Sir F. HALL (by Private Notice)
asked the Attorney-General if he will state what were the reasons for the withdrawal of the charges brought against Mr. Campbell, editor of the "Workers' Weekly," under the Incitement to Mutiny Act of 1797, for feloniously, maliciously and advisedly endeavouring to seduce divers persons serving in the Navy, Army and Air Force from their allegiance, and whether, in the article on which the charge was founded, it is stated that the sailors, soldiers and airmen were urged to form committees in every barracks, aerodrome and ship that would prepare the whole of the sailors, soldiers and airmen, not only to refuse to go to war, but would make it possible for the soldiers to go forward in a common attack upon the capitalists and institute the reign of the working classes.
§ Sir KINGSLEY WOOD (by Private Notice)
asked the Attorney - General whether, prior to the withdrawal of the prosecution of Mr. Campbell, the editor of the "Workers' Weekly," he received any representations concerning the object and intention of the defendant as expressed in the articles which were the subject-matter of the prosecution; if so, from whom, and whether any communication or explanation was made by the defendant himself; and whether he can make any statement as to why, having informed the House that a serious breach of the law had been committed, the Director of Public Prosecutions did not proceed to enforce the law?
§ The ATTORNEY - GENERAL (Sir Patrick Hastings)
On the 30th of July last I was consulted by the Director of Public Prosecutions with regard to an article which had appeared in the "Workers' Weekly" on the 25th July, and a possible prosecution under a Statute of George III. The question for my consideration was whether the words amounted merely to advocating the nonuser of troops in a trade dispute, or whether they could fairly be said to amount to an incitement to mutiny.
I came to the conclusion that the words were capable of a meaning which would 9 constitute an offence provided that the person to be charged could be proved to be properly responsible within the strict wording of the Statute. I accordingly authorised the police to make enquiries and to institute proceedings.
I was subsequently informed that the editor of the paper had been found to be absent owing to illness, and that a charge had been preferred against a man named James Campbell, who was temporarily acting in his place.
Having regard to that fact, I was seriously concerned as to the degree of responsibility of Campbell, as, in my opinion, an unsuccessful prosecution upon such a charge would be most unfortunate. I therefore caused the fullest inquiries to be made both as to the extent of his responsibility, and also as to his character antecedents, the latter being, in my view, of the greatest importance in a case of this kind. As a result of those inquiries, the following facts were brought to my notice by the Director of Public Prosecutions as being all the information which the police at that time possessed.
Campbell was a young man, believed to be of excellent character. He was not in the regular employment of the newspaper in question, but had been merely engaged for a short time to take the place of the editor, who was away ill. Although it might be urged by the prosecution that Campbell, as acting editor, was technically responsible for all that appeared in the paper, his responsibility appeared to be very limited. He had not himself written nor composed the article, but had merely inserted what was apparently an extract cut out from some, other publication.
He could in no way be proved to be responsible for the policy of the paper which was controlled by a body called the Political Bureau, of which, as far as was known, he was not a member, and with which he was not connected.
His military record was exceptionally good. He had voluntarily enlisted for service at the beginning of the War. He had been severely wounded and thereby incapacitated for life, and had been decorated with the Military Medal for gallantry in the field.
If these facts, both as to the degree of responsibility, and as to character, had 10 been known to me originally I should certainly not have authorised proceedings to have been taken against this man.
Having considered these facts I formed a very definite opinion that a jury might very properly take the view that he was not the sort of person who should be held to be criminally responsible for the publication.
Under these circumstances I did precisely what I should do in every similar case. Having come to the clear decision that it was neither necessary nor proper that Campbell should be placed upon his trial, I directed the Public Prosecutor that no evidence should be offered against him.
I received no representation of the sort suggested in the question, or of any kind whatsoever relating to the matter from the defendant or from any person whatsoever.
I desire to add that no person at any time has made any attempt to influence my decision in this matter, and that no member of His Majesty's Government suggested, or even knew of the proposal until I myself informed them of it.
I want to add to the last sentence that I do not in that include the Solicitor-General, who was in consultation with me upon the matter of withdrawing the prosecution.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I wish to ask the Attorney-General, having regard to the facts he is now stating to the House, why the magistrate at the hearing was not so informed; and why counsel for the prosecution distinctly stated to the magistrate that representations had been made and that it was on account of those representations that the prosecution was withdrawn?
