§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Although I do not suppose for a moment that I shall obtain the indulgence of the House, and I certainly do not claim it, this is in a sense a maiden speech. In the 15 years that I have been a Member of this House, I do not think that I have ever before availed myself of the old rule which permitted a Member of Parliament, on giving due notice and with your permission, Sir, to raise in an Adjournment Debate an administrative matter in which he was dissatisfied with the answer to a Question or a statement made by the Minister in charge.
I remember, however, that I once moved the Adjournment of the House on a matter of definite and urgent public importance, and on that occasion although I was heard with the characteristic sympathy and generosity which 1649 the House always offers to a minority view, I had little or, at any rate, only limited actual support from Members of the House. On that occasion, however, the events within two or three years showed that I was abundantly right and the Government more than abundantly wrong. Perhaps on this occasion, whatever the alignment of forces may turn out to be, the verdict of history may turn out to be as I would anticipate in what I have to say.
The subject which I wish to raise is the statement made by the Home Secretary today with regard to the circumstances in which so many visas were refused to aliens, and so many aliens who did not require visas at all were turned away at the ports, as to render a farce not worth proceeding with, the Congress at Sheffield which was called by its sponsors the "Peace Congress."
I think there is one thing on which the House tonight may be unanimous. We are not concerned with the merits or demerits of the Congress. It is not part of my case that those who sponsored the Congress or those who proposed to attend it are the only friends of peace in the world or that the policies that they came here to defend are the only policies on which the peace of the world depends. I recognise that those sponsors and most of those who were to come here for the purpose of the Congress, and those of our own citizens who proposed to attend it, not all of them perhaps, but in many cases, were people who came to defend the policies during the past five years and now of the Soviet Union and her allies and her satellites. They believed, or professed to believe—and it is not for me to say which—that on those policies, and on those policies alone, depends the peace of the world, and that all others are warmongers, imperialists, and the enemies of the peace of the world.
However mistaken the view may be, however deluded it may be, however insincere may be some—or, for all I know, many—of those who share it, it is not a crime in this country to hold that view. It is not an offence to express it. It is not part of our law and is no part of the administrative function of any Minister to prevent those who hold that view or any other view, provided they keep within the law, from meeting in any lawful place, saying what they have a mind to say, 1650 persuading those who may be open to such persuasion, without let or hindrance by anyone.
Today, these rights of free speech, free assembly, the right to know, the right to utter, the right to argue freely according to conscience, which are the very basis on which the existence of a free society depends, are under fire all over the world, and under fire very largely and most dangerously in just those countries whose foreign policies were to be defended at Sheffield. Our business in this country, and, more than all, our business in this House, is to see to it that wherever else in the world those rights may go down, here they shall endure.
If we have to defend them, tragically enough, in another world war, we shall do so. But they are not to be defended only from attack outside. We have to defend them ourselves.Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty"—and those liberties have most importantly to be defended when they are sought to be exercised, not by a majority, but by a minority. A majority can always look after themselves. There has never been any difficulty in preserving the right of the majority to say what it likes and to do what it pleases. Liberty consists largely in the right to dissent, and not the right to dissent in secret; not to dissent by the leave or licence of anyone, but to dissent in the open.
May I say to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, in view of one of the things he said this afternoon, that the right of free speech includes the freedom to listen? The right of free speech is not only the right of the speaker on the platform to say, but the right of the audience to hear what he says, if he wishes to say it, and if anyone refuses to a British audience the right to hear what a foreigner wishes to say to them if they wish to hear it, he is as much denying the right of free speech for the audience as for the speaker. Whatever we may think about this particular Congress, whatever we may think about the action of my right hon. Friend over the past few days, I hope that so far I have said nothing with which any Member of this House would disagree.
One or two things said by the Home Secretary this afternoon must have been heard by the House with considerable 1651 astonishment. He did not forbid this Congress. Administratively, of course, he had no power to forbid it. He could have invited the House to pass an Act to make it unlawful. He did not do so. I would not have expected him to do so and I would not have expected the House of Commons to have given him such an Act, if he had asked for it.
Therefore, we start from the basis that the Congress itself was a lawful assembly and my right hon. Friend admitted in so many words that any British subject could have attended it without laying himself open to any kind of proceedings, or without my right hon. Friend, or anybody else, having the right to interfere with him in any way. But he said that right is limited to British subjects. What the British subject might have done, what our own citizens might have done in Sheffield, although lawful, although beyond any legal reproach or any legal attack, was, nevertheless, something which the Home Secretary, by virtue of the powers reposed in him under the Aliens Acts, is entitled to prevent an alien from doing.
