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Fire Services Bill

Volume 441: debated on Wednesday 30 July 1947

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Lords Amendments considered.

Clause 1—(Provision Of Fire Services)

Lords Amendment: In page 2, line 10, leave out from beginning to "have" in line 14 and insert:

"(2) For the purposes of such arrangements as are mentioned in paragraph (d) of the last foregoing Subsection, any member of a fire brigade maintained in pursuance of this Act shall, if authorised in writing by the authority maintaining the brigade."

10.27 p.m.

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

I may point out that I shall move a similar Motion regarding all the Amendments on the Order Paper. This Amendment is a drafting Amendment.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause 2—(Arrangements For Mutual Assistance)

Lords Amendment: In page 3, line 13, leave out from beginning to "for" in line 16, and insert:

"(4) A reinforcement scheme may make provision."

I think it would be for the convenience of the House if we were to take with this Amendment, the Amendment in page 4, line 47, at end, to insert:

"(4) Save as expressly provided in this Act, a fire authority shall not make any charge for services rendered by the authority."
The purpose of providing expressly that a fire authority shall not make any charge for services rendered by the authority is to make it quite clear that the fire authority shall not be entitled to require the owners or occupiers of property on which fires occur to make any payment in respect of services rendered by the brigade. The Fire Brigades Act, 1938, which is now being repealed, provides for the abolition of such charges, and it is feared that some doubt may arise as to the intentions of Parliament if the Amendment to Clause 3 is not made. Fire authorities are allowed to make charges for special services and for arrangements with another fire authority under Clause 12. The Amendment to Clause 2 (4), is consequential on the other Amendment.

May I ask the Home Secretary what would happen in those cases of what I might call vexatious calls on a fire brigade? If any expense is caused, can it be put upon the people?

If the vexatious call is a false alarm, there are powers under the Bill to deal with it. The special charges relates to circumstances where a fire brigade is used for some purpose other than putting out fires, if, for instance, the engines were used to pump out a flooded cellar, or in other ways in which the brigade might render service to a private citizen which is not part of its normal functions.

May I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on having accepted this Amendment, because it is an improving Amendment and one which makes the Bill, which is not a good Bill, better than it was. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on accepting the wisdom of another place.

May I tell the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) that I suggested the Amendment which was moved by the noble Lord in another place. May I also say that the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Grimston), on the last occasion when we discussed this Bill, thought that it was a good Bill.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause 4—(County And County Borough Councils To Be Fire Authorities)

Lords Amendment: In page 5, line 20, leave out "Subsection" and insert "Section."

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

This Amendment is necessary to correct an error.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause 13—(Transitional Provisions)

Lords Amendment: In page 12, line 1, leave out Clause 13.

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

This is the most substantial Amendment which has been made in the Bill. It is perhaps less substantial than would appear, because, in fact, the Clause virtually reappears as the new Fifth Schedule to the Bill, which will be the last Amendment I shall move. It was suggested in another place, on behalf of the Association of Municipal Corporations, that this should be the form in which this particular enactment should be made. It is more usual to put transitional powers into a Schedule to a Bill rather than into a Clause of the Bill; and the Parliamentary draftsmen regard it as an improvement in the structure of the Measure.

There is one respect in which a point of substance is latent in the redrafting which has occurred in moving the new Clause into the Schedule, and perhaps it might be convenient to the House, now that I am moving the omission of the Clause, if I indicated the way in which it will be found to be slightly varied when we find it again in the Schedule. Paragraphs 7 and 8 of the new Schedule have been drafted in such a way that we can provide, in any class of case in which it is desirable under the regulations, not to vest property in the new fire authority, but instead to enable the new fire authority merely to use it on terms to be agreed between the old and new fire authorities, or, in default of agreement, determined by the Secretary of State. Our attention has already been drawn to classes of cases in which this is desirable. First, this is so in the case of premises used both for fire service and other purposes. This was raised by the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Grimston) both in Committee and on the Floor of the House on the Report stage, and we did make one or two efforts to try to get the matter sorted out. I hope that the way it is now being done will enable a considerably greater amount of elbow room to be available in the negotiations between the two authorities.

Secondly, there is the case of premises which were originally acquired by the old fire authority for another local government service, which were turned over to fire brigade use in the hectic days of the Auxiliary Fire Service, and later transferred to the National Fire Service, and have been used for that purpose ever since. I think that here, again, we want to give the authorities a reasonable discretion, with an appeal, in the way in which they finally dispose of these premises. The Schedule also provides for what may be called a reverse class of case, namely, that in which a building is used principally by the Fire Service, though part is in use by the local authority for another purpose. In that class of case, the regulations may provide for the whole building to vest in the new fire authority, the old authority being given the right to use the minor portion of the building on terms to be agreed. This provision will, I think, make the transitional powers a great deal more easy of application, and I think that by leaving out Clause 13, and re-enacting the idea as the new Fifth Schedule, with the modifications I have indicated, we shall make for the smooth working of the most difficult phases of the operations.

