HL Deb 30 July 1919 vol 36 cc5-44

EARL STANHOPE rose to move—

"That whereas His Majesty's Government have refused to grant a judicial inquiry, this House do appoint a Select Committee to examine the circumstances connected with the dismissal of Miss Violet Douglas-Pennant from the Women's Royal Air Force, and that the said Committee have power to call witnesses, to take evidence on oath, and to ask for the production of documents."

The noble Earl said: My Lords, the case of Miss Douglas-Pennant was debated at considerable length in your Lordships' House just two months ago. 'Therefore I do not propose to weary your Lordships by recapitulating the arguments then put forward, but I will state as briefly as I can the salient facts in this case. Then it will be my duty to lay before your Lordships some additional information which you did not have on the last occasion, and also to ask the noble Lord, Lord Weir, who is present in the House to-day, certain definite questions of which I have given him private notice. Yesterday the Leader of your Lordships' House lectured your Lordships somewhat severely upon the respect due from one House to another. The last occasion on which this subject was discussed in your Lordships' House you decided by a majority of more than three to one that a judicial Inquiry should be held. And what was the result of your Lordships' decision? The Government merely announced in reply to the question of a private member in another place that they did not intend to hold this inquiry. Obviously I should be neglecting my duty to your Lordships' House, and stultifying the decision that you came to, if I did not give your Lordships an opportunity of taking such action as lay in your power. It is for that amongst other reasons—much more serious reasons—that I have again put the Motion on the Paper to-day.

I will draw your Lordships' attention to a second White Paper containing correspondence in regard to this case, and to a somewhat curious coincidence. The first White Paper was placed in your Lordships' hands on the morning of the debate in this House on the last occasion, May 29th, and the second White Paper was issued to your Lordships on the morning on which this Motion originally was to have come on, July 14. What is the reason? Why should those two Papers have been issued on the morning on which this question was to be debated in your Lordships' House? I think that if your Lordships will examine the Papers you will see the reason. If you examine them cursorily they appear to be a somewhat strong indictment against Miss Pennant, but the more you examine them the more you realise that they bear out her case and make it stronger than it was before; and I am bound to add it is somewhat hard on one of the ladies mentioned in this case, Miss Leonard, who claims to have reorganised the office of the Air Force and to have practically completed her work in April, for not a single one of the letters issued before Miss Pennant became Commandant has been signed. It may be that the office is not so well organised as Miss Leonard imagines, and therefore no signatures were put to these letters. It may also be that those signatures may be extremely inconvenient. I will tell your Lordships why. The Selection Board which chose candidates was composed amongst others of Mrs. Beatty, Miss Pratt and Miss Andrew. Those are the three women officers who resigned on July 1st. As your Lordships know I stated on the last occasion, and it appears to be fairly clear from a study of this White Paper, that the real reason why they resigned was because Miss Pennant refused to appoint five ladies to very important positions for which she thought they had not sufficient experience. Your Lordships will see that the dates in the case tally.

I turn to the bare outline of this case. On August 7 of last year the Under-Secretary of State for the Air Force, in reply to a question in another place, said— The Air Council have every confidence in Miss Pennant's ability and discretion.… She was appointed to her present position (Commandant of the Women's Royal Air Force) because her experience and qualifications render her, in the view of the Air Council, the most suitable person available to carry out the duties attaching to it. Quite obviously that statement must have been issued with the authority of Lord Weir. On August 16 Miss Pennant tendered her resignation as Commandant of the Royal Air Force, and the reasons she gave for her resignation were almost identical with those given by Miss Pratt (49A of the second White Paper). Miss Pennant's resignation was refused, and Colonel Bersey, who was the chief stumbling block to progress, was relieved of his appointment. On August 28, only eleven days after Miss Pennant's resignation had been refused, Miss Pennant was summarily dismissed.

I asked the noble Lord, Lord Weir, what it was that caused him to change his views from those stated on August 7 in another place—only three weeks before—and what it was that caused him to refuse her resignation on August 17, and to have her summarily dismissed on August 28, eleven days after? Had he changed his mind because an adverse report in writing had been made on Miss Pennant by General Paine or General Brancker, the only two officers under whose direction she served? We know there was no adverse report. In the letter of General Seely to Miss Pennant on February 11 (No. 26 first White Paper) General Seely writes— No written reports were made. Lord Weir satisfied himself as the result of very careful inquiry that you were not so well suited to carry out the duties of the appointment as other candidates who had more experience of that class of work. Yet only three weeks before August 7 Lord Weir stated—or it was stated on behalf of Lord Weir—that Miss Pennant was appointed for those very reasons. What caused him to change his mind?

Let me read to your Lordships a paragraph in the King's Regulations for the Royal Air Force—paragraph 133. It is laid down there that an adverse report will be made out in the first instance by the C.O. or other immediate superior of the officer reported upon, and will be communicated to the officer concerned who will initial the report at the place assigned to him for the purpose to show that he has seen it. Why was that policy not carried out in regard to Miss Pennant? There was no report to show and no report to initial. Then on whose report was she dismissed? What were the reasons for her dismissal? Three reasons were given, the first by General Brancker. He told her, "You are dismissed not because you are inefficient—you are very efficient—but because you are so grossly unpopular with all who come in contact with you that no one can work with you." I will have something to say with regard to the question of popularity presently.

The second reason is that given by the noble Lord, Lord Weir, himself in the letter to Miss Pennant of September 6, in which he writes— I had definitely come to the conclusion that you would not be successful in solving the difficulties which confronted you … and in particular in obtaining the sympathetic co-operation of the other women's organisations. The chief obstacle and the chief difficulty with which Miss Pennant had to contend in order to make satisfactory progress was the blocking of Colonel Bersey, and Lord Weir appears to agree with that, because he approved of Colonel Bersey being replaced by another officer. He gave Miss Pennant exactly eleven days to get Colonel Bersey's successor instructed in his work, and to see whether she was found capable of solving these difficulties or not. Obviously the real reason is the second part of Lord Weir's statement that Miss Pennant was unable to gain the sympathetic cooperation of the other women's organisations. Did he ask Miss Pennant whether that was the case? What evidence did he take? Miss Pennant was never asked by Lord Weir, or as far as I can find out by anyone else, whether she had got on satisfactorily with the other organisations or not.

Now I come to the third reason. It is contained in Lady Rhondda's report (72a of the second White Paper). It is a remarkable document. In the first place she makes a comparison between the Women's Royal Naval Service and the Women's Royal Air Force. It was Lady Rhondda's duty to know, and undoubtedly Lord Weir also must have known, that no possible comparison could be made between those two Forces, and for this reason. The Women's Royal Naval Service started from small beginnings and gradually grew. It always had its proper complement of officers, and therefore the organisation was comparatively easy. The Women's Royal Air Force started in this way. Fourteen thousand women and 53 women officers were transferred from Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps, and 2,000 women and 20 officers were transferred from the Women's Royal Naval Service. When Miss Pennant was appointed Commandant she found 16,000 women and only 73 women officers. I ask you how any comparison can be made between the Force which gradually grew, and one which started under such conditions.

The point which Lady Rhondda makes is this. She says there is a paucity of women officers; Miss Pennant complained of exactly the same thing. As Lord Weir knows, it was by her personal efforts that she succeeded in obtaining accommodation from the London County Council to be able to train women officers in batches of 200 at a time. That was not due to other people in the Office, who apparently thought that accommodation for 25 officers was sufficient. Miss Pennant realised the necessity and arranged accommodation for the 200.

What is the third reason in Lady Rhondda's Report? The foundation of her charge is really this, that Miss Pennant refused or had failed to appoint senior women officers. Those of your Lordships who have seen something of the organisation of the Army and of other military forces in this war will realise what a proposal that was to make. What would you do if you were appointed as a Major-General to command several thousand men scattered about over a very wide area, without a single regimental officer or noncommissioned officer to assist you? What in the world would you do, and what would be the use of you if you were so appointed? The first thing quite obviously is to appoint women to each unit, and when you have got those women officers appointed to each unit, then, and only then, can you appoint senior officers to supervise and help them in their work. But to reverse the position is merely a question of making jobs, and not helping the organisation of the Force.

I turn to the question of the dismissal itself. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack when this case came before your Lordships on the last occasion stated that this was not an individual case, and he gave your Lordships to understand that if you agreed to an Inquiry in this case you would be flooded with a multiplicity of other cases. It is news to me that justice should be refused to any individual, or a large number of individuals, because the cases are numerous. I do not know whether the Lord Chancellor is now going to advise His Majesty's Judges to shorten their hours of labour and demand increased salaries, or refuse to take any cases at all because they are too numerous, but I should be surprised if he said that was so.

