§ Mr. RAMSAY MacDONALD
I beg to move:That the action of the Government in initiating the prosecution of certain members of the Communist party is a violation of the traditional British rights of freedom of speech and publication of opinion.I rise to move this Resolution that stands on the Order Paper in my name and in the names of colleagues of mine regarding the prosecution that has just finished in sending 12 men to gaol. I am very disappointed about this prosecution. The Tory party opposite for several years have been pasting every hoarding from John o' Groats to Lands End with all sorts of bills announcing a Red Peril. We have heard of the most terrible calamities, carefully worked out and well engineered, with tremendous forces behind them, and at last they decided to bring them into the open. The trial took place. Now I do not know, if a certain charge be made, and it be proved as a matter of technical law, it ought not to be the subject of a judgment. That may be so. I do not know which of us would escape the law of sedition if every possible Act and every possible law dealing with sedition were put into operation by a lawyer who thinks about nothing but the technical provisions of the law. It is perfectly well known that the legal mind, when it is divorced from the world, divorced from political assumptions, from the ordinary political operations of society, and when it confines itself exclusively to books, is always the adviser of potentates who are trembling in the balance. But what we have to consider is, not only whether a technical breach of the law has been made, but whether the prosecution itself is for the good of the State.
The people who were prosecuted the other day happen to be Communists. They hold doctrines with which the Labour party is in conflict—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh! "]—far more in conflict than the party of the hon. Member, as I 2076 shall prove before I sit down. The accused persons were Communists. So far as my colleagues are concerned, so far as our conferences are concerned, our position has been made perfectly clear. We are not only not Communists, but we are actively opposed to Communism. [Interruption.] Certainly, the Noble Lord opposite will understand that, I hope, before we finish. But the question is not whether Communist doctrines are sound or unsound, right or wrong, but whether the prosecution of leading members of the Communist party as it is in this country at the present time is a service or a disservice to the State. The Attorney-General's opening, his closing, and the speech made at Bow Street by another Crown agent, reminded me far more of the Irish prosecutions than anything else. He started, for instance, with a great flourish of trumpets about the money that has come from Russia; he dropped it like a hot potato at the end. I do not know if he mishandled his case, or if he had no evidence and thought it was far better at the end just to re-assert the statement, "We understand that there are secret channels that are bound to have been used; therefore the money must have come from Russia, you take my word for it," without putting a single piece of evidence before the jury. I should have liked to have seen that evidence. I am sorry the Attorney-General was not able to carry out the magnificent aggressiveness of his opening speech when he came to supply witnesses who had to undergo the pains and penalties of cross-examination.
The question we have to settle is this: Upon what grounds did this trial rest? Hon. Members must remember that it was preceded by a general search. It was none of your old-fashioned, stilted pieces of constitutional rectitude, when the search took place for a specific thing and, if that specific thing was not found, noting else was disturbed. No; that is an old habit, an old prejudice of British constitutionalism, which the modern Tory party has torn up like a scrap of paper They went into the offices and they took everything, from love-letters to death sentences—everything they could lay their hands on; furniture and chairs, I believe, certainly documents and books of all kinds. Later, having laid their hands upon these things, they examined every- 2077 thing, and at the end, really, what did it amount to? It amounted to two main things—the possession and publication of documents and papers, and the preaching of certain doctrines. That was the gist of the charge. I have seen the typewritten copy of the Attorney-General's speech, and my typewritten copy runs to 75 pages. Fifty-two pages of the 75 dealt with documents, dealt with books; therefore, the real gist of this prosecution was not mutiny, was not subverting His Majesty's Forces, was not attempts made to create disorder, but the publication of opinion, and the holding of that opinion. Acts— none; no soldier was put in the witness box. So far as regards the documents and books, they were really, in their distinctive points, subversive nonsense— but so is Toryism; and should ever the day of calamity come, I will just take the same attitude towards hon. Members opposite as I take now, because, if we once give away this great, precious foundation of our liberty, you and I, those with whom we agree and those with whom we disagree, those whom we regard as pillars of the Constitution and those whom we regard as Samsons trying to pull down the pillars of the Constitution, are deprived of the right to stand in our open places, to use our bookshops, and say, "This is what I believe." Let that go, and yon are face to face with nothing between reaction on the one hand and revolution on the other.
That is why I am interested in this; that is why I feel that the House should be interested in it, and why we should all throw off the inspirations of merely what we think right or wrong, what our party thinks right or wrong, and stand for something for which I hope the most extreme wings of this House—extreme on the Right and extreme on the Left—stand in common, namely, that, whoever publishes opinions, whoever holds opinions, whoever brings out into the light their ideas, ought to be left alone, so far as the operation of the law is concerned. Left alone so far as a tremendous bombardment of intellectual attack, of moral attack, is concerned—certainly not; not left alone for a single moment; but, so far as prosecution is concerned, so far as an attempt is made by a Government or by the official prosecuting agency, whether the Government is responsible for it or not, to step in and say, "Because you 2078 believe in mutiny, you ought to be in gaol," I say that that is not only so subversive of the old liberties, but is so inimical to our own present security, that Liberals, Conservatives and Labour people ought to join in maintaining it in face of the attack which has been made upon it.
Nor is it possible for us to overlook contrasts. There is in politics, as in physics, the doctrine of relativity. There is a body in this country just now that makes no bones of the fact that it is arming itself—not the Communist party. There is no humbug there, there is no concealment there. These people say, "We are possessing ourselves of arms, we are practising, we are drilling, we are marching; and lest the vigilant eye of the Home Secretary"—whom we are very glad to see back, however much we disagree with him—"lest the vigilant eye of the Home Secretary, or the vigilant eye of the man in blue, should overlook us, we are actually wearing badges in the public streets, and proclaiming in the open light of day that we belong to those gentlemen who are drilling and are arming for the purpose of creating disturbance should occasion arise." [HON. MEMBERS: "Disturbance by you!"] So far, you have not gaoled me. [An HON. MEMBER: "We will very soon!"] I shall be very delighted to go there on that charge.
Just to go back to the argument, it is not only theories, it is not only the preparation for action, which is the stage and step beyond the declaration of opinion; it is not merely arming and waiting and watching; actual things have been done. A "Daily Herald" van is held up by armed men; it is damaged. I am not sure that it appeals to me very much on the grounds of property being damaged, but for the moment I am addressing my argument to the right hon. Gentleman, whose heart is always open to the cry of broken property. They go in a public place, in the public streets, having laid their heads together, having met together, having consorted there for a specific and definite purpose, and having exhibited deadly weapons, and by the use of them done certain things—not Communists, but gentlemen whose principles and practice, if the Home Secretary's words mean anything at all, find a great sympathiser 2079 in him. That is the contrast that springs into every one of our minds at present.
Moreover, the Home Secretary himself, who, to judge by a speech he delivered at an amateur dramatic society, has had something to do with it, also presents a very striking contrast. I know what hon. and right hon. Gentlemen are going to do about this. We have had echoes of it already. Because we are standing for the right of publication of opinions with which in this case we profoundly disagree—[Interruption.] Certainly. Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to send him a penny pamphlet before he laughs again. It is going to be said, "Oh, yes; the Labour party, as a matter of fact, care nothing for constitutional practice or for the observation of Parliamentary decisions." I am surprised at the silence. Here is a perfect gem of an expression of opinion by the right hon. Gentleman, when he says:The people of Ulster have behind them the Unionist party.Then with a flight of inspiration that puts him outside the band of politicians and into the band of prophets he said:Behind them is the law of the God of battles.Then continuing the same magnificent inspiration he says:In his name and your name I say to the Prime Minister, Let your armies and your batteries fire. Fire if you dare. Fire and be damned.I have never in all my reading come across such a glorious example of a sudden flight up to Heaven and an inability to express the imperiousness of the command he received there except in profane language. In ordinary unemotional English he could do nothing. He had to invoke a curse in order to adequately express to his entranced audience the amount of inspiration he received from his flight to Heaven. What was it about? Law and order, peace, quietness, respect for the House of Commons? Not at all. Sedition. The right hon. Gentleman had not merely published pamphlets, books and theses. He had taken part in a definite conspiracy to create mutiny. The twelve men who appeared in the dock the other day were mere babes in their sedition and mutiny compared with the robust adult stage the right hon. Gentleman reached in 1912 and 1913. And this is the party, 2080 these are the men who are going to tell the country that because we stand here this afternoon for the right to express opinions, even if we do not believe in them, we are Communists, we are Seditionists. Shame, a sense of decency, ought to restrain them.
Where has the trial left us? A question was answered to-day, as far as I can understand it, that the Communist party is now an illegal body. What are you going to do with it? We will wait and see. But that is not it all. When I read three speeches—the speech by Sir Travers Humphreys at Bow Street and the two speeches by the Attorney-General—I want to know what opinions we may hold now. I once was interested in the soul of a very well known lawyer who was a very distinguished Member of this House, and in a moment of unusual boldness I handed to him certain books. I am sorry to say the books, which happened to be by myself, contained some documents which would be of value at Bow Street and would put me in a very doubtful position at the Old Bailey, and I am naturally anxious to know how the trial has left us. Let us be perfectly clear about it I will let my position be perfectly clear I say a Briton has the right to preach the right to publish, that great fundamental changes must come upon society, that capitalism must go and, if he believes it—I do not yet—that in that transformation circumstances are such that a revolution is an inevitable incident he has a perfect right to say so If he takes steps to create the revolution—it is a very old-fashioned doctrine surely— then if it is in the interests of the State if the movement is worth noticing, but not if it is like the sedition of some of those Roman gentlemen referred to by Juvenal who were in the category of what we might call the pigmy forces of the nation, then prosecute him and let him take the consequences. Opinions, doctrine, publication—yes. Moreover, he has a right to say that present social conditions can only be cleared by the operation of a class war, that all political operations and policies must be directed and inspired by the assumption of class war. Again I do not believe it, but if people believe it they have the right to say it.
He has another right. I am going over the doubtful points so far as I have 2081 picked them up in those three speeches, because I want our position to be clear. He has a perfect right to say that economic power in modern society is of the nature of a force, that it has got authority in its possession, sometimes used morally, sometimes used industrially, sometimes used politically, sometimes used as a plain expression of force. For instance, troops are called in during the time of a trade dispute. He has a right to say that economic power is a form of force and that those who do not hold that economic power must consider a counteracting force. Further, he has a right to say that Toryism never respects Parliament except when it suits its convenience, and that in the event of a real democratic majority being returned to this House—it is not fair to hon. Members opposite in that form—that in the event of a Labour party majority— [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah! "]—Hon. Members would not have noticed it if I had not called attention to it—being returned to this House and putting into operation certain ideas of its own regarding industrial and financial changes, they have a perfect right to say that in that event disturbance would be created which would not be constitutional and would not be political. I am very happy to say I can make all these statements about the rights of individuals because I do not share any one of those opinions myself, and I have not done so. Sometimes one is almost tempted to go over the border-line. When one's experience is such as you got the other day, of unequal administration of justice, the temptation is very great to go over and say, "These people are perfectly right."
What is the position? These propositions I hold to be wrong. Other people hold them to be right. How is the State, how is the public, to deal with them? By suppression? By force? Nothing could be more clumsy and nothing could be more ridiculous. How can we deal with them? There is a better thing than the law, there is a better thing than the policeman so far as opinion is concerned, and that is to put up sounder opinion against them. Society is going to protect its very delicate fabric, which does not like to be kicked and beaten and coerced, by having liberty preserved to it. An intellectual and a moral attack against error and those who preach error is not helped by prosecution, and that attack 2082 is the most effective for the preservation of Society. That better attack is what has been so much damaged by the prosecution which has just ended. Sedition is a disease of the dark. Sedition is a disease which only breeds in underground cellars, in poisonous conditions, when reaction has become so effective in the State that liberty either does not exist or is of no avail. Then, as long as you have the mind of the man expanding, as long as you have the mind of man thinking, as long as you have unsolved problems in the State and as long as you have the whole of society going on evolving and evolving, every time you drive that underground, even if it is bad, it is a danger to society, and you increase the potentialities of sedition.
My hon. Friends around me, trade union members in particular, are now regarded as being the most stolid and responsible members of society. I do not object to it in the least. But they had a past. There were the days of the Sheffield outrages, the days when trade unions in some places, in some districts, were almost murder clubs. What happened? Gaol, hangings, executions? No use. Every time you made a martyr there was another to step into his shoos. What made the change? Liberty. The hand stretched out, the invitation to "Come out into the open. Come forward. Let us take counsel together. Say what you want to say and we will say what we want to say, and between us we will hammer out the truth, always remembering that when you start action which is a danger to society, which is illegal, then society will strike."
What is the result of the trial? From one point of view 12 men are in gaol. A good many more ought to have been there since 1912 if these ought to be in gaol in 1925. Seven of the 12 are in gaol under very peculiar circumstances. They are not in because they refused to observe orderly conduct, but they are in because they were asked: "Will you give up this party? Will you give up this association?" I should dearly like it if hon. Members opposite would whisper to mo the answer and tell me what they would do if they were members of an organisation—[An HON. MEMBER: "They would run away!"]—that has been prosecuted, five of their colleagues just sentenced, and the question was put to them, not "Will you be of good behaviour?"—in 2083 that case I think they would say "Yes" —but "Will you give up this society?" Of course, they would say "No. Certainly not." Seven of these men are in gaol because they said "No" to that kind of question.
There is another result of the trial. I think the Attorney-General said—I am not sure, but it does not matter—that a sum of £14,000 had been spent some time or other, that they had a bank balance or a bank expenditure of £12,000 or £14,000. What did they get for it? It does not matter for this purpose whether it came from Moscow Or London or North Wales. [Laughter.]
§ Mr. MACDONALD
I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) for so inadvertently and gratuitously entering upon a controversy with which I have nothing to do. What did the people who subscribed get for their £14,000? Everyone who has been in touch with the Communist movement knows that it has been troublesome and provocative over and over again, but whoever subscribed the £14,000 did not get fourteen pennyworth of value. I am not at all sure about that now. I think the Government translated the pence into the pounds, and now that they have intervened the donors of the £14,000 have got value for their money.
What was the situation which the Government had to face? There is no red peril. This has been an insignificant agitation. It has been, as I have just said, troublesome. It has tried to worm its way into both the industrial and the political side of the Labour movement. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about Australia?"] We will settle our own difficulties and leave Australia to settle her own. There was no life and there was no attractiveness in it. The trade union movement has been attacked in some way by it, and there have been disturbances within the movement which have been created by it. Nobody has been attacked more than us. What have the Government done to relieve the situation? You have gone about like a reckless old farmer who sees a field of seeded weeds alongside well-tilled arable land, and who shows his passion at the 2084 weeds by knocking their heads off and throwing the seed into the air to be distributed all over his ploughed field. That is what you have done.
These men have gone to gaol. You have given them an advertisement. You have given an advertisement of their doctrines and, what is worse, by your action you have created a sort of reflex sympathy in the minds of thousands of men and women who never harboured that sympathy before, and who never would have done so but for you. My hon. friends in the trade union movement who have had to fight this thing will go back to their trade unions this week end, and they will find not that you have eased them of any of their troubles but that you have increased their troubles. When we go back to our labour movement and try to find what has happened as the result of the trial, we shall find that you have not eased but that you have increased our difficulties. Communism, these doctrines, that you declare to be subversive and which you prosecute, instead of being suppressed, instead of being weakened, and "instead of"—to use the words of the Home Secretary opposite—"people being ashamed of them"—have been strengthened and have been scattered broadcast, and the reasonable moral authorities and the political influences of society have now to do their best to undo the mischief that the Government have done by prosecuting these people. We have to set about undoing your evil.
At the present moment, when the industrial situation is delicate enough in all conscience, you have imparted a passion and a feeling of class prejudice into the situation which I hope will bear no harvest, but if it does not it will be rather unnatural. No more clumsy handling of the situation could have been made from that point of view, in the present sore state of the body politic, so fevered and so sore that if you touch it the whole body twists and twinges in pain. At that moment, and under these conditions, you have chosen to prosecute these people, not for acts, not for disorder, but primarily and characteristically for opinions, for speeches, for doctrines. You conducted the trial as you did the General Election. Even the "Times," which very rarely agrees with us, referred yesterday to:The most improper whoop over the arrest of his still unconvicted Communists.2085 That is a reference to the Home Secretary. He whooped, he swore in 1912. He has whooped in 1925, and on both occasions he was an aider and a better of sedition. He said on the eve of the trial, or whilst the trial was going on, speaking at Isleworth:When the trial is over, those of you who are Communists will be ashamed of yourselves.How did he know? Was he in touch with the Judge? [Interruption.]
§ Sir CLEMENT KINLOCH-COOKE
Is the right hon. Gentleman entitled to impute motives to any hon. or right hon. Member on the opposite side?
If the Rule were strictly observed, there would be a great change in the tone of our Debates.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. MacDONALD
Was he, in touch with the Judge? [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame! "] If a statement is made by just an ordinary back bencher that when the trial was over such and such a thing would happen, nobody will think anything about it. It is a good piece of political exaggeration and anticipation. But the right hon. Gentleman is not a back bencher. He is the head of the Department. He is the Home Secretary, and what business has he got a day or perhaps two days before the judgment was delivered to anticipate what it would be— [HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"]—and to use language that carried the conviction or suggestion that he knew what it was to be? That is my point. I know perfectly well that he has no business to say things in such a form. The right hon. Gentleman has been taking a very prominent position in all this. The only person who could say with authority and in the confident way and language that the right hon. Gentleman used, surely either was playing false with his audience and just tickling them and using what is perfectly legitimate back bench play, but for a Home Secretary to say that is a very, very serious thing, and indicates the sedition-monger mind.
There is the situation. I do care for opinions, I do care for the publication of opinion, I do care for the steady evolution and change of the institutions of my country, and therefore, right to 2086 the marrow of my bones, I object to the proceedings which the Government have taken. I think it is a political trial, inspired by political motives. Old ladies must be frightened in order that young Tories may be elected. An asset far too valuable to be allowed to disappear is the Communist party, an asset to the Tory party, and you cannot get on without it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nor could you."] No Communism; no Tory Government! It is a modern variation of "No Bishop; no King." So we are going to have a very amusing scene to-night. We are going to have the Tory party, the sedition-mongers of 1912, who did not only talk sedition but practised it, who did not only say, "In this event or that event," but who said, "Disobey your orders, march in the other direction, when the loyal general says' ' to the right you turn to the left." All was prepared. Ambulances, medical staffs, gun running, everything to the last button. And there they are, a large number of them active participants in those events, every one of them beholden to the party which was responsible, and they are going to march into the Lobby in favour of constitutional action.
The newspapers to-morrow morning will say we are a seditious and unconstitutional party. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I knew they would, and on the question of opinion which has been fought and on the question of publications that are diminishing in numbers and on the question of a campaign that has been already met, these lovers of constitutionalism, for political purposes, are going to vote in favour of a prosecution that has increased the power of a weak society and has spread ideas, which to me are subversive, much further than if they had held their hands.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir William Joynson-Hicks)
I was going to thank the right hon. Gentleman for his courteous reference to my recent illness and to assure him, I will not say it took away the bitterness of a party speech, but that it was one of those kindly things which we recognise in politics, for though we may be bitterly opposed we are human beings on both sides. The right hon. Gentleman has divided his speech into two parts, the first dealing with the question of freedom of speech and prosecution, 2087 and the second with an attack upon myself for speeches I made in past years. The right hon. Gentleman is quite entitled to use those speeches against me. One particular speech with which he made eloquent play and which was delivered in 1912 or 1913, when I was speaking on the Irish question, has been quoted before in this House by one of the right hon. Gentleman's supporters. But I must confess that the right hon. Gentleman did it much better. I do not think anybody could take greater advantage of a speech which made me feel, as the right hon. Gentleman castigated me, sorry I had made it. There are very few of us who, in our long political career have not sometimes used, may I say, a "damn," for which we are afterwards sorry. It is probably common on both sides of the House. I should like to say this in regard to that speech. I at all events was not involved in any of the activities that he mentioned. [An HON. MEMBER: "We do not know about that."] You do know it if I say so, and I do say it. I was not involved in any of the activities to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, though I frankly admit that I made that speech. That was the only reference I have been able to find in any of my speeches on Ireland dealing with that question and at all events it was not seditious. I did not ask the Army not to turn its bayonets or its guns upon myself or to turn them upon their officer? or anything of that kind. What I said was, "fire and I will take the consequences."
I will refer to another speech of mine which the right hon. Gentleman quoted, the speech which I made on the eve of the prosecution, a speech which the "Times" referred to as "a most improper whoop," a speech in regard to which I have been attacked in a good many Liberal papers, the "Manchester Guardian," the "Daily News" and others, for having made. I took the trouble to get what I believed to be a verbatim record of the speech from a local newspaper. It was not a party meeting at all, as the right hon. Gentleman stated. He was right. It was an operatic meeting in my own constituency.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
This is what I said on the night those men were arrested:Sir William said he was not there to talk politics, but there was one thing they might like to know, that that morning warrants were applied for against leaders of the Communist party and several of them were now in custody.That was the whole statement I made.
§ Mr. MacDONALD
I do not want to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman. It was at the Hounslow Dramatic Society, and the words are given as:I believe the greater part of the audience will be pleased to hear that warrants were issued and in the majority of cases have been executed for a certain number of notorious Communists.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I have here what I believe to be a verbatim, and it is a very long report from a local paper and it says here:They might like to know.That was the only statement I made. The right hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite will at least not condemn me very much for having made that statement, if they remember the time— and I have looked up the details—when Mr. Gladstone, their great Leader, had considerable trouble with Mr. Parnell and how he went down to Leeds in 1881 and made a speech there. He there gave very serious notice—and that was on the 8th October—to Mr. Parnell, that the resources of civilisation were not exhausted. Everyone remembers that speech.
They remember, further, that four days after, on the 12th, at the Guildhall, in the City of London, Mr. Gladstone then and there announced, amidst great cheers, the arrest of Mr. Parnell. At all events I had some precedent for making a mere statement, as I did, that these men had been arrested. However, that was only a part of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and was personal to myself. The more important part of his speech, and the part on which he really founded his case against the Government, was that we were endeavouring, by the action that we took in the prosecution of these Communists, to stifle freedom of speech, that we were prosecuting them for their opinion and not for their acts. I would like, if I may, 2089 to state exactly what I deem to be the position in regard to freedom of speech in this country.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that there is, and there can be, no such thing as a general freedom of speech. There must be limits to the freedom. A general freedom of speech is obviously impossible. For instance, no one has the right to utter openly in freedom of speech libels on other people. That would be impossible. No one has the right openly to incite to crime. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is licence!"] I agree. I am trying to address a reasoned argument to the House in regard to the limits of freedom of speech. It was upon that, that the reasoned part of the right hon. Gentlemen's speech depended. The other part, with regard to myself, was interesting, but the reasoned part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech depended upon whether or not we had taken proceedings which infringed the rights of freedom of speech in this country. There can be no freedom of speech in which you incite to assault the police, or to assassinate your political opponent. Everyone will agree with me so far. There must be limits. The "right of freedom of speech" is a compendious term which means really a limited right within the provisions of the law of the land. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me there. There must be limits to liberty. As an hon. Member said just now, unfettered liberty leads to licence, and I would add that unfettered licence leads to revolution. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there must be the most absolute freedom of opinion in this country. I say that advisedly. No one can be prosecuted for the holding of an opinion. You may hold any opinion that you like in regard to King, Lords, Commons or any part of the Constitution You may hold it; there is no law against it; there is no possible prosecution for holding that opinion. You may also express your opinion on certain terms. There is complete freedom for discussion, freedom for expression of your opinion, provided that the opinions are not expressed in such terms and in such circumstances as to incite to the crime of violence or to crimes against the community.