This is a strange doctrine. I should have thought that it was in violent and diametrical opposition to five centuries of British constitutional history. When all over the world slavery was an honoured and respected social institution, and when we sang that our "Britons never shall be slaves," we were not so insular as my right hon. Friend was this afternoon, because we did not limit it to Britain. It was the doctrine of our Common Law, asserted, not by Left-wing revolutionaries, but by highly Conservative judicial officers, that when a man set foot on the soil of this land he was free. Lord Mansfield did not stop to ask whether the escaped slave who landed in our country was a British subject or not.
No one, so far as I know, until my right hon. Friend this afternoon, has ever before sought to justify the limiting of the freedom of a man, either in this country or entitled otherwise to come here, on the ground that he was not a British subject. We have as a nation put our name twice within recent years to international Conventions on Human Rights, one of the most important of which was the right of free speech. One such declaration we signed under the authority of the United Nations and we even sought—I have for- 1652 gotten now whether with success or not—to make it a condition precedent to a nation joining the United Nations that it should sign—and not merely sign but implement—the Convention on Human Rights.
Only a few months ago when the Council of Europe met—or was it the Committee of Ministers?—there was another rather more limited—but not limited by in any way reducing the rights of free speech or free assembly—agreement or declaration about human rights, which formed a large part of the discussion in our debate yesterday afternoon, in the framing of which and in the passage of which through those committees and that Assembly the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) had a distinguished share. We did not say then, "Free speech, yes, but only for British subjects," and it will be a sad day for the leadership of this country in maintaining these liberties for the world if it ever goes forth that our country, our Government and—may I say without bitterness but with deep regret?—this Government, should seek now to say that free speech, free assembly, the right to say what you like no matter how hateful it may be to the ears of others, is a right we claim for ourselves, but are not willing to accord to others.
There happens to have been an occasion on which the House was invited to make precisely the distinction between British subjects and aliens in matters of liberty which my right hon. Friend sought to make this afternoon and on which his whole justification depends in the administrative action taken over the past few days. It was in 1938, when the Ten Minutes Rule was still in operation and it was a Bill introduced under the Ten Minutes Rule. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I think hon. Members might reserve their cheers until they hear what the Bill was and what happened to it. The Motion was:That leave he given to bring in a Bill to prevent the participation by aliens in assemblies for the purpose of propagating blasphemies or atheistic doctrines or in other activities calculated to interfere with the established religious institutions of Great Britain, to amend the Aliens Restriction (Amendments) Act …"—in order to keep those persons out—and for other purposes connected therewith.I will tell the House in a moment who introduced that Bill, but it was opposed, 1653 not by an atheist, or a secularist, or an agnostic. It was opposed by a very distinguished religious Member of this House, whom many of us present will remember, I have no doubt—Mr. Edmund Harvey, a member of the Society of Friends. He opposed it in a speech from which I propose to read two or three extracts to the House:If we look at the history of our own country we find that aliens came in, to quote the Motion of the hon. and gallant Member, to further activities calculated to interfere with the established religious institutions of the country.' St. Augustine of Canterbury was an alien. St. Paulinus of York, when he went to King Edwin, was an alien coming to upset the religious institutions of the country. I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member"—and I am sure my right hon. Friend—will not consider that St. Augustine or St. Paulinus were mistaken in their mission or that their work was not blessed.He said earlier:These early Christians were known by their opponents as atheists; they were believed to be atheists; they were regarded as the enemies of the human race. … Their weapon was the weapon of truth.Then came this sentence, which I commend to my right hon. Friend and to the House:I maintain that truth needs no other shield or weapon than itself. Whether it be political error or religious error, the right way to deal with it is by the weapons of argument and appeals to the highest. The only safeguard that truth needs is the light in which and by which it lives.At the end he said, in a reference to Milton:We need to remember his words today:'Give me the liberty to know, to utter and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.'That is a liberty which we ought to be proud and glad to share with men of every other nation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th June, 1938; Vol. 337, c. 1725–30.]There was a Division on that Motion, which I regret to say was carried by a very narrow majority. That meant that leave was given to bring in the Bill. I rejoice to say that it made no further progress. I regret that all those who voted for it were Members of the Conservative Party.
§ Mr. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleton)
There were two Labour Members, one of whom is now Lord Gibson, from Greenock, and the other who is a legal 1654 gentleman who got a sheriffdom or something of that kind.
§ Mr. Silverman
With those two exceptions, the Labour Party then in the House voted against the Bill, and among those who went into the Division Lobby against it I delight to see recorded the name of the Home Secretary. The House may like me to complete the story by saying who introduced it. It was Captain Ramsay. I do not think I need add anything to that.