But, as a matter of fact, these cases are not numerous. The noble and learned Lord did not give any very great proof of his knowledge of military law and military customs when he visited the Expeditionary Force during the war, and I am not sure whether he can tell me what are the Regulations under which an officer can be dismissed from the Army. I have had considerable experience of the Army and I will tell you, and I am reinforced in my opinion by replies which were given in another place on July 15. No officer can be dismissed from the Army or the Air Force under any section of the Army Act except by sentence of a general Court-Martial. Miss Pennant was not given a Court-Martial. But officers may be asked to resign or to retire under several sections of the Pay Warrant and under one section of the Pay Warrant they may be dismissed from the Army. The wording of that one section, No. 525, is this— An officer shall be liable to be removed from Our Army at any time for misconduct. Miss Pennant was not called upon to resign her commission. She was dismissed, and therefore, as the direct and, as I submit, as the natural result of Lord Weir's action in dismissing Miss Pennant from the Air Force, a stigma attached to her name, and every sort of scandal as regards her personal character was spread. Any officer who is dismissed from the Service in that way is invariably turned out of any club to which he belongs. He must have done some disgraceful act. It was quite natural that those who heard Miss Pennant had been dismissed from the Air Force should conclude that she too had done a disgraceful act. She has been described as the mistress of various people, and every sort of charge of the worst description has been made against her personal character. But I am quite prepared to grant that the Air Council and Lord Weir himself stated that there was no charge against Miss Pennant's personal character. If that be the case, how was it that she was dismissed from the Army for misconduct? Quite obviously, the noble Lord set aside the King's Regulations, and disregarded the law.

There is one other argument that might be put forward, that Miss Pennant was not an officer in the Air Force, and therefore she would not come under any of the Regulations of that Force. I put it to the Government—can they produce a single other case of an individual who is not an officer being ordered to wear the uniform of that Force? Only this year His Majesty's Government passed a clause in the Army Annual Act enabling them to prosecute individuals for selling even articles of equipment to those who were not entitled to wear them. If you prosecute individuals, men in the street, for wearing uniform when they are not entitled to it, why was Miss Pennant not Court-martialled for wearing uniform when she was not entitled to it? And why was not General Paine, who ordered her to wear it, not Court-martialied? And why are the Air Ministry, who advanced the money to buy that uniform, not dealt with for expenditure which obviously was illegal? Whichever way you like to take it, if Miss Pennant was an officer of the Air Force then she was dismissed contrary to Regulations; if she was not an officer of the Air Force what right had she to wear uniform, and why did His Majesty's Government permit it? They prosecute the individual in the street; they are not prepared to take action with regard to themselves when they break the law.

Miss Pennant, although she had been injured in this way, does not demand reparation. What she asks is that an Inquiry should be made and His Majesty's Government have refused to grant that Inquiry. May I read to you a passage out of Magna Charta, which appears to me absolutely to meet the case— No freeman shall be taken or imprisoned or be disseised of his freehold or liberties, or free customs, or be outlawed or exiled, or any otherwise damaged, nor will we pass upon him nor send upon him, but by lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land. Does any noble Lord contend that Miss Pennant has not been "otherwise damaged," and contrary to the law of the land? How was this great Charter obtained? We read that "the oppressions of a tyrannical Sovereign compelled a confederation of the Barons to take up arms for the redress of grievances." His Majesty's Government have refused an Inquiry. The House of Commons—the elected House—is totally uninterested in safeguarding the rights of people to a trial; it is left to the Peers of this Realm to take action against oppressions, this time of a tyrannical bureaucracy, in order that they should insist on a right of trial.

Why does His Majesty's Government refuse an Inquiry? One reason put forward is the score of expense—expense from the most profligate Government this country has ever had. The second reason is that Miss Pennant occupies an influential position. You cannot do sixteen years in the public service without getting an influential position. I have here a few quotations from a very large number of letters which have been received—I am flooded with letters even here. I should like to read you to start with one telegram that I received as I came to this House which was sent to me by Commissioner Lamb of the Salvation Army. He says— Elementary justice and need for sustaining organised discipline in national life in these days of unrest call for compliance in Miss Douglas-Pennant's request. God speed. I have also resolutions passed by the Court of Governors of the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire, from the City Council of Bangor, from a meeting representing 3,000 members of Anglesea workers, from the Bangor Trades and Labour Council, from the Holyhead Trades and Labour Council, and from the Association of Women Clerks and Secretaries in London. Here is a letter from a person who says— I have worked on many committees with Miss Douglas-Pennant and was much impressed by her wise judgment., and high sense of public duty. Here is another written by one who in 1914–1915 had the privilege of working on a committee under Miss Douglas-Pennant and who "appreciated her wonderfully clear brain, reasoning powers, sympathy, and tact." Truly reasons why she should not be appointed Commandant of the Women's Royal Air Force! The last quotation with which I will trouble your Lordships is from the North Wales Quarrymen's Union— From our knowledge of Miss Pennant, and our experience of her work as Insurance Commissioner, we can assure you that all societies in North Wales have the highest regard for her administrative capacity, fair dealing, and her efficiency as a public official. That is the sort of influence Miss Douglas-Pennant exercises, and that is put forward as a reason why she should not have an Inquiry.

Now, what is the real reason? The real reason—I say it with a full realisation of the charge I am about to make—is because His Majesty's Government fear the scandals which will come to light when this Inquiry is held. I will give your Lordships only one instance, but it happens to be an instance of which I have seen almost the whole of the evidence and several of the witnesses. I am convinced in my own mind that their statements are true. Grave scandals began to occur in a large Royal Air Force depôt near London. The lady in charge of the women's hostel wrote several letters to the Air Ministry complaining of the situation, but not one of those letters was delivered to Miss Pennant. Eventually, however, rumours reached Miss Pennant's ears; she sent for the officer and had an interview with her. She then found out that the colonel in charge of that camp was giving all-night leave to the girls who were training as motor drivers at that depôt; that they were constantly returning from London, very often drunk, at four o'clock in the morning in Government motor-cars. She found that there were grave scandals in regard to that officer, this colonel, and two women officers in the camp. What did Miss Pennant do? She decided at once to remove those two women officers—about whom at that time there was nothing more than scandal—to two separate camps well away from where they were before. She decided to replace the lady who was in charge of the hostel—whose health threatened to break down, and who obviously needed an urgent rest—by some one who was in a better state of health to undertake so heavy a task. Further, she reported the matter to her superior.

Then Miss Douglas-Pennant was dismissed. What happened? Miss Pennant's successor, I imagine, was kept in the dark in the same way as had been Miss Pennant; she knew nothing of what had gone on before. The colonel in charge of that camp was not court-martialled, but a system of "general post" in regard to commanders of various depôts took place for his benefit. First of all he was sent down to a depôt some distance from London, and then he was moved back again to a depôt near London—the very depot at which one of the women, about whom there had been these previous scandals, was quartered. This colonel and this woman occupied the same house, and, finally, they were discovered by their landlady in the same room, in flagrante delicto, at three o'clock in the morning. That is the sort of thing that was going on, and that is the sort of thing which the Government fear will come out at this Inquiry.

I would remind your Lordships that it is not Miss Pennant who is refusing this Inquiry; it is His Majesty's Government; and, in the words of Robert Burns— There's none ever feared that the truth should be heard Save those whom the truth would indict. I do not ask your Lordships to say when you vote whether you consider that Miss Douglas-Pennant was a good or bad commandant of the Women's Royal Air Force. That is not the question before the House. All I ask is that your Lordships should feel that this is a case in which an Inquiry should be held.


Hear, hear.


I press it far less on the ground that justice should be done to Miss Pennant than I do on wider grounds. I ask those of your Lordships who desire to uphold the purity of the public service, or those of you who are not content that a Minister should set himself above the Regulations, or those of you who still uphold the rights of every freeman of this country to a trial—those of you who support one or all of those great principles should vote for my Motion; and I ask still further that those of your Lordships who disapprove of those principles will vote against it. This is not a case where any noble Lord can say, "I do not know, and therefore I cannot vote." The issue is quite clear—an Inquiry should be held or should not be held; and that issue is in your Lordships' hands. I beg to move.

Moved, That whereas His Majesty's Government have refused to grant a judicial inquiry, this House do appoint a Select-Committee to examine the circumstances connected with the dismissal of Miss Violet Douglas-Pennant from the Women's Royal Air Force, and that the said Committee have power to call witnesses, to take evidence on oath, and to ask for the production of documents.—(Earl Stanhope.)


