§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
I beg to move:That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty praying that the Order-in-Council amending the Defence (General) Regulations, 1939, dated 29th May, 1940, a copy of which was presented to this House on 4th June, be annulled.The House will appreciate that the only method by which it may express disapproval of any Regulation under the Act, or unwillingness that any Regulation shall be operative, is by moving a Prayer, and it follows that it is necessary to move a Prayer against the whole of the Regulations published on a given date in a particular way. I propose to direct my arguments in support of this Prayer specifically to Regulation 2D, and consequently, 94B. I invite hon. Members to give serious attention to this new Regulation, because unless I am very greatly mistaken, its effect will be to put the Minister of Home Security in a position by no means inferior, as regards the scope of his powers over newspapers, to that occupied by the distinguished Dr. Goebbels in Germany. That Regulation, in the hands of an unscrupulous Government or Minister—I do not say that the present Minister is unscrupulous, but one has to judge Regulations by the powers which they give and not by the use made of them by a particular Minister or Government at a particular time—would enable the executive to prevent the expression of any kind of opinion in any newspaper. One has only to look at the wording of the Regulation to see that that is by no means an exaggerated claim concerning the scope of the authority given. It reads:If the Secretary of State is satisfied"—that is the only, condition—that there is, in any newspaper, a systematic publication of matter which is, in his opinion, calculated to foment opposition to the prosecution to a successful issue of any war in which His Majesty is engaged, he may by order apply the provisions of this Regulation to that newspaper.If he does so, it follows that,No person shall print, publish or distribute or be in any way concerned in the printing, publication or distribution of any newspaper to which this Regulation applies.In order to make quite certain that the newspaper or the persons associated with 1308 it shall not escape, the Regulation goes on to provide that:An order of the Secretary of State under this Regulation specifying a newspaper by name shall have effect not only with respect to any newspaper published under that name, but with respect to any newspaper published under any other name if the publication thereof is in any respect in continuation of, or in substitution for, the publication of the newspaper named in the order.It is clear that, as soon as the Minister is satisfied—and he is satisfied as soon as he says he is—that there is, in any newspaper, a systematic publication of matter which is, in his opinion, calculated to have the effect set out in the Regulation, he can stop that newspaper appearing, or being continued, or having its place taken by some other newspaper. Those are very drastic powers. It is not as though there were any kind of review of or check on the Minister's opinion. [Interruption.] I hear signs of approval in not unexpected quarters, but those quarters appear to approve—and I do not say they are wrong—of the particular Government and Minister. Those who are inclined on that ground to give these entirely unlimited and unrestricted powers to the executive must bear in mind that the time may come—indeed, that the time will come—when other Governments may be in power and other Ministers may have these powers reposed in them. I feel sure that those who at this time and in these circumstances approve of these unlimited powers being vested in this Minister and in this Government will agree that it might be undesirable at other times and in other circumstances, with other Governments and other Ministers, to give these same unrestricted powers to the Secretary of State to prevent, by his mere ipse dixit, the publication of a newspaper.
We are living in extremely dangerous times in which no doubt exceptional powers have to be vested in the executive, and where those exceptional powers are necessary, I do not know that anyone would grudge them or hesitate to afford them, but before agreeing to give a completely unlimited power of this sort, surely it is worth while examining what powers the Secretary of State already had and what use he made of them. If he can show that the evil to be dealt with by this Regulation is something which his existing powers are inadequate to control, then he begins to make out his case; I do not say that he entirely makes out his 1309 case, because important points of principle still remain, but he does not begin to make out his case for so drastic and authoritarian a power as this until he is in a position to satisfy the House, which is jealous of our liberties even in these times, that the powers which he already had were insufficient. What powers did he have before he sought the powers under Regulation 2B? What he wants to prevent is the systematic publication of matter calculated to foment opposition to the prosecution to a successful issue of the war. He had, first of all, Regulation 2A. A systematic endeavour to foment opposition to the successful prosecution of the war would undoubtedly bean act likely to assist the enemy or prejudice the public safety or the defence of the Realm or the efficient prosecution of the war.—Regulation 2A provides that if any person commits such an act, he shall be liable on conviction on indictment to penal servitude for life. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman will claim that the systematic fomenting of opposition to the successful prosecution of the war is not an act likely to prejudice the efficient prosecution of the war, and if it is that, it is an offence against Regulation 2A, and the offender on conviction on indictment is liable to penal servitude for life. But that is not the whole of the Secretary of State's powers; it is only the beginning. Regulation 2C is specifically directed to the Press; it deals with the corruption of public morale, and it has language which is very like the language of Regulation 2D. If it appears to the Secretary of State that any person is concerned in the systematic publication of matter which is, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, calculated to foment opposition to the prosecution to a successful conclusion of the war, and that serious mischief may be caused—and one may imagine that serious mischief would undoubtedly follow such an attempt—the Secretary of State may, without going to any authority, without the leave of any court, without being subject to any appeal to the courts or to any check or control of any kind, serve a warning upon the person offending.
What follows upon that warning? If anyone, after such a notice has been served upon him, continues to publish matter—not necessarily matter which was 1310 the subject of a warning, but any matter calculated to foment opposition—he then commits an offence for which he is liable to penal servitude for a term not exceeding seven years, or a fine not exceeding £500, or both. But there is a saving clause, that the man upon whom notice has been served, and who is then charged with committing an act after the warning, may prove, if he can, certain defences in court which would be an excuse. It might be said that that is all very well, and that that gives the Secretary of State power only to attack the individual offender, whereas the important thing is to control the printing press and the organisation. There is some force in that argument; but under Regulation 94A he has complete power, where an offence has been committed under Regulation 2c, to prohibit the use of that press unless the owner of it can satisfy the High Court that the use of the press ought to be continued.
This seems to me, and I hope it will seem to the House, to be ample power to prevent the mischief aimed at in the Regulations that I am attacking. But they all have what is to my mind a saving grace, but which appears to the Secretary of State to be a fatal flaw, namely, that the offender, or man charged with an offence, has his right of appeal to the court. Even then the Home Secretary does not have to prove that his original warning was justified. He merely has to prove that the warning was given, and if, after that warning, an offence is committed and matter is published—I repeat, matter which is not the subject of the warning but any matter calculated to foment opposition to the war—he has his action and the man has his defence. Under Regulation 2D, it will be found that there are no more powers conferred on the Secretary of State than there were before. He cannot interfere with anything with which he could not interfere before; but there is the vital difference that he becomes the sole judge in his own case, and that what was before a judicial matter becomes an executive act. I suppose the House would agree in its present mood even to that if it were satisfied of the necessity, but I suggest that it will not be satisfied with the necessity unless the right hon. Gentleman is able to satisfy it that the powers which he already has, which, as I have shown, are 1311 very drastic powers indeed, are inadequate. May I ask, since Regulation 2C and Regulation 94A became the law of the land, on how many occasions the right hon. Gentleman has served a warning under Section 2C, and will he then tell us in how many of those instances the warning has not been accepted and it has been necessary to prosecute the person warned for a continued offence?
If the answer to the first or to the second part of this question is that there have been few warnings or none, and that there have been few prosecutions or none, then I invite the House to infer that the evil must be small and not big. Armed with drastic powers to meet a deep-seated mischief, the Home Secretary would not have exhausted all the powers he had in an endeavour to remove that mischief if in fact he had used these powers but little. I think it is a reasonable inference that the mischief is a small one. Such a conclusion would be fortified and strengthened by the common experience of every Member of this House. I look in vain everywhere in the country for systematic publications with intent to assist the enemy or prevent the successful prosecution of the war.
§ Mr. Silverman
I am not an habitual reader of the "Daily Worker." It is months since I saw one; but take that as an instance. I suppose that if such a thing were to be found at all, it would be a likely place to look for it.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
How does the hon. Member reconcile the fact that he has looked in vain when he says he has not seen a "Daily Worker"?
§ Mr. Silverman
I should have thought, remembering the size and circulation of the "Daily Worker," that if you are thinking of papers or publications likely seriously to affect the mind of this country in the prosecution of the war, you would look at a lot of other papers before you considered what effect this publication was having on anyone. It may be that the hon. Member is right, and that I looked in the wrong quarter. Let me accept that for the moment. Supposing it be so, I do not know whether there have been, 1312 or is now, or will be, in the "Daily Worker," systematic publication of matter calculated to offend against these Regulations. Let me ask the right hon. Gentleman. Has he prosecuted, and, it so, how many times? The point I am making is that until he has exhausted the powers which he now has, he is not entitled to come to this House and ask for additional powers when those additional powers are unlimited. I ask the House to deduce from the fact that he has exercised these powers but little, that the mischief is a small one, and such a conclusion would be supported by the common experience of us all. The morale of this country is good and it is high, and there is no widespread, systematic publication of matter in newspapers calculated to prevent our carrying on the war to a successful conclusion. But if there is, then I ask the Home Secretary again what use he has made of the very drastic powers which he already has. If they have proved inadequate, let him come and ask for more, but if he has not used them, and if the reason is that it is not necessary to use. them at all, I ask him what claim he has to unlimited powers of this kind which give him, as I said before, complete power over the whole Press of the country, and place him in a position no whit inferior to that of Dr. Goebbels in the control of newspapers.
