HC Deb 23 November 1943 vol 393 cc1428-36
33. Dr. Haden Guest

asked the Home Secretary why, as the medical and nursing services provided in Holloway prison are adequate for prisoners there confined, supplemented where necessary by arrangements for operation or other treatment in London hospitals, it is necessary, for medical reasons, to remove Sir Oswald Mosley and Lady Mosley for detention in that establishment?

Mr. Peake

My right hon. Friend proposes to make a statement on this case at the end of Questions. This will cover the point raised in my hon. Friend's Question.

Dr. Guest

Can I have an answer to the specific Question on the medical side? I represent this institution in Parliament; it is in my constituency and I think it would be better if I could have an answer now.

Mr. Peake

I am sure the hon. Member will have an opportunity of putting a Supplementary Question at the end of Questions.


Mr. Speaker

The Home Secretary.

Mr. Gallacher

On a point of Order. In view of the very important character of the statement which is now to be made, should it not be made upon a Motion for the Adjournment?

Mr. Speaker

A Minister can make a statement in any way he pleases.

Mr. Gallacher

Further to that point of Order. This is a very special question. This is something different from an ordinary statement, and it seems to me that it could only be considered the most cowardly evasion on the part of the Government if they did not make the statement on the Adjournment. I therefore ask you whether it is not possible to get this statement made to the House on the Motion for the Adjournment.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Herbert Morrison)

Further to the point of Order. May I submit that, in view of the controversy and the abuse to which I have been submitted from quarters with which the hon. Member is associated, is it not due to me and to the House of Commons that this statement should be made at the earliest practicable moment? There is a Question on the Order Paper by the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Haden Guest), and I am answering that Question and certain other considerations as well.

In view of the importance of this matter, I would ask permission to make a somewhat full statement. As the House will be aware, Sir Oswald Mosley was detained some 3½ years ago, in May, 1940, because my predecessor was satisfied that his British Union activities were prejudicial to national security, and that it was necessary to exercise control over him. The decision to release him does not imply that the Government take a different view of the potentialities for mischief of any revival of this organisation. The Order applying Defence Regulation 18AA to this organisation remains in force and prohibits any renewal of its activities.

The case of each of the individuals detained under Regulation 18B has to be determined in the light both of the facts of the particular case and of general conditions. In view of the improvement in our national fortunes, it has been possible without endangering national security to release a large number of former members of the British Union on the ground that their detention is not necessary in present circumstances. The improvement in our national fortunes would not by itself, however, have justified the immediate release of Sir Oswald Mosley: as the leader and most influential person in the movement, he would have been the last to be released.

From time to time representations have been made to me as to the state of his health, and it accordingly became the duty of the prison medical authorities to advise me as to the nature and degree of the risk to his health which his continued detention would involve. For this purpose it was arranged that there should be consultation between the prison medical authorities and Lord Dawson of Penn and Dr. Geoffrey Evans. A consultation accordingly took place between the Medical Commissioner of Prisons, two prison doctors and these two medical practitioners. The opinion of these five doctors was unanimous: it was that if the patient remained under the conditions which are inseparable from detention, there would be substantial risk of the thrombo-phlebitis from which he is suffering extending, and thus producing permanent damage to health and even danger to life. This complaint is of long standing, and the question was not whether the appropriate medical treatment could be given in a prison establishment, but whether there was a reasonable chance of checking serious deterioration of his health unless the patient were allowed a greater measure of freedom for outdoor exercise and varied occupations than is possible in a place of detention. The opinion of all these medical men was that, if the matter were considered purely on medical grounds, release from detention was essential for the purpose of checking the extension of his complaint and providing any reasonable prospect of recovery.

On receipt of this authoritative medical advice, there were only two courses open to me. First, I had to consider whether I ought to take the responsibility of detaining this suspect to the permanent damage of his health and possibly to the danger of his life. On this point I can only say that, while considerations of national security must come first, I am not prepared, subject to this overriding consideration, to let anyone die in detention unnecessarily. This policy is based not on the inexpediency of making martyrs of persons who do not deserve the honour, but on the general principle that those extraordinary powers of detention without trial must not be used except in so far as they are essential for national security.

The alternative course was to consider whether there should be substituted for detention some system of control approximating to house arrest. Under the provisions of Regulation 18B the Secretary of State is empowered to suspend an Order of Detention subject to conditions imposing various restrictions. Failure to comply with any conditions so imposed renders the person concerned liable not only to prosecution for an offence but also to be brought back to detention. Knowing that severe restrictions could be imposed and enforced and that the Detention Order itself could be re-imposed at need, I came to the conclusion that my right course was to substitute for detention a stringent system of control and that release subject to the restrictions I had in mind would not entail any undue risk to national security in the circumstances of the present day.

