HC Deb 04 August 1922 vol 157 cc1951-75

I am quite sure that to-morrow, when those who are associated with the local authorities throughout the country, read of the decision of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Education, that the circular cannot be postponed, there will be grave, and, indeed, bitter disappointment. The right hon. Gentleman said just now that he would draw a picture of the effect of this circular. Will he allow me to take one particular school, a school of which I have knowledge. He himself knows Plymouth College. Here is a school, typical of many others in the country, established by a number of public-spirited men, who have dipped heavily in their own pockets from time to time and maintained the school, not for a great number of years, not for more than 20 years, I believe. They applied to the Plymouth Council for assistance, and the Plymouth Council, after a great deal of discussion, gave £1,000. Later on that sum was increased to £2,000. I agree that there is the greatest difficulty in getting those on a council who do not believe in education to join with those who do in order to give grants when necessary. That £2,000 has been secured with the utmost difficulty, and now the effect of this circular is that, whereas in the past Plymouth College has received £2,000 in the course of a year, this year they will actually receive only about £1,606, and that amount, which they have received from the Plymouth Council, aided as it has been to the extent of 50 per cent. by the Board of Education, will be progressively reduced, until that £2,000 has been made £1,000. It will be quite impossible to get that from the Plymouth Council, because of their pressure at the present time, harassed, as they are, through continual unemployment, with a rate that is giving a great deal of difficulty. Speaking as a member of that council, I know very well that this is an impracticable proposal. The only effect will be to maim and to injure this school. The only effect will be that some of the lads who have had the opportunity through that school of getting a fuller and better education will be excluded from that advantage, and all for a mere £100,000 during the present year—the minimum of economy, with the maximum of disturbance throughout the whole country. I associate myself, if I may, with respect, with the hon. and gallant Member for Accrington (Major Gray) in urging upon right hon. Gentleman the wisdom of, at any rate, postponing the decision upon this circular.

I rose to bring before I he House in the course of a minute or two another subject that I think was discussed last Friday in this House, perhaps with a little more heat than light. It is this question of broadcasting, and I think that before the House separates for the Recess there should be an opportunity of clearing up one or two points that were then raised. I think the Postmaster-General had not the opportunity last Friday of dealing with all the points that were raised, and there are certain particulars in respect of which, perhaps, the public mind might be enlightened. I do not approach the subject with any expert knowledge. I have no more knowledge of it than that of the man in the street, but I recognise that this is a startling development. A very considerable change is to be brought about, and it is ail the more necessary that we should proceed upon sound lines. The points upon which I would like to ask the Postmaster-General for further information are these—what progress has been made with the formation of the proposed combine of the interested companies, who will have the determination of the terms of admission into that combine, and what protection will be given to the smaller man, the man of no great financial resources, who wishes to join that combination? The Postmaster-General has already announced that in associating himself with those who are connected with this proposed company, it is not intended that any of the receiving apparatus in broadcasting is to be of foreign manufacture.

I want to approach that question simply from the standpoint of a possible individual user. If I wished to acquire this receiving apparatus, my first concern, of course, would be to get it as cheaply as possible, and to get the most efficient instrument I can at the price. Will the right hen. Gentleman let the House know how the several companies that are to enter into this combine will be reimbursed? I understand that part of the reimbursement for their enterprise will come from part of the licence fee, but will any portion of this reimbursement come from the profits on the sale of the receiving apparatus? If so—and I assume that will be the result—what power will the Postmaster-General have to see that this reimbursement is no more than fair? What control will he have over the price that is to be charged? What power will he have to protect the individual citizen from being forced to buy, perhaps, a dear and an imperfect apparatus, instead of a cheap and an efficient apparatus, if he be able to go practically to the whole world? I know the fiscal issue has been raised. I do not think those on this side are responsible for raising it. I think it was, in fact, raised by the Postmaster-General, who spoke of the necessity of keeping these communications in the hands of our own people. As far as I can see, there is no more reason for insisting upon the receiving apparatus being made by a British firm than for insisting upon a motor car, or boots, or any ordinary article being made by a British firm. Of course, a considerable argument may be used that, as far as broadcasting stations are concerned, they should be kept under Government control. But, as regards the apparatus itself, which might be made by a clever amateur, why should he not be able to go to the whole world to get his material? The indignation of the Postmaster-General last week is a little discounted by the fact that he has only allowed this condition to run for two years. If it be wrong to have a foreign apparatus at all, why not exclude it altogether? Those, I think, are one or two of the questions concerning a movement that is interesting the public mind very considerably, and upon which the Postmaster-General may be able to give us some enlightenment.

