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National Fire Service (Government Proposals)

Volume 415: debated on Thursday 8 November 1945

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he proposes to release men who enlisted in the N.F.S. for the duration of the war, in view of the fact that retained men are capable of dealing with any fires likely to occur.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is aware of the present dissatisfaction in the personnel of the N.F.S. regarding their release and the method adopted by his Department for their discharge; how many persons it is proposed to retain in the N.F.S.; when it is expected that this number will be reached; and what are the prospects of release for those still retained in the service.

As the answer is necessarily rather long, I will give it by way of a statement at the end of Questions.

Later

The whole-time strength of the National Fire Service in England and Wales has already been reduced from about 128,000 to about 35,000 which includes a reduction of 26,000 since May, and further reductions are in process of being made. I am not in a position to say what will be the ultimate figure nor upon what date it will be reached. The latter depends to a large extent on uncertain factors, such as the rate at which retained men can be recruited to take the place of whole-time men in districts where the latter can be dispensed with.

I am anxious, as soon as possible, to convert the Service from a compulsory to a voluntary basis. The removal of the restrictions on leaving the Service has, however, to be considered in relation to the arrangements for securing new recruits to the number necessary to maintain a sufficient protection against fire. In collaboration with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, I am engaged on plans for obtaining recruits both from men at present serving in the National Fire Service and from the Armed Forces and the Merchant Navy. These plans are in an advanced state of preparation, and I have undertaken to discuss with the Fire Brigades Union, in the course of December, in the light of the state of recruitment, the date upon which the present restrictions areto be removed.

Pending these discussions I am not in a position to announce a definite date, but the latest which the Secretary of State for Scotland and I have in mind is the 30th April, 1946. In the meantime, discussions are proceeding with the Union on the revision of the present procedure for the release of men who do not wish to remain in the Service and it will certainly be possible to release large numbers before the date which I have mentioned.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say how the present figure of the strength of the National Fire Service compares with the numbers employed before the war?

:It is very substantially larger, because the number of cities and towns in the country which had whole time fire-men on any adequate scale was comparatively few.

:Is the right hon Gentleman aware that one of the difficulties which confronts some of the men in the Fire Service when they make application for discharge is that they receive no satisfaction, many of them who have been discharged having no posts to return to while others who have posts to go to have been refused discharge?

That is one of the points which will be taken into consideration when discharges are made.