I have made my point. I think that we are all convinced that the war that we are fighting is a war of ideas and a war of principles. There are same exceptions to that, but I think it is the prevailing view in this country and in this House. If we are not fighting for that, what are we fighting for?
§ Mr. Silverman
The hon. and gallant Member may be fighting against Germany, but let me assure him that I and a great many Members of this House are not. We are fighting against a corrupt gangsterism which has enthralled Germany and threatens to e[...]hral Europe.
Mr. McKie (Galloway)
Is the hon. Member aware that five times in the last 80 years Germany has challenged Europe?
§ Mr. Silverman
I am sure the hon. Member realises that to answer that question I should be taken into a very much wider discussion than the one upon which the House is now engaged. However, I can answer him in one sentence if he will not press me for details. I say that it is simply not true that on the five occasions to which he referred, or at any rate on tour, that Germany bears the whole responsibility for what occurred. Certainly not, and there is not a Member of this House who does not believe that that is true.
§ Mr. Silverman
From my point of view, and from the point of view of almost everyone in this House and in the country as a whole, this is a war of ideas. It does not seem to me that you can win a war of ideas if you put Colonel Blimp in sole charge, and it does not seem to me that you can win a war of ideas if you allow the position of authority to be exercised by people who have not grasped what an idea is. When one considers some recent acts of the Executive, the Special Courts Bill, with which we were dealing a few weeks ago, where important concessions and obvious elementary concessions were wrung with extreme reluctance from a Government fighting every inch in a rearguard action to the bitter end, and when one considers the perfectly deplorable alien policy, and a great many other things with which I will not delay the House, one really is alarmed to consider whether the Government really appreciate the forces that are on their side. Liberty does count. Who would sacrifice one jot or tittle except at the inexorable price which we have to pay to maintain the rest? I say to the Home Secretary that we ought to reconsider this Regulation, and that he ought not to seek dictatorial powers of this kind which may be exercised by other Governments and other Ministers in other circumstances, unless he is satisfied himself and can satisfy this House that only powers of this kind, subject to no appeal, subject to no review, subject to no check or control, are necessary to him; and he cannot do that until the powers which he had, without these arbitrary powers, were proved inadequate in their use.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Commander King-Hall (Ormskirk)
I beg to second the Motion.
I understand that it is necessary to pray for the removal of the whole of this Order, but the only parts to which I wish to address my remarks are Regulations 2D and 94B. I think that there will be general agreement, whether we like the Regulations or not, that they go very far in touching the liberty of the Press. I hope I shall have the whole House with me when I say that the question of the liberty of the Press must always be of considerable concern to the House of Commons. In fact, in my opinion, it must come only second to the liberties of the House itself, because they are to some extent inextricably intertwined. These Regulations, as the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) has pointed out, are of a far-reaching character and replace in a sense the existing Regulations 94A and 2c. If one examines the new Regulations, one sees that the gist of the matter is that it is intended to deal with a publication which systematically publishes matter which jeopardises the successful issue of any war in which His Majesty may be engaged. I find it difficult to see how one can define those all-important words "the successful issue of any war."
To give a concrete example, I will take the case of the war in which we are engaged against Italy. I do not think I shall be accused of being a friend of dictatorial methods, but my conception of what is a successful issue of the war against Italy would go a good deal further than the conception in the minds of some other Members. There is the practical question, for instance, as to whether the successful issue of the war against Italy involves the restoration of Ethiopian independence. That being the case, I find great difficulty in seeing the necessity for Regulations of this character which leave to the decision of one man, the Home Secretary, however wise, humane and far-seeing he may be, the decision as to what is or what is not to constitute a successful issue to the war. He may, indeed, change his opinion in this matter as the war proceeds. Under the new Regulations which we are now praying to be annulled there is no appeal whatever against his decision in that matter. In the present Regulations the Secretary of 1315 State has to give a warning and has to go to the courts.
Frankly, I do not understand why the existing Regulations are not enough, and I say that, not in any degree to make a debating point, but with a desire for information. That is the point which is worrying me about this business. I do not know why the existing Regulations are not adequate, especially in view of the fact that, so far as I am aware, there has been only one case. A warning was issued to the "Daily Worker," which I take it was issued under Regulations 2B and 94A, and it was not followed by prosecution. If the Secretary of State can tell us that he fears that between the warning and the prosecution the period will be such that matter prejudicial to the successful conclusion of the war might be published, that is the only possible weakness I can see in the present Regulations. I am certain that the whole House are anxious that the Executive shall have every weapon they can possibly need in order to wage this war, but it is the duty of the House to make sure that we do not place in the hands of the Executive weapons by which they can take action which might even hamper the war effort.
I believe that the most important asset we have in what I think is a war of ideas—and I do not believe there is much difference between those who think it is a war of ideas and those who think it is a war to defend our lives—is the national spirit of unity. It is vital that we should maintain that unity, and I am certain that as the war begins to go against the enemy in a material sense every possible effort will be made to drive a wedge into the national unity which now exists in this country. I therefore beg the Home Secretary to remember, when he is asking for powers of this exceptional character, that on the other side of the balance sheet they might give rise to some degree of disunity by detaching those who feel quite sincerely that Regulations of this kind and these enormous powers over the liberties of the Press can be justified only if it can be clearly shown that they are essential for the successful waging of the war. I beg him to remember what happened in France, and I ask him whether he has studied, or whether his officials have put before him, the regulations which existed in France for the control of the Press in 1316 the first eight or nine months of the war. I was personally acquainted with some of the leading French journalists like Pertinax and others, who could not be accused of being friends of Germany, and they were warning me as long ago as November and December last year of the really dangerous situation due to the fact that not only was the French Press compulsorily censored from the point of view of military secrets and so forth, but that it was impossible to make the mildest political comments in the French Press. I believe that that had a great deal to do with concealing various matters from the French people, thus leading to their unfortunate collapse. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to satisfy me that it is really necessary to have these new powers and that the existing powers are not adequate for his purpose.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)
The two speeches we have just heard have covered the ground fairly campletely, and there is little left for subsequent speakers to do except to underline one or two points. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Ormskirk (Commander King-Hall) when he said that every Member of the House was only too anxious to give the Government all the powers that might be necessary to help this country to wage the war with the utmost speed and with the least sabotage, from whatever quarter it might come, so that we can at the earliest possible moment win the war for liberty, freedom and democracy. For the life of me, however, I cannot see how the alteration to Regulation 2C helps in that fight. As I see it, the real objection to 2D is that it takes away the saving words of warning in 2c. There are in 2C words which provide that the Home Secretary can give a warning to the editor of a newspaper which had come under his unfavourable observation. Under 2D that warning is to be done away with. I sec no reason for doing away with it in the light of the fact that the new Regulation still provides against the systematic publication of matter to which objection is taken. It is self-evident that if there is systematic publication, that means publication on more than one day. I can understand the Home Secretary desiring powers to drop upon an editor who publishes an article which should be suppressed 1317 immediately, and I take it that under the Regulations now existing the Home Secretary has that power.
Why is it essential to promulgate new Regulations in order to give the Home Secretary the right to drop on an editor without warning when the sin which he has committed is that of systematic publication of matter which is preventing the due prosecution of the war? It is obvious surely that if the publication has been systematic there is time for the Home Secretary to give warning and that that warning should in common fairness be given. Unless there is a provision for a warning many editors will be put in an invidious position—and not always editors of Left publications.
Shortly before we began this Debate some of us attended a meeting upstairs dealing with the freedom of the Press. It was made evident there that we do get to-day in periodicals presumably Conservative in outlook and colour, articles which in the eyes of many people would come under these Regulations. It would, I suppose, depend on how the Home Secretary looked at it whether it came under this provision or not, but, in any case, I repeat, publication has to be systematic, and I suggest that in common fairness a warning should be given. I hope the Home Secretary will realise that there is a real suspicion in the minds of many Members of the House and thousands of people outside that the Press may be put under control. It should not he handed over in this way. The public see no reason why it should he handed over. I am positive that public opinion would demand that these Regulations should be annulled and that we should rely on the previous Regulations which give the Home Secretary all the power that he needs.