If, then, the Home Secretary is on unsound grounds, as I hope I have established, in holding that although the Congress might have been lawful for British subjects, it was lawful for him to keep out aliens, or attempt to do so, how is his action to be justified? Indeed, on what principle, even accepting his grounds for discrimination, are we to explain some the things he did? How comes it about that M. Picasso is admitted and M. Shostakovitch kept out? I am no expert in these matters, but I understand that both these men are at the head of their respective professions. M. Picasso, although his work does not appeal to all sections, is recognised as being perhaps the most creative, as he is certainly the most provocative, artist of his day. I understand that Shostakovitch holds much the same position in the world of creative music as Picasso holds in the world of art. How did my right hon. Friend distinguish between these two? Both were Communists—open declared Communists. Why was Shostakovitch a greater danger in Sheffield than Picasso?
Take another two cases. In spite of what is often said, there is still some religious activity going on in Bulgaria and in the Soviet Union. Indeed, the variety is the same. Those who are Christian religious worshippers in those countries belong to what is known as the Greek Orthodox Church. The Archimandrite is the head of the Orthodox Church in Bulgaria. My right hon. Friend granted him a visa. The head of the same Church in Moscow, known, I think, as the Metropolitan Bishop of Moscow, was refused a visa. Why? On what ground, what was the discrimination, who decided it, on what information and for what purpose? I know that my right hon. Friend explained, in answer to supplementary questions this afternoon, that on the representations of the Archbishop of Canterbury he changed his mind.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)
I did not say the Archbishop of Canterbury. [HON. MEMBERS: "The Dean."] May I say that representations from the Dean of Canterbury would have been no recommendation. What I said was that I had representations from two members of the Episcopal bench.
§ Mr. Silverman
I am not pressing my right hon. Friend to say who they were, I apologise for my error; I hope it will not do anyone any harm. I understand that on the representations of two bishops of the Church of England, my right hon. Friend changed his mind and decided to let the Metropolitan in. I should have thought that made my hon. Friend's position worse rather than better, because he appears in the end to have overthrown all the security information that he had had from all the sources open to him which had led him to refuse the visa in the first place because two bishops of the Church of England came to him and said. "The Metropolitan, whom we have never seen in our lives, is all right. Let him in."
§ Mr. Edeindicated dissent.
§ Mr. Silverman
I am sorry if I am wrong. My right hon. Friend did not give us much information. He did tell us that the visa was at first refused, that he changed his mind and that in the end a visa was granted, although I think it was too late to be acted upon. He told us that the reason he changed his mind was the representations of two bishops of the Church of England. I do not understand it.
There was the case of Professor Joliot-Curie. Again, he is a man at the head of his calling, one of the greatest scientists of this century, and not a man who could be accused of being hostile to this country. He is a man whose researches in physics led him very far along the path of atomic energy and a man who, at the beginning of the war, placed all his secrets unreservedly at the disposal of His Majesty's Government and sent his principal assistant here to see that we understood his scientific discoveries properly and made proper use of them.
Since France is a country which does not need a visa and, therefore, none was applied for and none was refused, I ask my right hon. Friend who 1656 decided that Professor Joliot-Curie should be turned back at the port? Was it left to the immigration officer to decide, or was he given instructions? If those instructions were given, on what grounds were they given and whose instructions were they? Did my right hon. Friend himself make up his mind that to let Professor Joliot-Curie in would be dangerous, that millions of our citizens would be seduced from their allegiance if Professor Joliot-Curie were allowed to land? Did he decide? If he did not, who did? When was it decided, and why was not the decision communicated to Professor Joliot-Curie before he left France?
If it was necessary to prevent him from coming in—and who can understand why?—that decision should surely have been taken at a very high level indeed and communicated to the gentleman concerned, rather than that he should be submitted to the indignity of a two-hour interrogation by a policeman who, probably, had never heard his name. It is unnecessary to act in this way to protect the good name of this country. What about the expediency of all this?
§ Mr. Daines (East Ham, North)
Is the Frenchman, whom my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) has been describing to us, the same Frenchman who was engaged on atomic work and was removed by the French Government after he had made a statement in public that his first allegiance was to Russia?
§ Mr. Silverman
I do not think the last part of that question is correct. The first part is. Undoubtedly, he was the head of atomic research activities in France, and that is not surprising in the least. It is quite true he was dismissed from his employment because of his political opinions, but what inference does my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines) wish to be drawn from that?
§ Mr. Silverman
Surely facts are only of interest to a debate in so far as they are relevant, and to what issue is this relevant? The professor is carrying on today in France, and has been for years, as a free man, all the activities he would 1657 have carried on in Sheffield. Why is it safe for France to allow him to do it but unsafe for Sheffield?
