HC Deb 30 November 1948 vol 458 cc1803-5
36. Mr. McGovern

asked the Secretary of State for War the nature of the charges against Private W. Quinn, Private Howland and 19157136 Private A. Milne, of Singapore; the date of arrest in each case; when they are to be tried; if the trial will be by court martial; and if he will give an assurance that they are being provided with competent legal defence.

Mr. M. Stewart

As my hon. Friend has been informed, Private Quinn and Private Howland have been charged jointly with voluntarily causing hurt to commit robbery, and Private Milne has been charged with being in unlawful possession of arms which he is alleged to have disposed of improperly. I am not aware of the exact dates on which the soldiers were arrested, but from the information in the possession of my Department it would appear that Private Quinn and Private Howland were arrested during June, and Private Milne during August. They are to be tried by the civil power; so far as I am aware, the dates of trial have not yet been fixed. Legal aid is being provided for all three.

Mr. McGovern

Is the Minister aware that the first information coming to the families of these men was that they were informed officially that no legal defence would be provided and that it caused consternation in the minds of these people who are so far removed from their sons? Can he tell the House how it is that men arrested in June have not yet had charges completely brought against them and why he cannot now tell us when these men are to be tried? Is it not a disgrace that men should be held for such a long period?

Mr. Stewart

As 1 pointed out, these men are being tried by the civil power. It is not a Departmental responsibility of the War Department to fix the date of their trial. But the hon. Member will have noticed that we have provided legal aid for these men, and we shall continue to do whatever is proper for them.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Has the Under-Secretary made representations to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies with a view to having these proceedings expedited?

Mr. Stewart

We will bear that fact in mind.

Mr. McGovern

Can the Minister give the reason why these men were handed over to the civil authority if the guns are alleged to be stolen from the War Office Department, and could he tell us if he has any information at all regarding the date of the trial?

Mr. Stewart

The date of the trial has not yet been fixed. It will also be clear from what I have said that these men were charged with a civil offence.

Mr. Pickthorn

Does His Majesty's Government consider that democracy demands that British privates should be treated in the same way as German generals?

Mr. McGovern

In view of the unsatisfactory way which this Question has been answered, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible moment.