§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ 11.5 a.m.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL (Sir Donald Somervell)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
I propose to deal first with what I conceive to be the main point of principle relied on, and I think erroneously relied on, by the opponents of this Bill. That point of principle as I conceive it is this: That this Bill is calculated to impair, or might be used to impair, the liberty of political opinion. Political opinion, if one takes the words in their ordinary meaning, is and must be directed to the manner in which the government of the country is carried on. That clearly is what political opinion means. It is addressed either to the Government of the day, or to public opinion and the electors as the ultimate controllers of our political destinies. Persuading subordinates of the Government of the day not to carry out the existing law or persuading them to disobey orders which may lawfully be given to them under the existing law, is clearly something wholly different, and is not political opinion. Nor, as I shall endeavour to show, is it related in any way to political opinion. It is a wholly different form of activity and springs from a wholly different kind of frame of mind.
We live, happily, in a democratic country, and when any one expresses a political opinion his intention is quite clear: He is hoping by the expression of h is opinions, not to undermine the loyalty of any subordinates of the State, but to persuade the electors of the country that his opinions are better than those which they at present hold. I suggest that no inference could be drawn from the mere holding of a political opinion, however extreme, that the holder was a man intending to incite soldiers to disobey their orders. If that inference, that he is intending to incite soldiers to disobey orders, is to be drawn, it can only be drawn from evidence apart and wholly different from the political opinion which he holds and expresses. This point, which I suggest is a false 526 one, has been raised, with particular relation to those who hold, as I think we all do, though our opinions are somewhat different—by those who hold strong opinions as to what policy the Government should pursue in order to maintain peace. It is with particular reference to what is called peace propaganda, or opinions in favour of a policy directed to maintain peace, that the suggestion has been made that the Bill would impair-the free expression of political opinion.
I shall endeavour to show that in this, and indeed in one or two other illustrations I shall give, the line between the holding of opinions and incitement is clear and unmistakable. We have among us the Society of Friends. If they will allow me to say so, they are respected by every section of the community, even by those who disagree most fundamentally with some of the views which they hold. They hold not only that war is wrong, but that no one, either in peace time or war time, ought to be a member of the belligerent armed Forces of the Crown. Has anyone ever suggested, or could anyone ever suggest, that the holding of those opinions justified the inference that they were intending to incite soldiers or sailors to disobey their lawful orders?
§ The SOLICITOR - GENERAL
suggest to the House that the mere holding of those opinions could not justify the inference of an intention to incite soldiers or sailors to disobey their lawful orders. The two things are wholly different, and the step from one to the other is one which no reasonable man would take and which no court of law would take. I will give another example in order to emphasise the difference which I make. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen of the Liberal party below the Gangway, who are not present in the numbers that I would like to see, hold strong and to some of us fanatical views on the subject of Free Trade. They think that protective duties are wholly wrong. Could anyone draw the inference from the fact that they hold those views, that they were intending to incite 'Customs officials not 527 to collect the protective duties which are at present imposed by Parliament? The analogy is complete. It is the difference between holding an opinion which one seeks to persuade the electors to adopt, and so to alter the policy of the Government, and seeking to persuade those who at present are charged with the duty of carrying out the law to refuse to carry out the law to which the persons expressing the opinions object.
Let me take another example. There are those with whom the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) sometimes crosses swords, those who conduct what I believe is erroneously called the anti-Dora campaign, who desire that we should be able to purchase drink, tobacco, and, I think, chocolates at any hour of the day or night. No one would suggest, and no one could suggest, that however violently they express their opinions the inference should be drawn that they were inciting the police not to carry out the restrictions which are at present the law of the land.
In more direct relation to the argument which has been raised on this Bill, there has been mention of Communism. Now, Communism, regarded as I think it could be regarded, purely as an economic theory of society, a desirable economic structure of society, has no more to do with incitement than Protection or Free Trade. The expression of political opinion on that matter is open, and if a majority of the electors of the country can he persuaded to return Members to this House who think that a Communistic organisation of society is desirable, we shall, no doubt, see Measures to that end passed through this House. It is only because Communist organisations, or some of them—it may be all or it may be only some—adopt as one of their objects the undermining of the loyalty of the troops as a prelude to revolution that their activities come within the scope of this Bill. The line, I suggest to the House, is clearly drawn. It is one which is obvious to anyone and which, I submit, could not possibly fail to be apparent to a court. So much—and I hope the House will feel that it is enough—on this very important point of principle as to the distinction between the expression of political opinion, how-.ever extreme, and the incitement of 528 subordinates of the constituted authority of the State to disobey orders which are lawful under the law as at present established.
I now pass to another question which has been asked from time to time, namely, "Why is it necessary to supplement the existing law by the introduction of this Bill?" There is also what I may describe as a supplementary question which has been asked from time to time—" Why are my right hon. and learned Friend and myself in charge of the Bill?" The answer is a simple one and has already been given. Incitement is, as we know, a felony under our existing law. Of recent years the commission of that crime has taken an organised and documentary form. That is something new in our society. Is there anyone prepared to say—do hon. Gentlemen opposite say—that it is not desirable that this should be stopped, or rather that it is desirable that it should be allowed to continue? Some speeches seemed to suggest that we should wait until a serious situation had arisen, that we should allow activities which are already criminal under our law to continue with out taking the appropriate and necessary powers to deal with them until some grave situation had arisen. That seems to me a fantastic suggestion. Leaving the stable door unlocked until the horse has been stolen may be a political principle of hon. Gentlemen opposite, but it is not one which we believe it wise to follow.
The new powers which are taken fall under two heads and I will try, as shortly as I may, to deal with them and to relate them to the new form which this criminal activity has taken. These pamphlets are, as the House knows, distributed at appropriate places not as a rule—I dare say not in any case—by the real organisers of the activity but by subordinates. Suppose it happens that the subordinates distributing those leaflets or magazines are apprehended by the police. The present procedure which only allows such offences to be dealt with by indictment as a felony is clearly inappropriate in such a case. I am putting to the House the case of someone caught in the act. There is no question of any doubt and he Must either plead guilty or the evidence will be so overwhelming that his conviction is inevitable. Now it is quite 529 inappropriate to adopt the somewhat long and cumbrous procedure of indictment for cases of that sort. The proper procedure obviously is to take the man before the magistrates. The Bill safeguards his right to trial by jury if he so desires, but in the kind of case which I am putting there would probably be a plea of guilty. The penalty which the magistrates can impose is limited and this obviously is the appropriate procedure for making it clear to the people concerned in the locality, that distributing leaflets of this sort is a game which is not worth the candle. Does anybody suggest that that is not a desirable result and that that part of the Bill is not a necessary and appropriate power for the authorities to have, having regard to this new feature in our society of organised efforts to commit this crime?
The other powers conferred by the Bill relate to the fact that this crime has taken, as I have said, a documentary; dorm. Under the existing law if the police get information as to the whereabouts of documents intended to be used for this very criminal purpose they are powerless. No offence is committed until you can prove Pan actual endeavour to seduce and contact with the soldier, sailor or member of the Air Force. That is to say although this information may be in their possession no action can be taken by the police, and although it may be known to the police where the documents are, they may be sent away to some place where it is desired to use them for a criminal purpose, the damage may be done and the offence committed without it being possible to apprehend the offenders or get the necessary evidence under the existing law to prove an offence under Section I of the Mutiny Act. It is therefore made an offence under this Bill to be in possession of documents capable of being used for this purpose provided that the prosecution can prove that the possession of the documents is with intent to use them for the criminal purpose of incitement.
My right hon. Friend dealt very fully, on Tuesday, I think it was, with the familiarity of our Criminal Law with the notion of intent, and therefore I will content myself with only two or three sentences about it. There still, I think, remains some misapprehension as to what 530 is called the onus of proof. It is clear that under this Bill it is for the prosecution to prove intent to commit the crime of incitement. Mere possession by itself is not sufficient. There has to be evidence on which the court or jury, if a man chooses to be tried by jury, must be satisfied, beyond any reasonable doubt, that not only was the accused person in possession of the documents, but that possession was with a criminal intent, namely, that he intended to use them for the purposes of incitement.
Subsidiary to that is the power, subject to the safeguards in the Bill, to grant a search warrant. References have been made from time to time as to what happened in the eighteenth century. There is no resemblance of any kind, in my opinion, to the general warrants which were the subject matter of those cases. In those cases the court was confronted with the fact that a Secretary of State, at his own discretion, subject to no statutory or other conditions, was issuing warrants. The warrant in the Wilkes case had not the faintest resemblance to anything in this Bill. That was a warrant issued by a Secretary of State, when no person had been charged or even suspected, to arrest the authors, printers, and publishers of No. 45 of "The North Briton" It gave that power to four messengers and a constable to ransack the country and, at their discretion, to arrest anybody whom they thought might be implicated and bring him to the Secretary of State. They did in fact arrest some 49 persons, many of whom were as innocent of having had anything to do with the copy of "The North Briton" in question as the Secretary of State who issued the warrant. The point in that case was that a warrant for the arrest of some persons must specify the persons to be arrested. It has nothing to do with what we are discussing here.
In the Entick v. Carrington case there was the same point, that the warrant there was issued by a Secretary of State, and he claimed the power under the Common Law, without statutory authority, to issue such a warrant. The generality of the warrant in that case was that it authorised the messengers to take all books and papers. I am not sure that it did not go further and enjoin them to take them. That is why it is referred to as a general search warrant. 531 The warrant in this Bill, which follows the line of the warrants in the many other Statutes, gives authority only to take documents which the officer has reasonable ground for suspecting to be evidence of the commission of such an offence. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite laugh. I do not know why. Of course, it has to be reasonable ground. It cannot be decided affirmatively that the thing is evidence except by a court of law, but the onus is placed on the policeman of satisfying the court, and I do not think anyone will have the temerity to suggest that, as between the subject and the executive, the courts of this country are not scrupulously fair to see that our liberties are protected. The onus would be placed on the police officer of satisfying the court that he had reasonable ground for suspecting that the document which he took was evidence of the offence, and, quite plainly, that rules out altogether the generality of a warrant which entitles a policeman to put everything in a portmanteau, take if off, and rummage through it to see if he can find anything which the Government of the day might think useful.
Quite apart from that old and, in my respectful submission, quite irrelevant matter which has been introduced into this controversy, let me say a word or two with regard to the place of this power of search in our existing law as Parliament has laid it down in successive Statutes for, say, the last hundred years. I have received resolutions suggesting that this is an unprecedented power. That is wholly untrue. So far from being anything unprecedented, it would be very much more true to say that a study of our Statute law shows that in most if not in all cases where either some object or some document is, from its nature, the instrument of a crime, the power to issue a search warrant has been conferred on the authorities by successive Statutes passed by this House. [An HON. MEMBER: "A particular document."]Not a particular document. I will not weary the House by going through the details, but take the case of forged documents. There are many things, and it depends on the nature of the offence. I am meeting the argument that this is an unprecedented power. I wholly dispute that, and I say that the study of our Statute Book 532 supports the proposition which I am putting forward, that in cases where either some object or document is, from its nature, the instrument of a crime, you will find that the power to search, subject in many cases to very much lesser safeguards than are in this Bill, has been conferred by Parliament on the authorities. There have been one or two references to abuse of the power by the police. I do not accept them, but it is true to say that although one or two instances have been given of suggested abuse of this power, widely placed in the hands of the police in some 40 or 50 Statutes, the evidence as to abuse has been negligible in the course of our discussions.
May I say a word or two with regard to the fact that we have, during our discussions upstairs and on the Floor of the. House, accepted a number of Amendments. Apprehensions were expressed, when the Bill was introduced in its original form, that there might be oppressive action under it. Those apprehensions were, I think, based—I do not think anybody would dispute this—on the assumption of either irresponsible or prejudiced action by either the police or the magistrates. We did not, and we do not, ourselves think that those assumptions were justified by the facts, but we were perfectly ready to meet fairly the apprehensions expressed from any responsible quarter, while safeguarding the essentials of the Bill. In that spirit we have endeavoured to meet the various apprehensions which have been put forward and to accept the various special safeguards which have been suggested.
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman think that the Government would have preferred the Bill still to be in its original form?
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
I do not think that that is a very relevant question. We are saying that we agree that the Bill should be in the amended form, and it is perfectly fair to say that, although we are ready to put in this or that safeguard, we do not think the evil which the safeguard is designed to meet would have occurred if it had not expressly been put in. Our ears have been opened to suggestions from any responsible quarter. Hon. Gentlemen choose to sit opposite to us and oppose us, but they cannot prevent our approaching this 533 and other questions in a. national spirit. That concludes a brief and, I hope the House will feel a sufficient, presentation of what I conceive to be the arguments on the main points raised and the justification which the Government put before the House for this Bill. Hon. Gentlemen above and below the Gangway have no doubt made up their minds on the course of action which they propose to take today, but they will not resent my expressing, in conclusion, my own profound conviction that those who vote against this Bill to-day are not voting on the side of liberty but on the side of the enemies of liberty. They are not voting for the freedom of expression of political opinion, but for the encouragement of criminal activities. They are not voting for those who, like ourselves, desire that our country should develop and progress by constitutional means in peace with other nations of the world; but they are voting on the side of those who desire to undermine constitutional authority as a prelude to revolution and strife throughout the world.
§ 11.38 p.m.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I beg to move to leave out "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add, "upon this day three months."
I should like to say at the outset that none of us on this side will find fault with the manner in which the hon. and learned Gentleman has moved the Third Beading. I am moving the rejection of the Bill for exactly the reasons with which he concluded, because I believe that by rejecting this Measure we shall establish freedom in the country and save many people from a good deal of persecution. I have one duty which I should like to fulfil first. The other night I very vehemently, on the spur of the moment, gave the story of an officer at Archangel, and I made a bad mistake in saying that he was not court martialled. I had in my mind the fact, which I think is correct, that he was told on the 16th August that the private letter he had written was improper, but that in view of his good record he would not be court martialled, but relieved of his command and sent home. On the spur of the moment, and speaking also impromptu, I forgot that that decision of Lord Bawlinson was over-ridden in London by the Secretary of State for War, and that the officer was court martialled. He was 534 court martialled, however, not on a charge of writing that private letter, but for something that happened subsequently, namely, for writing letters to the Press contrary to Paragraph 456 of the King's Regulations. To that he pleaded guilty, and the sentence promulgated was severe reprimand.
I only want to say that I do not think a private soldier guilty of the sort of letters that were written to the Press at that time would have got off so easily. I think the doctrine of intent would have come in. I do not want to argue that because the case I was trying to argue the other night was that a private soldier had not at his command the privilege of handing in his commission, and the Attorney-General and I in the end came to an agreement that an officer could hand in his commission and that in most cases his resignation was accepted. Other cases could be quoted, but I am content to leave the matter as it was left between the Attorney-General and myself. I thought I ought to apologise to the House for inadvertently misleading it in my speech the other night.
I have read what the Attorney-General said previous to the Debates this week on the question whether the Bill is necessary or not. I have not heard a scrap of evidence that it is necessary. I invite the Attorney-General to tell us when he winds up on what evidence he bases the necessity for this Bill. All the speakers on that side and the speakers on this side and below the Gangway agree that the men serving with the Forces are happy and contented with their lot in the Army, Navy and Air service. No one, I think, has said that there is disaffection among those serving in His Majesty's Forces. No one has said that there is even incipient disaffection. The next point is that these men are now citizens. That is a fact which is often forgotten in these discussions. A soldier has as much right to political opinions and to express himself on questions of peace and war as anyone in this House. He has the right to vote now, and, if that be so, he has the right to listen to the propaganda and to anybody who has anything to say. His wife and he go to the poll and are equal on that day and at that moment with the commanding officer and the wife of the commanding officer. They are a part of the British democracy, and, therefore, a Quaker or others with a peace policy, or 535 a Socialist or a Communist, a Liberal, a Tory or a Tolstoyan, have a right, we contend—[Interruption.] Well, I am not so sure. Let the hon. and learned Gentleman wait a minute, because he has told us that the Army must be saved from the danger of seditious propaganda.
There are a considerable number of people who maintain that the mere preaching of Socialism is seditious. It is all very well for the hon. and learned Gentleman to shake his head. The point I am making is that the promulgation. of Communist or Socialist principles among the troops might be regarded by those who will have to judge this matter as seditious propaganda. I think any fair-minded person will agree that that is so. I read the literature issued on behalf of the Tory party, and we are described as the enemies of our King and country, and I am perfectly certain that if any of us were caught really preaching pure and simple Socialism by the people who write those leaflets and distribute them we should have very short shrift indeed. All the argument this morning has been that the Bill is so clear. The first Clause has been the law of the land for many years, and I repeat that no one has yet given any reason why the law should now be strengthened. I am asked this morning, and I dare say I shall be asked again by the rest of the House, to agree that British law is always administered in a fair and equitable manner between people of all shades of opinion. We know it was not so in the past—a 100 years ago. Even the most Tory die-hard will agree that a 100 years ago people who held the sort of views that some of us hold were treated as felons merely because of our views. The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite said that that party there were taking these precautions because they were not going to leave the door open and wait till the horse had been stolen. But what about the gentlemen who organised the Curragh strike? What about the gentlemen who raised 100,000 soldiers in Northern Ireland, reviewed them as an army and carried on an incessant campaign against the law and order of that country?