§ 6.59 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir John Anderson)
I should like to make it perfectly clear at the outset that, so far as I am aware, there is no difference between those who have risen to criticise these Regulations and the Government on one point. It is the general principle that the fullest possible liberty, consistent with vital national interests, should be allowed to the Press. Several speakers emphasised the point that the war in which we find ourselves engaged is a war of ideas. I 1318 fully accept that. It is a contest, a moral combat, between the doctrine of liberty and the doctrine of despotism, and one of the tenets most firmly held by those who believe in the doctrine of liberty is the tenet that freedom should be allowed to the Press to criticise the Government and to advocate ideas which may not be acceptable to the majority. The question, therefore, which the House has to decide is simply whether freedom for the expression of opinion should entail freedom to assist the enemy by the systematic publication of matters calculated to foment opposition to the prosecution of the war to a successful issue. Are we to allow freedom for organised and persistent defeatist propaganda?
Reference has been made by the hon. Member who raised this subject, the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) to Regulation 2C and the associated Regulation dealing with printing presses, Regulation 94A, and he spoke in terms which, I feel, implied that he agreed in substance with the object, purpose and form of those two Regulations. He may well have taken that view, because at the time of the making of those Regulations the Government took hon. Members and the House very fully into their confidence. After the invasion of Norway there was a general review of certain Regulations in the code of Defence Regulations. That review was undertaken in order to see whether the Regulations required strengthening in any respect. After discussion certain Regulations were framed, including the Regulations 2C and 94A, and I myself, on 9th May, made a short statement in this House describing the scope of the various Regulations.
I think one is justified in saying that in substance Regulations 2C and 94A commended themselves to the general sense of the House; and the hon. Gentleman and others who followed him said, very properly, if I may say so, that the issue that immediately arises is how far the Regulations that were already in the Code, 2C and 94A, had proved insufficient for the purpose for which they were designed. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne said the task which I had to discharge if the House was to be satisfied in this matter was to show that those Regulations in the form in which they were promulgated at the beginning of May were, in fact, insufficient, and 1319 that in order to do that I must tell the House how often the Regulations had been used and show that they had in practice proved insufficient. On that point I join issue with him, and I must first explain the circumstances existing when those Regulations were made. Norway had been overrun—that fact was the occasion for the review of the Regulations—but much has happened since the overrunning of Norway, and much that is very relevant to the problem with which we in this country are now confronted. The possibilities of invasion which have been very much in our minds for some weeks past had begun to materialise at the time when Regulation 2C was framed. Moreover, Regulation 2C was not by any means co-extensive in its application with the Regulation which is undergoing criticism. It was much more general in its terms; it was not by any means confined to the Press. It was a Regulation designed to deal with people who might be consistently pursuing a course of action calculated to lower morale.
§ Sir J. Anderson
Oh, no; what I said was that Regulation 2C and Regulation 2D were not co-extensive. 2C was more extended in its scope than 2D, and it was hedged round by certain safeguards designed advisedly to ensure that it should not be used against a person who quite casually, say on one or two occasions, perhaps by inadvertence, used words or expressions which might without those safeguards have brought him within the mischief of the Regulation. I will tell the House frankly why the Government thought it right to make Regulation 2D, overlapping as it does the powers of Regulation 2C, as a Regulation applicable to the Press without the safeguards provided by Regulation 2C. I think it is perhaps relevant to refer to the fact that since the making of Regulation 2C the Government of this country has been reconstituted, and now contains representatives of all the main elements in our public life. Looking at the matter from the point of view of a consideration of the powers which the House of Commons may fairly be asked to entrust to the executive Government, I think the fact that the Government has been recon- 1320 structed is material. Let no one suppose for a moment that, although the powers of these Regulations are powers entrusted in form and as a matter of law to the Home Secretary, any Home Secretary in his senses would take action of this kind without the approval of tie body which is responsible now for all matters of high policy, the War Cabinet, a body which contains representatives drawn from all quarters in this House.
The whole thing can be put in a nutshell. The reason why it seemed, not merely to the Home Secretary but to the Government, that a Regulation of this kind, admittedly very drastic, was necessary is this: the invasion, the overrunning, in a very short space of time, of Holland, Belgium and part of France brought home to us in a way it had never been brought home to us before that we in this country were exposed to perils of a kind that most of us had never before imagined. What we have to ask ourselves, and what the Government had to ask themselves, before deciding to make this very drastic Regulation, was whether if the direst peril we can imagine were to come upon us, if we were to find ourselves undergoing trials never before experienced, it would be tolerable that there should at that moment, when the resolution of some of the weakest among us might be shaken or be in danger of being shaken, be allowed even for a short time the systematic publication of matter calculated to foment opposition to the prosecution of the war to a successful issue. How could we, in those circumstances—we have to face the realities—be content with the procedure of Regulation 2C? What does it involve? How—
§ Sir J. Anderson
No. I will not give way, particularly in the middle of a sentence. What I was putting to the House was whether, in those circumstances of dire peril, we were to be content with the procedure of 2C, a Regulation for which I took full responsibility at the time and which I thought fully adequate. What is the procedure under that Regulation? You must first give notice indicating the matters which, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, may bring the publisher within the ambit of the Regulation. Until such notice is given, no question of an offence against the Regulation arises. If the publication 1321 of such or similar matter recurs, proceedings can then be taken in the courts. If those proceedings result in a conviction, then, and only then, can executive action be taken by way of closing down the publication dealing with the offending matter.
I do ask, in all seriousness, whether such a procedure is wholly adequate for the requirements of the situation which I have pictured? It is not a fanciful picture but one that may, sooner than we think, prove to be a grim reality. I do not like these drastic powers but I say, frankly, that, so long as I am Home Secretary, I will not shrink from advocating in this House when critical circumstances warrant it the exercise of powers which, in ordinary times, I would regard with utter repugnance. I say, in all seriousness, that this is a matter in which the safeguards that are necessary must be found, not in the way in which we sought to find safeguards in Regulation 2c, but in the exercise of vigilance by the House of Commons itself. Surely the House of Commons will not hesitate to deal with a Minister who exercises wantonly and without proper justification such powers as this Regulation confers. Therefore, I have no hesitation whatever in recommending the House to reject this Prayer.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
Would the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to answer the point that I tried to make, dealing with the word "systematic"? If I heard him aright, his view is that 2C, with its provision for warning and for action in the court, does not give the right hon. Gentleman opportunity to act swiftly enough. Surely if what the editor does is systematic, that must cover an appreciable period, and there would be time for the right hon. Gentleman to warn and to take action in the court under 2C.
§ Mr. Silverman
Perhaps I might remind the right hon. Gentleman of the point which I made, so that he might answer both together.
§ Sir J. Anderson rose—
§ Mr. Silverman
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not get too impatient with me. We all have responsibility in this matter. He complains that the procedure under 2C would be too long, but what prevents him from using 2D as it stands, taking to himself the power of executive decision instantaneously, and 1322 still preserving to the proprietor of the newspaper the right that he had under 94A, of his own initiative to go to the court, after the executive action had been urgently taken, in order to ask the court to review what had been done? That would not interfere in any way with the right of the right hon. Gentleman to take action on the spot. Why could he not have done that?
§ Sir J. Anderson
I do not think that is quite the point which was made by the hon. Gentleman in his earlier speech.
§ Sir J. Anderson
Perhaps I might deal first with the point raised by the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall). If the question of systematic publication arises in the case of a newspaper to which Regulation 2D is applied, it would be easier for any executive authority to satisfy itself whether there had been systematic publication than in some Other cases, such as that in which a man makes a speech now and again. In any case the time taken to decide whether there is systematic publication has to be added to the time necessary to give warning, to launch proceedings, and to bring them to a successful conclusion. I think that everyone familiar with the processes of the law will agree that, during the time inevitably involved between the discovery of publication of matter calculated to prevent the successful prosecution of the war and the bringing to an issue of proceedings, the greatest mischief might occur. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne asked why we were not content to take the powers conferred by Regulation 2D and then leave the issue to be determined by the court.
§ Mr. Silverman
I am sorry if I did not make myself clear. Let me try again. The right hon. Gentleman was explaining to the House that the reason why he needed the powers of 2D was that 2C was insufficient, in that they took too long, whereas he might have to act quickly. I say to him: Take powers under 2D to, act quickly, and stop publication, but 1323 leave to the owner of the Press the initiative, if he chooses to take it—he might not choose to take it—the right which he had under 94A, to go to the court and question what has been done. Why not?
