HC Deb 11 August 1919 vol 119 cc890-4
Mr. RAPER (by Private Notice)

asked the Under-Secretary of State to the Air Ministry what steps he proposes to take to punish all persons in or connected with the Air Force, no matter what their positions, found guilty of corrupt practices in connection with Air Force contracts by the Select Committee on National Expenditure, and whether, in view of the recent disclosures, he will now without further delay form a small Committee of two or three Members of the House having real business experience and two or three other experienced business men outside this House to supervise the placing and execution of all future Air Force contracts?

Major-General SEELY

Every possible step has already been taken, and will be taken in future, to bring to justice any person in, or connected with, the Air Force, guilty of corrupt practices regarding Air Force contracts. I am not disposed to adopt the suggestion contained in the last part of the question. I shall hope, with your leave, Mr. Speaker, to make a statement on the matter in the course of to-morrow's Debate.


Does the right hon. Gentleman propose to take steps to prosecute those referred to in, the Report of the Select Committee?

Major-General SEELY

Since I have been at the Air Ministry, wherever there has been any case of corruption, I have at once given orders that a prosecution should take place if a prosecution could lie. I propose to continue that.


Is it not a fact that in connection with the instances mentioned in the Report the Government decided for reasons of their own not to institute proceedings?


No, Sir. I presume my hon. Friend is referring to two cases. One was the case referred to by Sir John Hunter, in which I gave instructions myself, personally, that a prosecution should take place, if a prosecution could lie. I gave these instructions precisely twice to Sir John Hunter, who was then acting under my directions. The Lord Advocate for Scotland decided that a prosecution could not lie. So far as the Air Ministry is concerned the facts are as I have stated, that wherever there has been a possibility of prosecution a prosecution has been ordered. The other was the case of Miss O' Sullivan, who made allegations of corruption. The very day "that these allegations were brought before the Select Committee, presided over by the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury), I ordered an inquiry to be held, and it is now proceeding, and if there is ground for prosecution—that is, of course, a legal matter—that prosecution will take place.


May I ask the Leader of the House whether, if by Mr. Speaker's permission the matter is raised to-morrow as to the prosecution of these officials in the Air Service, the Lord Advocate will be here to defend his somewhat inexplicable action?


I shall make inquiry. I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend that a discussion on that point would be very ineffective unless we hear the Lord Advocate's own explanation of what are his reasons.


Are the officers named by Sir John Hunter still in the employment of the Air Service, and, if so, what positions do they occupy?

Major-General SEELY

I must have notice of that question. 1 do not carry the facts in my mind at the moment as to the particular officers the hon. Member refers to, but I repeat that our policy has been throughout, mine especially, that wherever there could be any question of improper or corrupt dealings a prosecution is at once ordered.


Having regard to the fact that the only reason why these officers have not been prosecuted was owing to a technicality, will the right hon. Gentleman see that if they occupy any position of trust they are forthwith dismissed?

Major-General SEELY

Certainly not. Are we to assume that a man is guilty before he is found to be so by a process of law. I do not carry in my mind who all these people are, but in trying to do what is right in the interest of the State we must do right to the individual.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that one of the reasons given by the Lord Advocate why the prosecution should not take place was that the prosecution "might reveal what appears to be insufficiency and absence of control on the part of the representatives of the Ministry on the spot"? Has the opinion on which he reached that decision had any effect on the judgment of the Government?

Major-General SEELY

The information I received from the Lord Advocate was that a prosecution would not succeed. When it was suggested to me that possibly it might bring into disrepute the representatives of either Sir John Hunter or any other officials, I said at once that that had nothing whatever to do with the case, and I confess that I do not understand the particular point. The Lord Advocate is not present, but no doubt it will be cleared up to-morrow. I say at once that such an idea never entered my head or the head of anyone responsible at the Air Ministry; all we want to do is to get at the truth.


This matter was the subject of inquiry so long ago as March. No inquiry was granted until June, and then the inquiry was commenced but was not finished owing to the fact that Miss O'Sullivan had not signed her evidence. No further steps were taken until it was made evident to the Air Ministry that inquiries were going on before the Select Committee, and it was then, and then only, on the 25th of last month, that an inquiry was instituted by the Air Ministry.

Major-General SEELY

With your per-permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to reply to that. I have said again and again in this House that if, in this matter, which affects the Douglas-Pennant case, any specific charge of corruption is made, it will be at once inquired into. I have again and again asked for a specific statement, but it was not given. The moment it was given, in response to a question asked by the Select Committee, that very same day an inquiry was ordered.

Captain W. BENN

Who is the Secretary of State for Air, and why is he not here to answer these matters, and will he be here to-morrow?


He will certainly be here to-morrow, and I am sure my right hon. Friend will be glad to have an opportunity of stating the policy of the Air Ministry on this subject.


If there is any prosecution possible, will it be under Scottish law or English law, and is the law of evidence the same in Scotland as in England?


Will the right hon. Gentleman, in the inquiry which he is now conducting, inquire into the conduct of the official who threatened to dismiss Miss O'Sullivan for making this report?

Major-General SEELY

Yes, certainly!




Any further statements had better be left over for discussion to-morrow.