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Excuse me. The hon. and learned Gentleman will have his 536 opportunity. I feel very strongly about this, because one measure was meted out to myself and others connected with the suffrage movement and another to the Carsonites and those who raised that army. I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman when he replies whether he will stand at that Box and contend that, had the Communist party been in existence in the years 1906-1914, he and the Government of which he is a member would have allowed them to raise an army of 100,000 men, arm them and drill them and make speeches defying the Government to touch them? Everybody knows that they would not have allowed that to be done.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I do not care who was in power. That only makes it worse, because it proves that the two great parties in the State united to allow that seditious propaganda to be carried on. If hon. Members are to take that view because only a short time ago a Liberal Government allowed the Tories in Ulster to carry out seditious propaganda and action, I say, speaking for myself, that I am a person who would allow anyone to preach any doctrine, at any time, in any place, so long as he was not interfering with the liberty of other people—I mean the liberty of other people to preach the same as themselves, that is all I mean; but I would always stop preparations for civil war. I want the Attorney-General to take the point I am making quite seriously—it is that we who sit on these benches do not accept at their face value the statements made about the equality of citizens before the law in regard to political action, and I ask him to give me an answer to this question. If it was right that Lord Carson, Lord Londonderry, Mr. Bonar Law and the whole troops of the Tory party should organise as they did, was it right to persecute and prosecute women by the hundreds in this country who did nothing comparable with what was done in Northern Ireland?
It may be said that nothing very much happened, but very much did happen. First of all, Lord Carson and his friends got their way. In the midst of a war they put a pistol to the head of the Gov- 537 ernment, and compelled this House to hold up a piece of legislation which had been passed in a constitutional manner, and did not allow the King's writ to run in Northern Ireland; and they caused all the difficulties which this country has since had to confront in Ireland. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Yes, most certainly. I want to point out that what was done then has given the excuse for the continual propaganda which men like myself have to stand up to, which is that when the time comes for the Labour and Socialist party to sit on the Treasury Bench, with a majority behind it, the same treatment will be meted out to it as was meted out to the Home Rule Government between 1906 and 1914. I venture to say that when the history of the last 25 or 30 years comes to be written the historian will record the fact that Lord Carson and his friends definitely struck one of the worst blows against constitutionalism which has ever been struck in this country. I will say to hon. Gentlemen from Ulster that it is not that I do not respect those who fought for what they believed to be right. I see that one hon. Gentleman shakes his head. Hardly a meeting do address without people putting questions to me on these lines: "Do you really believe that the possessing classes will allow you to do by Act of Parliament the things you want to do?" and when I say "Yes," they immediately shout: "What about Ulster?" No one can get away from that fact. I have raised that point many times, because, more than I can say, I want Socialism to come in this country by peaceful constitutional means. I believe that all of us want that too.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The right hon. and learned Gentleman does not want Socialism. We do. If you read the Debates in the House of Commons for the years 1910 to 1912, you will see that it so happened that, whilst Lord Carson was doing the things to which I have referred, the suffragettes were doing some illegal things, and I made an illegal speech and was sent to prison. I probably deserved it. While Tom Mann and a Tolstoyan workman, somewhere out in Hampshire, were printing leaflets which said: "Don't shoot in a strike," Lord Carson was inviting people to get 538 ready to destroy the Constitution, and he was allowed—[Interruption.] I know it is said that he had motives. I had an excellent motive when I made the speech that sent me to prison, and Crowsley had an excellent motive when he printed that leaflet. The point is that there was differentiation in treatment between one set of propagandists and another. Those who were propaganding by gun got scot free, that is, Lord Carson and his friends, and those —I remember the old saying about killing Kruger with your tongue—who were only using their tongues, were sent to prison. That shows that the law is not equitably administered.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I am jolly glad that I do not, because what I have pointed out proves that the law is "an ass." I want to give credit to the Bishop of Birmingham; I am now going back again to the question of intent. I remember quite well the present Lord Reading, who took part in helping to get me to prison. I have a, great respect for him too, although he did that. The whole of the theory about me was the intent of what I did. It did not matter that I had good motives. Here is a speaker, the Bishop of Birmingham; there is also a Canon of St. Paul's Cathedral called Dr. Sheppard, who is a very respected priest in the Anglican church. Dr. Sheppard has issued a leaflet, and I suggest that if that had been issued by Bolshevist communists, it would have got them landed into gaol, even now. I am quite sure of it. The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows the document quite well.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL indicated dissent.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Well, he ought to do so. The Director of Public Prosecutions is not doing his duty, and neither is the right hon. and learned Gentleman's devil. Dr. Sheppard does not discriminate; he invites everybody, not excluding soldiers or airmen, to say that war is against the Christian religion, and that as Christians they will not engage in war in any circumstances, directly or indirectly.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I hope that some of the men in the Army and in the Services are Christians. I am sure that the Noble Lady would not like me to say that all the men in the Services are Atheists, because I am not going to say SO.
I do not mean that. I represent some of those men. I must say that people should not fight if they are Christians, hut I have a pretty high standard of what a Christian is. A Christian should not love the things of this world. I do not know many Christians; I know a lot of people who would like to be Christians, but I have not come across many Christians.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The longer I know myself the more certain I am about that matter, and I do not sit in judgment upon other people. The point I am making is that Dr. Sheppard has appealed to everybody to sign and send to him a letter saying that they will never in any circumstances engage in war. It is perfectly legal and right for him to say that, but what is his intent? So as to save time I will include the Bishop of Birmingham. I do not think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman did himself justice the other night when he dealt with this matter. The Bishop of Birmingham has said to the Attorney-General:To clear up the obscurity which surrounds this Bill, I would put a concrete question to Sir Thomas Inskip. I regard the policy of the Government of India towards the tribes of the North-West Frontier with abhorrence. These tribesmen, with their wives and children, suffer periodically from famine, and then the men raid the more fertile plains. The Government would do well to drive roads up their valleys …and so on, and then lie goes on to say:Such a policy has not been attempted. Instead, whenever there are signs of disaffection, bombing aeroplanes are sent up, which have to fly high to escape bullets and consequently rain down indiscriminate destruction. I desire that this barbarism should cease. Knowing that my words, as published in the English Press, may reach members of the Royal Air Force concerned. I say that I cannot think that a Christian man should act under orders in this way.I ask the Attorney-General to tell me the intent of those words. The intent to me is that he wants those men in the Air Force who are considered to have an allegiance to religion and to God to disobey orders when they are told to bomb on the North-West Frontier. I think that 540 is what the words mean to ordinary people—not legal people. The Bishop continues:
Naturally, I should be glad if officers and men represented to the political authorities that they felt unable to be the instruments of this policy.An officer cam do so, but the men cannot.Am I not by these words committing an offence under Section 1 of the proposed Bill? Further, if my wife, with intent to spread my opinions, has in her possession a marked copy of a newspaper containing the statement which I have made, would she not be guilty of an offence under Section 2' of the Act?Then the Bishop goes on:Of course, I presume that, if the Bill passes into law, the Government will not take action against me for this promulgation of my views.If the Bishop continues to promulgate that view, and if he really believes what he says—and I have a great respect for him—he ought to get himself invited down to Aldershot, or wherever there is an Air Force, and preach to the men exactly what he has stated there. Otherwise, he will be considered one of those men who face this way and that way—a Mr. Facing Both Ways; and I do not think that that charge can be made against the Bishop of Birmingham. In any case I want the Attorney-General to tell me, leaving the Bishop of Birmingham and Dr. Sheppard out of it, whether, if a Communist goes down to Aldershot and says, "I believe that bombing people or fighting in a war under any circumstances is an outrage against the common brotherhood of the masses of people anywhere," he would be entitled to do that? An hon. Member says "Yes." Is he entitled to say what is said here—that the men, when called upon to carry out their duties, should not do so because of their loyalty, not to God as understood by the Christian Church, but to their fellow men in other lands and here? I think we ought to have a clear and definite answer to that question.
I know that many Members want to, speak, so I will only detain the House on one other point. It is said that this is not a general search; but the policeman or whoever makes the search is the person who will have to decide whether a particular document is the one that he wants or not. That is perfectly clear. I know I shall be thought to be a very 541 seditious person, but it so happens that a search was made in an office with which I was connected. The lunacy of the business! They came to search for a book. They never found it, because I had sent a copy to every Member of the House of Commons and every Member of the House of Lords, and thereby exhausted the first edition. The serious part of the business is this: It is said that this is not going to interfere with anything, but it is interfering already, I beg to tell the Attorney-General. There is a publisher who wishes to publish a Christmas annual, using Christmas as an opportunity to put good pacifist propaganda across. But the printer will not print it. He is too frightened. He says, "The Bill will become law, and, if this gets taken down to Aldershot or to the air centres and sold or distributed, I shall be liable to the penalties in the Bill," and there is no answer to him. I have had a letter asking me what is to happen. I think I should turn him on to the Attorney-General—
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Of course, the Attorney-General will. I am not going to say that the right hon. and learned Gentleman loves war or anything of the kind, but he thinks that war may be necessary, that we may have to use armed forces and so on. Therefore, I should not trust him as a good judge of pacifist propaganda. Why should I? I would not trust him as a good judge of what Socialism is, because he does not know, and he would not trust me as a good judge of Conservatism. One is brought back to the question of who is to decide, as you have been trying to decide ever since this sort of legislation has been on the Statute Book, what is in people's minds. I think that that is the most dangerous thing possible to try to put in an Act of Parliament.
All that I want now to say is this. We are meeting, not in the House of Commons where men fought for and won for us such liberties as we enjoy to-day, but in essence it is the same House, because it is the representative Chamber of the Commons of England. Our fathers—those who belonged to the working class and those who belonged to the middle class—all had to struggle and fight for the right to think what they pleased in 542 regard to religion. While I was ill, I read a lecture delivered by an American gentleman—I think he might be described as an American philosopher—at Oxford, in which he was endeavouring to show that the uprising, as it were, in the religious thought of our country which ushered in the Protestant revolution in religious thought was the first step forward which led on to the fight for political freedom in this country.
Whatever we may think of those I have mentioned this morning, it is extraordinary that, on the question of war and on the question of social conditions, the conscience of those who profess and call themselves Christians and leaders of Christianity appears at long last to be wakening up and expressing itself; and I think that, instead of trying to restrict that, either in the case of Bishops or Canons or the most insignificant person in the land, we ought to encourage it. We ought to spread abroad as far as ever we can the principle of tolerance to one another, the principle of the right of men and women to individual thought and to the expression of individual thought. Democracy is on trial throughout the world. Democracy does not mean machine-made opinions; it does not mean controlled opinions; it does not mean control of the expression of opinions; and I am standing here to oppose this Bill because I believe that it is a dying effort to restrict the expression of opinion. I want to see the democracy free itself from the thraldom of the machines of parties—including my own. It is because I want to see men and women able to express themselves in their own way according to their own thought, and because I believe that this Bill will stop that, or at least will tend to stop it, that I am speaking against it here this morning.
§ 12.15 p.m.
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT
I would like, first of all, to express my congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman who has just resumed his seat, and, if I may very humbly, to associate myself with every word he has uttered in relation to this Bill. Before I speak on the merits of the Bill, I would like to pay some tribute to the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General in the conduct of this Measure. They have had, I think, in spite of the enthusiasm with which the peroration 543 was given this morning, a task which they must have regarded as being something of a burden, but since the introduction of the Bill in May, from my own observation on the Floor of the House, and, according to the information given me by my friends, in the 16 sittings of the Committee upstairs, they have conducted the Bill not only with great ability, which of course we should expect, but also with great forbearance and good humour. When some of these questions were discussed in the eighteenth century, a very prominent politician compared the Law Officers of the Crown at that time to the elephants in an Eastern army which, with their noise and dust, bewildered their own troops a great deal more than they harmed the enemy. This Government has been better served in its Law Officers, and better served particularly by the Amendments they have accepted.
The Bill is a very different Bill from the one which was before the House in May. The Law Officers of the Crown have had to fight a retreating action. They have done it with great grace and ability. I still think that this is a bad Bill, but, as introduced, it was a monstrous Bill, and the real responsibility of the Government for the Bill as they wanted to have it brought before the country is not for the amended Bill. The desire of the Government was the Bill as it was introduced, and the responsibility of the Government was foe the Bill as it was introduced. As the Bill was brought before the House, is, sought to put the onus upon the man charged to prove his innocence. The very virtues emphasised by the Solicitor-General to-day, are, for the most part, contained in the Amendments. He spoke very proudly of the right which the charged man would have of trial by jury. That was not in the Bill as printed and submitted to the House. We know what has been done as to the alteration of the power of search and as to taking the power out of the hands of the individual magistrate. We shall suggest, in what we have to say to the country, that if you want the mind of the Government it was expressed in the Bill as introduced, and if it had not been for the very strenuous opposition put up by a very small minority, the likelihood is that the Bill to-day would very much 544 more resemble the Bill of May than the Bill of November.
The Solicitor-General and the Attorney-General will, I think, feel like free men when this Bill is passed. The Ancient Mariner, when assured that the albatross was off his shoulders will, I think, be comparable with the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General when they are free of this Bill. I would sacrifice columns of the OFFICIAL REPORT and all the speeches of the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General if I could only have five minutes of the conversation which they had with each other when first they learnt of the sort of Bill they had to present to the House of Commons. It is the sort of Bill that is brought in by a Government with a 500 majority. If it had been a 50 majority, we should never have seen it. This morning the Solicitor-General went out of his way to refer to the paucity of Members on these benches, but I think our representation is better than that of the Government. Here is a Measure which, in the terms of the Attorney-General, was for the preserving of liberty. For the most part crucial Amendments have been carried, in many cases with a majority of 300 in this House when not a score of the Government supporters have heard a word of the Debates. The representation on the Opposition Benches was very much larger. If there is any complaint, it is on the part of the supporters of the Government. In fact, on two occasions they could not get a quorum to attend the Committee. I think it was very delicate territory for the Solicitor-General to tread upon. I remember reading about a famous Treasury official of the days of Pitt, of whom it was said that" when there was brought before him some proposal which outraged Parliamentary precedent he always used to say "Dear, dear, we shall have to apply our majority to this."
We oppose this Bill absolutely on contrary grounds from those stated by the Solicitor-General, because we do not want to see the power of the executive enlarged over the individual. We are seeing the power of the executive enlarged throughout the world. This is really touching our philosophy—the vital part of our political life. It enlarges and, as we think, unnecessarily enlarges, the power of the executive over the 545 individual. I quite agree that it is very difficult to draw a line, and all the classic political controversies have been on the question as to where the line is to be drawn. I have never stood for liberty as liberty. I stand for ordered liberty, and not merely for freedom or for government, but for free government, and the historic object of the party with which I am associated is the realisation of liberty within the commonwealth. I think that the onus must rest upon the executive when it seeks to enlarge its powers, and that onus here has not been discharged.
There is in the country a remarkable opposition such as we have not seen for a long time. You can get an opposition in the country when it is organised by a party, and it is open to the suspicion of partisanship, but this has been an altogether unusual opposition. Eminent lawyers who have never taken any part in any political controversy have come definitely into the field against this Measure. A meeting was held the other day in Trafalgar Square—I was not able to attend it—and the remarkable thing was that it did not merely represent the extremists in the country, the Communists, but the Quakers, to whom the Solicitor-General made reference just now. He was quite wrong when he said they were holding opinions the propagation of which would never have effect on the Forces. Quakers are held to be very respectable people to-day. It was not always so in our history, and when there were times of war or serious disturbance, let the Solicitor-General see what was written by Henry Cromwell back in the time of the civil war as to the difficulty he had with the troops he had in Ireland by the mere propagation of their pacifist opinion. There is some evidence in the late War as to others who, for instance, published without comment the Sermon on the Mount, and it was destroyed as seditious literature. I will give the reference later on.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I do not know if the hon. Member is aware that, when a Quaker deputation mentioned that to me and I asked them what was their authority, they said they had scoured the country for evidence of its truth, and they were bound to admit that it was ill-founded.
§ Mr. FOOT
I accept that, but I think a man who wished to incite the troops could do it by a certain preparation of Biblical passages. [Interruption,.] I have heard that and that is the general answer made by authority against the champions of liberty. It is not merely that you have had eminent lawyers but supporters of the Government have been attacking the Bill. There is a magazine which has a very wide circulation and is very influential—the "News Letter." The Solicitor-General said just now that this is a Bill brought in in the national spirit, and the 12 Members who were supporting it at that time cheered as loudly as they are entitled to do on a Friday morning. In the "News Letter" for August the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman), answering the charge that this is a Tory Government, asserted that this is a Tory Measure spatchcocked into the work of the National Government. I was pleased to see the other day that in the general exercise of his independence, the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Knight) dissociated himself expressly from this Measure and said that in his opinion the existing law was quite sufficient.
§ Mr. HOLFORD KNIGHT
I have said, and I desire to say now, that in the absence of evidence warranting these changes I think the present law is sufficient. That is an opinion founded upon long experience at the Bar in connection with these matters.
§ Mr. FOOT
There appeared in the "Times" last week a report of a speech by Lord Allen, one of the intelligentsia among the supporters of the Prime Minister. He spoke in the strongest possible terms against this Bill and said that in the absence of evidence of need it ought to be withdrawn. He said that, once it was on the Statute Book, a far more deadly wound would be inflicted upon British freedom of thought than might be realised. He started by saying he disapproved of the criticism of the Bill made by many people. He went on to say that he was a supporter of the Government but in that speech, in stronger language than I have used or shall use, he condemned the Bill as being an invasion of the liberties of the people. The other day there was an election at Lambeth and the Government candidate 547 was asked what was his attitude towards the Bill. Rejoicing in the support of a letter from the Foreign Secretary, one from the Prime Minister and another from the Lord President of the Council, he practically said that he would not touch this Measure with a barge pole.
