National Fire Service Regulations (Laying)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th July 1944.

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Photo of Mr Herbert Morrison Mr Herbert Morrison , Hackney South 12:00 am, 26th July 1944

I much regret to have to tell the House that by an oversight there has been a failure to lay before Parliament a number of Regulations which have been made under the Fire Services (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1941. These Regulations fall into three groups. First, there are the National Fire Service (General) Regulations, 1941, which were made in August of that year, and provide for the establishment of the National Fire Service, and a number of Regulations which have been made from time to time since that date amending the original Regulations. The total number in this group is 19, including the original Regulations. The second group consists of three sets of Regulations made in November and December, 1942, and in August, 1943, amending earlier Regulations relating to the preservation of pensions of whole-time members of the National Fire Service who had previously been in the service of a local authority. The original Regulations in this series which had been made in August, 1941, had been duly laid before Parliament. Thirdly, there are the National Fire Service (Employment Overseas) Regulations, which were made in June of this year and authorise the employment of members of the Service, as volunteers, in support of the operations of the Allied Forces in Europe.

All these Regulations ought to have been laid in accordance with the Act, which provides that Regulations made thereunder are to be laid before Parliament "as soon as may be," and that within the next twenty-eight Sitting Days they may be annulled by Resolution of either House. The House will, I hope, acquit me and my Department of any deliberate disregard of this requirement. The Regulations have, of course, all been printed as Statutory Rules and Orders and have been placed on sale. Moreover, as I have already mentioned, a set of six Regulations dealing with the preservation of pensions, which were made in August, 1941, were duly laid before Parliament. I think, therefore, that I may fairly ask the House to accept my assurance that the omission to present the other Regulations to which I have referred was unintentional, and hon. Members will appreciate that at the time when this series of mishaps began we were particularly hardly pressed in the reorganisation of fire-fighting against enemy attacks. I can now only express my great regret for the oversight. Needless to say, arrangements have been made to ensure that a mistake of this kind does not occur again.

Such steps as are possible have also been taken to repair the omission by laying the Regulations before Parliament at once; and they are being presented. They will have to lie for twenty-eight Sitting Days; and as we are to adjourn shortly this period will not elapse until well after Parliament reassembles in the autumn. They will of course be examined by the Select Committee on Statutory Rules and Orders. This will give hon. Members ample time to consider them, but I think that it will help the House if I add that I had it in mind in any event to consolidate, with certain further amendments, the General Regulations. This may take a little time, but I will issue the revised Regulations, with a full explanatory memorandum, as soon as possible after the Recess. There have been fewer amendments in the Preservation of Pensions Regulations, and as at present advised I do not think it necessary to consolidate them. In conclusion, I can only say again that I much regret this omission, which I felt it my duty to bring to the notice of the House as soon as possible after it came to light.

Photo of Mr Frederick Pethick-Lawrence Mr Frederick Pethick-Lawrence , Edinburgh East

While the House, of course, must treat as a very serious matter any failure to conform to the arrangements made by Statute, it is generally, shall we say, friendly towards a Minister who comes frankly before us in a white sheet and admits his errors. I am sure that the House will accord that friendly consideration to the right hon. Gentleman in this matter. I would like to ask two questions. I would like to know whether there are any sanctions in the Act necessitating these Orders being laid, and, if so, whether it will be necessary to come to the House for any Act of Indemnity, to omit the application of any such sanction to the Home Secretary. In the second place, have any individuals suffered damnification in their liberties as the result of these Regulations?

Photo of Mr Herbert Morrison Mr Herbert Morrison , Hackney South

With regard to the first point, the Act undoubtedly requires that the Regulations should be laid and they are in a form in which a Prayer may be moved against them. That is the provision which I have unwittingly broken. As far as I know, there are no sanctions for failing to do so and I think their legal effect is all right. I do not think any question of indemnifying legislation will be necessary. With regard to any injustice to individuals, my right hon. Friend, as far as I know, may be assured that none has resulted from the Regulations, which have been generally acceptable.

Photo of Mr Irving Albery Mr Irving Albery , Gravesend

What steps have been taken to ensure that, in future, in no case shall any Regulations be put into force until they have been definitely brought to the notice of, and approved by, Ministers serving under the Crown? Further, I should like to ask the Prime Minister whether he will give instructions that all Departments which have been issuing Regulations shall go through their files and ascertain whether in any case a similar lapse has occurred.

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Epping

I think, after the remarks that have been made in this discussion, and after the statement of the Home Secretary, it will scarcely be necessary for a formal direction of that character to be issued.

Photo of Mr Herbert Morrison Mr Herbert Morrison , Hackney South

On the first point by the hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir I. Albery), there was no question of evading Ministerial approval. These Regulations were all approved by me and, I think, signed by me personally. I am entirely responsible to the House, but there has been such a shake-up in the Department that I think it will be a long time before anything like it occurs again.

Photo of Mr Herbert Williams Mr Herbert Williams , Croydon South

I think the Home Secretary has disarmed criticism by his frankness, but I understood him to say these Regulations were subject to a Prayer. They were Defence Regulations and would not have been signed by him, but approved by the Privy Council. I was under the impression that, when an Order in Council was published, the responsibility for laying it rested with the Privy Council and not with the Minister concerned. I would also point out that all Statutory Rules and Orders are numbered. Would it not be possible for the number-issuing authority to communicate the numbers to the Library, and the Library could check whether they had received all the documents they ought to have received?