My Lords, in the first place I am fully conscious of the necessity for expressing my deep and sincere regret at my inability until now to appear in this House for the purpose of amplifying the explanations contained in my correspondence with the Prime Minister and with the Secretary of State for Air in regard to this case of Miss Douglas-Pennant. My inability to be present at the first debate in this House was due to my absence in France. My absence on May 29 was due to the fact that I had arranged to sail from Liverpool to New York on May 28, and, although at the last moment this sailing was postponed to May 31, I was personally unable to take advantage of the postponement at very short notice due to my being in Scotland. Accordingly, I venture to ask your Lordships to absolve me from any charge of either lack of sense of duty or of courtesy. At the same time, may I say that my regret in this matter is a very genuine one, as I feel that my absence has contributed somewhat to the atmosphere of mystery, suspicion, and complexity which has come to surround this case quite unnecessarily, as I hope to show to your Lordships' satisfaction.

I propose to come at once to the three points in the case which appear to me really fundamental. These points are, first, Did I act within my powers in terminating Miss Douglas-Pennant's service in the Women's Royal Air Force? Secondly, What caused me to give the order for the termination of that service, and whether my decision was genuinely my own or was arrived at as a result of influence or pressure of others either outside the Air Ministry or in it? Thirdly, What caused me to recommend the Prime Minister to refuse an Inquiry after he had received Mr. Harmsworth's Report? These three points appear to me fundamental. I desire, first, to make quite clear that I claim no special consideration in this matter on account of my inexperience of She functions of a Secretary of State, or of Government Departments, or of their administration. I have a clear conviction that I arrived at my decision in the best interests of the Service and in the fulfilment of my duty and of my responsibility.

Dealing with the first point on which the noble Earl who opened the debate has laid so much stress, he says, in effect, that Miss Douglas-Pennant was arbitrarily dismissed from the service in defiance of King's Regulations and without regard to the procedure laid down for cases of dismissal, and that my action really implied misconduct on Miss Douglas-Pennant's part. My answer to that is that I was competently advised that Miss Douglas-Pennant was not an enrolled member of the Women's Royal Air Force, that she was not paid from Air Force funds, and that I was acting entirely within my rights. In effect, Miss Douglas-Pennant was temporarily loaned from another Department, and the result of my decision was to cause her re-transfer to that Department, and no reflection whatever on her personal character was either implied or suggested.

Dealing now with the factors which, taken together, caused me to arrive at the conclusion that Miss Douglas-Pennant was not the right woman to solve the difficult problems of putting the Womens Royal Air Force on a proper basis, I will recite them as definitely and clearly as I can, while asking you to appreciate the difficulty of re-creating the atmosphere and circumstances surrounding a decision of eleven months ago. The two White Papers which have been published make clear the conditions on which the Welsh Insurance Commission put the services of Miss Douglas-Pennant at the disposal of the Air Council. The Papers indicate also that my policy was to give her full support in the task entrusted to her, and that this policy was continued up to a date towards the end of August last year.

I must now refer to certain incidents recorded in the published correspondence. First there was the resignation of three senior officers serving under Miss DouglasPennant—Miss Pratt, Mrs. Beatty, and Miss Andrew. The correspondence shows, and Miss Douglas-Pennant agrees, that I supported her unqualifiedly in that particular instance. I regretted, however, the loss of these officers at a time when capable senior officers were very badly needed, and the incident undoubtedly slightly weakened my confidence in Miss Douglas-Pennant. I saw Miss Andrew personally, and her criticism of the organisation caused me to have some misgivings. The next incident to which I refer was the communication to me by General Paine of his conclusion that Colonel Bersey must be superseded, and that Miss Douglas-Pennant and the officer appointed to replace Colonel Bersey should be tried for a month and, if matters were not put right, whoever was to blame must go. This incident further increased my misgivings. General Paine was the member of the Air Council responsible to me for the personnel of the Royal Air Force and for the organisation and running of the Women's Royal Air Force. General Paine consistently supported Miss Douglas-Pennant, but at the same time he never failed to tell me that things were not going well or that the difficulties appeared to increase, and he always left me with the definite impression that he had some doubt as to whether Miss Douglas-Pennant was going to be able to pull the Department round successfully. Further, he referred on several occasions to difficulties in cooperation with other women's organisations. My position, accordingly, towards the end of August was that I had supported Miss Douglas-Pennant and, through General Paine, had given her every chance; but I was conscious of a feeling of distinct uneasiness.

At this stage I must explain the state of the Royal Air Force in regard to manpower at the particular time in question. At this time we had in hand an enormous programme of expansion involving a very serious demand on the War Cabinet for additional man-power, and it is no secret that there was a very strong disinclination to grant us what was required. Briefly, we were told to make better use of the men we had and to use more women. In this situation I received a letter from the Ministry of National Service covering the Report of Lady Rhondda which is published in the White Paper, and if had an intimation that the Ministry of National Service could no longer undertake the responsibility of allocating women to the Royal Air Force unless radical improvements were effected. The authority of the Ministry of National Service to speak in this matter was fully dealt with by the noble Marquess, the Finance Member of the Air Council, on May 29.

In the presence of this intimation I felt that the position in regard to the Force was much more critical than General Paine had represented it to be and that immediate remedies must be found. As I have explained, I had misgivings about the Commandant, and I now found the situation to be more exacting and difficult than I had supposed. At about the same time I had decided that it would be in the interests of the Air Force to make use of General Paine's peculiarly suitable qualities in the important post, the newly-created post, of Inspector-General of the Royal Air Force, and to appoint General Brawler to succeed him as Master-General of Personnel. Accordingly, I considered the situation as a whole and I came to the definite conclusion that what had to be done was to give the new Master-General of Personnel a fresh start as regards the control of what was one of his most difficult Departments—the Women's Royal Air Force. This involved the return of Miss Pennant to her duties in the Department which had placed her services at the disposal of the Air Council and where, I understand, she had rendered distinguished service and would be welcome. All that Miss Pennant had to do was to resume her work in the Department which had lent her and that point was made quite clear to her at the time, as may be seen by the letter of September 2 on pages 5 and 6 of the first White Paper.

Summing up at this stage, the broad reason I give for the termination of Miss Pennant's services was that I felt she was not the right woman for the job. The Force was not going well. My faith in her was shaken. We were at a critical period in regard to the whole Air Force. I made my decision. I acted on that decision. I appointed a successor. Matters improved, and I am personally convinced that I did the right thing. I have done my best to discover why the bona fides of my action have been questioned. Perhaps something of this may be due to the fact that, as a rule, a Minister does not act by himself. Generally, the executive head of the Department concerned seeks the Minister's approval for his proposed action. In the case we are discussing the executive head of the Department, General Paine, had himself been transferred to another position, added to which he was overseas and his successor did not know the circumstances of the case. Accordingly, under these conditions and in the atmosphere which I have attempted to define to you, I acted myself and the whole responsibility is mine. It may be alleged that I should have instituted some special Inquiry before acting in that manner. I can only say that that is foreign to my methods of working. Such an investigation would have taken a long time and I preferred the course of appointing a. new Commandant, trusting her to find out what the difficulties were and to put those difficulties right; and, fortunately, such was the course of events.

In regard to outside influence, I wish to deny as explicitly as I am able that my decision was influenced by pressure of any individual, or group of individuals, outside or inside of the Air Ministry, other than the part played by the recruiting difficulty of the Ministry of National Service. As to the existence of any intrigue or conspiracy in the Air Ministry itself, or outside of it, I wish to make it clear that I was never told by General Paine of the existence, or of any rumour of the existence, of any such intrigue or conspiracy against Miss Pennant. Nor did General Paine ever tell me of Miss Pennant herself having brought forward any such allegation; nor did Miss Pennant herself indicate in any way to me, prior to her supersession, the existence of any conspiracy. At this stage I wish to clear up a matter which would appear to show a degree of inconsistency on my part. On August 7, in the House of Commons, Major Baird, the Under-Secretary for Air, stated that the Air Council had every confidence in Miss Pennant's ability and discretion. I wish to say that at that date I had not communicated to Major Baird the misgivings which I felt about Miss Pennant. As it happened, I was out of London when the statement was made in the House, and I was not personally consulted in regard to it.

Coming to my third fundamental question—my recommendation to the Prime Minister to refuse an Inquiry—while Mr. Harmsworth was conducting his investigation with a view to advising the Prime Minister, I saw Mr. Harmsworth on several occasions, and after he had made his Report he told me of his recommendation that an Inquiry should be held. We spoke together quite frankly of the whole matter, and he informed me that his reason was that the best and easiest course was to have an Inquiry as he saw no other means of satisfying Miss Pennant. We discussed together the nature of any such Inquiry and the possible form it might take, without either of us seeing any sound, practicable or useful course of action. Together we went to see the Prime Minister and I explained that I had no personal objections whatever to the Inquiry being held, but I failed to see the existence of any genuine basis for it, or any definite scheme under which the Inquiry could be conducted, or, finally, any real good which could eventuate from that Inquiry. At this time and with the whole circumstances fairly fresh in my mind, the view of an Inquiry which I ex- pressed to the Prime Minister and to Mr. Harmsworth was that it would last ten minutes and that I would be the only witness. As neither the Prime Minister nor Mr. Harmsworth nor myself could satisfy himself on those points which I have mentioned, the matter was left with the Prime Minister to settle, after he had received a letter which I promised to send him and which is contained in the first Paper, dated December 4.

