§ EARL STANHOPErose to move, "That in view of the allegations made both in public and privately against. Miss Violet Douglas-Pennant, this House is of opinion that a Judicial inquiry should be held forthwith to examine the circumstances leading to her dismissal from the Royal Air Force."
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, the summary dismissal of Miss Violet Douglas-Pennant front the Royal Air Force has created considerable interest in the country mid has been the subject of important debates in both Houses of Parliament. Your Lordships, I am sure, are not surprised that this should be the case, for Miss Douglas-Pennant is known to a good many your Lordships and widely known throughout the country. She has sixteen years of public service to her credit, of which seven were spent in the extremely important work of an insurance Commissioner for Wales. Yet the facts prove—and I hope I shall be able to make them clear to your Lordships—that a lady with that, record behind her has been summarily dismissed from the Royal Air Force, not on reports, either written or verbal, of the superior officers under Whom she served, not on complaints made by her subordinates, but for reasons which, when they are definite at all are frequently contradictory and in flat defiance of the Regulations of the Royal Air Force itself.
§ I cannot conceive why His Majesty's Government should object to an inquiry in this case. It is quite obvious that these events occurred before any of those who are now responsible to Parliament for the work of the Royal Air Force occupied their present positions. They occurred principally under the last Government, and the only real charge that I have to make against His Majesty's present Government is that pledges have been given that an inquiry should be held if certain conditions are fulfilled—conditions which I maintain have been fulfilled—and yet that inquiry has not been held; and further that it is ridiculous, after events such as these, that any conditions at all should have been attached to the holding of an inquiry. What are the facts? On April 22 last year Miss Douglas-Pennant was invited to become the Commandant of the Women's Royal Air Force. She had heard that her predecessor had been unable to carry on the work owing to the great difficulties 922 which she there had to contend with in regard to having no assistance from other people in the office, and so she said she would only take up that responsible position if she were satisfied, after inquiring into the circumstances, that, she could usefully do good work.
§ She therefore came to the office of the Royal Air Force and there spent a month going into the whole work which she would have to do. She found that. a Colonel Bersey was in charge of the personnel, both men and women, in the Royal Air Force; that, there was no record of the positions either of women's camps or of hostels; that there was not, even a registry of letters; and that there was no nominal roll of officers of the Women's Royal Air Force. As a result she informed Sir Godfrey Paine. the Master-General of Personnel, that site Wag unable to take up the position of Commandant. Sir Godfrey Paine then stated that it had already been decided that the Commandant of the Women's Royal Air Force should be directly under him; that she must report to him personally; that she was to see him every day; and that he, in fact, would be her superior officer. The position then was that Colonel Bersey became the channel through which Miss Douglas-Pennant was provided with pay, clothing, rations, recruits, and quarters for the women of the Royal Air Force; but, in all other ways, Miss Douglas-Pennant came directly under t he Master-General of Personnel.
§ A few words as to Colonel Bersey. As I understand, Colonel Bersey is several years younger than myself. He was a second-lieutenant in the Royal Air Force. Whether it was because of the dangerous nature of his work at the Air Ministry or because of the efficient way in which he ran his office, in which there was no registry, no record of camps and no nominal roll of officers, this individual was jumped up from a second lieutenant to colonel in one day. The date of his promotion I think will appeal to your Lordships. It was April 1 last year. It soon become apparent, that the decision by which the Commandant was to be directly under the Master-General of Personnel had given great offence to various officers in the Department, and they determined to make her position impossible. It is quite obvious, from the position in which Colonel 923 Bersey was placed, that it was very easy for him to do so. Miss Douglas-Pennant had great difficulty in discovering where these camps and hostels were and how many officers there were, but eventually she did find out that the 16,000 women in the Royal Air Force were scattered throughout 500 camps, and that, despite their being so dispersed, there were only seventy-three women officers in the Air Force to look after the whole of them.
§ It is hardly surprising under these conditions that the position of the women of the Royal Air Force and of many of the camps was extremely unsatisfactory. It was also obvious that the first thing to be done was very largely to increase the supply of officers. At the time that Miss Douglas-Pennant took over I understand that there was only one hostel for the accommodation of twenty-five officers, and therefore she could only train officers in batches of twenty-five. Several places were offered to her which were obviously impossible, and it was only because she was well known to, and popular with, the officers of the London County Council that they courteously placed at her disposal quarters in which she was able to train batches of 200 officers at a time. The first batch of officers had completed their training and were about to take up appointments shortly before Miss Douglas-Pennant was dismissed. It will be clear that until the supply of officers was largely increased, there was not much chance of improving the conditions of the women of the Royal Air Force. But these officers objected to Miss Douglas-Pennant's appointment for other reasons. Candidates were accepted for the Women's Royal Air Force on the written recommendation of any officer. I put it to your Lordships that nothing could be more unsuitable than that women should be accepted on the written recommendation of any young officer. Miss Douglas-Pennant naturally objected. There was a further reason. Five ladies had been offered important positions in the Royal Air Force. Miss Douglas-Pennant interviewed them and discovered that they had had no previous training for these responsible posts. She stated she was unable to recommend that they should be given these appointments until they had had some training, but that she was prepared to give them subordinate posts, and, if found suitable, they should be promoted. That recommendation went before Lord 924 Weir, and of course [...]e upheld it. It was obviously correct.
§ But those five ladies were well known in the office. They were friends of several people in the office. One of them was a sister of one of the officers, and a a result this decision caused great offence. The consequence of these five ladies not being given these appointments was this. Immediately afterwards three of Miss Douglas-Pennant's subordinate officers tendered their resignation. Miss Douglas-Pennant recommended to Lord Weir that their services should be retained, but Lord Weir overruled that decision and insisted that two of them should be allowed to resign, and that the third should be kept in the Service.
§ There begun at once a regular conspiracy against Miss Douglas-pennant. I could give you a good many instances, but will only give two. Complaints were received in the middle of July that the condition of the kitchens at Regent's Park Camp, No. 2 Stores Depôt, were very unsatisfactory. Miss Douglas-Pennant went into the case with Colonel Bersey, and Major Elwell was instructed to take certain action to put these matters right. She impressed upon Major Elwell that under no circumstances should the work be stopped. Imagine her amazement on receiving shortly afterwards a. message over the telephone from Colonel Carden, commanding the Depot. to say that he had received a message, purporting to come directly from Miss Douglas-Pennant, to the effect that the whole of these cooks should be withdrawn, and that in consequence the cadets serving there would be without any food. Miss Douglas-Pennant interviewed Major Elwell, and asked him why he had given a message of that character, which was exactly contrary to what she had told him to do. Tie replied that he did so under the direct instructions of Colonel Bersey.
§ Now I come to the second ease. On July 17 Dame Katherine Furse, the head of the Royal Naval Service (and a friend of one of the officers who had tendered her resignation) demanded, and obtained, an interview with General Paine. As your Lordships know, it is very unusual for an officer of one Department to go to the head of another Department without first seeing the opposite member of the Department, visited. In the presence of Miss Douglas-Pennant Dame Katherine Furse stated that Miss Douglas-Pennant had appointed 925 to a high position a lady whom Dame Katherine Furse had dismissed and turned down from the Royal Naval Service. The facts were that this lady was transferred from the Royal Naval Service to the Royal Air Force, with a strong recommendation in her favour from Dame Katherine Furce. Dame Katherine Furse stuck to her statement until the husband of this lady threatened legal proceedings, and then she withdrew her statement, and gave as her reason for having made it that it was "due to an inaccurate recollection at the moment." That was the sort of thing going on all round, and in the White Paper now on time Table of the House your Lordships will find that Miss Douglas Pennant makes many other charges of that character.