There is the utmost freedom in England to-day—after the prosecution as there 2090 was before—to advocate an alteration of the Constitution, freedom to advocate a complete alteration of the basis of our Constitution, freedom to advocate the setting up of different principles. The hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) asked me this afternoon, in regard to the trial which has just taken place, whether it was a crime to advocate certain opinions which he set out in his question—the alteration of the whole economic system, the alteration of the law of the land. My reply to him is that it is not criminal to do that in this country, and the decision in the case of the Communists has made no possible difference in the law or in the Constitution in regard to that question. But it has always been a crime in this country, and it is still a crime in this country, to advocate the upsetting of, or to attempt to upset the Constitution by violence or unconstitutional means. That is the real difference. These men were not prosecuted for opinions, but for an. attempt, as I will show later, to alter the Constitution by violent and unconstitutional means. I want to be quite clear on this point, because it really is a very important point, having regard to a great deal that has been said both by the right hon. Gentleman and by newspapers in this controversy. I hope the House will forgive me if I read a statement of the law by an authority who would be recognised on the opposite side—by Lord Erskine in his defence of Thomas Paine when prosecuted in regard to "The Rights of Man." We know that that case is really a classical case, and that it embodies the law as it was then, and as I think it is to-day. Lord Erskine said:The proposition which I mean to maintain is that every man, not intending to mislead, but seeking to enlighten others with what his own reason and conscience, however erroneously, have dictated to him as truth, may address himself to the universal reason of a whole nation, either upon the subject of Governments in general, or upon that of our own particular country— that he may analyse the principles of its constitution—point out its errors and defects—examine and publish its corruptions— warn his fellow-citizens against their ruinous consequences—and exert his whole faculties in pointing out the most advantageous changes in establishments which he considers to be radically defective, or sliding from their object by abuse. All this every subject of this country has a right to do, if he contemplates only what he thinks would be for its advantage, and but seeks to 2091 change the public mind by the conviction which flows from reasonings dictated by conscience.I agree with the whole of that statement by Lord Erskine, and I am sure that everyone on the other side will agree also. I hope they will agree equally with what Lord Erskine said further:If indeed he … holds out to individuals that they have a right to run before the public mind in their conduct; that they may oppose by contumacy or force what private reason only disapproves; that they may disobey the law, because their judgment condemns it; or resist the public will, because they honestly wish to change it— be is then a criminal upon every principle of rational policy, as well as upon the immemorial precedents of English justice.That is the classical definition, and I agree with it. His Majesty's Government agrees with that definition. Now let us see how that agrees with the position in those recent cases. Those men were. not prosecuted for their opinions. They were prosecuted—to quote the indictment— for—(1) Conspiring on certain dates to publish and utter seditious libels and words; (2) conspiring to incite persons to commit breaches of the Incitement to Mutiny Act, 1707; (3) conspiracy to endeavour to seduce from their duty persons serving His Majesty's Forces to whom might come certain publications, pamphlets and books, and to incite them to mutiny.That was the charge in these cases. If I may say so with very great respect, the Judge gave a perfectly fair summing up; he gave the jury an opportunity of saying that if these men had been prosecuted for opinion they should go free. Before returning a verdict of guilty the jury was to besatisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the defendants had conspired unlawfully together to publish seditious libels or to incite persons to breaches of the Mutiny Act or to felony.There were three tests, and I apologise to the House for reading them. There were three tests which the jury had to apply:First, was the object of the documents to lead to civil war? Second, did the language used imply that it was lawful and commendable to employ physical force in any manner or form against the Government. Third, did the language used imply that it was lawful and commendable to employ physical force in any manner or form against the Government, and did the language used tend to subvert the Government and the laws of the Empire. If they found 2092 that the books contained nothing but innocent propaganda, they were to find the defendants not guilty. If, however, the jury came to the conclusion that there was in the defendants' doctrines and statements of objects that which would lead to civil war, or that which implied that it was lawful and commendable to employ physical force against the Government of the King, or that the language tended to subvert the Government and the laws of the Empire, it would be their duty to find the prisoners guilty.Surely that was a fair statement of the law. It was a statement of the law founded on Lord Erskine's statement, which I have read. It is perfectly fair to say that these men were not prosecuted for opinion. I do not think anyone will suggest, after what I have read, that the summing-up of the Judge was otherwise than absolutely fair. The hon. and learned Gentleman who was in the case—
Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER: (Captain FitzRoy)
I must point out to the right hon. Gentleman that I have allowed him to go so far in his statement as to the exact summing-up of the Judge, but I cannot allow him to make any comment upon it.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I agree. I am sorry that I went, perhaps, a little outside what I ought to have done. I am entitled, of course, to say that the verdict of the jury, after having heard the summing up, which I have read, was a verdict of guilty. Twelve citizens found the prisoners guilty. That is the justification for the action of the Government. I again go back and I say to hon. Members opposite. I say to the Communist party themselves, that it is open to them to endeavour to change the Constitution of the country to what they believe to be a better Constitution. The ballot box is at their disposal. But leading doctrines of the Communist party undoubtedly state that it is hopeless to attempt to get the changes they desire by means of the ballot box. The right hon. Gentleman has told us quite frankly this afternoon that the great hulk of the Labour party, probably the whole of the Labour party, are against these doctrines, and that, therefore, it is quite hopeless for the Communist party to attempt legally to effect their object of changing the Constitution by means of the ballot box. The Communists have 2093 told us over and over again—you have only to read their pamphlets and papers —that their only chance of getting what they consider to be a proper Constitution is to provoke disorder, to weaken the government of the day, and gradually to bring about a revolution by civil war.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
If the hon. Gentleman presses me I will tell him what I will do. I will publish some of their pamphlets. I have such a mass of material to deal with that I do not want to make too long a speech. I think it is only fair that the House and the country should realise some of the matter which I have in my possession in regard to this. I will see whether I cannot place a White Paper on the Table of the House. I want to put before the House clearly the real necessity for preserving the right type of freedom of speech in this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "The right type?"] Yes, freedom of speech as allowed by law and as laid down by Lord Erskine; freedom of speech which gives the right to a full propagation of your opinion, provided you do not try to damage the Constitution. It is only by the Constitution that you can have freedom of speech. You do not get it in "Russia; there is no freedom of speech there at all.
The right hon. Gentleman in his speech rather suggested that we should not take any notice of these people, because they were so small. I am not quite sure that is really our difficulty. After all, the right hon. Gentleman took notice of them when one of the very documents which was prosecuted upon in this case, was prosecuted upon by the right hon. Gentleman himself and his colleagues. They came to the conclusion that it was desirable to prosecute on that document a year ago. It is quite true they withdraw that prosecution. I am not complaining of the withdrawal of the 2094 prosecution, but I want to see why it was withdrawn. It was not withdrawn because the men were not guilty. Lock at the right hon. Gentleman's speech in this House on the 8th October last year, and you will find quite clearly that in his view the thing was, itself, a breach of the law. But then he went on to say, that it was not desirable to prosecute and the hon. and learned Gentleman the then Attorney-General in his speeches in this House quite clearly said that he had authorised and directed the prosecution of Mr. Campbell last year, and he believed the matter in question to be a breach of the law. That being so, that man having been let off, and the prosecution having been withdrawn last year, it surely was the duty of any Government to consider what was going on, to watch the actions of this party week by week, and month by month, to see what they were doing and how far they were going, and if they were really going as far as some of the right hon. Gentleman's friends seem to have thought. I may quote the statement made by Mr. Cramp at the Liverpool Conference of the Labour party:—The road upon which they would lead the international proletariat ends in national disaster. The peace they would achieve by their policy of world revolution and armed force is a peace of utter desolation and universal ruin.That is the view of one of the leaders of the Labour party. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is the view on this side."] I accept the statement of hon. Gentlemen opposite that their party do disagree with this policy. I have been taunted to-day with my action. I take the responsibility of saying that His Majesty's Government, after that prosecution last year, were bound to have regard to what was going on during the current year, and as Home Secretary I was bound to have regard to the reports of speeches and documents which came to me, week by week and month by month, in regard to this agitation. I was bound to have regard to the efforts which were made to incite the public at various places like Hyde Park Corner—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—and I am going to tell hon. Members why I thought so. It was because I said, "These things are not worth taking notice of, these men are simply sports, but there must be men behind them; there must be men who are leaders of this organisation; there must be men who 2095 are banded together to provide the material for these outside people; there must be men determined to destroy our Constitution." On the information I had, I was bound to take steps, otherwise you would have the right to say to me, "If Mr. Cramp were right, and if you knew all this, why did you not take notice of it?"
In regard to the prosecution, I have told the House frankly what I did. When these things came into me, I consulted the Attorney-General and the Director of Public Prosecution. I put the matter before them and said: "It is for you to decide whether the is a case or not; it is not for the Home Secretary. These have come to me in the ordinary course, through those who are charged with the carrying out of law and order in this country. I put these documents before you and I leave them." I left them, and they decided in the ordinary way that a prosecution should take place. That prosecution was never interfered with, in one jot or in one iota, by any member of His Majesty's Government. It was left to the Attorney-General and the Director of Public Prosecution to conduct that prosecution, and, as I have said, they were justified by the verdict of the jury.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
Was there any Cabinet decision to proceed with the prosecution in the first place?
The right hon. Gentleman in his speech referred to the fact that there was complete unanimity of his colleagues in this matter.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
Of course the hon. and gallant Gentleman perfectly well knows that I should be in touch with my colleagues. We are in touch with very many matters, day by day and all day long, as Cabinet Ministers, and I am prepared to say that my colleagues in the Cabinet, if there had been a Cabinet decision, would not have disavowed the action taken. If I may turn to another point which has been raised, I will give the right hon. Gentleman some explanation which he seemed to want in regard to the question 2096 of Moscow. Freedom of speech—and I want to make this perfectly clear—is one thing, but paying hired speakers, organised by a body outside this country in the sheer, definite determination to break up the Constitution of the country is quite another thing. [HON. MEMBERS: "You never proved it!"] It was not necessary to prove it in the case, but it is desirable politically, here and now, to show what the position was. These men were prosecuted not because they were in touch with Moscow, but I am here to-day to say that it is undesirable that any portion of the body politic should be carrying out an organisation in this country and receiving money from another country and instructions from another country in order to destroy the Constitution. The right hon. Gentleman has challenged me on this matter, and I am going to read one or two documents to the House. I will read, in the first place, a letter from Moscow, from the Central Committee of the Communist International, dated 10th October, 1924, in reference to the General Election of last year. It is from Kuusinan, Secretary of the C.C.C.I., and it is addressed to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Great Britain in London:Dear Comrades,—Herewith a copy of the instructions adopted by the Executive to-day which have already been sent you by cable. We are also sending to you the speeches of Comrades Zinoviev and Bukharin at to-day's session of the Presidium. The instructions given in these speeches should also be considered as instructions from the Executive to your Party.Here are the orders of the Central Committee to the Communist Party of Great Britain from the Executive—that is the Russian Executive.
§ Mr. BROMLEY
No, no! [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I have the courtesy of the right hon. Gentleman, and I therefore ignore the discourtesy of hon. Members. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will only be too pleased to answer my question. I am certain he does not wish to misrepresent the matter. He does not, I hope, wish to infer to the House that the documents he quotes are from any part of the Russian Government.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I really thought I had made it plain. They are from the Central Executive of the Com- 2097 munist International at Moscow, and on that Executive the leading members of the Moscow Government sit.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
Let me go back to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman opposite when he was in office and when we were dealing with the Zinoviev letter. The Foreign Office wrote to M. Rakovsky on the 24th October, 1924, when the late Government was in Office:No one who understands the constitution and the relationships of the Communist International will doubt its intimate connection and contact with the Soviet Government. No Government will ever tolerate an arrangement with a foreign Government by which the latter is in formal diplomatic relations of a correct kind with it, whilst at the same time a propagandist body organically connected with that foreign Government encourages and even orders subjects of the former to plot and plan revolutions for its overthrow.
§ Mr. MacDONALD
As a matter of accuracy, that does not prove that members of the Soviet Government are members of the executive—that the two bodies are organically connected. As a matter of fact, they are not.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon, but I must give a direct contradiction to the statement that members of the Soviet Government are not members of the executive of the International at Moscow. I assure hon. Members that they are. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name them!"] There is Zinoviev. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] There is Rykoff. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] There seems to be very remarkable knowledge among hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Is it not the case that M. Vandervelde, the Belgian Minister, is a member of the Second International. There are lots of Internationals.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be allowed to proceed without further interruption.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
Here are the orders:The Imperialist character of the Government should be unmasked. A bitter fight should be carried on against MacDonald's policy in China, India, and Egypt; against the League of Nations.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
The right hon. Gentleman cheers, but I want him to realise that this was the policy of the Communist party at the last Election and that it was dictated direct from Moscow. Here are the instructions for conducting the Election campaign:Every candidate should distribute and sign Campbell's appeal. Campbell should issue another manifesto to the soldiers and sailors. Roy should be put forward as candidate.Everyone knows that Roy was the Indian candidate—If possible he should be brought into the election campaign. Send him a telegram. … Further instructions follow.I have not got the further instructions.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
Only this year, in July, the secretariat of the Communist party here censured one of their own members, Mr. Dutt, for something he had done. I need not trouble the House with what he had done—I do not know that it was anything very bad— and he writes to them on the 15th July of this year:I was not aware that any arrangement in a loose and irregular fashion was made with me by Comrade Arnot,' as I received my instructions to make the temporary change of occupation from the proper authorities of both Arcos and the Delegation.There is the most complete personal connection between the Communist party here and the Communist party in Russia. Nearly all of them have been over there. McManus was over there for three or four months at a time, and to show the terms on which they were, here is a letter which evidently passed across the Council Chamber while they were sitting together in Council. It was, I think, in 1924 when McManus was there, and it is signed by the party.Comrade McManus. Zinoviev and myself go to Caucasus over-morrow. Will you with us? Wi kan not understand as neces- 2099 sary differences in the English party without the language. Wenn you kan not, you must recomand to us one English comrade for this task. This is conditio sine qua non for our effective work in the English question.Yes, I will come, but it will take a few more days to clear up Delegation business. Can I follow you on Wednesday? Yours, McManus.We can go not overmorrow, but on Thursday.There is the most complete evidence of an interlocking arrangement between the Communist party here and the Communist party in Moscow. But it goes a little further. Four or five years ago a Communist named Emery was prosecuted here for breaking into a munition factory at Birmingham and stealing arms. He was committed for trial, and let out on bail, and he disappeared. This is how he disappeared. The Communist party here gave him two letters, one dated 24th February, 1922, to Comrade Racosi:This is to certify that Comrade Walter Thomas James is a member of the Communist party of Great Britain and is sent by the Executive Committee of the party to Russia. As Comrade James will have to remain in Russia for a considerable length of time, we suggest that he be utilised for any work the Comintern may see fit. … Until he has found work we request that he be taken care of. (Signed) McManus.Two months earlier comes another letter:The bearer of this letter. Comrade J. H. Emery, has been a member of the Communist party of Great Britain since its formation. He has been sent to Russia by the party, and owing to his activities in the revolutionary movement has been persecuted by the British police and is unable to return to England for at least several years. Comrades are, therefore, asked to render him assistance and effectively use his abilities on behalf of the Communist International.This very year, 6th July, 1925, he is still there, and there comes a letter from the Communist International to say he is there, and it is pointed out that he can return to England whenever he likes. All that I can say is that I should welcome his return. Again, a young man named Comrade Fox, a clever young fellow, who had been to Oxford University, in June of Was year was sent to Moscow to learn the work, and he gets to work very soon indeed, because he has only been there a fortnight when he writes:Dear Comrade,—I have been working here for a week now and am beginning to 2100 see daylight. At present I am concentrating my work on India under the instructions of Vasilieff, who is in charge during Petroff's absence. I am also trying to get a general idea of the situation in North Africa, Egypt, and the Near East.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I have got a lot about the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), but not about Peru. It is a small matter, however, and I will not go on with it.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
As the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has challenged us on the subject of money, it is perfectly clear that there are very small subscriptions indeed, but there is admittedly an expenditure of some £12,000 in the year. There is more than that. There are several letters referring to payments from Moscow here. Here is a copy of a letter dated 17th January, 1924, to a comrade, who is very well known in Russia as one of the. leaders of the Red International of Labour Unions. He is, I think, the President. The letter reads:You will see from the budget the total indebtedness of these bureaux is £257. Had we received the full amount promised us for the six months ending 31st December we would not be in this debt. As you remember, we Were promised £150 per month for the six months. That makes a total of £000. Then a further sum was promised, which we were informed was a separate allocation. The wages we were advised to pay these people were £25 per month, which makes a total of £300 for six months. The amount we ought to have received. therefore, was £1,200, but what we did receive was £757. I would strongly urge you to liquidate this debt and further the work of the bureaux by exhausting the rest of the Budget.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
But the right hon. Gentleman must know—if not, I can tell him—that the Red International 2101 of Labour Unions and all these other organisations are worked as one body both here and in Russia.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
Let me read a letter from the Communist party here, written by Inkpin to his brother, then in Russia, about finance:I may also mention that the question of the grants to the districts is also affected by an instruction from the Comintern to the effect that one-half of the present year's allocation—the total allocation for the year is £5,000—is to be allocated to district party organisations and to the ' Workers' Weekly.There is a perfectly clear statement to his own brother in Moscow, that they were getting an allocation of £5,000 from the Comintern, and that the Comintern gave instructions how that £5,000 was to be allocated, and how it was to be used.
Sir W. JOYNSON-HCKS
No, but I am saying that it is highly undesirable that there should be a party in this country trying to worm itself into the trade unions of the country, receiving money and instructions from a similar party in a foreign country.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
Let me give one further extract from a letter dated 17th July of this year to the Secretariat of the Communist International of Moscow from the Secretariat of the Communist party here:Our political bureau further wishes me to direct your attention to the somewhat unnecessary references made in the letter such as transmitting money by the secret channel, and to suggest that comrades responsible be warned of the necessity of being more discreet in their communications.[Laughter.] It is idle for hon. Members opposite to affect hilarity. I am not blaming the members of the Communist party. I am blaming England for allowing itself to be duped and to be dependent on instructions from Moscow and on money from Moscow. Before I finish, the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley challenged me to read a letter regarding himself, and he will forgive me if I read one to the secretary of the Communist party here, dated 19th September, 2102 1925, dealing with the Irish question. I think the hon. Member must have received some money, but I am not suggesting improperly, of course. They write:When money has been sent to help the famine area, the British party, instead of using it for the Workers' Union in Ireland, distributed it through Lansbury, a hypocrite.Forgive me.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
It goes on to say:He presented it to the Soup Kitchen Brigade.6.0 P.M.
The hon. Member and I have fought here side by side, and I want to let him know that these men are not really friends of his. They are not friends of the Labour party. [HON. MEMBERS: "We know it!"] We want the Labour party to realise what is being done by the Moscow Brigade here. [HON. MEMBERS: "We know it!"] In that case, if you know it, why are you complaining of our position to-day? If you taka the same view as I take, and as, I think, a great many of your leaders do, that this is a conspiracy in this country, that it is harmful not only to us as a Conservative party, but harmful also to the best interests of the Labour party, if it be harmful to you, why not join with mo in condemning it? If it be harmful to the best interests of the trade unionists of this country, as I believe it to be, then support the action that the Government has taken, rather than come here this afternoon, as you have come here, and try to injure us, to blame us and at the same time to blame the victims of our policy. You cannot have it both ways. You must make up your minds whether this thing is a desirable thing in the interest of the country or not. [An HON. MEMBER: "Your action is undesirable; that is the question."] I am trying to show that if this conspiracy is harmful; if this is a conspiracy with foreign money, with foreign instructions to do harm in this country—they are entitled, I agree, as long as they use their opinions in a legitimate way to hold those opinions, to promulgate those opinions, and we have no remedy, but the moment they go further, the moment they translate those opinions into the action for which they were found guilty by a 2103 jury of our country, I say to hon. Members opposite it is your duty, your interest, as trade unionists, to join with us in stamping out this conspiracy, and seeing that the law of the land, as it has been for the last 150 years, is properly, fairly and honestly administered.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I hope you, Sir, will allow me to have an opportunity of replying to the Home Secretary's statement.
§ Sir JOHN SIMON
The Home Secretary has, necessarily, occupied some time in laying this matter before the House, and I am sure no one makes any complaint of it, but I must endeavour to set this example, at least, that the time I will occupy in the few remarks I wish to make, shall be strictly limited, and I will undertake that by a quarter-past six I will have said what I have to say. I cannot help thinking the Home Secretary has not addressed himself entirely to the very big question of public policy, but let me at once concede to the Home Secretary three or four perfectly plain facts which it does not appear to me any sensible man ought to seek to dispute. It seems to me perfectly clear that these men had a fair trial. It is certain that they got a vastly fairer trial than they would get in any community that ever has enjoyed Communist doctrine. It seems to me perfectly clear that they were properly convicted, and it seems to me perfectly clear that the defence had, as it ought to have had, very complete latitude.
Speaking for myself, and, I think, for a great many Members in the House who are for some reason perturbed at this class of prosecution, I do not feel the slightest sympathy with the men. I regard their doctrines as utterly abhorrent, and my doubts in the matter—because I have some doubts—are not due to the smallest scrap of sympathy with them, or the smallest desire to shield people who commit crimes, but there is a circumstance about recent events which is undoubtedly of great gravity, and I hope the Home Secretary will excuse me for saying that he does not seem in his speech to have dealt with it. I repeat the language of a very well-known Lord Chief Justice, when I say it is not enough that justice in this country should be impartially administered. It is further 2104 necessary, when a prosecution is determined upon, that everybody, and most of all those who are connected with the administration of justice, should so act as to make it appear even to bigoted and prejudiced persons, if they can, that justice is evenly administered. I believe it is, but it is quite certain that some events have happened in recent times, and some speeches have been made just before and during this trial, which do give a handle to people who desire to suggest that justice is unequal, to quote authority in favour of their views.
The right hon. Gentleman has been regaling us with a number of extracts from intercepted correspondence. So far as I can see, he has, for the most part, been putting before the House material which the Attorney-General did not consider it worth while to put before the Court. Now that I have heard the sort of stuff which the right hon. Gentleman has examined, it was very natural and appropriate that he should have made his references to Communists at a comic opera society. The impression left upon my mind is not so much that they are criminals, but that they are lunatics. While I quite agree, that even if a man is a lunatic, you must take proper steps to stop him if he is going to commit serious crime, it is really a very grave matter of public policy what the circumstances are in which you ought to feel bound to prosecute. I would say frankly —and I expose myself, no doubt, to the ridicule of many Members here—that I am not able to vote for the Motion of the Leader of the Opposition, because I really do not think, so far as regards the Attorney-General's decision, whether you think it is right or wrong, that it is one of those matters which it would be right in Parliament in the circumstances to condemn by a Vote of Censure. I do not think so.