But I was asking about the expediency of this. I understand my right hon. Friend would have acted in this way with extreme reluctance and only under pressure of what he would regard as dire State necessity. But is he sure that, considered on that much narrower and lower plane, his action really can be defended? He said he was going to exclude at the ports, or by refusing visas, all those whose integrity was in doubt. I know those are not his words, but I think they are a fair paraphrase of what he wanted the House to understand. He wanted the House to understand that all those who came legitimately and in good faith, for the purpose of expressing ideas, however unpopular, would be admitted, but that those who came for ulterior, illegitimate purposes would be excluded. Does that mean that my right hon. Friend is giving a world-wide testimonial to all those whom he let in?
Are we now to understand that there were a lot of distinguished people who genuinely believed in this Congress? If the Home Secretary says "I am keeping out those who are wrong," he lays himself open to simple people like myself who infer that those he lets in are not wrong. Therefore, he has given all those whom he has let in a testimonial by the British Government to their integrity. [An HON. MEMBER: "According to their harmlessness."] On my right hon. Friend's basis of discrimination, integrity and harmlessness were part of the same thing. He said he would let in all those who were harmless, and keep out those who would do harm.
§ Mr. Porter (Leeds, Central)
Does not my hon. Friend agree that the authorities responsible for calling the Congress have decided that the persons allowed into this country by the Home Secretary were not the desired type of person who would merit carrying on the conference, and they disregarded these people to such an extent that they decided to hold the Congress somewhere else?
§ Mr. Silverman
Perhaps these people do not attach the same value to my right hon. Friend's testimonial as they ought to. I personally attach great value to it, 1658 and I see no reason why my right hon. Friend should have gone out of his way, holding the view of the Congress that he does, to advertise the harmlessness and integrity of a large part of the Congress. That is one point.
The other point is this. We in this country, with our free and full access to the facts, our right to exchange opinions, to meet and discuss and argue, may know what nonsense it is to pretend that this country or other countries in the Western World are anxious for a new world war which would, I think, by common consent, be suicidal for the whole of mankind. We are rightly conscious of our own integrity in that matter, and we find it difficult to understand that there are other people whose opinions are not so clear upon the subject.
It is not their fault. They are living behind an iron curtain. They are not allowed to know the facts. They are not allowed to have such debates as we are having in this House tonight. They are allowed to know only what the totalitarian Governments wish them to know, and they have been pursuing most intensive propaganda within their own countries in order to persuade their own peace-loving populations—I believe all ordinary people are peace-loving, wherever they live—that we are the enemies of peace and they are the friends of peace. They have no means whatever of knowing other than that.
What has my right hon. Friend done? He has not allowed them to come and see how we live. He has not allowed them to come and read our newspapers. What he has done is to make it technically and practically impossible for the Congress to be held, and that was his almost declared intention.
What use will be made of this by the totalitarian States?
§ Mr. Osborne (Louth) rose——
§ Mr. Silverman
I will give way in a moment. What use, beneficial to us, will be made of this? What is there in this to enable us to say to them, "Look how much better is our practice than yours. Look how firmly founded we are in the merits of the democratic way of life. Look how we love liberty, when we give it to anyone, even those who would like to undermine it and who despise it." My right hon. Friend has presented these 1659 people with the best propaganda point they have had since the end of the war—or, indeed, since long before it; and in order to achieve what? In order to enable people who have already held this kind of Congress almost everywhere in the world, on both sides of the Iron Curtain and even in New York, to say that the only country where they could not hold a Congress about peace was the democratic Socialist country of Great Britain.
§ Mr. Osborne
Is the hon. Gentleman arguing, and does he believe, that if these men had been permitted to come to Sheffield, to see our way of life and to read our newspapers, it would have influenced by one iota their beliefs and their aims?
§ Mr. Silverman
I do not know, but I think it would have done them a lot more good than it would have done to Sheffield, and it would have done them a lot more good than it would have done Sheffield harm; and in our country it is a risk which we could very well, advisably, have taken and which we ought to have taken.
§ Mr. Jennings (Sheffield, Hallam)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that three weeks ago I put a Question to the Home Secretary on the subject? In fairness to the right hon. Gentleman I would point out that he told me he had no intention of stopping free speech, when I asked him a question about holding the Congress in Sheffield. I was on the telephone to Sheffield yesterday and I can say that the people of Sheffield are completely indifferent to the whole proposition.
§ Mr. Silverman
I am very glad to hear that our telephone administration has so much improved under the Labour Government that the hon. Gentleman has been enabled to talk on the telephone, within the space of 24 hours, to all the people of Sheffield.