1.0 P.M.


I will reply at once to the hon. Member, not because I want to interfere with any other Member who desires to speak on this subject, but because I understand that those interested in the question would like me to reply immediately, so that they may have an opportunity of making any observations on what I may say. Every occasion on which this subject is discussed in the House is, in my opinion, of real value to the promotion of wireless broadcasting, which is in its infancy in this country. It was only a toy at the end of last year. Within 12 months—I do not think I am too sanguine—it may become one of the most valuable sources of communication, within certain limitations, at our disposal. But I make this general observation at the beginning. We must have regard to two things. One is that broadcasting has the defect of its qualities. For individual communication it is, I think, impracticable, but for distributing forms of information of common interest to great numbers of people, it may indeed prove to be a most valuable resource both for education, and, possibly, for political propaganda. It may be convenient if I give what is the history of this question so far as I have been connected with it. The first movement was in January of this year, when the wireless societies throughout this country asked permission, and were given sanction by the Imperial Communications Committee, to transmit wireless telegraphy signals.

The question was considered again on the 5th April, when the Wireless Subcommittee of the Imperial Communications Committee agreed that broadcasting by wireless telephony might be permitted from certain specified stations, the stations being centres—they may not be in the exact positions I indicate—in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Cardiff, Glasgow or Edinburgh and Aberdeen, and Plymouth has now been added. It was decided that licences should be granted to broadcast on a wavelength of 440 metres up to a maximum input of 1½ kilowatts. On 22nd April, representations were made to us that that limitation of 440 metres might seriously retard progress, and it was then agreed that a band of wave-lengths 350 to 423 metres should be used for broadcasting, on the condition that the Government, when necessary, could order broadcasting to cease for a short period on such occasions as manœuvres or the danger of interfering with important Government communications. The hours, provisionally agreed upon during which broadcasting should be permitted, were between 5 and 11 p.m. on week-days arid all day on Sundays. On 18th May, a conference was held at the Post Office, presided over, I think, by the Secretary of the Post Office. I myself was not present.

At that conference 24 firms interested in the production of wireless material were present. It was recognised by all the firms, and by all the officials of the Post Office, that if the thing was to succeed, you must have efficient, reliable and continuous services of broadcasting. Unless you can secure that, people are not going to interest themselves, and the drawback, I think, up to the present in this country has been that the sort of information and the sort of programme which has been broadcasted has been of the driest and most unattractive, and, I think, least beneficial character. If the best use is to be made of this new form of communication, it must touch life at many aspects, and one of my principal desires, so far as I have been associated with laying down the conditions, has been to see that thoroughly informative and valuable in- formation is broadcasted. It was recognised by all the technical people who were engaged in the discussion that it would be impossible to have a large number of firms broadcasting. That is physically impossible. It would result in a sort of chaos, only in a much aggravated form than that which has arisen in the United States of America, and which has compelled the United States, or the Department over which Mr. Hoover presides, and who is responsible for broadcasting, to do what we are now doing at the beginning, that is, proceed to lay down very drastic regulations, indeed, for the control of wireless broadcasting.

It was, therefore, necessary that the firms should come together, if the thing was to be efficiently done. You could not have 24 firms broadcasting in this country. There was not room. Physical laws would not permit it. They would all be getting in one another's way, and no good at all would be done, but only harm, and it. was suggested to them that., for the purpose of broadcasting information, whatever it might be, they should form themselves, if possible, into one group, one company.

At this point, I wish the House to draw this distinction, which is very necessary, and which, I am afraid, has been overlooked, between the broadcasting services and the provision of instruments. They are totally distinct. So far as the provision of instruments is concerned, any qualified firm of electrical manufacturers—and the more the better—can provide them, and make them, but you could riot possibly have that in connection with the broadcasting service. I hope that distinction will be kept clearly in mind. The firms met on the 18th May. They came to the Post Office again on the 16th June, and they then told the officials of the sort of progress they had been able to make in arriving at agreement as to provisions of the broadcasting service. Frankly, I am disappointed at the progress they have made. If a Government Department had been as slow as this the whole country would have rung with it. But I am glad to say that at last there is a prospect of getting on. I think that prospect will be realised within the course of the next fortnight, and that they will have come to an agreement amongst themselves in regard to the company or companies—there may be two, I hope myself, in the interests of broadcasting, there will be only one—in regard to the company or companies which will have control of the broadcasting services. I have laid down certain conditions which must govern the operations of the company, and must be expressed in their articles of association. These latter will be subject to the approval of the Postmaster-General. There will he no limit to the extent of the individual holding. Any bonâ fide British manufacturer of wireless apparatus must be allowed to become a member of the group on taking a £1 share. I think that ought to satisfy every manufacturer in this country who is capable of producing wireless apparatus at all. The licence for a broadcasting company is to be subject to the maintenance of an efficient service, and if, in my opinion, the services fail and are not efficient, I shall have authority to withdraw the licence. A contribution is to be made towards the broadcasting expenses of a portion of the licence fees for receiving sets. That is one way in which the expenses of the station will be met by a share of the licence money. It is also agreed that there shall be out of the charge made for every set that is sold a contribution to the expenses of the broadcasting company, so that there will be two forms of revenue available. One is a share of the annual licence, and the other a contribution to be made out of the receipts from every set sold. The profits of the broadcasting company—and I would ask hon. Members to distinguish between that kind of company and the manufacturers of receiving sets—the profits of that company—


Is that share in addi1 ion to the protective duty?