There is one statement made by Miss Douglas-Pennant to which I wish to make specific reference. It is to the effect that the termination of her services was the result of an intrigue which had as its object the appointment of Mrs. Chalmers Watson to succeed her; in other words, it is a charge of jobbery. I wish to make it quite clear that I dealt with the question of Miss Douglas-Pennant's successor to a very large extent personally. As a matter of fact it was my personal desire to have as her successor a lady whose name has not even been mentioned by Miss Pennant, and without any disrespect to the present admirable Commandant of the Women's Royal Air Force I feel that the Force would have been in very good hands if I had been able to induce this particular lady to accept the position.

As it was, this lady could not be induced to come to the Force, and at my request a list of I believe six names was put before me. I put my pen at once through three of the names. Mrs. Chalmers Watson, who was one of three remaining names, was not offered the position, and I understood at the time that Mrs. Chalmers Watson could not have accepted the position even if it had been offered to her. Miss Rachel Crowdy was offered the position, but the authorities would not release her, and Mrs. Gwynne Vaughan was asked and accepted. The position with regard to Dame Katherine Furse is, that I personally sounded her in regard to the post but she felt that she preferred to remain with the Admiralty, and in any case the Admiralty would not release her. I fail to trace any exercise of influence, or any basis whatever on which to found a charge of jobbery in connection with that appointment.

Miss Douglas-Pennant's case, as your Lordships will have seen from the White Paper, has undergone a striking modification since it was first made. The essence of it now is that she was prevented from succeeding in her work by the activities of a clique inside and outside the Air Ministry conspiring and intriguing to prevent her introducing the much-needed reforms, which no one queries or questions, into the organisation of the Women's Royal Air Force. I am not in a position to state whether or not such a conspiracy existed. I can only express my profound disbelief with the existence of such a tremendously far-reaching scheme as she has portrayed, but I do wish to point out that practically none of the persons charged by Miss Douglas-Pennant in this connection had any sort or part whatever in leading me to arrive at the decision to terminate her services, the actual grounds of which I have already covered and explained.

If intrigue did exist it is a matter of surprise to me that Miss Douglas-Pennant, who had direct access by my own original orders to the Master-General of Personnel—there was only General Paine between Miss Douglas Pennant and myself—did not reveal its existence through him to me, provided always that she could not crush it herself. What, in fact, we required in the "Women's Royal Air Force at that time was a Commandant who could clear difficulties even of that character out of the way, and by the action we took we succeeded in obtaining one.

I have given your Lordships the factors and the elements which caused me to make the decision which has brought about this controversy. I know of no other factor which weighed with me, and on reflection I am convinced that I would take the same course to-morrow under the same circumstances. I would ask you to believe that the interest of the Service was the sole factor which weighed with me; the need for an efficient women's service was very great indeed; the war situation was very exacting, and promptness in action counted for a very great deal.

There is one matter as to which I feel a real and genuine regret. It is that to which I have referred in my letter to the Prime Minister. I am conscious of a hick of consideration shown to Miss Douglas-Pennant in connection with the full month's trial promised by General Paine. As a reason for that I can only plead forgetfulness at the moment. I also feel that I might have been rather more definite and clear with Miss Douglas-Pennant, and have put it to her quite frankly that in my opinion she had not been successful in her work, instead of telling her that I did not think she was going to be successful quick enough. That is the difference.

Your Lordships will probably desire that I should reply definitely to the questions put to me by the noble Earl, other than those which I have covered in my explanation. He asks, if I was informed on August 17 that Miss Douglas-Pennant had tendered her resignation, and why I refused to accept the resignation? My answer is that General Paine informed me of his action in refusing to accept Miss Douglas-Pennant's resignation, and his decision released Colonel Bersey from those duties. The two things were concurrent. At that time I had not come to my decision in regard to a change of Commandant. I am asked, if any report was made in writing or verbally by General Paine or General Brancker recommending that Miss Douglas-Pennant be dismissed. The answer is in the negative. In regard to the question as to the specific reasons for the supersession, I have done my best to give your Lordships the reasons contributing to my decision. The noble Earl also in his note to me inquires if I have already apologised. I presume he refers to my admitted lack of consideration in connection with the month's notice. I have expressed my regret for this in my letter to the Prime Minister; that expression of regret has been conveyed to Miss Douglas-Pennant, but if any further apology is thought necessary by the noble Earl I now, and here, tender that apology.

In all these circumstances your Lordships will appreciate that, although I have not the slightest personal objection to the holding of an Inquiry, I am still unable to understand what possible good could come from it. As I see it, no Inquiry and no possible findings could substantially improve Miss Douglas-Pennant's position. None of the official Statements with which I have been connected contained any personal reflection upon Miss Douglas-Pennant's character. In effect I have said that she is a capable and efficient woman, but in my opinion she was not suitable for pulling the particular job round quick enough. I ask your Lordships to believe in the possibility of a lady being a wholly admirable Welsh Insurance Commissioner and yet being unable rapidly to achieve good results as Commandant of the Women's Royal Air Force. A Committee of Inquiry might say I was wrong in coming to that opinion, and that I did not give her a long enough trial. After all that would only mean a difference of opinion between the Committee and myself. An Inquiry might establish the existence in the Department of a great deal of petty intrigue, but I utterly fail to understand how such a finding could do any more than disclose the admitted difficulties with which Miss Douglas-Pennant had to contend in her Department.

I appreciate the point of view of many of your Lordships, who would support the holding of an Inquiry in order to give an opportunity of being heard to the large number of people against whom Miss Douglas-Pennant has now made charges and allegations, but I consider that this would not warrant the waste of public money and the loss of time involved in such an Inquiry, which could disclose nothing of any real value to the country. Surely the important principle involved far outweighs such considerations. By the concession of an Inquiry an extremely dangerous precedent would be created, having grave reaction on the exercise by Ministers of the Crown of the discretion necessarily vested in them in the interests of the country. Your Lordships will appreciate the importance of that factor, and realise the duty which rests upon a Minister to do the best he can for the State, to make the best possible arrangements, to choose the right people, and not to hesitate to change people, even if it gives pain to them and raises difficulties for himself. Nothing matters except, in this case, the welfare of the service; and at that time nothing much mattered but the prosecution of the war. It is a hard burden laid upon a Minister, to have to decide in cases like this. If he shirks that burden he fails in his duty. I have stated to your Lordships as clearly and shortly as I am able the grounds for my action, in pursuance of that responsibility and of that duty.


My Lords, I have listened very carefully to the speech of the noble Lord who has just addressed the House, and I had hoped that he would have said something which would have given us a reason for not pressing this Motion. I cannot conceive it possible to make a stronger case in favour of an Inquiry than was the speech which Lord Weir has just addressed to us. He spoke of the conduct and ability of Miss Douglas-Pennant, and he said he regretted that she was not more successful in her work. I would ask how she could possibly be successful in the circumstances of which we have already heard? Whether the noble Lord believes in a conspiracy or not a good many people do believe in it, and they believe that everything possible was done so that this lady should not be successful. I say that after his speech an Inquiry is demanded. When he brings up the work and the character of so many officials we want to know something more about those officials. Of course it is impossible to go through a great war without a great many mistakes being made, and we have heard of some in the speech of the noble Lord. People are very anxious to find out why it is that this Inquiry has not been granted. Lord Weir said that he personally had no objection to an Inquiry, but he thought no good could come from it. I think a great deal of good could come from it. It would at any rate stop a great deal of the nonsense of which we have heard so much, both inside and outside this House. I had intended to say something of a more formal character. I will not refer to my personal observations of Miss Douglas-Pennant's work as a commissioner at Cardiff, my native place. I happened to ask a leading citizen there, who was well acquainted with her and her work, what he thought of her, and the reply was, "She is a most gracious lady." That testimony not only comes from one man but it is endorsed by every one who has been associated with her. Her unassuming demeanour and kindness of heart and her desire for the social welfare of the people have won for her unbounded esteem and confidence. I will say no more. We have had several debates on this question and I trust that we are going to make a good job of it on this occasion. I think it is time to end this question and see what there is in it, anyhow. It is a question which appeals to our chivalry, and I believe it shall not appeal in vain.


