§ 55. Mr. Gallacher
asked the Secretary of State for Air whether he has considered the request from the Civil Service Clerical Association to receive a deputation to put facts before him concerning the dismissal from the Ministry's employment of Major Vernon; and whether he is going to receive such a deputation?
§ 56. Mr. E. J. Williams
asked the Secretary of State for Air whether he is prepared, in view of the apprehensions amongst civil servants of all grades, to receive representations from the staff side of the National Whitley Council as regards the application of the provisions of the Official Secrets Act?
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Captain Harold Balfour)
My right hon. Friend has received a request from the Staff Side of the National Whitley Council to receive a deputation to put forward facts concerning the dismissal of Major Vernon from Air Ministry employment and he has considered this request. The facts of Major Vernon's case are as follow:
Major Vernon was convicted on 27th October for offences under the Official Secrets Act, 1911. Major Vernon pleaded guilty to two of the charges brought against him and the eminent King's Counsel who defended him stated that the Act had been properly invoked in his case. He also pleaded in mitigation of sentence that it was clear that Major Vernon would lose his employment under the Air Ministry and that this fact should be taken into account by the Court in pronouncing sentence. Major Vernon was found guilty on both charges and sentenced to a fine of £50. Subsequently he was dismissed from his appointment under the Air Ministry.
Under the existing agreed arrangements various channels exist for the representation of individual or collective staff questions, and ample facilities exist for the making of representations through these channels in Major Vernon's case. The reception of a deputation by the Secretary of State would fall outside the scope of 1802 these arrangements, and for this reason my right hon. Friend regrets that he does not see his way to affording special facilities in this case.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Is the Minister aware that statements made by eminent counsel when the case was being tried should never have been held against the victim, and that very great prejudice was introduced into the whole case directed against Major Vernon; and will he not, in the light of those facts, reconsider the matter
§ Captain Balfour
It is not for the Department or for any Department to comment upon the decisions of the judiciary. As regards further representations, there are three channels open at the present time. There are: the Departmental Whitley Council, the machinery of which has not been used in this case but which is still entirely free so to be used, if desired; the individual officer's association—in this case the Institute of Professional Civil Servants—which has not exercised its powers of representation but is still free to do so; and thirdly, the individual himself. Major Vernon has not exercised his freedom to appeal as an individual to the Secretary of State. My right hon. Friend is entirely willing to consider such an appeal provided that the grounds on which the appeal is made are given in writing beforehand. The reason for this stipulation is that the Department, that is to say, the Executive, must not be put into the position of being asked to comment upon decisions of the judiciary.
§ Mr. Gallacher
If one or more of those steps were taken, would the Minister be prepared to consider a deputation?
§ Captain Balfour
No, Sir; the three channels are entirely open to Major Vernon to use, and my right hon. Friend considers that they are ample and sufficient.