HC Deb 18 November 1914 vol 68 cc412-3

asked the Prime Minister whether, in the public interest, he will consider the question of instituting a Committee of Public Safety, with branch bureaux in all the great centres, to inquire into and report on alien enemies; whether the responsibility at present is divided between the Home Office, the War Office, and the Admiralty; and whether that divided responsibility results in confusion and inefficiency?

The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)

The three Departments mentioned co-operate with one another, and I cannot agree with the suggestion that the division of responsibility has resulted in confusion and inefficiency. Division of duties is inevitable, because they relate partly to civil and partly to naval and military matters. The Home Office and the police are responsible for the steps taken to register alien enemies and to enforce the provisions of the Aliens Restriction Order. The internment of alien enemies of military age is a military measure for which the War Office is, and must be, responsible, though the Secretary of State for War is assisted by the civil authority in giving effect to his policy. As regards the dangers of espionage—a subject which the Noble Lord has, no doubt, especially in mind—some time ago, on the advice of the Committee of Imperial Defence, there, was established at the War Office an Intelligence Department, which co-operates with the Admiralty, and has the assistance of the civil power wherever necessary. This Department has done invaluable work. The powers which the naval and military authorities possessed before the War to deal with espionage have been materially supplemented by the passing of the Defence of the Realm Acts, and the question of strengthening the staff of the Intelligence Department to cope with the new duties imposed upon it is now being considered. I would point out to the Noble Lord that his suggestion would not remove any responsibility from the existing authorities, unless he proposes to transfer to his Committee of Public Safety the naval and military forces of the Crown, and the police, forces now controlled in the Metropolis by the Government and elsewhere by the local police authorities.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is the greatest anxiety and irritation in the country about this question of spies, and that the general sentiment of the country is undoubtedly that the precautions taken are not adequate?


It is a matter that is receiving the constant attention of the Government.

Colonel YATE

Are we to understand that the initiation of all proceedings against foreign spies rests with the Home Secretary?




It is just the opposite.


When did the Intelligence Department of the War Office begin to deal with espionage?


I could not give the exact date. It is a considerable time ago.