I have often said in this House, both as Attorney-General and since, that it is only in the very last resort that this sort of prosecution should be adopted, and I am bound to say I did expect, when I heard this prosecution was undertaken, that we were going to have proved matters far more immediately significant than anything that seems to have been proved. Still, it is perfectly true that sedition may reach a point at which it is necessary to prosecute and if anybody 2105 suggests that the decision to undertake this prosecution was arrived at fey the Attorney-General and his expert assistants on other than grounds of public policy, I do not believe it, and, therefore, I will not, for my part, associate myself with such a Vote of Censure. But I must say, if anything could have been done to make this present situation one in which those who really respect the British traditions of free speech have reason to be uneasy, it is some of the things the Home Secretary has been doing. The right hon. Gentleman offered his apology for some speech he had made at the time of the Ulster revolt, and explained to us— I have no doubt correctly—that he was not involved in those seditious and treasonable activities. No, but a great many people were. I wonder if the Home Secretary does not think those activities were seditious. I have no doubt, at the same time, it was a very grave question of public policy whether it was to the public interest that attempts should be made to prosecute, and it always is, and there is no greater nonsense talked about the Attorney-General's duty than the suggestion that in all cases the Attorney-General ought to decide to prosecute merely because he thinks there is what lawyers call "a case." It is not true, and no one who has held that office supposes it is.
I understand the duty of the Attorney-General to be this. He should absolutely decline to receive orders from the Prime Minister, or Cabinet or anybody else that he shall prosecute. His first duty is to see that no one is prosecuted with all the majesty of the law unless the Attorney-General, as head of the Bar, is satisfied that a case for prosecution lies against him. He should receive orders from nobody. But that is very different from saying that the Attorney-General ought in all cases to ask nobody else's view, because he thinks there is a case to institute a prosecution without finding out what his colleagues or the Government think. That is a ridiculous proposition. If the Leader of the Opposition at the General Election were to make a seditious speech, does anyone mean to tell me a Conservative Attorney-General would start a prosecution against him without consulting the Cabinet? Of course, he would not; and, indeed, the other view has been proclaimed by the present Prime Minister 2106 himself. I have before me his statement, which he made on the 18th December last year, when he said, in answer to the Leader of the Opposition, thatWhen the proposed prosecution is of such a character that matters of public policy are, or may be, involved, it is the duty of the Attorney-General to inform himself of the views of the Government or of the appropriate Minister before coming to a decision.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th December, 1924; col. 1214, Vol. 179.]Of course it is, and I lose patience when I am told that the prosecution of Communists is, as a matter of fact, a thing that the Cabinet, whether a Labour Cabinet or the colleagues of the Attorney-General, know nothing about. I am confident that the Attorney-General would never undertake a prosecution, whatever anybody asked him to do, unless he thought the prosecution was justified, but I should regard him not as a good Attorney-General but as a fool if he were to start on his own motion prosecutions which involve grave matters of public concern—treason, sedition, corruption, and the like—I should regard it as a very grave mistake if he did such a thing without knowing that, in the view of his colleagues, public policy was not offended by undertaking such prosecution.
Is it really clear that public policy was served by this prosecution? That is what I doubt, and what makes me doubt it very much more—and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will excuse me, because we are all very grateful to him for having come down here, in view of his recent illness, to stand fairly and squarely before the House—but if really he will look back in a few years' time, I think he will be disposed to make the same apology for some of the speeches he has been making during the last month as he makes now for a speech he made some years ago. Is it really the way to satisfy a possibly suspicious, credulous, biassed opinion in this country that justice is fairly administered between all sorts of people, that, after making his announcement of the prosecution, he goes on to say, in effect, in another speech, that he can hardly contain himself until the verdict is out, and then he will say what he wishes to say, and in a third speech that what is wanted is a "touch of Mussolini."
The Home Secretary is entirely wrong when he quotes the precedent of Mr. 2107 Gladstone. What Mr. Gladstone did in 1881 has nothing to do with this. Let us get a bit of history right. What Mr. Gladstone did was this: He did not announce that judicial proceedings were about to take place against so-and-so. He announced a purely administrative act which was finished and done with. He announced that Mr. Parnell had been detained under the Crimes Act, which was very like the proceeding of detaining anyone under the Defence of the Realm Act during the War. It did not involve any judicial proceeding at all.
The first and most obvious duty of a responsible Minister, if a proceeding of this sort is started, is so to conduct himself in his public declarations as to show that his view remains as calm and unprejudiced as that of the Judge himself until the case is over. I must say that I think that all Members, in all parts of the House, who really prize the traditions of free speech and constitutional liberty, have very grave complaint because of the most unfortunate way the Home Secretary has expressed himself. In my concluding remarks—for I desire to keep my promise—let me point out particularly that there is really a very serious general public question here. Sedition, in one sense of the word, is a charge that can be made under the Criminal Law of England against all sorts of people who are asserting all sorts of unpopular opinions. No less an authority than Professor Dicey pointed that out long ago. Let me read one sentence:The legal definition of sedition might easily be used to assist to check a great deal of what is ordinarily considered allowable discussion, and would, if rigidly enforced, be inconsistent with the prevailing forms of political agitation.I do not believe that the cause of law and order, and the benevolent intentions of the Home Secretary towards the Labour party, are necessarily promoted by such prosecutions. If the right hon. Gentleman had got up and said: "I have to point out that the evidence given at the trial against these men established something far beyond any allowable expression of opinion"—on that he would have made a relevant case. I rather suspect that the case may still be made, and I wait to hear it; because I certainly do not pronounce judgment without hearing it. But the Home Secretary has not 2108 made such a statement. On the contrary, he has indicated to everyone the belief that certain opinions, idiotic, apparently expressed in the most childish way, false and ridiculous doctrines, that these idiotic opinions are to be pilloried, and that there must be a new campaign sweeping through the country in favour of Conservatism against everybody else. What he ought to do is to realise that the service of democracy and the service of public education essentially depend on leaving things of this sort —if they can be left—to be dealt with in the open, rather than by driving them underground. It may be said that my conclusion is neither one thing nor the other, but I am stating to the House of Commons most frankly my own feeling. I am most profoundly disturbed at the way in which this matter has been bungled, because, though I am not prepared to say that a prosecution having been determined upon as a matter of discretion has not been properly conducted, the conclusion of it was not the only one which any unprejudiced man should be prepared to accept.
§ Mr. SAKLATVALA
The speech that the Home Secretary has made in reply to the Motion has rather created a tendency to cover up the main issue, and take little items and details for this House to discuss which are really of no matter. There is a profound belief that by the experience we get when we come into this House we become quite a different species of man. There are people outside who are upholders of rigid standards of free speech, and they seem to understand what it means, rather than from the circuitous definitions that we have heard here this afternoon. We have heard quotations from Lord Justice This and Lawyer That, but we know that lawyers are experts. We know that all experts do differ because they must differ from each other; quotations can be cited against one or other of the positions put forward ad libitum and they neither prove one thing nor the other. What was the last appeal of the Home Secretary? He was charging 12 Communists with conspiracy to subvert the constitution of the country. The constitution of the country, as explained by him, is centred and expressed in these Parliamentary institutions. The Parlia- 2109 mentary institutions of this country are run along party lines. It has been a charge that this was not a judicial trial; that it was not a legal trial; that it was a party trial. The Home Secretary has actually subverted the fundamental constitution of this Parliament by trying to eradicate a new political party and prevent it growing into opposition against his party.
The right hon. Gentleman is so obsessed by this matter that he discloses his bias in the various indiscretionary speeches which he has made, and which show human weakness rather than wickedness. He appeals to the Labour party, and he says: "These stupid Communist fellows are a damned nuisance now to the old political parties. They are in our way. Let us enter into a general conspiracy to stifle and put them into prison, and so let this House endorse my action." The Home Secretary desires the Labour Members to enter into a conspiracy with the Tory party to keep this matter quiet. It is not merely a question of free speech acted upon by indiscretionary enthusiasm. Large numbers of people, not only in this country, but all over Europe, are beginning to maintain that purity of justice does not exist. I remember a Debate that I had not the privilege of attending, but I read it. I am speaking of October of last year, when the Labour party was charged by the Tory Opposition with a class bias in withdrawing the Campbell case. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir It. Horne) then delivered a speech and in it was a passage in regard to the purity of justice. He said that one great-gift which Great Britain had given to the world was the gold mine of justice, and so on. It was then pointed out to the right hon. Gentleman that there were millions existing in this country and that society was so constructed, or had so grown up, that class bias was inevitable.
We do not charge hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, or the officers of the. Crown, with anything personal in this matter, but we do say that the whole system, political, economic, social, is so constructed that there is no purity of justice, and that it is class justice all the time. The Government produced documents and these were most emphasised by the Law Officers of the Crown. But these documents were printed and 2110 publicly circulated in 1920, 1921 and 1922. We had then at the head of the Government of this country the man who won the Great War. He could have quashed the Communist conspiracy if these documents had amounted to a serious subversion of the constituted1 authority of this country. Nothing was said. Nothing was done. The people of this country were left in the hands of the Coalition Government, then to the Government of Mr. Bonar Law, then to other Tory Governments, then to that of the Labour Party, and now to the present Government—so on right up to certain events last summer. It looked as if these documents were permissible to protect freedom of speech and the freedom of the expression of view. But when people put forward a programme of propaganda, when it begins to go forward and inconvenience the Government of the day, then they may be subjected to prosecution. I think we are all agreed that there is not one of us inside this House, or any intelligent man outside, who, perhaps, in certain of these circumstances might not be found guilty of breaking the law. I quite agree with the point raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) that the Home Secretary did not do his duty as he ought to have done. If you really make laws which permit of going into everybody's home and capturing everything there, then you may get a theory of guilt, and then you possibly will try to find out something backing up this imaginary theory of guilt on which you may prosecute a citizen.
Where, in this matter, is the Cabinet? What is the Home Secretary for? What is Parliament for? Where is the political responsibility of Parliament? The Homo Secretary has copies of correspondence and these contain some painful allusions to the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury). There was the word "hypocrite" used. If I could get the use of the secret police force for a couple of months, if I raided the correspondence of leading Ministers of the Grown, I might discover some very interesting things and interesting phrases used by his present colleagues about the present Prime Minister. There is nothing very extraordinary about that. It does not prove that a grave crisis has arisen, and that the Home Secretary must go and prosecute people for it. I am perfectly sure 2111 that correspondence from a Tory club would furnish far worse examples than what we have heard to-day. People outside do sincerely believe that this is not only a party prosecution, but that the poor Communists have been made victims of the struggle in the Tory ranks by one party trying to make it possible by conspiracy and the carrying on of subversive propaganda in their own ranks to overthrow the Prime Minister. That may be right or wrong, but that is the suggestion conveyed by this prosecution. All the quotations given from the letters are really human quotations, such as could be found in the letters of men of all parties, of all politicians, of all commercial businesses, of all partners in a firm. There is nothing extraordinary about them— nothing to prove a grave crisis.
The issues at the back of everything that the Home Secretary has said to-night are very grave issues for the citizens of this country. We know that one of the chief reasons which made the Communist-party, rather than any other political party, the object of persecution, or prosecution, or whatever you want to call it, was the fact of their headquarters as an international toeing situated in Russia, and having close association with and affiliation with the Third International. It is all very well to mislead the country, or to create an enthusiasm even on these benches, by using the word "Moscow." Where is the difference between the word "Moscow" and "London," or "Amsterdam," or "Berlin?" International bodies for Socialist purposes have existed for many years, and anyone who has any intelligent appreciation of what Socialism is and what it shall be as a practical doctrine for society, must understand that international organisation, international association, is absolutely inevitable. Such international association in itself proves nothing very grave, gives out no great dangers. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary was suggesting or guessing—he was wrong in the guess, but he was guessing—that because of some members being on the Committee of the Third International, whose headquarters are in Moscow—just as the headquarters of the Second International are now in London and were once in Amsterdam—therefore the members of the Russian Government are also 2112 associated with it. As a. matter of fact, they are not, but even if they were, where is the harm? British Cabinet Ministers were members of the Second International, and are now Members of the Second International, which is an exactly parallel body. The two bodies may be antagonistic, hostile in their ideas appertaining to modes of operation and so on, but they are parallel bodies. Members of the British Government were honourably associated with the Second International. Would the German Government, or the Belgian Government, or the Italian Government now come forward, if some Socialist society in France or Italy or Belgium were carrying on a political propaganda which was becoming inconvenient to the Government of those countries, and say, "The British Government are conspiring to overthrow our Government?" As the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley says, our esteemed friend, Emile Vandervelde, who is to-day in London to sign the Pact —he is Foreign Secretary and represents the Belgian Government—is a member of the Second International. To-morrow the Socialist party here in Great Britain, which is affiliated with the Second International, may do something. Should we then go and fly at the throats of the Belgian Government and say, "Your Minister is associated with this organisation; there is a conspiracy on the part of the Belgian Government to overthrow the Government of England." [Interruption.] You may call it nonsense, but I say that the charge cannot be made. Because members of a certain political body are members of an international committee on which there are various nationalities, you cannot, in 1925, when the tendency of the whole world is towards forming international bodies, condemn that as a crime. You cannot condemn Governments because some members of those Governments may, as members of some political institution, become members of an international body. The League of Nations is getting on, and there are other international associations. There are chambers of commerce with international committees and international headquarters. There are mineowners' associations. There is the great oil trust, with international ramifications, and its agents and branches in Argentina or some other countries; and so on. You do not attack them, but 2113 you pick out the Socialist international movement because it happens to have its headquarters in Moscow. The Home Secretary has before him the information, I think, that though the headquarters may be in Russia, the Comintern, as we call it, or the Committee of the Third Internationale, is composed of men and women of all nationalities, and the Russian representatives on it do not always form even 15 or 20 per cent. of the whole Committee, they are always in a minority. The headquarters are at present kept in Russia for obvious reasons. That is the only country which accepts the right of existence of an anti-capitalist society and an anti-capitalist organisation.
§ Mr. SAKLATVALA
It is perfectly obvious that such an international committee would not be allowed to carry on its work undisturbed and in a legitimate fashion if it were situated in any capitalist country. Now comes the question of the money. I say again to the Home Secretary that what he has read are words. He has read some words, but he has read no proof that money came— that such and such an amount of money came from such and such a source, and so on; and I still insist that it is certainly not wrong at all for the money to come if it comes from the central headquarters of the international body. There would be, of course, monetary relationships between the affiliated groups of international bodies. There would be money transactions between the headquarters of the League of Nations and various nations of the world. There would be money transactions with the central committee of the Second International also. The Home Secretary seems to have forgotten that as we have got the Socialist Second International and also a separate International Federation of Trade Unions, there is also similarly a quite separate Communist International and the Red International of the Trade Unions.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
May I ask the hon. Member, as he has rather got away from my argument, would he think it desirable that a Member of this House should receive £300 for election purposes, and for the money to come from Russia?
§ Mr. SAKLATVALA
I will answer the question. I am very glad the Home Secretary has put forward his view. He again puts that question, not in an unfair manner but in that muddled manner in which he understands it. If a Member of this House receives £300 from Russia or from Italy or from China, from some organisation which has got no legitimate connection with that member, and for a definite purpose hostile to this country, then it is not desirable. But if there is a political body of an international character, with its international representatives, with its constitutional resolution that we all are to carry out our policy—not each one to suit himself, but. as it is decided by our international committee composed of all nationalities, a central body which runs a common policy in politics, and with common ideals for all countries associated with that international body—then I do put it to the Home Secretary that there is nothing morally or legally wrong in the exchange of money to the members from the central headquarters for the purpose of carrying out the party policy, a policy openly adopted by all the members concerned. If there were a secret organisation, if a member were not associated with any particular body at all, and that member, of British nationality, were receiving money from a foreign nationality without any real, legal, constitutional associateship between the two, that would be quite a different matter. If the members of an international organisation, by their own democratic vote say "We are tired"—you may call it foolish or lunatic or nice, I do not know, just as it may please you—if they say, right or wrong. "We are tired of the manner in which various labour organisations are carrying out their political propaganda, and we want the members of these political organisations in all countries to be all pledged to carry out a common policy which we believe is the most efficient policy for the common object of the Labour party, as well as the Communist party, the overthrow of the capitalist system—
§ Mr. SAKLATVALA
No, that is your interpretation. I am now answering the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, and I say that under those circum- 2115 stances, a common Parliamentary fund for Parliamentary election assistance from the headquarters of a political party is perfectly honourable, legitimate, fair and desirable. There is no difference between that and the Conservative party sitting in London, with a common fund, and sending money from it to one of their members somewhere in a remote part of this country, where that member may not be in a position to find his funds locally. It is exactly the same. If there was any secret association, if there were no open constitutional, legal, democratically-established relationship between the central committee and the various members, I would adopt the view of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary; but I put it to him that though at the present moment the Communists may be unpopular, they may be few, some of them may be foolish—I do not deny it—
§ Mr. SAKLATVALA
No, wait a minute. I will deal with the hon. Member. I am just asking the Home Secretary to realise the great principle involved—that with your anti-Russian bias, with your Communist bogey, with your Bolshevik slogans, you are undermining the fundamental right of British citizenship, which has existed from 1847, to form international associates-hips for the purpose of propagating Socialist ideas. That is the main point.
The other point is one which I am afraid the Home Secretary has completely evaded, and that is the strange measures taken by him and the Crown Officials of bringing up once again the Incitement to Mutiny Act of 1797. Hon. Members opposite are proud of the British constitution and one of its chief characteristics is that we proceed from stage to stage by an unwritten law, and we do not always record things in writing, although by practice, acquiescence and common consent we establish the peoples right. I ask the Chief Secretary if he sees no difference between the Army of 1797 and the Army of 1925. In 1797 our 2116 soldiers were probably illiterate, ignorant, and unaware of the current events in the world, and quite incapable of forming a well-balanced judgment. But take the soldiers of 1925. Most of them read the "Daily Mail" and the "Morning Post," and they are highly educated. There is an immense difference between the intellectual power of the soldier of 1925 and the soldier of 1797. Many of the soldiers of to-day possess a higher intelligence on political matters than many hon. Members of this House, and they have just as much capacity to form a judgment. Therefore, it is ridiculous to argue that the soldier of 1925 is not as capable of forming a judgment on political questions as any Member of the House of Commons or the Cabinet.
Since the Act of 1797 was passed you have given the Parliamentary vote to the soldier. Do you suggest that by physical violence or force you are going to alter the right of the soldiers in regard to his Parliamentary vote when it does not suit you? Is that your intention? Do you contend that the soldier of to-day, who has been given the Parliamentary vote is an inferior citizen compared with the rest of the community? Having given soldiers the vote, it is their duty to vote for any candidate they like at any given election. They cannot vote by the method suggested by the Government which is that the candidates should just send them an election address by post, and allow them to form their own judgment. We have a right to go to the soldiers and explain matters, and you have no right to insult the soldier fey saying that he has no right to read the literature of any political party. The soldier has a right to read any political views, and it is our duty to carry into the soldiers' camp our political views.
It is all very well to say that this is inciting the Army to mutiny in 1925. If the Government had their way, they would take care that the only political literature for the soldiers would be the constitutional literature published by the Conservative associations. Is that why you are using the Incitement to Mutiny Act of 1797. In the Communist prosecution, you released seven defendants. Are you afraid that they are going to create bloodshed, sedition and tumult? The Judge and jury in this case listened 2117 to all the letters and papers which were read, and then the Judge in effect said he had come to the conclusion that whatever these seven defendants had said or done up to the day of the trial, it is not absolutely necessary to put them into prison, and he thought the community would be quite safe if they went out of the Court as free men.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
Probably the hon. Member is not aware of the Rule of the House that you cannot criticise the conduct of a Judge, except on a definite Motion brought before the House.
§ Mr. SAKLATVALA
I do not wish to offer any comment on the conduct of the Judge, but I ask the Home Secretary to take the position as it stands, and recommend the release of those seven defendants. Here are seven men against whom the judgment is that it is not necessary to lock them up for what they have done or said, but they have been sent to prison because they will not change their political views. These men have been sent to prison in anticipation of future misdemeanours, and it is not considered necessary to send them to prison for their past misdemeanours. I hope the Home Secretary will see his way to reverse the effect of such a judgment. All this has not come about without its origin. Why did the Home Secretary take the view that documents, which were legitimate and permissible in speeches during prosecutions in 1922, 1923, 1924, and early in 1925, should suddenly become dangerous documents now?
Here we have a real picture of the present Government's mentality. There has been great contention between the Government and the Opposition Benches. The Government undertook to settle certain economic problems which, by their own confessions, were adverse to working-class interests, and whether they intended it or not, they were adverse and hard, and the working classes had to settle down to work for longer hours, lower wages, and less favourable terms than they were enjoying before. Then the Government turn to the Communist agitation, and the Opposition appealed to the Government to leave the Communists alone and take no notice of them. Then the Conservative party in the country and their spokesmen here took 2118 a very exaggerated view of their powers, and they said, "No, we cannot leave them alone." In this House, in the Debate on the 6th August last, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, speaking in the Debate on the Temporary Subvention to the coal mining industry said:What is required for these forces is a policy which will procure their separate treatment in isolation from large popular pursuits, and it is a matter to which every effort should be earnestly and urgently directed.This is not the language of the man in the street, but the language of a polished politician whose heart wants to say something, although he is afraid of saying it in plain language. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said the Communists and the Third International are part and parcel of the working classes, and argued that if the Government tried to punish them the whole of the working classes would be entangled. Therefore they put forward the suggestion that the first operation should be an artful political operation, isolating members from the large body politic of the working class, and then the Government would be able to go ahead. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in the speech I have alluded to says a little later on:The decision which was taken on Thursday was taken because we had not yet abandoned that hope. If we had plunged into a struggle, allowed a stoppage of the mines, had faced a general strike on the railways, had accepted a temporary paralysis of the entire industry of the country, allowed trade to be checked, allowed social reform to be arrested, our finances to be deranged, had postponed pensions, and restored taxation—if we had taken that position then for us, and so far as this Parliament is concerned, the door would have been closed to an advance to a better state of things It may yet happen.Then the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) speaking on the temporary subvention to the coal mining industry in the same Debate said:The railwaymen would have stopped work last Friday night, not because they wanted to challenge the constitution, not because they were not as loyal as any other citizens of the community, not because that issue was involved, but because they believed they were doing as you would have done if an injustice were done to your people. You would have resented it. The railway-men feel that an injustice was done to the miners, and they were prepared to stand by them.2119 The Chancellor of the Exchequer in another paragraph in his speech said:There is another aspect of challenge to which I know the Committee would wish me to refer. It is a challenge to our Parliamentary institutions from persons far removed from those to whom I have been referring, but it is none the less a very serious, and in some ways in a practical sense, a more dangerous aspect. There is a growing disposition among the great trade union authorities of the country to use the exceptional immunities which trade unions possess under the law, not for the purpose of ordinary trade pursuits, but in the pursuit of far-reaching political and economic aims."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th August, 1925; cols. 1689–90–91, Vol. 187]Here is an admission that the Government have in front of thorn within one night an upsetting of this, that and the. other.
