When I introduced compulsory Fire Guard duty for women I promised the House that I would carefully watch how the scheme worked and would not hesitate to make such changes as experience might show to be wise. The experience of the past weeks has not shaken my conviction of the necessity of applying compulsion to women; but it has satisfied me that certain modifications of the existing scheme should be adopted. I have accordingly decided on certain changes designed to ensure that the number of men not belonging to exempted' groups who do not perform full Fire Guard duty is reduced to the minimum and that the fullest possible measure of service is obtained from all. These changes have been decided upon in consultation with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland who will be responsible for carrying them into effect in Scotland. They may be summarised as follow:
I have consulted the National Advisory Council for Fire Prevention, who concur. I am grateful to that body for its helpful advice and co-operation in this matter.
Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that in his view the announcement he has just made will have the effect of limiting the traffic on what is commonly called, and scandalously know as, the "funk express"?
Could the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that in business premises where there is an insufficient number of male employees it will be competent for the management to call upon the local authority to provide the necessary quota from the local pool before the female employees of that establishment are called upon?
May I ask whether my right hon. Friend is prepared to make a rule that employers living in one place and getting their living in another should be subject to the same conditions as will apply to the workers?
Why is the right hon. Gentleman applying compulsion only to those persons who are already doing a full day's work and exempting these who have no income-earning employment?
While I welcome the statement which the right hon. Gentleman has made to-day, can he say why it is that an almost exact replica of it appeared in the week-end Press, and can he say whether it came from his public relations or Press department?
Wishing to be helpful, we give the Press a little guidance now and again, and, moreover, I wanted employers to know that something was moving, because it was a matter of convenience to industrialists throughout the country that they should know in good time that some modification was coming about. As the hon. Gentleman has noticed, however, I have saved the explicit statement, quite rightly, for the House.
Will my right hon. Friend see that in blitzed areas and in cities like Liverpool, where there are docks and warehouses, the fire guarding should be done exclusively by men and that women should not be called upon to serve in locations of that character?