My Lords, I cannot help feeling, in spite of the speech made by Lord Weir in defence of himself and his Department, that it is quite essential that this Inquiry should be held. I think the thing has gone far beyond the personal claims or grievances of Miss Douglas-Pennant. The question, it now seems to me, is not whether the noble Lord at the head of the Department may have made mistakes, though he acted for the best in the emergency of the moment. If that is so, let us concede it, and if this Inquiry were being asked for in the height of the war your Lordships might well say that you must not disturb the work of the Department, even though some injustice might be inflicted upon some individual. We are now in times of peace and able at leisure to overhaul the way that Department was conducted.

I am rather surprised that the noble Lord, in his carefully prepared defence, did not touch upon the very serious allegation made by the noble Earl who brought forward this Motion. He may say that he had not notice of it. Perhaps he had not, but the allegation is—I am talking with reference to the Colonel and those women going out all night with permits from him and returning early in the morning in Government lorries. Either that matter came before the noble Lord or it did not, and if it did not it means that very important and serious charges were being made against high persons in his Department of which he knew nothing. If it is so, that rather points to grave mismanagement and neglect, and I might almost say connivance, on the part of somebody with the persons accused to keep the noble Lord uninformed. If the noble Lord did know of this, I am surprised that he did not touch upon it to-day.

We are not asked to-day to decide whether this lady was justly or unjustly dismissed. What we are asked to do is to appoint a Committee to inquire whether it was so or not. We are not now trying the issue; we are merely asked to say whether there is any suit to be tried. The noble Lord in his defence seemed to say that there might have been intrigue, there might have been manœuvres, and there might have been jealousies, but that they did not come to his knowledge and they did not influence his action. But in a great Department, if there were not only intrigues and jealousies, but if there was, as is alleged, grave misconduct, and if that misconduct was hushed up by the colonel who was put to another place and presently was brought back and enabled to be in close touch with one of these women against whom grave misconduct was alleged, then I say the efficiency of the Department was in danger, and it is essential that the whole thing should be gone into. The suggestion is that there was an Augean stable. If there was one it should be cleansed. If there was not one, then the person against whom there was suspicion ought to be cleared of the suspicion.


My Lords, I oppose this Motion on the broad ground that if you grant this Inquiry you will open the door to scores of persons with grievances just as acute as those under which Miss Douglas-Pennant is labouring, and they will ask you to give them the same tribunal. And how can you? Surely if Miss Douglas-Pennant wishes to have mole light thrown on her case she has only to publish some of those accusations and statements that we see in the White Paper, and if they have not sufficient bite in them, I suggest that she should supply a little more ginger to bring them up to the requisite standard of libel. Moreover, I am not satisfied that this case would ever have reached the prominence it has, had not Miss Douglas-Pennant been the happy possessor of very good friends. I quite recognise that her extraordinary pluck and moral courage, shown in the way that she has fought this case, has helped her, but I wonder whether if Miss Brown of Putney, or Miss Jones of Cricklewood had lost their positions—positions perhaps not so great, but of just as much importance to them—they would manage to have their case pushed and boosted in both Houses of Parliament as this has been. I doubt it.

May I put this view of the case to your Lordships. In an attack, after the men have gone over the top, if a man is killed nobody thinks of waiting to hold art inquest over him. I think we should regard Miss Douglas-Pennant as a casualty on the civil side of the war. She was one of those splendid women who were fighting the Germans just as much as the soldiers were, and she became a casualty. It is true that she was knocked over by, so to speak, her own artillery, but nevertheless she became a casualty. Are we, when the civil side of the war is not yet over, when there are so many great questions still to be settled, to hold and wait for an Inquiry as to how, when, and where Miss Douglas-Pennant received this injury?

I do not pretend to be an authority on public affairs. I have been in the Army half my life, and naturally I do not know so much about public affairs, but I have stated how this matter strikes me. I can imagine in the years to come, if you grant this Inquiry, the offspring of one of the noble Lords who has the misfortune to be put on this Committee asking his father this question, "What did you do in the great War?" And the answer would be, "My son, I spent hours and hours, and days and days, considering whether Miss Douglas - Pennant was efficient or inefficient."


My Lords, perhaps your Lordships will permit me to make a few observations, and to reply to some of the points that have been raised in the course of the debate. First of all, I have to express to your Lordships, on behalf of the Leader of the House, his very great regret that he himself was not able to come down and personally deal with this case as he had intended. Unfortunately he was seized with a very sudden indisposition this morning, and is confined to his bed, and therefore he is unable to be here, but he asked me to express as strongly as I could on his behalf his regret that he cannot himself come down and speak.

I cannot help thinking that my noble friend Lord Stanhope really pitched the case on a wrong note. From the speech of my noble friend he would seem to suggest that certain things connected with the character and the capacity of this lady were on trial, or had been reflected upon by what has happened in the Royal Air Force. I should like to set those matters aside altogether. There is first of all, as my noble friend Lord Weir has stated, no suggestion and no reflection of any kind—no shadow of a suggestion of any kind—about the character of this lady. It would be an impertinence even to make such a suggestion. Her character is unassailed and unassailable. It stands far above any detraction that any man could ever suggest or bring against her, and I hope therefore that your Lordships will dismiss such a matter entirely from your minds. It is even an insult to the lady to suggest that such a matter could be discussed.

The other point on which my noble friend discussed the matter rests I think on an entirely false basis. He seemed to suggest that there was some reflection on the ability of the lady in question. There was no suggestion or reflection whatever on her ability. I am very glad that my noble friend behind me paid a tribute to her abilities. No one has ever heard—certainly I have never heard—anything but praise of the way in which she discharged her duties on the Welsh Insurance Commission. But we have all got very different capacities and abilities. I could select two or three of the ablest men in this House and set them to tasks which, I am quite sure, they would not perform at all well, and yet they would be tasks which might be performed by persons of much humbler capacities than those possessed by the noble Lords I could select. We are not all fit for the same jobs. And to say, because one individual man or woman is not equal to discharging a particular task, that that is a reflection on his or her general ability and capacity to discharge other tasks is really one of the most preposterous suggestions I have ever heard advanced.

May I make this observation. I am bound to say that it sometimes has struck me what a narrow kind of ability in some ways a particular faculty of organisation is, and very often how difficult it is to discover from your previous knowledge of a person whether that person had organising abilities. It is in some ways rather a narrow capacity, and all that we can say is that this lady, with her ability, with her character, and with all those qualities to which strong tribute has been paid, did not, as it turned out, succeed in the particular work of organising which she was set to do at the Royal Air Force. Surely these things are no reflection on her character or on her capacity.

I do not think that my noble friend Lord Stanhope appealed to Magna Charta in his speech to-day, but I saw a letter of his in The Times in which he appealed to Magna Charta, and appealed to your Lordships as the Barons of Runnymede, and declared that this was a question of justice, and that you must not deny justice to the humblest of His Majesty's subjects. It has nothing to do with the question of justice at all. In a question of justice you have to be charged with certain definite crimes, and for those you can be tried; they are set out in the Statute Book, and if you are found guilty you are punished, and rightly punished, for those crimes.

My noble friend takes an analogy from the Army. A more misleading analogy I never heard. He tells us that in the King's Regulations you may not be dismissed from the Army without a sentence of Court-Martial, and he really tried to make your Lordships believe that this was a parallel to that case. I am sorry to say that in the course of my duties every day it is my business, as one of the Army Council, to cause officers to resign their commissions and leave the Army, and why? Not because there is any charge against them, because, if there was a definite charge against them, or a crime, they would be Court-Martialled; but because in the opinion of their Commanding Officers, backed up by their Brigadiers and Divisional Generals, they are not efficient for that particular duty of commanding men. That is not a slur on a man's character; it is simply that he is not capable of that particular duty.

I do not wish to press the Army analogy very far. Because, as a matter of fact, there are great distinctions to be drawn. But this question itself is not merely a matter of whether, in the opinion of the Minister concerned, somebody, man or woman, is capable or incapable of discharging the duties, but of whether somebody else in a great crisis is more capable of discharging those duties—at any cost, it may be, to the feelings of individuals, and at any pain that may be inflicted. That really is the whole matter.

My noble friend Lord Weir has made a very careful statement about the reasons and the motives that led him to deal with the case as he has done. I do not know what effect that statement may have bad upon your Lordships, or what you may have thought of his judgment in the case; but it seems to me incredible that any one after listening to that statement, can have suggested or supposed that he was led by any motive but that of State necessity to take the action which he did take. And really that is the whole case.

May I go through two or three of the points with which he dealt? First of all we see that while Miss Douglas-Pennant held this particular position she was not only treated with every consideration by her chiefs, but her advice was accepted and also acted upon, and acted upon in very grave matters. We have heard the case of the five ladies whom she objected to as holding too high positions and who were placed in less well-paid (I believe) and inferior positions. We have heard the case of other three ladies who were actually dismissed from their posts on the representation of Miss Douglas-Pennant. Again, what she recommended was accepted. All through the first month of her occupation of the post, therefore, it is quite clear that she was fully supported by her chief.

