HC Deb 03 December 1951 vol 494 cc2029-31
Air Commodore A. V. Harvey

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether, in order to avoid discrepancies in the punishments awarded by local fire authorities to firemen who committed breaches of discipline by refusing to obey lawful orders during the so-called demonstration on 19th and 20th November, he proposes to issue any advice to the authorities.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir David Maxwell Fyfe)

I have no power to intervene except in the exercise of my appellate jurisdiction. Each case must be considered and dealt with on its individual merits by the disciplinary authorities. I am not in possession of complete information, but I understand that some authorities have dealt with cases by reprimand or caution while in a few cases it has been thought necessary to impose more severe penaties.

I have no doubt that disciplinary authorities will exercise a wise discretion in the light of all the circumstances, including the need, which I have stressed several times in the House, of avoiding any action which would exacerbate existing differences which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and National Service has been endeavouring to resolve. I have consulted my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland who is in agreement with what I have said.

Mr. H. Hynd

While appreciating the difficulty about giving instructions to local authorities, and in view of the fact that the Home Secretary did issue a piece of advice, in general terms, at the beginning of this dispute as to how the local authorities should avoid unnecessary action by the police, may I ask whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman would contemplate issuing a similar notice in general terms on this particular point?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I hope that the House will appreciate the difficulty of my position. If punishments are imposed of reduction by two ranks or of a more serious kind an appeal lies to me and it would be intolerable, and contrary to the view of any Home Secretary of any party, that that appellate task should be prejudiced by specific statements. I hope that the spirit of what I have said will be appreciated not only in the House but beyond.

Sir Waldron Smithers

Will the Home Secretary, with his good sense, make an appeal to firemen all over the country, in these difficult days, to clear out evil influences and, if possible, avoid disciplinary action at all?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I think that all quarters of the House will appreciate that my appeal has been, from the beginning of this unfortunate difference, that everyone should try and restrain himself from saying or doing anything which will exacerbate existing differences.

Mr. Mikardo

While appreciating what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said about the difficulty of his position, may I ask whether he could not at least make a point of circulating to the local authorities the terms of the very statesmanlike statement he has made this afternoon in reply to the original Question?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I hope that everyone concerned will see that statement and will also get what, if I may say so, I consider of great importance—the almost complete unanimity of feeling in the House—which I am sure they will pick up and understand.