§ 20 and 21. Mr. R. McNEILL
asked the Under-Secretary for War (1) whether Lieutenant Somerset, of the War Office, has been preparing for fourteen months a case for the Public Prosecutor in connection with the matters now the subject of inquiry; whether, as a result, five persons have in that period gone to prison without any preliminary inquiry; will he give the names of these five persons; whether any and each of them are still in prison: what are they charged with or suspected of doing to justify imprisonment; why no prosecution has been commenced as a result of Lieutenant Somerset's labours; and (2) who was responsible for an official communication to the Press issued by the War Office through the Press Bureau on 2nd March to the effect that, in reports of proceedings at the preliminary sitting of the Commission of Inquiry into the raid on the "Field" newspaper offices, the statement had appeared in the Press that five persons had been sent to prison without trial for breaches of the Defence of the Realm Regulations, and that this statement was devoid of all foundation; whether he is aware that the statement thus officially denied was not an invention by the Press, as suggested, but was made before the Court of Inquiry by Lieutenant Somerset, an official of the War Office; and whether it is proposed to publish a contradiction of the communication of 2nd March and a withdrawal of the aspersion cast by it on the accuracy of the Press?
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
Both these questions arise from a misunderstanding. Lieutenant Somerset informed Mr. Justice Shearman that he was the officer who had been preparing these cases for the Public Prosecutor for the last fourteen months, and during that time, as a result of his efforts, five people had gone to prison without any preliminary inquiry. By the words "preliminary inquiry" he meant such as that being conducted by Mr. Justice Shearman. The Press misconstrued his meaning and informed the world that five persons had been sent to 893 prison without trial. It was necessary to correct this statement, and the notice was accordingly communicated to the Press on the 2nd March. To make the matter clear, it is desirable to state that the officer to whom the question refers has, during the past fourteen months, been employed, amongst other duties, in investigating, on behalf of the War Office and under the direction of his superior officers, eases -where a breach of the Defence of the Realm Regulation 30 A appears to have been committed. It is the practice in these cases for a very careful preliminary investigation to be made by the War Office, and if a prima facie case for prosecution is disclosed, to pass the papers with a statement of the facts to the Director of Public Prosecutions for his consideration and further action where thought advisable. So far from it being the fact that no prosecutions have been commenced as a result? of Lieutenant Somerset's labours, the precise opposite is the case. During the past fourteen months a number of persons have been brought to trial before the Civil Courts, and in every case a conviction has been secured. In five cases the magistrate has taken such a serious view of the case that he has inflicted a sentence of imprisonment without the alternative of a fine.
The names of the five persons so sentenced for breaches of Defence of the Realm Regulations 30 A were published in the Press at the time of their conviction, and it would savour of vindictiveness if their names were published afresh. I must remind the hon. and learned Gentleman that the whole of the case out of which these questions arise is now sub judice, and I trust that he will defer any further questions until Mr. Justice Shearman has been able to report.
§ Mr. McNEILL
Arising out of the hon. Gentleman's reply, and especially the last paragraph, may I ask him if he does not realise that inasmuch as the officials of the War Office are doing everything in their power to baulk this inquiry, it will be necessary to pursue the matter on every possible occasion in this House?
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I cannot accept that statement of my hon. Friend. I am perfectly convinced of this—that the subordinates, as he calls them, at the War Office are only doing their duty.
§ Mr. McNEILL
Having regard to the nature of the hon. Gentleman's replies, 894 I beg to give notice that I shall raise this question on the Report stage of the Army Estimates.