They found in their cool, quiet calculation that the miners and the railway-men could not he persuaded now to lead an inferior life as hitherto, and, when they found that it was the complete failure and crushing defeat of the whole programme of the Conservative party promised at the General Election. The Chancellor of the Exchequer suggested, and rightly suggested, that it might happen here, because he knows that there are limits to his power of bribing the master class by subsidies and subventions. Therefore, it is his political policy, that here are those Communists. The Labour party said they had nothing to do with it. "They are insignificant. Leave them alone." The Government adopted the view that they are a danger from the Government point of view, that they do count, that their activities are in the creating of strong trade union bodies to behave in a way in which the trade union bodies and organisations did not behave in this country before the advent of the Communist party and the minority movement. Therefore, the Government suggested that the first part should be the political and tactical isolation of this group from the larger body politic of the working classes. Then the Government will go ding dong, not with the view to finding a group here and there and giving them judicial treatment, but with the set political purpose of removing something which in their minds was the cause of bringing failure to the much vaunted Conservative programme and 2120 paralysing them for the future without any policy out of the darkness with which they were faced.
It was on this basis that these political persecutions were formulated. We were challenged by the Attorney-General at the trial, and by the Home Secretary, and by an hon. Member who has interrupted frequently. You said all the time that we were going to have our forces and were going to kill you all, and get on those benches if we could get to the ballot —that there was going to be a mutiny. There was not a trace of evidence. Not only was there no evidence, but, if the House will take my assurance, there was no existence of any military preparations in the Communist party of Great Britain at all. There was nothing in the evidence nor in our action or programme or policy. We simply go to the Army and say one morning, when all is at peace, when there is no disturbance, when the country is in a flourishing condition and a democratic Government with the wishes of the majority of the people are ruling us, "Come out from your barracks with your arms and let Mussolini be put on the throne." There was no such case made against us. There was no such practice, policy, or programme in the whole of the Communist activities. March up to the landlords and shoot them! March up to the mineowners and shoot them! And then we take possession of the mines and the lands! Nothing of the sort was ever contemplated. Nothing so stupid was ever preached; nothing so clumsy was ever suggested.
We definitely and deliberately stated— and the Home Secretary more than anybody else is the living embodiment and proof of what we said—that the possessing class lives by direct action. The mineowners do not go to a democratic Parliament and get the permission of Parliament to reduce miners' wages. The mineowners go to their own industrial organisation, the mineowners' organisation, and decide there by their own arbitrary vote that they will reduce the wages, and they give notice of reduction to the men. Then, when the men refuse to take the reduction, we Communists say, and will continue to say, because it is true and unassailable, that the master class is full of physical violence, is arming secretly and semiopenly, is drilling, is making preparations 2121 for physical violence on the working classes. That being the position, we say to the workers, Please remember that you will have to face it all, and you will have to be on the defensive. Even in spite of all that, you never found in the activities of the Communist party anything besides teaching the men, opening their eyes, and warning them to be on the defensive. You say the Communist party have got funds from Russia, Ireland, or China and got guns and issued them to the workers and said, "Shoot the masters." No, but we definitely say that the ruling class always rules the world by physical means and not by common sense; not by moral persuasion but by terrorism. The difference between the Labour party and the Communist party is that we say to the workers that when the time arrives you will refuse to take direct action and the master class, without any reference to a public democratic vote and the working classes who are in a majority of this country, will refuse to take the dictatorship of the plutocracy lying down. Then the plutocracy and the rulers will make common cause and attack you. The means of self-defence that we have suggested to the working class is not immediately to take arms but to open the eyes of tho9e who are likely to kill us and fight us and to say to them and appeal to them not to kill us and not to shoot the workers. There is nothing illegal or immoral about the programme, and as long as we live and believe so, we have a right to preach it and will continue to preach it.
I again appeal to this House to weigh up what is in the balance. It is not the personal indiscretions or the personal sense of injustice or this or that, but it is a class funk that started with the last mining crisis, the class funk described in this House by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I also think that the Communist party and the Minority Movement are urging the workers to unite together and to fight and resist in a better manner than they have hitherto been led to do. We still retain our right, in spite of imprisonment and this prosecution, to say to the working classes that we are ruled in the workshops and in the offices by bloodthirsty, unscrupulous people who have grown so accustomed to shout and dictate and always to make military preparations to enforce their will. All of 2122 them make sentimental speeches and appeal to morality and one thing and another, but in their heart of hearts they calculate in the last factor to rely upon the armed forces to force the wishes of money and self-interest down the throats of the majority of the population. We say we want to overthrow that system. We want the majority, which is the working classes, to be the dictators, and not the minority, which is the employing class.
The Home Secretary predicted that after the trial every Communist would feel ashamed of himself. I think he is quite wrong. He had much to be sorry for; he had much to redress and retract. There is nothing any honest and sincere Communist feels ashamed of. In Czechoslovakia, Germany, France and Belgium, Communist Members of Parliament are coming forward in larger and larger numbers, and even in this country, in spite of the little ornamental boards put up outside the Labour camp. How else can it be? We all mean to take possession of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and we are pledged to overthrow Capitalism. It is all nonsense to say that some belong to us and some do not. This is as much vote-catching tactics as the Home Secretary's action was in prosecuting the 12 Communists. That was his vote-catching. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, immediately after the Liverpool Conference, said: "Now I feel happy. At the next Election I will get one million more votes." It was vote-catching trickery.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I can hardly see what connection the conference at Liverpool has with this prosecution.
§ Mr. SAKLATVALA
I have said that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had definitely said in this House, that first the isolation of this group from the larger mass was necessary. Then what actually followed was this prosecution. I know that my hon. and right hon. Friends here get very angry. They think they have the monopoly to throw stones at the Communists and say all kinds of wild things against them. That is not the issue. What we maintain is this. If the House has got a majority, they are certain and they feel sure that the country has seen to it—the workers have seen to it—that the whole of this prosecution is 2123 an unjust, outrageous attack by the armed and physical violence of the minority and the rich people of this country upon the rights and liberties of the masses and the democratic population of the working classes. Whatever is the vote of the House you will reap what you have sown.
Now and again we are told, and at this trial we were told, that many things have happened in Russia. We have all admitted that during the first onslaught of the Communist revolution in Russia many undesirable events did take place, but what was then the argument of our own friends? There were two things. There was the establishment of Socialism, but there was the uprooting of Czarism and all that Czarism conveyed and meant. The Government tell us that we have an orderly Government, that we have a constitutional Government, and in our country such subversive measures are not so; and at the same time the Government are taking measures which makes it more and more allied to the Czarist regime in Russia than to the democratic regime which they have proclaimed from their mouth. They must understand that, if they tighten their grip over the freedom of the people, they will themselves be responsible, and not the people, for what may follow.
§ Mr. NEIL MACLEAN
On a point of Order. I did not want to interrupt the hon. Member for North Battersea (Mr. Saklatvala) while he was addressing the House, but during his speech he was interrupted by the Home Secretary, who put a question to him, and I want to ask you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, whether it is not improper that any insinuation such as was contained in that question, reflecting upon every Member of this House, should be made by any Member of the House; and whether it is not the custom, when any such insinuation or actual aspersion is made against a Member of this House, to notify the Member that the statement is going to be made about him so that he-can be present in the House?
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I am afraid that what was said by the Home Secretary so little impressed itself upon me that I have forgotten what it was.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
The Home Secretary asked the hon. Member for North 2124 Battersea—I am stating, not the actual words, but substantially what He said— whether he would consider it morally right for a, Member of this House to accept some £300 from a foreign country in order to help to pay his Election expenses.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
Further on my point of Order. In a Debate of this kind, where certain issues are very pronounced, a hypothetical question of that kind may be construed very harmfully towards certain Members of this House. I am not speaking now of any particular section, but, in order to protect the rights of every Member of this House, do you not consider it very advisable that the Home Secretary, if such a case actually exists, should intimate to the Member whom he has in mind that on a particular date he will make this statement regarding him, so that he can be present in this House?
§ Sir WILLIAM DAVISON
On that point of Order. Is it not a fact that the hon. Member was present, and had an opportunity of replying if he so desired?
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
Whether it is expedient or not, is not for the Chair to judge, but certainly there was nothing out of order, and I understood it to be only a hypothetical case.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
If the hon. Member wishes for a general ruling, I must definitely consult Mr. Speaker on the point. I have already ruled that there was nothing out of order in what the Home Secretary said. Whether it was expedient or not is a matter on which it is not for me to judge.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
On a further point of Order. You have had a direct statement made by the hon. Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison)—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
There is nothing out of order in what was said by the hon. Member for South Kensington. Mr. Hurst.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
Is it not the case that it means that someone in this House— [HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"] I will keep order when I like. Is it not the case that a reflection on every Member sitting in this House at the moment—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The question cannot be raised when another hon. Member has been called, unless that hon. Member give way.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
Then any Member can say what he likes without your doing anything in the matter. It is class ruling in the Chair as well.
§ Mr. HURST
I beg to move, in line 2, to leave out from the word "a" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the wordstimely vindication of the duty imposed upon all British Governments to safeguard the State against sedition and mutiny, and to protect His Majesty's subjects from being seduced by irresponsible persons into the commission of crime, and that it is undesirable for the legislature to interfere in the administration of justice.In the Resolution, the Leader of the Opposition has invoked the aid of those principles of law, freedom of speech, and free publication of opinions, which are cherished in all quarters of this House, and which are deep-rooted in English history; but I venture to say that those principles have never been invoked before to cover so weak a case and to cover so many fallacies. It is almost inconceivable how a right hon. Gentleman in the position of the Leader of the Opposition can come to this House and argue, with the late Solicitor-General sitting by his side, that, after the result of this prosecution, it is illegal for a man to stand 2126 in an open place and argue his political faith, that it is illegal for a man to sell books containing his views in a bookshop, and that it is illegal for a man to advocate fundamental changes, or to say that capital must go. Every one of these propositions which the right hon. Gentleman, with his responsibilities, made, is absolutely false, to the knowledge of his own late Solicitor-General, who was sitting by his side. So long as this propaganda does not incite to the commission of violence, or crime, or illegal acts, you can propagandise as much as you like; you can have absolute liberty of speech within the law; you can hold whatever opinions and speak whatever opinions you like.
The right hon. Gentleman has also suggested that in some way or other the result of this prosecution has been to bring about a change in our constitutional law with regard to freedom of speech. That, again, is a preposterous proposition. There never has been a time in history, and there is no country in the world, where freedom of speech has been held to cover freedom to preach doctrines which are subversive of the State, nor has any civilised country ever tolerated propaganda directed towards seducing its soldiers and sailors in the service of the State from their allegiance, and urging them to embark upon sedition and mutiny. Nothing has been said this evening with regard to the actual expressions used in these documents, which show perfectly clearly, in my submission, that what these Communists aimed at was not a free expression of opinion, but a subversion of the Constitution. I have not seen the full papers, as the Attorney-General has, but I have read the newspaper reports, and I see among them phrases such as these:Every man must be prepared to act his part in the revolutionary army;and, again:Arm the proletariat for the purpose of expropriating the bourgeoisie.What do these passages mean? They mean revolution, and nothing short of revolution. So far as these so-called martyrs, or 12 apostles, are concerned, I suggest that they are not martyrs in the least, but are simply 12 revolutionaries who have been found guilty of charges which have been brought against them under the criminal law, which do not 2127 affect opinions in any way, but are directed simply to the commission by them of illegal acts. They were charged and found guilty of having committed breaches of the Incitement to Mutiny Act, 1797; they were found guilty by the jury of having tried to seduce members of His Majesty's forces from their allegiance. Those are not convictions on fact; and if men preach as an objective of their policy the subversion of the State by force and the initiation of civil war, they cannot ride away by saying it is simply propaganda of opinions, and that that is one of the traditional rights of the English people. It is not a right at all; it never has been a right, and it never has been a tradition.
I do not want to speak further of the Resolution as moved by the Leader of the Opposition but about the Amendment which I move. I say that the action of the Government has been timely and well-founded, and I say it on three grounds. In the first place, I cannot imagine a meaner crime than the crime of which these irresponsible Communists have been guilty, in trying to persuade men in the armed Forces of the Crown to mutiny and sedition. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition says, prosecute them when they actually put the sedition or the mutiny into movement—that was his expression; wait till the mutiny and sedition take place. What does that involve? Assuming that a soldier in the Army is cajoled by these incendiaries into acts of mutiny and sedition, what happens to him if he mutinies? Everyone knows that the most severe penalties and pains await him. But is he the man who is really most guilty? Surely, the main burden rests upon the shoulders of the people who have persuaded the soldier into that course.
When I was soldiering in 1918, I was President of a number of Courts-martial, where we tried certain soldiers who refused to obey orders on the ground that they did not believe in fighting for their country, and we had to carry out the task, which is distasteful to all members of Courts-martial of sentencing them to the appropriate punishments. But when we did so, we were very careful to put upon the records of the case a statement, 2128 which all the men had made, that the ideas which they were following out in the Army were ideas that had been inculcated into them in Socialist schools. The moral offence of which they were guilty was not upon them at all; the real blame rested upon those who persuaded them into that course. But if we followed the line of argument of the Leader of the Opposition, we should say that there is no. offence at all in inculcating those principles, and that the only offence is that of following out the advice by those to whom it is given. That is subversive, surely, not only of sound principles of law, but of sound principles of morality.
Let us see how it would apply in other cases of crime. Let us imagine a thieves' kitchen after the style of "Oliver Twist." A later-day Fagin instructs a later-day Oliver Twist to go out and steal. The later-day Oliver Twist goes out into the street, and is caught stealing and prosecuted with the rigour of the law. What about Fagin, the man who has incited him to those, acts? He is absolutely immune, according to the doctrine which the right hon. Gentleman teaches, because he, Fagin, when he was giving this advice and instruction, was following the traditional British right of freedom of speech and the traditional British right of publishing his opinion—that is to say, his opinion of what this boy should do! It is absolutely ridiculous to suggest that the main offence rests upon the men who are persuaded into these dangerous courses. The real obloquy, of course, rests upon the men who preach these doctrines. I say that these Communists, who do not wish to take upon themselves the results of their own mutinous propaganda are playing a mean game, because they leave their dupes to bear the full burden, while they themselves seek to escape. That is the first reason why I say that this prosecution was timely and well-founded.
The second is that the whole Communist propaganda is directed against the young, who are the most impressionable. In these days, if there be one thing which appeals to the sentiment and sympathy of the great mass of the people, it is the bringing up of young people. More interest is taken at the present time in education, and in movements like the boy scouts and other healthy movements 2129 for the young, than has ever been taken before. And here, in the face of that, you have this Communist and Socialist propaganda urging these boys and girls of most tender age to believe in such unholy doctrines as class war, and to believe that when they become adults it is their duty to take up arms and take part in active revolutionary war against society. I do not think any reasonable person can look on propaganda of that sort without horror. That is not the feeling only among certain sections of society. It permeates the whole mass of the people. I represent a very poor constituency indeed. A few weeks ago a woman in most humble circumstances asked me: "Why does not the Government do something to stop these Socialist talkers at street corners persuading the boys to believe in class warfare?" The poor unsophisticated woman used the expression "Socialist" because she did not know what an enormous difference there really is, as we are now told, between Socialists and Communists. In actual fact it is only necessary to put in force the law as it is at present, and I think the great mass of the reasonable and thinking people of the country will be most grateful to the Government for having done so. The third reason I suggest for saying the action of the Government has been well advised is that this propaganda is normally directed and aimed, as the last speaker admitted, at revolution. You cannot glorify revolution. You cannot speak lightly of it. You cannot have a revolution without killing other people, and we have had enough of killing. For these reasons I say the measures taken by the Government are extraordinarily timely.
May I deal with two points which have been made against the action of the Government? Again we have had trotted out, for the thousandth time, instances of the language used by Ulster loyalists and their sympathisers in 1912–14. But there is no analogy whatever. In 1912–14 those expressions were simply expressions of what these loyalists would do in the contingency of being forced out of the protection of the Imperial Parliament under the domination of a Power which, rightly or wrongly, they regard as hostile. That is absolutely different from the condition with which we are faced to-day, 2130 which is a condition where men preach open rebellion against the State as now constituted. It is absolutely irrelevant, because the rotten Liberal Government in 1912 did not fulfil what hon. Members opposite now regard—
§ Captain WEDGWOOD BENN
Does the hon. and learned Member consider that they would have secured a conviction if they had prosecuted?
§ Mr. HURST
No, because a prosecution would have been so extraordinarily stupid. But assume for a moment that there is an analogy between the Ulster propaganda and the Communist propaganda, it has no relevancy at all. It is suggested that the Liberal Government ought to have taken action then. [An HON. MEMBER: "The hon. Member is talking about threats. Does he regard gun-running as a threat?"] No, I regard that as action. If the Liberal Government in 1912 did not take the action hon. Members think it ought to have taken, why should a strong, popular Conservative Government in 1925 follow the course taken by the weak Liberal Government in 1912? We now have a strong Conservative Government on the full tide of its power and popularity, fortified and supported by the faith and confidence of the great mass of the people. [HON. MEMBERS: "A minority."] It does not follow that we ought to make in 1925 the mistake they are said to have made in 1912.
The last point I want to make is that referred to at the tail end of my Amendment, that it is inexpedient and undesirable for Parliament to interfere at ail in the administration of justice. The late Socialist Government themselves started the prosecution of Campbell and then stopped because he had powerful friends among their ranks. According to the views held by hon. Members opposite, because these Communists have powerful friends on those benches, they seem to think it is incumbent upon our Government in the first instance to put a veto on this prosecution, in the second instance to stop the prosecution after it has been started, and in the third instance to release these men now that they have been convicted. That shows a desire for class preference of a most extraordinary kind. As these people have got powerful friends, therefore they are to be released, while a poor man or 2131 woman who steals a loaf of bread is to serve the full length of his or her sentence. Merely because these people are able to rely on good backing from the benches opposite it is suggested that these miscreants ought to be released. I believe the enormous mass of people in the country regard it as a most deplorable thing that the name of the Leader of the Opposition, and other distinguished leaders of the Socialist party, should be found attached to a Resolution which simply means truckling to the revolutionaries, whose doctrines they say they reject. I ask hon. Members to read the Resolution for themselves. You cannot read it without interpreting it as clearly a message of hope, sympathy and encouragement to these men who have been found guilty of deliberately inciting other men—not themselves—to revolution. And to encourage revolution in that way is entirely against public policy, and seems to me entirely inconsistent with what one would imagine to be the attitude of responsible leaders of a great party. We on this side believe that all this preaching of propaganda with regard to class warfare and revolution can only do harm. We believe in peace. [An HON. MEMBER: "You practise it."] Yes, we practise it, and because we practise peace we think men who preach war ought to be locked up. In supporting my Amendment the House will be affirming what I believe can be regarded as one of the first principles, not only of British government, but of civilised government—that it is the duty of any State to safeguard itself against irresponsible propaganda which would involve our people in the illimitable calamity of civil war.
§ Sir JOHN MARRIOTT
I rise to second the Amendment which has been moved with such closeness of reasoning and with such commendable brevity by my hon. and learned Friend. I find it exceedingly difficult to understand why this Debate was initiated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald) and by very nearly the whole body of right hon. Gentlemen on the Front bench opposite. The difficulty I originally felt was in no way dissipated by the right hon. Gentleman's speech, and still less by the speech we have just heard, 2132 at enormous length, from the hon. Member for Battersea. The right hon. Gentleman is always listened to in this House with great respect when the House is assured that he is speaking from his innermost convictions. But we listen perhaps with rather less respect when we feel that he is prodded from behind to protests of passionate indignation, which we know to be foreign to his own amiable and pacific temper. I notice that from the long list of right hon. Gentlemen who subscribe to the Resolution, there is one rather significant omission, and that is the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley). I think I can understand why his name was not added, for I observe that he holds responsible for the prosecutions which the Resolution deplores, not the present Government, but his colleagues in the late Government.I cannot escape the conviction"—I am quoting from a speech he made at the week-end—that the hostile attitude and speeches of the Labour Party Conference at Liverpool, when the Communists were thrown to the wolves, are largely responsible for the proceedings and the result.That, I suppose, is the reason why the right hon. Gentleman is not here to-day. He is brandishing a sword, not pointed at us on these benches, but at his right hon. colleagues on the benches opposite.
Let me get to the terms of the Motion that we are proposing to eliminate. There is no Member in the House who is more jealous of the traditional rights of freedom of speech and publication of opinion than I am, and I believe there was never a moment in the history of this country when it was more essential that those rights should be jealously safeguarded than it is to-day, when the Government rests, as it must rest, upon opinion. But the question of the House has to decide is whether or not these rights have been violated. The case for the Motion is that certain members of the Communist party said or wrote certain things which they were legally entitled to say or write. Is that the case that is maintained by the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Resolution, or is their case, alternatively, that there is nothing— this point was dealt with, if I may say so, very admirably by the Home Secretary— which a man or woman is not entitled to say, and not entitled to write, providing 2133 he or she does not libel, by writing or speech, somebody else. Are we to understand from those who are responsible for the Motion that there can be no limitation of the freedom of speech or of publication except when other private individuals may be injuriously concerned?
I very much doubt whether there is or ever has been any country in the world where such latitude of opinion and expression is permitted as it is in this country. There is not a foreigner who ever visits these shores who is not amazed at our toleration in this respect, and that amazement is not wholly confined to foreigners. This characteristic of curs is a perfectly bound characteristic. I should be inclined to go to the extremest limits of toleration, for this reason, that we have deliberately thrown the reins on the neck of the democratic horse and, when we have done that, it is only a sign of weakness always to be snatching at the reins. This latitude, this toleration, is perfectly sound. It is sound that we should go to the extremist limits of toleration, but it is not sound and it is not right that we should go beyond those limits.
The sole question raised by our Amendment, as by the original Resolution, is this: Is it pretended by those responsible for the Motion, or can it be argued by anybody, that the extremist limits of toleration were not exceeded by the persons who were convicted last wek? The charge against them was that they were engaged in a seditious conspiracy for the forcible overthrow by arms of the existing order of society, and, as a means to that end, the seduction of the armed forces of the Crown from their allegiance. It was not upon words spoken in the excitement of a public meeting that the prosecution of these men was founded. The right hon. Gentleman opposite—I was surprised to hear him making such a case this afternoon —complained that the accusation against these men was founded upon printed documents and upon other documents which were kept or sold by them. It was proved to the hilt from these documents that these men were in the habit of advocating an armed straggle for the overthrow of what they call the international bourgeoisie. Among their immediate objects was the formation—let us be clear about this, and let us know whether hon. Members opposite 2134 are concerned to deny it—of mutinous and illegal nuclei within the Army and within the Navy. In other words, they were carrying out the dictum of one of the prophets of their movement to arm the proletariat:Arm the proletariat for the purposes of expropriating and disarming the bourgeoisie. No government which confines itself to operating within the strait limits of capitalist parliamentarism can possibly be a workers' government.These were the words of one of the accused, Mr. Campbell, speaking at the seventh congress of the Communist party of Great Britain at Glasgow, on 13th May this year.
