HC Deb 26 February 1964 vol 690 cc432-4
Mr. Abse

May I raise a point of order, Mr. Speaker, which arises out of a Question which I sought to put before the Table, and which has been refused, concerning a convicted murderer?

It would not be proper for me to go into details on the matter. It is sufficient to say that the Question which I sought to put down queried the medical handling of this man six or seven years ago when he was in prison and sought to tax the Home Secretary for having allowed him to remain outside on licence after certain events had taken place. No part of the Question dealt with present events. It made serious criticism of the Home Secretary, alleging past dalliance in not using his discretion under a certain Section of the Prison Act, 1952, prior to the murder for which this man is now convicted.

I am particularly concerned that it appears to be urged as justification for refusing to place this Question on the Order Paper that it would fall into the category of circumstances in which the exercise of the Prerogative depends in so far as the Home Secretary may be called upon to examine his own failure to revoke this wretched man's licence. In short, it would seem that I am debarred from criticising the Home Secretary since he may have to search within himself and examine what I believe to be his own blunder.

On errors of judgment in the working and administration of the licensing system, the Home Secretary is clearly answerable to this House. On the advice which he proffers the Queen concerning the Royal Prerogative of Mercy, he is answerable to no one, certainly not while the sentence is pending. But I submit that there is a clear dichotomy in his functions, only one of which is quasi-judicial, and that it would be an abuse of the Resolution of this House that circumstances which might amount to catastrophic errors of judgment on the part of the Home Secretary long before a murder has been committed should be regarded as circumstances coming within the meaning of the House of Commons Resolution.

In short, I submit that the Resolution should not be used, as it were, to extend sympathy to the Home Secretary in his self-imposed agony of exercising his discretion within the Prerogative. I am quite certain that any Home Secretary would be in a position to dissociate any criticisms, from any quarter, from the discretion that he would exercise when he considers the recommendations which he makes to the Queen.

I submit, further, that certainly in the case of the present Home Secretary, who is notoriously impervious to criticism—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Should the hon. Member think it right to take the proper steps, he would be able to make this speech at some other time. The present position is that I take responsibility. I decided, as the servant of the House, that I could not allow the hon. Gentleman's Question. He and the House will acquit me of any discourtesy if I decline to argue the matter now. If he wishes to challenge my decision in the matter, I must leave him to take any remedy which he thinks right. To allow him to consider his position, I will declare the principle on which I decided. I took the view that the hon. Member's Question was barred at this time by the Resolution of the House of 16th February, 1961.

Miss Bacon

Further to the point of order. Could you, Mr. Speaker, explain a little more, since I take it that my hon. Friend did not seek to raise the question of the Royal Prerogative of Mercy, but merely to ask why the Home Secretary failed in not revoking this man's licence some time ago when it was shown that he had homicidal tendencies—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Lady will hear me. I think that there are very good reasons in this context why I should not go further than to help the hon. Member and the hon. Lady as far as I can by stating quite firmly the principle on which I have gone. I cannot go further now.