§ I come now to the question of her dismissal, because that is really the important point. Through the courtesy of my noble friend opposite I understand that he is going to ask your Lordships to postpone a decision on this subject on the ground that the White Paper has only just been laid, that, you have had no opportunity of studying it, and that it is not fair that you should give a decision until you have read it. The Government took that course in the case of the Slough Inquiry, and your Lordships, I think rightly, refused to accept a reason of that kind and insisted that the Inquiry should be held. I hope that your Lordships will insist in this case also. My Motion has been on the Paper of your Lordships' House for fourteen days, and the last letter from Miss Pennant which appears in this correspondence is dated May 2. I suggest that there has been ample time for His Majesty's Government to make up their mind as to whether these Papers should be published or not. As a matter of fact, Miss Douglas-Pennant did not twelve a copy of this correspondence until after two o'clock yesterday afternoon, when for the first time she had a chance of seeing the correspondence which is now grab before your Lordships. The correspondence is incomplete, but she agrees to its being published, and I am therefore able to refer to it. I wish to be quite fair to your Lordships and also to my noble friend opposite, and I think he. will agree that what I have stated so far is in no way controverted by what appears in this White Paper, and I hope he will interrupt me if I make any statement which is disproved by the correspondence.926
§ On August 16 Miss Douglas-Pennant came to the conclusion that it was quite impossible for her to do any really good work at the Royal Air Force. Site found that the channel through which she got clothing and recruits (Colonel Bersey) made it impossible for her to make progress, and she tendered her resignation to Sir Godfrey Paine. He absolutely refused to hear of her resignation, and stated that he had every confidence in her capability; and the following day he showed her a letter which he had sent to Colonel Bersey, relieving him of Iris appointment and appointing another officer in his place. Miss Douglas-Pennant and this other officer attended before him on that day and he said, "Now these things have got to go ahead. If there is no real progress in a month from now you will all have to go." He laughed. Miss Douglas-Pennant said. "If I do nothing wrong shall I have to go? He said. "Whichever of you is to blame will go." A great deal has been made out of that in this correspondence, and I challenge my noble friend to say that this was more than a chaffing caution or was intended as a real threat.
§ Only eleven days after—time new officer was appointed, and things began to go ahead very fast—General Brancker summoned Miss Douglas-pennant to his office and informed her that she was dismissed, and would have to leave the following day. "Not" as he stated. "because you are inefficient, as you are very efficient, but as you ale grossly unpopular with everyone who has ever come in contact with you." It is a new policy in this country if great public servants are going to be dismissed because they are said to be unpopular. My Lords, it is not even true. What statements can my noble friend produce in the Papers now laid upon the Table to prove that Miss Douglas-Pennant was in fact unpopular in her office? There are the letters of a Miss Andrew, who was one of the three lady officers who tendered their resignations when Miss Douglas-Pennant refused to promote the five ladies whom she considered had not had sufficient training for the posts for which they were recommended. Why were not the letters from the other two officers also published? I will tell your Lordships the reason. Because the letters from these other two officers show that the reason for their resignation was so trivial that it was quite obviously a question of pique because their friends had not been appointed, and the 927 only letters of the three which are put into this paper are the letters of the one whom the officials at the Air Office felt would hear strongly against Miss Douglas-Pennant.
§ Miss Douglas-Pennant has absolutely been flooded with letters from both those who served with her in the Air Force, and those who did public service with her outside, stating how glad they were to work with her, what a privilege it had been, and how they had enjoyed working hand in hand with her at the Air Ministry or elsewhere. There is a further proof which I can give to your Lordships of Miss Douglas-Pennant's popularity. When the first batch of officers who had been trained Wider her direction; at the Air Ministry heard that she had been dismissed they one and all stated that they would go. It was only because Miss Douglas-Pennant said, "I am still Commandant of the Royal Air Force; I forbid you to resign, and if you do so I shall treat it as mutiny," that the action which had been contemplated was prevented.
Then, my Lords, as to the question of dismissal. As I have pointed out, Miss Douglas-Pennant was dismissed summarily on August 28. What are the regulations under which women of the Royal Air Force May he dismissed? They are these
Provided your service may be terminated forthwith on ground of misconduct, false answer on enrolment. or breach of conditions on receipt of notice given by the Air Council, or, in the event of your services being no longer required, they may be terminated by one month's notice in writing being given to you.
Now, when was the notice in writing given? The notice in writing was given for the first time on September 2, five days after she had been dismissed by General Brancker. Therefore we are reduced to the other alternative, that her services were terminated either on account of misconduct, false answer on enrolment, or breach of conditions.
§ It is hardly surprising, in view of the way in which Miss Douglas-Pennant was treated, that rumours are beginning to spread, making attacks against her private character. Only yesterday a rumour to that effect reached me from the City, and I must tell your Lordships that a Mr. Tyson Wilson, who is a Whip of the Labour Party, has stated to several witnesses that charges had been made against Miss Douglas-Pennant of so serious a character 928 that, if they were published, she would never hold up her head again; that her public career was not at all as good as was stated, and that he recommended those he was talking to not to have anything to do with her or they also would sillier. Mr. Tyson Wilson has now denied the statement, but it has hem made in the presence of several witnesses, every one of whom is prepared to state that it was made. Can your Lordships be surprised that a wrong view has been taken? An officer of the Royal Air Force can only be dismissed on the ground of misconduct or on the ground of false enrolment, and yet Miss Douglas-Pennant was summarily dismissed and received no notice in writing until five days after she had been dismissed.
I will turn again to the correspondence. If your Lordships will refer to the letter from Lord Weir at the foot of page 13, you will see that he writes as follows—
There is one point which might be made clearer in view of the discussion in the House of Lords. General Brancker had practically nothing to do with Miss Pennant's supersession other than as my instrument in informing her of our decision to replace her. His opinion was not asked as he had only just taken up his position, and any belief that General Brancker brought about the supersession is unfounded.
General Brancker was one of the only two officers under whom Miss Douglas-Pennant served. The other was General Paine. Now General Paine, as I think my noble friend will agree, has a reputation for being extremely outspoken and yet he never on any occasion intimated to Miss Douglas-Pennant that he considered her inefficient or thought that she was not doing good work. As a matter of fact, he did exactly the opposite. He stated that he was thoroughly satisfied with her, and on 16th August absolutely refused to allow her to resign. When this decision was come to by Lord Weir. Sir Godfrey Paine was abroad. The letter refers in the next paragraph to Sir Godfrey Paine having given this warning, but, at I have already told your Lordships and I have had it direct front Miss Douglas-Pennant, neither she nor the other officer considered this more than a hint that they were to do their best, which of course they did.
Then why was she dismissed? The only evidence in this correspondence from subordinates is front Miss Andrew. On whose information then did Lord Weir come to time conclusion that it was right
that Miss Douglas-Pennant should go? It is clear from the letter on page 9, from Lord Weir to the Prime Minister, which says—
I meanwhile had occasion again to consider the position of the Women's Royal Air Force, matters being brought to a head by an intimation which I received from Sir Auckland Geddes, then Minister of National Service, that owing to the state of disorganisation of the Force, he could no longer undertake the responsibility of allocating women to it.
I think this House will be amazed to hear that Miss Douglas-Pennant has never met Sir Auckland Geddes and did not then, at any rate, know where the position of the Ministry of National Service was, and that in fact the Ministry of National Service had nothing to do with the finding of recruits for the Women's Royal Air Force. It was not responsible for it. Actually that decision was come to before Miss Douglas-Pennant had anything to do with the Force. The officers for the Royal Air Force were got through the professional classes bureau of the Ministry of Labour. Recruitments for the other ranks were very largely stopped because it would have been extraordinarily unwise to add still further women to the Royal Air Force until there was a sufficiency of officers to look after them.
It was arranged that the campaign for the recruitment of the other ranks of the Royal Air Force should begin in October, and an officer was transferred from the Ministry of Labour to set the campaign on foot. I ask your Lordships to refer to another paragraph in the same letter on page 9. Towards the bottom you will see that it states—
I welcomed Mr. Harmsworth's appointment to enable you to form your own judgment on the case, and all the facts and relevant papers at our disposal have been laid before him.
What is the result of that inquiry? It has not been put into the Paper that is before your Lordships' House. I will tell your Lordships why. Mr. Cecil Harmsworth wrote to Miss Douglas-Pennant these words—
I am strongly recommending that a judicial inquiry should be held.
He wrote again just before the General Election to say that he was very sorry he was being called away to his constituency before the arrangements for the inquiry were complete. These letters are in Miss Pennant's possession. He even went
so far as to approach her and ask what sort of reparation would satisfy her for the way in which she had been treated. That is the only inquiry which has been held into Miss Douglas-Pennant's case.