I am sorry that the late Solicitor-General is not in his place, because I understand that he is to reply. He has attempted to argue that the Communist propaganda—I think this is the whole case for the Motion put forward this afternoon—was nothing more than legitimate political propaganda. Does he or any of his colleagues on the Front Bench opposite say, categorically, that to attempt to seduce soldiers and sailors from their allegiance is no more than legitimate political propaganda? That is a perfectly straight question, and I would respectfully ask that it should be faced by those who follow me in this Debate.In fighting against war"—I am quoting again from Mr. Campbell's speech at the seventh congress of the Communist party—we do not merely fight against it with phrases but by definite work in our propaganda with the Army and the Navy.I do not wish to detain the House at any length, but in seconding the Amendment I would put one or two plain, straightforward questions to the Front Bench opposite. Will any right hon. or hon. Member opposite get up and categorically deny that these Communists were rightly found guilty on the charges alleged against them? The late Attorney-General and Home Secretary in the Liberal Government, the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) did not deny that they were fairly tried and fairly and rightly found guilty of the charges which were alleged against them. I am not suggesting that he said that it was wise to prefer the charges. He was very careful to dissociate himself from any such thing, but he said quite clearly, and we are all obliged to him 2135 for the opinion, that they were fairly tried and fairly and rightly found guilty of the charges alleged against them.
Are hon. and right hon. Members opposite going to traverse that opinion of the former Liberal Home Secretary? Will they affirm that the charges on which these men were put on trial were not very serious charges? The charge was of conspiracy to subvert by force the constitution or government of this country. I suppose it may be said that we are all more or less engaged, in greater or lesser degree, in subverting the Constitution almost every day of our Parliamentary lives, even under a Conservative administration; but no Government, Conservative, Liberal or Socialist, has ever, as far as I know, proposed to subvert the Constitution by force of arms. If these men were guilty, I want to know whether right hon. and hon. Members opposite will deny that it was right to prosecute them and punish them. Suppose they had succeeded. Suppose the propaganda which these persons initiated, and which they were found guilty of having initiated, had succeeded, and they had seduced the allegiance of half-a-dozen soldiers or half-a-dozen sailors. Suppose they had seduced the allegiance of one soldier or one sailor. That man would have been shot, and there is nobody in this House who would not say that it was right to shoot him?
§ Sir J. MARRIOTT
The hon. Member says "no." I think your leaders would have done it. Are you going to shoot a man for listening to bad advice and let the bad adviser go scot free? Is that your idea of equity? Is that what you would do if you were in office? You may say that these men by their propaganda would never have seduced a cat. Are you prepared to expose even a cat to the temptation? I do not believe for a moment that if you were the executive Government of the country at this moment that you would so expose it.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I am sorry that the Home Secretary has gone, but I suppose this will be put on record. I would like just to clear up, first of all, the statement made in the letter which he read out to the House. As to the personal statement contained in the letter, I have nothing to say, because whatever people's opinions of me may be, I hope I am old enough not to bother my head. Life is much too short to be worried about that kind of thing. But on the question of the money one would imagine that there was a great secret, and that the Home Secretary was letting the British public know, for the first time, that some money had come to me and had gone from me to a famine relief committee in Ireland. Directly I was asked to take that money as chairman of a committee, which also has been in existence for many years here in London, I simply said that if the cheque came I would go to Dublin myself and hand it to the committee, and that I would publish it immediately. I published it on the evening that I got the cheque, and the "Morning Post," I think it was, or one of the Tory papers, was good enough to write a rather humorous leading article on the subject. I would have thought that the secret police who keep the Home Secretary so well informed would not have thought it worth while to root out from a photographed letter the statement that was read out to-day.
There is no secret about the money. I did not distribute it; but a committee of Irishmen did. It was well known that I went to Ireland, because I was pretty well watched from the time I got to Holy-head and the time I returned. I have lived long enough to know the police of this country whether they are in uniform or in plain clothes and I do not understand the reference at all except for the purpose of dragging in my name into this question of money. I do not see what other reason there could have been for wanting to refer to it at all. I notice the right hon. Gentleman is now in the House and I am very sorry that his Criminal Investigation Department did not tell him that the whole of the facts in connection with the case were published, not only in the Labour Press, but in newspapers like the "Morning Post" and local papers. There was no secret 2137 about it whatsoever and there was no connection so far as I know with the Communist party. The people who handed the cheque to me and to whom the cheque came were the Russian Co-operative Society. That settles that.
I now want to say a few words about the case itself. The hon. and learned Gentleman who moved the Amendment and the hon. Member who supported it were very anxious to put questions to us. They both dealt at some length with the Ulster case. The real crime of the situation in regard to Ulster is not that the hon. and learned Gentlemen, Privy Councillors, who had sworn allegiance to the King and Parliament in a double sense, first here and in the House of Lords, and then as Privy Councillors—it is not at all that they wrote things or that they published things but that they did things. The hon. Member for York (Sir J. Marriott) and the hon. Member below the Gangway both talked as if there were some sort of similarity between what these Communists have done and what the Unionist chiefs did. Nothing of the kind. They said, "Would anybody defend the seducing of the Army or any unit of the Army?" What about General Gough and the Curragh Camp? There was a positive mutiny, and Lord Oxford, when he was Prime Minister, had in. a way to cashier his War Secretary and go across to Dublin as War Secretary and straighten out things for himself. Is there anyone here who will say that there is anything in what these men have done which parallels that? Then I want to know this. The argument is that the Communist party were stopping the King's Government and that they wanted to overturn the King's Government, that these 12 men were agitating to overthrow the King's Government and in effect to stop the King's Writ running. What happened in 1914 to 1915?
There was a Bill passed into law by the King, the Lords and Commons, called the Home Rule Act. It was an Act of Parliament. That Act was never put into operation. Why? Because of Lord Carson, who was then Sir Edward Carson, aided and abetted by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who are now prosecuting these other people. There was an army of 100,000 men that said, through Sir Edward Carson, "If you dare to put this law into operation, no matter 2138 if you are at war with Germany and fighting with the Allies, we will revolt against you." Is there anybody on those benches—the hon. and learned Member for Moss Side (Mr. Hurst) is running away—I want to ask him, does he defend that?
Sir W. LANE MITCHELL
The hon. Member is wrong. The Act did not come into force until after the War had started.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I said nothing of the kind. I said 1914–15, and it was after the War that the Act should have come into operation, and Sir Edward Carson refused to allow it to come into operation. He refused to allow the King's Writ to run. There is no need for hon. and right hon. Gentlemen to get excited. It is on record that the Home Rule Act never did come into operation, and the hon. and learned Gentleman when he was warning us of the terrible evil effects of our preaching and of our not taking responsibility, because he roped us all in once or twice, and letting other people suffer because of our preaching, forgot altogether that because the Home Rule Act was not allowed to operate you had a revolution in Ireland and all the terrible things that followed.
When hon. and learned Gentlemen and right hon. Gentlemen on the other side are telling us of the meanness of preaching certain doctrines which might get other people into trouble, it is really Satan rebuking sin, because not only did they preach these things but they actually carried them out. I have no doubt that the learned Attorney-General will be able to make quite a good case against these men, but he did not produce any case at the Old Bailey where men had been seduced from their allegiance. There were no soldiers, sailors or airmen put into the witness box. In the case which had been cited and defended to-night hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who have spoken have all the time argued as if it were on all fours with the other case, and my argument is that if there is any comparison at all it is against the Privy Councillors and those who acted as they did from 1911 right on to 1916. I am not sure of the exact dates, but it was during the War, and it is certain that very many people were slain and very much suffering took place in Ireland because of the action 2139 taken by those hon. and right hon. Gentlemen.
In regard to this case, taking it as it stands, I want to make two or three remarks. Like other speakers I want to be as brief as I possibly can. I take a view of this that is entirely different from that of many of my hon. Friends on these benches, and I take the view that men are entitled to preach the class war, they are entitled to claim the right to organise either through Parliament or through Trades Union action, to secure the transformation of this society from a capitalist society to a socialist society. I do not myself hold that the word "socialism" or the word "communism" are very different one from the other. The difference is altogether in method. The first Communists that I ever heard of were the Communists who used to meet on the first day of the week and had all things in common after a certain crucifixion. The modern Communist that I knew was William Morris, of the Socialist League, of which he was the leading spirit, and other Communists that I have known all were men like Charles Kingsley and others, who taught me the quite simple truth that society should be organised for the common service of the whole community. I do not know why it is that there is this horror of the word "communism" as standing alone, separate and apart from everything else. I am going to quote the words of someone much more able than I am, and that is George Bernard Shaw, who has said that the word "communism" is a much better word to describe what the Labour and Socialist movement is standing for than the word "socialism," because you have a communal water supply, and communal roads, and there is not one of us in this House could live through the 24 hours without communal effort of one sort or another.
I deny altogether that there is anything blackguardly or anything wrong in Communism as a theory of life, and I also claim that that communal effort has been going on for centuries and that nearly every Member of the House is here claiming something from the community which they desire. They are here for the safeguarding of industries or getting allowances or the granting of one thing or 2140 another, all from the communal funds of the community. Now Communism to me means only the expansion of that principle, and I deny altogether that you have a right to put a limit to it and to say that we can go so far in communal effort, but that we cannot go any farther. Therefore I am standing in with the Communists in preaching the overthrow of Capitalism and the establishment of Communism or Socialism in this country. I want it done not in their way, and that is where I disagree with them most thoroughly.
That is the position which I take up, a position which enables them to adopt towards me the attitude that they do adopt. There are many of you who take a similar attitude because I and my Friends here hold extreme pacifist views as to the Army, Navy, and so on. The point I want to get out relates to a statement by Sir Travers Humphreys. I repeat that I am going to make propaganda for the overthrow of the capitalist system and the establishment in its place of a communal ownership of land, machinery, and the means of life generally, to be used, not for profit making or for rent but for the service of the entire community. I do not see the difference between a communal road and a communal bread supply, or between a communal electricity supply and a communal meat supply. Having said that, I want to ask the Attorney-General what Sir Travers Humphreys meant when he said:Communism hails from Russia, and the two societies with which the accused are connected receive their orders from Moscow.Do not let hon. Members forget that we were all told in the 1923 Election that we had received our orders from the Second International. It was then the German International—I cannot pronounce the words for they are too long. Any stick was good enough to beat us. Now it is Moscow. I have already said that Communism did not originate in Moscow. It was from Palestine that I first heard of it. Here is what Sir Travers Humphreys said:The prosecution suggests here that Communism—again I repeat as understood and explained by these persons and their associates—is illegal because it involves three things. The first is the overthrow of the constituted Government of this country and the established forces of Government by force; (2) because it involves the creation"—2141 I call attention to this especially, particularly that of my colleagues on these benches,of antagonism between different classes of His Majesty's subjects. To use an expression that one frequently finds in these publications, it involves the creation of a class war.I want to know whether, if I preach the fact of the class war, I am breaking the law. If I tell men to work and organise so as to get rid of the conditions that produce the class war, is that sedition? The statement goes on:(3) because it involves seducing from their allegiance the armed forces of the Crown. If these matters can be established by evidence, I venture to say that no lawyer would even argue the question as to whether or not the persons who publish doctrines of that kind are guilty of what is commonly called sedition. The ultimate object of this doctrine of Communism, as stated in the book that I have referred to on the second page, is the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of a dictatorship of the proletariat.As I understand the Gentleman who said these things, he is laying it down that the advocacy of the overthrow of capitalism, the preaching of the class war, is illegal, if, as he says, it is accompanied by the doctrine that you must overthrow by force. I am not saying that of necessity the working classes will accomplish their aims by peaceful methods, though I believe they will. I ask the Attorney-General whether it is illegal for any man to stand up and say, "Use your votes, but when you have used them, take the example of Ulster as showing what the propertied classes will do, and take the fact that you are continually being threatened by voluntary organisations that, do what you will, you shall not accomplish your end peacefully." Are men to be forbidden to say that, in that event, they will use force in order to accomplish their ends?
An hon. Member opposite, when I spoke from that side of the House during the Labour Government, charged me and my friends at Bow with being members of the Communist party, and in answer to him I made some statements in reference to the Communist party. I said I was certain that the more they were prosecuted, the more they were interfered with, the greater their strength would become, and that they were a negligible quantity. I pointed out on what points I disagreed with them. Their secretary 2142 wrote to the Press a letter in which ho denied altogether the statement I had made, that my disagreement with them was founded on the fact that they relied entirely on force in order to obtain their end. He pointed out that they were only advocating that, under certain conditions, the workers would have to fight, and therefore ought to organise in order to carry their end. The Fascisti are doing the same thing to-day. I do not know the difference between the propaganda of the Fascisti and the propaganda of the Communists in principle. The Communists say that you must organise to stop these people in their effort to prevent the law running, as was done in the Ulster case; and the Fascisti say you must organise in order that these people shall not get their way when they have a majority and want to deal with the Constitution of the country in their own way.
I am in the dilemma that I do not understand why proceedings are taken against one section and not against the other. That brings me to my last point. It is often said, and was said to-night, that the things we want to do cannot be done by the methods of this House. Sir Travers Humphreys said something very like it at Bow Street—that we knew we could not accomplish the overthrow of capitalism by peaceful means. If once that is believed outside, you are really inciting people to revolution. It seems to be forgotten—I am always saying this to my Communist friends—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—Yes, the 12 men who are in prison are my personal friends, and I am not ashamed to say so. I have known many of them since they wore very young. If every Member of this House were as willing to give to any cause in which he believed better service than those men have given to the cause in which they believe, then he would be worthy of respect. It is often forgotten when we talk about revolution, complete absolute revolution in regard to social and industrial matters. I would not be in this House were it not that I believed and hoped that those who come after me will carry the thing through. I want to see the total destruction of the capitalist system. I want to see landlordism uprooted out of the country altogether. I am going to work for that end, and this House is the place where we ought to be able to accomplish it, but we shall not 2143 be able to accomplish it if the dice are loaded against us at election times as was the case at the last election.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
No, you loaded them, and I may say to the hon. and gallant Gentleman who is so hilarious about it, that I am not quite sure, but I think there is a certain newspaper called the "Daily Mail" which probably invented or got together that business and caused its publication at that moment. That is not all. If it were only a case of the "Red Letter" none of us would complain very much, but what we do complain of are the filthy libels as to women and children, the stories going round as to what would happen to women and children if this innocent set got into power. I desire to take the House back to 1688. There was a certain gentleman called King James. You wanted to get rid of him. You got rid of him by pretending that you did not quite know where he was. If he stayed in Whitehall, certain people argued, you could not have done what was actually done, but he got away down to Dover, and then, by Act of Parliament, you altered the Law of Succession and you got another branch of the Royal House sitting here by Act of Parliament. When I made the affirmation I was asked: "How is it that you people who say that ultimately you believe in a republic, can take the affirmation or the oath? "Well, on that document there are the words" as bylaw appointed," and if you can appoint by law, you can disappoint by law. I call attention to that point because we are charged with wanting to bring about a revolution, and some of us definitely want to do so, but we want to do it in this House and by means of the vote and legislation.
There is no use thinking that this is merely something that we talk about and have no intention of doing. There is a feeling growing up about the Labour movement, both in this House and outside, that our propaganda does not mean very much and that we shall settle down to the same old jog-trot as all the other political parties. I want to say—and I want to say it to myself as well as to everybody else—that the people who 2144 make violence inevitable in this country— and I believe, if ever you do get it, it will be much worse than any other country ever has seen—are those who jeer and laugh at the possibility, forgetting altogether that you have done two things. The result of one is that the working men and women of this country can now read and write, and many of them are infinitely better educated than the average man in this House—or woman either. Secondly, you have given votes to the men in the Army, Navy and Air Force, and hon. Members on this side have challenged you to say that we have not the right to make propaganda for Socialism among the forces of the Crown. We have a perfect right to do so, because they are going to use their vote one way or the other, and we have as much right to make our propaganda, to get them to vote for the constitutional use of this place to overthrow Capitalism, as you have to make propaganda to get them to maintain Capitalism. When it comes to shooting down, I am in the position that I shall tell men never to join the armed forces— never in any circumstances. I have voted against that and shall do so while Mr. Speaker allows me to move the Motion. I think the mere reliance on armed force is something which always produces evil and violence.
You may put these 12 men in prison. You may keep them there for six months or a year. You may take another 12, and the Attorney-General may, as he humorously remarked the other night, have me and others like me in the dock at the Old Bailey. But I recall to him and to this House that the history of this country is littered with examples down through the centuries of Governments trying to crush movements maintained for the uplifting and progress of the common people, and in spite of repression, in spite of Tory attempts to crush down the trade unionists and the Chartists and all these people, right from the time of the peasant revolts down to the present, those movements have persisted and every one of the attempts at repression has failed. If you want to put down violence, if you want to put down agitation in Ireland, you will not do it by putting men in prison, but by removing the causes which make men and women revolt. I look out on England, which is my country, and which I love as much as anybody in this place. I 2145 look out on the people with whom I have lived all my life, and I see them growing poorer and poorer. I see the social and industrial districts of Britain poverty stricken, and destitution from one end of the country to the other. I see these people being refused the means of life. I see them being told, "You must be content to go deeper and deeper into the morass of destitution." I have almost seen the wheel of social reform go full circle. I see it now going rapidly back to where it was 50 or 60 years ago, and I say to this House that the attempt to crush these few men, in the name of law and for the reason of putting down sedition, will fail as every other such effort has failed, because you will leave the festering mass of discontent there, and somehow or other it will burst forth. You cannot keep back the working class. They are marching to power, and if this House were sensible, instead of wasting our time on the Bills which we do consider, we would gather round a table—we would get together and try to find some means whereby we could possibly take over the economic conditions of life and transform them from what they are under the present hellish competitive system and try to use them for the service of the common people.
§ Mr. GRACE
I ask the indulgence of the House because I rise to address it for the. first time. As a lawyer, I feel there is no-one in the House who has a greater respect for the right of free speech than I have, and I think this Debate is distinguishable from all other Debates I have heard in that in all quarters of the House we seem to agree despite our other differences, that there should be a full right of public discussion on matters of public interest. With great respect, I should like to remind hon. Members opposite that they have not always held that same respect for free speech which I feel they are anxious to show now. During the last Election many of the extremists attached to the party opposite did not show the same zeal for free speech that hon. Members have shown to-day. Not only that, but in spite of the fact that a great many of their political opponents were not able to get a fair bearing, not a single hon. or right hon. Member opposite made any single protest. [HON. MEMBERS: "That is not true!"] 2146 If hon. Members say that is not true, I entirely withdraw my observation, but I can only say that, if that be so, hon. Members opposite have launched an avalanche of class hatred which they now find they are unable to check.
I feel that there is no other country in the world which gives to people the right of free speech to the same extent as does this country, and I would like to ask those hon. Members opposite who recently went to Russia in order to make a report to the democracy here as to the wonderful benefits which the Soviet Government of Russia has conferred upon the Russian people, if, while they were there, they saw anything like what you and I can see at Hyde Park Corner any Sunday morning. I do not think they did, and I think the speech of the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) was a very remarkable example of the extent of the liberty of free speech which we have here. The Leader of the Opposition asked what opinions he might hold next. I think that shows clearly, with great respect to the right hon. Gentleman, that he has not understood the legal distinction between political opinion and political action. What these men have been convicted for is political action, and not political opinion, and I would suggest to hon. Members that two possible things could happen. One would be to remind soldiers on public platforms that they all come from the working classes, and to endeavour to persuade them to any political views you like, which would be a perfectly legal thing to do. but if you try to persuade soldiers, when they are called up in a time of industrial riot and disturbance, to disobey the orders of their officers, you are breaking the law, and should be convicted.
That is what these men have been convicted for by an English jury of 12 men. One thing at which I was very surprised was the courage which the leader of the Opposition showed in renouncing all class hatred and any principles which tended to bring about violence in this country. I think it was courageous, because he had hardly spoken for two or three minutes before the question of the jury was raised, and a number of hon. Members opposite immediately asked if there were any trade unionists on the jury. That is class hatred again. Are jurymen in the future to be catechised and cross-examined 2147 before they go into the jury box, to find out what their political convictions are? Are they to be members of trade unions? That shows clearly that the leader of the Opposition has got a very difficult team behind him. What hon. Members opposite are really quarrelling with is not this Government, but with the 12 jurymen. Is not a jury, according to hon. Members opposite, to find a verdict according to the evidence stated before it? Any reasonable man has only to read any of the inflammable pamphlets put before the trial to agree that the Communist party intended to upset the existing order in this country by revolution and violence, and that is the very reason which caused the party opposite to turn the Communists out of the party in Liverpool, yet apparently what the Labour party can do at Liverpool without any legal evidence, namely, sentence these men to excommunication, a British jury, after a fair trial, are not to be allowed to do. Lastly, I think these men who have been sentenced are entitled to a good deal of sympathy, because I feel that they have been led on to take the course which they have taken through the speeches which have been made now for a whole generation by hon. and right hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. GRACE
Most of them. They have gone about telling the working man that he has been robbed of the fruits of his labour, and what is the natural result of saying that? These men are going to turn round and say: "We are going to take it from the people who have deprived us, by force, and give them no kind of compensation whatsoever." That is the natural corollary of all that foolish teaching, and the only people who have got the courage to be logical in their doctrines are the Communist party.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
The hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. Grace), I understand, has just made his maiden speech, and I regret that I did not hear the whole of it. We had a function downstairs to the Earl of Oxford, which kept me from the Debate, and that is why I am so poorly supported now. At any rate, the hon. Member may congratulate himself on the amount of opposition he 2148 moused, which is always a good sign of the success of a speech in this House. I wish to make only two points, though I think they are important. I wonder if, when the learned Attorney-General comes to reply, he could do me the honour of answering a question. Will he turn aside from his great oratorical effort which we are about to enjoy at 10 o'clock to tell me why, in the charge made against these 12 defendants, one of whom was McManus, he did not bring in the charge of McManus having been one of the signatories of the famous Zinovieff letter? When I have suggested that that letter was a forgery, the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary has gone white with passion, and so have other Members of the Government. They have said it was absolutely genuine and that they could prove it.
That would prove, to use language dear to the Home Secretary, the most damning piece of evidence on the charge of tampering with the loyalty of the troops, than which, I quite concede, there is no more serious charge. But that charge was never put in. The Home Secretary to-day produced all sorts of photographs and documents from his cabinet noir, from his secret police, from his espionage department in the Post Office, and so on, but he did not produce the Zinovieff letter, and if that letter, which was used at the Election, was apparently signed by Mr. McManus, one of the defendants, a very clear proof of his sedition and guilt, why was it not produced? May I ask the Attorney-General why such a valuable piece of information escaped being used? Why has he waited all these months before arresting McManus if he believes, as the rest of his colleagues do, in their innocence, that that letter was genuine? If the Attorney-General would answer that, it would clear up a very puzzling matter in my mind.
