HC Deb 14 May 1957 vol 570 cc213-5
44. Mr. C. R. Hobson

asked the Prime Minister whether he will now set up a special court of inquiry to examine all the evidence relating to the case of Admiral Sir Dudley North arising out of events in the Mediterranean in 1940.

45 Dame Irene Ward

asked the Prime Minister (1) whether, in the public interest, he will now set up a court of inquiry into the case of Admiral Sir Dudley North;

(2) whether he is aware of the general disquiet over the number of occasions that have arisen where the recent publication of facts relating to the conduct of the war in different spheres have led to the protection of certain personalities at the expense of others; and if he will consider what action he can take to ensure that justice is done possibly by making the appropriate files immediately available to historians;

(3) if he will introduce legislation to provide, with effect from September, 1939, for officers and men in each service, a right of appeal to a court martial or to a court of inquiry in any case in which they consider that their prospects in their service have been prejudiced by actions of their superiors, short of formal disciplinary measures.

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman for postponing their Questions. I regret that it has not yet been possible for me to read with the necessary care the considerable number of papers relevant to this matter.

I know of no precedent for an inquiry of this kind. I hope, however, to be in a position to give a considered reply next week, and I think it would be most convenient if I dealt then with my hon. Friend's more general Questions.

Mr. Hobson

Does the right hon. Gentleman's reply mean that, having considered the relevant information which is now in his possession, he is prepared to make a statement after Questions?

The Prime Minister

If that is the most convenient way, certainly. I recognise that I am asking hon. Members for some indulgence, but this' is a rather complicated matter and I did want to try to inform myself by reading a great deal of the material concerned.

Dame Irene Ward

May I thank my right hon. Friend for the Answer that he has given which, at any rate, shows that he is prepared to look at the case without prejudice? May I say that I am very grateful to him for that decision?

Mr. Stokes

May I ask the Prime Minister whether, when considering this matter, he will look at the discussion which took place in this House at Question Time on 23rd June, 1954, and whether he will bear in mind that the root cause of all the trouble was the fact that Admiral North was never told of the Dakar expedition, and that is what led to all the difficulties into which he got? [An HON. MEMBER: "How does the right hon. Gentleman know?"] Because I do know; if the hon. Member will take the trouble to read the debate he will see why. Will the Prime Minister also bear in mind that no fewer than five Admirals of the Fleet, three of whom themselves were First Sea Lords, just about that time pleaded with the First Lord of the Admiralty to have this matter looked into, because they all knew that Admiral North had been treated unjustly?

The Prime Minister

There is a very large dossier of papers, debates, Questions and statements which I want to try to get through, but I have had one or two other matters to attend to. I had to be in Germany last week and so I asked the hon. Members if they would be good enough to postpone their Questions and I am, I am afraid, asking them to postpone them again, because I really do want to find the time to go through all the material before reaching a decision.

Mr. Stokes

May I ask the Prime Minister— [HON. MEMBERS: "No."]— well, I am going to— having due regard to all his responsibilities, whether he will bear quite clearly in mind the fact that this admiral considers that he has been most unjustly treated and that, whatever the Prime Minister's preoccupations, the sooner the matter is examined and cleared up the better?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I will make a statement next week.