§ Sir J. Anderson
The hon. Gentleman does an injustice to his own powers of exposition. I understood perfectly what he meant, but I thought I put the point rather more briefly. He suggests that we should take action under 2D and then leave it to the court, if the court is moved by the aggrieved person, to decide whether the action has been justly taken or not. I will answer that point in a word or two. I say that if such drastic action is to be taken, in the interests of public safety, by a member of the Executive Government, it seemed to me and to those associated with me, that it would more properly be judged by the House of Commons than by any court. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] For that reason, we took the powers conferred by this Regulation.
§ 7.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I would most respectfully beg my right hon. Friend to consider again the point of the arguments which he has just used. I was in almost entire agreement with him until he began to say that the Executive ought to be entrusted with wider power because, owing to recent political changes, it now represents some 99/100ths of this House. Later on, he argued that the proper check upon the Executive is the risk of criticism in this House. I would ask him to stick in future to the second part of the argument and to leave the first half alone. To some of us, it seems that the real danger in which our general liberties are involved at present is precisely that the Executive now controls some 99/100ths of this House. If there is any danger to our Press—and we are now talking particularly about the Press—it is because of the fewness of the hands in which the Press lies now, and because a considerable proportion of those few hands belong to those who are also Members of the Government.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Major Milner (Leeds, South-East)
Surely the real test of all these matters is this: Is proper protection afforded to 1324 the minority, and should the House of Commons give to the Home Secretary the absolute right, without any recourse to the courts, to take action of this sort? Little by little in this House powers have been taken by various Government Departments, not least by the Home Secretary, to take executive action, the matter being left entirely in the hands of the Executive and there being no recourse to the courts and no appeal of any shape or kind. We know that that action was taken in the case of aliens, and only recently has the Home Secretary been prevailed upon to adopt another course and set up a tribunal. Here is another instance of precisely the same thing. The Home Secretary admits that the action which he took in putting these Regulations into form was caused by the events in Norway, Holland, Belgium and so on. Those were precisely the reasons why the Home Secretary thought it necessary to take drastic action against aliens without discrimination. That is a policy of panic, and nothing else. In all instances, if it be necessary to take action, there must be a court of appeal or a form of recourse to the courts by which the correctness of the Executive's action can be tested.
The position in this matter is surely very simple. It seems to me, as has been said, quite simple for the right hon. Gentleman to take action under the powers of Regulation 2D. That would enable him at once to close down the printing of any newspaper or other publication which was doing anything which came within the terms of the Defence Regulation, and then to permit the aggrieved person to apply to the courts. I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that that would be a great advantage from his point of view, because, contrary to the usual practice, where the onus of proof is on the prosecution and where the Home Secretary would have to prove his case, the onus would be on the newspaper or the company or the individual as the case might be. It is not always easy, particularly in war-time, to discharge the onus of proof. I submit to the House and to the right hon. Gentleman that the reasonable and proper course is to take the power given by the Regulation, to permit the defendant or the accused or the person against whom the powers are exercised, to apply to the court for relief. There can be no objec- 1325 tion to that. There might have to be a time limit within which the application could be made. The Home Secretary's powers can in no way be affected. He simply stops the publication when he thinks it is necessary.
The House should not continue acquiescing in the conferring of executive powers of this kind on a Home Secretary, whatever regard we may have for him or whatever the necessities of the case require, without some form of appeal. In all questions of personal liberty, freedom of discussion and of opinion, which are part of our tradition and part of those things for which we are fighting, we should not permit matters to be left entirely to the opinion of the Home Secretary, or the executive authority, whoever he may be. There is a perfectly simple middle course, namely, the one I have suggested, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will adopt it.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Sir Richard Acland (Barnstaple)
Whatever may be the result of this evening's discussion, if the Motion is carried to a Division, I hope that one result will have been achieved. I hope that the Home Secretary, and particularly his advisers—incidentally, many of us wonder whether he has not a lot of advisers who are advising him too well—will have learned that it is an advantage to take hon. Members of this House into their confidence before drafting Regulations. The Home Secretary has said that when Nos. 2C and 94A were published hon. Members had been consulted. The results were satisfactory. In three weeks another set of Regulations on the same subjects were published without any general consultations among Members, with the result that they are now unsatisfactory. In the course of the last few weeks I have been privileged to join in discussions with the right hon. Gentleman and other Members, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman cannot complain that we have been obstructive or that any Members of the House, either in public discussions or in private, have wished to deprive him of the powers which he may legitimately demand.
Here we have another example of the same thing which has happened over and over again within the last few months. The Home Secretary describes to us a set of terrible circumstances and appalling 1326 dangers which may fall upon this country and says that he requires powers to meet those dangers, but the powers which he actually takes—or I think I can describe it more accurately when I say that the powers which his advisers advise him to demand—are such as to enable him and his advisers to do all kinds of things, far beyond the emergency which he describes to us. He describes the possibility that this country may be invaded, that the enemy may be hammering at our gates and actually on our soil. Then he says that between 9th and 29th May, following events which took place in foreign countries, the Government's eyes were opened to the appalling danger, that at such a moment a newspaper might begin to publish defeatist articles. Then he wants immediate powers. But this Regulation does not deal with this situation at all. This Regulation is not appropriately worded to deal with that. If the Home Secretary and his advisers had seen one or two hon. Members or those who have been consulting with him so agreeably, I hope, from his point of view, and certainly from ours, in the last few days, we could quickly have drafted a Regulation which would have dealt with that situation. We would have drafted a Regulation, much stronger in many ways, because if the enemy is at our gates and on our soil, and bombs are falling, and if the "Times" newspaper on Monday publishes a leading article saying that we should surrender, the Home Secretary wants powers to prevent them from publishing a similar article on Tuesday and we should have been happy to give him that power. He has not got that power in this Regulation. He cannot take any action until the action of the newspaper has been systematic. What he has got is the power of doing those things which are in the Regulation at times other than times of emergency of the kind that he has described.
I think in these recent discussions on civil liberties the House, as a whole, has come to recognise—and I believe eventually Ministers will come to recognise—that in this matter there are two dangers, and not one. There is the one danger of which the Executive are aware, that they may have too small powers for dealing with threats to national morale, or whatever it may be. But that is not the only danger. The other danger is that the Executive may have too great powers over the liberty of the subject. He 1327 says that our eyes have been opened by events in France. Surely if our eyes have been opened to anything that has happened in France, they have been opened to the appalling dangers which arise when the Executive have too great powers. I ask him this question. He says that this Order was forced upon the Executive by events in Belgium, Holland and France between 9th and 29th May. Can he tell us of one single French, Belgian or Dutch newspaper which advocated surrender between 9th and 29th May? Is there one recorded instance abroad of that happening? Was the surrender of Holland, Belgium or France in any way due to any surrender policy advocated in any newspaper? Surely not. It was due to the fact that the Executive had too much power, and were able to disregard public opinion. I submit that what can be done under these Regulations, as now drafted—so inaptly drafted for the emergency which the right hon. Gentleman described to us—is much more serious. Under the Regulations, as they stood originally, the Home Secretary had power to warn, to prosecute, and, on conviction, to close the Press. Now he has to express an opinion—no warning; no appeal—and he can proscribe the paper and close the Press. That power is much too great.