§ Mr. FOOT
I think that is why he saved his deposit. Look at the character of the opposition. Whatever may be our differences in the House, we can pride ourselves upon the character of the opposition. The people who have come out into the field 'against the Bill are not themselves affected. They are fighting for what they believe to be a small and unpopular minority. I regard it as one of the most wholesome features in our public life that the introduction of this Bill has caused such a reaction as it has, and I am certain that the Amendments of which we have heard so much would not have been introduced were it not that the strong opposition from one end of the country to the other has had an effect upon the national mind.
I am sorry that we have come to the end of our Debates without knowing who is the real author of this Bill. I thought the Attorney-General was going to give us an answer to that question the other day. He said he had been asked who was the author. The answer was His Majesty's Government. Who is the author? Whose image and superscription is it? My sympathy is with the Attorney-General and with the Solicitor-General. I think they have carried their burden with great credit to themselves. But where were the Service representatives Is there one here to-day? I do not think the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Blindell) would claim to be that, nor the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Yeovil (Major Davies) next him. I have watched with great care to see if the Service representatives would tell us something of the difficulties with which the Bill is intended to deal. On one occasion the Civil Lord of the Admiralty appeared. But I think he did not know what was going on. When he found that his presence was realised he departed. We have heard nothing from the Admiralty and nothing from the Air Force. We have not had the Prime Minister except this morning. 548 He might really explain what is the difference between the policy that he condemned in such tremendous language when it was proposed by a Tory Government a few years ago and that which is now embodied in one of his own Bills. I have been looking in particular for the Foreign Secretary, who makes such swelling declarations upon liberty. Where is he? I learned a great deal about liberty from him. In a letter that he wrote the other day to a Tory candidate when a Liberal was standing, he said, "It is not enough to be on the touchline. You must take your part in the scrum." 'Did he take his part in the scrum on this Bill? We are told of the great influence exercised by friends of his upon what would otherwise be a Tory Government. Is this a product of that individual contribution? We want to know where he is.Achilles ponders in his tent,The kings of modern thought are dumb,Silent they are though not content,And wait to see the future come.They have the grief men had of yore,But they contend and strive no more.[HON. MEMBERS: "Author!"] He was not a member of this House, but he was one who was a very good teacher of Liberalism. So far he has been very careful to avoid any reference to it. This morning the Solicitor-General, in a speech to which I listened with much admiration, came back to what he said was the essential part of this Measure. We are all agreed upon the offence. That is not a matter of controversy. I do not yield to him in the slightest in condemning the offence of seducing a soldier, sailor or airman from his duty and allegiance. Therefore, inasmuch as we are agreed upon that, all the arguments upon that point are irrelevant. We are dealing with what is the disputed territory. We want to know, first of all, if you are going to enlarge the power of the Executive and do what has not been done before, where is the necessity. That is what Lord Allen asked. Lord Allen stated in his speech that the Government had that obligation. He said:It would be interesting to know how many cases have been brought before the courts during the last two or three years, as compared with the three years previously I believe there is no real evidence proving the need of this Bill and, even if there were, all such cases could be dealt with under the existing law.If the Government reply that they have evidence of preparations for the commission 549 of these crimes, even if they have no evidence of their actual commission, again I answer: Let us know what that evidence is.'That was said by a Government supporter. I expressed great surprise on the Second Reading that upon the evidence given to us this Bill should be introduced. When we were told that about 50,000 pamphlets were published in the course of a year, and the Attorney-General spoke of pamphlets being scattered all over the parade ground, 50,000 of them scattered in this country, he was, quoting something in the year 1932 and in 1933, and we had no figures for 1934. In fact, the Solicitor-General on the Second Reading said that there was no sedition in the Army or the Navy, and no apprehension of sedition in the Army or the Navy. I can quote the actual words if this is not a fair representation of the view of the Solicitor-General. If there were an emergency, I should support an emergency Measure, hut there is not an emergency, and, upon the arguments of the Government's spokesmen themselves, this is an unnecessary Measure to bring in at this time with its grave possibilities. We have gone back to the Mutiny Act of 1797. I ask Members of the House if it is not irony that here in the year 1934 we should be going back for precedent to an Act that was passed at a time, above all times in our English history, we should like to forget—a time of fear, apprehension and panic—and an Act which even then the Government would not make a permanent Act. They brought it in as a temporary Measure, and it was only made permanent in that year in English history, the year of the Tolpuddle martyrs, the year of their expulsion. It was in 1816 or thereabouts.
§ Mr. FOOT
It was about that time. The expulsions were about that time. The interval at any rate between 1797 and the time that this Measure was framed is the interval which the Attorney-General and the rest of us would regard as being an interval which in some respects politically might very well be wiped out of our national memory. But here is a Bill which not only takes that Act but makes it worse. If they had kept in the word "and" 550 instead of the word "or" it would have retained the words of that Act. It is useless for the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General to say that this is a matter of no importance. It is a matter which has occupied a very prominent place in what has been said by eminent lawyers outside, and, if it were not of importance, why was not an Amendment accepted when so many concessions were being made? I cannot help thinking that if the Attorney-General had regarded it as of so little consequence he would not have made that, concession along with the others. In defence of what he has to say, the Attorney-General was prepared to use an argument thoroughly inconsistent with his declared argument on the Second Reading as to the liability upon the layman and upon the soldier and the sailor, which, I think, went beyond whatever he had intended to say.
Look at this question of search upon which the Solicitor-General has been speaking. We were told about the search and about the search for evil documents, and the Attorney-General replied to me about the Betting Bill and scored a very effective debating point. I recognise that every document is suspected for the time being, but there is a difference between the two circumstances, and the argument we wish to make is that this is not a search for a specific thing. That is the difference. You can search in a house for a betting slip because a betting slip is a betting slip. You can search for counterfeit coins or counterfeit machines because they are specific things, but here you are to search for something which, according to the Solicitor-General this morning, is in its nature an instrument of the offence. It is the trouble of deciding what its nature is. We had a controversy here the other afternoon between the hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) and the hon. Member for East Fulham (Mr. Wilmot). We heard the different views expressed. It is one of the advantages of this House that you can hear the clash of contending thought, and we have to hear the other side. Suppose those two gentlemen were policemen, each carrying out his duty in a search which is being made to find out whether in a given house there is literature which indicates an offence under this Bill. Do 551 you think they are going to come to the same conclusion?
§ Mr. FOOT
Who says "Yes"? If it be thought so, I shall be glad to hear the Attorney-General answer promptly if he thinks that the hon. Member for East Fulham, going to a house and looking at documents which bear on the charge would come to the same conclusion as the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for South Paddington. I think he is mistaken. The one might regard the documents as harmless, but in the eyes of the other they would be seditious and harmful. That is my submission. We have heard the assumption made by the Attorney-General that here is a normal Act being administered by normal people at normal times. I should be content if that were done. I will accept the argument from the Solicitor-General. Taking a normal Act administered by normal people at normal times you can limit its mischief. You have, first of all, to remember that you are dealing with what may be abnormal times. That is the real question. It is a time when everyone grows suspicious and fearful and a time of rumour like it was when everyone thought that the Russians had passed through this country. The time was abnormal. We all know that a nation has its times of dilemma. We have had times of dilemma, and no one reflects upon them with pride. It is the time of danger, panic, fear and dilemma in which this Bill may have to be administered, and you have to deal not with normal people, but with abnormal people. The Attorney-General was using an argument the other evening in which he said that character does not come into it. Does he mean that? He said that evidence could not be given about character. What evidence need be given about character when the awkward man is brought before his local bench. The awkward man is known in every district. The awkward man in a town is the man who has made what some people regard as seditious speeches in the market place and is very well known. Does the Attorney-General suggest to the House of Commons that when that man comes before the bench it is necessary that evidence should be given and that if evidence of character be not given it will not enable the magis 552 trates to decide upon or be influenced by it. We read in Thomas Gray of the…village Hampden, that with dauntless breastThe little tyrant of his fields withstood.But the village Hampden is to go before the local bench, with the petty tyrant sitting on the bench. I might mention what was said by a great Conservative statesman, I think the greatest mind that was ever applied to English politics, a man who looked as few others did upon the law and its administration. What he said was, and I referred to his words the other day, was that:In times of high controversy it is the suspected and the obnoxious who need the protection of the law.Here we are dealing with abnormal people and with an Act which may have to be dealt with at abnormal times. I commend that view to the attention of the House, because I am sure that it has provoked a great deal of opposition. I have spoken of there being no necessity for the Bill. I think it is a great pity that it should have been introduced at this time. What an advertisement to the world. With a National Government doing such wonderful work that we ought all to be vastly contented and filled with a sense of gratitude for their achievements, we have to come back and on the first day of the resumed Session we have to give three days to discussing this Bill, after all the wonderful work that has been done, according to the National Government themselves. Last week a servant girl was fined 10s. under an ancient Statute for having written her own testimonial. I should have thought that there might have been excuse for her on the ground that example had been set her in high places.
At a time like this when it is the open boast on every Government platform that whatever may happen in the rest of the world, with a troubled world shaking to and fro with shock and vicissitude, we are a steady and happy people, we have to give three days when Parliament reassembles to deal with potential disaffection in the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. I wonder what the Attorney General and the Solicitor-General have said to each other about this Bill. I would like to know what the soldiers, the sailors and airmen have to say about it. The Government talk about the Mutiny Act. What sort of men did the 553 Mutiny Act contemplate? In the Army and Navy at that time were the products of the press gang, men living under conditions that were an offence to God and man. To-day, the soldier, the sailor and the airmail share in our measure of educated democracy and the suggestion that he is a sort of semi-lunatic, or a half imbecile who is going to be knocked off his mental equilibrium because a pamphlet is put into his hands, is an insult to the members of His Majesty's Forces.
The Government have done more by introducing this Bill and giving time to it to draw attention to disaffection in the Army and Navy than was ever done by those wretched publications, "The Red Signal," "The Soldiers Voice," and the rest of them that have been distributed. The Bill is a mistake. From my knowledge of soldiers and sailors, they are as capable of judging what is the meaning of a pamphlet put into their hands as any gentleman who sits on the Front Government Bench, or upon any of the benches in this House. Why then are we so nervous about it, when we cannot prove the reality of the danger? It is an extraordinary thing that there has not been put before the House one scrap of evidence to show that a single airman, a single soldier or a single sailor has been deflected a hair's breadth from the allegiance that he owes to the Crown. That being so, I say to the Government that if there is potential discontent they should deal with it as they ought to deal with discontent.
If the time ever comes, which God forbid, when the soldiers and the sailors feel that their mothers, their brothers, their sisters are living under evil conditions and are being wrongfully treated by the Government of the day, nothing will make them shoot in an industrial dispute. It is discontent with which you have to deal. That was what Thomas Carlyle spoke of. When the soldiers were asked to shoot down their brothers and fathers who were living at home on boiled grass, that was the critical time in the French Revolution, and the men said, "We will not shoot." Do the Government think that if such trouble comes, the soldiers and sailors will look up a section of an Act of Parliament to decide what they are going to do? 554 This is a preposterous Measure. The Government have given away a good deal, and it would have been a good day for the country and for the reputation of the Government if they had withdrawn the Bill. It would have been a great gesture to the world. We should have been saying, "Whilst other Executives are increasing their power, limiting the rights and liberties of the individuals, we say that we do not need these restrictions, because the contentment of which we have spoken is justified. We will rely upon that liberty under which we have grown great." On the ground of liberty, which is the most precious thing we have, I oppose the Bill. It unnecessarily enlarges the power of the Executive. It puts potential powers not so much in the hands of present Ministers but in the hands of those who will come later and it may cause us to regret the vote that will be given in the House to-day. Because the Bill invades liberty and unnecessarily enlarges the power of the Executive I join with the opposition to the Bill which has been voiced by the best elements in the country in the recent controversy and I shall go with other hon. Members into the Lobby to cast my vote for its rejection on Third Reading.
§ 12.52 p.m.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I am always interested to hear the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) speaking about liberty. It is just like an ardent prohibitionist to talk about liberty. The hon. Member always strikes me as a man who would have been a very suitable member of the Barebones Parliament, with as little knowledge of what human liberty is as was possessed by that Parliament.
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT
Most people recognise that even with its limitations that was one of the best Parliaments in our history, and I should be very proud to trace my ancestry from anyone who sat in that Parliament.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
If ever there was a body of men who were determined to deprive every British subject of his liberty it was the Barebones Parliament. They brought about the astonishing result which produced the Restoration, which was a natural revolt on the part of the ordinary human being against that particular type of men. I am delighted 555 that the hon. Member is beginning to recognise that there is something in the nature of liberty which exists to-day, although his views are very different from mine. This Bill is not going to affect any member of His Majesty's Forces either in the Army, the Navy or the Air Force. It has nothing to do with them. It is simply going to get at the wretches who turn up at times and try to get other people into mischief. Such people are like the receivers of stolen goods, who are much worse than the thief. The Bill is going to get not only at the man who hands out the obnoxious stuff, which I have no doubt is silly and ungrammatical, but at the people who persuade their dupes to do it. It will get at the be-setter. Such people will not be brought before the High Court but before the local court, where they will get much less punishment. There is no disaffection in His Majesty's Forces, but the Bill seeks to get at the men who would create disaffection. They are public nuisances, who make a living out of this business and get their money from foreign sources. Miss Christabel Pankhurst, in a book she wrote, stated that the suffragettes were financed by the Kaiser. That was stated in the Press.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I do not want to contradict the hon. and learned Member but does he say that Miss Christabel Pankhurst in her book says that the suffragette movement was financed by the Kaiser? Some people say that the Ulster Movement was financed by him.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I read the statement not in her book but in a review of her book. It might not be in the book itself. But these are the sort of statements which sometimes get about. You want to get at the people who are the originators of these pamphlets, and it is perfectly right that you should get at them. I do not see that this is any invasion of the liberty of the subject. I am as firm a believer in free speech as any one. The more speech you allow, the more you allow people to ventilate their grievances the better. Some time ago I was interested in a statement made in a book called "In Soochow Waters," about the greatest and the most ancient civilisation in the world, China, that as a British subject was walking along a street with a westernised Chinaman he saw a great platform erected. A num- 556 ber of women were running around the platform screaming and shouting. He asked what it was all about and what the women were doing and was told that throughout the town they had these platforms as Scolding Places, that when women get hysterical and angry they went out to one of these places and ascended the platform and scolded and screamed to their hearts content. It did them an immense amount of good and afterwards they went home quite peaceful and the family circle was freed from disturbance. If we had been wise we should have put scolding places up in this country and in that case we should never have had the suffragette movement. I am sure that the hon. Member for the Sutton Division (Viscountess Astor) would have led the way and shown them how to make a proper use of these places. We want absolute liberty of speech so that everyone is able to have their grievances ventilated, and I should be the last person to support anything which would be likely to prevent free expression of opinion. As to the Bishop, let him talk. Nobody pays any attention to what a Bishop says, at least not in Scotland. The last one we had there, an ancestress of Sir Eric Geddes, hurled a stool at him.
I want to congratulate the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) on his appearance in the House, his strength and vigour and energy, but I must join issue with him in regard to what he said about Ulster. There was no possibility of convicting Lord Carson, or any of his men. All that they were guilty of was prophetic treason. They said that if a parliament was set up in Dublin they would not submit to it, and until such a parliament came into being there could be no possible treason or sedition.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Does the hon. and learned Member maintain that the Communists in this country would be allowed to raise an army and drill it, bring ammunition from abroad, as Carson did, in order to prepare for an eventual crisis when it might be necessary to use that force?
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
They would be preparing against His Majesty's existing Government. Carson and his friends were preparing against a government which never existed, and Carson was too 557 good a lawyer not to know that in no circumstances could he be convicted of treason or sedition. It is like saying to a man that if he gets married and has a son that when that son reaches the age of 21 you are going to black his eye; and that you can be charged with a threatened assault. That is the legal position. There was not the vestige of a chance for a prosecution. The right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley may say that the law is an ass, I think the law is intelligent, and lawyers knew quite well, Lord Carson knew quite well, that a prosecution could not be substantiated.
§ Mr. KNIGHT
Does the hon. and learned Member say that the Ulster Covenant was not an incitement against the Government?
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
It was an incitement against a form of government which did not exist. They said, "Look at what is proposed by the British Parliament. The British Parliament proposes to transfer our allegiance to a Dublin Parliament": and their answer was that the British Parliament could not transfer their allegiance and had no right to transfer it, it was a thing which was not capable of being transferred. The position of the Home Rule party in the British House of Commons was exactly similar to the position of a man who had sold his wife to another man, and that when she refused to go to the purchaser he reproached her for not obeying the commands of her lawful wedded husband. That was exactly the Ulster position. The British Parliament was endeavouring to hand over Ulster men to their hereditary, historical and religious opponents; a proposal which went far deeper than any constitutional issue, it went to the very roots of human nature. Lord Carson told them that they could not do it, and that they would not do it. On one occasion he congratulated me as a man who said what he thought and conceived to be the truth, and remarked that when he himself spoke the truth they did not believe him until he had raised an army of 80,000 men. Then they believed him.