Eventually the Prime Minister came round to Lord Weir's view, very possibly on the paragraph which I have quoted to your Lordships, saying that the Minister of National Service was unable to promote further women to the Royal Air Force. I have already pointed out that that was an entirely incorrect statement. Sir Auckland Geddes had nothing whatever to do with it. I come to this further stage. The noble Marquess opposite, on February 27, gave this pledge in your-Lordship' House—
I am given to understand that there is an idea in Miss Violet Douglas-Pennant's mind and in the minds of those noble Lords who are taking up this case that she has been the victim of malice, the victim of a conspiracy. I am entitled to say on behalf of tile Government that the Secretary of State will leave no stone unturned to probe that allegation to its very uttermost limits, and if Miss Violet Douglas-Pennant can bring forward a prima facie case in which she will state the names of individuals who are associated in this reprehensible action, give us dates and details, give us facts, an inquiry will most certainly be held, and all these facts brought to light and to the satisfaction not only of Miss Violet Douglas-Pennant and those noble Lords who are supporting her but to the satisfaction of the whole of your Lordships' House and the other House of Parliament,
§ Miss Pennant's case has been submitted to a Committee composed of members of both Houses of Parliament, and they unanimously came to the conclusion that she had in fact made out a prima facie case which justified an inquiry being held. Why in the world should Miss Pennant have to satisfy that condition?
§ You have had here an officer dismissed from the Service—not from her appointment but from the Service—absolutely contrary to the Regulations and not on the recommendation of any of her senior officers. A recommendation was made, which again is not in this Paper before your Lordships' House, by a Minister who had nothing whatever to do with her work. If that is to be the way in which the Public Service of this country is going to be run in future, then I feel sure your Lordships would agree that the position of any public servant in this country is not worth an hour's purchase. The great Public Service of this country, of which we are so justly proud, will be destroyed, and the 931 whole situation in regard to the Government of this country inevitably be changed.
§ I am afraid that I have occupied your Lordships' time too long, but I have ventured to show you that grave injustice has been inflicted on Miss Douglas-Pennant, and that every conceivable Regulation and Instruction has been over-ridden. For that reason alone I maintain that a judicial inquiry should be held. But I also put it on even higher ground. If your Lordships will not insist that the Public Service should be maintained under the Regulations which are in force, then, as I have already stated, the Public Service of this country must inevitably be destroyed and great damage and harm will be done to that very fine service. For those reasons I ask your Lordships to support me in my Motion. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That in view of the allegations made both in public and privately against Miss Violet Douglas-Pennant, this House is of opinion that a Judicial inquiry should be held forthwith to examine the circumstances leading to her dismissal from the Royal Air Force.—(Earl Stanhope.)
§ LORD BERESFORD
My Lords, I should like to support my noble friend in his Motion for an inquiry. As far as I understand it, without entering into the details which the noble Lord has put before your Lordships, Miss Douglas-Pennant does not state that the authority was wrong to dismiss her, but she finds fault with the system and demands an inquiry. The reason I trouble your Lordships on this question is this. It would be fatal if this House, or any body of the community, were ever to try to make out that authority has not the right to discharge and to appoint. That would be fatal to the Public Service.
I am troubling your Lordships on this occasion because my case is very similar. I represented to the Admiralty when I was Commander-in-Chief that the trade routes were not protected, and that a number of other things were wanting, such as a war staff, and that our food supply was insecure. I did not agree with the views of the Admiralty, in fact, I said that the Admiralty did not appear to understand anything about war. The Admiralty put me on the beach. They made me haul down my flag, and discharged me from the Service. I never complained. I think the Admiralty were right. They could not have a Commander-in-Chief who differed from 932 them entirely. Events proved that I was right and that the Admiralty was wrong, but that has nothing to do with the principle. The authority must have the right to appoint and discharge officials in all cases. I asked for an inquiry, and that is what Miss Pennant is asking for, and I got it. The inquiry went on, I think, for four months, and it proved that I was correct in my statement. I did not complain of my dismissal. The inquiry did a great deal of good. As a result of it we got several reforms which were much needed. We got a War Staff, although that did not come for about two years. If there is something wrong in the procedure of the Department in which a person is serving, that person is quite right in taking the line which Miss Douglas-Pennant took, but in common fairness and justice and love of the fair-play which exists in this country, when a public servant does that and asks for an inquiry it should be granted.
I am certain that your Lordships are more or less shocked and horrified by the material which my noble friend has produced before you. Miss Pennant may be right or she may be wrong, but in the interests of the Public Service she should have a Judicial Inquiry. There has been too much secrecy about. This secrecy all means suspicion. This inquiry has been evaded over and over again by the Government. Why is it being evaded? Because they do not want the inquiry. I hope your Lordships will insist and make the Government grant the inquiry. It is only fair to Miss Pennant and fair to the Public Service that they should do so. I hope your Lordships will forgive me for having mentioned my own case. I only did so because I think it is similar to that of Miss Pennant. The Admiralty gave me a n inquiry, and I hope your Lordships will insist on Miss Pennant getting an inquiry, more particularly after what the noble Lord has brought forward. On his statement the Government have broken their contract with Miss Pennant. She was to have a month's warning or notice before she was discharged, but they did not give her a month's notice until she had been discharged five days. If that is the way we are going to run the Public Service where shall we get? I hope the noble Lord will go to a Division, and I certainly shall support him in his demand for a judicial inquiry in this case.
§ LORD CLWYD
My Lords, I would not venture to intervene in the debate at such an early stage of my experience in this House, had it not been for the fact that I have not only known Miss Douglas-Pennant for a great number of years but I have had a great deal of close experience of her service in connection with many honourable and important movements in Wales, and because I know that this case has aroused in Wales a widespread and deep interest. It is not necessary to go into the details or the grounds upon which the Motion for an Inquiry has been placed before your Lordships by the noble Earl opposite. But I should like to say that I think that the fact that Miss Douglas-Pennant has occupied the important position of a Welsh National Insurance Commissioner and has done great public service not only in Wales but throughout the country for many years ought to be a weighty factor in our conclusion on the question as to whether a judicial inquiry should or should not be granted. I feel that it is not only a point of vital importance to the public career of Miss Douglas-Pennant, but it is of still more importance, I believe, to the real interests of the public service of this nation. As one who has had, I think, special opportunities of seeing the public service of Miss Douglas-Pennant in Wales and elsewhere and of knowing her character I hope that your Lordships will on this occasion press the Government to grant this inquiry which, in any event, is only fair play to her and in the interests of the Public Service.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AIR (THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY)
My Lords, the subject to which we are addressing ourselves this afternoon is not a new one. It has been before your Lordships before, and since then there has been a certain amount of controversy in regard to it outside; this House in the Press, and I feel really that the reason of this controversy is based to a very large extent on imperfect knowledge of the case. It is quite true that there has been a veritable campaign organised in the Press and various accusations have been hurled promiscuously about, and allegations made not of a very fair character, which I feel have not been substantiated or supported by any proof. The Government in this connection have been repeatedly accused of concealment, deception, and even corruption. I re- 934 pudiate every one of those accusations most vehemently, and with regard to the point of concealment, speaking for myself and for those with whom I am associated, I would say that there is no desire whatever for concealment. I should be only too glad, to put before your Lordships the case I as we see it and to bring to your notice every single fact that I have in my possession or that is in the possession of the Air Ministry.
This question is what may be termed a legacy. It has been handed on to the present Administration by a previous Administration. But when I say that, I have no desire to divest the Government of any responsibility in the matter, and my endeavour this afternoon will be to show your Lordships the case as we view it and as, I venture to say, I view it myself. We know perfectly well the principle of continuity, but I can assure you that I am no slavish votary of that policy; and if I felt that we were on a wrong line in this case I should be the first to tell my chief, and I should not be standing at this box now with the intention of showing your Lordships what I believe to be the case, and of endeavouring to persuade you that the course which the noble Earl has suggested is one which, for all reasons, and especially for the interests of the public service, should not be followed. I do not think that I need give any expression of my own personal attitude in this case. I had occasion before of speaking to your Lordships with regard to this matter, and I think I made my position clear that I had no personal feelings whatsoever in the matter, that my sole endeavour was to bring out the real facts of this case, and to put before your Lordships exactly what had occurred and what the Government feel is their duty at this moment.
The noble Earl who has introduced this matter did so in a very temperate and very able speech, and I should like to express my gratitude to him for the manner in which he has treated me in the matter. He has hidden nothing from me. He has told me the points that, he was bringing forward, and I can assure your Lordships that I know perfectly well he is acting in absolute sincerity, and that he believes that the case which he has put forward is such as to call upon your Lordships to insist on granting a judicial inquiry. What is the outline of the story? The story is of a capable individual—because the fact 935 that Miss Douglas-Pennant is a lady does not come into this question at all; she has been taking the work of a man, and that is the point before us at this moment—a capable individual who was called upon to undertake a very critical task, and she was placed in that position because of her previous record, to which the noble Earl has testified and to which we are all willing and anxious to testify. She encounters in her work immense difficulty and that is not only confined to one office in the Government. She tells us, in her statements, which are in this correspondence before your Lordships, of all the difficulties which were placed in her way—of all the obstacles with which she was confronted. Time goes by, and at a certain stage her chief, the Secretary of State, decides that in the interests of the Service, in the interests of the Air Force, he should make a change, and that some one should take her place. That is the history, the bare outline of the case.
