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Offices Act, 1960

Volume 648: debated on Thursday 9 November 1961

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asked the Prime Minister when, and for what purpose, responsibility for making regulations under the Offices Act, 1960, was transferred from the Secretary of State for the Home Department to the Minister of Labour.

There has been no formal transfer of responsibility. As a matter of practical convenience my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour has been dealing with matters arising under the Offices Act, since the subject is closely linked with the Government's comprehensive legislation on shops, offices and railway premises which he will be introducing next Session.

While accepting that the Ministry of Labour is a proper Department for this work, may I ask if the right hon. Gentleman can give us an assurance that this change was not made in order to save the face of his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary from the many undertakings which he has given? If the Prime Minister is not concerned about the welfare of office workers, is he not at least concerned about the integrity of his Government? Will he not instruct the Minister of Labour to desist from his unconstitutional refusal to make regulations under an Act of Parliament?

I have said that this change was made as a matter of practical convenience. I think the hon. Member himself accepts that.

Are we to take it that there has been no transfer of responsibility and that it still remains the responsibility of the Home Secretary under the Act of 1960 to make regulations under an Act which will come into force on 1st January? Although we have had statements from the Minister of Labour and the Leader of the House, may we take it that the Prime Minister is not intending to shield the Home Secretary from his obvious responsibility to make regulations under the Act? Is he further aware that if he fails to make arrangements he will be acting in clear defiance of the will of Parliament?

It is not proposed, as has been explained, to make regulations because, even under Section 1 (4) of the Act, that would take considerable time in consultations with interested organisations and so forth. It seems better, as a Bill is being drafted in the Ministry of Labour, for the Minister of Labour to be responsible for it.

Is it not a fact that when the Joint Under-Secretary of the Home Office made a firm promise to lay these regulations he said that the only event in which they would not be laid would be if the Government introduced comprehensive legislation instead? Is it not a rather shabby manoeuvre to dodge a firm promise?

No, it is intended to introduce this Measure in the next Session. If we were to go through all the complicated business of consultation under the existing Act it would merely confuse the authorities and organisations and would not speed up the matter.

Is not the Prime Minister aware that a very firm undertaking was given by the Government that comprehensive legislation would be introduced before the Bill sponsored by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) became law, that is to say, at the beginning of next year? Is it not quite unsatisfactory to have this matter postponed for another year? Is the Prime Minister further aware that it is no excuse to say that negotiations and discussions have to take place, for there have been such discussions; they have been taking place over the past six or nine months? Will the right hon. Gentleman have another look at the matter and see whether it is possible to introduce the comprehensive legislation which we have been promised in this Parliamentary Session?

Of course I will have a look at it, but I would think it would be much more satisfactory to have a full and comprehensive Bill which will be introduced in the next Session.

Will my right hon. Friend make everyone aware of the dilemma we must be in in that there is a call for alteration in the Offices Act but in fact the whole answer of the Opposition to our economic policy is to stop new office building?

Would the Prime Minister agree that now that the Minister of Labour is looking after these things he will know that at any rate within those industries covered by the Factories Acts there has been a very substantial increase in accidents in the last year? Is that not a good reason why we should have the comprehensive legislation immediately rather than permitting more and more accidents in shops and offices which at the moment we cannot even register?

Of course I should like to have it as soon as possible, but it does not seem practicable to have it this Session.