HC Deb 21 January 1943 vol 386 cc285-7
61. Major Lyons

asked the Home Secretary whether his attention has been called to the application of Mr. Thomas Wilson, heard on the 18th instant in the King's Bench Division of His Majesty's High Court of Justice, and to the matter of the material document then stated to have been intercepted and not allowed to proceed; and by whom and upon whose instructions this was done?

62. Lieut.-Colonel Dower

asked the Home Secretary whether his attention has been drawn to the judgment of Mr. Justice Humphreys in Rex v. Anderson ex parte Wilson; and what disciplinary steps have been taken regarding the unnamed official at the Home Office who took it on himself to intercept and refuse to forward the application by Captain Wilson not to be detained indefinitely and to be put on trial, and to have his case considered?

Sir Henry Morris-Jones

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. These Questions refer to a matter about which there is a Motion on the Order Paper in the names of several hon. Members of this House and myself, asking the Leader of the House whether we might have a discussion on the matter. [That this House views with alarm the disclosures brought out at the sitting of the High Court of Justice (King's Bench Division), on 18th January, in regard to the intervention of an unnamed official at the Home Office whereby a citizen was deprived of his inalienable right of application to the court to have his detention under Regulation 18B considered by the court.] While I do not want to prejudice these Questions, can I have a Ruling as to whether my hon. and gallant Friends should get an answer to them now?

Mr. H. Morrison

Further to that point of Order. I did not know that the Motion had been put down before the Questions, but in any case I think that, in view of the public interest in this matter, it would be unfortunate if these Questions were not answered to-day.

Mr. Speaker

The Questions were put down before the Motion.

Mr. Morrison

Then, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement in reply to them at the end of Questions.


Mr. H. Morrison

In June, 1940, Mr. Wilson, who was at the time detained under Regulation 18B, addressed a communication to the Divisional Court asking that he might be put on trial for some specific offence or offences instead of being detained under the Regulation. The letter was submitted to the Home Office by the prison authorities, and was stopped by an officer because he thought that this was not the proper way for the applicant to approach the Court; that he knew that the applicant was at the time in touch with his solicitors; and that he thought that any application of this kind should be made through the applicant's legal advisers in the appropriate way. This view was entirely mistaken, and my predecessor, who was in office when the mistake occurred, has expressed to the Court his regret that the letter was not forwarded. I am satisfied that the mistake, which occurred at a time when the Department was subject to exceptional stress, was entirely due to an error of judgment. Mr. Justice Humphreys, while strongly censuring any interferences with the right of a British subject who is detained to approach the Court, said in his judgment: "It does not appear that any actual harm accrued to Mr. Wilson from that document being detained"; and he added, "I cannot myself see the smallest justification for suggesting in this case that anything intentionally wrong was done by anyone in the Home Office."

As regards the particular officer concerned, I am satisfied that no disciplinary action is called for; the strictures passed by the High Court will serve as a valuable lesson to him, as to all officers. I need hardly say that steps have been taken to see that a similar mistake shall not recur, and I wish to express my regret and that of the Lord President that this grave error should have occurred. I must, however, bear in mind that if public business is to be done with proper despatch, appropriate responsibilities must be undertaken by officers. While there must be adequate methods of supervision and instruction, there must not be so elaborate a system of checks and counter-checks as will create intolerable delays and the over-burdening of higher authority.

Major Lyons

Although my Question asks for the name of the officer concerned, it is entirely with the right hon. Gentleman whether he gives the name or not, and, as far as I am concerned, I do hot press for it. May I say that I think the statement that has been made by the right hon. Gentleman will allay public anxiety on this grave matter?

Mr. Morrison

I am much obliged to the hon. and gallant Gentleman. With regard to the name of the officer, I am grateful to him for the view he has taken. My view is that vis-a-vis Parliament I must accept responsibility. The officers of the Department accept responsibility to me, and if they do wrong things they will have a bad time, but in the House it is I who must take the blame.

Sir H. Morris-Jones

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the strictures made by the learned Judge aroused very grave misgivings and that hon. Members have received large numbers of letters concerning the matter; and, in view of the fact that at the present time inevitably, in conditions of war, we must be governed to a much greater extent by officials than in time of peace, will my right hon. Friend definitely assure us that an incident of this character will not occur again?

Mr. Morrison

I have informed the House that vigorous steps have been taken to prevent any repetition, but this is a human world, and I do hot think I should be wise to give any positive guarantee of a 100 per cent. character. I think that in the light of my reply the public will be satisfied.