HC Deb 20 February 1941 vol 369 cc299-300
Mr. Speaker

Since I made my Statement to the House on 6th February about the procedure to be adopted in connection with the issue of writs in the room of Members presumed to have been killed on active service, I have, as I informed the House, received suggestions which have required and received careful consideration. I have had to delay my final statement in order to see to what extent it is possible to adapt my original proposals to these suggestions.

It has been suggested to me that it is desirable that the House should have a more direct responsibility for determining when a vacancy through presumption of death has arisen, and also that any scheme of procedure should be sufficiently comprehensive to include other cases of presumed death through enemy action as well as the case of Members presumed to have been killed on active service. I think these are valuable suggestions, and I have taken them into account in the procedure which I now suggest to the House.

For the purpose of determining the existence of vacancies through presumption of death, I propose to secure the assistance of a panel of advisers, consisting of Members representative of the various sections of opinion in the House. When the presumed death of a Member through any form of enemy action has been notified to me, I will, at my discretion, consult two members of this panel, and, if it is found necessary, inquire into the evidence on which the presumption of death is based. If satisfied, I will announce the presumed death of the Member to the House, according to my usual practice. I propose that a period of a week should then be allowed to elapse, during which it would be open to any Member of the House to address a request to me for further information. After the expiration of a week, it would be permissible to move a writ in the room of the Member presumed to be dead.

I have invited the following Members to serve on the proposed panel: The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Rye (Colonel Sir George Courthope); the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Antrim (Sir Hugh O'Neill); the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes); the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith); and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir Percy Harris).