§ Sir JOHN SIMON
Arising out of the same answer, may I ask the Attorney-General whether it was with his knowledge that the statement was made by counsel for the Crown that the prosecution was withdrawn because representations had been made since it was instituted as to the meaning and character of the article?
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
The first time I knew that counsel for the prosecution had made that statement was when a speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman who asked the last question was sent to me a few days ago. I, to-day, 11 requested the distinguished counsel who conducted the prosecution to tell me what he had in his mind in making the statement to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman refers, and he tells me that no representation of any kind was made to him, except that he understood it had been publicly stated in this House that that was the meaning of the article. I therefore sent for the copy of the OFFICIAL REPORT of 6th August, and I find that a Member of this House said that the article contained mainly a call to the troops not to allow themselves to be used in industrial disputes. The learned counsel who conducted the prosecution tells me he had no other information, except that he was told that that had been stated in the House.
§ Sir J. SIMON
Has the Attorney-General ascertained that the distinguished counsel did in fact make the statement, as a reason for withdrawing the prosecution, that representations had been made that the article did not bear the meaning previously suggested; and if the learned counsel did make that statement, are we to understand from the Attorney-General that neither he, nor anyone in his Department, knew it had been made until I made a speech last week?
§ The ATTORNEY - GENERAL
The right hon. and learned Gentleman may take my answer as strictly accurate. Until one of those gentlemen who have interested themselves in this matter sent me a cutting from the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech—in which he suggested that I was not fit to hold the office that I now hold—I had no notice of any kind that Mr. Travers Humphreys had made that statement, and the first time I had an explanation of it was this morning, at a quarter-past eleven, when I asked him to come and tell me what he had said.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I would like to inform my hon. and learned Friend that in my opinion the learned 12 counsel who conducted this prosecution is entitled to nothing but appreciation from all, and I think any one in this House who knows him will agree that the learned counsel did nothing to which I, or anyone else, could have taken the slightest exception. He said something which, in his opinion, was true, although. In fact, as I have told the House, no representation was made by me or to me of any kind whatsoever.
§ Sir ROBERT HORNE
May I ask the Attorney-General whether he is aware that Mr. Campbell subsequently accepted the responsibility for everything that had been stated, that he adopted the article as his own, that he repudiated the explanation which was given for it by the prosecutor, and that he said that his plea in defence was one of veritas?
§ The ATTORNEY - GENERAL
In answer to the right hon. Gentleman, may I tell him this: I formed the deliberate opinion that the one thing which the Communist party desired was that this man should be made a martyr in this prosecution—[HON MEMBERS: "Now we know!"]—and one of my main reasons for withdrawing this prosecution was because, as I did not think it would succeed, I did not intend it to fail
§ Mr. LANSBURY
On a point of Order. Are we to be allowed to debate this question, because I wish to say that a large number of us also want to debate it?
§ Several hon. Members rose—
§ Sir D. HOGG
I was rising to a point of Order. I understood, Mr. Speaker, that you had called me when I rose a moment ago to put a supplementary question to the Attorney-General. I am only asking for your ruling whether or not I am to be allowed to put that question.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I had notice from the hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) that he wishes to submit a Motion, and I suggest that it would be more convenient and orderly if any discussion on the subject should be deferred 13 till then. Of course, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Marylebone (Sir D. Hogg) does not fall in with that course, certainly I will call upon him to put his question.
§ Mr. NEIL MACLEAN
On a point of Order. I wish to ask if the supplementary question that is going to be put by the right hon. Gentleman opposite is to be the last question put upon this matter, or whether any questions will be allowed from a Member on this side after he has asked his supplementary question, as all the questions presently submitted on this case have come from the opposite side of the House.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That will be for me to decide. I have not had a request for a supplementary question from the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean). What I suggest is that we should proceed by means of a Motion, which, I understand, is to be offered to the House very shortly.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
On a point of Order. I want to know why it is that this right hon. Gentleman is to be called. What priority has he got over anyone else? Is it because he bungled the Irish Question?
§ Sir D. HOGG
I am anxious, of course, as we all are, to submit to whatever you, Mr. Speaker, think is the most convenient form of putting the points which I wish to put, and if we can have some assurance that there is to be a debate on the Motion to which you refer, I shall be quite willing to reserve my question till that time.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
After one other question, I am proposing to call on the hon. Member for West Woolwich, who had a Motion originally put to me.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I wish to ask the Attorney-General whether, since he has taken the Office that he now holds, he has 14 had any investigations as to whether any attempt was made by a previous Government to bring to the bar of British justice Members of this House who were going about the country preaching rebellion and sedition?