There is no protective duty. I know nothing at all about that. The profits of the broadcasting company are to be limited to 7½ per cent. We have had a good deal of difficulty in getting companies to agree to that limitation, and I think it will be admitted to be a very drastic limitation in what is necessarily a new arid difficult undertaking. But I am glad to say that I think we have got the companies to agree to that very drastic limitation upon their profits, though I do not think there is going to be any raging and tearing hurry on the part of the general public for an investment of the sort. The receiving licences are limited to types submitted by members of broadcasting companies and must conform to certain technical standards of the Post Office. Now I come to what is really, I think, the only ground of criticism which I have heard.


There was a question whether there would be any control of the price of receiving instruments to guard against a combine of the makers if there is no foreign competition.


I control the price here. Every manufacturer in this country capable of producing wireless instruments will receive a licence from the Post Office if he conforms to the standard laid down by the Post Office. What you have to fear in this is not monopoly; it is more likely you will have cut-throat competition. Anyhow, that is the protection. Every manufacturer in this country who produces an instrument up to the standard laid down by the Post Office will be free to put the instrument on the market, once he has taken his £1 share in the company responsible for the broadcasting. The principal point of criticism is in regard to my decision to limit for a period of two years the licensing of instruments to those made in this country. In taking this decision, my attitude was not coloured at all by fiscal considerations. On the contrary, I was entirely guided by what I thought was in the best interests of wireless broadcasting in Great Britain. I am satisfied, and I believe everyone will be forced to that conclusion on careful consideration of these technical and practical aspects of this question, that without such a limitation you would never get an efficient broadcasting service established in Great Britain. Be it remembered that the whole cost of these broadcasting services is to be borne by the manufacturers in the group, and it is not reasonable to suppose that they would go to that expense and take that risk, with the limited profit, if some manufacturer on the Continent gets the whole or a large portion of the benefit without having made any contribution. That really is not sound business.

The first essential is to make a successful and efficient broadcasting service, and you certainly will not get that, believe me, unless you give some period of time to introduce a provision of this kind. My own opinion is that anyone approaching the problem from the angle from which I am bound to approach it would have come to that conclusion. I think this covers most of the points put by hon. Members. The main considerations which any Government ought to have in view in dealing with this problem seem to me, first, that the broadcasting services are efficient. That I have already mentioned. There must be regulation, so as to prevent any interference with the military and commercial services. We must be able to ensure compliance with international wireless agreements, and international wireless agreements are becoming increasingly important. There must be safeguards against monopoly. I think I have secured these safeguards in the conditions which I have outlined to the House. You must be able to get the benefit of any invention wherever made. I was not at all debarred by the fear of the fiscal question being raised from dealing with this question. My anxiety was rather that, if you got anything like a monopoly, you would sterilise developments, and that broadcasting in this country might be deprived of the benefit of inventions. If that had not been the case—the fear of development being sterilised—I should certainly not have made these conditions. But it must be remembered that if any new invention is discovered abroad of which we have not the benefit in this country, it will always be open to our manufacturers to obtain the patent and to develop it and use it here.


Supposing a foreigner take out a patent in this country?


I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman is right. That is a case which has arisen frequently in respect of our own manufacturers. They have used the patent. The present Prime Minister when he was at the Board of Trade made provisions in regard to this matter.

Captain BENN

I know the Act very well. It was simply this: that if a foreign patentee did not use his patent, you could. But you are proposing not to allow a foreign patentee to use it at all.


I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman will find on further reflection that it is possible for the manufacturer in this country to obtain, on terms, the benefit of any change and exploit it in this country. I can assure the House that I gave great attention to this matter because I realised that it was the principal danger. With regard to the other dangers which have been referred to, ram satisfied that they will not in fact operate, and that was why I agreed to this provision. I think I have now covered all the points raised, and I will conclude by saying that in dealing with this problem throughout I have had no other desire than to see that this important form of communication should be developed in this country to the greatest possible extent.

I do not agree that the communications of any country are on exactly the same plane as the supply of boots or any ordinary commodity. The communications of the country have always been regarded not only as a key industry, but as being much more fundamental. You must keep your communications in your own hands, and you should be able to improve your own people in the practice and provision of every device which would improve your form of communications. Here is a new form of communication which is in its very infancy, and from the point of view of the Postmaster-General, I regard this new form in all its aspects, both broadcasting and the provision of the instruments, as something which should be under British control. The hon. and learned Member opposite thinks that I am wrong on this point, but I am prepared to leave the matter to the test of time.