I dislike disagreeing with my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams), but I cannot share his opinion that this is a bad Bill, largely for the reason that we had a good deal of discussion in Committee and the Home Secretary showed himself very well disposed to accepting Amendments on matters we raised. Let us be fair. The effect of the modification proposed here is to give more flexibility in coming to an arrangement where there might be a conflict of interest with regard to the user of buildings. I would put one point to the Home Secretary. I gather that in the case we put with regard to buildings, if it cannot be resolved, an appeal is to the Minister of Health. I think that is so. But if there is a difference of opinion with regard to pension matters, then it is the Secretary of State for the Home Department.

Paragraph 9 (3) of the new Schedule says that anything arising thereunder shall be determined by the Minister of Health. In the case of pensions, I think I am right in saying that the appeal goes to the Secretary of State, either the Secretary of State for Scotland or the Home Secretary. I think that this new arrangement is an improvement in the Bill, and I am glad that the alteration is made.

I have no wish whatever to enter into any controversy with my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Mr. Grimston). I have no doubt whatever that what he said about the Bill is undoubtedly due to the fact that he has had a very considerable part in shaping it since it first came to the House. Apart from saying that, I will leave the matter of the value of the Bill. What I wish to deal with is the wisdom of moving this Clause into the Schedule. The right hon. Gentleman said that this is a substantial Clause. I am supporting the Government on this particular matter. I hope that this does not mean that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen will get up and attack the Government, but I think that, as the right hon. Gentleman says—and I have had some correspondence on the subject with him—this provision will give wider power to local authorities. It will give them a wider power and greater discretion. That is an unusual thing to be given to local authorities by this Government and I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on doing it. It does, however, give greater width to the position of local authorities and, from that point of view, great responsibility, and without trying to lay down who gets the credit for this, I would undoubtedly like to say that it is probably mainly due to another place. I know the Home Secretary is frightfully jealous about any credit that is going, but if he wants credit, I will give it to him wholeheartedly.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause 27—(Firemen's Pension Scheme)

Lords Amendment: In page 25, line 39, leave out "service" and insert "employment."

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

This is an attempt to differentiate between service and employment.

Question put, and agreed to.

Lords Amendment: In page 26, line 44, leave out from "excluding" to "injury" in line 47 and insert:

"or modifying, in the case of an injury in respect of which an award is made under the Scheme, being an injury sustained in the execution of duty in such circumstances as may be specified in the Scheme, any other right against the Crown or other authority in whose employment the injury occurred to compensation or damages in respect of the "

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

The Subsection amended in this way was intended to re-enact substantially the existing provision in the Fire Brigades Pension Act which is being repealed, and which is that a fireman could not prosecute an alternative claim for damages under, say, the Compensation Acts in respect of an injury sustained on duty and draw a pension under the Act in respect of that injury. The provision could not be re-enacted without alteration because a fireman must, in future, get his pension under the regulations relating to industrial injuries insurance under the Act of 1946. The Subsection was too widely drawn and an Amendment was necessary in any event. That being so, when the Subsection was amended in another place, opportunity was taken to modify it so as to enable the Secretary of State either to exclude any form of compensation other than an injury pension or to abate in respect of the injury pension the amount of compensation. The Government have under consideration the intention eventually to deal with the matter, and the Home Secretary must have sufficient freedom of action to make the Firemen's Pension Scheme agree with the eventual decision of Parliament.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause 37—(Application To Scotland)

Lords Amendment: In page 35, line 17, leave out from "State" to "a" in line 18 and insert:

"before the first day of January nineteen hundred and forty-eight or such later date as the Secretary of State may in special circumstances allow."

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

This is rather more than a drafting Amendment. It was originally proposed that joint committees should submit administration schemes within three months, and the question of establishments should be worked out later. During the Committee stage, however, we agreed that establishments should be part of the administration schemes and it seems appropriate to extend the limit to three months, as indeed Clause 20 does for England and Scotland, where it is provided that joint committees shall submit schemes by January 1, 1948.

Question put, and agreed to.

Lords Amendment: In page 41, line 8, after "grants" insert:

"in respect of expenditure incurred by them."

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

This is purely a drafting Amendment.

If this is a drafting Amendment, and is in the decision the hon. Gentleman has just announced, can we be told why it is re-drafted and for what purpose?

These words were inadvertently omitted at an earlier stage. The provision as it reads without these words is not very clear, and they are necessary to make the matter clear beyond any doubt.

Question put, and agreed to.

Remaining Lords Amendments agreed to [Several with Special Entries].