HC Deb 24 July 1940 vol 363 cc892-4 At any time after the making of an order under this Act, the Commons House of Parliament may by resolution declare, either in reference to the whole or to part of the area to which that order applies, that the military situation is no longer such as to require the institution of special courts, and the order shall thereupon cease to apply to the whole or to the part of that area.—[Sir R. Acland.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

7.27 p.m.

Sir R. Acland

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

This new Clause is designed to save the Government from trouble and to a certain extent to meet the point of the hon. and gallant Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby). My desire, like his, is that the House should have some control over the operation of the Measure. I do not go so far as he did, for I do not want the right to review the work of the courts. I am asking that the House should have the right to bring the operation of the courts to an end when the House thinks fit. The Home Secretary may say that we have that right in any case because we could ask him a question why he was continuing the courts in some area, and we could raise the matter on the Adjournment. We could then vote against him, and I am not sure that he would not have to resign if we carried it, which would be regrettable. We could also propose a vote of no confidence in the Government because they were continuing these courts, and if we carried it, the whole Government would have to resign, and that would be a disaster.

My new Clause seeks to introduce a simple House of Commons procedure by which hon. Members may put down a Motion. If a sufficient number put their names to it, it would, no doubt, be discussed. If only one or two put their names to it, no time would be given for a discussion. If the Motion is discussed the Home Secretary will state his reasons why the operation of the courts should not come to an end, and we can consider them and judge, and if the Motion is passed, then it will come to an end, and the Home Secretary continues as Home Secretary and the Government continues as a Government. This seems to be the smoothest procedure by which the House can take into its hands what it should have in its hands, the power to say that the situation is such that we can go back to ordinary methods. It is an easy thing to start the operation of these special courts but a very difficult one to bring them to an end, and I think my proposal provides the easiest and smoothest way of doing it.

7.31 p.m.

Sir J. Anderson

I do not propose for one moment to challenge the main contention of the hon. Baronet that the House of Commons should have the right to declare its opinion that in any particular war zone in which special courts may have been set up those special courts should cease to function, or that the House, having so declared its opinion, should not be in a position to ensure that that judgment should be effective. My criticism of this proposed Clause is that, as far as I can see, it would not really achieve anything. There is nothing in the Clause to prevent the executive authorities, immediately after such a resolution had been passed, making a new declaration for the establishment of war courts in the area. That would sound a very unreasonable and outrageous thing to do, but it might happen that after the special courts had been brought to an end in that particular war zone new conditions might arise and there might be justification for re-establishing them. I suggest that this is a matter which the House of Commons really has under its control. There are many methods by which the House of Commons, assuming it is functioning more or less normally could, if it considered that the Executive had done or were acquiescing in something which was improper or undesirable, call the Minister to account. I am conscious of numerous ways in which that could be done, and I hardly think it is paying a compliment to the House of Commons to suggest that a special provision of this kind is needed to enable it to make its will effective and to assert its control over the executive Government.

Sir R. Acland

I, personally, think the Home Secretary is wrong, but I do not propose to press the matter, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Clause.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.