Captain BENN

There is a great deal with which we all cordially agree in the statement just made by the Postmaster-General. He has pointed out that this is a very great advance in the means of communication, and we are all agreed upon that point. The second point upon which we agree with the right hon. Gentleman is that you must have Government control of broadcasting messages, because you would, otherwise, have a powerful means of communication passing out of the hands of the Government. Therefore, there must be control and power to prohibit the sending of messages. We must act forget, also, that there are times when the air is required for the service of the Government, and I would suggest nothing for one moment which would go contrary to that. That is where the right hon. Gentleman is right when he says that the postal telegraphs and the other things he mentioned, must be in the hands of the Government.

I wish to inquire who in the Broadcasting Association is going to protect the interests of copyright. Is he going to allow those whose copyright has been infringed to sue the broadcasting company, and is he at the same time going to protect them? I think this is a very important point. Up to now we are in general agreement that the system is a great invention and that the stations of transmission must be under the control of the Government. This is where we part company with the Postmaster-General. When the right hon. Gentleman uses the phrase "means of communication" he includes the people who listen in, and there is absolutely no reasons of State why anyone should not be permitted to listen without any control whatever. The right hon. Gentleman cannot interfere with such communications, and it would be as reasonable to base his argument for broadcasting on the argument of public necessity of the control of communications in regard to receiving apparatus as it would be to say that while the Post Office must keep in the hands of the British Government the distribution of letters, it will not permit any foreigner to receive the letters. The necessity for controlling this matter lies in the centre.

I come to the arrangements made by the Postmaster-General for receiving. I am relying upon a newspaper report in the "Times" on this question, and I understand that in France the Committee appointed by the Post Office there has decided that the broad principles to be followed is that receiving apparatus may be freely used after full registration. There is not a word of any sort about interference with the manufacture, or any sort of limitation of the position of the manufacturer. The Postmaster-General is better able than anyone else to say whether that is correct or not, but if it is correct it would seem to show that the French are dealing with this matter in a much more broadminded way.

What does the Postmaster-General propose? His proposal is to set up a monopoly of all the firms engaged both in broadcasting and the making of receiving instruments. The people who broadcast want to be paid for sending out the messages, and they are to be paid by means of a portion of the licence fee paid for the receiving instrument. In the case of the man who receives the messages on an instrument, it is not unreasonable that when he pays his licence fee a part of it should go to the man who sends the message. The Postmaster-General says that nobody may buy and use a receiving apparatus unless he buys it from a limited field of manufacturers, and that is a monopoly.

How is the broadcasting station to be dealt with? In part it is to receive a fraction of the licence fee and also a share of the profits from the manufacture of receiving instruments. The interest of the broadcasting station is to get as much money as they can through the higher price at which the receiving apparatus is sold, and the more they get the better they are pleased. The interest of the seller of the receiving apparatus is also to get as much as he can, but he is protected from competition outside, and therefore, owing to this combination, he is safe in raising his price. Therefore you have here the essential elements of a combine and a monopoly which may be operated against the interests of the public. The Postmaster-General has spoken about the whole of this enterprise as being a difficult thing to get started, and he says it needs all the encouragement we can give it. May I remind the House that last week the right hon. Gentleman told us that £6,000,000 were going to be spent in two years in the production of receiving apparatus. I think it is a sound business proposition to go into such a combine, the receipts of which are estimated at a sum which the Postmaster-General puts at £6,000,000 during the first two years. I come to a point which has not been answered, and it is, how is the Postmaster-General going to enforce these conditions, and how is he going to prevent importation? Is he going to prohibit the importation of foreign sets?



Captain BENN

Is he going to prohibit the sale of foreign sets by anyone who cares to sell them?



Captain BENN

Then is he going to take the person who buys a foreign set and impose the terms of the licence upon him? In that way he will not prevent the sale of these sets. Supposing a man receives one of these sets, and puts it up, how is the Postmaster-General going to stop that kind of thing? It is no good the right hon. Gentleman saying, "I have something up my sleeve which I cannot reveal, because I have to enforce the terms of the licence." The right hon. Gentleman cannot leave this matter to the Marconi Company. If the terms of the licence are going to be observed and infringements prevented, this will involve a considerable increase of staff in the Postmaster-General's own Department. I may say,' in passing, that another Department is imposing a tax of 33⅓ per cent. on wireless apparatus. Last Friday we asked that there might be a Committee appointed to go into this question, and I received a reply from the Leader of the House that he has seen no indication of any demand from those who provide such service for such a Committee. I am not at all surprised. "I see no indication of a demand from a monopoly for an inquiry which will break down that monopoly." Then he goes on to say that he sees no demand from those who use it. If the demand of the representatives of the consumers, namely, the Members of this House, he not a demand, how is it to be put forward? This is the demand on behalf of those who use broadcasting apparatus. The only representatives of the users and consumers are the Members of this House. That is why this House ought to prevail over all commercial monopolies and interests of all kinds.