§ Mr. Jennings rose——
§ Mr. Silverman
I agree with the assumption that all the people in Sheffield were indifferent, if he means that they were indifferent to any kind of propaganda that this Congress could have put out to them. I agree with him there, and I think 1660 that was a good reason for not stopping the Congress. If the hon. Gentleman means, however, that they were indifferent to the stopping of the Congress, then I do not agree with him and I should be ashamed to think that in a great city in our country anyone, or any large number of people, would be indifferent about freedom of speech. I know some people think that my right hon. Friend is not a good Socialist, although they believe he is a good Radical.
§ Mr. Silverman
I said that some people thought he was not a good Socialist, not that I thought so. I know he is passionately a supporter of peace. He defended it in the most difficult circumstances in the East End of London, defended it before people not so respectable and not so distinguished as some of the people to whom he refused admission. I say that on all these grounds, on grounds of constitutional principle, on grounds of expediency, on grounds of the things involved in the defence of democracy in these difficult years, the action which my right hon. Friend took was wrong and, however he may feel about it, it is felt by many of us to have been an abuse of the rights reposed in him.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Jennings (Sheffield, Hallam)
In case there should be some misunderstanding in this Debate I should like to make it perfectly clear that there has never been a large number of Communists in Sheffield, and I think that that is still the case today. I should like to say something in support of the Home Secretary, because I think the criticism of him by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) was a little unfair.
I asked the Home Secretary, some weeks ago, to bear in mind the feelings of the people in Sheffield, and I pointed out that they were not biased one way or the other so far as the Peace Congress was concerned. The people of Sheffield are no less in favour of world peace than those in any other part of this country. Moreover, I think that every hon. Member, no matter in what part of the House he sits, is anxious that we should get a settlement of these difficulties at the earliest possible opportunity. I simply rise to say, in fairness to the Home Secretary, that he said 1661 to me that in his great desire to allow freedom of speech he did not propose to take any action to stop this Peace Congress from being held in Sheffield. I believe that if it was possible for him to take that line and allow freedom of speech it was the best advertisement to the whole world from this House that the British Home Secretary had no desire to interfere with freedom of speech.
The conference was arranged. I should have thought that the problem might have been tackled the other way, and that those people who had intended to come might have learnt first whether they would be likely to be able to come, instead——
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I can help the hon. Member about this. I understand that full lists were provided for my right hon. Friend long before, and that right up to the last minute his Department refused to say who would be allowed to come and who would be refused.
§ Mr. Jennings
I take it from the hon. Member that lists were submitted. I should like to point out to the hon. Member that I take it that the Home Secretary cannot deal with any list until he has definite applications to come to this country, and that it would be quite wrong of him to tick off names indiscriminately in a list, and say, "We will allow these people to come in." I think that would be beyond his powers as Home Secretary.
I think that, perhaps, a great deal of unnecessary publicity has been given to this matter. I listened to a large part of the speech of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, and I believe that the publicity he gave to the conference did not do any good. [HON. MEMBERS: "What are you doing?"] I am endeavouring to tell the House that the peace delegates have left Sheffield quite unmoved——
§ Mr. Jennings
I should like to remind the hon. Member that these delegates have moved themselves. The Home Secretary has not moved them. I think the Home Secretary has tried to do his best in a very difficult situation. He has endeavoured to make clear to the whole world, by his answers on the Floor of this House, that he is still willing to stand by freedom of speech, and I think he has 1662 done his best in very difficult circumstances.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)
The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) put up a very sound theoretical case for the ordinary conception of the right of a person to propagate anything in which he believes. His speech was very capable, but I disagree fundamentally with some of his conclusions. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] It is not a question of shame; it is a question of conviction. I differ from members of the party to which I belong on this issue, because I would go any length to defend any person in propagating any doctrine, no matter how obnoxious it may be to me or to the nation. In every circumstance I would see that he was afforded ample opportunity to express his point of view.
On the Bill introduced by Captain Ramsay, under the Ten Minutes Rule, to which reference has been made, I was opposed to the granting of the power in that Measure. I hated what Captain Ramsay and his friends regarded as being the truth that they wanted to come here to expound. But, hating their point of view as I did, I was against any attempt to prevent them from expressing that point of view. In my estimation—this is what I decided—those people at that time had behind them an organisation which sought to take by the throat every person in the world who believed in the fundamental right of free speech, to destroy their institutions and to put them up against the wall or into a concentration camp if they tried to express their conviction.