The noble Lord who seconded this Motion is one to whom I should be most unwilling to offer any opposition when I recognise the great authority with which he speaks as an officer in the Naval Service. But I must say that I venture to disagree with a great many of the propositions which he put forward, and, with great respect, I will tell him exactly why I am in disagreement with him. He speaks of an inquiry which he was able to obtain. I wonder how many similar inquiries there have been, and I wonder also if he is aware that there are many individuals now who have been superseded, who have been transferred, who are labouring under a grievance, who believe they have been badly treated, who believe that they have been treated with the grossest injustice; yet does he suggest that each one of those individuals should come forward and claim an inquiry into the reasons why he has been transferred or superseded?
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
The noble and gallant Lord lays the country open to a multitude of inquiries if once the principle is established that anyone who has a grievance should be able to claim 936 and to obtain an inquiry into that girevance. May I go on with the story which I am endeavouring to put before your Lordships? The noble Earl in his speech hardly addressed himself to the real point which, I believe, is the one to which we should address ourselves—namely, the question that a judicial inquiry should be held forthwith to examine the circumstances leading to the dismissal of Miss Douglas-Pennant from the Royal Air Force. That is a questioning of the jurisdiction of the Secretary of State; and if that inquiry in admitted it is a suggestion that the Secretary of State was either moved by corrupt influences or that he was a man who by his intellectual capacity was not fitted for the position in which he was placed. I do not understand that either of those charges is pressed.
Let me now go forward with the case as it has occurred. Miss Douglas-Pennant entered on her duties in April, and it it is very obvious from this correspondence—which I regret has not been in your Lord ships' hands before—that Lord Weir was personally interested in the case of Miss Douglas-Pennant, and did his utmost to support her and to make her position a success. There is a case here in which Lord Weir writes a letter to Miss Andrew, where he says—I am satisfied, however, that a genuine attempt is being made to overcome the difficulties of the inception of the W.R.A.F., and that it would have been certainly unfair at the time when the resignations of yourself and your colleagues were tendered, less than a month after the appointment of the Commandant, to have expected results to have manifested themselves. It is my anticipation, however, that real progress will shortly be shown.That is one letter in which Lord Weir shows that he is anxious that Miss Douglas-Pennant should have every chance of overcoming those difficulties and of removing those obstacles which he knew and which we all recognised were uppermost at that moment.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
July 19, 1918. Now, I think it is common ground that the organisation of the Women's Royal Air Force left a great deal to be desired, but I do not know that this is a reason for the indictment of the Secretary of State. It was common to all organisations. We know perfectly well the situa 937 tion in which this country was placed at that moment. Organisations and Departments were called into being practically at a moment's notice, and it was impossible to ensure that an organisation of an efficient character could suddenly be brought into being.
I will go on and refer now to another letter. It is one written by Lord Weir to Dame Katherine Furse, dated July 20, 1918. He says—I have been with some care into the question of the resignations of Mrs. Beatty and her colleagues, and I think I am aware of the general reasons which led up to them, and I cannot help feeling that, in view of the very recent appointment of Miss Pennant as Commandant, they were unduly precipitate, and that I should not be justified in any other course than in supporting the action which has been taken by their superior officers.What I want to show is that Lord Weir was particularly anxious that Miss Douglas-Pennant in her position as Commandant should be successful; and when we are indicted for various expressions of opinion supporting Miss Douglas-Pennant I say that it is really showing that the position is not accurately appreciated. While these things are going on it is the duty and the desire of everyone that heads of Departments and subordinate officials should have every chance of making their Department a success, and that they should get every assistance to achieve that object. That seems to me to explain the words which Sir Godfrey Paine used. He was anxious to make Miss Douglas-Pennant's work a success, but he realised the difficulties with which she was confronted.
Things go on, and I will now draw your Lordships' attention to the reason which actuated Lord Weir in superseding Miss Douglas-Pennant. He receives information from Sir Auckland Geddes, and he states this very clearly in the letter which he wrote to the Prime Minister on December 4, in which these words occur—I meanwhile had occasion again to consider the position of the Women's Royal Air Force, matters being brought to a head by an intimation which I received from Sir Auckland Geddes, then Minister of National Service, that owing to the State of disorganisation of the Force, he could no longer undertake the responsibility of allocating women to it.Before I deal with that I must refer to a suggestion made by the noble Earl. He put forward the proposition that Sir Auckland Geddes had nothing whatever to do with the Women's Royal Air Force. 938 I have before me a note with reference to a War Cabinet decision (No. 287 (1) of November 28, 1917). By this War Cabinet decision the Minister of National Service was made responsible for controlling the recruiting of all women for work of national importance. That seems to me to establish that Sir Auckland Geddes, as Minister of National Service, was in the main the responsible authority for the recruiting of women for the Women's Royal Air Force.
I will now venture to take your Lordships back to the situation in which Lord Weir received this intimation from Sir Auckland Geddes. It was in August, 1918, when the fortunes of this country were in the balance. I put that concisely, but your Lordships will appreciate exactly what I mean by it. It was at a time when quick decisions had to be taken. A Secretary of State is a man whom you have proved and whom you believe to be suitable for the post, and you give him these great responsibilities so that he can take decisions on his own, and that is why you believe that those decisions will in all probability be the right ones. Lord Weir was at that time responsible for the Women's Royal Air Force being kept up. He was responsible for that mainly because women in this country were taking the places of men who were urgently wanted at the Front in France; and he received an intimation from the man who in the last resort was responsible for the recruitment of women for the Royal Air Force, in words which I think your Lordships will agree are striking, that—owing to the state of disorganisation of the Force he could no longer undertake the responsibility of allocating women to it.I know that we now look upon these things, when we hope and think peace is in front of us, in a far different frame of mind than was the case when the war was upon us and none could say accurately what the result was going to be; and the fact that a quick decision was taken is a matter which I think you will appreciate.
In that connection I should like to make one remark about the manner in which Miss Douglas-Pennant was superseded. Lord Weir makes no attempt to escape any censure or blame for the manner in which that was done. It appears in one of these letters in which Legal Weir endeavours to show that he agrees that the month's trial was not formally complied with. It 939 is quite true that Miss Douglas-Pennant received from General Brancker, on the orders of Lord Weir, the instructions which superseded her. She received them, I think, on September 28, which was a fortnight after the time that Sir Godfrey Paine had spoken to her. I do not desire to minimise the point in any way. I feel that Miss Douglas-Pennant was certainly not treated with that consideration to which she w as entitled and which she ought undoubtedly to have received. But that, in my view, is the sole pound of grievance; and while it is a ground of grievance, it cannot be said that it is a ground for inquiry.
Now there is a point to which I would venture to allude, spoken of by Lord Stanhope. It is with regard to Miss Douglas-Pennant's position in the Women's Royal Air Force. It is contended that she was a member of the Women's Royal Air Force. Miss Douglas-Pennant was nothing of the kind. She was never enrolled in the Royal Air Force or paid from Royal Air Force funds. She was, in words which your Lordships will appreciate, "loaned" from the Welsh Insurance Commission, and in that connection I would draw your Lordships' attention to the letter which was written by Mr. McAnally, the Secretary to the Air Ministry, to Miss Douglas-Pennant on September 2, 1918. Mr. McAnally wrote as follows—I am commanded by the Air Council to refer to the request contained in your letter of the 29th ultimo, addressed to Major-General Brancker, and in reply to furnish you with the enclosed copy of a letter which has been sent to the Secretary of the National Health Insurance Commission of Wales. At the same time I am to confirm what was said to you by the Secretary of State for the Royal Air Force at your interview this morning, when he intimated to you that he had convinced himself by the most careful inquiry that, although you had worked most wholeheartedly and untiringly to bring the W.R.A.F. on to a proper footing, the results desired were, nevertheless, not being obtained. That being so, the Council have conceived it to be their duty to appoint a new Commandant—I ask your Lordships to appreciate those words—Although you have worked most wholeheartedly and untiringly to bring the W.R.A.F. on to a proper footing, the results desired were, nevertheless, not being obtained. That being so, the Council had conceived it to be their duty to appoint a new Commandant. They have acted in this way because there was no other practical method, in the public interest, of dealing with the situation with which they were confronted, and I am to ask you to accept this decision in this 940 sense and, at the same time, their assurance that they are fully conscious of the difficulties with which you have had to contend.That is the letter which the Air Ministry sent to Miss Douglas-Pennant in suggesting her return to the National Health Insurance Commission—in a word, her transference from one Government Office to another institution; and this is the letter which was enclosed to the National Health Insurance Commission of Wales—Sir,—With reference to previous correspondence relative to the services of the Hon. Violet Douglas-Pennant being placed at the temporary disposal of the Air Council, I am now commanded to inform you that the Council find it necessary to introduce certain changes in the organisation of the W.R.A.F. Although the Council do not fail to appreciate the loyal and untiring service which Miss Pennant has given during her term of office, they feel that the introduction of the contemplated changes will be facilitated if a new Commandant is appointed, and they have decided that she shall be released from her present position and thus be in a position to resume her work on your Commission. In informing you of the arrangements made, I am to request that you will thank the National Health Insurance Commission of Wales for their courtesy in placing the services of Miss Douglas-Pennant at their disposal.I can only say that I have studied this correspondence, I have made a scrutiny of all the correspondence I can find. I have seen everybody whom I could possibly think could be connected with this case, and I say at once that I cannot see the grounds on which an inquiry is demanded, which questions, as I maintain it does, the jurisdiction of the Secretary of State to transfer Miss Violet Douglas-Pennant from the position which she occupied to the position which she had left to come to the Air Force.