Sir F. HALL
On a point of Order. I brought this question first of all before the House, and I have not had an opportunity given to me to ask a supplementary question of the Attorney-General.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
On a point of Order. I understand, Mr. Speaker, from what you have said that there would he an opportunity given to the House to discuss this matter to-night. Before that question is put, I should like, with your permission, to ask a question of the Prime Minister. There is obviously a very deep interest in this matter, as has been evidenced on that side of the House and on this, and it seems to me that the time that could be allowed under the Rule for the Adjournment of the House would be altogether inadequate for the number of Members who would desire to take part in this discussion. I wish to ask the Prime Minister, as we are barred by mutual agreement from taking any business besides the Irish business during this week, whether, on the resumption of business at the end of October, he will give us a day for the discussion of this questions? We shall be guided by the course of the Debate to-night whether, in asking for that day, we couple it with a Vote of Censure.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am not at all content to wait for the exposure of this until the end of October. [HON. MEMBERS: "Have it now!"]
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I must point out to hon. Members that we cannot conduct business unless we have quietness. Whatever hon. Members' views may be, this is a matter the House ought to deal with seriously.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
As I was saying, I am not at all content to leave this matter to be exposed until the end of October. I understand that, in the ordinary course of business, we may have two Parliamentary days at least going blank while the Bill that I shall move in a few minutes will be under consideration in another place, and we have come to an arrangement, which I am not 15 going to break, that during this special sitting of the House no business other than the Irish business will be taken, but if it is not contrary to the wishes of my right hon. Friends below the Gangway and my right hon. Friends opposite, I shall be perfectly willing to agree that one of those days, as we shall arrange—perhaps to-morrow—will be assigned to this purpose. But may I ask you, Sir, on my own behalf, whether that is going to debar me from the privilege of replying to a question regarding myself? I hope that question is not ruled out of order.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
If I may—although I feel I am quite out of order, as, I fancy, most of us are—I should like to say two things—in the first place, that I think the time between a quarter-past eight and eleven o'clock is totally inadequate for the discussion, and, in the second place, there would be the greatest possible mistake, in everybody's interest, to postpone it to the end of October. It seems to me that the suggestion of the Prime Minister is a reasonable one, and ought to be agreed to by the House. It is quite true we are here under an undertaking that nothing shall be discussed except the Irish matter, but, as everybody recognises, the urgency of this most serious business, I think the offer of the Prime Minister is a reasonable one, and ought to be accepted by the House.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
May I raise this point? This Motion is to be submitted, and the suggestion has been thrown out that a truce entered into by this House, that nothing except the Irish Treaty shall be taken, is to be set aside for this subject. I have a question to raise here of the most vital importance affecting the lives of certain people whom I represent in this House, and I want to know from you, Sir, if that truce is to be set aside, whether the Motion I propose to bring forward dealing with the eviction of people will also be allowed a day for discussion in this House?
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
On this point, I want to know whether, if this truce is set aside, I shall be at liberty, as a Member 16 of this House, not to be a party to this further discussion, unless I also get my business discussed?
§ Mr. BALDWIN
In reference to what has fallen from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Liberal party, I think it would be in the interest of all concerned that this Debate should be held by agreement in the course of next week. I hope very much that, in the circumstances, my hon. Friends will not find it necessary to move the Adjournment to-night.
§ Sir K. WOOD (by Private Notice)
asked the Prime Minister whether any directions were given by him, or with his sanction, to the Director of Public Prosecutions to withdraw the proceedings against Mr. Campbell, the editor of the "Workers' Weekly," and whether he received any intimation that he would be personally required to give evidence on behalf of the defendant at the hearing?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I was not consulted regarding either the institution or the subsequent withdrawal of these proceedings. The first notice of the prosecution which came to my knowledge was in the Press. I never advised its withdrawal, but left the whole matter to the discretion of the Law Officers, where that discretion properly rests. I never received any intimation, nor even a hint, that I should be asked to give evidence. That also came to my attention when the falsehood appeared in the Press.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
May I ask whether, in the event of this Motion being discussed next Monday, or some day next week, it will also be made into a Vote of Censure on the Government.