I hope that this explanation of the law will be clear to the right hon. Member. Until a Dublin Parliament was duly constituted there was no way in which Lord Carson could be brought to book. If you had brought him before a British jury 558 Lord Carson would have said, "We are only guilty of too great loyalty. I want to stick by Britain and some British want to kick me out." There was nothing in the nature of sedition in what Ulster men did. Loyalty is not sedition, nor is it treason, and the attempts which were made to transfer their allegiance were contrary not only to human nature but to common decency. The measure of Home Rule which Ireland got is not a measure upon which they can be congratulated. It is a disgraceful incident in British history. I wish de Valera good speed and I hope he will make Ireland the happy paradise which he says he is Trying to make it, but I think that ultimately we shall come back to the position in the eleventh century when Pope Adrian asked King Henry to go over to Ireland and restore something like law and order.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
A warrant might have been issued but it would have been a foolish proceeding to try and execute it, put it into force, because it would have absolutely failed.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
The hon. Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. Logan) is, as we all know, a perfect model of relevancy, and one hint from him is quite sufficient for me.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I have no doubt it would be enlightening. I did not raise the Ulster question; it was raised by the Leader of the Opposition. The reason why I want to see the absolute loyalty of the troops not interfered with in any way is a reason that cuts both ways. There are other organisations in this country as well as the Communists just as likely, or perhaps even more likely, to be in a position to make representations which might abate the loyalty and allegiance of the troops. I do not want to see that. I believe in Parliament and the 559 expression of opinion. I therefore ask the Leader of the Opposition and his supporters to consider very carefully whether it is not wise that we should keep out armed Forces as much out of political life as possible. The soldiers have their vote. They can make up their minds; they read their own newspapers. Democracy is on trial in every country in the world. It has been found wanting in every country but our own and the United States. Each country is entitled to the Government that it wants and the Governments of other countries may be very efficient. But we do not want in this country to have an upset or a revolution either from the Left wing or the Right wing. Suppose that you had not your police or your Forces of the Crown. There might easily be organisations set up which would come into acute conflict. From what I have seen of the lusty lads, the gentlemen who use considerable force when their meetings are interrupted—meetings should not be interrupted, and I support them to that extent—I do not think they would get the worst of the trouble.
The hon. Member for Dumbarton Irurghs (Mr. Kirkwood) and others are always talking about the working class in this country. I believe that we are all working class except a miserable remnant who read far too much about themselves in the fashionable newspapers. I am told on good authority that there are 5 per cent. more of what are called the non-working class—the middle class and others—in this country than there are actually so-called working class. We do not want these sets divided into two camps. I believe we ought all to be one united people. The moment this House and the Government lose control you will have rival forces springing up. We might have regrettable instances occurring. No doubt the North of Ireland business was a regrettable incident, but it was an inevitable incident. We do not want that to happen in this country. It is in the interest of the Opposition as much as in the interest of those on this side, it is in the interest of all the people, that every possible step should be taken to preserve the impartiality of the armed Forces. Otherwise we should probably get something which would upset all institutions and 560 those liberties which are so dear to every one of us.
§ 1.10 p.m.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I have taken a very steady part in the examination of this Bill. An hon. Member behind me mentioned 16 days as the time the Bill was in Committee. I was there on each of those occasions. I think that that was even greater assiduity than the Attorney - General and Solicitor - General observed, for they had a day or two off at the dog races—on the Bill I mean. I arrive to-day at the Third Reading with a little less energy and freshness than my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten). I was fascinated by that story he told about the places that are provided in China for people who wish to scold their friends, relations and associates. Mr. Speaker ought to see if something cannot be done about this House for the hon. and learned Member for Argyll, for when he gets to his seat he always assumes the right to scold everybody else who is here. If the Speaker cannot provide in this House a place where the hon. and learned Member could do it all by himself, I could suggest one or two fine places in Argyllshire where there would be none to upset except the sheep.
The hon. and learned Member delivered himself to-day of very lofty aspirations as to what Government should be in this land and in other lands. We all agree that it would be fine to have a happy, united and contented nation. Indeed I do not believe there is any political party that exists but exists for the purpose of securing a contented, peaceful and united nation. Personally I think that that is an empty hope as long as you have a handful living in ease and a large mass living in deep depths of poverty. I am anxious that those who are down in the deepest depth of poverty should make the strongest and most active struggle that they can make to get out of their poverty into comfort and security. I am anxious that in the carrying on of that struggle the dice shall not be loaded against them. I take the view that the armed Forces of the Crown in general are being used to maintain the existing economic structure and to make it difficult for the oppressed masses to alter that economic structure.
561 This Measure has been introduced largely because the Government of to-day see the possibility of the masses of the people demanding a fundamental change in the economic structure, and the rank and file of the armed Forces being likely to support them in that demand. My conception of democracy is that the people have the right to demand that fundamental change, and that the rank and file of the Army and Navy have the right to support them in bringing about that change. The hon. and learned Member for Argyll says that they have the vote. Yes, and that satisfies me at this moment, provided that I have a right to go to the men of the armed Forces and explain fully that they ought to vote for me, for the political philosophy that I propound. I ought to have the right to do that by speech or by pamphlet or by publication, explaining in the greatest detail what my political philosophy means and the things that have to be done to bring about fundamental social and economic changes. If we are a democracy and if as the hon. and learned Member says the men in the armed Forces have votes, I have a right to go to them.
§ Mr. MAXTON
Yes, and the soldiers have votes and they are part of the masses and I have a right to go to them and explain to them in detail my political philosophy and its implications and the part which they have to play in the bringing about of the change. This Bill makes it legal for the hon. and learned Member for Argyll to explain his views to the soldiers. It makes it legal for any ordinary Conservative to go to the armed Forces with his political views and theories. But if any Member above the Gangway or any Member of the Liberal party has strong views on pacifist grounds or on religious grounds or if I have views about revolutionary change, it becomes illegal for us to prepare pamphlets and booklets and papers for the education of the men of the armed Forces in our theories.
The learned Solicitor-General, on whose speech to-day I congratulate him as heartily as others have done, drew a distinction which, theoretically and spoken from that Box, is a good one. It is good in the abstract. He says that. 562 you have a perfect right to advocate what changes in society you desire. That is perfectly legal, he says, for the holder of the most extreme view. But, he adds, you are not allowed to break the existing law and when you call upon people to break the existing law you are going beyond the permitted line. As a matter of fact every sedition case which I have been associated with or interested in has been on that very issue. The man who has made the speech or produced the document in question thought that he was propounding his general political philosophy. The person who charged him, on the other hand, believed that he had been counselling the specific breaking of the existing law. One never gets in any of these cases that clear division between the two things which the Solicitor-General was able to outline to us so easily from that Box. In actual practice one never gets that clear issue and the man who is pulled up and charged with a political offence of this description has to face, not a judicial examination of his case but a prejudiced decision.
I listened with admiration to the way in which the hon. and learned Member for Argyll explained away the Ulster happenings. It was masterly from the point of view of the ordinary Conservative. These men according to him did nothing that was not perfectly legitimate. Their preparations, their arming and drilling were, he says, all right as long as they were only to be used in certain contingencies. I can raise a standing army for the social revolution in this country and I can organise hundreds of thousands of revolutionary workers, only to be used in certain contingencies and I am to define those contingencies. Fancy that! Fancy the hon. and learned Gentleman defending that as perfectly legitimate. And that is the Conservative point of view. That is the Ulster point of view.
§ Mr. RONALD ROSS
I hope my hon. Friend will forgive me. I very rarely interrupt him, but he has roused me to interruption on this occasion. He is trying to put on an equal footing with his sinister revolutionary plan for the raising of a revolutionary army, the attempt of the people of Ulster to preserve for themselves the same rights as those enjoyed by my hon. Friend's con- 563 stituents and by everybody in the United Kingdom, instead of being thrown out of the Empire and handed over to their hereditary enemies.
§ Mr. MAXTON
Hon. Members will see just exactly how it works. The hon. Member describes my strong religious desire for a completely reorganised world in which men shall live in peace and harmony and brotherhood as "sinister." That is just the atmosphere which we get in the courts when these cases come up for trial. My views are called "sinister" and I suppose my face and my general appearance—
§ Mr. MAXTON
I say the whole thing encourages the conception of sinister and black schemes and plots on my part, whereas the hon. Member has the lofty aspiration to keep within the Empire. These men who were being turned out of the Empire—their views are all ideals. Mine are all black and ugly and sinister [HoN. MEMBERS: "No!"] But the hon. Member has just said it.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I am not quarrelling with that point of view. I am merely trying to show how this type of legislation can never be operated free from prejudice. Whether the aspirations of the Ulster people and of Sir Edward Carson were good, bad or indifferent, it is the case that the allegiance of the troops at that time was owed to the Crown, and the Crown was acting through the Government of the day and can only act through the Government of the day, if it is going to be a constitutional instrument. We found during the discussion of this Bill in Committee that there are people to-day sitting in this House who regard everything that happened since the time of the Charles's as having been a complete mistake and would like to wipe out all that intervening period in history and go back to the days of unrestricted monarchy.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) is one of them. He said that 1797 was the worst period of our history.
§ Mr. MAXTON
Is that fair? He did not suggest any going back to an earlier period. But in the Committee we found people who took the view that there was an entity—the State or the Crown—to which they owed their loyalty. It meant certain things to them. They alone knew it but their judgment was always right and was even superior to the judgment of the Government of the day. Do not let us visualise fantastic situations for the operation of this Measure. Let us imagine for the moment that this Indian controversy, which is only now beginning to take its shape and round about which Members of this House and people in the country are taking up certain alignments, becomes acute, that the National Government are determined to give to India a greater measure of self-government than it has just now, that the majority of this House support them in the doing of that, but that a group. of Conservative Members say, "No, to go one step further in granting self-government to India is the beginning of the end of the British Empire, and as patriots, as defenders of the Empire, as loyal subjects of the Crown, we are going to do all in our power to prevent that, and we are even going the length of tampering with the troops, to prevent India being taken out of the Empire." The Attorney-General says, I think, that he would soon handle them.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman's actual words were something about the jug; but I wonder whether that would be the case. I can imagine senior officers in the Army and the Navy refusing to obey the Government of the day. I can see them lining up with their political and social friends, breaking their allegiance, and can see their political and social friends inciting them to do so. The Government of the day issue certain orders. The generals say, "We are not going to obey." The duty of the soldier is to obey his general. The general is guilty of breach of allegiance, but if the rank and filer refuses to obey his general, he is guilty of breach of duty, and I am not to be allowed to go to the rank and file soldier in those circumstances, and say, 565 "You have got to disobey your officers and do what the Government of the day tell you." It becomes a crime for me to do that.
The learned Attorney-General and his associates in the Government who are responsible for this Measure brought it in to deal with an evil which scarcely exists. One of the things that I think I have learned during the course of the Committee Debates is just precisely how to do the job that I want to do with the men in the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, without incurring any of the penalties. I think I have learned that, and I want to say here in this House very deliberately—and I will say it outside also, in case the Attorney-General twits me with using the privilege of the House as a coward's castle—that I will do all in my power to see that the rank and file of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force are associated, understandingly associated, with the struggle of the working class for economic and social freedom and for fundamental economic changes in this land. I think I know how to do it now, after having had the benefit of the Attorney-General's instructions over a period of several months, but if I should be wrong in believing that, and make a mistake, I certainly will continue to go ahead just the same, because, like the hon. and learned Member for Argyll, I believe that there are some things that go even deeper down than the formal acceptance of the law on particular occasions.
I make one last appeal. Those who are opposed to this Bill will oppose it still on the Third Reading, will strive for its rejection, but I want to make this appeal to the Attorney-General. I have not much hope that the House will reject the Measure on the Third Reading, and I scarcely dare to hope that when it goes to the other place the Noble Lords will develop such a passion for liberty as to reject it there. Might I ask the Attorney-General one thing, now that he has surveyed the whole field of the thing and realises that you cannot have a general weapon entrusted to anybody's hands to search out this seditious stuff, as he has recognised in the course of the Measure? In the beginnings, when he introduced the Bill, he was prepared to allow to any pettifogging little justice of the peace in any part 566 of Great Britain the right to order searches in the homes of the citizens. He has appreciated, in the course of the discussions, that that was far too big a power to hand out into that type of person's hands, and he has limited it now very considerably. He realises, I take it, that this is a dangerous power, and he has limited it to such an extent that it is scarcely worth while continuing with it.
§ Mr. MAXTON
In normal times that might be true, but I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to look at it from this point of view: is it worth while to arouse suspicions and fears here at home, among people of widely differing political points of view, and is it wise to arouse abroad the belief that in this country we have got to such a state of demoralisation, deterioration, and national difficulty in national morale that we require measures of this description to keep our Army, our Navy, and our Air Force in decent order? I make this last appeal. I do not think that in this House of Commons the Bill can be defeated, I do not think the House of Lords will defeat it, and I suggest that the Attorney-General himself should simply go to his Government and tell them that his whole experience of the Debates on this Measure, his whole experience in the country, and his whole experience in the vast correspondence that he has had on the subject bring him to the conclusion that the Measure is quite unnecessary and valueless, that the evil attending the passing of it is infinitely greater than any possible evil that might exist without it, and suggest to them that they should withdraw it completely.
§ 1.35 p.m.
§ Major MILNER
As one who, like the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxtor), sat some 16 days on the Committee, I should also like to extend my congratulations to the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General for the courtesy and consideration which they have extended to the numerous Amendments which have been moved and accepted. There is another matter on which they are entitled to be congratulated. Their principal function, certainly during the last few days, has been to save the face of the Government. I do not think I am 567 saying what is very far from the truth when I say that every Member of the Government must have regretted the introduction of this Bill, and that if it had been possible, while saving the face of the Government, to have withdrawn it, they would have been glad. Therefore, the Law Officers of the Crown 'are to be congratulated on so skilfully accepting Amendments, on pacifying those who have opposed the Bill both here and in the country, and on saving the face of the Government in that way.
The Bill is very different from that which was originally introduced some months ago. Quite a number of objectionable features have been taken out. The first is the alteration enabling trial by jury to be demanded by the accused person. It is remarkable that that right should have been taken away in the original form of the Bill. The Bill has also been improved, because in Clause 2 the onus, which was originally ca the accused to prove that he held documents without lawful excuse, has now been put upon the prosecution. In many other matters improvements have been made, but in our view the Amendments and alterations have not gone to the principle of the Bill. While the Bill is a mere skeleton of what it was originally, it is a skeleton with very substantial bones. The first Clause remains substantially as it was when it was first introduced, and there still remains the fact that the Bill differs from the Act of 1797, about which so much has been said, in that there are now two it. Under the original Act a man might be prosecuted only for seducing His Majesty's Forces from duty and allegiance, but in this Bill a substantial alteration has been made so that 'an accused person can now be prosecuted and be subject to severe penalties for seducing or attempting to seduce members of His Majesty's Forces from duty or allegiance. There is a substantial difference between the two forms, and we take the view that great harm can be done by the alteration. Because of it, the conflict which we all at times have between what is our clearly considered duty and our conscience must arise, and under this Bill it will be possible to prosecute those who on grounds of conscience seek to put their views to members of His Majesty's Forces. There are many 568 sincere Christians who believe that these occasions arise, and to brand such Christians as criminals is to deny them religious liberty.
