HC Deb 11 November 1920 vol 134 cc1348-50
33. Mr. HOGGE

asked the Prime Minister whether his attention has been called to the circumstances of the arrest of Mrs. J. Annan Bryce at Holyhead; whether he can state the offence which she was suspected to have committeed or to have been likely to commit; whether he will state which Minister is responsible for her arrest; and whether, as it is now admitted that there was no ground for arresting Mrs. Bryce, the Government will offer her an apology and redress for this invasion of her personal liberty?


In reply to the first and second parts of the question, I would refer the hon. Member to the replies which I gave to previous questions addressed to me on this subject on the 8th instant. The officer who effected the arrest is of course under the control of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, but I am prepared to take full responsibility for this arrest. It is not the case that it is admitted that there was no ground for arresting Mrs. Bryce, and in view of the fact that the documents found upon her contained gross libels upon the Royal Irish Constabulary I cannot agree that any apology or redress is due from the Government.


This question was addressed to the Prime Minister, and I want to ask the Prime Minister whether he can state the offence which she was suspected to have committed, and whether he, as a Liberal, agrees with this invasion of personal liberty?

The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Lloyd George)

The action taken by my right hon. Friend and by those who are associated with him in the government of Ireland is for the defence and for the protection of liberty, and therefore I certainly, as a Liberal, support fully the action which they took.


Is my right hon. Friend aware that very high legal authorities are of opinion that the action of the Executive in the arrest of Mrs. Bryce was wholly illegal? [HON MEMBERS: "Name," and "Take action."]


If there was any illegality committed, it was committed in this country. The courts are open, and it is not for me to pronounce any opinion.


May I ask, if this lady was arrested for an offence, why she was not tried for it? I must press for an answer.


That question has been answered over and over again, and it has been the subject of discussion. I do not think there is anything to be gained by re-opening this question by a system of cross-examination.


If this lady was subjected to the humility stated in the question and admitted, it was for some offence she committed; why was she not tried for that offence before some tribunal?


When there are so many outrages committed in Ireland—where thorp is undoubtedly a widespread conspiracy, ending in the loss of life—the police are entitled to take precautions. Whether in this particular case the precautions were necessary or not, my right hon. Friend (Sir Hamar Greenwood) has already answered, but they are entitled to make examinations and search where there is suspicion, and that is the only way.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the only conspiracy this lady has been engaged in for the last five years was to establish and maintain out of her own pocket a hospital for wounded officers in the South of Ireland?


I am making no suggestion at all about Mrs. Annan Bryce. I am only answering a question put by my hon. Friend as to the right of the police, to search and investigate and, where there is suspicion, to arrest, for the protection of their comrades and themselves, and for the establishment of law and order in Ireland. If that is restricted, it is quite impossible for them to carry out their duties.


Is that not done in this and in every other country in the world?


Is no person, however eminent or however free from the possibility of charges of this character, to be immune from being seized by the police? [HON. MEMBERS: "Certainly not!"]


Does the Prime Minister mean to suggest by his answer that Mrs. Annan Bryce was suspected of committing outrages, or of being engaged in a murder conspiracy?


I most carefully safeguarded myself against anything of that kind. I have always said that the police are entitled to take steps of this character where they suspect that any person has got either information or documents which they believe will interfere with the carrying out of the law in Ireland. If we interfere with the discretion of the police in this respect, and say, "You must not exercise your functions if a person happens to be eminent," it will be quite impossible for us afterwards to expect them to take the risks which they are taking in carrying out their duties.