HC Deb 06 February 1941 vol 368 cc1088-9
Major Sir Edward Cadogan

I desire to ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether you have considered the position which has arisen through the existence of vacancies in respect of Members of this House gazetted as missing on active Service and afterwards presumed to be dead, and whether you can state what procedure should be adopted in deciding whether or not writs should be issued to fill such vacancies?

Mr. Speaker

The question which the hon. Gentleman raises is one to which I have been giving consideration. It is a question which does not appear to have arisen in the course of the last war, and it must therefore be decided without the assistance of precedent. I have caused inquiries to be made as to the procedure which is adopted by the Service Departments before the names of persons are gazetted in the casualty lists as presumed to have been killed on active Service, and I am satisfied that all precautions are taken to ensure that such entries are not made until there is no longer any reason, unfortunately, to doubt that presumption corresponds with fact. It seems to me, therefore, that the House might accept a notification in the casualty lists that one of its Members is presumed to have been killed on active Service as sufficient evidence of the existence of a vacancy in the seat of that Member through his death. But, in view of the fact that some element of doubt, however slight, must persist about such cases, and in view, further, of the obvious difficulties that might arise if such doubt proved in a particular case to be justified, I feel it my duty to give Members an opportunity of thinking over what is really a new departure in our practice, before I decide to put it into effect. I propose, therefore, to wait for a week, during which any Member who has any objection to raise or suggestion to make with regard to this matter may communicate with me. If, by the end of that period, I have received no such objection or suggestion, I will assume that Members generally are in agreement with the procedure which I have outlined, and I will make a further statement to the House, proposing that this procedure be put into operation as from that date.

Mr. Bevan

This is a very important matter affecting the House of Commons as such. Would it be possible for means to be found of conveying to Members the way in which the War Office verifies this information? We could then form a fairly exact impression as to whether any improvement could be made in the form of the investigation. A week's delay is of no importance to us in this matter, unless we know the methods of verifying the information. Can we have from you, Sir, something as to how the information is verified?

Mr. Speaker

I will consider that matter.

Mr. Mander

Does your Ruling cover, or is it intended to cover, cases such as that of the hon. and gallant Member for the Wrekin Division (Colonel Baldwin-Webb), who was lost at sea? How would you propose to deal with cases of that kind?

Mr. Speaker

That case would not be covered.