Clause 2 has again been very materially altered. Many legal authorities have told us that it is contrary to one of the fundamental tenets of the administration of British justice because the Clause, notwithstanding what the Solicitor-General has said, does introduce the principle of the general search warrant. There is proof of the fact that this is the case in what the Attorney-General said during the Committee stage. After referring to the judgment of Lord Justice Camden that under our law the general search was illegal, the Attorney-General said:Where is the law which allows a general warrant to be issued? If this Bill is passed we shall turn to it and say, "This is the authority for the magistrate OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A; 14th June, 1934, col. 242.]The Attorney-General admitted in those words that in point of fact this Bill introduced a general search warrant and permitted what has been termed a roving commission to the police officers making that search. There is a further objection that under Clause 3 the Director of Public Prosecutions, if he thinks the magistrates are likely to be favourable to the accused person, or for other reasons, may withdraw the case from the magistrates' jurisdiction. There is one general objection to the Bill which can be applied to other Bills, but in particular to this Bill. It is that, modified as it has been, it is capable of such abuse that it ought not to pass. The Bill is likely to be used in times of crisis, in times of war and difficulty, when passions and prejudices are aroused. In such times advantage will he taken of it. If any proof be needed of the kind of thing that can take place in war time, I should like to advance in support of my argument the views and the facts to which the Prime Minister referred in a letter which has been sent to me by a correspondent and which was published during the War. I cannot at the moment compete with the Prime Minister's language. He expresses in this letter far better than I could the sort of thing which took place and may take place in war time. It was a letter to Mr. E. D. Morel, who had been sentenced during the War to six months' imprisonment in Pentonville. To begin with, the Prime Minister spoke of the" knight- 569 hood of the Broad Arrow," namely the knighthood of those who had been sentenced to imprisonment, and congratulated Mr. Morel on being admitted to that knighthood in the circumstances of that particular case. He went on to say:You have been attacked with an unscrupulous malignity which has outraged the world of decency as much as any frightfulness in this War has outraged humane feeling. You have been a sore offence to every blackguard who has been making holiday upon the top of the wave of popular passion and credulity. They knew they could go to any length in their attacks and slander. During the War, thrice is he armed who has prejudice on his side. I know how often you considered a prosecution, and how often you were advised to treat the scoundrels with indifference. I know also how the Intelligence Department has been laying snares for you; how you and I once shared the charming smiles of an agent provocateur, paid for from our own taxes, and how the poor thing whom we pitied came to grief when she found she could not ensnare us; low your letters have been opened, read, returned to their envelopes, and then delivered; haw officers have tampered with your staff and offered them appointments if they would give information against you; bow, in short, you have been living in a glasshouse for years, where there has been no privacy, with every action spied upon and reported, and running the risk that your most innocent and ordinary conduct might be converted and perverted into a criminal one. You have come scathless out of it all—and you have been trapped because you wished to send a pamphlet to Roman Rolland and some of his friends. Sneered at as a naturalised Frenchman, you are now in prison because you obeyed the instincts of an Englishman and not the regulation of a Prussian official. That is the hest that a Government with unlimited cash to employ spies and agents, unlimited powers and no scruples to pry into every act of yours, and an unlimited desire to get hold of you, could do against you. Such a charge as that preferred against you is, under the circumstances, the most magnificent testimonial to probity, honesty, and singlemindedness that any Government has ever given to a citizen who holds liberty in greater esteem than law, and independence of thought than departmental orders, who honours the fine motives that are making our soldiers willing to die so much that he is determined to vindicate them against all the powers and principalities which rage themselves against them.I may conclude by reading this further extract:You are serving six months in Pentonville. Before being condemned you were refused bail. That was the scourging and spitting process. Though your crime was political you were sent into the second division. They had to try and insult and humiliate as well as punish you. Thus they 570 have only secured the completeness of your triumph, and opened for you the higher orders of the knighthood they have conferred upon you.Could there be a better testimonial than that delivered by the Prime Minister to the circumstances under which this Bill is likely to be operated in the future? We have been assured by the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General that nothing of that sort will take place, that this Bill is only likely to be used in the most extreme cases, that the safeguards are so numerous that no harm can be done, and yet we all know, and the Prime Minister better than any of us, that in times of prejudice, excitement and difficulty that that is the state of affairs in this and in many other countries—less, possibly, in this country than in any others. I confess that I had hoped that when the Prime Minister returned to this House he might have remembered some of those letters and speeches of bygone days, have said "We will have none of this," and have used such power as he has to ensure that this Bill should not proceed further. That has not been the case, and we have now arrived at the Third Reading stage. The Prime Minister has done me the honour of coming here to-day, and I might read another short quotation in reference to the power of the Army to interfere in industrial disputes. In the circumstances it seems most likely that this Bill will be brought into operation in such cases. The Prime Minister said:The Army is always a powerful weapon in the hands of government to destroy the chances of labour in an industrial dispute.Again I am surprised that he has permitted his associates to bring forward this Bill. The House must know that throughout the ages, almost, the power of the Army in the hands of the Executive has always been regarded as a potential threat to the liberty of the people, and I dread to think, as many others must, of what might happen under this Bill, having in mind the powers the Government would have, if a Fascist Government came into power in this country. General Smuts said the other day:The issue around which the greatest battles of this and the coming generation will be fought—if the cause of our civilisation itself were to be saved—is the issue of freedom.Surely that is so. All of us on this side of the House feel that no necessity for this Bill has been shown. Ample powers 571 of every kind are possessed under existing legislation in the matter of sedition, in the matter of mutiny, in the matter of riots, unlawful assembly arid so on. They are amply sufficient to deal with every contingency which could possibly arise. I would emphasise what was said by an hon. Member from the Liberal benches, that it is an amazing thing that no Service representatives have entered this House or attended—except for a short time and then, I think, never spoke—the Committee stage. An hon. Friend reminds me that they were there at one sitting. Yet we are assured that this Bill was introduced, in effect, for the protection of the armed Forces of the Crown, though on the other hand we are assured that there has been no increase of disaffection among such forces. Surely, then, there is some ulterior motive beyond that which we have been told for the introduction of the Bill, and we must speculate as to what that motive is. On all these grounds, and particularly on the ground, which I feel should appeal particularly to the so-called National Government, namely, the effect on our prestige throughout the world, I should have thought this Bill would not have been introduced. The "Spectator" said of the Bill the other day:This country, by its own innate good sense, is maintaining a balanced stability that is the admiration of the world. To suggest that such a Measure is necessary is to cast a slur on the whole community.And not only that; for, speaking as an ex-service man, I think it has cast a slur on the members of His Majesty's Forces. There is no likelihood of real disaffection in the Army from the arguments likely to be advanced by Communists and pacifists. I can imagine other grounds, such as discontent with affairs in civil life at home, in regard to which there might be some feeling and some justifiable disaffection, but it is a slur on the members of His Majesty's Forces to suggest that they are likely to be influenced by the few leaflets which have been distributed among them and which very many of them have probably not even troubled to read. The passage of this Bill proves that it is as true to-day, with a National Government in power composed of patriots and super-patriots, as I am sure they would call themselves, as it has been the case for a thousand years that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.
§ 1.57 p.m.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
(Mr. Ramsay MacDonald): The hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) has read an extract from a private letter which was published—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I do not know. Perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman will indicate whether it was published, but in any case I understood that he was to relate the extract which he read to the Bill. He has done nothing of the kind, and for him or anybody else to go into the country, or to stand here, and say that this Bill is the sort of thing which would apply to the circumstances in which that letter was written, is sheer nonsense. For one thing, ten times more power was in the hands of the executive in those days than is given by the Bill. If the hon. and gallant Member were in a Government during a war, the first thing he would do would be to tear up this Bill as being totally inadequate for its purpose and to re-establish a Defence of the Realm Act. I cannot go further into that, because the Rules of Order do note allow me. I stand by this Bill with the full recollection of everything that happened then. I detest the agent provocateur, as I did when I wrote the letter. I understood that the hon. and gallant Member was going to connect those extracts as to agent provocateurs with the Bill. I suppose—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I withdraw. That is what I was told, and that is why I have come here. This Bill is not for the purpose of taking the place of the Defence of the Realm Act; it has been drafted for the purpose of protecting our present liberty. In the light of that extract, which I commend to hon. Members—I know that they will not all agree with it, although they will appreciate its sincerity and its straightness whether they agree with it or not—and in the determination to stand by the sentiment and the spirit which is expressed in that letter, I say that no Government which valued liberty, in view of the fate that liberty is meeting in countries where the defence of it is purely verbal and without any substance, could take up the 573 Cromwellian attitude of the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot). And I say, if you cannot do your work, go out, and give place to men who will defend liberty and not, merely talk about its defence. This Bill is necessary and I shall have the greatest pleasure indeed, feeling that I have fulfilled my duty as I felt I was fulfilling it then, when, somewhere about four o'clock this afternoon, I shall go into the Aye Lobby in favour of the Bill.
§ 2 p.m.
§ Mr. LYONS
; The Prime Minister has dealt with one aspect of the speech made by the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner). When the Bill was introduced, the Attorney General stated that this was a Measure of a serious nature. It is a pity that there has been no attempt to relate the criticisms to the Bill and that so many people have lost their sense of perspective. Those who seek to oppose the Bill have brought in a good deal of matter which entirely takes away the proper perspective. I hope that we shall direct our- selves to the real object of the Bill, keeping our proper judgment in dealing with a matter of this importance. There probably has never been a. Bill in regard to which there has been so much de- liberate distortion and so much engineered misconception as in this case. This is not a Bill which seeks to give a special privilege to this or any other Government or party; it goes direct to the very fabric of liberty upon which the freedom of every man in this country rests. It seeks to secure, so far as can be, a reasonable amount of protection for everybody against the pestilential mischief arising when anybody seeks to undermine the very principles upon which freedom and liberty are based.
We have had a good deal of talk in the machine-made resolutions that have been sent in regard to this Bill. It is stated that the Bill is an attack upon liberty, and that those who send the re- solutions seek to maintain the political, social and religious liberties under which this country has grown great and prosperous. Many hon. Friends of mine on these benches will join with me in yielding to no one in their desire to maintain complete liberty—political, religious and civil—and we yield to nobody in our endeavour to secure a continuance of the blessings which we have in this 574 country, and which some hon. Gentlemen sitting opposite do not fully appreciate, but we believe that the maintenance of law and the preservation of public order become essential to the maintenance of those principles and that what is sought by those who try to oppose the Bill would be not liberty but chaos and disaster, which would allow no liberty at all.
I could not help remembering, while the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds was making an attempt to controvert the real position at the introduction of this Bill that when the Bill was introduced the Attorney-General indicated that certain Amendments must obviously become necessary. He said that this was an important Bill upon which we wanted cool, calm and deliberate consideration. Those who served in the Committee upstairs know that a good deal of time was spent in listening to criticisms against the Bill. It was obvious when the Bill was first read in this House that, as it was first printed, it contained one flaw—it did not give to the accused person the right to be tried by a jury; and, in the humble view of myself and in the view of many of us, this is a Bill which, perhaps above all others, should give to an accused person the right to have any matter of fact alleged against him tried, not by a magistrate, but by a jury of his fellows, and to get the collective view of the jury upon it. I am not at the moment speaking in the presence of the Attorney-General, but the Solicitor-General is here, and I hope he will correct me if I am wrong. When the Bill was `first introduced in this House by the Attorney-General, he said at once, in the first speech ever made on the matter, that he, on behalf of the Government, was going to introduce a provision to alter the punishment from three months' to four months' imprisonment for the express purpose of allowing any accused man to have, as of right, a trial by jury if he so desired.
§ Mr. LYONS
I know that my hon. and gallant Friend wants to be fair about this matter. In my view, at that moment no opposition at all could have developed, because that was the first speech ever made in this House about the Bill. It was the speech, at the inception of the 575 Bill, made by the Attorney-General, who introduced it, and, in the course of the discussion on the Bill, he said that here at any rate was one alteration which would have to be made. Knowing, as I do, that my hon. and gallant Friend wants to attack the Bill fairly, and wants to put his criticisms in a manner which is just to the Measure, I should think he would like to withdraw the statement he made just now that at long last this alteration was made, because in point of fact the alteration was adumbrated in the very first speech made on the Bill in this House by the Attorney-General, who introduced the Measure. I agree at once that that Amendment was vital. I think it should be left to a jury, and to no one else, to decide whether an offence has been committed under the Bill if the accused man so desires, and at that time I welcomed the alteration intimated by the right hon. and learned Gentleman in charge of the Bill.
It is perfectly true that there has been a lot of comment about this Bill. I have received a good many resolutions from people who sought to protest against the Measure. They were all machine-made, inaccurate resolutions, and every one of them was founded on a complete misunderstanding of the Bill. They may have been—I do not know—the outcome of somebody's deliberate misinterpretation of the Bill. They certainly were not founded upon the Bill. They began on premises which were entirely false, and were in no way founded upon fact. When those resolutions came to me from responsible bodies, I thought it my duty to write back at once and explain that in my view, with such experience as I have of these matters, those resolutions were not founded on fact. They were all based upon a complete misapprehension of law and fact. I said to them that, to prevent any misconception upon what I, as a lawyer, thought was a matter of grave importance, I wished to put before them my view and my interpretation and conception of the Measure; and I said that I would like to have the opportunity of discussing with them what I thought were the real facts, the law, and the real issues, and to try to get rid of the misconception which they obviously had when they sent me the resolutions. To not one of those invitations or suggestions have I had a single 576 reply. Those resolutions were false from start to finish, and were not founded upon fact or reality. If they were not, as I venture to think they were in many cases, the outcome of some pestilential propaganda deliberately manipulating the position and falsifying the real issues, the real founders of the mischief might have had the decency to instruct those people to discuss the matter with someone and see what information could be obtained to elucidate the true position.
§ Mr. LYONS
The resolutions sent by more than half-a-dozen persons claiming to have trade union authority or, when they came from adult school movements, people who, I know, are good, honest, sincere citizens who did not desire to be misled or seduced. When responsible bodies are made use of in a matter such as this, it behoves some of us to see what is the truth and get to the bottom of the instigation. When those resolutions begin, as they do in most cases—my hon. friends have all had them—by stating thata body of people believing in social, religious and political liberty in this country view with apprehension and alarm bow that liberty is going to be taken away by this Bill, call upon you to oppose it, because we must keep the liberty under which this country has grown great,we write back and say that of course we agree, and that we yield to no one in the maintenance of liberty in its truest understanding—religious liberty, social liberty and political liberty—and the right to discuss, the right to individual freedom, the right to oppose any Measure that we think fit; but we strongly object to this manipulation, distortion, and misrepresentation, and to the false premises upon which these resolutions are deliberately based, because they come one after the other in precisely the same words from different bodies, and that can only be because they are the outcome of some mischievous machine seeking to undermine the very liberty which we want to maintain. 577 There is no denying the seriousness of this Measure. As I have said before, this is a kind of Measure which in my judgment demands from us clear, calm, cool unimpassioned consideration. We want to give it that consideration, and we ask, Where is this liberty which is attacked? Where is the inroad that is made? I do not know whether it is the experience of any of my hon. Friends in any part of the House, but I have had repeatedly a dual type of resolution—first a resolution asking me to condemn this Measure because of the great inroad that it makes in allowing an Englishman's home to be searched, and then another resolution asking me, at the same time as I oppose this Measure, to support another Bill, the Betting Bill, because it seeks to help the public in many ways which are well known to the writers. In the Betting Bill there is almost word for word, I believe—the Solicitor-General will correct me if I am wrong—the same liability to search that there is in this Measure, and, if anyone objects to this Bill only because of the right of search, the same objection at once arises to the Betting Bill, which I am asked to support. So much for the mischievous nonsense that is behind these roneo-made resolutions that come from far and near from those who are anxious, for their own or party motives, to try to smack the Government, irrespective of the public merits of the Measure.
I do not suppose that anybody in this country supports the right to search a home as such. But everyone knows that, in order to preserve liberty and public order, there must be certain safeguards, and a right to search in certain circumstances becomes essential. There is a right to search in each one of some 50 or 60 Acts of Parliament to-day. They may be right or wrong, but it is not my purpose or the province of this House DOW to consider whether those rights of search are proper or not. They do exist, and if my house is liable to be searched because somebody thinks I have got a betting slip or two or an automatic machine or two on the premises which I control, it is, in my submission, 100 times more necessary that there should be the liability of my house being searched if I am using with evil intent the pestilential matter against which this Bill is directed.
578 This is not the time to discuss betting slips and automatic machines, which may be a great mischief, or smuggled goods, which, of course, may be a public harm. Whether they are or are not does not matter, but if there is in Anybody's house scurrilous matter of this sort which has been collected for the one express purpose of being used to seduce the troops from the allegiance they owe to the Crown, there is no gainsaying the fact that it is a mischief of no mere private nature, but striking at the very heart and core of the liberty we enjoy and the Constitution under which this country flourishes. There are not many of us who have 'any real fear that while we are away our houses are going to be searched for smuggled goods, or obscene literature or betting slips, and in the mind of the honest, law-abiding citizen there is no apprehension that his house is going to be searched for such matter as is aimed at in this Bill, and properly so.
We all listened to-day—and I am glad that I say it in the presence of the right hon. Gentleman concerned—to a speech showing, I am glad to think, the return to health and vigour of the Leader of the Opposition. It was a speech, if I may say so, of studied moderation. We were glad to listen to what he said in presenting the case of the Opposition against this Bill. We listened, as I hope we always listen in. such circumstances as these, to the case presented. Speaking for myself, and listening as I did to the case which he made, I fail to see any reason why Any person in this country need be alarmed about a Bill which is offered to the country, not for the protection of this or any other particular Government, not for the furtherance of one party policy or another, but a Bill which is offered for the protection of the people of this country and the maintenance of the liberty of every one of us. I go further and say that a Bill of this nature is essential, whatever Government may be in office. As we understand the Bill, it makes no new offence. It makes fresh and, I think, rather better provision for the prosecution of certain offences which are already known to the law.
§ Mr. LYONS
I am coming to that in a moment. Let me say that the possession of a document is made no offence under this Bill. It has to be shown—and shown by the prosecution—that it exists for the express purpose of seducing troops from allegiance to the Crown in order to make it an offence. Any Government, whatever its colour or complexion, would be bound to regard it As a very serious offence for any person to attempt to seduce a soldier to disobey the lawful command of his superior officer. It was said by the hon. and gallant Member who spoke last on the other side of the House, and who still does me the honour of being in the House, that the one thing he complains about in this Bill is the fact that the Director of Public Prosecutions at any given moment can withdraw from the consideration of the magistrate the charge which is being made. I do not hesitate to say that when an offence of this nature is charged it is essentially an offence which should be considered by a jury, and not by a magistrate, if the accused should so desire.
Let us take a proper perspective in this matter. In any case, any person who is charged with an offence under this Bill at any moment can withdraw it from the consideration of the magistrate, because he can say, "I am going to have this case tried by a jury," and nobody can gainsay it. That is vitally right. It was indicated by the Attorney-General as being the desire of the Government on the very first night that this Bill was discussed in this House. I think it is the most vital point in the Bill, and the most necessary, because there are many of us who, if that Amendment had not been indicated at first, would have seen during the 16 sittings of the Committee that this undoubted necessity was inserted, and we are grateful to the Attorney-General that he on the first night stated for the Government that he was going to make the Amendment on the first opportunity.
There are one or two safeguards of a novel character put into the Bill. As I understand it now, the application for the search warrant has to be made to one of His Majesty's judges. It was suggested that some new tribunal might be instituted after one of His Majesty's judges had allowed a search warrant, to consider the case. We see in some of the resolutions which have been sent 580 that justices of the peace are not competent to consider charges of this kind. There may be a good deal to be said against the incapacity of magistrates up and down the country to consider cases of a serious nature. I do not know—there may be. As long as the machinery of the law provides for magisterial courts to consider preliminary investigations or decide cases of this nature, I do not see how you can take away from them the functions given by this Bill.
