HC Deb 10 May 1923 vol 163 cc2743-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Colonel Leslie Wilson.]


I desire to crave the indulgence of the House to call attention to one or two serious and grave charges made by some of the Irish deportees. It is not my intention to raise the political or legal aspects of the case. I want rather to confine myself to certain charges as to treatment and conditions. I wish to take one particular case, which is fairly illustrative of a number of other cases. The particular case I wish to raise is that of a lady named Sarah Macdermott. She was arrested on the 11th March last and deported to Ireland. This lady, for more than 15 years, has been a teacher in one of the London schools, and is very highly respected, and all those who have any knowledge of her speak of her in the highest terms. On the 16th March, and subsequently on the 24th March, this lady applied to appear before the Advisory Committee. Although it is now the 10th May, and more than two months have elapsed, she has not yet been allowed to present her case to the Advisory Committee. That long delay is a gross violation of the solemn pledges and assurances given by the Home Secretary to the House two months ago. I am prepared to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that this lady is now being brought to this country to appear before the Advisory Committee, and it is possible that she is in this country at the present moment; but that is no answer to my charge that there has been undue delay, which is not in keeping with the pledges given.

These deportees are, surely, entitled to fair play. They are brought over to this country in secrecy and by stealth. They are not allowed to communicate in any way with their friends; even their place of imprisonment is kept secret. They are not allowed to consult their friends or obtain legal advice. They are rushed before the Advisory Committee. No statement has ever been given to them of the charges of which they are accused. They are suddenly presented with these charges, and I submit that it is not in keeping with British justice or the sense of fair play that these people should suddenly be presented with charges to which, on the spur of the moment, some of us who are not, perhaps, so nervous, would find some difficulty in putting up a proper case in reply.

I ask the Home Secretary to give us, first of all, a definite and solemn pledge that, in all these cases where applications are made to appear before the Advisory Committee, they shall be dealt with without any delay at all. Secondly, I ask if he will see to it that these deportees are supplied with a written copy of the definite charges made against them. The charges against them are, on the confession of my right hon. Friend, made verbally. They are vague and indefinite. How can these men and women defend themselves, as they ought, unless they have in writing the definite specific charges made against them?

I now turn to the conditions and treatment to which these deportees are being subjected. I take again the case of Miss Macdermott, because it is typical of others. On the 26th April, I believe it was, she was being removed from Mountjoy prison to some other institution. A number of women were told off to search her. She resented being searched and stripped, and the result was that she was knocked to the ground by four women, an attendant more than six feet high came in and sat upon her, the four women beat her from head to foot with her boots, which they had taken off, she was partially stripped, taken into a corner, hurt severely until she became unconscious, and, when she regained consciousness, she found herself outside, almost undressed, drenched with water, and surrounded by soldiers, against whom she makes a charge of insobriety. I know the defence which is being set up, but this woman is prepared to bring any number of witnesses to substantiate her statement, and to swear an oath an affidavit as to the accuracy of these statements. The defence put up by the right hon. Gentleman, which has been very kindly supplied to me, suggests that this woman attacked the warders. I have in my hands letters from clergy of the leading churches in London and a medical man of high standing who has known this lady for fifteen years, and they say it is absolutely inconceivable and incredible that she could attempt to do this thing; and, if she did, she is so delicate and fragile that it did not need men to keep her under proper control. I have also a letter which reached me yesterday from a well-known lady, who has just been released from Mountjoy Prison. She has seen Miss Macdermott, and only four days ago that lady bore on her face the imprint of the nails of the shoe with which she had been beaten. That lady is Miss Macardle, the daughter of Sir Thomas Macardle, and she saw Miss Maedermott, before she was released from the prison, as recently as 5th May.

have tried to state the case without any feeling. I have tried to use language as restrained as possible, and have refrained from discussing either the political or the legal aspects of the case. But I am very jealous of the traditional liberties of the British people, and when the right hon. Gentleman comes to the House and gives us a definite assurance of a certain character, he is in honour bound to do his utmost to see that those obligations are fulfilled and those promises carried out. I am willing to admit that he may have been very badly let down by those who have given him these assurances. I am willing to admit that he may have had bad legal advice given to him, as I am convinced that he himself would not tolerate these things. I believe that there is ample evidence to substantiate the statement I have made because I have a list of the names of people of high standing who have been subject to the same brutality by these very same people. All I ask is first of all that he will give these people a fair opportunity of appearing before the Advisory Committee, that they shall appear under fair and proper conditions, and that during their detention he will see to it as far as he can that they are given proper treatment, and are not subjected to this brutality. This is the first time I have ever trespassed upon attention, and I should not have done so upon this occasion except that I am moved by a strong sense of public duty, a high sense of conscience, a great love of country, and because I am anxious that its honour should not be besmirched.

The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Bridgeman)

I certainly cannot complain of the tone adopted by the hon. Member in bringing this case forward although I think he has done it on information which is very far from correct. I regret the delay with regard to the hearing of this appeal very much. As a matter of fact, I only received a letter from this lady asking for leave to appear before the Advisory Committee, on the 4th of this month. In that letter she referred to a previous letter on 12th March which I have never seen and which has never reached this country. I have inquired, but I cannot discover what happened to it. I regret that delay should have occurred. I did my best, as soon as I got the letter, to accelerate her release in order that she might appear before the Advisory Committee, and she was to have come over to-day to appear before the Committee to-morrow, but I now hear that she has refused to come. That is the position so far as that goes.

I am quite prepared to give the undertaking for which the hon. Member asked, that I will do everything, as I always have done, to facilitate the hearing of the cases of those who wish to appeal to the Advisory Committee; but I am not prepared to dictate to the Advisory Committee as to their procedure in these matters. I must say, with regard to the charges which have been made by the hon. Gentleman against the Free State authorities, that my report from the Free State Government entirely contradicts those charges. They have made an exhaustive investigation into the matter, an investigation carried out by General Mulcahy, and their story is a totally different story from the one given by the hon. Gentleman. Their story is that when three or four female internees were to be removed to other quarters which, they thought, would be more suitable, the women had to go through the usual process of being searched. This lady went into a room where she was to be searched by four or five other women. She announced at once that she would not be searched, and proceeded to attack one of the women whose duty it was to search her. She seized her by the hair, threw her to the ground, and proceeded to dash her head against the ground until the woman warder became unconscious. She then became so violent, and was kicking so much that she could not be controlled by the women, and a male warder was called in to separate her from the woman she was attacking, and to get her away. Otherwise, the woman she was attacking was in great danger of being killed. The male warder came in and released her hold, and her boots were taken off, as she was kicking violently. She not only rendered the woman warder unconscious, but bit her, and bit another of the women warders. After that, she appeared to become rather exhausted with her exertions and seemed likely to faint: I think she actually fainted. Then the not unusual practice was resorted to of dashing some water in her face. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not unusual!"] It is the usual way of restoring people who have fainted.


What about putting a key down the back?


She was not stripped at all, although the results of her efforts in attacking these other women no doubt exhausted her a great deal, and caused a certain amount of bruising. The bruising has now disappeared, and the doctor says that she is all right. But the Free State have no objection to our sending a doctor over from London to make an independent medical examination, and promise that they will give facilities if required. That does not look as if they feared an examination, and goes a long, way to corroborate their report.


That was three weeks afterwards.


We cannot discuss the legal aspect of the opinion, as it is now sub judiee, and I would deprecate these criticisms of the Free State Government who, I am certain, are doing their best, and I know that Mr. Cosgrave has taken great pains to see that matters are—

It being Half-past Eleven o'Clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question, put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Half after Eleven o'Clock.