§ 24. Sir Cooper Rawson
asked the Home Secretary under what authority a Regional Commissioner postponed from day to day, for a total period of 56 hours, the rescue work of women and children imprisoned under air-raid debris in spite of protests of wardens and others willing to carry on the work; and will he take away such powers at once pending inquiry?
§ Mr. H. Morrison
No such instructions were issued by the Regional Commissioner. I understand that in view of the extreme improbability of any living persons remaining under the wreckage and of the imminent danger of collapse of the surrounding buildings, the rescue parties were withdrawn on two nights. The decision whether to suspend or continue operations in such circumstances is always a difficult one and must rest with the officers of the local authority concerned. On the information at present before me I do not think any special inquiry is called for.
§ Sir C. Rawson
Will the right hon. Gentleman state whether he secured information from both sides, because there is an overwhelming amount of information which he could have obtained from the police and others in adjoining places; and is he aware also that it is rumoured that the Regional Commissioner himself or one of his representatives was physically present, or that at any rate they were working under regulations that he had issued to the effect that a dangerous-looking wall should be avoided?
§ Mr. Morrison
There were no instructions issued by the Regional Commissioner, and as far as I know there is no regulation which governs that particular kind of thing in particular cases. 1 fully understand that there is some feeling in Brighton about the matter, and I appreciate the point. If I was convinced that the local authority were giving a general instruction on this point that parties should not work after dark, I would certainly intervene, but the whole issue here is whether, in the particular circumstances of this incident, the people in charge were wrong or right. I do not think that at this stage and time I could reconstruct it, and there is not enough evidence before me to make a prima facie case against the judgment of local officers. The responsibility really is theirs and not mine.
§ Sir C. Rawson
Who gave the order? If there are printed instructions issued by the Regional Commissioners, it does not require anybody to give an order. It simply says, "Knock off work," and as a result of knocking off work, two wardens resigned, and hundreds of people were willing to take on the work in spite of all.
§ Mr. Morrison
I cannot believe that there were any printed instructions which involved leaving off work in this case. It is the case all over the country that repeatedly rescue parties work on all through the night in order to get something cleared away, but there were circumstances in this case in which officers of the local authority on the spot took the view"that there were no live persons left —that turned out to be wrong, but that was their view—and that there was an imminent danger of a crashing of the wall which' would have killed the rescue party. They may have been right or wrong about it, but that was their judgment on the merits of the case at the time. I do not think that the Minister can be called upon to conduct inquiries into particular incidents of this sort, which are the responsibility of the local authority, unless he thinks their general policy is wrong, and I have no evidence to that effect.