If hon. Members opposite desire to attack, holus-bolus, magistrates' courts, that is one matter; but to attack them because of this Bill is a different thing, and because of the safeguard that a man can be tried by a, jury for any offence under this Bill I fail to see any proper criticism exists in this matter. The critics of this Bill deliberately or inadvertently have lost altogether the sense of reality. I think if the circumstances of war ever came over this country this Bill would bear no comparison to the rigidity under which this country would willingly labour. There would then of necessity be a suspension of many things in the new jurisdiction which would arise. This Bill would not be sufficiently drastic for our safety. There would be a complete suspension of the safeguards that we enjoy to-day. This Measure has one simple purpose, to prevent efforts being made to seduce serving soldiers, sailors or airmen from their duty. The last speaker spoke as one who was once a serving soldier and said he believed that soldiers, sailors and airmen could be trusted. I also desire to speak as one who was once a serving soldier and I say the same thing. I believe you cannot get a better body of men in this world than the serving soldiers, sailors and airmen of our Forces.
§ Mr. LYONS
I trust them implicitly, but they are entitled to be protected against the danger against which the Bill aims. They are entitled to be free from the possibility and nuisance of this pestilential contamination. Moreover, those who try to put into operation that at which the Bill aims should not be free from the consequences of the law. We know the sources from which they come. We know the sources from which this foreign made literature emanates and is 581 disseminated. We want to put an end to that and to bring within the criminal law those who would not scruple to undermine the principles of liberty. That is why the Bill seeks to bring within the meshes of the law people who might otherwise escape. When the Bill is passed, no doubt Members who have opposed it will watch what happens under it. Any injustice, I hope, will be brought to light, as it should be. There is no question about that. Some of us have no fear that the Bill will create any injustice at all. What we believe is that it will be a Measure for the complete protection of all liberty loving people. We believe that if you object to this Bill, to be logical, you have to object to the old Incitement to Mutiny Act. You have to object to both if you object to one.
Let there be no mistake about this. If you want to legalise mutiny, which you do if you oppose this Bill, if you want to legalise sedition and disorder, you will bring chaos into the country. If you allow these things to go unchecked you will bring about a state of chaos and disaster which will take away from us all the liberty and the freedom that we enjoy to-day. It is in these circumstances that we support the Bill. We believe it is one to preserve the liberty of each one of us and to maintain the freedom under which the country has grown great and prospered. There are no inroads into freedom or liberty. The grotesque criticism has been laid bare. Notwithstanding the gross distortion under which the Bill has laboured, we give it our support in the belief that it is a Measure of necessity brought in by a Government which knows the facts, which is not frightened to act on the facts that are known and which decided upon the Bill as a safeguard for the liberty of us all.
§ 2.30 p.m.
§ Miss RATHB0NE
Everyone who has taken part in the Debate and opposed the Bill has admitted, as of course I do, how greatly the objections to it have been mitigated, and in a few cases removed, during its passage through Committee and Report. Yet I do not imagine that anyone who opposed the Bill in the beginning is willing to support it now. Lest the Attorney-General should be tempted to attribute this to irreconcilability on our part, or to party 'faction, may I summarise what I conceive to be the fundamental objections to the Bill even in its 582 present state. There are minor objections which I will not allude to, nor will I deal with one of the big objections which I conceive remains, the extension of the power of the Executive over the individual, 'because that was dealt with so very amply by the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot). But he said less about what, is to me an even more fundamental objection, that the Bill does something which is always dangerous and in itself obnoxious, though in extreme cases it may be justifiable, just as it may be justifiable to cut off a man's leg to prevent him getting gangrene or to put shackles on him to prevent him doing mischief to someone else. That objectionable something is the placing of legal limitations on the free expression and circulation of opinions and ideas.
That circulation takes place through the Press or verbally and, slowly and stumblingly, through the generations the British people have discovered the truth of this paradox, that the best way of arriving at the truth is to allow complete freedom for the propagation of error, and the sister paradox that no one can be called good who has not been given a free choice between good and evil, because, as John Milton put it, the scanning of error is necessary to the confirmation of truth. Those are hard sayings, and I do not think, even in the days of John Milton or in the present, there is more than a small minority of people who really believe them, but, fortunately, that minority has always included many of the leaders of thought and action, and they believe it with such white hot intensity of conviction that they have succeeded in impressing their belief upon the mould not only of thought but of legislation in this and every other country which has inherited its legal traditions from the Anglo-Saxon race. Hence freedom of speech and freedom of the Press have come down to us as rights which are part of our inheritance. Another part almost equally sacred is the principle that, generally speaking, our homes should not be intruded into and the privacy of our papers and core respondence should not be violated. All those fundamental rights, of course, are and always must be subject to some limitation, but no fresh limitation should be accepted by Parliament unless its need has been strictly defined and the necessity for it proved. The only real justiti- 583 cation for such limitations on the free circulation of opinions or the privacy of individuals lies in showing that those rights are being used in a way which does one of two things, either infringes the similar rights of privacy and freedom of action on the part of other people or inflicts some other kind of injury upon others or upon the public generally.
Our objection to this Bill is that neither of those things have been proved. We have been told that great numbers of objectionable leaflets have been circulated among the Forces, but to give a man a leaflet does not compel him to read it, and, therefore, he is not intruding upon the liberty of thought and action. Even if the leaflets have been widely read we have been given no proof, although we have frequently asked for it, that the effect of the literature in the main has been such as to constitute any kind of real public danger. When we have pressed for such evidence we have. not received a direct and specific reply. Everything that has been said by the Attorney-General or the Solicitor-General or any other supporter of the Bill has been of a reassuring nature. We have been told that on the whole the loyalty of the troops and the other members of the Forces is unquestionable. If that be so, what is the necessity for the Bill? It seems not merely an insult but an injury to the members of the Forces. The members of the Forces are not only soldiers, sailors or airmen but human beings and citizens with votes and the right to hold opinions of their own on all manner of political questions. How are they to do that if people are not free to spread their own political opinions among the Forces?
The Solicitor-General made a distinction between the mere expression of opinion and inciting to disaffection, the offence under the Bill, but nobody expresses an opinion, at least on questions of human conduct and politics, unless they intend to incite somebody to action. It is clear that any formal expression of opinion circulated among the members of His Majesty's Forces is likely to be taken, if the matter is questioned in court, as tending to influence the action of those soldiers and sailors. Apart from that, it is very likely to have a detrimental effect upon anyone who dares to come in 584 conflict with the law upon any efforts they may wish to make to do general political propaganda or to spread social education among the forces. On the other hand, as to the people against whom this legislation is expressly aimed, those who are bent upon really tempting the soldiers to sedition are not likely to be deterred by the Bill. I am not sure that it will not have the opposite effect, because forbidden fruits are proverbially attractive.
I do not know what has been the effect upon the soldiers' minds of all the publicity which has been given in the discussions on this Bill to that publication which I have never seen, "The Soldier's Friend," but I know that if I were a soldier and had read the Debates I should take the first possible opportunity to procure and read copies of that publication. In view of cheap printing and the popular Press, surely it is even more true than it was in John Milton's day that to deprive any group of adults except lunatics and prisoners who are shut up, from hearing ruinous opinions or having bad advice thrust upon them, is just about as futile, as Milton said, as the action of the man who tried to imprison the crows by shutting his park gates. Besides the Bill being unnecessary and futile, we object to it even in its present form because its terms are so vague and therefore do not conform to the one condition under which limitations of free speech and free expression of opinion are justifiable. They must be perfectly specific limitations. Obviously, as speaker after speaker has shown, there is room for a multitude of different opinions as to what kind of literature, if distributed among the forces, would tend to seduce them from their duty and allegiance.
I tried, both on the Second Reading and in Committee, to induce the Attorney-General to throw a little more light upon this question, and to tell us what was the intention by giving certain instances. We ask him, for example, whether the mere circulation among the soldiers of literature using the arguments commonly used by Quakers as to war being always forbidden to a Christian would be an offence under the Act. The Attorney-General steadily refused to deal with what he called supposititious cases. I should like to make another effort because the speech of the hon. Member for 585 Bodmin has given me the opportunity. He quoted not supposititious forms of possible propaganda, but definite opinions. The recent letter of the Bishop of Birmingham was directly applied to the action of soldiers and sailors, because it condemned bombing, and Canon Shepard's letter merely condemned war in general. I should like the Attorney-General to tell us in his reply definitely whether he considers that leaflets embodying either of those views, first of all, the general doctrine that war in all circumstances is forbidden to a Christian, and secondly, the doctrine that bombing is forbidden—if they say to the soldiers "Despite orders, do not fight, and do not bomb" —if the circulation of those opinions among the Forces would be an offence against the Act or not. I think that it would be fairer to have his opinion on those subjects, although one must remember that even if we get it, it will not be binding on the court, but it will be helpful to those lay magistrates who genuinely feel themselves incompetent to decide these questions and would like guidance from distinguished legal authorities.
We have to remember too that the type of magistrate who is likely to decide these cases is very apt to be much less the type of lawyer of the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General than the type of lawyer of whose views we had such an interesting specimen in the speech from the hon. and learned Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten). I do not like to quote him in his absence, but I cannot help doing so, because it was such a beautiful example of how political bias inevitably comes, in the minds of the lawyers, into almost any kind of political question. He actually told us that there was nothing disloyal in attempting to encourage the Forces in Ireland to rebel against the law which, mind you, would have had to pass through both Houses of Parliament and receive the assent of the Crown, merely because it had reference to an Irish Parliament which had not yet come into existence. It is surely an almost in-creditable kind of argument which one could only believe he would have held if the particular action had not been one which had his warm political sympathy.
There was another curious instance in Committee when the hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington (Vice- 586 Admiral Taylor) pu forward to the Committee the astonishing view that the troops owe no allegiance to the Government of the day, but only to the Crown. He refused to assent when asked to enlarge upon it. If that be the view which obtains among Members of Parliament of the experience of the two hon. Members quoted, what kind of impartiality are we likely to find on the part of the ordinary justice of the peace?
We object to the Bill, among other things, on the ground that it offends against the general principle that no limitation should be put upon the complete freedom of every citizen to express opinions and propagate them among fellow citizens. We believe that none of those conditions is satisfied in the Bill. I must admit, if I am to confess the truth, that it was not altogether with sorrow in my heart when this Bill was introduced, because it has had one effect, which may, in the end, prove so important as even to counter-balance the harm it will do when it reaches the Statute Book. It has awakened sleeping people. It has aroused tens of thousands of English men and women to the value of the liberties that were fought for by their forefathers, and the necessity for unceasing watchfulness if those liberties are not to be frittered away and undermined. It has shown the Government that the fires of enthusiasm and the love of liberty are not as extinct as may have been supposed, but are only smouldering and that they had better take care. That is a great service, especially at a time when reactionists everywhere are beginning to be hopeful and to raise their heads.
I do not accuse all the members of the Government of being reactionary, but we have to be on our guard against reactionary legislation. One hon. Member has said that we have not finished with the Bill when we have finished with it here to-day. It has to go to another place. The opinion has been expressed that we need not have much hope of the other place, but in the other place there is a minority as well as a majority, and I trust that that minority will make such use of its time that we may still see the end of this unfortunate Measure. If that should come about I believe that no one would attend the obsequies with less regrets that the members of His Majesty's Government.
§ 2.47 p.m.
§ Mr. RADFORD
The hon. Lady said that the Bill had served one good purpose in drawing the attention of thousands of people to the necessity of preserving the liberties which are so dear to us all. I agree with that view, but I do not think that it has been so much the Bill that has done that beneficent work as the tales which hon. Members opposite have told to people outside of what the Bill contains. The tone of to-day's Debate has been of such a nature that I should be very reluctant to bring in a discordant note, but I am bound to say that, having a very high regard for the abilities of hon. Members opposite, I have been struck by the wonderful unanimity with which they have all misread the Bill and, accordingly with complete innocence, have misled people outside. I will not make that statement lightly but will quote the kind of statements that have been made to people who are not in the habit of reading Bills brought before Parliament and which have given them a completely wrong impression of the Bill.
The hon. Lady presented to the House a few days ago a petition signed by 63,134 people against the Bill. Has she any idea if any of them had ever read the Bill? I doubt whether even the odd 134 had read it. The critics and opponents of the Measure have been of every shade of political opinion, from deep-dyed red to the purest white. I have been present at some of their demonstrations and from what I have heard of their criticisms, they have been criticising not what was in the Bill but what was not in it.
§ Miss RATHBONE
There have been many different opinions of the Bill but I think that those who have signed the petitions knew pretty well what they were protesting against.
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT
Does the hon. Member make that statement in regard to the very damaging criticism of the Bill made by Sir William Holdsworth, Professor of English law in the University of Oxford?
§ Mr. RADFORD
I cannot answer that question because I have not read that criticism.. I am content to take the Bill itself. There are only four Clauses in it. 588 The fourth or last Clause merely deals with the title. The Third Clause deals with certain penalties, varying according to whether the prosecution is by indictment or summary jurisdiction, which have not been attacked during the Debates. That only leaves two other Clauses, Clause 1 brings nothing new into our law. Therefore I need not refer to the eminent jurist who has been quoted. In regard to Clause 2, I have relied on my own intelligence.
To give the House some idea of the complete misunderstanding that people of the highest character hold in regard to the Bill I will quote a letter from the Society of Friends. The Attorney-General and the lion. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) have referred to that body. A branch of the Society of Friends in my own town say:We feel that the Bill is an attack on those ideals which arc most precious to us and which we cannot lightly surrender. From the foundation of our Society peace among nations has been one of our chief concerns and we feel that both by the spoken word and the printed word we must continue towards that aim;Is there one word in the four Clauses of the Bill that could in any way interfere with the right of the Society of Friends by the spoken or the written word to urge peace and disarmament? Not one word.
§ Mr. RADFORD
I did not do hon. Members opposite an injustice when I said that it was owing to the unanimity of their misconception in regard to the Bill that wrong impressions have got outside. The organs of the Press that support them are equally, if not more, culpable. For example, take the leading Liberal paper of the part of the country where I live. After the Committee stage had been completed that newspaper said this in regard to Clause 2:The Bill as it comes back to the House for Report and Third Reading still makes it an offence to be in possession of any literature or documents whose distribution could be interpreted as an attempt to seduce any member of His Majesty's Forces from his duty or allegiance. As has been so often said, the possession of any pacifist literature from the articles of Tolstoy to the current publication of the Society of Friends might land a man in jail under this provision.I say to the House that that is grossly untrue. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Ab- 589 solutely. That is only true providing that the prosecution can prove that those documents were in a man's possessionwith intent to commit or to aid, abet, counsel or procure the commission of an offence under Section one of this Act.Hon. Members will persist in anticipating the most gross miscarriages of justice. I wonder what would have been said in this House and outside if we had now been enacting that loitering with intent to commit a felony was a crime. Hon. Members have been accustomed to loitering without intent to commit a felony. [HON. MEMBERS: "To which hon. Members are you referring?"] I am referring to all of us. Have we not walked down the street and looked in a jeweller's window or into other shop windows and have we been afraid in doing so? No, because it is not an offence to loiter unless the prosecution can show that it was with intent to commit a felony.
In the same way, the possession of these documents by the accused is no crime whatever unless the prosecution can bring home to the accused that he had the documents in his possession for the specific purpose of committing a felony. I have said that the people outside have been misled by the innocent misconceptions of hon. Members opposite, and I should like to quote one or two of the statements that they have made. At a public meeting in Manchester it was said:If the Bill becomes law it may be used for all kinds of purposes against all sorts of people who are inconvenient to the Government, and even to prevent the expression of any opinion contrary of the Government.Another gentleman said:Freedom of speech would be denied, it would be perilous to have even a copy of the Bible.He then read extracts from the Bible which, he said, would come under the interpretation of sedition, and added:The Sermon on the Mount would be banned.He concluded by saying that leaders of the Church should support those who are out to kill the Bill:Every Church leader should take a stand in defence of liberty and freedom. Through this Bill the National Government is attacking them as it is attacking us.These words probably accounted for the presence of a number of ministers of re- 590 ligion at a demonstration which I addressed some 10 days ago. At that meeting one minister came out with a statement practically equivalent to that which I have just read. He said:What about the New Testament. May we safely have that in our house?The hon. Member for Bodmin referred to a demonstration which took place in Trafalgar Square last Sunday, and drew attention, with some satisfaction, to the fact that all classes were represented from the extreme red to the pure white. What sort of stuff was talked to the people listening in Trafalgar Square, 9,000 in number? The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) said:This agitation which we are carrying on against the Sedition Bill is part of the general agitation against the establishment of Fascism in Great Britain and abroad. The Bill makes two potential categories of criminals, the social agitator and the pacifist. It is not an isolated instance of the attack on liberty in Great Britain, it is part of a long and deliberate attack upon democracy, which started by the Trade Union Disputes Bill of 1927, which was carried on by an attack on the co-operative society and by the reorganisation of the Metropolitan police, and is being added to by the Unemployment Act which commences at the beginning of next year.