The line between legitimate criticism of the Government in war time and conducting propaganda which is hostile to the prosecution of the war, is a very narrow one. The Home Secretary of a Government which is being criticised is very liable to overstep that line, particularly when the criticism is likely to become effective, as it did, for example, in the shell crisis in 1916. It is just at that point that the Government are tempted to think that the criticism is moving into the area when it is militating against the prosecution of the war. At that point, what is easier than for the Home Secretary to let an editor or proprietor know, unofficially—because some of us have been hearing upstairs that, as well as the official acts of the censors, there are quite a number of unofficial hints and tips—that if that line of criticism goes on, he will not be warned, he will not be prosecuted or anything of that sort, but, out of the blue, on the Home Secretary's expression of opinion, the press will be seized, the newspaper 1328 clamped down, and anybody who touches the newspaper—it is not in the Regulation, but I think it is implicit—will have committed an offence? That is an appalling power to give to the Home Secretary of any Executive, particularly when, if he had carried out the friendly procedure which was pursued previously, there is no doubt that, in co-operation with Members in all parts of the House, he could have drafted Regulations against which no exception could have been taken, and which would have given powers to deal with the emergency with which these Regulations are supposed to deal.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
In spite of the controversial tone of the discussion, I believe that in the main there is considerable agreement on all sides, and that the issue is really a very narrow one. It is over the question of appeal—not the whole principle of appeal, but only what form the appeal should take. Those who have spoken in favour of the annulment of the Regulation have asked that the right of appeal should take the form of a right on the part of the owner of the newspaper to take action in the law courts. The Home Secretary himself has agreed that there should be a right of appeal. He says that that right of appeal is to the House of Commons. Where the difference between the two parties is clearly so small, I appeal to the Home Secretary to give further consideration to the matter. In a question of this kind the appeal to the law, the judicial appeal, may have more value than the appeal to the House of Commons, because of the circumstances in which my right hon. Friend envisages these powers may have to be used and the mood of the House of Commons on these occasions. I think he will agree with me that if we can have unity and agreement over these Regulations they are likely to be worked in a more satisfactory spirit. Because the point at issue is so small, and because it will not prevent him from getting what he wants—immediate action at the time of crisis—I ask him to respond to the plea that has been made to him, and to say that an aggrieved person under these Regulations, shall have the right of appeal to the law courts. That is one of our most precious liberties, and we do right to insist on these matters. I would point out that these powers for which 1329 the Home Secretary is asking could be used not only in the very direful circumstances which he has envisaged, but in other circumstances also. For those reasons, I ask him to reconsider his attitude.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Kilmarnock)
I rise to reinforce the appeal which has been so carefully put by the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson). We had a meeting upstairs this afternoon, and it was very evident, from the large number of Members present, that there is a growing feeling that we are not quite prepared at every point to trust the Executive, even though it has this new complexion. I think he will admit that some injustices have been done, possibly in the national interest, which we have had to try to help to correct. Some of us find that a great part of our days is spent in listening to protests of one kind or another about injustices, which have occurred, no doubt, because of the national interest. There are forces in this country, I am afraid, which some of us are not prepared altogether to trust. I know, for instance that warnings have been given to papers of very serious repute. I also know that suggestions have been made that there should he something in the nature of "one paper." I know that these matters have not been raised on the Floor of the House, but we have heard this afternoon enough to make us feel that the right hon. Gentleman is being made the victim, time after time, of powers which he really does not want to use; and in many instances we do not know the occasion on which he wants to use them. Something might happen, which has not happened for a thousand years. Will the right hon. Gentleman allow some form of judicial appeal to be given in such cases? I think that the Debate has been narrowed down to that point.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Major Milner
In the discussion on the Courts (Emergency Powers) Bill a few days ago, the right hon. Gentleman said, very properly, that, having once discussed with Members the content of certain Regulations, he would not think at a later date of altering those Regulations without having some consultation. He would not consider himself an honourable man, he said, if he took advantage of the situation and, having once consulted 1330 hon. Members, did not consult with them later if he desired to make alterations. With every respect to the right hon. Gentleman, has he not in regard to this particular Regulation, committed a breach of the agreement or obligation which he undertook a week ago? If he says, "No," I will accept it at once.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I have certainly expressed the view, and it is the view that I held then, that where there has been consultation in regard to a subject matter, it is not right that action should be taken subsequently, without further consultation, which would involve a departure from understandings previously arrived at. But the action taken in this case should be justified by the emergency in which it was taken.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
As one who is interested, I would like to say a word or two. Everyone knows that under this Regulation the "Daily Worker" is in constant danger, but that is not because it systematically publishes matter that affects the successful issue of the war. As an hon. Member opposite said, there are different ideas of what constitutes a successful issue of the war. My idea of the successful issue of the war is very different from the ideas represented by the Front Bench opposite. My idea of the successful issue of the war is freedom—freedom for the people of Europe and for the Colonial people. Is that the conception of the party opposite? No, Sir, far from it. The "Daily Worker" is in danger, not because of the systematic publication of material that affects the successful prosecution of the war, but because of the systematic publication of political opinions that are not acceptable to the Executive in this country. There are Members opposite who would advise the Home Secretary, and probably are doing so behind the scenes, to suppress the "Daily Worker." There are Members opposite, and one or two on this side of the House, who would do everything possible to suppress it.
§ Mr. Gallacher
It is well known that the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan) holds specially modern and advanced ideas, and that he represents the most poverty-stricken constituency in this country. If I represented his constituency, I would be a revolutionary. I could not possibly be anything else.
§ Mr. Gallacher
There are Members opposite who would be delighted if the "Daily Worker" were suppressed, but I would tell the Home Secretary that these Members wanted the "Daily Worker" suppressed long before the war started because of the political views it represented. I would remind him, in connection with the remarks made by the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Sir R. Acland) about the collapse of Belgium and of France, that the collapse was related not to matters published in the Press but to the fact that matters were not allowed to be published in the Press. I would also remind him that the greatest fight and most heroic struggle that has so far been made against Fascism has been made in Spain. Can anyone deny it? While that epic struggle was going on, Members opposite were supporting the Fascists—Mussolini, Hitler and Franco. I would ask the Home Secretary to take notice of the fact—I am interested in the Home Secretary because I know he is interested in me—that the epic struggle in Spain was carried on by a democratic Government, a democratic people and a democratic Army, and that if there had been an opportunity to purchase the arms necessary they would have been victorious.
§ Mr. Gallacher
In Finland you had Mannerheim, a Fascist, and a Fascist Army, independent of the Government, and if that Fascist Army had not been smashed, Finland would have been in the hands of Germany now. It is very significant that those people who are so outraged about Finland are equally outraged because Soviet Russia, when she stepped into Bessarabia, did not proceed to occupy the whole of Rumania.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I am sorry. Mr. Speaker. Every time I get up to speak some hon. Members want to side-track me and lead me into issues of that kind. I want to get back to asking the Home Secretary to consider that in Spain, where the most heroic struggle has been made against Fascism, a democratic Government, people and Army if they had had the arms, would have defeated the Fascists, and there would have been no war now. But if they had had the Regulations which the Home Secretary has imposed upon this country, they would have been defeated before they started. You cannot encourage and stimulate a people by Regulations of this kind. The "Daily Worker" was warned. I will make this challenge. I am prepared to go with the Home Secretary to any part of the country where there is a wide circulation of the "Daily Worker" and I guarantee that we would find in that area there is no despondency. There is strength, courage and resolution, with great hope for the future, because they understand that the old world is passing, and that a new world is coming into being. There is no despondency.
It may be desirable to remind the Home Secretary and Members of this House that the "Daily Worker," and the ideas it represents, have a very big and wide circulation in the constituency known as West Fife, and throughout Fife as a whole. In fact, I am prepared to challenge any hon. Member on this. We have in that area as good an organisation of Defence—or even better—than there is in any other part of the country. The very worst part of the country as far as Defence is concerned is Birmingham, which is represented by a bunch of die-hard Tories who are not interested in the people. The Communists and the "Daily Worker" are deeply interested in the welfare of the people. They will fight by every means to save the people of this country from the menace of Fascism, whether it is from within or from without. England may be invaded—England might collapse as France did—but I will guarantee that they will never invade Scotland. I was present at a great demonstration in Glasgow the other Sunday. In Glasgow we were strong enough to keep Mosley out. He could go into any other city in the country, but he did not dare to come into Glasgow. The Chief Con- 1333 stable stated that if he dared to go near Glasgow not all the police in Glasgow could save him. I said at that demonstration that we kept Mosley out of Glasgow.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I was trying to make clear what effect the "Daily Worker" has on the people. I said that we kept Mosley out of Glasgow and that as long as the workers were able to stand on two feet Hitler, too, would never be able to get into Glasgow.
§ Mr. Gallacher
That is what the "Daily Worker" represents. It is very significant that since these Regulations came into being the one paper which has received a warning from the Home Secretary is the "Daily Worker." What has the "Daily Worker" published which entitles it to this warning? As far as I can gather the Home Secretary knows, but if he knows he will not tell. We are in the position that the Press can be closed down and the Home Secretary has not to explain why such action was taken. If he gives a warning, you have to think for yourself what you have been doing wrong. It is obvious that, if the Home Secretary believes a paper has published matter that comes under these Regulations, he must know what that matter is. If he knows, he should be prepared to say what it is, but, according to these Regulations, he has not to say what is wrong with the matter, articles or news which comes under this Regulation. I am of the opinion that power of that kind can be of the greatest danger if it is used.
