Terry Fields Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Terry Fields MP

Fire service cuts will mean more deaths, says MP

(8 January 1988)

From Militant, No. 878, 8 January 1988. p. 7.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

TERRY FIELDS, Labour MP for Liverpool Broadgreen, a former fireman, has condemned the Tories’ record on health and safety, especially on cuts in fire prevention. This is an edited extract from his speech in Parliament.


TONIGHT’S DEBATE takes place in the shadow of the tragedy at King’s Cross. It is set against the background of cuts in the fire service which will affect the ability of fire prevention officers adequately to look after the health and safety, not only of firemen but members of the general public.

The government’s continuing attack on the fire service, through their intention further to reduce expenditure, will affect standards of fire cover and fire prevention departments that already cannot cope with the requirements of public safety.

Instead of carrying out their traditional role of examining the efficiency of individual services, inspectors arc carrying out exercises at the government’s behest to discover how to cut jobs in the fire service.

That culminated a short time ago in South Wales, where, because of a threat of industrial action, a local authority sacked the whole fire service. That is what the government’s cost-cutting is about. My union, the Fire Brigades Union, will not co-operate with inspectors who try to cut jobs in the fire service.

On Friday last, the nation mourned. I am not ashamed to say that I cried, too, when I saw my comrades in uniform on the streets of London at the funeral of that brave fireman.

We mourned then, but today we have from the government report that 800 jobs are due to go in the same London fire service that we applauded for its courage and heroism last Friday.

In West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, the West Midlands and on Merseyside fire brigade jobs will go. It is estimated that between 2,000 and 3,000 firemen’s jobs will be lost.

The lesson for firemen is that no section of society is immune from the economics of this Tory government and the cuts that flow from their policies.

The devastating effects of the cuts in the fire service will be seen increasingly – God forbid – in more King’s Cross-type tragedies. deaths and sufferings. It is intolerable that fire prevention and health and safety should be treated in that way.

In 1985, in his New Year message, Dr John Cullen, the chairman of the Health and Safety Commission, said:

“If 1985 follows the pattern of previous years then some 500 people starting back to work this January will die as a result of accidents at work before the next New Year celebrations. The pressure of today’s economic climate must not prevail over the essential needs of safety.”

The philosophy of the government prevails over the safety of ordinary people. The Prime Minister is on record of saying that it is her intention to rid Britain of socialism.

For ‘socialism’ substitute health and safety at work. the National Health Service, the welfare of the people. state education and the protection of old-age pensioners. because that is the socialism that the Tory Party wants to get shot of.

Each day the chaplain comes into the Chamber and prays for five minutes. The worthies on the government benches pray with him for divine intervention. After five minutes the chaplain leaves the Chamber and the government go about the business of attacking the living standards and the health and safety of our working people.

What religion do the Conservatives follow and to what god do they pray? Perhaps during the five minutes in the Chamber the incantation should be: “For those whom we are about to deceive let the Lord make us truly thankful.”

The system that the Tories support is built on exploitation and profit. The unpaid labour of workers is the wealth creamed off by the big business interests that the Conservatives represent. One cannot hope that the wealth creators, the wage earners, working people, will be treated any better than plant and machinery or a commodity that is bought or sold.

Things are bad now, but in the inevitable slump that will follow the crash in the world’s stock markets, the problems facing us all will increase and health and safety will be even further disregarded in the pursuit of profit.

By their policies since their election in 1979, the government have shown a callous disregard for the dignity of working people. Inevitably the number of accidents and deaths will increase.

Public relations exercises such as the Prime Minister dressed in black or the Minister for Health visiting hospitals are seen by ordinary people for what they are a return to the scenes of the crimes. Increasingly working people see them as a cynical self-publicising exercise.

Despite the Prime Minister’s claim that she will rid Britain of socialism, workers will realise from their own experience in the past eight years and from the difficult period ahead, that the general conditions of life including health and safety cannot be maintained, let alone improved. in this system.

As members of the Labour Party. we must say consistently that only through the socialist transformation of society will working people be afforded the dignity that they deserve and that we demand.

Terry Fields Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 20 May 2020