There are several points made by the noble Earl to which I would address myself. He speaks of the report by Mr. Harmsworth, which is known as the Harmsworth Report. What is the situation with regard to that Report? Mr. Harmsworth at the time was the Prime Minister's Private Secretary and in that capacity he was authorised by the Prime Minister to inquire into this case and to furnish him with a report of what he believed to be the facts. That was the capacity in which Mr. Harmsworth addressed himself to the task. The Secretary of State in another place has made this statement which I will venture to quote to your Lordships—I have read the Report, and I do not myself see any reason from the point of view of the Government—941 That is with regard to the publication of the Harmsworth Report—It is a private and confidential Report made to the Prime Minister, and I cannot say anything without an opportunity of finding out what the Prime Minister says. That Report recommended that there should be a judicial inquiry, but the Prime Minister, after hearing what Lord Weir had to say about it in his letter of December 4—which is before your Lordships in the White Paper—decided that it was not right or necessary to press the inquiry, and he accepted the views put forward by the Secretary of State for the Royal Air Force. That is the position, but, without making any pledge on the subject, I should be quite ready to inquire of the Prime Minister whether he would allow a document essentially of a private nature, only written to oblige him personally in the course of his public work, to be published.That is the situation as regards the Harms-worth Report.
I saw Mr. Harmsworth himself. I had a long conversation with him in regard to this matter. He told me that he had interviewed Miss Douglas-Pennant, and that she brought forward the case which the noble Earl has brought forward and which is comprised in the statements appearing in the White Paper. Mr. Harms-worth said, "That is not a matter for me; this is a matter for another authority "; and on this line I understand he recommended that these matters should be examined and contemplated by a judicial inquiry. I go further with regard to that Report. Mr. Harmsworth went down in a practically unofficial capacity; he interviewed various people and obtained opinions from them, without the smallest idea in their minds that what they told him was going to be the subject of a White Paper to be laid on the Table of this House or in another place. I do feel, in the public interest, that you will make inquiries of this kind impossible if there is no possibility of any confidential report being made by one individual to another. I think I have, more or less, dealt with the points as they have arisen.
I should like to elaborate the reasons which the Government are convinced should be adduced for the purpose of showing that an inquiry of this kind is absolutely contrary to the public service. The noble Lord opposite says it is in the interests of the public service, but I venture, most respectfully, to disagree with him in that 942 opinion. Miss Douglas-Pennant has brought forward various cases in the White Paper showing the immense difficulties she had to contend with. She tells us that there was a conspiracy afoot to frustrate her efforts. In her first statement she says it, was a small knot of people inside the Air Ministry, and later she goes on to accuse a large concourse of individuals who, she says, were in league together for the purpose of frustrating her work at the Air Ministry. I will ask your Lordships to place yourselves in the position of the Secretary of State. Miss Douglas-Pennant was asked to come from the Welsh Insurance Commission for the purpose of removing the difficulties and obstacles, but after the Secretary of State had satisfied himself by examination, and after he had had this peremptory intimation from Sir Auckland Geddes, that Miss Douglas-Pennant (although he was fully aware of the qualities she possessed) did not possess those qualities which were necessary for overcoming these difficulties, in his jurisdiction as Secretary of State; a responsible Minister, he had no other course to follow but to take the line he did and appoint some one else in her position.
The proof, if I may say so, is that affairs in the Air Ministry began to mend themselves from that moment, and I think we can claim that the Women's Royal Air Force is now in an efficient condition. It is, of course, quite open for anyone to say that Miss Douglas-Pennant laid the foundations for that improvement, and I am not going to controvert that for one moment. But the Secretary of State had to make up his mind. It was a time of immense difficulties; he had to come to a decision rapidly, and he felt that for the efficiency of the Service it would be better for some one to take Miss Douglas-Pennant's place. That is the whole case. If I am accused of any concealment I hope your Lordships will tell me where I have been guilty of concealment upon a single point. I am anxious to bring the whole of the information, as I have it, before your Lordships. I have endeavoured to obtain the whole facts by the scrutiny of documents, and I hope that the information which I have been able to place before you will make your realise that this is not a case for a judicial inquiry into the dismissal of a public servant, who could not claim efficiency in the Department in which she was placed and which has subsequently 943 been managed in an efficient and satisfactory manner.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, I have not the privilege of even the most remote acquaintance with Miss Douglas-Pennant. I know but little beyond the information contained in this White Paper which has been circulated, but I think even the most cursory examination of the documents in the White Paper ought to satisfy any unprejudiced people that there is a serious matter in issue between Miss Douglas-Pennant and the Air Ministry which cannot be satisfied by any official answer, however fully and candidly it may be given by a member of your Lordships' House who firmly belives he has been able to ascertain all the relevant and material facts. I feel sure your Lordships must have recognised, as I did, the anxiety of the noble Marquess to do, if he possibly could, full justice to Miss Douglas-Pennant, and at the same time give your Lordships all the information that was in his possession. But I cannot help thinking that there must have been present to your minds during the course of his speech the constantly recurring question, "Why is not Lord Weir here to answer this matter himself?"
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
That is a complete answer. I should like to know if there is any chance of his coming back soon, because in a case of this kind it is of the utmost consequence that we should have, if possible, information from the person who is himself involved in the dispute, and who by first-hand knowledge must know far more than it is possible for the noble Marquess to ascertain, with all his diligent anxiety to arrive at the truth. I agree with something that the noble Marquess said; and it is this—that in a case of this kind it is necessary to proceed with caution, and that an inquiry cannot be granted in every case in which there is a dispute between persons who have ceased to be in the service of a Government Department and their official Chief. I think that is obvious. The latter must 944 be masters in their own house, and it is impossible that you can have unending controversy as between them and officials whom they may think it their duty to remove.
But this case does not stand on an ordinary basis. I do not know if your Lordships have read what Miss Douglas-Pennant has put in print—I suppose the Government have printed it, and Miss Douglas-Pennant put it in writing. I have read it for the first time this afternoon. I call your Lordships' attention to it on page 15. This is what Miss Douglas-Pennant says—I accuse Brig.-General Livingston, Lt.-Colonel Bersey, and Mrs. Beatty (W.R.N.S.) of taking steps within the W.R.A.F. to bring about my dismissal from the post of Commandant, their reason for doing so being that I would not be a party to the jobbery and inefficiency which prevailed in the W.R.A.F. whilst it was under the control of Brig.-General Livingston and the direct management of Lt.-Colonel Bersey.She repeats it on page 16—Having then attempted to carry on the work of the W.R.A.F. upon right principles and in the best interests of the Force, I became the object of a bitter attack, and I saw plainly that every effort was being made to get rid of me before Major-General Paine became aware of the chaos and disorganisation and intrigue which prevailed. I was warned from the outside and by a member of the staff that an intrigue was on foot to get rid of me because I was too just and straight.It is perfectly impossible for any one to attempt to pass any judgment whatever upon such a statement, but it is at least important to see that it is made by a person who, when she was dismissed from the Force, as stated by Lord Weir in his letter on page 8, was a person in connection with whom "there was nothing which reflected in any way on your capacity or efficiency, but you appeared to be confronted with a combination of circumstances which would take too long to clear away, and the only solution therefore was a change." I will comment on that later, but for a moment I want to say that this lady, so far from being of a wild hysterical character, suffering from delusions, is there said to be a woman of capacity and efficiency. In her own record of service which appears on page 19 she says—On the other hand, I had a sixteen years' record of public work—seven years of which had been spent in the Government service, during which time I held one of the highest and most responsible posts as a National Health Insurance Commissioner. I had never had the slightest friction or difficulty working with others.945 Therefore, my Lords, one starts with this, that here is a lady of admitted skill and character, a lady who is not prima facie a person likely to be led astray into making wild and cruel and reckless statements about other people, and it is her firm conviction that she has evidence to show that the reason why she was dismissed from the service was that she was attempting to expose jobbery and mismanagement. It is that issue which she desires to have investigated and explained.