In reaching this conclusion, I kept two considerations prominently in mind. First, conditions imposed on a person released from detention, however stringent those conditions may be, cannot provide as effective a method of control as confinement. The release under such conditions of a person who would otherwise be detained can, therefore, be justified only if there is some exceptional reason, such as the medical considerations arising in the present case. Secondly, while it is right that account should be taken of medical considerations, especially when, as in the present case, there is a risk of permanent injury to health or danger to life, such considerations cannot be paramount. They must be subordinate to considerations of national security. My justification for taking on medical grounds a course which would not otherwise have been taken, even at this stage of the war, is that I was satisfied that no undue risk to national security would be incurred by the release of this man, subject to stringent conditions, in the circumstances obtaining at the present day. Had a similar question arisen at an earlier date, when the dangers to be apprehended from any attempt at interference with our war effort were much greater than they are to-day, the position would have been different.

I have authorised the release of Sir Oswald Mosley in the belief that in present circumstances adequate control can be maintained over him by the restrictions which I have imposed. But let there be no misunderstanding. If for any reason, whether because of evasion of any restrictions imposed on him or because of any change in the situation, it became necessary, on grounds of public security, to bring him back to detention, medical considerations would not be an obstacle to the course dictated by the national interests.

The restrictions which I decided to impose as a condition of his release are as follow: He is to reside at a specified house in the country and is prohibited from travelling more than seven miles from that house; he is to report in person to the police monthly; he is not to associate or directly or indirectly communicate with any person who has been a member of the British Union, other than members of his family or his wife's family; he is not to associate or directly or indirectly communicate with any other person for the purpose of promoting or assisting in the promotion of political activities; he is not to publish or cause or permit to be published any book, article, newspaper, news-letter, periodical, pamphlet, leaflet, poster or circular; he is not to make any public speech; he is not to give any interview to a journalist or other person for the purpose of publication. In short, as regards public activities, he is still subject to the same kind of restrictions as are imposed on persons in detention. These restrictions were communicated to him at the time of his release.

In the case of Lady Mosley, medical considerations were not in question. But one of the main reasons for the detention of Lady Mosley was the risk that she might act as an agent for her husband if, while he was detained, she were left at liberty. With the release of her husband this ground for detention ceased to operate, and, having regard to this consideration together with the consideration affecting his health, I thought it right that both should be released from detention subject to the same restrictions.

I mention—merely to dismiss it as an absurdity—the suggestion made in certain quarters that the decision to release at this date on medical grounds a man who stands for a doctrine almost universally detested in this country and whose influence is greatly diminished, indicated that there is a weakening on the part of the Government or myself in our determination to root out the evil cancer of Fascism. If I were to allow myself, in the exercise of the drastic power of detention without trial entrusted to me by Parliament as an exceptional war-time measure, to depart from the judicial frame of mind and to be influenced—not by considerations of the public safety—but by personal dislike or political opposition, I should no doubt be able to give entire satisfaction to many of my present critics, but I should be abusing the powers afforded by Regulation 18B and betraying the trust reposed in to me by Parliament that those powers would be exercised in a judicial spirit and solely for the purpose of national security. Any departure from these principles of administration would involve grave danger to the maintenance of constitutional democratic government and might set a precedent which in other circumstances no one would regret more than many of my critics of to-day.

Mr. Ivor Thomas

Is it not clear that if a statement on those lines had been issued at the same time as the release of Sir Oswald Mosley the public would have got a very different impression of the whole matter; and is it not the case that the news was released to the public in the manner most prejudicial to the interests of the right hon. Gentleman's own Department?

Mr. Morrison

I caused to be issued at the time a statement in which there were two points. One concerned the health grounds, and the other was that proper security restrictions would have to be put on him. If people did not believe me, I cannot help it. Secondly, if ever there was a power exercised by a Minister, which is both exceptional and on which Parliament has a primary responsibility for seeing that the Minister does his job well, this is that power, and as the House was meeting within a few days I thought—and I hope I was not wrong—that my first duty and my first obligation were to Parliament.

Mr. Lipson

May I ask whether the decision to release Sir Oswald and Lady Mosley was made on the right hon. Gentleman's own individual responsibility or whether the Cabinet was consulted before it was done?

Mr. Morrison

The responsibility is mine. The Regulation places the responsibility fairly on me. This is one of the awkward jobs that go with the office of Home Secretary. Any Home Secretary contemplating this decision would have been most foolish if he did not inform his Cabinet colleagues and consult them about it, and I did so.