The Postmaster-General says that he is giving this boon to this limited class of manufacturers for two years. Is there anyone, in the light of our experience of the last four years, who will say that these fiscal advantages once given are ever withdrawn? Never! Whenever we ask for their withdrawal, we are told that it is not a suitable moment. The Postmaster-General himself, I think, anticipates that it may be necessary to continue this after two years. He cannot say that he will not. In point of fact, when asked the question in Committee, he said that he should be justified, if there were a monopoly, in reconsidering it, and he should certainly reconsider the position with regard to the period after that. So far from it being a two years' limit, it is going to be for two years anyhow, and then it is going to be reconsidered. If anyone thinks that after two years the people who have lived cut of this monopoly are going to submit without a protest, and a successful protest against the deprivation of these privileges, he is to be congratulated on his hope. While the Postmaster-General is perfectly and obviously right to control the sending of messages, he is imposing, in deference to the fiscal opinions of others, adoptive in this case, congenital in the case of others, restrictions which will hamper a growing science, because all the great names associated with telegraphy are not British names, and it is perfectly absurd to set up a Tariff Reform system in science. What the people want is the freest intercourse of the scientific ideas of all the nations of the world.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir F. HALL

It is always interesting to hear my hon. and gallant Friend, when there is any question of protecting the interests of foreigners. Perhaps a little more education may bring him to the conclusion that it is advisable to look after the interests of our people at home. I would like to congratulate my right hon. Friend on the progress that has been made, and that is likely to be made, with this system. It might be an education to my hon. and gallant Friend to know that in commerce, if a foreigner has any patent to sell, he knows the market where it can be utilised. I am glad to hear that the Postmaster-General is not going to have any of these instruments made abroad, and I am sure he will be coo of the first, if there be any advantages with regard to actual patents, to look after the matter. As to talking of this enormous combine, I say at once, so far as I am concerned, that, as a business man, I would not dream of putting any money into this undertaking, which is of the highest speculative character, if I were told that forthwith, subject to a limit of a small percentage, I am to have no chance of making any money.

I want to refer to another matter that affects London very considerably, namely, the licensing hours. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am glad that I have the sympathy of my hon. Friends, be- cause, after all, it is from the working men that I have received many complaints with regard to the hours for partaking of refreshment on Sundays. The Bill of 1921 went through this House as a compromise. I am going to stick to the arrangement that was made and not ask for any extension of the actual number of trading hours. But the South of London has been treated in a most extraordinarily ungenerous manner. I have looked carefully into the licensing statistics for 1921, and I find some very interesting information. I do not know whether the Under-Secretary of State far the Home Department has studied the map that is published there. If he looks at it, he will find that north of the Thames there are a lot of black marks which indicate that the hours of opening on Sunday evenings are from seven till 10, and that some of the houses are compelled by the decision of the magistrate to open at six and close at nine. In the whole of the south of London there is not a solitary case in which the people have an opportunity, if they are desirous of doing so, of remaining on licensed premises after nine o'clock. We say that is unfair, and that what is right for one part is right for another. We met and arranged nine hours for London, but we did not think that we were going to be taken and coddled up by the licensing magistrates, who say to the people in the south of London: "We are going to look after your interest, and you have no right to remain on licensed premises on Sunday after nine o'clock." I cannot help thinking that the hon. Gentleman's sympathies must be with these people, because I do not suppose he is desirous of limiting the hours in an unreasonable manner. I do not think he intended, when the Bill went through the House last year, that Regulations should be enforced requiring these licensed premises in the south of London to close on Sundays at nine o'clock. I think it was the general intention of the House that in the provinces the closing hours should be 10 o'clock on Sundays and 11 o'clock on week-days. The number of hours of trading on week-days were absolutely limited to nine hours in London and eight hours in the provinces, except in eases where an extra half hour was given or supper arrangements were made. On Sundays we were to have five hours' trading. We do not ask for any more, but we do suggest that my right hon. Friend should consider the advisability of putting us in the position on the south side of the Thames of saying we will open if we desire at seven o'clock on Sundays and close at 10.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)

Can the hon. and gallant Gentleman say whether it is in the power of the Home Office to grant an extension of the hours?


That is the point with which I was dealing, I cannot help thinking it is one on which my right hon. Friend sympathises with us.


It appears to me that the hon. Member is out of order, as it is not in the power of the Home Office to do what he desires. However he has already made his point.