Now what goes on, after all, in the mind of the chief? It is the business of a chief of a great Department to be constantly weighing up and appraising the capacities of those who are the Heads of the Departments under him. That is one of his chief businesses—to see that he is admirably served. And Lord Weir has told us of the process in his mind by which he became gradually more and more convinced that this lady was not the right woman for this particular job, and that his confidence was gradually shaken. Then you come to the final bombshell, as I may call it, when this letter comes from Sir Auckland Geddes—and there has been no suggestion, I suppose, that Sir Auckland Geddes was animated by any feeling of dislike, or jealousy, or anything of the kind. There comes this letter from Sir Auckland Geddes, in which he says that owing to the condition of affairs in that Force it will be impossible for him as the chief of National Service to go on supplying women badly needed for the Royal Air Force unless changes are made and the Air Force is better conducted. Then my noble friend Lord Weir had to take cognisance of the whole matter.

I pass by the question of the Under-Secretary's statement in the House of Commons; that has been dealt with. And I need not, I think, deal with the fortnight or the month's leave; my noble friend has deliberately done with that. Bat he has told us that, after having supported Miss Douglas-Pennant through all these difficult months, he was gradually coming to an opinion as to her suitability for the post, and that then he had to take a decision when he found that all these representations outside were so strong that actually the Force was going to lose its women unless he made some improvement in it. I cannot conceive that in a situation of that kind there is any of your Lordships who would not have acted in a similar way. And you must remember, that it was not in time of peace but in time of war when these decisions were taken and acted upon.

Then I think I ought to deal with the question of dismissal. I do not wish in a matter of this kind to deal with any tech- nical points, but, as a matter of fact, the lady was not dismissed. She had been lent, as many officials are lent, from one Department to another. She was lent from the Welsh Commission, and continued to be paid by the Welsh Commission whilst discharging these duties; and all that was done was that a letter was written to the Welsh Commission that her services, owing to certain changes, were no longer required. In fact, I think, if you look through the correspondence, the utmost trouble was taken all through by my noble friend to preserve the dignity of the lady and do as little as possible to interfere in any way with her future career.

Perhaps I ought to say one word about what is known, I think, as the Harmsworth incident. My noble friend has dealt with it at some length, and I think the only point he has not dealt with is the request that the report of Mr. Harmsworth should be published as a State paper. This report of Mr. Harmsworth is merely a document drawn up as private secretary to the Prime Minister, in order to help him to form his opinion upon a particular case; and if we were to be obliged to publish as State documents all the statements and documents drawn up by our private secretaries there would obviously be an end to those secrecies and privileges which now obtain.

Then I come to the charge that my noble friend was influenced in his selection by partiality for different ladies or different influences. He has dealt so fully and so clearly with that that I think I need hardly add a word to what he has said. As to the two ladies whose names were mentioned—Mrs. Chalmers Watson and Dame Katherine Furse—the latter preferred to remain at the Admiralty, and the other lady had no desire to take up that particular post. So that that part of the case of the influence of those ladies entirely fails.

Then when this action has been taken and this lady has left the office, another lady is appointed, and you get, by the testimony of Lord Weir himself, the fact that all goes well in the office and the business is properly done. So far you would have thought the matter might have closed. But then there are various charges brought against individuals by the lady in question. She presses for an Inquiry, and she is told that, if a prima facie case of malice or corruption is made out against any individual, an Inquiry would be held to deal with that case. No such prima facie case was made out. The matter was examined carefully by the present Secretary of State for War and he came to the clear conclusion that such prima facie case had not been established. Now, I am bound to notice, as my noble friend did, that these questions of intrigue and suggestions of evil influence were not brought to my noble friend's notice until a late date; they were not brought to his notice at all, I think, until September 2. Then, as he has said, as the case has gone on, the charges have altered. The charges, I may say, have expanded a good deal. We get a remarkable instance of that even in this debate. Wholly fresh charges, of which no one has heard a word up to the present time—grave charges of the most disagreeable kind—have been suddenly produced by my noble friend, acting as a spokesman, and flung down without an atom of truth on the floor of this House—although the noble Earl declares that he believes in the truth of these charges. I imagine, therefore, that if we have another debate on this subject we shall hear still more charges.

The question which has been raised by one or two speakers is, Are you to have an Inquiry in order to look into some of the charges which have been brought against inidviduals at the Royal Air Force in connection with this case? I think that I ought to point out to your Lordships that such a matter does not really fall within the terms of this Motion; because what some of your Lordships are now asking for is a totally different thing from an Inquiry into questions connected with the dismissal of Miss Douglas-Pennant. What is asked for is an Inquiry into the whole administration of the Air Force. You are asking for the circumstances connected with the dismissal of Miss Douglas-Pennant to be inquired into. Those circumstances have been fully gone into and clearly put before you by Lord Weir, and he has told us the exact process, stage by stage, by which his mind was formed and by which he came to his decision. Therefore, if you carry this Motion to-night, you are carrying a matter totally different from that which is being pressed by your Lordships; you are asking for an Inquiry into the general administration of the Royal Air Force and not into the circumstances which attended the removal of Miss Douglas-Pennant.

If a Minister thinks that one of the heads of his Departments is not doing the work as efficiently as it could be done, and if he thinks that some other head of Department ought to be substituted, are your Lordships to order an Inquiry into the reason why the Minister arrived at that decision? As Lord Dufferin has said, if that were done there would be no end to these Inquiries. I am familiar with a considerable number of cases where able officials have been removed from their posts, and others substituted, because those others were more capable of doing that particular duty. But further than that, if you are not only going to have an Inquiry into why an official is removed, but to have all this sort of floating scandal and stories connected with it also inquired into, there again you will have no end to Inquiries of that sort. I do not suppose that any of your Lordships have had the misfortune to be removed from a post you have occupied; but we know very well that if any of us are removed we can never believe that we are removed through any defect in ourselves or our capacity. We always assume—perhaps justly—that our removal is due to malevolence, to ill-will, to scandal or stories that have been set about with regard to us by someone else; and. as we do not imagine that one individual is powerful enough to remove us, we are rather apt to think that there is a conspiracy by people to do it, people who by their powerful and combined efforts are able to push us out of the post we held.

I submit very respectfully to your Lordships that this case has been unduly magnified; that it has been distorted out of all likeness to the original picture and the original facts; that stories of injustice and of scandals have been brought up when really the simple fact is that a particular official has been removed from a. post which she occupied. Therefore I submit that this is not a case of injustice to an individual; it is a case of the supersession of an individual by another competent official. I submit, further, that my noble friend Lord Weir through the whole of this matter has done his best—as others have done their best—to shield the dignity of this lady, and to make that passage and that transference as easy as it was possible to make it. I ask your Lordships to consider most seriously what constitutional precedent you are setting up. I refer to the fact only in passing because this matter was discussed in the other House and the supporters of this lady were not able to challenge a Division there. I mention, also merely in passing (as it were), that the question of a prima facie case was placed before the Secretary of State for War, and, after carefully going into the matter, he also was of opinion that there was no case on which an Inquiry could be founded.

Consequently I submit to your Lordships that where we are dealing—as we are in a case of this kind—merely with the supersession of an individual official, we should be setting up a very dangerous and bad constitutional precedent it your Lordships were to go to the expense, perhaps of £20,000 or £30,000, in order to inquire into the matter. I ask further, How would you set bound or limit to farther inquiries? Do not imagine that this a will not set a precedent, or that this case will not be very closely watched by others. How will you—having granted this Inquiry (if you do grant it)—be able to refuse an Enquiry to those many persons who in the future will come before you with stories, I dare say as strong or as strongly supported as the case of Miss Douglas-Pennant? You will have imposed upon this House, and possibly on the other House also, a series of Inquiries which certainly will not conduce to the dignity of the State or to the method by which constitutional administration should be carried on.


My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will not be bluffed by the very eloquent and charming verbiage to which we have just listened from the representative of His Majesty's Government. We had exactly what we anticipated. All those who are familiar with the tricks of Parliamentary debate and Parliamentary procedure knew exactly what would proceed from that Bench. I myself could have written the noble Viscount's speech. After all, it is nothing more than a very complete rechauffée of everything that has been said in this place and in another place by a number of people on his same case and every word of it is a palpable evasion of the real issue.