The other point is this. I really wish that hon. and right hon. Members of the Conservative party would get rid of the superabundance of sentimentality, and become a little more practical and even a little cynical. Do they really think they are going to kill opinion in this country by prosecution? The Prussian Government, the most efficient Government in the world, with a splendid police, secret service and all the rest of it, attempted 2149 to subdue opinion by prosecution. No professor who did not profess the Government creed could hold a chair and no man could hold any office under the Government unless he was a supporter of the bureaucracy and the National and Conservative party in that country. The Kaiser boasted to Lord (then Mr.) Haldane, "I have not a singlet officer who is a Jew in my army," and yet our War Minister was able to reply, "Yet nearly all your newspapers are owned by Jews." There was the most complete suppression of opinion, and what was the result? The Government broke down in chaos. There was a much more ruthless system, I believe, in Russia in the days of the Czars. There were the secret police, a whole system of espionage and of agents-provocateur. You had it introduced in a way it could never be introduced in this country, because you have not the nerve to suppress opinion and carry it right through, and you know it. You could not do it in Ireland with everything in your favour, and you cannot do it in this country. Therefore, you had better give up the attempt, and try to relieve grievances instead. I wish the hon. Member for Wirrall (Mr. Grace) could come with me into my constituency and see the way some of the people live in the slums there. The wonder is not that there are so many Communists, but that all are not Communists when you see the condition of the casual workers at the docks and their families. Their patience and Constitutionalism is extraordinary under the circumstances. By advertising these people and their documents, you gain sympathy from these very men, and that is where the blunder has been made by an otherwise intelligent gentleman like the Attorney-General. It is the stupidity of the party opposite, if persisted in, that will wreck the constitution of the country.
I thought, until I listened to the speech of the right hon. Member the Leader of the Opposition, that the discussion on this Motion would be restricted within very narrow limits. There is undoubtedly a great deal to be said about the expediency of this prosecution, about whether it was worth while to invoke the whole machinery of the law against what Members opposite term an insignificant band, whether the danger 2150 represented by their propaganda was a danger which was grave, and whether the action which has been taken would have any effect. As a matter of fact, the Motion standing in the name of the right hon. Gentleman carefully excludes any possibility of discussing that expedient. It leaves one question, and one question alone, to be discussed, and that is whether the prosecution by the Government of certain men who were charged with breaches of an existing law, which were proved to the satisfaction of a British jury, was a violation of the traditional British rights of freedom of speech and publication of opinion. The right hon. Gentleman carefully avoided, through practically the whole of his speech, dealing with the Motion in his name. He spoke at considerable length of the expediency of this prosecution. He spoke at rather greater length on the expediency of not having prosecuted in 1912, and almost the whole of the remainder of his speech was devoted to what one might call the expediency of the Home Secretary.
The right hon. Gentleman only devoted one or two sentences to the real question at issue, and he gave in those sentences his idea of what the freedom of speech in this country consisted. He stated, if I remember aright, that speech or publication was absolutely free as far as opinions and statements were concerned, except, of course, for the limitation which the Home Secretary pointed out, the law of defamation, obscene publication and incitement to crime, with which hon. Members on all sides must agree. But he went from that, and gave an example of his doctrine. He said that every man was perfectly at liberty to give as his opinion that a Communist state was the best system of society, and that it was impossible to realise it without a revolution. But he stopped there, and did not take the next and almost inevitable step, and ask hon. Members of the House whether it was a matter of opinion to go still further, and believe we could not get a Communist state without revolution, and, therefore, the sooner we had a revolution the better it would be. But the right hon. Gentleman said that if you have a party or an individual openly stating throughout this country that the sooner we have a revolution the better, that remains purely a matter of opinion. Would the right hon. Gentleman say that if a man started by expressing as his 2151 opinion that you could not have a successful revolution if the troops were against it, and went on from that to appeal to the troops, that if that revolution came they should not be against it, would the right hon. Gentleman say that that was merely a statement of opinion, and not an incitement?
§ Mr. MacDONALD
I understood I did answer that by saying that when action is proposed, then they are putting themselves outside the law, and prosecution ought to follow. I had one proviso, and that proviso was that, in the opinion of those responsible for instituting prosecution, the prosecution itself would not do more harm in the spread of the obnoxious opinion than by simply allowing the thing to go on, and watching it to see how far it is going.
I hope I am not in any way misrepresenting the right hon. Gentleman. Of course, the latter part of what he said was simply a question of expediency, which does not seem to have very much relevance to the rights which the individual possesses. It is difficult to see how one can draw the line. Surely, if a man goes throughout the length and breadth of the country expressing opinions which are going to lead others to act, and involve others in prosecution for that act, then he is inciting to that act, and the original mainspring of that prosecution is himself liable to be prosecuted.
One can hardly believe that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite really believe that this prosecution was a violation of the rights to free speech. Was it not more in the nature of a gesture? Were not hon. Members opposite a little too cold at Liverpool and a little more than kind now? After all, if we traced the matter out, what is the position at which you arrive? The Leader of the Opposition asked the House to join with him in a flight of prophetic vision. He foresaw the time when hon. Members opposite would be sitting on this side of the House, when a new star would, perhaps, lead the Government of the Socialist party and when hon. Members who now sit here would, as hon. Members sitting opposite now do, proclaim that of all Governments that have ever been that the new Government was the most in 2152 efficient, unwise, and unjust. Possibly matters would go beyond that, and that some hon. Members would be going throughout the country stating that the inefficiency, injustice, and unwisdom of the Government constituted a real danger to the State and to the present Constitution. That would try the loyalty of the Socialist party to its leader and its Whips, but, though they may remain as faithful as ever, there would be no hope of getting rid of the discussion, no hope of doing away with the danger to the Constitution. It would then be said by those in power: "We cannot help it, we must go outside the Constitution and do by force what we cannot do by legal means." Suppose the hon. Member for Ince went down to his constituency and told them to shoot? What would happen? The hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) would get up in his place and say with his usual paternal benevolence, "Boys will be boys." The right hon. Gentleman declared earlier this afternoon that not only would he never dream of prosecuting hon. Members now on this, then on the opposite side of the House for what is, after all, a perfectly legitimate use of the freedom of peace, but that further than that, if any of his humble supporters, perhaps less well informed on the rights of free speech, should lodge an information against us that he would lend us his own Solicitor-General to defend us. Such a proposition as prosecution was, he suggested, perfectly absurd. But would it not have been well if hon. Members had only recognised that before this Motion appeared on the Paper?
The law as it stands in relation to the rights of free speech have not been changed one jot by this prosecution. They have neither been enlarged nor have they been restricted. Hon. Members opposite, including the right hon. Gentleman the leader, must have had it in their mind to try to frighten us by the stories as to what each one of them may be liable to in the future in the way of the severest penalties of the law. The hon. Member for Bow and Bromley rose in his place the other day with a highly simulated terror to tell us that henceforward he might at any moment be subjected to the action of the Attorney-General. The hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Beckett), who I am sorry not to see in 2153 his place, is, if one may say so, rapidly qualifying to become the "Fat Boy" of the Socialist party. He delights in making our flesh creep in threats of what he might, would or should do, or say, if something happens or does not happen. He knows that it is pretence that he is in danger owing to the state of the law. He knows as well as every other hon. Member that so long as he keeps to these anticipations, and does not pass from them into realisation, that he is as safe as the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley.
§ 9.0 P.M.
Twice bitten, three times shy. The law as it stands now is as it has always stood. It has not been altered by this prosecution. It remains, as the common people of England, apart from technicalities and apart from legalities, have always understood it to be. That is, that you may express any opinion, you may advocate any political change, you can urge that any political system may be changer, so long as you are not advocating or urging or encouraging people to believe and act upon the belief that the only way to obtain their desire is not within, but without the law, is by the means and facilities which the constitution provides, and not against the limitations which it imposes. Finally, may I say, as one of those Members who, in the words of the Leader of the Opposition, owe their presence here to the terrors of the old women, that I and other hon. Members are just as zealous as hon. Members opposite for freedom of speech. We are just as determined as hon. Members opposite to resist any encroachment from one side or the other. We do believe just as strongly as they in the future of democracy, but we do not believe that freedom necessarily means license. We do not believe in a democracy which is based on force.
§ Mr. DALTON
The Amendment that has been put down on the Paper appears to have two key words, one of them "timely" and the other "irresponsible.'' But "timely" is 11 years too late. It is not our fault that regard must be had to the historical background of the matter; it is the fault of the Home Secretary and his colleagues. The Attorney- 2154 General, too, will recognise the old legal quotation thathe who appeals to equity must come into court with clean hands.It is for that reason we find a difficulty in taking at their face value some of the protestations that we have heard from the other side of the House. The second key-word which I find in the Resolution is "irresponsible." The Resolution speaks of protecting His Majesty's subjectsfrom being seduced by irresponsible persons into the commission of crime.But when responsible persons, holding high positions in the party opposite, undertake this task the law stands with folded arms, particularly when administered by a weak-kneed Liberal Government. And not only do Fascists to-day, as has already been said, arm, and drill, and commit offences against the property of parties other than their own, but they can continually carry on their activities in hired rooms in Tory clubs. May I inform the House that the case which has been dealt with here in North Islington is not an isolated case. In North Islington the Fascists were engaged apparently on revolver practice in a hired room in a Conservative club. I was informed the other day in the West Country, when I was at Barn-staple, that Fascists had hired a room in the local Conservative club. What they do there hon. Members opposite possibly know better than I do. In 1914 it was not a question of seducing private soldiers; it was a question of seducing generals like General Gough from their duty to the Crown. At that time no action was taken upon far graver provocation than this, and it is for that reason that we cannot feel deeply impressed by the protestations of the Home Secretary this afternoon. No doubt he now regrets his Warrington speech. His excuse this afternoon was that it was only a little one, he had not gone so far as some of his colleagues, including, for example, the Secretary of State for India in the present Cabinet. He was apparently endeavouring to shift the blame off his blameless shoulders on to the broader shoulders of other Members of the present Government. Let me draw attention to one fact which I derived from a little publication entitled "Handbook for 2155 Rebels," a most valuable publication, as hon. Members opposite will find if they peruse it. It is regarding the landing of arms in April, 1914. The price of the book is 3d. It will be found on page 10 if any hon. Members have a copy. There I read this, taken from the "Northern Whig," a paper which, I believe, circulates in the North of Ireland:Notwithstanding the proclamation of the Government and the vigilance of the Customs officers and police, a cargo of over 35,000 magazine rifles and 2,500,000 rounds of ammunition purchased on the continent was landed at Larne, Bangor and Donaghadee.The Home Secretary waxed indignant this afternoon about the receipt of money from foreign sources. Is it worse to receive money from Russia to-day than to receive rifles and ammunition from Germany in April, 1914, within a few months of the outbreak of the War, an outbreak the prospect of which was being discussed as a matter of dinner-table gossip among many of the people who organised this gun-running? In view of the contrast between the offences committed by those who to-day sit in the seats of power in this Conservative Government and the comparatively trivial offences committed by those who are now in gaol, I think we are entitled to put down our Motion and to draw attention to the traditional British policy which has been pursued in the past up to this time. The tradition of toleration of sedition was carried to its extreme limit in 1914. We are entitled to say that it should not be suddenly relaxed now by persons who at that time were deeply embedded in a constitutional conspiracy. I would like to ask, by way of further emphasising this contrast, when a Conservative conference will pass a resolution excluding Fascists from membership of the Conservative party? We are waiting for that. When will that be done?
Though it is essential in the interests of fair play and clear understanding that these contrasts should be rubbed in, they are a comparatively minor part of the subject when it is regarded as a matter of public policy and expediency in the wise and the wide sense. Let me here reassert my belief that the whole effect of this prosecution has been to give a wholly gratuitous advertisement to an insignificent body of opinion. You have 2156 placed martyrs' crowns upon 12 obscure heads. The "Workers' Weekly" will no longer need its Russian subsidy. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary has placed it well in funds, and its circulation has leapt up to astonishing heights as a result of this action. I say that I believe the Communists in this country, before this trouble was started, were a small, an insignificant and even a declining number of persons. Their chief achievement up to date was in 1921, when they assisted the present hon. and gallant Member for Bosworth (Captain Gee) to defeat the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition in a bye-election at Woolwich. They have also assisted directly and indirectly large numbers of hon. Members opposite to occupy the seats in which they now sit. How many private soldiers, let alone generals, have been seduced from their duty by the pitiful pamphlets issued by the Communist party? Not one, or he would have been in the box at the trial.
But the principle is greater than this particular application of it. The principle which we on this side of the House wish to enforce is that the fearless expression of opinion, however unpopular, and by however small a minority it may be held, is an essential condition of the decent working of our political life. The smaller the minority and the more insignificant, the more important it is that its opinions should be allowed free expression, in order that small minorities should not be trodden underfoot. In this particular case the principle of wisdom, the principle of wise toleration, has been completely overstepped; and the whole purpose, if the purpose, as we may assume, is that of preventing the spread of Communist doctrines, will defeat itself by giving a gratuitous advertisement and a tremendous uplift to these people, who have been martyred without any expectation on their part that they would be able in this way to get such a very large increase in their notoriety and in their publicity. For this reason I support the Motion.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
I never dreamed that I should see the day when an ex-Prime Minister would stand at that box and say that the sole criterion as to whether a man is to be prosecuted for urging soldiers to mutiny should be whether it was a service or a dis-service 2157 to the State. If such a doctrine were adopted, it would be an excuse for any coward of a Cabinet Minister, a moral coward, to play the part of Kerensky—
§ Mr. MacDONALD
The hon. and gallant Gentleman must quote me accurately—both verbally and in the intention which was given to it. I did not have any such meaning as he suggests— that a Cabinet Minister could do that without being prosecuted. It was a question of the importance and the size of the person and the organisation.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
But the criterion is to be whether it is a service or a disservice to the State. I would point out that that would be made an excuse by Ministers. When justice was asked to take its course, the Minister would say "It is a disservice to the State," and that would be a complete excuse. I would rather if I could adopt the view taken by Sir Henry Maine, one of the greatest international lawyers the world has produced, who wrote:If any Government should be tempted, even for a moment, to forego its function of compelling obedience to the law, it would be guilty of a crime which hardly any other virtue would redeem, and which century after century might fail to repair.I think that is the true criterion. On one point I can congratulate the right hon. Gentleman. He has once more got the cheers of those extremists who elected him to his position. He is tending more and more to play the part of Kerensky. He knows the compulsory powers which they can exercise. He knows what they did with the councils of action in 1920. He knows perfectly well how they compelled him to abandon the Campbell prosecution and how they made him sign the "Russian Treaty. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!" and "Withdraw!"] I can well understand now why two years ago the right hon. Gentleman in his victory speech at the Albert Hall avowed his favourite hymn to be:I do not ask to see the distant scene, One step enough for me.I am not going to labour the simile of the ostrich, because the ostrich does not bury its head in the sand, but it puts its head near the sand to hear a danger better. The right hon. Gentleman carries his head in his own fogs and en deavours to bring those fogs into this House. These men incited the British 2158 army to mutiny, and it is not denied that they were under the control of the Internationale in Moscow. It is not denied that even if regiments did not mutiny, supposing one single soldier was misled and sent to prison by their writing, there would be a great disgrace attached to that, and the family of that man, say, in some Kentish village could not hold up their heads among their fellowmen and would give up their home and would become exiles. The Government would be utterly lacking in their duty if they did not protect these soldiers and their families.
Supposing there was riot as a result of the action of these Communists. Such a riot might be followed by martial law, and so we are to lose our own liberty in order that Moscow may have liberty to play its own wicked will with the people of this country. On this matter I am very sorry for one party because I have a great respect for the trade union party within the Labour party. When I saw a group of trade union leaders not long ago I was reminded of Goldsmith's lines:Pride in their post, defiance in their eye,I see the lords of humankind pass by.But now it is the Communists that drive them. Like dogs they come when they are called, or like cats they turn away. Their glory has departed for ever. It is the Communists from whom the danger comes to-day. I am not impressed by the argument that the Communists are small in numbers. I know that the same argument was used in regard to the "Industrial Workers of the World" in America, and in Australia, where they did infinite harm. The Home Secretary of that time refused to stop them coming to England on the ground that they were small in numbers. They did much harm in this country, and they did so much harm in America that they actually, as a trial trip, blew up four different places simultaneously, as a preliminary to having a hundred at the same time in order to strike terror. It was then, in 1910, that President Taft took action. When the Macnamara brothers were imprisoned the Industrial Workers of the World endeavoured to call a general strike on the ground that it was a framed-up police plot. And what happened? The Macnamara brothers confessed, and the general strike did not 2159 come off in consequence. I know that there are several right hon. Members who have yet to speak, so I will content myself with saying in conclusion that throughout our Empire we have had many tribulations, and we have had cause to experience within the last few years since the War thatWhen sorrows tome, they come not as single spies but in battalions.Through all these tribulations one can see the hand of the Communists in India and elsewhere, and we can apply to them the words of Love's Labour Lost.What did the Russian whisper in your ear?There are only three methods of fighting this danger. The first is the relentless enforcement of the law against incitement to rebellion or mutiny and the exploitation of discontent by force. The second method is to clear the front of discontent on which these people batten. No-one can say that a Government which in one short year of office has relieved the anxieties of so many old people, and aided the widow and the orphan, which the Party opposite failed to do, is not entitled to say that it is clearing the front of the discontent upon which these people batten.
My third point is that we are up against a Government propaganda in this country from Moscow, and we are entitled to meet Government propaganda by Government propaganda, and to enter the field and tell our people the truth, and when we do tell them the truth it will be to show them that on the hopeless horizon at which every Russian woman looks there is not one of them that, as a result of Communism in Russia, will not say with the Trojan woman—I have seen the open hand of God,And in it nothing save the rod of my affliction.
§ Sir ALFRED MOND
If I intervene for a few minutes at this stage it is because I do not want to give a silent vote upon this question I propose to vote for the Amendment that has been moved from the other side of the House, and I do so because I have been one of those who has on the platform more than once during the last month taken every opportunity of dealing with what I look upon as one of the greatest evils oppressing the industries of this country, and 2160 that is the growth of the Communist movement. The Prime Minister stated with great eloquence, and I imagine with great conviction, that the proper way to deal with a problem of this kind was not to sit at home with folded arms and leave it to be dealt with by conferences. I do not think it is sufficiently realised to what extent the growth of this movement has created a spirit of unrest and depression throughout the whole length and breadth of the country. [Laughter.] Hon. Members laugh at that statement, but I cannot understand their attitude on this question.
§ Sir A. MOND
I can never understand why those hon. Members, who sit on the back Labour Benches, invariably cheer everything said in favour of Communism and jeer at everybody who talks against it. Every speaker who attacks Communism is met with interruptions from the Labour Benches, and I am being interrupted now in that way. If you are against Communism why are you not cheering me? I still believe it is a sham fight. I do not notice the ex-Colonial Secretary, who is very angry with what I said, in the House to-day, I should have liked to have heard a speech from him on this question. I do not know where he is. I should have liked to have heard comment on that speech by some of the hon. Members behind me. One of the greatest difficulties in this matter is, are we to believe the right hon. Gentleman who is leading this party in his denunciation—I believe him to be sincere —or is this poison eating into your ranks and are you afraid and this is the reason why your Front Bench has been compelled to put down a Motion in entire contradiction of the step they took 12 months ago? Never have we had such an extraordinary paradox. Go back to the 8th October of last year and what do you find? The prosecution of the very man who has now been convicted! That was not violation of free speech. I defy the right hon. Gentleman or any man on the Front Bench to find a statement in the OFFICIAL REPORT to that effect. The then Attorney-General spent an hour in explaining to us that he withdrew that prosecution because he saw he could not get a conviction on the evidence. The man has been convicted now and he would 2161 have been convicted then. You did not then get up a case on the ground on which you are moving your Motion to-day. You had not the courage to do so. You took none of that line at all. The Attorney-General of the day took the line that he did not think he would get a conviction. I do not want to reopen that old story, but it is not a very creditable one.
§ Sir A. MOND
The ex-Prime Minister was very wise indeed not to mention it in his address. We have heard to-day, and I associate myself thoroughly with those statements, that there was a time when I was in this House when hon. Members opposite performed actions for which I thought they should have been prosecuted and put in prison. I was not a member of the Government. They took at that time a view which I have always thought wrong and which I think wrong to-day. All this sophistry about murderers and all this story about advertisement leaves me cold. Whatever Government will not enforce the law of this country without all those technical considerations, just as they ought to have done at the time of Ireland, I say that Government is not a Government that the country may look to for their safety. They look to it to show that this poisonous propaganda is not allowed to spread. The people of this country fear that the Government are not standing between them and the doctrines which are equally abhorrent to every party in this House. I think it was idle to argue that free speech means the right to preach doctrines subversive of the very existence of the community. America is a great democracy; more democratic than we were.
§ Sir A. MOND
The American people will not tolerate those doctrines being taught in their country. Freedom is not license. Freedom cannot mean a right to break the laws of this country. The laws of this country are unalterable, and there cannot be a freedom of that character. The right hon. Gentleman in his eloquent speech at one moment argued that the way to deal with this question was to drag it to the light, and at the next moment contended that the Government 2162 prosecution attracted it to the light and had done infinite harm. He was on two horns of a dilemma. If you take the argument too far, then the law of every country will come to an end. The burglar and the criminal would be liberated and not punished by the civilised community because many people would think you were making a martyr of him. If you are to follow the advice given from those benches it is to look round every corner to see if the sky sign of Communism is showing and to try to judge whether, by this or that method, this or that case is to be condemned or not. We proceed on the lines of what is right; not on the lines of what we think expedient. I know the right hon. Gentleman, who I will call the Robespierre of his party, who always says what he thinks and is the only one who does; I heartily agree with him. The people of this country are tired of all this search for expediency. I am certain they will support the Government without fear or favour. I care not to what section of the community people belong, it is for them to carry out the elementary duty of Government and the upholding of law and order in this country.
§ Captain P. MACDONALD
In a question like that which is before the House to-day, it is public opinion that really matters, and Members of this House are sent here to represent public opinion. It is also public opinion to which the Socialist party, if they were sincere in their professions of loyalty to democracy, would be the first people to hearken. I am not going to deal with the legal aspect of the case; whether the sentence which these men have received is too severe or not is not for me to say— it is a question for the Judge and jury; it is a question for the impartiality of British justice to decide. Those who support this Resolution to-day are not moving a Vote of Censure upon the present Government, because, if they maintain, as they do, that the sentence which these men have received is too severe, they are moving a Vote of Censure, not upon the Conservative Government or upon any existing Government, but upon the Judge who passed the sentence and upon the impartiality of British justice. On the other hand, if they are moving this Vote of Censure because these men were found guilty of the crimes with which they were charged, 2163 then, again, the charge is not against the present Government, but against the jury who found them guilty, and also against the late Solicitor-General, who was unable to conduct a sufficiently good case to obtain their acquittal. I am fortified now by the knowledge that these men have received a fair trial, and also by the knowledge that, under a Socialist regime such as these people have been endeavouring for some time to set up in this country, they would not have received a trial at all, and, instead of a sentence from a Judge, they would in all probability have had their sentence from the rifles of a firing party.
Therefore, the only question left to this House to decide is whether these men should have been placed upon their trial or not, and when we discuss that question we must realise that these men were not tried for what they said, but for what they did. The Conservative party yields to none in its support of the expression of free opinion in this country. For instance, we do not mind when the Liberal party say that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) is not a fit and proper person to lead them; but if they tried to enforce their opinion by force, then they would be guilty of a crime, and it would be for the Government of the day to take action. When in this case the Opposition charge the present Government with being guilty of a disgraceful act in carrying out this prosecution, they are really themselves guilty of an offence; they are really the people who are responsible, and are taking up the time of this House in discussing a matter of which they themselves are guilty. I have seen it expressed in the Press by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting (Mr. dynes), who, I understand, is to reply on behalf of the Opposition to-night, that, if these men were guilty of the charges brought against them, their sentence was not sufficiently severe, while, on the other hand, if they were not guilty they should have been acquitted. These men were found guilty by an impartial British jury. What, therefore, are we to think of a party which takes up the time of this House in moving a Vote of Censure on a Government which carries out its duty in prosecuting these 2164 men? All I can say is that the opinion of the man in the street is that the Communist Member for North Battersea (Mr. Saklatvala) is in his spiritual home when he sits on those benches among the Socialist party.