Photo of Mr Herbert Morrison Mr Herbert Morrison , Hackney South

I think it is the Minister concerned who is responsible for seeing that the Regulations are laid and not the Privy Council or the Privy Council Office. As to the numbers, the hon. Gentleman has made a suggestion which may have its uses and I will examine it to see whether it is possible or desirable.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

If the Regulations were not placed on the Table of the House so that no Prayer could be moved, were they not invalidly made, so that any action taken under them would be an illegal action? Secondly, did the Regulations contain any possibility of disciplinary action or criminal proceedings against any person? Have any such proceedings ever been taken and, if they have, would any remedy be offered to persons who have suffered by being proceeded against illegally?

Photo of Mr Herbert Morrison Mr Herbert Morrison , Hackney South

On the first point, I speak without advice but I do not think that any question of legal invalidity arises. If it did, I should have to bring in a Bill to cover that point. With regard to disciplinary action, I could not be sure. It is possible that under the Regulations disciplinary action may have been taken in a number of cases but I can assure my hon. Friend that it would have been taken fairly, and I do not think any individual could say that he has suffered injustice. Everyone was aware of these disciplinary provisions, including the trade unions concerned. I should not however like to give an answer on the facts on the spur of the moment.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

Surely my right hon. Friend will agree that any man is unjustly treated if he is proceeded against under a law which has not been properly authorised by the House and, whatever the actual merits may have been, on the assumption that the Regulations were valid. The injustice remains, once it is established that the Regulations were invalid.

Photo of Mr Herbert Morrison Mr Herbert Morrison , Hackney South

It all depends on the case. I ought to think about that, before I give a definite answer, but the disciplinary code has been fairly worked out by all the parties concerned, and fairly administered. I do not think I ought to go further.

Photo of Mr Frederick Pethick-Lawrence Mr Frederick Pethick-Lawrence , Edinburgh East

I put the point in the first instance whether any individuals had been damnified by acts on behalf of the Home Office, under these Regulations. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will look into that point and be prepared to answer a question next week? It is one of considerable importance.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

Surely the Home Secretary should have informed himself on that point. Is it not most unusual that the right hon. Gentleman should make a statement, and not be able to inform the House on this very important point whether, in fact, if the procedure of an Act of Parliament has not been complied with, the Act of Parliament is legal in its operation? Surely, it cannot be legal, unless it is legally carried through.

Photo of Mr Herbert Morrison Mr Herbert Morrison , Hackney South

I think if I am going to answer a point, on which legal action may ensue, I ought to have notice and give a considered answer. I am sorry that I am not ready to give a considered answer, but life is pressing at the moment.

Photo of Mr John McGovern Mr John McGovern , Glasgow Shettleston

I read of a case on Monday where two men were prosecuted and, as it may be the case that some people have been prosecuted illegally, will not the right hon. Gentleman consider taking action to suspend such actions? When he talks about the trade unions knowing, may I suggest that we are more interested in whether the individual concerned knew?

Photo of Mr Herbert Morrison Mr Herbert Morrison , Hackney South

I will consider the point.

Photo of Colonel Albert Ward Colonel Albert Ward , Kingston upon Hull North West

May we take it that any convictions obtained under these Regulations which were not laid before the House, will be automatically quashed?

Photo of Mr Herbert Morrison Mr Herbert Morrison , Hackney South

No. I am certainly not prepared to give such a sweeping undertaking.

Photo of Mr Arthur Woodburn Mr Arthur Woodburn , Clackmannan and Eastern

Apart from convictions, will my right hon Friend look into the question of whether any person who has suffered loss of employment, or any disabilities resulting from Regulations which are not valid, should have a right of action at the expense of the Home Secretary?

Photo of Mr Herbert Morrison Mr Herbert Morrison , Hackney South

That is possible, but the House ought to distinguish between a lapse—which is a serious lapse, the legal consequences of which I must consider—and the question of whether any real injustice of substance has been done to the individual. We must not necessarily assume that definite injustice has been done owing to a fault—serious though it is—in procedure.

Photo of Sir Kenneth Pickthorn Sir Kenneth Pickthorn , Cambridge University

May I ask for your guidance, Sir? I am a little foxed by this procedure. Normally, when a statement is made after Questions, by way of personal explanation, it is a statement of a Private Member. This is a statement by a Minister. How far does this series of questions and answers in any way comport any kind of acquiescence by the House, or cut out the House from any right of discussion or criticism which it might wish to exercise?

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

The House is not bound in any way. The Minister makes a statement. No Member is committed by it, but only the Minister himself.

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

The hon. Member has already asked three questions.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

It is true that a number of questions have been asked, but the matter is an important one. The right hon. Gentleman in his last answer, in the opinion of many Members, has stated a position which requires further elucidation——

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

It is not a matter which can be debated now.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

I do not propose to debate it, but I would like to ask my right hon. Friend whether he will bear in mind that it is a vital principle of our law that no man shall be proceeded against by anybody, certainly not by a Minister of the Crown, except in the due process of the law, and that if the Regulations under which the Minister has acted have not had the sanction of the House as the Act requires, it will be a manifest and most atrocious injustice to persist in any penalties inflicted on the persons proceeded against.

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

The hon. Member is now arguing the matter and not asking a question.

Photo of Mr Arthur Molson Mr Arthur Molson , High Peak

Will my right hon. Friend consider whether it would not be the right thing to introduce a small Bill validating what has taken place in the past? Is not that the right procedure?

Photo of Mr Herbert Morrison Mr Herbert Morrison , Hackney South

I will consider that. I do not know whether it is necessary or not. What is clearly necessary is that the Regulations should be properly laid and the House given its full opportunities.

Photo of Commander Sir Archibald Southby Commander Sir Archibald Southby , Epsom

When will my right hon. Friend be in a position to be so fully informed that he can come to the House and make a further statement so that the House will have the opportunity of discussing this matter, which it is impossible to do now by way of question and answer?