No matter how obnoxious it may be to some of my hon. Friends, I would have preferred a simple proposition to ban the conference which it was proposed should meet in Sheffield, because it was organised by the Cominform for the purpose of furthering their process of weakening democracy all over the world, and trying to create the illusion that they are the custodians of peace and that the rest of us, in this country and elsewhere in the world, are the war-mongers who seek to destroy the Soviet Union. If men want to come into this country to use a platform, to use pamphlets and a kept Press, and to lie about and to slander everybody in the country, I cannot understand why we 1663 should give them the opportunity to do so. If anybody wanted to come into any of our houses, not only to use that house for the purpose of lying about us and slandering us but to evict us and take possession of the house, we would never tolerate them in the house for two minutes.
We are not here considering, according to the old Socialist and radical conception of personal freedom, the right of a person to express his point of view. We are considering a highly organised conspiracy. Today, at Question Time, the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) suggested—from his own point of view quite sincerely, I think—that we must believe in the ability of the British people to resist the Communist blandishments or propaganda. I do not quote his exact words, but that is the gist of what he said.
In Czechoslovakia they thought that; they thought they could depend upon the individual to defend the right, and they allowed an underground conspiracy, by every kind of subterfuge, to get the nation by the throat. They came out into the open, but they never became a majority in Czechoslovakia. In no country in the world have they secured a majority when it was put to the nation to decide whether they approved of the ends they advocated. They seized the nation by the throat. I believe that there are a large number of hon. Members of this party who do not realise that.
The world is in the direst peril at this moment. No one knows whether or not this conspiracy will succeed. I am afraid that it will succeed, and one of the things that will help it to succeed is the creation of the illusion that we here are suppressing the right of free speech and the propagation of fundamental truths. The Home Secretary, in his wisdom and on behalf of the Government, decided to allow certain persons into Britain. From that angle, I believe it was the wrong policy to pursue.
Let us examine it. The Government allowed in certain people to attend the Congress. Why is the Congress not being held? The answer is, because the conspirators were not allowed in; because they, who are the villains of the piece, were kept out. The Congress 1664 could not take place because the arch-criminals were kept at the ports under some form of decree or regulation and were not allowed to enter the country. My hon. Friend said that a very distinguished man from France was not allowed to enter this country. He was so distinguished, as one of my hon. Friends mentioned when he interjected, that the French Government, on the statement that his first allegiance was to the Soviet Union, removed him from the post he occupied, a post of a highly secret character connected with atomic plant. From that angle, if France who, to all intents and purposes, is part of the democratic outfit, decided that he was dangerous there, why should we think otherwise? Any man who says that he is prepared to give his first allegiance to the Soviet Union is a potential traitor and saboteur.
It may be that some men would fall down on the job and that, at the last minute, they would step back before contributing to the degradation of the betrayal of their own country. But we must deal with the facts as we see them. Realising the plan that is afoot in Moscow to defeat the rest of the world, are we to allow in this country the Northern Korean peacemongers and the peacemongers from Tibet and China, who have guns in their hands at this moment massacreing human beings because they stand for certain fundamental rights of the citizen?
I must part with this theoretical case of the right of the person. Of course, it is sound, but I thought it ironical when my hon. Friend congratulated the Home Secretary on his defence of free speech in the East End of London. I wish to say something about that in relation to this matter, because it is part of the same case. The Home Secretary then had to deal with something more than that. There were only a few people, who had no power in this country, to conduct any subversive attack upon its institutions, but the Communists came out. They were creating in the East End of London an antagonism towards themselves that might have been responsible for developing a counter-movement in that area. Therefore, the Home Secretary held the bridge against one section and the other.
I have never understood why some Members within the Labour Party who 1665 clamoured for the incarceration of Mosley and his Fascists are prepared to allow Stalin and his thugs the complete right to put over their propaganda and doctrine. I take the logical view. I have never attempted to pick my dictator. If we pick our dictator, we have given away the fundamental right of——
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
The hon. Member says that Members have clamoured for the incarceration of Mosley and his Fascists and have asked that the Communists should remain free. Is he not mistaking his hon. Friends? Can he think of a single Member taking this line, who clamoured for the incarceration of the Fascists?
§ Mr. McGovern
Surely it is within the recollection of my hon. Friend that the Home Secretary was assailed from this side of the House because he had taken certain action to prohibit meetings and so forth. I am alluding to that.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
The hon. Member will do me the justice of remembering, because he, like myself, was a Member of the war-time Parliament, that I joined with him and others in protesting against what I thought to be the misuse of Regulation 18B.
§ Mr. McGovern
I was not alluding to that at all. I know that there are, on this side of the House—I regret to say it—a number of Members who sit on the fence at election time, when they are afraid to declare their interest, but who, when the election is over, are always to be found flirting with the idea of a Communist Party, a Communist dictatorship or of being a fellow traveller.