§ Mr. CLYNES
If we can set aside our partisan feelings or definite convictions on many questions which have found expression, and consider the Motion on the Paper in relation to the speech in its support by my right hon. Friend who began this discussion, I am convinced that most hon. Gentlemen who listen to me now will reach the conclusion that that speech triumphantly vindicated the terms of the Resolution on the Paper. It is the fate of those of us on this side of the House repeatedly to espouse unpopular causes; in due time they become powerful and popular. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carmarthen (Sir A. Mond) indicated a complete inability, which other hon. Members appear to share, to understand the position of those of us who support the free utterance of opinion in our public discussions, for the right hon. Gentleman says, in effect, "You refused at Liverpool to admit the Communists, therefore you ought to agree with us to put them in prison. If you differ from a man's convictions, what else is there to do with him than put him in gaol?" We on this side of the House have frequently condemned especially that kind of Liberalism which is represented by the right hon. Gentleman. Are we, then, to come to the conclusion, on the strength of that argument, that it is in gaol that he ought to be instead of being here at Westminster? We do not go so far.
In the political life of this country, the Communists have been much more opposed to the Labour party than even to the Conservative party. If we measure opposition by the form and character of its direction, they have in their Press, in their speeches, in their sustained propagandist endeavours, done the most they could to weaken and destroy us. That does not in the least affect the question of right or wrong, or the claim which the Communists, like all of us, have for free speech in a country which we claim to be free. We are not likely to reap the slightest political capital from any action that we are taking in this House to-night. That is 2165 not our motive. Our motive is clearly expressed in the terms of the Resolution. We regard this prosecution as a violation of the traditional right of freedom of speech in Britain. It is an effort to repress honest opinion, however mistaken, however misguided; and, whoever else does not, we on this side of the House do prize liberty of opinion. It may be recalled that in the years of the war, when feeling ran very high, an opinion was indicated by many Noble Lords in another place, who were very hostile to the Labour party, which showed how indispensable it is, even in such a time as war-time, to assert the right of freedom of honest conviction in Britain. On many occasions it was Members of the Labour party who alone expressed their admiration for the action taken by Noble Lords in another place at that time. Therefore we ask you to judge Communists not by Russian but by British standards and traditions.
What were they charged with? The charges were very serious and very formidable charges indeed. They were charged with conspiracy, with incitement to commit breaches of the Mutiny Act and with efforts to persuade soldiers and sailors into acts of revolt. Translated into laymen's language, those were the three charges. I say, speaking at least for myself, that if they were guilty of those crimes the light punishment they received is simply preposterous, especially when it is remembered that most of them were told they could go free if they would leave the Communist party. It surely is neither the tradition nor the course of British law. Here, we are told, are men doing their beet to pull down this country, seeking by insidious and organised means, and with the aid of foreign money, so it is said, to destroy Britain, and they placed seven of them, fairly comfortably, I suppose, in the second division of an English prison. If they have done such wrong, and threaten to do more, that is not the measure of punishment which should be meted out to them and it certainly will not act as any deterrent upon others who may share their views. The partisan proceedings in this case were obvious from the beginning. Recall the smug contentment of many Conservative speakers, including the Home Secretary on more than one-occasion in gleefully announcing to his 2166 own people what was certain to happen to these men now he had got them in the dock.
§ Mr. CLYNES
If hon. Members will read the "Times" of this day or the quotations which have already found their way into the OFFICIAL REPORT they will conclude that my paraphrase is not unfair. I ask hon. Members also to recall the shouts of triumph, the columns in the newspapers of partisan approval of the punishment and the sentences imposed upon these men. From the beginning it has savoured of the desire of one political party to put a few at least of another political party in gaol. And who were these men? I saw their names for the first time in some instances in reading the newspaper reports—Mr. Cant, Mr. Rust, Mr. Wintringham and one or two more. These almost absolutely obscure men, lifted by these proceedings to a level partaking partly of martyrdom and partly of heroism, it is alleged, were a party to the printing and circulating and publication of views which no policeman need have run after. Most elaborate efforts, I understand, were made to capture every kind of document, pamphlet, publication or speech which would in any way provide evidence. Anyone could have gone into one of their shops or one of the depots of the Communist party, wherever it might be, and buy these things at the very cheapest rate. It is very old and rusty and almost useless propaganda. An illegal association. Is that the conclusion? That certainly was the argument of the Home Secretary to-day. If so, why limit the number of offenders or of prisoners to 12? Why not have at least 13—there are at any rate a few thousands —if this is an illegal association? What is proposed with respect to their successors now that these 12 are in gaol? Are efforts to be made to suppress this association? Their papers are still printed and circulated. Depend upon it this week-end the membership of the Communist party will greatly increase and public sympathy for these men will he enormously aroused. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] The answer is that there will be a rising public indignation when the 2167 public has had a chance, such as the Press might give it, to weigh the evidence and to see something of the motives which have inspired these proceedings. My right hon. Friend was, therefore entitled to dwell upon the public policy aspect of this issue, for it is that that concerns us. We are as greatly involved in the safety of our nation as any class or section in the nation. We are as greatly interested in the maintenance and defence of actions in support of public policy as any other party in the State, and in our judgment it is not wise to produce a net result from such action as has been taken which means deepening the present impression which many of us have received of inequality in the administration of British law, and which means enormously strengthening the force of Communist propaganda in this country. Is the Home Secretary aware that quite recently the leading spokesmen of the Communists have officially informed the country how much they lament the diminishing numbers and influence of that party? They have not been going up. They have been going down. Their stock now is raised by the folly of the Conservative Government. And why is it that those who claim a special association in sympathy and in the way of individualism with the Army and the Navy are the first always to show the least faith in the Army and Navy whenever an issue of this kind is raised? Why are you afraid of any British soldier or sailor surrendering to the appeals of Communist propaganda? Or again, why is it that not one soldier or sailor was produced who could be got to say he was in the slightest degree influenced by anything these men had ever said? The Army and the Navy are proof against the kind of propaganda alleged against these men. My conclusion is that the prosecution itself was no more than a clumsy calculated round-up of obscure political opponents. Money from Moscow! We have alleged that there are inequalities in the law, that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor. We shall now have to go further, for it appears that we are to have convictions not upon evidence, not upon proof, but upon inference. The inference is that money had 2168 come from Moscow. It was nothing but inference. There was, of course, in the letters read by the Home Secretary today, some little tittle-tattle. If the right hon. Gentleman thought, in the course of the Court proceedings, that there was any value in evidence of that kind, how is it that it was not used in the Court proceedings? The Home Secretary, I think, must have confessed to himself, if to no-one else, that he had rather an uncomfortable half-hour this afternoon. I have a volume here, and I could cite many bearings of his Warrington speech in 1913, but I will spare the House quotations. But this "Grammar of anarchy" will be invaluable to those who in future controversies want to make themselves fully acquainted with what was said by several Members of the present Government, and by a few distinguished Members of the House of Lords.
I gather from the Home Secretary that what he said in 1913 was said under great provocation and at a time of unusual political excitement. Let him bring the same sort of sympathy and perspective to bear in considering the quality or terms of many of the Communist speeches that have sent these men to gaol. What was it that the right hon. Gentleman had to contend against in 1913–14? It was the, possibility of Ireland getting Home Rule, of getting one Parliament—later a Conservative Government had to give them two Parliaments—and the difficulties which had to be faced then. The present is a time of very great political excitement. I do not think it is improper for me to quote a few significant words expressed towards the close of the recent case by the Judge who tried it:This country has been singularly free from treason, insurrection, tumult and sedition.10.0 P.M.
Those words are perfectly true. They are a tribute to the extraordinary submissiveness of the millions of impoverished poor in this country. In spite of bitter privation and of a very great sense of class wrong, the law has been observed, the soldiery have not had to be called out, and there has been no addition to the forces of our police. There has been a general observance of and regard for the law, a regard so great that one might fairly say that it would be a good thing if rich men always observed the law when 2169 they do not agree with it, as poor men have observed the law under the very greatest sense of personal trial and provocation. The law has been observed in spite of this suffering. Do not let us think that we have got rid of our problem merely by closing the prison gates upon a few active agitators or propagandists. It has been true throughout history and that truth, quite recently, has been applied to a number of hon. Members who sit behind me, that often the gateway to greater dignity, influence and authority is the gateway of the prison. Many men have been helped to seats in this House because for conscience sake and in the prosecution of a sense of right they have risked the punishment which they have had to endure.
These are times of high political excitement. Mr. Pollitt was contrasted to-day in the most extraordinary way with Mr. Gladstone or Mr. Parnell. Pollitt and Parnell set up as parallel cases! The two names need only be mentioned to show the poverty of the argument with which the Home Secretary has tried to defend himself during the Debate this afternoon. Mr. Pollitt was kidnapped only a few months ago, but his offenders went unpunished. What is it to hon. Members opposite to kidnap a Communist.? It is only a joke. [HON. MEMBERS: "Were they tried?"] That is the trouble. They were tried, and it is in the inequality of these verdicts, these decisions, that we have this deepening sense of injustice as between class and class in this country. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I gathered that the right hon. Gentleman does not mean to impugn the verdict of the Court. That would be out of order.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I am impugning nothing. I ask the House to draw their own conclusions. I am content to draw attention to the dissimilarity of the verdicts.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The right hon. Gentleman is in order in aspersing the conduct of the Government, but he-would not be in order, in accordance with the established practice of this House, in aspersing a verdict found by the Court.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I will mention another case. When Labour property is seized, and when the man who drives a Labour van has a revolver pointed at his head and he is told to surrender, it appears that that is not to be regarded as a crime punishable by law. I submit this point to the right hon. Gentleman who is to follow me, that the class which above all others in this country has property to preserve and which has possession to maintain is the class that can least afford to do anything which encourages the belief that we are reaching an era of one-sided law. Whatever the Government may do in pursuance of its political purposes, we ask that this, as other Governments, shall maintain equity as between man and man and section and section. We allege that in this instance it has not been clone, that the public good has not been served and that public policy is not in the hands of the right men at this moment on the basis of their past, and that if these Communists had to be prosecuted and imprisoned, His Majesty's present Ministers were not the right men for the purpose.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir Douglas Hogg)
In the last quarter of a century it has often been my lot to defend the honour and reputation of many of His Majesty's subjects, but this is the first occasion on which I have had to appear arraigned before this High Court of the House of Commons to defend myself. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the Irish deportees?"] I want to make this quite clear—that, whereas the Resolution seeks to condemn the action of the Government, it is right that I should tell the House at once that the. responsibility for this prosecution, both in its initiation and in its conduct, rests both by Statute and in fact upon the Attorney-General, and upon nobody else. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is not what the Home Secretary said!"] I hear an hon. Member opposite interrupting to say that is not what the Home Secretary said. The Home Secretary quite accurately told the House that, having certain information in his possession, he placed that information before me, in order that I might 2171 consider the proper course to pursue, I can take the story a little further.
I formed the view that the facts laid before me disclosed a criminal conspiracy against the State. I laid the documents before the best criminal counsel whom I could find, and I had advice which entirely confirmed my opinion. Having ascertained, as I thought it my duty to do, that in so far as the Government were concerned, they knew of no reason why, in the national interest, such prosecution should not be initiated, I decided that the prosecution should at once take place. Having made that statement to the House, it is right that I should add that I do not come here in any spirit of contrition or of apology. ID my opinion, I should have failed in my duty to the State had I taken any other course than that which I adopted.
It has been said against me this evening that this prosecution was rested entirely upon documents, and not upon speeches or upon the production of seduced soldiers, sailors or airmen. That charge is well founded, for I deliberately rested this case upon the published and official documents of these people, who were selected as being the responsible heads in this country of the Communist conspiracy, in order that I might satisfy the public and the jury, if the facts warranted the inference, that these people, in advocating the doctrines which they published in their official documents, were engaged in a criminal conspiracy against the State.
The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has told us that the speeches on which these Communists were condemned were made "in the heat of the moment under political stress." Let me tell him I deliberately excluded any evidence as to any speech by any man who was prosecuted, and therefore his statement that they were prosecuted upon statements made in the heat of the moment is one which I think he will regret having made. The right hon. Gentleman seems indeed to live in a curious world of his own. He has told us that he had never heard of any of these prisoners. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO; some of them."]
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
He had heard of nine of them, but not of the other three. Let me tell him that such information as we have led us to believe that the 12 men we selected were the responsible heads in this country of this illegal organisation, and had we had evidence to show that there were other people equally responsible, my right hon. Friend's ambition to see the number increased would have been satisfied. The right hon. Gentleman told us that he was supporting this Motion because he regarded the prosecution as a violation of the traditional rights of free speech which this country enjoys. I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman remembers that one of these very defendants was prosecuted for one of these very publications in the time of the Government of which he was a distinguished member. When that prosecution was withdrawn, and the conduct of the Government of the day in withdrawing it was challenged, the defence which was put up then by the right hon. Gentleman, the Leader of the Opposition—I have the speech here—was not the defence that this was a prosecution which infringed the traditional right of free speech. It was a defence which said that there was one thing, and one thing only, which had influenced the Government of the day, and that was that, although the law had been broken, it was giving a gratuitous advertisement to proceed with the prosecution.
I can understand that argument, but it is not the case which is made in this Motion. Is the traditional right of free speech one which is enjoyed only when a Conservative Government is in power? If not, why did it not exist last year, when Mr. Campbell was prosecuted, and when there was no question of it being an infringement of the right of free speech, but only an unnecessary advertisement of an obscure criminal? The right hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways.
The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has told us that, if these men were guilty of the crimes of which they were convicted, they suffered too light a punishment. If he went to his friends in Moscow, he would find they entirely agree with that view. Under the Moscow code, the penalty for the offence of which these men were convicted is death, with confiscation of all property. And I ought to 2173 add that not only these men, but every member of the organisation of which they were the heads is liable to the, same penalty, with this proviso only, that if extenuating circumstances he proved, they may be let off with a sentence of not less than five years' solitary confinement, with the confiscation of all their property! No wonder the right hon. Gentleman was astonished at the leniency with which we treated these men! He told us that during this week-end these men would become martyrs, and that public indignation would rise. He was right in saying this week-end, and not last weekend, because last week-end the public knew only the facts of the trial and the conviction. It is only this week-end that martyrdom has been awarded to the men by the Motion which we are now discussing. He told us that the party of which he is a very prominent member, was in the habit of espousing unpopular causes, only to find that presently they become popular. I wonder whether that was the real reason for this Motion?
I see in his place now my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon). He told us that he was not going to vote either way in this Division. If I did not misunderstand him, he explained that he was quite satisfied with the conduct of the case and the justice of the decision, but he was doubtful as to the policy of the prosecution, and he said that he was waiting to hear the case made to-night. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman had stayed in the House during the past two hours, he would have heard the case made against the Motion. He would have heard it made, first, by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), who told us that there was no difference between the Socialists and the Communists, except in their methods —that these men preached violence as a means of attaining their ends, and that in this country the violence would be more terrible than in any other country.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The right hon. and learned Gentleman does not want to misinterpret me. I said that, if violence took place in this country, I believed that it would be more terrible here than anywhere else. The "if" makes a difference.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
The hon. Gentleman told us, first, that these people 2174 teach violence, and then that that violence was a more terrible thing here than anywhere else. I will try to find for my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Spen Valley someone else whose authority he will, perhaps, be more ready to accept. Had ho been here, and heard the speech of the right hon. Member for Carmarthen (Sir A. Mond), he would have heard from that right hon. Gentleman's lips a most eloquent defence of the Government action, the most unqualified approval of the prosecution, and the most convincing reasons why the Government ought to be supported in the Lobby. A little later I hope to be able myself to give to the right hon. and learned Gentleman a few reasons why this case was properly brought. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, in his opening speech, expressed some anxiety as to what was or was not legal in view of the prosecution which had been instituted. He said he was anxious as to whether some of his own publications might not come under the ban of the law. He told the House how, some two and a half years ago, he gave to a lawyer, who was very grateful for his kindness, a present of certain books on Socialism, written by the right hon. Gentleman himself. That lawyer has since become Attorney-General, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman at once that he is in no danger at all. The right hon. Gentleman gave a very accurate answer to his own questions. I think I am quoting him with substantial accuracy, though I am not giving the ipsissima verba of his speech, when I say that he expressed his anxiety to know what was legal and what was illegal and asked, "Supposing a man honestly believed that fundamental changes must come in society, involving the overthrow of the existing form of Government, was hot such a man entitled to express that opinion?" He also asked, "Supposing such a man believed"—as the right hon. Gentleman was careful to say he did not —"that those fundamental changes must inevitably result in civil war, was not he entitled to express that opinion?" The answer to both those questions is that he is entitled to express that opinion. But the right hon. Gentleman himself went on, and said, "Supposing he takes steps to create the revolution, instead of stating simply that it is inevitable, he is 2175 then Committing a criminal offence." The right hon. Gentleman is entirely accurate, and that is the offence of which these men were convicted. I ask the House to have patience to let me read one passage of my opening speech to the jury. I do so because it answers the right hon. Gentleman's question, and I think it will show him whether or not I fairly stated the question which had to be tried. This is what I said to the jury at the opening of my address:First of all I will say this to you—whatever else you do, do not let any political views which you may have weigh with you one way or the other. I do not know what the politics of any of you are. or indeed if you have any politics. But it would be wrong to convict any one of these defendants because you thought that the political aims they had in view were not such as you agreed with. It would be wrong for you to acquit any one of the defendants because you agreed that some of the changes which they advocated were desirable, if you were satisfied that the means which they sought to adopt and the objects which they were setting before themselves were means and objects which the law prohibited. In this country free speech is the right of everybody. Every man is entitled to criticise the Government: every man is entitled to criticise our public institutions; every man is entitled to try to persuade his fellow-citizens that the Government ought to be overthrown, or that these institutions ought to be changed. But as the necessary corollary to the right of free speech. and, in fact, as its first bulwark, it is important to remember that because one has the right to try to persuade one's fellow citizens of the correctness of our political views, and the desirability of giving effect to them, it is essential that in doing so we shall keep inside the law. You may persuade people to vote for a different form of Government or a different form of Society. If you succeed in persuading the majority of the electors in favour of your view, you will achieve your end. What you may not do is to attempt to stir up your fellow citizens. whom you know you cannot persuade in sufficient numbers to vote for the changes you advocate, to stir them up to attempt forcibly to overthrow the rule of the majority and the Government as be law established. The charge which we make here, as I have indicated to you, is a charge that these defendants, as the English heads of the Communist party, were preaching and advocating the forcible overthrow of the Government, and as a necessary preliminary, the seduction of the King's Army and Navy from their allegiance, loyalty, and obedience.I have ventured to read that extract, because I want the House to see the light in which this case was presented to the 2176 jury, and the question upon which the jury had to pronounce. It was not a question of freedom of speech or of political opinion. It was a question of whether or not these men were proved guilty of a criminal conspiracy, to try and forcibly overthrow the Government of this country and, in order to do that, to seduce the Army and Navy so that they could not be relied upon to do their duty. I have listened to-night to at least one speech from a Communist Member, the hon. Member for North Battersea (Mr. Saklatvala). I have listened to another speech from the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), who at least was not unsympathetic to the Communist point of view. Those two speeches between them took an hour and three-quarters to deliver, and I think the best—
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
The best commentary I can make on those two speeches is this, that I find in the instructions laid down for all obedient Communists to follow, this statement:Parliament is a fraud and a sham, but Parliament is very useful for propaganda purposes.In putting before the jury the charge which we sought to prove, I was careful to adopt as the definition of sedition tests which were put forward by my opponent in the case, the hon. and learned Member for South-East Leeds (Sir H. Slesser). And I would like, if I may, to say this in parenthesis, that no imputation ought to rest either upon the hon. and learned Gentleman or upon his party by reason of the fact that he appeared for the defendants in that case. It is an honourable tradition of the Bar that we will appear for any accused person and, as far as in our ability lies, we will see that he gets fair trial and fair play. The hon. and learned Member was doing nothing more than his duty as a member of the Bar. and it does not imply any association of Socialism with Communism that he should have been chosen to represent those men. I think it is right that I should make that explanation, as head 2177 of the Bar, in order that there should be no misconception in the public mind in regard to that matter.
The hon. and learned Member propounded two or three tests, and I took each of the tests which he propounded, and proceeded to cite the passages which showed that, on applying those tests, these defendants were unquestionably guilty of the offence with which they were charged. I do not propose to try and repent that performance in this House, because it took me just five hours to go through, but I would like, first of all, to say a word about the suggestion which is so freely and so loosely bandied about, that this is an interference with the right of free speech. If by free speech is meant the right to express an opinion about the existing state of society, about the desirability of a radical change, about the wickedness of the Government or of any particular class of society, that, of course, is the right which every Englishman—[HON. MEMBERS: "Englishman? "]—I mean Briton—enjoys, and which was not impugned in this case.
But if the suggestion be that if a man honestly believes an armed revolt is desirable, he is not to be stopped from trying to bring it about, because that is interfering with his right of free speech, then I entirely dissent from that doctrine, which would be fatal to and subversive of any organised Government. According to that argument, you would shoot the soldier for mutiny, but you would let off the man who dupes him by incitement to mutiny, because you would be "interfering with his right of free speech"! You would hang the murderer, but let off the man who preached murder to him, because his traditional right of free speech must not be taken away! No such doctrine has ever been practised in any free country, and Heaven forbid that it should ever gain ground in this country. [AN HON. MEMBER: "What about 1913 in Ireland?"] I thought the complaint was that there had been no prosecution.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition told us that they on that side of the House could not overlook the contrast. May I tell him that we on this side of the House find a difficulty in overlooking the contrast between the Motion he has moved and the speech by which he has supported it. The Motion which 2178 he moved bases the criticism on the violation of the traditional right of free speech. The speech by which he justified the Motion did not attempt, so far as I understood him, to vindicate the right of these men to commit the act of which they were convicted, but suggested that it was bad policy as a matter of advertisement of the Communist party. With the question of policy I will deal, and the question of policy is a proper one to consider by those who have all the facts before them. But it is not a question of right of free speech. It is not a question of any right to the accused person, but merely a question of what is best in the interests of the State.
I really think this is the best way to bring home to the House of what it is that these men were convicted. Let me try, not, indeed, to repeat what I said in Court, but to indicate one or two of the main tests which were applied, and one or two of the salient passages with which we sought to satisfy the test. The first test which the hon. and learned Gentleman propounded in Court was as to whether these documents were seditious or not. He said the test was, "Was their object to lead to civil war?"—a very good and very fair test, which he took out of a well-known authority. I accepted that challenge, and I looked at one or two of their documents.
