HC Deb 20 December 1945 vol 417 cc1541-8
72. Mr. Benn Levy

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will define the conditions under which Sir Oswald Mosley was released; and whether these conditions were infringed by his meeting held at the Royal Hotel on 15th December, or by the holding of public meetings to advocate the doctrines of Fascism.

Mr. Ede

The conditions under which Sir Oswald Mosley was released from detention were imposed under Defence Regulation 18b and ceased to have effect when this Defence Regulation was revoked on 9th May, 1945.

Mr. Levy

May I ask my right hon. Friend, seeing that these doctrines are aimed at the whole basis of British freedom, and have already rotted away more than one democracy abroad, whether he will consider establishing a small legal commission to devise ways and means of protecting our country against similar possibilities on the basis that it is nonsensical for us in the name of freedom to allow men freedom to destroy freedom?

Mr. Ede

The points raised by my hon. Friend are at the present time engaging my most active consideration, and I shall be answering further Questions in the course of the morning in which I think I shall be able to elaborate a little more the points that he has raised.

Lieut-Commander Gurney Braithwaite

Does not the Home Secretary think that Sir Oswald Mosley, who was utterly discredited, would be far better left in well-earned obscurity than receive free advertisement by Questions in this House?

Mr. Ede

I cannot limit the activities of hon. Members of this House, but I am quite certain of this, that "the price of liberty is eternal vigilance."

Mr. Platts-Mills

While my right hon. Friend is being vigilant, will he take steps to see that Finsbury's most prized memorial is protected from the vandalism to which it is now exposed?

Mr. Ede

I do the best I can to ensure that that shall happen, and I am hopeful that it will be possible to find some of 'lie people who were engaged in that particular act.

Captain Blackburn

Is my right hon. Friend—

Mr. Speaker

There are more Questions on this subject, and we had better, get on with them.

73. Mr. Popplewell

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is aware of the Christmas gathering held at the Royal Hotel, Woburn Place, W.C., on 15th December, by 18B detainees and others; if he took the names of all those attending, and if he will publish them; and what steps he proposes to take to prevent these people annoying the public to such a degree that breaches of the peace take place.

75. Mr. J. Lewis

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is aware that at a recent meeting of ex-18B detainees a reporter was manhandled by Fascists and if, at all places where these persons congregate, he will take steps where possible to ensure that police are present in order to prevent a repetition of that form of political hooliganism which existed prior to the war and which was responsible for innocent onlookers being beaten up and injured.

Mr. Ede

I understand from the Press reports that this was a private gathering for invited guests. It is no part of the duties of the police to attend private functions for the purpose of maintaining order, or to require persons attending to give their names, but the police would of course intervene to restore order if a breach of the peace occurred. The police have received no complaints from the reporter of having been manhandled, but it is open to any person to institute proceedings if more force than is reasonable and necessary is used to eject him from the premises.

Mr. Popplewell

May I take it that at any future meeting or demonstration which might be arranged by these arrogant people, and so create a breach of the peace, the public will be protected and action taken against the demonstrators?

Mr. Ede

It will all depend whether I or my Department have information as to when and where such, a private gathering will take place. We do not anticipate that we shall receive invitations. If a breach of the peace occurs, we shall do what we can to protect the public, and we shall take action, if we are informed of the time and place of the meeting, to prevent breachesof the peace occurring.

Mr. J. Lewis

Does not my right hon. Friend think it is possible, in the public interest, to introduce a regulation whereby all political meetings should be notified to the police beforehand— [Hon. Members: "Gestapo "] — so that in the event of the Fascists deciding to hold a meeting and of this male Pompadour strutting all over the country, in his uniform, we can take steps to stop it?

Mr. Ede

It would be very difficult, I think, for a start, to draft a regulation, especially in the short time left to me now to draft regulations, defining what a political meeting was. These people are not allowed to appear in uniform; this House has already taken steps against that.

Mr. Eden

Will not the right hon. Gentleman make it plain that the suggestion of his hon. Friend behind him is not only difficult to handle in the definition but most undesirable in every respect?

Mr. Ede

Yes, Sir, I agree. I should not like to have to be informed every time the successor of the 1922 Committee is meeting.

Mrs. Leah Manning

In case I have misunderstood him, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether what he meant by his reply was, that so long as these are private gatherings, Sir Oswald Mosley and the Fascists will have the right to corrupt with their debased ideas the mind of any young person whom they invite to their private parties? If that is so, will those of us who oppose him again be described as "premature anti-fascists "?

Mr. Ede

I have not described anybody in those terms, and I cannot prevent people holding private gatherings in this country. The whole question is one of great difficulty. I am concerned that the liberal government of this country should not be destroyed, as it has been destroyed abroad, by armed and truculent minorities seizing power with which they were never invested by a majority of their countrymen. However, I should find it very difficult indeed to frame at the moment any Act that would enable me to deal with them. I would ask people in this matter to preserve some sense of proportion.

Mr. Molson

Will the Home Secretary give an undertaking that he will resist the attempts of the Socialist majority in this House to establish a Gestapo?

Mr. Ede

I have not heard any suggestion in that direction, but I have already indicated that I do regard the control of truculent, armed minorities in a democracy as being a matter to which the Government must give their consideration.