As far as the Sheffield Peace Congress is concerned, I would be prepared to allow it if it were a genuine peace conference. I have the greatest respect for, and would go to any lengths to defend, the most extreme pacifist point of view, but when I see people making a pretence of peace in order to disarm this country, while rearming themselves to a greater and greater extent, it is too much for me. It is attempting to secure a cheap victory over democracy by enlisting the aid of simple people in various countries. I am not saying that all who go to Sheffield are of the conspirator type. There are many simple people who know nothing about politics, people who have never followed its development and struggle.
1666 I have watched this Cominform, in various forms, since it first came into being in 1918. I was invited at that time to join the Communist Party. The one thing I always opposed was the fact that the theories they believed in were a conspiracy. I say to Members that they cannot be democrats and flirt with dictatorship at the same time. They must decide where they stand. They must go to the electors and say that they mean what they say at election time—that they stand for the defence of the democratic rights of people all over the world. What are the people in concentration camps and in prisons in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Roumania and Albania to think if they know that we, in this country, who profess to be the great upholders of democracy and decency, are allowing these Communists to be given visas to lambast democracy from the rostrum at Sheffield, while they are languishing under the heel of the Cominform? It is too much for me; I cannot accept it.
The Government and the country are making a great mistake in not outlawing entirely the Communist Party here, not because they are propagating something that they should not be allowed to propagate, but because they are conspiring to commit acts of sabotage and treachery to defeat the aims of this country—the spirit and will to defend itself in an emergency. The day will come, sooner than a lot of Members expect, when Members will be asked to declare where they stand in relation to this problem. I believe that the only thing that could severely defeat this Government at the polls is if the British electorate think they have any sympathy or support for the Cominform, or are weakening in the process of defending themselves against that system. I back the Government in this matter. History will judge this country on the action it takes, and I believe that the years to come will justify my right hon. Friend in the eyes of the people of this land and of the world, and that they will see in him a man who resisted the blandishments of these saboteurs and arch-criminals.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris (Carmarthen)
This is a very striking debate. It could not occur anywhere east of the Iron Curtain, and it is a great tribute to the democracy of this country that this dis- 1667 cussion can take place and in the form in which it is taking place. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) has rendered a great service to the cause of parliamentarianism and of free discussion in the world by raising this topic tonight. It is also a striking debate because of the division of opinion freely expressed. A person has a right to express his views at all times upon all subjects, and that is one of the most important rights to be safeguarded throughout the world. The right of the person must be an expression of his view, not a false view or one which he is compelled by an organisation to put forward.
There is no doubt that peace can, in certain circumstances, be used as an instrument of war, but when we turn to the history of free speech even in this country we find that, first of all, it was put into the Bill of Rights as a curb upon the authority of the Executive. It was the right of free speech by Members of this House. This is where it began. It was a claim by Members of this House to express their views freely here. That is important to remember. While that right operated inside the House, it was limited to this House only. There was no such thing then, as permission to report the proceedings of the House. There was no such thing as free discussion or the right of free speech in the country. Anyone looking at our libel laws at that time and going through cases in the courts would at once see that there was no such thing as the right of free speech.
So we see that free speech was first given to this House to be a curb upon the rights of the Executive. It has gradually spread to the courts and to the country. The doctrine which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Nelson and Colne enunciated this evening was not the doctrine of this country at the time of the Bill of Rights. It was a different doctrine. The Bill of Rights, by giving it a form of law, extended it. Free discussion became law, and then Parliament could not long remain unreported. Once we allowed Parliament to be reported there had, sooner or later, to be a modification of the law of libel. That is the justification of free discussion, and it is the justification for holding even the perverse peace conference of Sheffield.
When we look at the figures given by the Home Secretary, as I understood him, 1668 we find that visas were permitted by him to 300 people in the visa countries, but out of those 300 only about 80 or 82 exercised the right to come. Why did not the other members come? They were free to come in; they were not banned. The question arises whether that has something to do with the point raised by the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) that they were not genuinely interested in the peace conference. Or were they prohibited by an authority which precluded them from advocating the peace which they genuinely wished to advocate? If they were precluded by another government from attending, it is evident that this peace conference was not an expression of free opinion.
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris
That introduces another point about free speech. If speech is coerced it is no longer free speech. If these 270 people were permitted to come in and voluntarily did not come in, or were prevented from coming in, they were no longer free men. It can no longer be pretended that they genuinely expressed their own opinions.
