

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asked the Home Secretary whether he will consider instituting district or area pools of male civilians from whom all necessary fire-watchers will be drawn, before housewives or women war workers in such districts are compelled to perform these duties?

The primary Tire guard obligation of men is to protect the premises at which they work. Subject to this primary obligation, men who live in a prescribed area, and are not exempt, may be formed by the local authority into a pool of fire guards to be posted wherever there is a shortage of fire guards in the area. Women are at present liable to share with men the fire guard duties at premises where they work, if compulsory arrangements are in force there, but under the revised Orders they will only he so liable if the available men who work at the same premises are insufficient to provide an effective fire guard. Women who do not perform fire guard duties where they are employed will only be liable to do fire guard duties as members of street fire parties.

While that answer is very satisfactory as far as it goes, will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that in some great industrial undertakings there is a very large number of men and very few women employed, and the men have a reasonably long period between their fire watching duties, whereas in other undertakings there are many women and few men and the women are forced to do fire watching while there are surplus men available in a nearby undertaking?

I think we have met the point as much as we can, and we have given the women equal compensation. My difficulty is that the premises must be protected, and I wish the hon. and gallant Gentleman would help me to get them protected rather than seek to diminish the labour force which is essential to the work. If and when fire watching becomes unnecessary, no one will be happier than I to be rid of that trouble.

The right hon. Gentleman has misunderstood me. I was not asking that we should not be protected, but that men should be more fully -employed wfiere they are available and surplus to present requirements, rather than women.

I think in the revised Orders the hon. and gallant Gentleman will find that we have met that principle as far as ever we can.