Commander Locker-Lampson

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether Sir Oswald Mosley is not Enemy No. 1; and whether he would have been released if he had not been a millionaire; and may I also ask my right hon. Friend whether he will allow five doctors from this House to examine Sir Oswald Mosley?

Mr. Morrison

If I may say so, that question, with the insulting implication in the middle, is hardly worthy of an answer.

Dr. Haden Guest

In view of my right hon. Friend's statement, which shows quite clearly that there was no immediate urgency for a few days about the release of Sir Oswald Mosley, may I ask him why he did not wait until Parliament was in session, in order that he might make a preliminary statement to Parliament instead of, as it appears, flouting the House of Commons?

Mr. Morrison

I have often been attacked on this side of the House for being unwilling, in effect, to transfer my responsibility, either to a Committee of this House or to a committee outside. This responsibility is placed upon me, and just as I could not transfer my responsibility to Parliament for my action, if I keep people in, so I cannot do so if I let people out. Parliament has its remedy if it is dissatisfied. It can always get rid of a Minister. That is open to Parliament, but as long as I am discharging this function, I shall discharge it judicially, on my responsibility, and answer for my actions in the House.

Sir Alfred Beit

May I ask a question which may appear somewhat technical? Is it not a fact that phlebitis in its various forms needs absolute quiet and rest; and how can it be said that a person suffering from that illness must have greater freedom of movement and opportunities for exercise?

Mr. Morrison

I am not a doctor, but I understood that it requires both things—rest, and also vigorous exercise. I can only say that it is not for me to pronounce a medical opinion. It was for me either to accept this formidable body of medical opinion, or to take the responsibility of saying that these medical men were not telling the truth or were not competent. I did not feel that I could do that.

Mr. Ellis Smith

I understood my right hon. Friend to say that he received representations. Has he at any time received representations with regard to this man, apart from the medical representations?

Mr. Morrison

I have received representations about all sorts of people, and my hon. Friend would be surprised at where some of the representations come from.

Mr. Gallacher

Following the highly unsatisfactory reply which the right hon. Gentleman has given, I want to ask him whether there is another case in this country, where such medical attention and such concern and care have been shown to anyone as in this case? Was such attention ever shown to Terence MacSwiney or Mr. Gandhi?

Mr. Morrison

There have been other cases, both of 18B British subjects and enemy aliens, who have been released on health grounds, and who would not otherwise have been released.

Mr. Gallacher

But did they get such medical attention?

Mr. Morrison

But the medical attention is not wholly mine. As far as the prison doctor is concerned, certainly they all get the same medical attention. Let me remind the hon. Member, who is very indignant about this, that in the early days of the war there were very similar arguments against the war, both by his friends and—[Interruption].

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

While I am on my feet hon. Members will please sit down. This is becoming a Debate, and I do not think it should go any further.

Mr. Shinwell

Is it not clear that this matter cannot be properly discussed by process of question and answer, and may I ask the Deputy Prime Minister whether, in all the circumstances and for the purpose of clarification, it would not be more appropriate to have a Debate on this matter?

Mr. Attlee

If there is a general desire in the House for a Debate on this matter, time can be provided. May I remind the House, however, that a message is expected to be received shortly desiring our attendance in another place? I have also to inform the House that before then it will be necessary for me to espy Strangers in order that a statement can be made in Secret Session. Therefore, I suggest that if further discussion is to take place on this matter, it should take place as a Debate, rather than by way of question and answer.

Mr. Shinwell

On a point of Order. I am not aware that under the Standing Orders of this House—and this is a matter upon which I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker—we are compelled automatically to disturb or suspend our proceedings when there is a knock at that door. If this House so decides, it is within its prerogative to continue to discuss this matter either by question and answer, or in debate. It is a matter for the House itself to decide I understand that this is the position.

Mr. A. Bevan

Further to that point of Order and quite apart from the merits of the Debate, does not the form which this has taken show the undesirability of making such important pronouncements, except on a Motion for the Adjournment? May I respectfully submit that although on many occasions you, Mr. Speaker, have given Ministers great latitude in this matter, it is clear that Parliament is being injured by the abuse to which it is being subjected; and further may I suggest to the Government, again without regard to the merits of the matter, that as there is such universal interest in it—I use the word "interest" advisedly—it is to the good of Parliament that Parliament should adequately discuss the subject at the earliest possible moment? Further, ought we not to resist knocks on the door in order to discuss it?

Mr. Speaker

In reply to the point of Order, while it may not be laid down in the Standing Orders, it would be regarded, I think, as an act of gross discourtesy if we refused to acknowledge the knocks at the door.