National Fire Service

Oral Answers to Questions — Civil Defence – in the House of Commons on 10th September 1942.

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Photo of Mr Ian Hannah Mr Ian Hannah , Wolverhampton Bilston

asked the Home Secretary whether, in view of the widespread indignation caused by the introduction of the 48–24 hour system of duty in the National Fire Service, he will do something to meet the wishes of those concerned?

Photo of Mr Ralph Etherton Mr Ralph Etherton , Stretford

asked the Home Secretary whether he is aware of the widespread dissatisfaction in the National Fire Service at the proposed alteration in the present periods of 24 hours on duty and 24 hours off duty, to 48 hours on duty and 24 hours off duty, which will create great hardship not only by reason of the long hours to be worked but because of the unsuitable nature of the accommodation at many stations; and whether he will reconsider the proposed alteration?

Photo of Mr Herbert Morrison Mr Herbert Morrison , Hackney South

The decision to extend to the whole of England and Wales the duty system of 48 hours on duty followed by 24 hours off duty was taken on grounds of operational efficiency after full consultation with the senior officers of the Service. I am aware that some sort of campaign has been conducted against the 48–24 hour system, and that there has been a good deal of misrepresentation of the facts. This I regret as being contrary to the public interest. I am confident, however, that the National Fire Service personnel fully realise that the efficient protection of our country against enemy incendiary raids must be the first consideration of the Service.

Photo of Mr Ian Hannah Mr Ian Hannah , Wolverhampton Bilston

Do the Government realise that, in the Midlands at any rate, firemen are almost unanimous against this arrangement?

Photo of Mrs Mavis Tate Mrs Mavis Tate , Frome

And in the West country.

Photo of Mr Herbert Morrison Mr Herbert Morrison , Hackney South

I had better let the House know that there is no universal heat among firemen about this thing. The men have really to decide whether they are firemen first or industrial workers first. I say that they are firemen first, and that is what I pay them for. Here is evidence from the Fire Brigades Union that things are not quite so heated up as people are making out. Here is a letter, sent from the Bristol branch of the Fire Brigades Union to one of its people: I was surprised to hear of the feeling of your members on the 48/24. I can't realise that they are prepared to accept this without putting up a fight. It is important that we whip up some enthusiasm, as this campaign depends upon every man and woman pulling their weight. I am confident if we go all out in this campaign the Home Office will withdraw. Even if we lose, the Union will be more necessary than ever, as the authorities will do their best to introduce 96/24 and other things. I enclose another circular. That is a sign that things are not so warm as some people try to make out. In any case, my duty to the State is to see that fires due to enemy attack are effectively dealt with, and I am going to discharge my duty whatever pressure may be brought.

Photo of Mr Rhys Davies Mr Rhys Davies , Westhoughton

In view of the fact that all Departments of State consult the trade unions concerned in all these cases, has the right hon. Gentleman had any communication from the Fire Brigades Union?

Photo of Mr Herbert Morrison Mr Herbert Morrison , Hackney South

Yes, Sir. There have been consultations with the Joint Consultative Committee of the unions, and I have actually met the Fire Brigades Union. I can assure hon. Members that I have exercised every courtesy, but I am bound to say that I am getting a little bit irritated at the misrepresentations and undue pressure.

Photo of Sir Geoffrey Mander Sir Geoffrey Mander , Wolverhampton East

If this scheme is to be carried out, is it not essential that suitable accommodation should be provided in all cases for the workers?

Photo of Mr Herbert Morrison Mr Herbert Morrison , Hackney South

I entirely agree with what the hon. Gentleman has said. I have given strict instructions. There have been one or two cases where mistakes have been made, but I have insisted upon their being put right.

Photo of Mr Herbert Williams Mr Herbert Williams , Croydon South

Is it not the case that the strongest opposition to the 48/24 system comes from those who have never tried it?

Photo of Mr Herbert Morrison Mr Herbert Morrison , Hackney South

That is largely true. This system has obtained in London since the beginning of the war and it works with considerable smoothness.

Photo of Mr Ian Hannah Mr Ian Hannah , Wolverhampton Bilston

Is the Minister aware that in Coleshill there is no sleeping accommodation whatever for the men?

Photo of Mr Herbert Morrison Mr Herbert Morrison , Hackney South

If that is so, I should be very glad, if my hon. Friend will give me particulars, to look into the matter.

Photo of Mr Daniel Lipson Mr Daniel Lipson , Cheltenham

asked the Home Secretary (1) whether his attention has been drawn to the primitive conditions at four of the National Fire Service stations in the Cheltenham area, where the sleeping quarters are overcrowded and lack proper ventilation, there is only one lavatory for the use of a number of men, no facilities for drying damp clothes, no baths, and mattresses in an unsatisfactory condition; what has been done by the chief fire officer of the region, to whom frequent reports of these conditions have been sent in the past 12 months, to remedy them; and what action he proposes to take in the matter;

(2) in view of the fact that he gave instructions that the 48-hours duty regulation was to come into force on 1st September only at stations where the accommodation justified it, why it was applied in the Cheltenham area, where conditions at the stations are such that the new hours of duty will impose unreasonable hardship on the men affected?

Photo of Mr Herbert Morrison Mr Herbert Morrison , Hackney South

From inquiries which I have made I am satisfied that the stations referred to by my hon. Friend are in a number of respects unsatisfactory. I am informed that they do not readily admit of adaptation, which must naturally be the first alternative, that there is acute shortage of accommodation in the town, and that, accordingly, it is now proposed to construct new hutment stations, for which sites have been secured. In these circumstances the system of 48–24 working has been suspended at these stations.

Photo of Mr Daniel Lipson Mr Daniel Lipson , Cheltenham

May I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply, and inform him that the men will appreciate his decision?