§ Mr. RADFORD
We have always been spoken of as the stupid party, and I will admit that sometimes I have thought we were a little stupid—if we are not brainy we are British—but when I learned for the first time that our leaders have had such a long-term policy, that those who were here in 1927 when the Trades Dispute Act was being passed were unintentionally taking part in a long thought - out scheme, which is still incomplete, I began to think that we were not a particular stupid party and that. we have supermen as leaders. shall go into the Lobby in support of this Bill with an absolutely clear conscience that not a single letter or line of it endangers freedom of speech and expression of opinions. In no respect does it touch pacifism or disarmament, but those deserving fellows in our Services will at any rate have an additional safeguard, however necessary or unnecessary, against mischievous persons who are trying to seduce them from their duty and allegiance to the Crown.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ Mr. LAWSON
We have now reached the final stage of a Bill which began rather quietly with the almost unanimous support of hon. Members behind the Government, but which has now been responsible for the most remarkable upheaval of opinion in the country we have seen for many years. When the Bill went to the Committee upstairs there were only eight or nine in opposition and some 50 Members behind the Government. We have been favoured by the presence of the Prime Minister to-day, a most revolutionary incident in the progress of the Bill, for apart from that both here and upstairs the absence of those hon. Members whose names are on the Bill has been notable. Never has a representative of the Services risen to give any concrete evidence as to the need for the Bill, and what is more remarkable is that prominent officers in the Army have said that there is no need, so far as the Army is concerned, for a Bill of this description. We felt a very small band upstairs, but we fought the Bill stage by stage although we felt that we were fighting almost a forlorn hope. As the days went by it became clear that there were even more potent forces behind us and our numbers were multiplied by the expressions of opinion outside.
One of the most remarkable proofs of the reality of democratic government in this country has been the fact that people outside have so readily made their influence felt inside Parliament. The hon. Member for Rusholme (Mr. Radford) is one of those who has had the courage to face his opponents in his own area, and that is a matter which does him great credit when feeling is so high. The hon. and learned Member for East Leicester (Mr. Lyons) took the same line, that all the resolutions which have been sent out are the result of a kind of machine-made resolution and that there was a thorough misunderstanding of the Bill in the country. I am amazed that hon. Members should hold that view. The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) has pointed out that some of the most eminent jurists in the land are behind the agitation, men like Sir William Holdsworth, Professor Brierly, and others. But they are only a few of the people who have been really disturbed by the Bill. Masses of people who are not in any way connected with 592 the law, citizens who at least understand clearly the value of words and the meaning of Bills of this kind, are also disturbed. One of the most remarkable things of our time has been the rallying together of the most unlike types of people in order to express emphatic disapproval of the Bill.
Why has there been the very great change that we see in the Bill? The Bill as introduced was a Bill of only two pages. The Bill which we have now before us is a Bill of four pages. All this extra room has been required to put in the safeguards. One of the most dangerous Sub-sections of the original Bill was taken out at an early stage of the Committee proceedings. I will read it to hon. Members, and they will see that there was hardly any limit to the powers that it was originally intended to give to the authorities in respect of incitement. Those powers could be extended almost without limitation to all kinds of activity and literature. There was no wonder that people outside inferred that not only ordinary literature but even sacred literature, if used deliberately by people, would be likely to incriminate them. Here is the Subsection:If any person does or attempts to do or causes to be done or attempted, any act preparatory to the commission of an offence under Section 1 of this Act, he Shall he guilty of an offence under this Act.Those words are capable of almost infinite expansion.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If any later speaker should attempt to answer the point that the hon. Member has raised I should call him to order. The hon. Member knows quite well that on the Third Reading he must deal only with the words in the Bill itself.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I am sorry I transgressed. I was led off by the arguments which have been used to-day as to the unreality of the apprehensions that have been aroused regarding the Bill. At any rate the Bill now before us is much improved in form, and I would join with those who have been appreciative of the courtesy of the learned Attorney-General and Solicitor-General. If it had not been for the remarkably equable temper and courtesy of the Attorney-General it is very probable that this Bill would 593 never have gone as far as it has gone. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has staved off storms by a patience that has been remarkable indeed. Under the original proposals of the Bill one magistrate had to deal with applications made under the Bill, but a very great improvement has been made in the Bill in that respect. The matter has now to be left in the hands of a judge, and not of a magistrate. The Solicitor-General pointed out that intent had to be proved. In the original Bill there was no provision to that effect and that change has been made as a result of the fight which was put up in Committee.
As the Bill now stands intent on the part of the person concerned has to be proved and the judge has to give his opinion as to whether there is ground for carrying out a search or not. But while that change has been made, and, in spite of the remarkable record of the judges for giving balanced judgments and for doing justice, the fact still remains that a right which is the common possession of every citizen, without limit and without challenge, is now to be at the disposal of a judge in these cases. A judge can order a search if he thinks there is intent. The Attorney-General has told us that certain proofs are necessary in order to show that there is intent. But the fact remains that because of some mysterious happenings, of which we have heard but of which we have had no proof, because of some suggested incitement of troops to sedition, because some persons at some time have distributed literature and newspapers, people are to be made liable to be brought before a judge in a case of this kind. The judge is like any other human being. He may not at all times be equally capable of giving a judgment which is altogether free from the effects of his own training and his own political outlook, but that judge is to have the power to order a search of a person's house.
I think my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) who read the letter sent by the Prime Minister to Mr. E. D. Morel during the War was quite right in pointing out that there might be circumstances in which even a judge could be persuaded to give the right of search in the case of persons who were normally good citizens and who had no intent such as is 594 indicated in the old Mutiny Act or in Clause 1 of this Bill. Incidentally I think that the Prime Minister's answer was rather remarkable. I thought that what he did was to suggest that any Government in the same position would have to pursue the course which that Government pursued when they sent Mr. Morel to prison.
The PRIME MINIST ER
Apparently I have come in at a very opportune time and I am sorry that I was unable to be here earlier. What I did say was that it imposed a D.O.R.A. which was very much stronger and that this Bill was not a war Bill at all. That is all I said.
§ Mr. LAWSON
It seems to me that that means that the right hon. Gentleman did practically justify the application of the law to Mr. E. D. Morel at that time. I should not like to misinterpret what the right hon. Gentleman has said, but I do not think his answer achieved the object which he set out to achieve. Although the Government have had, as someone said, gracefully to retreat, the fact remains that that unlimited right has been taken from the average citizen because there has been some literature distributed and something has taken place of which proof has not been given up to the present time. At this late stage the Solicitor-General said, about these so-called facts, that there had been literature, documented literature, distributed, but there has not been any proof of trouble in the Army, and there is no evidence of trouble in the Navy or in the Air Force. I should think that a foreigner reading these Debates or reading this Bill would be under the impression that there is seething discontent in the armed Forces of the Crown. Anyone who has travelled—and most Members have—must know how Debates and matters affecting this House are noted by intelligent citizens in parts of Europe, and really they must have assumed, I think, that if the Government are concerned about trouble in the armed Forces, there must be some trouble there somewhere. That is the reading, at any rate, that they will be entitled to make, and I do not think the Government have rendered a good service to the country by this Bill. One thing they have done is to bring the 595 armed Forces into public controversy in a way that I have never known in my time.
I should like to ask the Attorney-General if he will reply to the point put by the Leader of the Opposition. What does he say about the Curragh incident? It is really relevant to this discussion. One or two hon. Members have sought to defend it. I remember that I was at the pit when that incident happened, and I was getting, I think, about 6s. or 7s. a day. I was looking the other day at the pictures in the "Daily Dispatch," where there are masses of men standing and guns are being loaded or unloaded and run into Belfast. I was very much struck, I was almost staggered, when I saw that particular picture during the time when I was in the mines. Working at one of the hardest crafts that there is in industry, and feeling deeply about the wages and conditions prevailing at that time, just as we do to-day, it seemed a tragic thing to me, as a humble workman, that outstanding statesmen should give their influence and active support to a method of that kind, and I still think it is one of the worst things that has happened in the political life of this country, not only that that deed was performed, but that the Government were so supine concerning the incident.
I want to ask the Attorney-General if he, on behalf of the National Government, but as a Conservative, at that Box because he is a Conservative as well as a lawyer, is prepared to say that that was a wrong method. The hon. and learned Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten) said that that was justified because it was an evidence of loyalty, but the Fascist says the same thing. He takes the line that he is not only a loyalist, but a super-loyalist. If people are justified in doing a thing like that I say, as one who understands something of the deep feelings that were aroused at the time, that there will be no settlement of the controversy on this method of doing things until the Conservative leaders repudiate it. They have not repudiated it; they have justified it either actively by word or passively by their silence. You cannot expect humble working men, who have their own views, to run the straight and narrow constitutional road—men whose lives and standards are at stake—if responsible people are going 596 to be silent upon a matter of this kind. I invite the Attorney-General to be very definite and clear as to whether he espouses this incident as a political method.
Those who print and publish are very much concerned about this Bill and are entitled to know their position clearly. The average layman may think there is no need for troubling, but the fact is that printers and publishers are not merely concerned; it would not be putting it too high to say that they are rampant about this matter. It would be a good thing for those concerned if the right hon. and learned Gentleman would clearly state their position. Sometimes there is great controversy as to whether good can come out of evil. If it be possible for good to come out of evil, it certainly has come out in this case at a time when liberty is in question and is suppressed all over Europe. I wish the hon. Member for East Leicester were here. I was astonished at his speech. He is a member of a race which is the chief butt of all the attacks of dictatorship all over Europe in a way that has roused the whole Jewish people throughout the world. Yet one of their representatives stands up and defends a Bill of this kind. I was astonished to hear a gentleman belonging to that race supporting it. The Bill, at any rate, has given the country an opportunity of showing just where the people stand on matters affecting liberty. It has sounded the country and the country has rung true. The answer that was given yesterday at the municipal elections was not merely an answer upon municipal affairs, but, if the minds of the citizens could be searched, it would be found to be an early effective way of answering the Government's Bill. Well, indeed, have they answered it.
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) has been so kind in the words that he addressed to the House with reference to the Solicitor-General and myself that it seems almost ungracious of me to attempt to deal, as I am afraid I must deal, a little harshly with some of his arguments. He himself has helped to preserve that atmosphere of kindliness in relation to each other which we desire ever to keep, however much our political 597 opinions may differ. I thought the hon. Member would not sit down without some reference to the municipal elections. It is so much easier, in a Debate of this sort, to snatch a piece of comfort like that than to discuss the terms of the Bill. I was also faced with the opinions of some eminent jurists, like Sir Williams Holds-worth and Professor Brierly. I am always interested to observe with what authority lawyers speak when they happen to agree with the person who quotes their opinions, but, so far as Professor Brierly is concerned, if anybody is interested to refer to what he said—and I think the same is also true of Sir William Holdsworth—he has not given tongue since, I think, the Debate at the end of April when this Bill was introduced, and on that occasion he referred to three what I may call Committee points, which have been cleared up and dealt with, I imagine to his satisfaction, in the course of these Debates.
The Solicitor-General gave a very careful 'and, I may fairly claim, in the absence of any challenge in any part of the House, an accurate exposition of the provisions of this Bill. It was a misfortune that it was at an early hour, when a large attendance was inconvenient to the House. But it is very remarkable that although the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street, and the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) have all addressed the House after hearing my hon. and learned Friend, not one of them has differed from the exposition which he gave of the principles and the provisions of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, it is quite true, expressed an opinion about Clause 1 of the Bill which must have given somewhat of a shock to the Liberal party when he said that Clause 1 was simply a repetition of the law as it stood to-day. In spite of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman disclaimed any knowledge of the law and made, if I may say so, some rather offensive references to the law, he seems to have a very good working acquaintance with the law with reference to incitement to mutiny. The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) seemed to share the prevailing anxiety in the ranks of our opponents to keep as far away from the provisions of the Bill as possible. In almost his concluding sentence, if he will look at it to-morrow 598 morning, he will find that he said, as indeed I should expect, that he did not wish to go over the ground of the Bill. But that was exactly the task which the House wished him to attempt. I will not say the House. expected him to do so, any more than they expected the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition to do so.
The hon. Member for Bridgeton went a little further. He not only did not challenge that exposition of the Bill, but, if I have not misunderstood him, he accepted the Solicitor-General's exposition of the difference between the act of trying to persuade the Government to alter the law and. the act of trying to persuade a person to break the law. His criticism was that that distinction breaks down in practice, because in the courts the dice are loaded in favour of the Executive and against the poorest people in the land. I have had a considerable experience of the courts and of appearing on behalf of what is called the Executive, and I have not found, at any rate in recent years, that there is any disposition on the part of the courts to listen to me with favour whenever I defend what is said to be the tyrannical power of the Executive. I should think that every lawyer in the House would confirm my statement that the courts to-day are probably more anxious about and more alive to the necessity of keeping the Executive within the limits of the law than they ever have been.
In the accusation that the dice are loaded against the poorest and the attacks upon what he called the pettifogging little magistrate, the hon. Member for Bridgeton does a great disservice to the cause which he represents by vilifying the magistrates of the land, whether they be judges or justices of the peace. You never hear it in any other circles. If you go abroad you never hear people say that the magistrates and the judges of this land favour the Government against the poor or the oppressed. It is only in our own nest that you sometimes find people for their own purposes attacking the administration of the law on the ground that it is not fair to every man, woman and child as far as human personality can be always fair and free from prejudice. I believe that to be an unfounded charge. I am not going to defend every magistrate or every judge or say that they are infallible or perfect 599 in their administration of the law, but it does not assist the general cause of liberty, justice or humanity, or the elucidation of the principles of the Bill to say that it is a bad Bill because those who are to administer it cannot be trusted to administer it fairly.
All this is largely irrelevant, for the simple reason that nobody need be tried by a magistrate now, unless he wants to be. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Leicester (Mr. Lyons) pointed out that in the first five minutes of my Second Reading speech I said that I would make an Amendment to achieve that result. A magistrate cannot issue a search warrant. It indicates the poverty of argument and the lack of massive, substantial criticism of the provisions of the Bill that hon. Members have had to go harking back to what was once in the Bill, as was attempted by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street until the rules of debate prevented him. What a poor case they must have against the Bill if they have to talk all the time about what is not in the Bill. I am sure that the hon. Member must realise the force of my criticism. It would have been much more helpful if he had spent time in telling us what he thought he found in the Bill. The hon. Member for Bodmin went even further in irrelevancy. He used a story which was long ago proved to be a hoax. I had hoped that the House was aware of that, and I might take advantage of the opportunity once more to attempt to do what is so often difficult, that is, to catch up with a falsehood.
When the Quaker deputation, with great courtesy and fairness, laid before me their criticism of the Bill, Mr. Sutherland, a leading member of the deputation and the principal of an educational institution, told me the story that during the War a court in Leeds had ordered 20,000 copies of a leaflet containing the Sermon on the Mount to be destroyed, and had sentenced the would-be distributor to three months' imprisonment with hard labour. That is the story which the hon. Member for Bodmin, some five months afterwards, uses as one of his arguments against the Bill. Let me now tell the House what this straightforward gentleman says, after he had taken nearly five weeks to discover the basis of the story: 600I wrote at once to the author of the book…and received the reply that an examination of legal records bad failed to trace the case, and that a footnote to that effect had been placed in subsequent editions of the book. The Manchester Guardian' "—even the "Manchester Guardian," with its great resources—says it has often heard the story, but has never been able to trace any evidence to substantiate it. Mr. Robert J. Long, the Secretary of the Northern Friends' Peace Board, says he was in Leeds throughout the War, but knew of no such incident. …Lord Snowden and Mr. Joseph King also are of opinion that as a statement of an actual incident the story lacks authority.Is it to be wondered at that a member of the body of Quakers, who are well known for their integrity and straightforwardness, expressed his great regret for having adduced an unreliable piece of evidence in support of the case he laid before me, and, of course, told me that he would have no objection at all to his letter being published, as the incident had a wide circulation? But the hon. Member for Bodmin is not going to be put off by a little thing like that. I think I can form a pretty good opinion as to where he got his information, because a pamphlet has been printed, by the Independent Labour party ostensibly, which has reproduced this hoary story. The hon. Member for Bodmin, being in some difficulty for sound argument, thought the Independent Labour party, a party of such virility, must be able to give him some information, so he obtained their pamphlet, and this was the best thing that he could find in it.
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT
I am not aware of the source of the pamphlet from which I quoted this morning. I referred to it because of what had been said by the Solicitor-General in the course of his speech, and I was speaking then from memory, because he said that the opinion of Quakers upon war could not in any event lead to any proceedings under this Bill. It was in answer to that argument that I quoted from memory. I would now like to put this question to the Attorney-General. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw !"] Those hon. Members who say "Withdraw" were not here this morning, because, as soon as it was pointed out by the Attorney-General, I did withdraw. If a Quaker to-day takes a passage from the Scriptures, and communicates that to any members of the 601 Forces with a view to persuading them not to fight, is he within the terms of this Bill?
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
The hon. Gentleman will forgive me for saying that he must not attempt to cover his retreat in that way. I will deal with the Bible and with Quakers, if I have time, before I sit down. I give that as one illustration of the sort of fact, or rather fancy, with which what the hon. Gentleman opposite describes as a popular upheaval has been supported. Let me give an illustration. Here is a resolution which I have received from the borough of Wood Green and the copy—I will not say a machine made copy—of a number of resolutions from very intelligent corporations. Listen to this:I am directed to inform you that my Council have passed a resolution protesting against the Incitement to Disaffection Bill on the ground that it will facilitate attack on offences with which the Government of the day disagrees.I wrote to the town clerk asking him if he would elucidate it, but, with a sense of humour, as well as legal acumen, he said that he would have very great pleasure indeed in submitting that question to the appropriate committee of his corporation.