May I give the House, and especially the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley, one or two quotations which tend to supply the answer to that question? The earliest document which we had was the Second Congress of the Communist International, and the resolutions of the Communist International expressed enactment on every member of every Communist party all over the world. This gathering was held in Moscow, where all are held. [HON. MEMBERS: "The year, and the date?"] This one was 1920, the earliest, I think, but there will be some later ones presently. This is the first quotation that I want to give. It answers the question of the object—to lead to civil war. It says:The aim of the Communist International is to organise an armed struggle for the overthrow of the international bourgeoisie.Let me read the next one. This is a year later, in 1921. This also was at Moscow. They are all at Moscow.
§ The ATTORNEY - GENERAL
They were all, in fact, held in Moscow— [Interruption]—where the money and the orders both come from. In 1921 they said:The Communist party must in this manner influence the widest circles of the Proletariat by word and deed, that every economic or political conflict, given the necessary combination of circumstances, may develop into civil war, in the course of which it will become the task of the Proletariat to conquer the power of state.That is what I call trying to lead to civil war.
This is the programme of the Communist Party International, which was adopted at the Fifth Communist International held in Moscow in December, 1924, and January, 1925. This is what they say in their introduction, as being the fundamental principles of the Communist International. The preface openly advocates the violent overthrow of the bourgeois order by means of the Communist Revolution.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
The hon. Gentleman seems to have General Elections, like King Charles' head. "on the brain." They say thatIn the unavoidable premise for the transition from Capitalism to Communism the starting point, without which the further evolution of mankind is entirely impossible is thus the revolutionary overthrow of the bourgeois State, and the seizure of power by the working class, which has to set itself the first and most important task of suppressing the enemy and firmly establishing the new régime. The seizure of power by the Proletariat is nothing else than the destruction of the bourgeois State apparatus by the fighting organs of the Proletarian class struggle and the organisation of a new Proletarian class power—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear" and Laughter.]—I am not responsible for the language—an essential part of the seizure of power by the working class is the destruction of the bourgeois monopoly of arms and the concentration of arms in the hands of the Proletariat. During the course of the struggle the main object in view must be the disarmament of the bourgeoisie and the arming of the Proletariat.2180 [Interruption.] I thought the hon. Member would be converted. Let me give him another one—In order to achieve victory the workers must forcibly smash the capitalist state, and organise their own state machinery for the service.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
The hon. Member says they are "all the same.'' I am glad to agree with him. They are all the same.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
The House will remember that the hon. Member for North Battersea, when he was challenged as to whether or not the forcible overthrow of the State was part of the Communist programme, was anxious to disclaim anything of the kind. Let me give, for his benefit at least, one more quotation from the great master, Lenin. It was published in English in this country in June of this year, and it-has a foreword which explains that it includes only that which has an immediate interest for the English youth, and that it is published "in order that each Young Communist should make the teachings of our master his own "—Our slogan should be 'Arm the Proletariat for the purpose of overcoming, expropriating and disarming the bourgeoisie.' This is the only possible tactic for the revolutionary class.It goes on to develop that at great length, and later gives as "the working-class mother's exhortation to her son" this passage:You will soon be grown up. You will he given rifles; take them and learn how to use them Military science is indispensable to Proletarians, but not for shooting on their own brothers, or on the workers of other countries, as in the present War, and as you are advised to do by the social traitors. You must learn how to fight against the bourgeoisie of your own country, so as to put an end to exploitation, poverty and wars, not by pious resolutions, but by overcoming and disarming the bourgeoisie.I am afraid the hon. Member for North Battersea had not made the teaching of his master his own when he disclaimed the use of force.
I want now to come to the second count, namely, the seducing of the armed forces of the State. May I here explain that it is an entire mistake to imagine, as hon. 2181 Members seem to do, that we prosecuted these men under the Incitement to Mutiny Act, 1797. We prosecuted them at Common Law for conspiracy. One of the counts in that conspiracy was that they were joining together to conspire to incite soldiers to mutiny, and also induce other people to do the same. And incitement to mutiny was an offence at Common Law long before it was an offence by Statute. The only effect of the Statute was to render it a felony, punishable by death at that time. We prosecuted for conspiracy, under which the maximum penalty was two years' hard labour. The question I want to ask the House to address itself to is, "Did these men incite the forces of the Crown to mutiny?" because if they did, if they attempted to do that by publishing these documents, they were clearly guilty of trying to create revolution, and not merely expressing the right of free speech. I want again to quote one or two passages, first of all from the draft programme of the Young Communist International. [HON. MEMBERS: "Circulate it!"] Perhaps this document may be familiar to some hon. Members opposite, but possibly other hon. Members of this House might like to hear it. It states that Communists know that the armed uprising of the proletariat against capitalism is necessary in the fight for liberation, and it was necessary to win the bourgeoisie over to its side, in order to prevent the guns being directed at the working classes by the soldiers, and no longer be used as a weapon in the hands of the bourgeoisie, but could be used by the revolutionary proletariat in the interests of the workers, and for the success of the armed uprising. That is for the youth to seduce the Army. To some hon. Members of the Socialist party these documents seem not only familiar but amusing. No wonder when the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition made his speech, almost the only passage which evoked no applause from his own side was that in which he disclaimed all connection with Communism.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
Here is another quotation—this time from the Executive which met in March, 1925, at 2182 Moscow. The speaker was an English representative—Mr. Gallacher—and this is what he said in Moscow:We must give special attention to disrupting the armed forces of capitalism. Anti-militarist work must be carried on in the most energetic manner if we are to be worthy of the name of Bolsheviks. It is said that the revolutionary wave has passed. But it is rising again. We see it arising in England and in the Colonies, and this revolutionary wave will sweep from England and the Colonies over Europe, and when the crisis comes we shall have to answer several questions, and one of them is, 'Have we disrupted the military forces of the State?'Those quotations might be multiplied almost indefinitely, but I would like to come down to more recent events. At the end of July last, there was in this country a most critical situation, and one in which unwise language and action might easily have provoked serious consequences. On the 31st July we find in the "Workers' Weekly"—which, according to the Communists themselves, has a weekly circulation of 50,000—published on the front page under a, big heading,Paralyse all industry until demands are granted.Then follow a long series of black letter sentences, which wind up in this way:In the event of the Military being drafted into any industrial centre, the workers must fraternise with the soldiers.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I wonder whether hon. Members opposite will be as enthusiastic over the rest of the sentence?Workers must fraternise with the soldiers and convince them that they must only use their arms on behalf of their own class.I am glad to notice it is only the Back Benches opposite that cheer. The House will notice—
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
The right of free speech seems to be rather a one-sided idea. The House will notice that the exhortation is not merely, not to use their arms against the workers, but to use them only on behalf of their own class, which means, in Communist phraseology, to use them against the officers. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, that is a legal twist!"] Let me see if it is a "legal 2183 twist." That was followed up a week afterwards by publishing, and spreading all over the country, a pamphlet signed in the name of "Wintringham," one of the defendants. The reason it was in Wintringham's name—as we saw from one of the letters—was that they were afraid that, it being seditious, he would be prosecuted for it, and they wanted only one of them to be convicted. This is what was published to all the soldiers they could get hold of:Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, definitely let it be known that neither in the class war nor in a military war will you turn your guns on your fellow-workers, but will use your arms on the side of your own class Refuse to fight for Profits. Turn your weapons on your oppressors.Was it a "legal twist" just now? What they meant was not merely, "Do not shoot the workers, but shoot the officers." If the hon. Gentleman will study the. "Workers' Weekly" as closely as I have had to do, he will find that the officers are defined as being of the "oppressing class" and as being the "satellites of the oppressing class who are exploiting." Fourteen thousand copies of that document, according to the defendants themselves, were distributed. They are being used as "enclosures from workers to their friends and relatives in the forces." They are being got to the men for whom they are intended. "Specially good work has been done by members of the Young Communist League in this campaign." What is the good of an hon. Member saying, "You have not produced a soldier who has been incited to mutiny"? Why, they themselves say they have incited 14,000 of them!
I have not any time to go through more quotations, but I think the quotations which I have given will be sufficient to satisfy any impartial person that these men were engaged, as the jury found they were engaged, in a seditious conspiracy against the State; that their object was to produce an armed uprising against the State; and that, as a necessary preliminary to that being successful, they were endeavouring to disintegrate the Army and Navy, so that when the struggle came, they could not be relied upon to defend law and order. If that campaign is being carried on, then, in my submission, we who are responsible for administering the law in this country would 2184 have been guilty of the gravest dereliction of duty had we allowed that campaign to go on unchecked and unpunished—if, when we had the evidence which was sufficient to satisfy 12 independent jurymen that these men had committed this offence, we were, for fear of criticism—for fear of being told that we were interfering with free speech, for fear of bring told that we were giving them an advertisement—to allow that sort of campaign to go on unchecked, and wait until the unhappy soldiers and sailors were successfully duped, and then punish them for the crime to which they had been incited by this mischievous propaganda, from which only our interference could protect them in the future.
I, at least, as long as I have the honour to be Attorney-General, shall do my best to see to it that, when crimes of this kind are unmasked, they shall be prosecuted in the Courts of Law. And, if those who are guilty of them can be proved to have committed that offence which the jury have here held that they have committed, then I think it is high time that the law should be vindicated, and that these treasonable practices should be put an end to.
It has been said, What about the other members of the Communist body? [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the men who stole the 'Herald' van!"] It is a little difficult to deal with one case at the same time as another. I am not afraid of dealing with the Fascisti when the time comes. At present I am defending myself from a charge of having violated the traditional British right of freedom of speech and publication of opinion in prosecuting these men. I hope I have satisfied the House of Commons that, so far from its being an interference with free speech, it is a vindication of the law, not from expression of opinion, but from revolutionary and treasonable acts; that these men have only received the punishment which is their just due, and that it is high time that the dupes in the country should be told what it is that these men were trying to achieve, so that they may sever themselves from a mischievous and seditious organisation.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."2185
|The House divided: Ayes, 127; Noes, 351.s|
|Division No. 433.]||AYES.||[11.0 p.m.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)||Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)||Robinson, W. C. (Yorks, W. R., Elland)|
|Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro')||Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Saklatvala, Shapurji|
|Ammon, Charles George||Hardie, George D.||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon||Scurr, John|
|Baker, J. (Wolverhampton, Bilston)||Mayday, Arthur||Shiels, Dr. Drummond|
|Baker, Walter||Hayes, John Henry||Sitch, Charles H.|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Henderson, Right Hon. A. (Burnley)||Slesser, Sir Henry H.|
|Barnes, A.||Henderson, T. (Glasgow)||Smillie, Robert|
|Barr, J.||Hirst, G. H.||Smith, H. B. Lees (Keighley)|
|Batey, Joseph||Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield)||Smith, Rennie (Penistone)|
|Beckett, John (Gateshead)||Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)||Snell, Harry|
|Benn, Captain Wedgwood (Leith)||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip|
|Broad, F. A.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Spencer, G. A. (Broxtowe)|
|Bromfield, William||Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Spoor, Rt. Hon. Benjamin Charles|
|Bromley, J.||Kelly, W. T.||Stamford, T. W.|
|Buchanan, G.||Kennedy, T.||Stephen, Campbell|
|Cape, Thomas||Konworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.||Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)|
|Charieton, H. C.||Kirkwood, D.||Sutton, J. E.|
|Clowes, S.||Lansbury, George||Taylor, R. A.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Lawson, John James||Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R.||Lee, F.||Thurtle, E.|
|Compton, Joseph||Lindley, F. W.||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Connolly, M.||Lowth, T.||Townend, A. E.|
|Cove, W. G.||Lunn, William||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.|
|Dalton, Hugh||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Aberavon)||Varley, Frank B.|
|Davies, Evan (Ebbw Vale)||Mackinder, W.||Viant, S. p.|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Wallhead, Richard C.|
|Day, Colonel Harry||March, S.||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)|
|Dennison, R.||Mitchell, E. Rosslyn (Paisley)||Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)|
|Duncan, C.||Montague, Frederick||Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney|
|Dunnico, H.||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Weir, L. M.|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Murnin, H.||Westwood, J.|
|Gillett, George M.||Naylor, T. E.||Whiteley, W.|
|Gosling, Harry||Oliver, George Harold||Wilkinson, Ellen C.|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark. Hamilton)||Palin, John Henry||Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)|
|Graham, Rt. Hon. Win. (Edin., Cent.)||Paling, W.||William, T. (York, Don Vallay)|
|Greenall. T.||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)||Potts, John S.||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Purcell, A. A.||Windsor, Walter|
|Groves, T.||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Wright, W.|
|Grundy, T. W.||Riley, Ben||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Guest, J. (York, Hemsworth)||Ritson, J.|
|Guest, Dr. L. Haden (Southwark, N.)||Robertson, J. (Lanark, Bothwell)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Mr. Warne and Mr. B. Smith.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Briscoe, Richard George||Cockerill, Brigadier-General G. K.|
|Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T.||Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Cohen, Major J. Brunei|
|Ainsworth, Major Charles||Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. I.||Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips|
|Albery, Irving James||Broun-Lindsay, Major H.||Cooper, A. Duff|
|Alexander, E. E. (Leyton)||Brown, Brig.-Gen. H.C.(Berks, Newb'y)||Cope, Major William|
|Alexander', Sir Wm. (Glasgow, Cent'l)||Buckingham, Sir H.||Couper, J. B.|
|Allen, J. Sandeman (L'pool, W. Derby)||Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Courtauld, Major J. S.|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Bullock, Captain M.||Courthope, Lieut.-Col. George L.|
|Applin, Colonel R. V. K,||Burgoyne, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Alan||Craig, Capt. Rt. Hon. C. C. (Antrim)|
|Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W.||Burman, J. B.||Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry|
|Ashmead-Bartlett, E.||Burney, Lieut.-Com. Charles D.||Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.|
|Astbury, Lieut.-Commander F. W.||Burton, Colonel H. W.||Crook, C. W.|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Butler, Sir Geoffrey||Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend)|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Butt, Sir Alfred||Crookshank, Col. C. de W. (Berwick)|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Crookshank, Cpt. H.(Lindsey, Gainsbro)|
|Balniel, Lord||Caine, Gordon Hall||Cunliffe, Joseph Herbert|
|Banks, Reginald Mitchell||Campbell, E. T.||Curtis-Bennett, Sir Henry|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Cassels, J. D.||Curzon, Captain Viscount|
|Barnett, Major Sir Richard||Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)||Dalziel, Sir Davison|
|Barnston, Major Sir Harry||Cayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt. R. (Prtsmth, S.)||Davidson, J.(Hertrd, Hemel Hempst'd)|
|Beamish' Captain T. P. H.||Cazalet, Captain Victor A.||Davidson, Major-General Sir John H.|
|Beckett Sir Gervase (Leeds, N.)||Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston)||Davies, Dr. Vernon|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W.||Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord H. (Ox. Univ.)||Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester)|
|Benn Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake)||Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton||Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)|
|Berry Sir George||Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood)||Dean, Arthur Wellesley|
|Birchall, Major J. Dearman||Chapman, Sir S.||Dixey, A. C.|
|Bird, Sir R. B. (Wolverhampton, W.)||Charteris, Brigadier-General J.||Drewe, C.|
|Blundell, F. N.||Chilcott. Sir Warden||Duckworth, John|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Christie, J. A.||Eden, Captain Anthony|
|Bowater, Sir T. Vansittart||Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer||Edwards, John H. (Accrington)|
|Bowyer. Capt. G. E. W.||Churchman, Sir Arthur C.||Elveden, Viscount|
|Brass, Captain W.||Clarry, Reginald George||England, Colonel A.|
|Brassey, Sir Leonard||Clayton, G. C.||Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.-M.)|
|Bridge-Nan. Rt. Hon. William Clive||Cobb, Sir Cyril||Erskine, James Malcolm Monteith|
|Briggs, J. Harold||Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Evans, Captain A. (Cardiff, South)|
|Everard, W. Lindsay||Kidd, J. (Linlithgow)||Rentoul, G. S.|
|Fairfax, Captain J. G.||Kindersley, Major G. M.||Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.|
|Falle, Sir Bertram G.||King, Captain Henry Douglas||Rice, Sir Frederick|
|Fanshawe, Commander G. D.||Kinloch-Cooke, sir Clement||Roberts, E. H. G. (Flint)|
|Fermoy, Lord||Knox, Sir Alfred||Roberts, Samuel (Hertford, Hertford)|
|Fielden, E. B.||Lamb, J. O.||Ruggles-Brise, Major E. A.|
|Finburgh, S.||Lane-Fox, Colonel George R.||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Fleming, D. P.||Leigh, Sir John (Clapham)||Rye, F. G.|
|Forestier-Walker, Sir L.||Lister, Cunliffe-, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip||Salmon, Major I,|
|Forrest, W.||Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley)||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Foster, Sir Harry S.||Locker-Lampson, G. (Wood Green)||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Foxcroft, Captain C. T.||Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (Handsw'th)||Sandeman, A. Stewart|
|Fraser, Captain Ian||Loder, J. de V.||Sanders, Sir Robert A.|
|Frece, Sir Walter de||Looker, Herbert William||Sanderson, Sir Frank|
|Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Lord, Walter Greaves||Sandon, Lord|
|Gadie, Lieut.-Col. Anthony||Lougher, L.||Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustavs D.|
|Galbraith, J. F. W.||Lowe, Sir Francis William||Savery, S. S.|
|Ganzoni, Sir John||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere||Scott, Sir Leslie (Liverp'l, Exchange)|
|Gates, Percy||Luce, Maj.-Gen. Sir Richard Harman||Shaw, Lt.-Col. A. D. Mcl. (Renfrew, W)|
|Gauit, Lieut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton||Lumley, L. R.||Shaw, Capt. W. W. (Wilts, Westb'y)|
|Gee, Captain R.||MacAndrew, Charles Glen||Sheffield, Sir Berkeley|
|Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)||Shepperson, E. W.|
|Glyn, Major R. G. C.||Macdonald, Capt. p. D. (I. of W.)||Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down)|
|Goff, Sir Park||Macdonald, R. (Glasgow, Cathcart)||Sinclair, Col. T.(Queen's. Univ., Belfast)|
|Gower, Sir Robert||McDonnell, Colonel Hon. Angus||Skelton, A. N.|
|Grace, John||Macintyre, Ian||Slaney, Major p. Kenyon|
|Grant, J. A.||McLean, Major A.||Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)|
|Grattan-Doyle, Sir N.||Macmillan, Captain H.||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Sir H.(Wth's'w, E)||Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm||Smithers, Waldron|
|Gretton, Colonel John||McNeill, Rt. Hon. Ronald John||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Grotrian, H. Brent||Macpherson, Rt. Hon. James I.||Spender Clay, Colonel H.|
|Gunston, Captain D. W.||Macquisten, F. A.||Sprot, Sir Alexander|
|Hacking, Captain Douglas H.||Maitland, Sir Arthur D. Steel||Stanley, Col. Hon. G.F. (Will'sden, E.)|
|Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||Malone, Major P. B.||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)|
|Hall, Vice-Admiral Sir R.(Eastbourne)||Margesson, Captain D.||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westm'eland)|
|Hall, Capt. W. D'A. (Brecon & Rad.)||Marriott, Sir J. A. R.||Steel, Major Samuel Strang|
|Hammersley, S. S.||Mason, Lieut.-Col. Glyn K.||Storry Deans, R.|
|Hanbury, C.||Meller R. J.||Stott, Lieut.-Colonel W. H.|
|Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Merriman, F. B.||Streatfeild, Captain S. R.|
|Harmsworth, Hon. E. C. (Kent)||Meyer, Sir Frank||Stuart, Crichton-, Lord C.|
|Harrison, G. J. C.||Milne, J. S. Wardlaw||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Mitchell, S. (Lanark, Lanark)||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser|
|Haslam, Henry C.||Mitchell, W. Foot (Saffron Walden)||Sugden, Sir Willfrid|
|Hawke, John Anthony||Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Stuatham)||Sykes, Major-Gen. Sir Frederick H.|
|Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M.||Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred||Tasker, Major R. Inigo|
|Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxfd, Henley)||Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr)||Templeton, W. P.|
|Henderson, Lieut.-Col. V. L. (Bootle)||Moore, Sir Newton J.||Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)|
|Heneage, Lieut.-Col. Arthur P.||Morden, Col. W. Grant||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Henn, Sir Sydney H.||Moreing, Captain A. H.||Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. Mitchell-|
|Hennessy, Major J. R. G.||Morrison, H. (Wilts, Salisbury)||Tinne, J. A.|
|Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)||Morrison-Bell, Sir Arthur Clive||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Herbert, S. (York, N.R., Scar. & Wh'by)||Murchison, C. K.||Turton, Edmund Russborough|
|Hilton, Cecil||Nall, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Joseph||Vaughan Morgan, Col. K. P.|
|Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Nelson Sir Frank||Wallace, Captain D. E.|
|Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D.(St. Marylebone)||Neville, R. J.||Ward, Lt.-Col. A.L.(Kingston-on-Hull)|
|Hohler, Sir Gerald Fitzroy||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.|
|Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard||Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)||Warrender, Sir Victor|
|Holland, Sir Arthur||Nicholson, O. (Westminster)||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Molt, Captain H. P.||Nicholson, Col. Rt.Hn. W.G.(Ptrsf'ld.)||Watson, Sir F. (Pudsey and Otley)|
|Homan, C. W. J.||Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert||Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)|
|Hope, Capt. A. O. J. (Warw'k, Nun.)||Nuttall Ellis||Watts, Dr. T.|
|Hopkins, J. W. W.||O'Connor, T. J. (Bedford Luton)||Wells. S. R.|
|Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)||Oman, sir Charles William C.||White, Lieut.-Colonel G. Dairymple|
|Hore-Belisha, Leslie||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William||Wiggins, William Martin|
|Horlick, Lieut.-Colonel J. N.||Pennefather, Sir John||Williams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)|
|Howard, Capt. Hon. D. (Cumb., N.)||Penny, Frederick George||Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M.(Hackney, N.)||Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)||Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)|
|Hudson, R. S. (Cumberland, Whiteh'n)||Perring, William George||Wilson, M. J. (York, N. R., Richm'd)|
|Hume, Sir G. H.||Peto, Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)||Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)|
|Home Williams, Sir W. Ellis||Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)||Winby, Colonel L. P.|
|Huntingfield, Lard||Philipson, Mabel||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Hurd, Percy A.||Pielou, D. P.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Hurst, Gerald B.||Pilcher, G.||Wise, Sir Fredric|
|Hutchison, G. A. Clark(Midl'n & P'bl's)||Power, Sir John Cecil||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Hutchison, Sir Robert (Montrose)||Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton||Womersley, W. J.|
|Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.||Preston, William||Wood, E. (Chest'r, Stalyb'dge & Hyde)|
|Jackson, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. F. S.||Price, Major C. W. M.||Wood, Sir Kingsley (Woolwich, W.).|
|Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l)||Radford, E. A.||Woodcock, Colonel H. C.|
|Jacob, A. E.||Raine, W.||Wragg, Herbert|
|James, Lieut. Colonel Hon. Cuthber)||Ramsden, E.||Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.|
|Jephcott, A. R.||Rees, Sir Beddoe|
|Joynson-Hicks, Rt. Hon. Sir William||Reid, Capt. A. S. C. (Warrington)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Kennedy, A. R. (Preston)||Reid, D. D. (County Down)||Commander B. Eyres Monsell and|
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ It being after Eleven of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.