I maintain, with all deference, that I am in order. This is a matter which comes directly under the Home Secretary. According to the Licensing Bill we were to have these hours. There was no mention that on one side of the road the houses should close at 9 o clock and on the other side they should close at. 10 o'clock. That was not suggested when the Bill went through this House, and therefore, with all deference, I say that it is a question which can be dealt with by this House, because in 1920—


Anything which concerns administration would be in order, but what the hon. and gallant Gentleman is asking in this case would require legislation, and it is not in order on the Motion for Adjournment to propose fresh legislation. If the Home Secretary had discretion in these matters the hon. and gallant Member would be in order, but I rather gather that he has not.


It may be necessary to have fresh legislation, but if we do not have an opportunity of bringing these matters before this House in order to show that legislation is necessary there is not the slightest possible chance of our securing it. In 1920 there was legislation in this House and the hours of trading were extended by arrangement; by agreement with the Home Secretary they were extended from the 5th July, 1920, to the 31st October in the same year, that being what is called the summer period. We then said it was absurd and unreasonable that houses should be closed at 9 o'clock and so the Home Secretary arranged—


I am afraid I must rule that this is out of order. The hon. Member is not entitled, on the Motion for Adjournment, to bring up matters which require legislation.


I would ask my right hon. Friend to look into the various anomalies that do exist, and if it is only necessary to bring in a one Clause Bill, surely that could be done, and we could overcome many of the difficulties with which we are now faced. I am sorry it is not possible, under the ruling of the Chair, to pursue this discussion, because I believe that in this matter I have the support and sympathy of the vast majority of the Members of this House.


We quite realise that, owing to the ruling of the Chair, the hon. and gallant Gentleman cannot press his point, inasmuch as the hours are fixed by the licensing justices and not by the Home Secretary, the matter is out of order. There are two other points I desire to bring before the House, the first arises out of some disturbances which took place in Camberwell a week or two ago, when two men, named Rust and Dallas, were arrested and sentenced to terms of imprisonment. I have brought the cases to the attention of the Home Secretary, and I am only raising the matter now because the end of the Session is so near, and I would like to get some reply. The disturbances arose in connection with some houses that were condemned by the Camberwell Borough Council as unfit for habitation. They were filthy and insanitary places, without the ordinary amenities of sanitation and water supply, and it was only under the direst stress that people could be expected to live in them. The action of the borough council meant the eviction of certain ex-service men with their families, and they had nowhere to go to. This was resented by a number of the unemployed, who turned up in the neighbourhood with a view to doing all they could to hinder and hamper the evictions. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will understand that I am not in any way saying anything in the nature of censure or condemnation of the action of the police. We know that they carry out their many difficult duties with a consideration, tact and courtesy which is the admiration of all sections of the community.

At a time when you have many thousands of man and women in all parts of the country unemployed, and when there is a great limitation of housing accommodation, it may happen that people who cannot profitably employ their leisure time or find work to do get a little out of hand. It may be the case, too, that the police may get. a little edgy. Still we have to admire, not only the conduct of the police, but, in view of the circumstances, the manner in which the unemployed of this country have conducted themselves under very trying circumstances one is tempted to wonder whether they would not have received better consideration if they had been a little more demonstrative in regard to the conditions in which they find themselves. To return to this particular case. There was considerable disturbance, in the course of which a barrel of oil was upset and the contents lost. One of the men arrested was a young fellow named Rust, whom I happen to know personally, and who is a member of a very respectable family. What I want to bring before the House is that this man was not present when the actual disturbance took place. News was brought to him of the disturbance and he went to the spot to see what it was about. He was promptly arrested by the police, although he was not there when the disturbance actually occurred. Rust, I may mention, was sentenced to two months' imprisonment in the second division. I think there has been some mistake there, and I would suggest that he ought to have the benefit of the very considerable doubt which exists. With regard to Dallas, his case is somewhat different. It was stated that at some former period he had been charged with using language of an inflammatory character. There has grown up in this country a condition of affairs involving secret reporting and a limitation of the freedom of speech—a condition of affairs which has been hitherto deemed alien to the traditions of this nation. It is, in fact, a very dangerous condition of affairs. What occurred was that when these men were brought to trial, the witnesses for the prosecution were actually in the. Court before they were called upon to give their evidence, and a protest against that was lodged at the time with the Police Court officer by some of the persons present. I suggest, quite temperately and dispassionately, that here there is a case for reconsideration. It would seem as though there has been some mistake, and at least the men ought to have the benefit of the doubt. They have already paid for any mistake they made by their association with people of a class who may not be thought to be altogether desirable.