The only justification which the Home Secretary has for this Regulation is that it has never been used and is not likely to be used. That is not a judicial way to approach this question. We have seen the House of Commons swayed in such a way as to be far from capable of giving a reasonable judgment. We know that a large number of Members on the other side, because of the character and political opinions of the "Daily Worker," are in favour of suppressing it. I appeal to the Home Secretary to consider the arguments presented here and see whether it is not possible either to dispose of or modify the Regulations in such a way as 1334 to allow those responsible for a paper to get some legal consideration, if an attack is made upon them.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Donald Somervell)
Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if I said a word or two at this stage on the point which has been raised with regard to an appeal to the courts. One hon. Member suggested that that was possibly the one point between certain sections of the House. Those who heard my right hon. Friend felt—as I certainly felt—that he made an unanswerable case for the power of rapid Executive action in circumstances in which we hope we may not find ourselves but in which we may find ourselves, and that a quite different sort of procedure under 2C, which was in effect to make a warning a condition precedent to prosecutions of this kind, did not really meet the sort of circumstances that we may have to envisage. There is, of course, the criticism that he might define the circumstances more precisely, but that is an extremely difficult thing to do. The hon. Baronet the Member for Barnstaple (Sir R. Acland) tried to put my right hon. Friend in a dilemma. He said, "As your new Regulation is to be founded on systematic publication, then it is usual to do what you want." Some people are very hard to please. If you make some provision by which you cannot descend on the first occasion people say, "You are not acting quickly, enough." On the other hand, a general criticism is that you are being too drastic. It is quite true that the Regulation now before the House is limited by the words "systematic publication." Power is not exercised on the first isolated publication which the Executive feel to be dangerous to the State. Taking the broad picture which my right hon. Friend drew, I think the great majority of the House did accept the necessity for some such power.
How are we to work this, if this is accepted? It must be Executive power and power for which the Executive take the responsibility. I think there is a certain misconception of this idea of an appeal to the courts. This is a power to be exercised when the Secretary of State is satisfied that there has been systematic publication of matter which, in his opinion, is calculated to foment opposition to the prosecution to a successful issue of any war in which His Majesty is 1335 engaged. This is a power which can be exercised according to the political situation and circumstances in the country. If you have an appeal to the courts, you are, in the first place, placing on them a task which I do not think you have any business to place on them, and, secondly, you are taking out of the hands of this House the power effectively to criticise the Home Secretary's action. Suppose the Home Secretary takes action under this Regulation in circumstances which the House may not feel was justified. If you have an appeal to the court, it becomes sub judice, and no one can talk about it, Suppose the court takes the view that the action was justified, that precludes the House from questioning the action of the judge.
§ The Attorney-General
No, the Law Courts deal with disputes between private individuals, to be decided on recognised principles of law. What I am suggesting is that Executive action in circumstances of this kind is quite unlike a legal issue.
§ Mr. Silverman
All that we have asked for is what is already the law under Regulations 2C and 94A. Every one of the arguments that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has used is an argument against 94A.
§ The Attorney-General
I think not. If action is taken under the proposed Regulation 94B, the same right of appeal to the court which exists under Regulation 94A will exist. So far as that is concerned, no right of appeal is taken away by the new Regulation. The hon. Member, I think, agrees with that.
§ The Attorney-General
It is so. The right of appeal under 94A to the court, which is a limited right, will exist if action is taken under 94B. There is no power under 2C to suppress a newspaper at all. What 2C addresses itself to is quite a different problem and does not in the least meet the situation with which my right hon. Friend dealt. 2C in effect comes to this, that before you can prosecute a newspaper for fomenting matter, the newspaper has to have a warning. It is not an action for sup- 1336 pressing a paper, but an action for seeing that it gets the warning before it can be prosecuted for producing matter of this kind. It takes no power to suppress a newspaper at all. The question the House has to consider is this: First of all, may such a power be necessary? On that, my right hon. Friend, I think, has satisfied the vast majority of the House. Secondly, assuming that such a power is necessary, is it appropriate to leave it to the courts of law to decide whether that Executive power has been properly or improperly exercised? What I am suggesting is that it is not a legal issue, but a political issue. Although it affects the newspaper in question drastically, the House might very much resent it if it acceded to this proposal and found that the courts had been able to preclude it from criticising the Home Secretary for the action he has taken and that the proper place to consider, discuss and criticise, if necessary, the action of the Home Secretary is this House. I do not believe there is any danger of criticism of improper action, should it ever be taken, by anyone under a Regulation of this kind having no effect in influencing the Executive in the administration of this or any Regulation of this kind.
§ Mr. Silverman rose—
§ Mr. Silverman
I bow to your Ruling, Sir. I do not want to take more than my share of the time. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has advanced an extremely intricate and interesting legal argument. There is a point which is not clear, and I want it elucidated.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member has had his chance in Debate in moving that the Order be annulled, The Attorney-General has been answering his speech. The hon. Member is not entitled to get up again. Debate in this House is not carried on in that way.
§ 8.6 p.m.
§ Sir George Hume (Greenwich)
I have listened to the Attorney-General with a 1337 good deal of anxiety, because the issue is one of the most important that we have to face. We have had to complain about Measure after Measure which has been brought before the House where power to appeal to the courts is shut out by the action of the Executive. Now we are told that the proper place to criticise the action of a Minister is this House. I have always learned from constitutional history that we owe our liberties to the fact that the courts did act. They even put up the theory that the King could do no wrong, in order that they could get at the Executive for acts done, claiming them to be acts done under the order of the King. If the life and property of citizens of this country are to be left to a decision of the House of Commons, it will be bad indeed for minorities in this country. We have seen a touch of it already. We have seen what takes place when there is a state of panic, I might almost call it, as the result of what has been happening on the Continent. At such times it is possible for the Executive, or for the House of Commons, to get unbalanced. At that time it is vital, to my mind, that a body divorced from politics should consider the matter entirely from the point of view of Common Law or under whatever Statute they have to act. It is of vital importance for that to go to the courts and not to a Minister. He may be a popular Minister for the moment. He may be a Minister with a big majority, and there may be prejudice against the minority. If there is panic or prejudice, you should be able to go to a body which is not panicked and not prejudiced. I hope the Minister will consider the matter most seriously and not try to leave it to the House of Commons to have finally to decide on a matter so vital to private and individual interests.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Vernon Bartlett (Bridgwater)
I had not intended to intervene, partly because I missed a great deal of the Debate as I was trying to deal with some injustices which have resulted from past emergency Regulations which we all know, but it seems to me a terribly important issue. We have heard a great deal about the "Daily Worker." I suggest that that is a red herring drawn across the trail of the Debate, because it would be very unfortunate if Members only voted one way or the other on this 1338 issue with one particular paper in mind. This is a Regulation which, if adopted in its present form, may affect every paper in the country. It seems to me that some hon. Members are thinking on the long-term lines of defending the rights of individuals, which is a vitally important issue, and that others are thinking primarily of the immediate measures of defence in this country, another vitally important issue.
§ Mr. Bartlett
It is more urgent, but fundamentally it is not more important. Both issues are equally important. The Home Secretary quite rightly has to take into consideration the question of what will happen in this country if an invasion occurs. With great respect, I suggest to him, with regard to this particular issue, that if an invasion occurs there will not be time for an appeal any way, but if an invasion does not occur, surely after he has suppressed the offending newspaper it will be possible to devise some form of appeal. The idea of an appeal to the House of Commons seems to me to be extremely dangerous. For instance, if the Home Secretary found it necessary to suppress the "Daily Worker," one can imagine the sort of Debate there would be—a very angry Debate. If he suppressed the "Times," one can foresee that there would be a very dangerous and angry Debate at a moment of great crisis. But surely, we are close to a solution. The idea that there should be some form of appeal after a publication has been suppressed seems to be generally accepted. Might not one suggest that this point should be postponed for further consideration in order to see whether one could not work out some proper form of appeal which would give satisfaction both to the Home Secretary, who has to keep in mind the possibility of an invasion, and to other hon. Members who are thinking of the vital importance of not losing the liberties of the individual.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Sir Joseph Nall (Manchester, Hulme)
When the Emergency Powers Bill was before the House, I joined in objecting to the absolute power which it was proposed to give certain courts for the punishment of, and in certain instances the infliction of the death penalty on, individuals without there being any sort of revision or appeal. 1339 Now that we are dealing with entirely different matters, there seems to be an even bigger volume of objection. It seems to me that we are losing our sense of proportion in this matter. There is here no question of inflicting penalties on individuals in the form of imprisonment, and there is no question of the death penalty and the summary execution of individuals. We are dealing with the suppression of subversive print. Not having had an opportunity of hearing the Home Secretary earlier in the Debate, I was very grateful for the speech of the Attorney-General. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Sir G. Hume) spoke as though this were a matter of life and death, and the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Vernon Bartlett) also spoke of long-term and short-term questions. Obviously, if we do not deal with some of these short-term questions, we shall have no chance of looking after the long-term questions. I hope the Home Secretary will not give way on this matter. For a long time hon. Members have been bombarded through the post with most reprehensible publications containing subversive matter and every kind of disloyal statement, and this sort of thing bas gone on without any action being taken, although it is high time that action was taken. Whether the Home Secretary will take action under these Regulations against some of the highly improper, disloyal and defeatist matter that is being circulated, I do not know; but I hope he will. I hope he will get these Regulations through, and that those hon. Members who wish to see our war activities pursued without this constant attack from the publishers of subversive matter will support the Government on this occasion.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Sir Henry Fildes (Dumfries)
I hope the Home Secretary will reconsider this matter. It is quite possible for a day to come when the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), who belongs to the Communist party, may be Home Secretary of this country. By these Regulations, one would be handing to him, or to any other successor of the present Home Secretary, powers the like of which have not been placed in the hands of a single individual in this country for hundreds of years. I cannot see why there cannot be some right of appeal, and if a right of 1340 appeal cannot be fitted into these Regulations, then in my view the only thing to do is to withdraw them altogether.