§ The ATTORNEY - GENERAL
A Labour council. Does it not show the nature of a great deal of the agitation against this Bill? We have never received any explanation from the Wood Green Council, but it is a fair measure of the intelligence with which a great many of the resolutions against this Bill have been framed.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and another hon. Member asked me about what he described as the Curragh incident by which I understand him to refer to certain activities in Ulster. I am not going to take upon myself the task of passing judgment upon a series of incidents of which I have but an imperfect recollection. I know the broad outlines, and those who have read Lord Carson's life, recently published, will have seen a great deal about those events, but I do take up the position of 602 refusing to pronounce any legal or political opinion upon those incidents by reason of the fact that the proper people to whom to address those questions are the eminent legal authorities in the Liberal party who are the inheritors of the policy of those who dealt with the incidents. The hon. Member opposite 'shakes his head. It is riot the part of the Government at one time of day to pass judgment upon events with which other Governments were under the duty of dealing. Nothing will persuade me to admit for a moment that anything in the nature of illegal drilling or that sort of thing would be tolerated in this country. Whether what took place in Northern Ireland was illegal drilling or not—[HON. MEMBERS "Oh!"]—I am trained to be cautious in expressing an opinion.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Am I to understand that the question of whether men may drill and arm depends upon the particular object they have in view that is contrary to the Government and in what part of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland they may be?
§ The ATTORNEY - GENERAL
That raises a series of propositions into which I do not propose to enter. Nobody in my office or on the Government Bench would feel it his duty at the moment to write a text book about the incidents which took place in Northern Ireland in reference to this Bill. Whatever offences were committed in Northern Ireland at any rate did not include the offence of tampering with the troops.
Let me acknowledge with satisfaction the fact that, with one possible exception, no one to-day has approved or condoned the offence of seducing members of the troops from their duty or allegiance. That must be a great satisfaction to everyone. I am sure even the right hon. Gentleman who said he was in favour of permitting any propaganda at any time or at any place, whatever its nature, does not stand for liberty to persuade the soldier or sailor that he may desert his duties. The hon. Member for Bodmin says that if there were an emergency he would support an emergency measure. I know that type of politician. They wait for a panic and then they are the most panic-stricken of the lot. That would mean that we had to wait until the leaven had begun to work in the 603 lump and disaffection had spread in the Forces. The hon. Member said that the potential disaffection of the soldier was not something that we ought to anticipate. We are not troubling so much about the potential disaffection of the soldier, which I am glad to say is a very long way off. What we are troubling about is the actual disaffection of the seducer. The right hon. Gentleman paid a well-deserved tribute to the contentment and good order of the Forces. if that be so, why should we permit these people to interfere with that contentment? If they be so contented, what reason is there for these largely foreign agents to come in and interfere with their contentment and loyalty? No one stands for the right to seduce a soldier. If we do not propose to tolerate the seducer in the circles of our own Navy and Army, why should we tolerate those people who come from without to disturb the liberty and contentment which we enjoy?
I have been asked over and over again for some further information as to what is going on. I apologise for troubling the House with it. Anyone who runs may read these things. There is a body which a year or so ago was celebrating the twelfth anniversary of the Red Army, and a circular was issued by the Young Communists International, which has had a considerable circulation in this country in certain quarters, saying that important work requires not only leadership in industrial and political struggles among the young workers in the factories, but also systematic and consistent activity among the young workers in the Army. "Work in the Army and Navy and in the police must be greatly increased."
The Anti-War Committee, which hon. Members opposite know all about because lately they declined to allow it to be associated with the Parliamentary Labour Party of Great Britain as being an organisation subsidiary or ancillary to the Communist international—and it is to their credit that they came to that decision—passed a resolution at Amsterdam in May, 1932, which has been repeated since, that special attention be paid to agitation and propaganda among the armed forces of capitalist countries. I am not going to trouble the House, even if I had the time, and it was right to 604 do so, with information in detail as to how these resolutions are being carried out. I say upon the authority of one who has seen some of the evidence—and the House must be content with that for the moment—that these are not merely waste paper resolutions. They are resolutions which are being acted upon from day to day, and the fact that the great expense which is poured out on these efforts has so far not borne fruit is no reason why we should not take steps to prevent it bearing fruit.
§ Mr. MAXTON
As I understand it, on the submission of the Solicitor-General made at the beginning of our debate today, it would be illegal to do it under this Bill.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
The hon. Gentleman must have mistaken my hon. and learned Friend. If this agitation means persuading them to put themselves into a frame of mind not to obey orders lawfully given to them it will bring them not only under this Bill but under the law as it stands to-day. Why should they have a charter of freedom for circulation in this country? They have met with little or no success so far, and this Bill is a reasonable Measure for taking care that they meet with no success in the future, and I ask the House to accept it.
We have heard a great deal about liberty this afternoon and on other occasions. The Bishop of Birmingham has addressed some questions to me which the right hon. Gentleman has repeated. The Bishop of Birmingham asked me to suppose that he had said: "I cannot think that a Christian man should act under orders in this way. Am I not, by these words, committing an offence under Clause 1 of the Bill?" If he is committing an offence under a Clause in the Bill, he is committing an offence under the law of the land as it is to-day, so that that question is one which need not trouble the Bishop of Birmingham, Because whether this Bill is passed or not he will, to accept his own thesis, be committing an illegal offence. I very much doubt whether the Bishop of Birmingham will be committing an offence under the existing law to-day. If he is so anxious to achieve voluntary martyrdom, he will, no doubt, render good service, and no one wishes to stop him. I have heard him say very wise and eloquent things about peace and war, with 605 many of which I perfectly agree with all my heart. But when the Bishop of Birmingham tries to frighten us by supposing that he would be in danger of punishment and imprisonment because he says that he cannot think that a Christian man should act under orders in this way, I say that he will be in no danger unless he goes to the soldier or sailor and tries to persuade him to disobey orders. That is plain English which every Englishman can understand, and it does not want a lawyer to explain it. There is all the difference in the world between airing one's political opinions or attempting to influence public opinion and using those opinions to go to a man to seduce him from lawful orders which he may receive from day to day.
I have had many hypothetical cases submitted to me, and I have not time to answer them. The only answer I can give in general is that hypothetical cases are rarely useful in connection with matters of law, and for this reason. The facts are nearly always insufficiently stated to enable anybody to give a complete answer. Remember this further, that ultimately the question as to whether evidence is sufficient to prove a particular offence must depend on the view the jury take. In spite of what the hon. Member for Bridgeton said, there is still that ancient bulwark between liberty and oppression—the British jury—who will be able to decide these questions much more easily than right hon. or hon. Gentlemen opposite. The right hon. Gentleman opposite wants me to deal with the printer. It is a misfortune to most hon. Members that they were not present to hear the right hon. Gentleman describe the circumstances in which he wrote a best-seller.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
The right hon. Gentleman gave the book away to so many people that when the police searched the premises there were no copies left. I have heard about the agent provocateur, but I never expected to see the right hon. Gentleman in that position. With regard to the printer, if the printer prints a book in the ordinary 606 course of trade without wanting or intending for a moment to commit or to aid in the commission of an offence under Clause 1 of the Bill, of course he will not be guilty, but if you get a printer such as we have to deal with, people who take care to cover up their tracks by forming a company of four or five shareholders, who are usually clerks behind the counter, and they print something which they intend shall reach the troops, that is another pair of shoes. The trouble is that we cannot get at the real culprit. This Bill is going to help us to get at the real culprit instead of having to jump upon a poor person who perhaps gets 30s. a week for distributing literature intended to seduce the troops from their loyalty.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned his Christmas annual. Let his good friend the printer print his Christmas annual, but let him take care that he does not say anything to seduce the Forces from their loyalty. I have no doubt that he knows how to do it. The hon. Member for Bodmin, who is a great defender and lover of liberty, is also a great admirer of the great Cromwell. His idea would be, I suppose, to do what Cromwell did when he said in yonder Hall:Fetch in the soldiers,and when he said of your predecessor, Mr. Speaker,Reach him downWe prefer the liberty of Parliamentary control. The fact is that in this country, which so happily enjoys democratic government, liberty does mean Parliamentary control. What will prevent liberty and what will destroy liberty is the destruction of Parliamentary control. The soldier and the sailor have been given arms in an unarmed country. The law has deprived everybody except those officers of the State of the weapons which at one time the civilian population carried, and the law has been equally careful and Parliament has been equally careful to see that those persons who alone are permitted to carry arms shall be under the control of the Parliament of the day and not of any seductive opinion of foreign agitators.
Let us take a lesson from other countries. When anybody there has wanted to overthrow duly constituted authority the first step has been to 607 interfere with the loyalty of the troops, but when they have achieved the success they desire and they find themselves in the seat of power by revolutionary force, who is so cruel, so harsh, so determined as they that no one shall interfere with the loyalty of the troops whom they themselves corrupted so that they might get into power? We have heard a great deal about liberty. My closing words are these, that nothing will enslave the British nation so long as it is true to that form of Parliamentary government which protects our liberties.
§ 3.59 p.m.
Lieut.-Colonel Sir WILLIAM ALLEN
On a point of Order. I should like to ask whether it is not the usual custom of this House when a number of speakers have referred to a particular portion of the country, to give at least one Member from that part of the country an opportunity of reply?
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 241; Noes, 65.609
|Division No. 379.]||AYES||[4.0 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro)||Law, Richard K. (Hull, S.W.)|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G.||Cross, R. H.||Leckie. J. A.|
|Ainsworth, Lieut.-Colonel Charles||Crossley, A. C.||Liddall, Walter S.|
|Albery, Irving James||Davison, Sir William Henry||Lindsay, Kenneth (Kilmarnock)|
|Allen, Sir J. Sandeman (Liverp'l, W.)||Dawson, Sir Philip||Llewellin, Major John J.|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir William (Armagh)||Doran, Edward||Locker-Lampson, Rt. Hn. G. (Wd.Gr'n)|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Drummond-Wolff, H. M. C.||Loder, Captain J. de Vere|
|Applin, Lieut.-Col. Reginald V. K.||Duckworth, George A. V.||Loftus, Pierce C.|
|Ansley, Lord||Duggan, Hubert John||Lyons, Abraham Montagu|
|Assheton, Ralph||Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.)||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Seaham)|
|Astbury, Lieut.-Com. Frederick Wolfe||Eden, Rt. Hon. Anthony||Macdonald, Cant. P. D. (I. of W.)|
|Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover)||Elmley, Viscount||McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)|
|Astor, Viscountess (Plymouth, Sutton)||Emmott, Charles E. G. C.||Macpherson, Rt. Hon. Sir Ian|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Macquisten, Frederick Alexander|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Entwistle, Cyril Fullard||Maitland, Adam|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Evans, Capt. Arthur (Cardiff, S.)||Manningham.Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M.|
|Beaumont, Hon. R.E.B. (Portsm'th,C.)||Fremantle, Sir Francis||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.|
|Benn, Sir Arthur Shirley||Fuller, Captain A. G.||Marsden, Commander Arthur|
|Bevan, Stuart James (Holborn)||Galbraith, James Francis Wallace||Mason, Col. Glyn K. (Croydon, N.)|
|Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman||Ganzonl, Sir John||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John|
|Blaker, Sir Reginald||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Meller, Sir Richard James|
|Bossom, A. C.||Glossop, C. W. H.||Mills, Sir Frederick (Leyton, E.)|
|Boulton, W. W.||Gluckstein, Louis Halle||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)|
|Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart||Goff, Sir Park||Mitchell, Harold P.(Br'tf'd & Chisw'k)|
|Bower, Commander Robert Tatton||Goldle, Noel B.||Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)|
|Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.||Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter||Molson, A. Hugh Elsdale|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Grenfeil, E. C. (City of London)||Monsell, Rt. Hon. Sir B. Eyres|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Sir Archibald||Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Moore, Lt.-Col. Thomas C. R. (Ayr)|
|Braithwaite, Maj. A. N. (Yorks, E. R.)||Grimston, R. V.||Morgan, Robert H.|
|Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough)||Gritten, W. G. Howard||Morris, Owen Temple (Cardiff, E.)|
|Briscoe, Capt. Richard George||Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E.||Morrison, William Shepherd|
|Brockiebank, C. E. R.||Guinness, Thomas L. E. B.||Moss, Captain H. J.|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham)||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||Munro, Patrick|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Hammersley, Samuel S.||Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen.H. C.(Berks.,Newb'y)||Hanley, Dennis A.||Nicholson, Rt. Hn. W. G. (Petersf'ld)|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Nunn, William|
|Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie||Hartland, George A.||O'Donovan, Dr. William James|
|Burnett, John George||Harvey, George (Lambeth,Kenningt'n)||Patrick, Colin M.|
|Burton, Colonel Henry Walter||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M.||Peake, Osbert|
|Cadogan, Hon. Edward||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Peat, Charles U.|
|Campbell, Vice-Admiral G. (Burnley)||Horobin, Ian M.||Percy, Lord Eustace|
|Caporn, Arthur Cecil||Horsbrugh, Florence||Petherick, M|
|Cassels, James Dale||Howard, Tom Forrest||Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)|
|Castiereagh, Viscount||Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.||Peto, Geoffrey K.(W'verh'pt'n,Bliston)|
|Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Pike, Cecil F.|
|Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham)||Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport)||Powell. Lieut.-Col. Evelyn G. H.|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord Hugh||Hume, Sir George Hopwood||Pownall, Sir Assheton|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Edgbaston)||Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)||Preston, Sir Walter Rueben|
|Chapman, Sir Samuel (Edinburgh, S.)||Hurst, Sir Gerald B.||Procter, Major Henry Adam|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer||Hutchison, W. D. (Essex, Romford)||Purbrick, R.|
|Clarry, Reginald George||Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas W. H.||Radford, E. A.|
|Clayton, Sir Christopher||Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.)||Raikes, Henry V. A. M.|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Joel, Dudley J. Barnato||Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian)|
|Collins, Rt. Hon. Sir Godfrey||Ker, J. Campbell||Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)|
|Colman, N. C. D.||Kerr, Lieut.-Col. Charles (Montrose)||Ramsbotham, Herwald|
|Cooper, A. Duff||Kerr, Hamilton W.||Ray. Sir William|
|Copeland, Ida||Keyes, Admiral Sir Roger||Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)|
|Courtauld, Major John Sewell||Kirkpatrick, William M.||Reid, Capt. A. Cunningham-|
|Craddock, Sir Reginald Henry||Lambert, Rt. Hon. George||Reid, William Allan (Derby)|
|Critchley, Brig.-General A. C.||Latham. Sir Herbert Paul||Remer, John R.|
|Robinson, John Roland||Somervell, Sir Donald||Wallace, John (Dunfermline)|
|Ropner, Colonel L.||Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Rosbotham, Sir Thomas||Spender-Clay, Rt. Hon. Herbert H.||Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)|
|Ross, Ronald D.||Spens, William Patrick||Wardlaw-Mline, Sir John S.|
|Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Fylde)||Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.|
|Runge, Norah Cecil||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'morland)||Watt, Captain George Steven H.|
|Russell,Hamer Field (Sheffield,B'tside)||Steel-Maitland, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur||Wayland, Sir William A.|
|Rutherford, John (Edmonton)||Storey, Samuel||Whiteside, Borras Noel H.|
|Salmon, Sir Isidore||Strauss, Edward A.||Whyte, Jardine Bell|
|Samuel, Sir Arthur Michael (F'nham)||Strickland, Captain W. F.||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S[...]|
|Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip A. G. D.||Sutcliffe, Harold||Wills, Wilfrid O.|
|Savery, Samuel Servington||Taylor, Vice-Admiral E. A.(Pd'gt'n,S.)||Wilson, Clyde T. (West Toxteth)|
|Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark. Bothwell)||Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Shaw, Captain William T. (Forfar)||Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John||Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles||Wise, Alfred R.|
|Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.||Thorp, Linton Theodore||Withers, Sir John James|
|Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)||Todd, A. L. S. (Kingswinford)|
|Smith, Sir J. Walker- (Barrow-In-F.)||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Smith, Sir Robert (Ab'd'n & K'dine,C.)||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.||Sir George Penny and Commander Southby.|
|Smithers, Sir Waldron||Turton, Robert Hugh|
|Somerset, Thomas||Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South)||Gardner, Benjamin Walter||Mason, David M. (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||George, Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd (Carn'v'n)||Maxton, James|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Graves, Marjorie||Milner, Major James|
|Banfield, John William||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur||Nathan, Major H. L.|
|Batey, Joseph||Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middiesbro',W).||Paling, Wilfred|
|Bernays, Robert||Griffiths, George A. (Yorks,W. Riding)||Parkinson, John Allen|
|Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)||Grundy, Thomas W.||Rathbone, Eleanor|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield)||Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Buchanan, George||Harris, Sir Percy||Sinclair, Maj. Rt. Hn. Sir A.(C'thness)|
|Cape, Thomas||Healy, Cahir||Smith, Tom (Normanton)|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Hicks, Ernest George||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, North)|
|Cove, William G.||Holdsworth, Herbert||Thorne, William James|
|Dagger, George||Janner, Barnett||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)||Jenkins, Sir William||West, F. R.|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)|
|Davies, Stephen Owen||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Williams, Thomas (York., Don Valley)|
|Dobbie, William||Lansbury. Rt. Hon. George||Wilmot, John|
|Edwards, Charles||Lawson, John James||Wood, Sir Murdoch McKenzie (Banff)|
|Evans, David Owen (Cardigan)||Logan, David Gilbert||Young, Ernest J. (Middlesbrough, E.)|
|Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univ)||Lunn, William|
|Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen)||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Foot, Dingle (Dundee)||McEntee, Valentine L.||Mr. John and Mr. Groves.|
|Foot, Isaac (Cornwall, Bodmin)||Mainwaring, William Henry|
Bill read the Third time, and passed.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.610
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 2.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Nine Minutes after Four o'Clock.