This sort of thing, which is continually going on—the chasing from pillar to pest of these people who happen, unfortunately, to he out of employment through no fault of their own—is not calculated to improve the relations between the administration, the police and the citizens themselves, and I would ask the Home Secretary to give this matter some consideration with a view to seeing if he cannot make further inquiries. I gathered from the reply that he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood (Mr. Halls) yesterday, that he was not inclined to recede from the position he has taken up, but I can only imagine that he has not had the facts of the case put fully before him. There are quite a number of persons who can swear that Rust was not present at the time of this disturbance. I am inclined to think that people who are a little down do not always receive that consideration and courtesy which they would receive if their condition were a little more prosperous, and I am afraid that that has been, to a large extent, the case here.

The other point that I desire to bring before the House was to have been brought forward by the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean). It concerns ex-Inspector Syme. I understand that to-day he is due to return to prison under what is popularly known as the Cat and Mouse Act, a form of torture which was invented for the purpose of repressing the suffragettes. The passage of time has proved that the suffragettes are, after all, quite respectable members of society, and the torture which was then applied to them is now being applied in other directions. I understand also that, if report be true, ex-Inspector Syme owed his few days of freedom to representations made from the very highest quarters, and, if that be true, those representations are all the more magnanimous because of the rumoured threats that had been extended in that quarter by ex- Inspector Syme. So far as my information goes, this man was dismissed the Service for acting in defence of two of his subordinates, whom, he stated, were being treated unjustly. All those who are associated with him agree that he is a man of high personal character and probity, and that he is entitled to call public attention to his case in order to get an inquiry with regard to it. The accusation that he has threatened high personages with violence is denied, and it is stated that he merely said what he did say in order that he might attract public attention. That end was gained, as the personage whose attention he hoped to attract did take notice, and, I believe, conveyed a desire that he should be set at liberty.

I want to suggest, in the first place, that it is not in keeping with the ordinary canons of the administration of English justice to carry out a form of refined torture on prisoners because they find themselves in disagreement with those in authority. The great crime of this man seems to have been that he had the temerity, and one might almost say the foolishness, to run up against officialdom in this country, relying on the supposition that mere justice was going to stand him in good stead. He has probably learned by now that he wants a little more than mere justice when he runs up against authority and against those who are in high stations. This man, I understand, even since his dismissal, was offered reinstatement in a lower post, with all the usual amenities that accompany an established position. If that be so, it does indicate that there could not have been so much in the case as has been maintained all along, and that there is something worthy of inquiry. I want to submit to the House that such inquiry is worth while, considering that this man is being shadowed by no less than six members of the police and detective forces. Attempts have been made to get from the right hon. Gentleman a statement of the cost involved, but at any rate, if one reckons it by the year, it cannot cost less than £2,000 or £2,500 per year, and that money might be better spent in other directions at a time like this. There is no need to follow this man about as he is being followed. From all quarters with whom he has been associated he receives the very highest character, and I do submit that, at a time when people are talking about economy, the waste of public money in this way is simply scandalous. The whole matter could be settled amicably if the right hon. Gentleman would agree to appoint some committee of inquiry to go into the allegations and see whether an injustice has been done. I am sure it would redound better to his credit, and that of the House of Commons and the nation, that, if an act of injustice has been done, we should attempt to put it right and allow the man to have an opportunity to make good.


I was not aware that the case of Rust was going to be raised this morning, and, therefore, I have not the exact details.


I sent the right hon. Gentleman a note yesterday.


I understood that the case was to be raised yesterday, and I was prepared yesterday, but I have not the particulars regarding it with me this morning. I think, however, that I can recollect sufficiently what happened. The hon. Member says that Rust was not present at. the time when the assault, or whatever it was, took place, and that he only came up later. That was attempted to be proved at the trial, and there were witnesses on both sides, in the one case swearing that Rust was there and in the other that he was not. Both sides were heard with the greatest care by the learned magistrate, and the learned magistrate assures me that, having listened to both sides most carefully, he has no doubt whatever that Rust was there. I am not a Court of Appeal from the learned magistrate; I cannot retry the case. It is suggested that in some way there has been persecution of unemployed, but there has been nothing whatever of the sort. Any unemployed person who has been interfered with by the police has been interfered with because he was breaking the law. The hon. Member said that a system had grown up of suppressing freedom of speech. No such thing. But if people develop from freedom into licence, and make inflammatory speeches inciting to violence, of course the police are bound to deal with them. In this case, so far as the Courts are concerned, Dallas had been, I believe, convicted of inflammatory language and incitement to violence. With regard to what is said to have taken place at the police court, I am assured that no such thing occurred—that the witnesses were not in Court until they gave their evidence. It may very well be that a number of witnesses for the prosecution were seen together in Court after they had given their evidence, because, when they have given their evidence, they may remain if they choose. I am assured absolutely, however, and I have made careful inquiries, that the witnesses for the prosecution were not in Court, and certainly no one suggested to the learned magistrate at any time that anything irregular had taken place. So far as that case is concerned I looked carefully into it. I am not a Court of Appeal from a magistrate, and it would be really most improper if an executive Minister of the Crown were to interfere with the decision of a Court of Justice. Very often it happens that I have approached magistrates' and other Courts to point out reasons why I should like to shorten a punishment or something of that kind, but certainly it would be most improper for the Home Office to attempt to override judicial tribunals, which ought to have full independence of action.


