HC Deb 01 December 1953 vol 521 cc960-2
Mrs. Braddock

Mr. Speaker, may I have your guidance on a matter which I consider to be of urgent public importance? I saw you with reference to a Private Notice Question on a matter which is causing great concern to many people in my constituency and in my city. It concerns the fact that a youth was handcuffed and chained to the roof of a van when being removed from a police station to the detention camp at Formby. You told me when I saw you that it was impossible to raise that matter as one of urgent public importance or interest, and I should like to know on what basis that Ruling was given and why it was impossible to raise a matter of that sort which is of great importance to many parents whose boys are called up for National Service. Also, I should like to know the reason why I was not permitted to visit the boy when I made a perfectly reasonable request to the major at the detention camp.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Lady submitted a Question to me to be asked by Private Notice of the Secretary of State for War which concerned an individual case. In the matter of Questions by Private Notice I have a duty to the House to see that time is not taken up by Questions which are not of sufficient general importance to be asked by Private Notice. It is true that every private case is important to the individuals concerned, and I know that this matter is of great importance to the hon. Lady. Every private case is of importance because probably the liberties of the State are the sum of our liberties as individuals.

At the same time, in choosing Questions for Private Notice it is the custom, except in very exceptional circumstances, not to deal with individual cases but to offer to the hon. Member concerned the ordinary resources of Parliament. When I considered this matter—and realised too this morning that the soldier in respect of whom the Question was asked has escaped from the guardroom—I could not bring myself to the view that an inquiry into these past circumstances was of sufficient urgency to justify my acceding to the hon. Lady's request.

Mr. Wigg

There is one aspect of this problem which concerns every hon. Member. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock) asked permission of the War Office, or a representative of the War Office—the soldier's commanding officer—to interview her constituent in the guardroom. The Secretary of State for War, or an officer acting on his behalf, refused permission. I should have thought that was a most serious matter and that any hon. Member who wanted to see a constituent to arrange for that soldier's defence had a right to do so. I should have thought that the fact that that right was denied the hon. Member was a matter of urgent public importance.

Mr. Speaker

On that issue, I understood from the hon. Lady that it was the officer on the spot who refused permission—a senior officer. It has been frequently ruled that in the matter of seeing prisoners, whether of a civil or military power, an hon. Member is in no better position than a member of the public. That has been settled by a long series of decisions, and that being an old matter I could not regard it as of sufficient importance to justify a Private Notice Question.

Mr. Keenan

Is not the position becoming rather difficult because cases of this kind are arising so frequently, especially in the Army? In order to get redress hon. Members have to try to adopt the measures adopted by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock). What other form of redress have we when the administration of some officers in the Army is so callous that National Service men and their parents are very upset?

Mr. Speaker

Hon. Members have all the other resources of Parliamentary procedure open to them in addition to Private Notice Questions. I have experience of these resources being frequently used.