Mr. Thurtle

Will the right hon. Gentleman, in considering any measures to deal with these people, bear in mind the old-established principle of British freedom of speech?

Mr. Ede

I do have that in mind, but I would point out that even Milton laid it down, in the great address which he made to this House, that where people aim at extirpating free discussion they must be regarded as being ripe for extirpation themselves.

79. Mr. Driberg

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is aware that a representative of the Press was violently ejected from a gathering of Fascists at the Royal Hotel, London, last Saturday because he was taking notes of a speech in which Sir Oswald Mosley threatened vengeance against his political opponents; that later on the same night the Lenin Memorial in North London was defaced by Fascists; that the headquarters of the League of Christian Reformers have been raided by other citizens taking unofficial action; and if, in view of the recurrence of such breaches of the peace and the risk of a more extensive development of political gang feuds, he will take active steps to check the provocation offered to loyal British subjects by the current revival of Fascist activity.

80. Mr. Belcher

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if his attention has been drawn to the attempted revival of a British Fascist organisation under the leadership of Sir Oswald Mosley, and if he proposes to take any steps to prevent the breach of peace which would follow if this attempt were allowed to proceed.

81. Mr. Garry Allighan

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is aware of the menace to internal security arising from the activities of Fascists, such as Sir Oswald Mosley and Sir A. H. M. Ramsay, around whom treacherous elements are being organised and at whose reunion in London last week, attended by 800 men and women who had been detained during the war in the interests of the State, members of the public were assaulted; and what action the Government intends to take to prevent this recrudescence of Fascism becoming a danger to the State again.

82. Mr. Piratin

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is aware that British Fascists have announced their intention to resume their activities in this country; that the wide spread feeling among the people of this country is that victory over German Fascism was not intended to permit Fascism to grow on this country; and what steps will be taken to render Fascist and anti-Semitic activities illegal in Britain.

84. Captain Francis Noel-Baker

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether his Department is keeping a watch on the activities of former members of the British Union of Fascists and, in particular, on their recent efforts to revive a Fascist movement in this country.

88. Major Wyatt

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is aware of the widespread concern and indignation that has been provoked, especially among Servicemen, by the revival of Fascist activities and the cult of Hitler in England; and if he will take steps to restrain this negation of the victory of democracy.

Mr. Ede

I am aware of the matters referred to and of the very proper hostility of the people of this country to Fascism. The Government are fully alive to all the risks involved in a revival of Fascist activity. The law already provides safeguards against seditious activities of all kinds and protects all sections of the community irrespective of race or creed against disorderly or provocative conduct. A close watch is being, and will be, kept on any manifestations of Fascism and the law will be strictly enforced.

Mr. Driberg

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that these enemy agents will exploit every difficulty and do all they can to sabotage the recovery of this country in the next few years, and will he, in the spirit of his admirable quotation from Milton, take steps to deprive them of civil rights?

Mr. Ede

No, Sir; I am not prepared to announce today the steps which it may be necessary to take if this menace should become more pronounced. I hope that I have given to the House an indication that I am carefully watching the matter, and that I have no intention that democracy shall be overthrown in this country by minority movements of this kind.

Mr. Belcher

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the statement which he has made will give a certain amount of satisfaction in the country; and will he continue to bear in mind the fact that unless these people are prevented from spreading their Fascist doctrines, there is likely to arise a very dangerous state of public opinion in the country?

Mr. Ede

I would appeal to hon. Members to exercise a sense of proportion and not to flatter these people by making them appear to be more menacing than they, in fact, are. We have a very ancient democracy, with a great sense of humour, and I am quite certain that they will put a proper valuation upon many of the claims and statements that are being made.

Mr. Piratin

May I ask the Home Secretary if he will recall that similar tolerance was expressed by Members of the Opposition towards Fascism 12 years ago, when it could have been stemmed more easily than was the case after six years of war; and will the Home Secretary consider the introduction of legislation to make illegal the dissemination of anti-Semitism?

Mr. Ede

I do not think I can carry the matter any further in reply to that supplementary question than I have already done. I am quite sure of this, that I shall have the support of the House in taking all reasonable steps to deal with any real menace that develops.

Captain Francis Noel-Baker

Can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the various special departments concerned in investigating these kinds of activities shall not be allowed in future to show the sort of political bias which they sometimes showed during the war?

Mr. Ede

I believe that the Special Branch under my Department acts with complete impartiality in this matter. One of the difficulties of dealing with the matter is that it is very difficult to define Fascism in any terms which do not include other schools of political thought.

Mr. James Hudson

Will the right hon. Gentleman keep in mind, when the Special Branch of his Department are called upon to deal with this matter, that they should not be allowed to suppress opinion, even if it is of an unpopular character, and that they should carry out only the general provisions of the law?

Mr. Ede

I thought that I had dealt with that matter earlier. My hon. Friend can rest assured that the Special Branch will not exceed the powers which they now have; but it may be necessary, and I do not want to blink this fact, for the Secretary of State to ask to be armed with additional powers.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

The Home Secretary has already said that the cannot go any further with this matter and, therefore, it is no use asking further questions.

Mr. Driberg

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. We shall return to this subject after the Recess, on the Adjournment.