HC Deb 22 January 1918 vol 101 cc818-20
Mr. TREVELYAN (by Private Notice)

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether the premises of the British Socialist party were raided by agents of Scotland Yard on Thursday night, and a supply of leaflets taken away which were intended for distribution to the delegates at the Labour Conference in Nottingham, containing the views of the British Socialist party as to the policy which Labour ought to pursue at this juncture, and also a message from M. Litvinoff, representative of the Russian Government, to the workers of Great Britain; whether be will promptly return these leaflets, in order that a section of British Labour may not be deprived of its ordinary right of putting its views before colleagues in print, and in order that the Russian representative may be allowed to address the British working class in what words he pleases without the interference of the Government?


It is a fact that the premises of the British Socialist party were entered by the police on the date named, and a number of copies of a leaflet of the nature described were seized. I am advised that the publication of this leaflet, which contains gross misrepresentations of the attitude of the British Government towards the Russian people, and incitements calculated to lead to civil strife and the defeat of our arms, is a clear breach of the Regulations for the Defence of the Realm, and the question of prosecution is being considered. In the meanwhile I cannot direct the return of the documents seized. I may add that I do not accept the suggestion of the hon. Member that a person who claims to be the representative of a foreign Government is at liberty to engage in propaganda in this country as he pleases without the interference of His Majesty's Government. No such liberty is allowed either to the authorised representative of a foreign Government or to an alien resident here and not occupying that position.


Will the Home Secretary reconsider his decision, and will he place the British Labour party on the same footing as the smaller body? The right hon. Gentleman said yesterday that he had decided not to take any action against the Labour party for having broken Regulation 27 c. Will he put these two parties on one footing in regard to this matter, or does he differentiate between them because he is afraid of one and he is not afraid of the other?


No. The hon. Gentleman does not represent me fairly. I said that the manifesto of the British Labour party was a technical breach of Regulation 27 c, but not of substantial Regulations like 37 and 42. The leaflet in question is a serious breach of a substantial Regulation.


Has not there been a definite breach of the law, and is the law to be broken by some people without a prosecution, while other people are to be prosecuted?


I said very carefully yesterday that I thought there had been a breach of 27 c. There was the same breach in this case, and if there had been nothing more I would not have taken the serious steps which I have taken.


Will the right hon. Gentleman inform the House of the contents?