The Executive have taken powers one after the other to deal with property, banks, and everything else, and there is no check to giving them control over everything in the country; and yet the right to question the wisdom of these decisions will be withdrawn from us. If the Home Secretary is of the opinion that he does not like what is produced in a newspaper, he will have the right to fine a man hundreds of pounds, with the addition of seven years' imprisonment. These powers are a negation of all the liberties for which we have struggled in this country for so many years. This is indeed a vital issue. It is not merely a question of whether the Home Secret try could suppress one newspaper. It would be quite possible for him to close down the "Times" or the "Manchester Guardian" simply because he was of the opinion that he did not like the opinions expressed in those newspapers. The Attorney-General has pleaded that courts of law are not desirable places to which citizens should go for the protection of their own interests. When the Attorney-General comes to the House and utters sentiments of that character, it should make us all the more careful. We look upon the Attorney-General as the protector of our interests. He has to issue his fiat for prosecutions in a thousand and one cases. These matters are being placed outside the law, and we are placing powers of a sort which we are supposed to be fighting to stifle and destroy in the hands of individuals in the Government. I think it is hopelessly wrong. I wish that more hon. Members were present to hear this Debate and to see where we are running in this matter. Talk about panic—what worse could we have if the Germans were over here?
§ 8.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)
I hope the Government will not fail to notice that the only hon. Member who has supported them is an hon. Member who has not been present throughout the whole of the discussion. On more than one occasion the Government have shown themselves willing to meet desires that have been expressed from different sides of the House. They have been so anxious to avoid misunderstanding that they have, on more than 1341 one occasion, undertaken to reconsider the wording of their proposals. Would it not be possible for the Government to meet the essence of the very serious criticism which has been put before the House by undertaking to reconsider this matter and bring in the Regulation in a revised form which will take away the objections which have been pointed out by more than one speaker? These immense powers are entrusted to a single Minister, and we have to think as Parliament and not of our opinion of an individual Minister or of the Government of the day. We have to think what these Regulations may mean in the hands of a different Minister and a different Government. Surely if these immense powers are to be entrusted to the Minister, and he has expressed his view clearly to the House that they are needful, they should be accompanied by some right of appeal to a court of law: but not such a right of appeal as would stop the Minister exercising his powers in an emergency, yet such a right as would give the aggrieved citizen an opportunity of appeal in a calm atmosphere in a court of justice in this country. I am sure that it cannot be beyond the power of the learned Attorney-General to devise some way by which an appeal to law could be provided, not before the Minister acts, but afterwards. I think that would satisfy the great majority of those who urged reconsideration of this matter so strongly on the Home Secretary. Therefore, I venture to suggest that if the Government were prepared to consider such a suggestion, they would be meeting the desire of this House by making possible a revision of the Regulation.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Ralph Etherton (Stretford)
Surely, in his wisdom, the Home Secretary might reconsider the decision in this matter. Are we not losing our sense of proportion over these Regulations? After all, what are required under the Regulations are two things, first, that subversive matter should be suppressed, and, secondly, that it should be suppressed at once. If a right of appeal, whether to the law courts or to some other body, is given, that will not interfere in any way with the first and paramount objective of these Regulations. Surely, when one gives these wide and enormous powers to the Executive, with no check and no right of appeal, one is 1342 losing one's sense of proportion. I do appeal to the Home Secretary to reconsider the matter and to see whether it is not possible, in some form or other, to allow some right of appeal, whether it be in the law courts or by some other body.
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Thurtle (Shoreditch)
In view of what the hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. Harvey) said, I want to make it clear, that so far as I am concerned I want to add my voice to that of the hon. Member for the Hulme Division of Manchester (Sir J. Nall), in asking the Home Secretary to stand firm in this matter. I have listened to the whole of this Debate, and I do not think the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Etherton) has listened to anything like the whole of it otherwise he would know that the issue has been narrowed down to the point of whether there shall be an appeal to the House of Commons or to a court of law. We have reached unanimity on that point. [Interruption.] Well, practically everyone is agreed on that point. I would not for the world cast the slightest reflection on the great profession of the law. I have a great admiration for the law, but I notice that there has been a great deal of unanimity among the lawyers, whose attitude is that if we have to choose between the law courts and the House of Commons, we should certainly choose the law courts. Well, to the cobbler it is always leather, and apparently to the lawyers there is nothing like the law. As a Member of the Rouse of Commons, and as one who stands for the Parliamentary system, on a great issue of public policy like this—that is the suppression of newspapers—I think the House of Commons is a far better tribunal of appeal than any court of law, and I hope the Home Secretary will stand firm.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Shinwell (Seaham)
It appears that some hon. Members who have had the good fortune to listen to the whole Debate are in some doubt as to what has actually transpired. On the other hand, I have only heard the latter part of the Debate, and I am in no doubt at all. I understand the position is whether an issue of this kind should be subject to the criticism of this House or whether it should go to some court of appeal. It is obvious to every hon. Member, whether 1343 he has listened to the whole of the Debate or only part of it, that this House can never constitute itself as a court of appeal in a matter of this kind, and that no final decision can be reached by this House. I heard the learned Attorney-General speak of the difficulties Members might experience when not being able to question the Home Secretary. The desire expressed that we should question the Home Secretary is, if I may say so, an innovation. I always understood that the desire of Ministers was that we should question the Home Secretary and other Ministers as infrequently as possible. Let us assume a case of this kind, and that the "New Statesman" is expressing views which might be regarded by the Executive as subversive. The Home Secretary then takes action under the Regulations referred to in the course of this Debate. There is no court of appeal unless the Home Secretary gives way. What happens? Questions are asked on the day, or a Debate occurs on the Adjournment because an answer is unsatisfactory. That is not a final court of appeal, because the following week Questions will be put, and it is open to hon. Members to raise the matter on the Adjournment as often as they like. It is very seldom that the Table refuses repetition as regards Questions put to Ministers. Therefore, there is no court of appeal of any sort or kind so far as this House of Commons is concerned. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has asked for criticism; it was the major argument he advanced as against the court of appeal. He has said that we can question the Home Secretary on the action he has taken. Where Questions can be asked, however, we can repeat them over and over again, and the House of Commons cannot for that reason be regarded as a court of appeal.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am not clear how one could move a Motion except in the way this Motion has been moved to-night, but even that is not the same as a court of appeal. It would not end the matter, because Questions could be asked the following week. I cannot understand why there should be such reluctance on the part of the Attorney-General and the Home Secretary to refer matters of this 1344 kind to a court of appeal. Surely if we have to choose as between the House of Commons, however impartial it may regard itself, and however united it may be on certain issues, and an impartial judiciary, we would surely welcome the judiciary. If anything has been said in this Debate which justifies asking the Home Secretary to reconsider this matter, it is the argument advanced by the hon. Baronet the Member for Hulme (Sir J. Nall). He talked about subversive opinions and referred to certain periodicals. Are we to decide this matter on the ipse dixit of the hon. Baronet? Obviously, we cannot get an impartial decision when there are prejudices of that kind. We ought not to deal with an issue of this kind involving the "Daily Worker," or the "New Statesman," or the "News Chronicle," or the "Daily Herald," or the "Times," or the "Manchester Guardian" or any other periodicals because they advanced views which might be regarded as subversive. In the minds of certain people some views are always subversive. There are people who regard opinions expressed on any issue as subversive. Some people do not want any expression of opinion at all. Are we to regard my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle), for whom we have great affection and regard, but whose views we do not always accept, and the hon. Baronet the Member for Hulme as always impartial, always able to take a non-partisan view on the issues presented to them? We are all influenced by partisan considerations. It ought not to be left to us, however capable we may be of dismissing our partisanship, to constitute ourselves as a court of appeal, on what is a judicial issue.
§ Mr. Thurtle
May I ask my hon. Friend, in view of his argument that the House of Commons is a prejudiced and partial assembly, whether he regards the judiciary as always absolutely free from prejudice and partiality?