Let me deal first of all with the last, point raised by the noble Viscount. In solemn and warning tones he told you that you are going to set up a dangerous precedent. Let us dispose of that idea at once. You cannot set up a precedent by institut- ing this Inquiry, because there is no similar case. We have that fully admitted. Nobody in His Majesty's Forces has been dismissed without trial or inquiry. Therefore there is no other case for which a similar Inquiry could be demanded. Let us return to the point. It cannot be too often repeated—because three speakers have very cleverly endeavoured to evade the point—that we are not out to obtain personal reparation for Miss Douglas-Pennant. That is not our object, and that is not her object. Our object is to call attention to the violation of a fundamental principle of all our liberties.

The noble Viscount made fun of the fact that my noble friend Lord Stanhope appealed to Magna Charta. That is no laughing matter. My noble friend was absolutely justified in pointing out that the very bed-rock of our liberties is that no free-born citizen of this country may be punished unless he has been tried and condemned. What has happened in this case is that an officer has been arbitrarily dismissed without trial and without condemnation. It is deplorable to see how not only Lord Weir but also the noble Viscount who speaks for the Government keep on reiterating the word "supersession." The use of that word is false; it is not honest. Miss Pennant was dismissed, and dismissed in a manner in which none of your Lordships would dismiss a scullery-maid or any other servant or dependant you may have. That is not supersession. Lord Weir, not content with the use of the word "supersession," tried to lead you on to another track by saying that Miss Pennant was really transferred to another Department. I can only appeal to your Lordships' common sense. If you are going to transfer an official to another Department you do not do it in quite the way in which it was done in the case of Miss Douglas-Pennant. There is no excuse whatever, not even the pressure of war time and the emergencies of a critical situation, which can justify the dismissal of anybody in the particular manner in which this lady was dismissed.

Let us now go on to some other points which have been made by the noble Viscount. He referred to the letter of Sir Auckland Geddes as a justification for his action. On this point, though I speak subject to correction. I think I am right in saying that Sir Auckland Geddes, as Minister for National Service, had nothing whatever to do with the matter. The women of the Women's Royal Air Force were recruited direct and were not supplied by the Ministry of National Service. Again, he referred to the Report of Mr. Cecil Harmsworth, which has unaccountably been suppressed, and he described it as a document written by a private secretary for the information of his chief. That is most inaccurate. Mr. Cecil Harmsworth held a prolonged inquiry in which he examined witnesses, and I am told that he promised representatives of the Press that that Report of his should be published. One of our objects in asking for an Inquiry is that that Report, which is not a private and confidential document, should be published.

The noble Viscount asked what effect Lord Weir's long and laboured explanation had upon us. I can only speak for myself, and I say that so far from having altered the case for Inquiry it has, I agree with my noble friend opposite, considerably strengthened it. Lord Weir made an admission virtually of irregular action in this matter. That disposes once and for all of all the subtleties and evasions and equivocations and misrepresentations of the case which have been made by the spokesmen of the Government from time to time. It wipes out all those miserable quibbles by which it has been sought to evade the real issue and to escape inquiry. It disposes for ever of the suggestion that Miss Pennant was superseded and transferred and not dismissed, even though Lord Weir himself, in singular self-contradiction, used both those terms.

As we anticipated, the spokesmen of the Government said. "What is there to inquire into?" What we want to inquire into is stated on the Notice Paper—namely, the circumstances connected with the dismissal of Miss Violet Douglas-Pennant. Not whether she was justly or unjustly dismissed, but the circumstances in which this arbitrary dismissal took place. The dismissal was an altogether unprecedented act, and an act of so unusual, so arbitrary, a nature that it can only have been conceived in a very unwholesome atmosphere. It was this incident of Miss Pennant's dismissal which gave rise to very strong suspicion that everything was not going on well at the Air Ministry. It is idle to pretend that an act of that kind was merely an error of judgment on the part of the Minister. The principle that nobody may be punished unless first tried and condemned is known to every man, woman, and child in this country. Any child could have set Lord Weir right on that point.

What we want to know, therefore, is what motives were at work—for motives, and strong motives, there must have been—which actuated Lord Weir to risk taking such very unusual action. What were the motives? What were the circumstances existing at the Air Ministry in which those motives were begotten? That is what we want to know. Nothing that has been said here this afternoon goes any way to satisfy the demand for inquiry If everything had been straight and above board, and simple and innocent, as you might have been led to believe by the speech to which we listened from the cross-benches, then what in Heaven's name has there been all this secrecy, mystery, evasion, and equivocation about all this time? I beg you to ask yourselves that question, as I am sure that you will see that there is a strong case for Inquiry.

If that is not enough, let me remind your Lordships that on four separate occasions four promises have been made by His Majesty's Government, in language as definite and explicit as anything could be in the English language. I do not wish to take up your Lordships' time by reading those promises, but they were absolutely definite promises that if a prima facie case were made out an Inquiry would be held, and that every possible facility would be given. Nothing whatever was said about the objection as to expense or anything of that kind. A prima facie case was made out, and the noble Viscount opposite asks why those allegations have been repeatedly altered. They were altered to satisfy the Secretary of State for War. The Secretary of State for War, as again was anticipated by all those who know the ways of Parliamentarians, had determined from the outset that he would not recognise any allegations as a prima facie case, and on each successive occasion—that is, four times over—he asked that the case should be strengthened. That was accordingly done, and that is why the charges and allegations have been expanded. I will not take up your time any longer, but I do beg your Lordships to remember that this case does not compare with that of any officer in the Navy, the Army, or the Air Force who may have been superseded, and that it is not a case of asking for reparation of a personal kind, or of any kind, for Miss Douglas-Pennant.

What we want to inquire into is why an absolutely unprecedented and arbitrary act was committed by the Air Minister and what were the motives and the circumstances which led to that act. We do so in the interests of the general public, because if an act of that kind in one of the great Departments of State can be passed over unnoticed, without the actual facts being established, there is no security that in the future development of bureaucracy we shall not have further arbitrary and tyrannical actions.


My Lords, I am somewhat surprised to hear the very strong speech which has been made by the noble Lord who has just sat down. I have listened to the whole of the debate and I confess that, so far as I have been able to gather, Lord Weir made a very excellent defence indeed to the charge made against him. He showed perfectly clearly that he was under no influence whatever, except the interests of the country and the good service of the Air Department, when he decided to change the Commandant of the Women's Air Force. I must say that I think he made out a good case. I came to listen to this debate knowing nothing whatever of the case, and, judging from the whole of the discussion, I think that the case which has been made out is certainly against an Inquiry such as has been demanded.

To me it seems a very extraordinary thing that a Minister who is at the head of a great Department and has such important services to render to the country cannot, if necessary, discharge any member of that Department without having such a thing as an Inquiry. In my judgment there is too little change made by the heads of Departments and there are too many people kept in connection with our Departments who are of very little service but are of great cost to the country. I am looking forward to the time when a Minister will have full powers to get rid of people who are incompetent or are not suitable for the particular service for which they are paid.

So far as Miss Douglas-Pennant is concerned she is evidently a very competent lady, and I am surprised that she should take the line she has taken, because, clearly there is nothing whatever against her character or against her general efficiency. But the Minister in charge of the Department says distinctly that he did not consider her a proper person to take charge of the Women's Air Service in the difficult circumstances which existed during the war. I cannot understand why the Minister should be interfered with in such a question as that. Surely, if there is any question which a Minister ought to be in the position to decide, it is such a question as that.

In all our great industries throughout the country, if such a charge as that were brought, it would be dealt with immediately by the manager at the head of the department, and I cannot see why such a thing should not be brought up in the Department itself. There have been serious charges made against certain members of the Department—so serious, I think, that if an ordinary employer were satisfied that such charges were true, instant dismissal would take place. I cannot see why the head of the Department, General Paine or whoever he is, should not make special inquiries into those particular cases which were mentioned by Lord Stanhope. I do beg your Lordships not to interfere with the responsibility of the Minister in this case. If you do it will create a precedent which will make Ministers hesitate before they take action which they think is necessary for the good of the country. So far as I am concerned I shall certainly vote against an Inquiry being held, in the hope that a Departmental Inquiry will be held into the particular cases mentioned by the noble Earl.


My Lords, I feel great difficulty in addressing myself to this case. I may say—I believe in harmony with the view of a great number of your Lordships—that I detest these personal questions. The difficulties which presented themselves in respect of it have been largely mitigated on the present occasion by the speech of the noble Lord who was Secretary of State, and I think I may say that most of your Lordships were very agreeably impressed with that speech. It was a speech of great candour, in which the noble Lord dealt with the subject in a manner which recommended itself to our judgment. I should like to go further and say that I entirely agree with the noble Lord who has just sat down, and with the Under-Secretary who spoke a few minutes ago, that it would be very objectionable indeed if the responsibility of a Minister in changing those who work under him, whether they be military or civil servants in their capacity, was interfered with by Parliament or by Parliamentary Inquiry. All those things I feel very strongly.