Is it possible in a case like this to, I was going to say ride off, but I will say to escape the issue, by saying that in all these eases it is impossible to have an inquiry? I agree it is not, but there are not, as is suggested by the noble Marquess, a very large number of people all over the country suffering from the belief that they have been made the victims of injustice so great and so severe as this lady appears to think she is suffering from. Then it is said that Lord Weir acted in a moment of great national emergency, and that you must not question too closely what he did. I agree as to that. But the point is that Lord Weir is alleged to have been induced to act in this manner by people who wanted to prevent her from pursuing her work.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
You cannot read this Paper without seeing that that is what is suggested. She claims that she was attempting to render this Government service more clean and more efficient. When Lord Weir got rid of her it is admitted that she was efficient and capable, but it is said that she was "confronted by circumstances which would take too long to clear away." Why did he not attempt to get rid of the circumstances? How can you possibly get over circumstances which it would take too long to clear away by getting rid of the person who knows all about them and putting in her place somebody who does not? There is an uncomfortable and uneasy feeling left in one's mind that here is a grave question which in the public interest ought to be inquired into—not only in the interests of Miss Douglas-Pennant, who is nothing but a name in this matter—a question far bigger and graver than that, namely, the question of the pure and clean administration of the public service. That is the matter 946 which Miss Douglas-Pennant asks should be inquired into.
This matter has really got to a pitch in which I respectfully submit to the Government that they cannot, in common justice to this lady, let it stop where it is, because as is usual in these matters the thing proceeds to swell and grow from day to day. The Morning Post published the other day certain correspondence. The lady herself, so far as I know did not publish it. It is simply published over the name of Mrs. Broadhurst, following a reply from Miss Douglas-Pennant. It is there stated that—On Wednesday last, April 30th, Mr. Tyson Wilson, the Whip of the Labour Party, in an interview at the House of Commons, informed us that he knew, on the authority of the Secretary of the Ministry concerned, that complaints made against your administration previous to your dismissal had been drastically investigated. Also that you yourself had been given the fullest opportunity of hearing and answering such complaints, and had been unable to do so. Further that the charges so dealt with were such that no responsible official of any Department could do otherwise than, after investigation of their truth, decide on a summary dismissal.That is where the case now stands. This lady placed her services at the disposal of the Government, and I believe there is no reason to doubt the truth of what was said by Lord Weir at the moment of her dismissal—namely, that she was efficient and zealous and capable in the work she did, and she ends by having statements made that there were charges against her character which she was unable to reply to. I should think any woman who came before your Lordships' House in such circumstances and asked that the matter should be cleared up would be met with a ready assent, and I find it difficult to see why it is that after perhaps the only impartial inquiry, made by Mr. Cecil Harmsworth, which concluded with a recommendation to the Prime Minister that this course should be taken—why it is that that course should now be denied.
The only answer given by Lord Weir is that to be found in the letter of Lord Weir to the Prime Minister on December 4. It is an unconvincing answer, and it is impossible to overlook the fact that it is suggested that there had been friction between her and the National Service Department, who would not send her recruits, when her case is that she had not had any communication with them at any time, and if it had been the case it would have been right to communicate with her 947 before she was dismissed and to point out the defects in her system which were complained of, and to see if it was not possible to have them remedied. No one desires to prejudge what the result of an inquiry would be. It is possible that this lady is mistaken—ladies have been mistaken before this—but a Government Department may have done a great wrong. They have done great wrongs before this, and the question is one which in the public interest should be investigated. The only way in which it can be investigated is by a public inquiry; and I do not care what kind of inquiry it is provided it is public.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
May I be allowed to correct a mis-statement. I have just heard that Lord Weir has been obliged to postpone his departure.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
I am very grateful to the noble Marquess, and possibly he will now be able to answer my question.
THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
Before your Lordships proceed to a Division, may I say a word or two? I approach this question from a point of view which has not been touched by any speaker in the debate. I came down this afternoon with no intention whatever of voting on either side. I knew little about the case, but when I arrived, like all your Lordships, these Papers were put into my hands. We have none of us had time to read them, though we have been doing our best to turn them over since four o'clock. In these Papers I find a number of very extreme charges—I use the word with all respect—made by Miss Pennant against other individuals. These statements may be true, and they may be false, but here they are in a public document. At first sight many of them seem to me to be statements that, if they had been made in public, and not in a public document and therefore protected by privilege, might very naturally be the basis of proceedings in the ordinary legal way.
I feel so strongly, after seeing these charges made, that I am going to vote with my noble friend for an inquiry, but I do so, my Lords, probably disagreeing with him in the motive. I know no more of this case than I have learned from reading the debates carefully, and from following this afternoon's debate very closely, and I am not at all sure that Miss Pennant will get all the benefit from the inquiry that 948 her supporters think she will get. That is merely a matter of personal opinion. Your Lordships will see in the last long document that very strong statements are made against, I think, two ladies—against Mrs. Chalmers Watson, who was the first head of the Women's Army Corps, familiarly known as the W.A.A.C.'s, and against Dame Katherine curse, who is now head of the Women's Navy Service, which has been an astonishing success and in which there has been no trouble such as we are discussing this afternoon.
Charges like this ought to be answered. There is nothing in these Papers showing that either of these ladies has had any opportunity of answering the charges, and I feel that they should have an opportunity of answering them when they are published under the authority of a public document. Therefore in voting for my noble friend I wish to make it quite clear that my vote is not one for Miss Pennant, but is a vote for an inquiry into the whole case from whatever point of view you regard it. I believe that the new situation which has arisen this afternoon by the publication of these Papers makes some inquiry necessary. I do not care what the inquiry is, but I shall vote for there being one.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD BIRKENHEAD)
My Lords, I have the misfortune to differ from my noble and learned friend, and I tear from a considerable number of your Lordships, and I do not think it respectful not to offer a word of what I consider necessary caution. It is essential that one should not disregard the consideration pressed upon your Lordships by the noble Marquess—that he cannot distinguish this case from many other cases which have arisen in the course of this war. The noble and learned Lord said that it very seldom happens, in a case of persons whose services have been dispensed with, that they make such charges or such complaints as are made by this lady.
What was this lady's position? She was transferred from one branch of the Public Service to another branch. She undertook obligations and she became amenable to the rules—the well-known rules—of discipline in the Service. How many Generals in the course of this war, without inquiry, without the possibility of inquiry, have been summarily and in the middle of the war removed from their command? The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Beres 949 ford, said that in his opinion, in every such case, if an inquiry is asked for, an inquiry should be given. Such counsel is absolutely erratic. I do not know whether the noble and gallant Lord is aware that the number of officers of General rank, including Brigadiers, is almost in the neighbourhood of hundreds, who, in the judgment of their superior officers, ought to be summarily removed and were summarily removed, whose whole careers were probably ruined by that. removal, and not one of whom does not most bitterly feel that he ought to have an inquiry, and that if he had been given an inquiry the result of it would have been in his favour. Your Lordships are surely aware that in one or two of the best known incidents in the whole history of the war—I desire naturally to mention no names—officers of the highest distinction have been removed as the result of the conclusions reached by their superiors and by the Cabinet, have demanded urgently and repeatedly that they should receive inquiries, and inquiries have been refused. Is that refusal a justifiable refusal or is it not? That is the real question that your Lordships have to answer to-night.
