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Work Direction (Sentence)

Volume 389: debated on Thursday 13 May 1943

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asked the Home Secretary whether he will now recommend the release of Samuel Naylor, now serving a sentence of three months for refusing to work underground, but who offered to join the Navy, and who has already served six weeks of the sentence imposed on him?

No, Sir. I regret that I can find no grounds for modifying the decision which was communicated to my hon. Friend by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Home Security in reply to his Question OR 21st April.

But is not my right hon. Friend aware that in similar circumstances only fines have been imposed, whereas in this case a young man has been sent to prison when he was, in fact, quite willing to join the Forces? Why is he allowed to languish in gaol, so that the nation is deprived of his services, and why should he be suffering under a very savage sentence?

My hon. Friend is getting indignant, but his indignation is misplaced so far as I am concerned. The issue is whether courts of law are courts of law or whether their functions are to be usurped by the Home Secretary. I am not passing any judgment on the merits of the particular sentence of the court, which was acting within its legitimate discretion. If the Home Secretary is to interfere with the detailed decisions of courts, the Constitution will be upset.

Is it not true to say that the Minister has interfered in other cases and has used his discretion? Further, is he aware that the Minister of Labour, in relation to this case, said that the whole situation would be reviewed and that young men generally would have an opportunity of going into the Forces if they so desired? Would he not reconsider this special case?

With regard to the first point, there have been cases of an exceptional character where I have thought it right to modify a decision, but I must stop myself from making a general habit of interfering with the legitimate discretion of the courts. As to the second point, I think my hon. Friend has exaggerated what the Minister of Labour has said, but in any case the Ministry of Labour do not consider there is anything to distinguish this case from many others, and neither they nor the Ministry of Fuel and Power recommend any remission.

I beg to give notice that I will raise this matter again on the Adjournment at the first opportunity.