Motion made, and Question proposed,
That it is expedient that a Tribunal be established for inquiring into a definite matter of urgent public importance, that is to say, the administration by the Council of the City and County of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and its Committees and Officers of their functions in relation to the Fire, Police and Civil Defence Services with particular reference to the disposal of fire-engine B.B. 999, the acquisition and use as a fire float of the East Coast Scottish fishing vessel called "The Premier" and the use of personnel, food, stores and equipment intended for the aforesaid Services."—[Mr. Peake.]
§ Mr. Maxton (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
I made some comment on the Business set down for the fourth Sitting Day at the time it was announced and said it resembled a sort of jumble sale. That was on the items announced, but I cannot remember any announcement about the disposal of this fire-engine B.B. 999. I thought that number was kept for convicts. The other matter involved in this Motion, the acquisition and use as a fire float of the East Coast Scottish vessel called "The Premier" and the use of personnel, food, stores and equipment intended for the aforesaid Services, was not announced as Business to be taken on this day. Looking round, I cannot see a solitary Member who comes from this particular area. The Government have had a good day. They have done very well, and it would be taking advantage of the generosity and kindness of Members who are here, to attempt to commit us to this inquiry when we are completely uninformed as to its object and the people who are primarily and principally concerned are absent.
§ Commander King-Hall (Ormskirk)
I support the hon. Member's view, but the point that I was rising to make was this. You, Sir, were about to put the Question whether this tribunal should be set up, and I wanted to inquire what sort of tribunal it was to be and whether we could have any details about it. Can that be made clear to the House?
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peake)
I should, perhaps, have said a few words when the Motion was called from the Chair, but there have been Questions and answers given recently. On 16th December the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas) asked the Home Secretary 1584whether he proposes to comply with the request of the council of the city and county of Newcastle-upon-Tyne to institute an inquiry into the administration of the watch committee of the council and, in particular, into its conduct with regard to the disposal of a fire engine.My right hon. Friend replied:Yes, Sir. I decided to comply with this request, and Mr. Roland Burrows, K.C., was good enough to accept my invitation to hold an inquiry into this matter. While preparations were being made for the holding of this Inquiry, other allegations of a serious character were brought to my notice reflecting on the administration of branches of the Civil Defence Services. It will, I think, be in the public interest to extend, the scope of the proposed Inquiry so as to enable these further allegations to be investigated. Certain preliminary inquiries are being made but I hope that it will be possible to begin the Inquiry into all the matters requiring investigation early in the New Year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th December, 1943; col. 1678, Vol. 395.]Yesterday, the hon. and gallant Member for North St. Pancras (Wing-Commander Grant-Ferris) asked the Secretary of State for the Home Departmentwhether he is in a position to make any further statement regarding his proposal to extend the scope of his inquiry into the administration of the Watch Committee of the Council of the City and County of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, so as to enable further allegations reflecting on the administration of branches of the Civil Defence Services to be investigated.My right hon. Friend replied:Yes, Sir. I am satisfied, as a result of the preliminary inquiries to which I referred in my reply to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas) on 16th December last, that it would be desirable in the public interest to widen the scope of the proposed inquiry so as to enable further allegations reflecting on the administration of branches of the Civil Defence Services to be investigated, and the Council of the City and County of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, whom I have consulted, concur in my view. I am also satisfied that it would be desirable that this inquiry should be held in public, and that there should be power to compel the attendance of witnesses and to take evidence on oath. I accordingly proposed that the inquiry shall be held by a tribunal to which the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921, will be applied, and the necessary Resolution for this purpose will be submitted to each House of Parliament at the earliest opportunity."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd February, 1944; col. 1400, Vol. 396.]I think that explains the circumstances in which this Resolution comes before the House. Very serious charges have been made against certain members on the city council in Newcastle. Mr. Roland Burrows reported that, in his view, these powers of compelling witnesses 1585 and so forth, which this Resolution will give, are necessary. We have, in fact, taken advice as to whether, on the information so far disclosed, a prosecution will lie, but we are told that proceedings are not possible and I am sure the House will accept the view that my right hon. Friend is only doing his public duty in undertaking——
§ Mr. Maxton
I am not suggesting for a moment that the right hon. Gentleman is not doing his public duty, nor that this is not a right and proper proceeding.
§ Mr. Peake
I think the House will be satisfied that it is a proper proceeding. The hon. Member will see from the terms of the Motion that it speaks of a definite matter of urgent public importance. I can reassure my hon. Friend by saying that the Members of Parliament for the city of Newcastle have been apprised of this position, and my right hon. Friend has seen some of them. I cannot say whether he has seen them all, for one of them is ill. They know what is being done, and if they had a view to put forward, they would undoubtedly have been here to-day.
§ Mr. Montague (Islington, West)
Do we understand that the fire engine was sold to North St. Pancras?
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That it is expedient that a Tribunal be established for inquiring into a definite matter of urgent public importance, that is to say, the administration by the Council of the City and County of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and its Committees and Officers of their functions in relation to the Fire, Police, and Civil Defence Services, with particular reference to the disposal of fire engine B.B. 999, the acquisition and use as a fire float of the East Coast Scottish fishing vessel called 'The Premier' and the use of personnel, food, stores and equipment intended for the aforesaid Services.