This is not an individual case; it is a case which falls under a general rule or does not fall under a general rule. Can a decision which has been a decision like that of the Admiralty or War Office be justified in refusing an inquiry to an officer whose services are dispensed with even if that officer makes grave complaints against those in whose hands it lies to take the decision that dismissed him? I am of opinion that not only can such a rule be justified, hut I am of opinion that but for such a rule the war could never have been carried on. Furthermore, I am of opinion that if this rule is denied we should spend the next two or three years in conducting inquiries.
I happen to have been engaged in two inquiries of this kind. One was connected with the origin of the Empire Battalion, and one was connected with a painful case which will be in your Lordships' recollection, in which allegations were made about the circumstances in which a commission had been given to a young officer. I speak from memory, but I believe each of those inquiries lasted for a period of something like three weeks. They cost, if my recollection is right, many thousands of pounds 950 each. If you are once to say that every officer of General rank whose career has been sacrificed is entitled to come to this House, as this lady has come, by powerful and influential friends, and put his individual case (and let one of my noble friends recall the facts discursively spread over a period of many years) and if he is to be allowed to say "I have been ruined by the allegation of a Brigadier or a General on the General Staff or by the Army Council and I demand an inquiry"—if such a principle were to be agreed to we should spend the next two or three years in dealing with and deciding by judicial inquiries the grievances of those who made these complaints.
I would urge another consideration which seems to be not without importance. Are these inquiries to be reserved only for persons of high positions—for soldiers or sailors of exalted rank? Is it to be laid down by a decision of your Lordships' House that subalterns and captains and commanding officers of battalions are to be placed in an inferior position to that of other persons whose social influence or whose rank in the service may happen to be higher? Of course, no one would venture to advance such a contention. Is the principle to be assented to that any officer who has held a commission in the course of this war, and who brings forward first of all the fact that he has been dismissed, and who adds to the fact that he has been dismissed "I was dismissed by my commanding officer unfairly and from malice or through corruption," is to be entitled to an inquiry? If any one of your Lordships can distinguish that case from this now under consideration I confess that I shall be very glad to hear that distinction clearly made. I confess that from the noble and learned Lord, I was astonished to hear such an argument.
We are told about some paragraph, which I confess I have not seen, appearing in a journal in which apparently Mr. Tyson Wilson, about whom we were told by another noble Lord that he is the Whip of the Labour Party, had made some statement reflecting upon this lady, and therefore suggesting—I gather that was the argument of the noble Lord—that your Lordships ought to direct an inquiry in order that it may be decided that the reflection of Mr. Tyson Wilson upon this lady is not well-founded. The short 951 answer to that is what was stated by the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope—I accept it as from him—that Mr. Tyson Wilson denies that he ever made this statement at all. On the other hand, it is alleged by three witnesses, according again to the noble Earl, who is my sole informant on this point, that Mr. Tyson Wilson is not telling the truth. If your Lordships are to get Judges to decide whether Mr. Tyson Wilson used these words which he says he did not use and which three witnesses say he did use, then I say I have never heard such a ground put forward for an inquiry, and it astonishes me that any one of the great experience and erudition of my noble and learned friend should think that such an argument ever deserved or was likely to have the slightest respect at your Lordships' hands.
The plain truth—and let us try at least to understand this—is that this lady was diverted, as I have said, from one branch of the Public Service to another. Lord Weir formed the same conclusion—and I suppose no one would be disposed to suspect that he did not honestly do it, or that he had any prejudice of any kind towards this lady—he formed the same conclusion which over and over again Commanding Officers in authority in the course of this war have done about their subordinates. Having formed that conclusion, he suggests plainly in a letter which has been read to your Lordships the reasons and the only reasons which led him to that conclusion.
What is the case which is made in answer? Miss Douglas-Pennant was invited to set out the case on which she relied as justifying the inquiry which had been most contingently promised by the noble Marquess who, when the first debate on this subject took place, spoke on behalf of the Government. I do not know whether your Lordships have yet had time to read the confidential Memorandum which is to be found on page 10 of this bundle of correspondence. I read it very carefully indeed, and I am astonished that anybody who has read this document—the first document which shows the case which Miss Douglas-Pennant thinks herself called upon to make—could ask your Lordships to take the serious step—alone in the case of this lady, when it has been denied to everybody else—of an inquiry. These were the kind of statements which she thought it worth while to 952 make. The first is on page 11 of the White Paper—From the outset I found that I was treated by practically every one as an unwelcome intruder; and it was easy to see that this attitude was brought about by my having stipulated for direct access, having regard to the serious condition of things when I first looked into them. For instance, I learned that the Probationary Officers had been warned that I was a dreadful woman who had spies everywhere, and who was simply out to lord it over every one and to treat the officers in the most unfair and cruel manner.And at the end of the next paragraph she says—A day or two after I had informed the five Probationary Officers that I could not recommend the appointments in question, I was interviewed by another officer, a Mrs. Stephenson, who complained that I had not posted her high enough, that she intended to inform Lord Northcliffe, and the Press generally what was going on, and that there were four highly-placed Generals and others in the Air Ministry who meant to get rid of me, unless I did what was wanted, concluding with the remark: 'Mark my words, you will be outside looking for a job if you do not do what you ought in this matter. You will be outside in another week or two—see if you are not.'Is it really suggested that matters of this kind in the most important letter of the series are to be sent before a Judicial Committee?
In my judgment it is the first letter which is the most important letter in Miss Douglas-Pennant's correspondence. The last letter is written when the Secretary of State for War has written to Miss Douglas-Pennant and said that her letter is lacking in explicitness and that unless she brings forward some charges of corruption or malice against named individuals he will not grant an inquiry. But that is the first letter, and it is after two other long letters that Miss Douglas-Pennant has produced these charges which were read by my noble and learned friend who spoke last, and about which I say that the only reasonable inference is that if she had it in her mind at the time she wrote her first letter that this was her real case it is incredible that she would not have put the grave passage read by my noble and learned friend in that letter, which contained the long series of tittle-tattle which I have read. She left it to the last letter of all, which is only produced, at the point of the bayonet, when the Secretary of State had absolutely refused to grant an inquiry.
I will add one further observation. A noble Lord, speaking with deep feeling from those benches, said that he wished to 953 make it quite clear what the feeling was in Wales upon this point. I do not doubt the feeling in Wales. It is not difficult if one conducts a public agitation in certain ways to excite feeling in Wales or elsewhere, but it is very material to discover how this particular enthusiasm and indignation in Wales were excited, and I would invite my noble friend to consider the protest meeting that was held at Bangor on April 17, 1919. I state provisionally that I am quoting from the North Wales Chronicle, and I should be glad to discover whether the report is erroneous. Butt I state guardedly that the North Wales Chronicle attributes to the right rev. Prelate, the Bishop of St. Asaph, the following observations, which are said to be have been made at that meeting—The only possible explanation of the refusal of an inquiry is that the Government fear a scandal. One newspaper stated that some of the officers who sheltered in the Royal Air Force from the danger of contact with the enemy wish to have their mistresses maintained by the State in sham appointments of £300 and £400 a year. I do not think a Government which refuses an inquiry into such an allegation will last very long in this country.It is true that the right rev. Prelate added—I am a well-wisher of the Government.But I think he was rather passing to a different branch of his argument. It is, indeed, easy to understand indignation in Wales if allegations of this shocking character are made by persons of the highest responsibility, if excited public meetings are informed that this lady was removed from the Royal Air Service because she exposed the irregularities of officers who were establishing irregular connections with women who ware serving. And I greatly hope that the noble Lord when he next visits that interesting and beautiful town will make himself very forward in explaining that, although Miss Douglas-Pennant has written three extraordinarily long letters, she has never inserted that particular charge. And it would therefore be a little unreasonable if that were to be used as a means of exciting the just indignation of the moral population of Wales.
I have finished what I have to say on this question. I have not the honour of knowing Miss Douglas-Pennant, but I do not find that she, though somewhat sensitive in her own affairs, is quite as sensitive when she is dealing with others. I have 954 made it my business very carefully to inquire how many officers, male and female, were associated with this lady in important positions, and the proportion of those who were associated with her at all who have abstained from this conspiracy is quite extraordinary. There is no one who has not done something from the beginning, from Sir Auckland Geddes downwards—Sir Auckland Geddes who may be considered to be at any rate a person of admitted integrity (I have heard other suggestions against the Geddes family but nothing against their integrity), and we find Miss Douglas-Pennant beginning at the top and making the allegation that Sir Auckland Geddes, in order to obtain the appointment for his own sister has brought pressure to bear on Lord Weir and Major-General Brancker to dismiss her as soon as Sir Godfrey Paine, who alone knew anything about my work, was overseas."