Can you take steps in that way in this case?


I have done so. The moment a question was asked me I made full inquiries. With respect to Inspector Syme, there again the hon. Member put forward a very plausible, indeed, almost a pathetic story. That story is very good until the true story is told. What is the true story with regard to Inspector Syme? He claims, I gather from the hon. Member, that he has been dismissed the force because he stood up for two subordinate officers, and all he demands now is a public inquiry into his allegations. The first statement is not true, and the second statement is unnecessary because he has had a public inquiry. What are the facts of the case? So long ago as 1909 it was quite clear that at a certain police station where Inspector Syme was engaged, things were not working at all smoothly, and it was decided at that time to transfer him from that particular division to another. It was carefully pointed out to him that this was no disciplinary matter at all. It was simply in order to obtain smooth and efficient working. It is a thing that is done every day. If two men do not get on you move one somewhere else. Inspector Syme was very angry that he was moved, and he at once proceeded, not to protect subordinates at all, but to make very grave charges against his superior officers. Those charges were gone into by a disciplinary board, which found that there was not a shadow of foundation and that they were maliciously made, and in consequence Inspector Syme was reduced to the rank of station serjeant. He would not accept that. He proceeded, while still remaining in the police force, while still being an officer, to start a Press and Parliamentary agitation against his superior officers which, of course, is a breach of discipline absolutely impossible in any police force, and the whole matter being gone into by Sir Edward Henry, who was then the Commissioner, he was dismissed the force.

At that time the present Lord Gladstone was Home Secretary. He went carefully into the matter, and was absolutely satisfied on all the points I have mentioned. Then the present Secretary of State for the Colonies became Home Secretary. He was approached by Inspector Syme, and he was told the inspector was a wrongheaded man, but possibly be might see sense if the Secretary of State would see him. My right hon. Friend saw him, went most carefully into the whole case, heard all that Inspector Syme had to say, and came to the conclusion that his allegations were wholly unfounded, but he said, "If you will be sensible you may come back as station sergeant and work your way up again." This Inspector Syme flatly refused to do, and he then proceeded with the agitation which has gone on. He was prosecuted for threats of violence several times in 1910, 1911, 1912 and 1913. Finally, in 1914, he issued a pamphlet making the very self-same allegations that he is making now against Sir Edward Henry and his superior officers. At once an opportunity was given him to prove his allegations in public, and he was prosecuted before a judge and jury for a libel contained in a pamphlet. He justified that libel, which means that he set up the same allegation he is setting up now, and endeavoured to prove them before a judge and jury of his countrymen. The trial lasted for five or six days—a very long, careful trial—and the jury decided that there was not one shadow of truth in all the allegations he was making. He took it to the Court of Criminal Appeal and was there told that he had had a most patient and careful trial, and that he must be content with the finding of a jury of his own countrymen.

2.0 P.M.

That is the position. What has he done? During the War he was prosecuted for endeavouring to hinder recruiting. Since then he has persistently uttered threats of damage and has done damage. He has broken windows. He has now proceeded to threaten royalty. It cannot possibly be denied. It has been proved in Courts of Justice more than once that he definitely threatens to molest His Majesty, Her Majesty and members of the Royal Family. Unfortunately, he is a man who carries out his threats—we have known that in the past—and, therefore, when he is at liberty it is impossible to leave him alone or unattended. If we let him alone, the moment he is not watched, he is outside Buckingham Palace waiting for a royal carriage at which to throw a brick. He has his weapons in his pocket, and it is absolutely impossible to leave him alone. He is a dangerous man in that way. If his friends would try to persuade him to see sense, to give up these wild threats, to realise that he has had a fair trial before a judge and jury and cannot expect another, Heaven knows we should be only too glad to leave him alone for ever, but as long as he goes threatening His Majesty and members of the Royal Family, we must protect them. That is the whole of the case. He persists, when he goes to prison, in hunger striking. The doctors say you cannot efficiently forcibly feed him. I protest against the suggestion that we are torturing a man who deliberately persists in starving himself. We provide him, when he is in prison, with good, wholesome, tasty food. He will not touch it. That is not our fault. I protest against the suggestion that we are responsible for anything he suffers. He is absolutely responsible himself. I am told he is now hunger striking out of prison. We have no concern with that. If he does not eat out of prison, he must take the consequences himself. But to suggest that he has not had a fair trial by a jury of his fellow countrymen is to say what is absolutely inaccurate.

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