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am the last man who could answer that question in a satisfactory way. I have beer, the victim of certain courts, and I am bound to say that I never regarded certain of their sentences as impartial. If, however, I have to leave myself in a panic situation in the hands either of the House of Commons or of the courts, I would prefer the courts. 1345 I am amazed that my hon. Friend should ask me this question. Are there no prejudices in this House? He might as well say there are no parties in the House. no divisions of opinion and no variations of view. That is nonsense. In the midst of national unity, however fundamental, there are variations of opinion, and in the nature of things there must be.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The very fact that I am expressing views contrary to those of others proves my contention. I trust the House of Commons on certain issues, but when we have to choose in a panic situation, when it is not possible to take normal views, and at a time when we are faced by considerations which do not operate in peace time, between the House of Commons expressing its final view on the opinions expressed in certain periodicals and the court of appeal, I would have no hesitation in saying that the court of appeal is by far the best. Obviously, my hon. Friends on this side are divided on this issue. So are our hon. Friends on the other side. It seems to me that, in view of the division in the House, the Home Secretary might consider the appeal so eloquently expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. Harvey) to reconsider the matter.
May I recall the Debate of last week? The right hon. Gentleman met us handsomely in that matter. For two and a half hours we debated an issue. Never have I seen such obstinacy and stubbornness as was demonstrated on the Government Front Bench. The Attorney-General could not see our point of view, and after two and a half hours of acrimonious disquisition he suddenly detected in the views expressed by hon. Members in all quarters of the House some substance in the argument that there should be reconsideration. The same thing applies to the Home Secretary. Let us have no repetition of that. Both Ministers were ready in the end to reconsider the matter on that occasion, and I hope that on this occasion they will also be ready. Ultimately it will redound to the credit of the House of Commons that they embarked on a policy which left the decision on a vital matter of this kind, not to the play and inter-play of debate in this House, but to the courts which every 1346 Member, whatever his political opinions. and however much he may have suffered at their hands, regards as a more satisfactory arbiter than the House of Commons.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilfrid Roberts (Cumberland, Northern)
It seems to me that the alternatives which are before the House have not yet been exactly put to us. I must apologise for not having heard all the Debate, but I have heard a considerable amount of the discussion regarding the appeal. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), because what I hoped to see was both an appeal to the courts and the possibility of raising the case in this House. If he made the concession of an appeal to the courts it would still not be impossible to raise the case in the House after that appeal had been heard. The appeal to the courts and the possibility of raising the matter in this House are two different things. The courts cannot give an opinion on whether it is right to suppress a paper or not. The courts can only say whether or not the Home Secretary has exceeded his powers as laid down in these Regulations. The Home Secretary may look as though he thought that was unimportant, but many of us feel that it is vitally important to put a check somewhere on the powers of the Home Secretary.
After all, the real power conferred upon the Home Secretary in administering these Regulations lies in the threat that he will use them and not the fact that he does use them. That is a thing of which I am very suspicious. We hear a lot about the big national and other newspapers, but there is a good deal of public opinion expressed by the small provincial papers and a good deal of local opinion is expressed in them. From my own experience of local newspapers I know what it will mean if the threat of these Regulations is over the editor of a small paper, who will not know whether he may report the saying of some town councillor or some local person in case the Home Secretary comes down upon him and suppresses his paper. It is not the big national dailies which will be suppressed, but the smaller papers, first of all. I think they make a valuable contribution to the expression of public opinion, not necessarily political opinion but public 1347 opinion generally, and it is vital that they should have such safeguards as there can be.
If I understand the position rightly, what we are asking is that there should be a power of appeal over the Home Secretary's head as to whether he has exceeded his powers or not, and I cannot see why the Home Secretary cannot give us that concession. After all, we do have some confidence in the present Home Secretary, but he must not suggest to us that he will always be there, or that we must always pass such Regulations in a moment if not of panic at least of great haste, because they will last for the rest of the war. If we can have that appeal it does not remove from us as a House of Commons the right to deal with the other aspect of the matter, which is whether on grounds of policy the Home Secretary was right to take action in any particular case in which he does act. In supporting this Prayer I say that I want both appeals. I want the appeal, a strictly limited appeal, and of course I want to retain the right of Members of this House of Commons to raise a case here.
Let us go a little further than the hon. Member for Seaham went. He asked how we in this House could act as an appeal court and asked what we could do if some local paper were suppressed. As far as I can see, the only thing we
§ could do apart from ventilating the case by Questions or raising it upon the Adjournment would be to put down what would amount to a Vote of Censure on the whole Government. Are we, in time of war, to do a thing of that sort, however much we may think the Home Secretary has made a mistake? Are we to put down a Vote of Censure on the Government because he has suppressed some paper which many of us think he would have been wiser to allow to express its opinions even though we do not like them? He has this immense threat hanging over the Press. Surely he will give us this little concession which will safeguard their position.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall rose—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Clifton Brown)
The hon. Member can speak again only by leave of the House.
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty praying that the Order in Council amending the Defence (General) Regulations, 1939, dated 29th May, 1940, a copy of which was presented to this House on 4th June, be annulled.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 60; Noes, 98.1349
|Division No. 65.]||AYES.||8.46 p.m.|
|Acland, Sir R. T. D.||Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Noel-Baker, P. J.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Hall, W. G. (Colne Valley)||Parker, J.|
|Adamson, Jennie L. (Dartford)||Hardie, Agnes||Riley, B.|
|Adamson, W. M.||Harvey, T. E.||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Ammon, C. G.||Hume, Sir G. H.||Sexton, T. M.|
|Barnes, A. J.||Jackson, W. F.||Shaw, Captain W. T. (Fortar)|
|Barr, J.||Kirkwood, D.||Shinwell, E.|
|Bartlett, C. V. O.||Leach, W.||Stephen, C.|
|Bromfield, W.||Lee, F.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)|
|Brown, C. (Mansfield)||Leslie, J. R.||Stokes, R. R.|
|Burke, W. A.||Lindsay, K. M.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Cocks, F. S.||Lipson, D. L.||Tomlinson, G.|
|Cove, W. G.||Lunn, W.||Viant, S. P.|
|Daggar, G.||McGhee, H. G.||Watson, W. McL.|
|Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||MacLaren, A.||White, H. Graham|
|Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Mander, G. le M.||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Marshall, F.||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Edwards, N. (Caerphilly)||Mathers, G.||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Fildes, Sir H.||Maxton, J.|
|Gallacher, W.||Milner, Major J.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)||Mort, D. L.||Mr. Silverman and Commander|
|Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.||Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C.||Carver, Major W. H.|
|Anderson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (So'h Univ's)||Boyce, H. Leslie||Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)|
|Aske, Sir R. W.||Brass, Sir W.||Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Brooke, H. (Lewisham, W.)||Crowder, J, F. E.|
|Balfour, G. (Hampstead)||Butcher. H. W.||Culverwell, C. T.|
|Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil)||Levy, T.||Smiles, Sir W. D.|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Lloyd, Major E. G. R. (Renfrew, E.)||Somervell, Rt. Hon. Sir Donald|
|Dodd J. S.||Lucas, Major Sir J. M.||Spens, W. p.|
|Doland, G. F.||Mabane, W. (Huddersfield)||Storey, S.|
|Douglas, F. C. R.||M'Connell, Sir J.||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)|
|Ede, J. C.||Macdonald, G. (Ince)||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Edmondson, Major Sir J.||McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)||Magnay, T.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Ellis, Sir G.||Makins, Brigadier-General Sir Ernest||Thomas, J. P. L.|
|Elliston, Capt. G. S.||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Thurtle, E.|
|Emery, J. F.||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Erskine, Lord||Mellor, Sir J. S. P.||Tutnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|Foot, D. M.||Morgan, H. B. W. (Rochdale)||Walkden, A. G.|
|Fremantle, Sir F. E.||Morris, J. P. (Salford, N.)||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Fyfe, D. P. M.||Munro, P.||Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)|
|Gluckstein, Capt. L. H.||Nail, Sir J.||Warrender, Sir V.|
|Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)||Nunn, W.||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||Paling, W.||Westwood, J.|
|Grimston, R. V.||Parkinson, J. A.||Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)|
|Gunston, Capt. Sir D. W.||Peake, O.||Wilmol, John|
|Harbord. Sir. A.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Willink, H. U.|
|Headlam, Lieul.-Col. Sir C. M.||Radford, E. A.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Hely-Hutchinson, M. R.||Reed, A. C. (Exeter)||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.||Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)||Woolley, W. E.|
|Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath)||Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k N'w'gt'n)||Robertson, D.|
|Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Rowlands, G.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.||Mr. Holdsworth and Mr. Boulton|
|Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Samuel, M. R. A.|
Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.