As I differ profoundly from the noble and learned Lord as to the avenue through which only in rare case should ladies in the position of Miss Douglas-Pennant be able to win through to an inquiry, let me say at once that one of the avenues through which I would allow an inquiry would not be the making of reckless charges against persons in high positions without adducing one syllable of evidence in the letter in support of them. The one thing she was asked to adduce by the noble Marquess and by the Secretary of State was prima facie evidence. The accusations are shocking. "I charge Dame K. Furse"—a lady whose name is respected wherever it is known, whose contributions in the war have been as great as those of any lady I have ever known—" I charge Dame K. Furse, a friend of Mrs. Beatty and of Sir Auckland Geddes, with having brought pressure to bear through Sir A. Geddes on Lord Weir and Major-General Brancker to dismiss me." What does that mean? It means that a lady of the character of which I have spoken has gone to Sir Auckland Geddes (a Privy Councillor and a member of His Majesty's Government) and has said to him, "Will you go to Lord Weir" (also a Privy Councillor and a Secretary of State) "and will you persuade him to get rid of Miss Pennant"—and then the insinuation is plainly made that the reason Sir Auckland Geddes lent himself to this vile conspiracy was in order that the shameful job of placing Sir Auckland Geddes's sister in the position which Miss 955 Pennant had vacated might be perpetrated. Allegations, however reckless, are not proofs. The mere making of statements which attack and assail the character of every man and every woman who did not agree with Miss Pennant—and, indeed, the number was very considerable—the mere process of attempting to besmirch the reputation of every man and of every woman from whom she differed at that time, does not, believe me, entitle this lady to the inquiry for which she asks. I do not think, nor, indeed, do I expect, that your Lordships will accept any advice that I may respectfully offer to you at this moment. Your Lordships will, as I well know, go your own way.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
But I at least could not reconcile it to the view I hold that this course, in which I see nothing but disaster and failure, should be adopted without a clear warning (I hope respectfully conveyed from me) that your Lordships will be opening a wide door to many cases incomparably more deserving of inquiry.
THE LORD BISHOP OF BANGOR
(who was indistinctly heard): My Lords, if there is any place where Miss Douglas-Pennant might be expected to have a meeting of indignation about the way in which she has been treated, I surely think it ought to be in her native city. I was very glad to hear it said that in fairness to every one there ought now to be an investigation, and I am sure that Miss Douglas-Pennant will court full inquiry into everything she has done.
I think the noble and learned Lord was endeavouring to turn us away from the main point, He talked of a highly-placed lady getting justice here, which would have been denied if she had not had so many friends in this House. I think this House has always been the inner temple of justice. A month or six weeks ago I was reading Prayers here, and while the House was sitting. judicially I listened to a case being tried. The person concerned was not a lady of high position but a poor charwoman bringing an action against the City of Glasgow, one of the most powerful corporations in the Kingdom. In my opinion it does not matter whether it is the case of a lady in a high social position or a woman in a low social position, the House 956 of Lords will always give a ready hearing and mete out justice. That is the main point. When a lady like Miss Douglas-Pennant is placed in this unfortunate position, little whispers are heard, and it is said that there is much more behind the case. In conclusion I should like to draw attention to the fact that while it is said that Miss Douglas-Pennant was dismissed by General Brancker on Lord Weir's order in August, yet Lord Weir says that he gave the order in September.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I do not intend to detain the House for more than two or three minutes, but I wish to say why I should feel compelled to vote for this motion. It is rather difficult to keep a thoroughly judicial spirit when one listens to a speech like that delivered by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I regretted the tone of that speech, especially coming from him. After all, everything the noble and learned Lord said was the speech of an advocate and not the speech, if I may say so, of a judge—and we are obliged to approach this subject as judges. All that he said, in which I dare say there was a great deal of truth, seemed to me all the more reason why an inquiry is necessary. If this lady has been guilty of making unfounded charges by all means let those unfounded charges be inquired into. But the real difficulty of the debate in your Lordships' House to-night is the absence—the astounding absence—of the only noble Lord who could have given us first-hand information on the matter. Where is Lord Weir? Why is he not in his place to defend his administration?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
This is not the first time this subject has been before your Lordships. We had a debate upon it some months ago, and Lord Weir was not then in his place. What conclusion are your Lordships to draw from the fact that the noble Lord—who was the Secretary of State who came to this decision, and who is responsible for the action which was taken—is not present in his place to explain to your Lordships the 957 reason for his action? He has thrown that responsibility upon my noble friend, Lord Londonderry. I think that my noble friend, if he will allow me to say so, did his work this evening extraordinarily well, showing the good spirit and the attitude of mind which we were quite certain he would show. But what right was there to throw such a responsibility upon my noble friend? Lord Weir was the responsible man, and he should have been here to defend the course he took. That is the first reason why I feel compelled to vote for an inquiry.
The second reason is that the Private Secretary of the Prime Minister, who was directed by the Prime Minister to make an inquiry and who made it, is not allowed, apparently, to have his Report presented to Parliament. Why is that? Why should that Report be withheld from us? Why are we not to know what the Report on this inquiry of Mr. Cecil Harmsworth will be? This second is one which, if I may say so, broadly distinguishes this case from the generality of cases to which the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack referred. Will the noble and learned Lord get up from the Woolsack and say that every Brigadier-General who is superseded will have the Prime Minister's Private Secretary directed to make an inquiry into his case? Will be say that in every such case the Prime Minister's Private Secretary has come to the conclusion that there ought to be a judicial inquiry, and has told the
§ Prime Minister so? Of course, that by itself differentiates the case from all ordinary ones. These are two very strong reasons.
§ I will give only one final reason. The noble Marquess, speaking on behalf of the Government on the last occasion, told your Lordships—and, I am sure, told us in absolute good faith—that if Miss Douglas-Pennant produced a prima facie case for an inquiry the Government would be most anxious to grant it. Has she not produced a prima facie case? Who can deny that she has done so? I do not say that she has proved her case, but here was an absolute pledge from the Government that if a prima facie case was produced an inquiry would be granted. These reasons seem to me conclusive and I do not see how your Lordships can come to any conclusion but to vote for the Motion. May I add that that does not mean that those who vote for the Motion find in favour of Miss Douglas-Pennant.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Of course not. She may be absolutely wrong. All that we find is that there should be an inquiry.
§ On Question, That the Motion be agreed to—
§ Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 69; Not-Contents, 20.959
|Northumberland, D.||Knollys, V.||Granard, L. (E. Granard.)|
|Crewe, M.||Bangor, L. Bp.||Inverclyde, L.|
|Lincolnshire, M.||Islington, L.|
|Salisbury, M.||Aberconway, L.||Lawrence, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Askwith, L.||Monckton, L.(V. Galway.)|
|Beauchamp, E.||Ampthill, L.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Eldon, E.||Avebury, L.||Monson, L.|
|Grey, E.||Beresford of Metemmeh, L. [Teller.]||Montagu of Beaulieu, L.|
|Lindsay, E.||Penrhyn, L.|
|Malmesbury, E.||Blyth, L.||Pontypridd, L.|
|Manvers, E.||Buckmaster, L.||Roundway, L.|
|Mayo, E.||Charnwood, L.||St. Levan, L.|
|Selborne, E.||Chaworth, L.(E. Meath.)||Sanderson, L.|
|Stanhope, E.[Teller.]||Clwyd, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Strafford, E.||Dewar, L.||Shute, L.(V. Barrington.)|
|Ebury, L.||Strachie, L.|
|Allendale, V.||Erskine, L.||Stuart of Wortley, L.|
|Chaplin, V.||Fairfax of Cameron, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Esher, V.||Forbes, L.||Sydenham, L,|
|Finlay, V.||Forester, L.||Treowen, L.|
|Hood, V.||Gainford, L.||Weardale, L.|
|Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.)||Glenconner, L.||Willoughby de Broke, L.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Wolverton, L.|
|Birkenhead, L.(L. Chancellor.)||Jersey, K.||Armaghdale, L.|
|Curzon of Kedleston, E. (L. President.)||Vane, E.(M. Londonderry).||Cochrane of Cults, L.|
|Bristol, M.||Farquhar, V. (L. Steward.)||Hylton, L.|
|Dufferin and Ava, M.||Sandhurst, V.(L. Chamberlain.)||Newton, L.|
|Peel, V.||Rathcreedan, L.|
|Bradford, E.||Somerleyton, L.[Teller.]|
|Chesterfield, E.||Annesley, L.||Stanmore, L.[Teller.]|
On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.