When we discussed the matter on a previous occasion we were under great difficulties owing to the absence, which he has explained to-day, of the noble Lord, and also, of course, there were circumstances connected with the dismissal of Miss Douglas-Pennant which were very difficult to explain. For example, there was the fact that the Under-Secretary of State, in another place, announced that she was thoroughly efficient and that when she came to be dismissed she was not, dismissed in favour of somebody more efficient; for, as the noble Lord has told us so frankly to-day, they were unable to find the person they wanted to succeed her except after several trials of different individuals. So that, apparently, although she was, in the view of the Under-Secretary, highly efficient, yet she was dismissed without there being anybody in prospect to fill her place. These are the kind of difficulties presented to us on the last occasion.

There are, of course, other difficulties. There are all sorts of charges which have been made—charges which have been made in the correspondence, charges which have been made outside the House, and charges which have been made in your Lordships' House this evening. These charges are very serious, very grave. I confess, if they can be in any way sustained, that I do not see how it is possible to escape an Inquiry of some kind. It may be thought that it was a mistake to have brought those charges. I have nothing to do with them, and I hope your Lordships will net think for a moment that I wish to endorse them, because I know nothing about them and I would not desire to be in the least responsible for them. But these charges have been made. Charges of pecuniary corruption I believe have been made, if not in your Lordships' House, outside; charges of immorality, inside.

I would like to put a question to the Government. We are not here, of course, to discuss these matters with any heat. I ventured to say to your Lordships very respectfully on a previous occasion that we are, more or less, in a judicial capacity when these questions come before us. We discuss them without heat and with impartiality. I would put it to the Government, whether they think that these charges, of corruption in the one case and immorality in the other, can be passed over absolutely in silence. I do not think they can be. I hope they may be disposed of absolutely; I mean that they may be proved to be unfounded; but they cannot be passed over, and I would say this to the Government. These charges, of course, will penetrate to all parts of the country, and there is a large feeling of suspicion abroad—a suspicion of which we are always conscious and which we have discussed on several occasions in your Lordships' House. That feeling of unrest is very much increased by changes such as these, and they cannot be passed over in silence if there is any foundation whatever for them. I respectfully put to the Government this question—whether they propose to take any action in respect to the charges of pecuniary corruption and the charges of immorality which have been made inside and outside your Lordships' House?


My Lords, the further debate which we have had on this subject has been noted for the speech of Lord Weir, which I feel sure has shown to your Lordships the case we have endeavoured to make out on two previous occasions. The noble Marquess has asked the Government specificially whether, if these charges are made, an Inquiry will be granted to discover if they are correct or not. It is not for me to go into the history of the case again. In your Lordships' hands already are two White Papers in which the various charges have been made specifically, and I venture to say that there is nothing in either of these White Papers which can under any circumstances whatever support; the contention of the noble Marquess when he says that any charge of corruption or charge of immorality has been brought to light, or that that corruption and immorality have been tolerated by people in responsible positions.

This has been a most regrettable case in many ways. I have felt that on previous occasions your Lordships have not really, if I may be allowed to say so, appreciated the actual point which was at issue. The point which was deliberately at issue was the questioning of the jurisdiction of the Secretary of State. Another point which was brought forward was that Miss Douglas-Pennant, being in an influential position, had more opportunity of bringing her case before the notice of the public than other people who had exactly the same grievance, or exactly the same sense of grievance. If your Lordships, in your judicial capacity, think that a Court of Inquiry should be set up you are really laying down a precedent which will operate in a multitude of cases at the present moment. If you set up a Court of Inquiry it naturally means that every person who considers that they labour under a grievance will feel that their case should be brought forward, the same procedure gone through, and the same expenditure incurred.

These are important points. The case has assumed an importance which, I feel, is regrettable. In the minds of a great many people in this country the facts have become so distorted that it is our duty in this House to bring them back to the normal on this case, of which there are countless parallels at the present moment. I shall not venture to recapitulate the speech of Lord Weir but I feel, and I hope your Lordships will agree with me, that he has laid down the case, the position and responsibility attaching to the Secretary of State, and has shown that he had no alternative than to take the line he did. I do not feel that I should be entitled to trespass on your Lordships' attention at this moment. Everything that ought to be said has been said already, and I only appeal to your Lordships to consider this case on its merits.

All personal cases, as the noble Marquess said, are difficult, and our sympathies are always with the individual who stands by herself or himself; we are anxious to support them to the fullest; possible extent we can. But this is a public case, and in that connection I feel sure we should consider it on its judicial merits. I have already said on two occasion on behalf of the Government that if any real charge of corruption or immorality is brought forward, or charges that corruption and immorality is tolerated by people in official positions, His Majesty's Government will go into the matter and probe it to the bottom, and bring forward information for your Lordships' satisfaction. In that connection may I say that there is a case at the present moment in which allegations of corruption have been brought forward by a lady who was one of Miss Douglas-Pennant's subordinates, and the moment that charge was substantiated a formal Inquiry was set up and will assemble next week. The result will be made public and be available for your Lordships' consideration. I have said this because I want to show exactly what is in the mind of the Air Ministry.


May I put a question to the noble Marquess. Do I understand him to say that a charge in respect of corruption in connection with the Air Ministry has been made by a lady, and that an Inquiry has already been ordered in respect of it?


A formal Inquiry has been ordered, and will assemble next week, owing to these specific allegations having been made. The Inquiry has been called by the Government. Before your Lordships decide to have an Inquiry, I can only say that the Government feel that they cannot take any

part in it. If such an inquiry is held it must be held by your Lordships, but in doing so you will create a precedent which, I feel, cannot but be followed by very serious consequences.


My Lords, I think it will interest you Lordships to know why the Air Ministry has set up this Inquiry. It is an Inquiry in regard to a clothing contract in the Air Force. Miss Douglas-Pennant has made some of these charges in the White Paper, and nothing was done. The Clothing Controller has repeated the charges. An inquiry was held which baulked the whole thing; but the lady was subsequently called before a Committee in another place which is inquiring into the waste of national expenditure, and it is as a result of that Inquiry that the Government are now setting up this Inquiry.

On Question—

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 69; Not-contents, 42.

Argyll, D. Devonport, V. Islington, L.
Bedford, D. Hood, V. Lambourne, L.
Northumberland, D. Knutsford, V. Middleton, L.
Monson, L.
Camden, M. Bangor, L. Bp. Montagu of Beaulieu, L.
Crewe, M. Aldenham, L. Monteagle, L. (M. Sligo.)
Lincolnshire, M. Ampthill, L. [Teller.] O'Hagan, L.
Linlithgow, M. Ashbourne, L. Oranmore and Browne, L.
Normanby, M. Askwith, L. Parmoor, L.
Beauchamp, E. Balfour, L. Pontypridd, L.
Craven, E. Basing, L. Raglan, L.
Doncaster, E. (D. Buccleuch and Queensberry.) Belper, L. Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Blyth, L. Rotherham, L.
Eldon, E. Brodrick, L. (V. Midleton.) Roundway, L.
Grey, E. Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.) Sackville, L.
Lindsey, E. Clwyd, L. Saye and Sele, L.
Mayo, E. Colwyn, L. Southwark, L.
Morton, E. Ebury, L. Stanley of Alderley, L. (L. Sheffield.)
Mount Edgeumbe, E. Elgin, L. (E. Elgin and Kincardine.)
Northbrook, E. Strachie, L.
Stanhope, E. [Teller.] Erskine, L. Stuart of Wortley, L.
Strafford, E. Fairfax of Cameron, L. Sudeley, L.
Wicklow, E. Forester, L. Swaythling, L.
Gainford, L. Sydenham, L.
Bryce, V. Inchiquin, L. Willoughby de Broke, L.
Birkenhead, L. (L. Chancellor.) Milner, V. Joicey, L.
Peel, V. Lee of Fareham, L.
Bath, M. Newton, L.
Dufferin and Ava, M. Ripon, L. Bp. Nunburnholme, L.
Bradford, E. Annesley, L. Phillimore, L.
Chesterfield, E. Armaghdale, L. Rathcreedan, L.
Jersey, E. Bledisloe, L. Redesdale, L.
Leicester, E. Clinton, L. Shandon, L.
Lytton, E. Colebrooke, L. Somerleyton, L. [Teller.]
Reading, L. Cottesloe, L. Sterndale, L.
Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.) Emmott, L. Sumner, L.
Gisborough, L. Weir, L.
Farquhar, V. (L. Steward.) Hindlip, L. Wigan, L. (E. Crawford.)
Sandhurst, V. (L. Chamberlain.) Hothfield, L. Wittenham, L.
Goschen, V. Hylton, L. [Teller.] Wynford, L.
Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.