§ Mr. Hale
I think I am putting the view of my colleagues and myself in saying that nobody dissents from the Home Secretary's point that this was a Communist meeting or from the point that this Peace Congress was a cloak for something else and was not genuine. No one dissents from the view that Communists have not very much right to free speech, and all of us think there were very substantial grounds for the point of view of my right hon. Friend. What we are wondering about is whether Britain's reputation has been enhanced in a world which is discussing anti-nationalism, and in which we are proud of our great traditions. I am trying to put the matter fairly as a matter of balance.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
The hon. Member is not entitled to intervene to make a speech at this stage.
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris
I am not disagreeing with any of the doctrines laid down by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne. I agree fully with the doctrines 1669 he laid down about the importance of free speech, but it is a duty attaching to free speech that it be a genuine expression of free speech. That is the issue. As I am talking about Communism, I can conceive a perfect right for anybody in this country, just as I have the right to express my conviction as a Liberal, to say—supposing him to be a man who owes allegiance to this country—"I am convinced that the proper form of government in this country is a Communist one." I profoundly disagree with that, but if that man owes allegiance to this country and to this country alone, he is, in my view, entitled to express his view quite as much as the member of any other party. But if he says what Communists in this country say, and what the distinguished man from France appears to have said—I do not know the quotation but for the purposes of my argument I am assuming that he did say it—that he owes allegiance to Russia, that is surely something which cannot be tolerated.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I do not say that this gentleman ever said anything of the kind, but if anybody says, "I owe allegiance to Russia," that is surely a question between him and his own Government and has nothing to do with us.
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris
I was not discussing him in that respect. I was replying to the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Leslie Hale), and drawing a distinction between the two classes of Communist in this country—one advocating Communism but owing allegiance to this country and the other being a Communist owing allegiance to a foreign Power. The latter seems to me to be treasonable sedition. There is a distinction between the two and it is important to bear it in mind.
I saw a report of the speech of the Dean of Canterbury at the Peace Congress. The Dean had a perfect right to make the speech, but he is reported to have said that the rearmament policy of this country proves that this country desires war. That is a gross misrepresentation of any party and of anyone in this country. Apparently he has a perfect right to say it in this country, however wrong and misleading it is.
This issue is an important one, and I agree that the situation is a very difficult one to which to find an answer. I find 1670 it hard to deal with the figures which the Home Secretary has given. I find it very hard to say that the Home Secretary is clearly wrong when he has given permission to the great bulk of the 300 people to come here. They would have had their free discussion if they had come; no one would have deterred them from taking part in it. One of the difficulties which we have to face is that the individual has been wiped out in the whole of the Eastern part of Europe. He has been wiped out mainly in this century by one dictatorship after another. One of the difficulties of that form of government in any part of the world is that it tends to make even the democracies resort to, something similar in order to cope with it.
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris
One of the serious difficulties is that we cannot remain free people—make no mistake about it—in any part of the world when a substantial part of the world lacks complete freedom. That is important.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
Surely how far one has to limit freedom depends on the extent of the threat to one's freedom.
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris
Let me refer to the history of this century. The greatest limitation upon freedom is war. War puts a ban upon it. The first thing that disappears in war is the right of free speech. In this country, as in any other country, in time of war we cannot say what we like or what it would be perfectly legitimate to say in time of peace—in case we give information to the enemy, among other things. From my point of view as a Liberal, one of the struggles of this century has been the attempt between the wars to regain the liberty of the individual. The fight went on between 1919 and 1939 and now it is on again. The individual is nearly abolished in a free country, controlled here and controlled there, and the fight is on again. What is the argument for controls in a free country? It is, "Look at Eastern Europe." [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] Oh, yes, that is what it comes to. Once the right of free speech has been abolished we have to begin slowly in order to re-establish it. We must maintain freedom in every sphere as far as we can in this country and enlarge it, but we should not at the same time give weapons to the other side so that 1671 the Communists can just march in. They have never marched into any country in Eastern Europe on the grounds of establishing free discussion or free opinion; they have taken the key positions and used them. That is what they will do here. It is not a question of argument; it is not a question of free speech. It is a question of exercising material control. A peace conference, however much one may disagree with it, should certainly be held freely when it is a free movement, but a peace conference used as a weapon of war should be treated as a weapon of war.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Dye (Norfolk, South-West)
I do not want to make a long contribution to this Debate and I speak only as one Member of the Labour party who keeps in contact with the people in his own division. I think it is right that their point of view should have expression in such debates as this.
The Labour Government so far have done a great work in trying to get this country back to what might be described as normal conditions, and if the country now must face a threat from outside, unless the Government are prepared to take the necessary action, then they can no longer hold the responsibility of Government or the respect of a majority of the country. Therefore, the action of the Government in limiting the numbers and types of people who come into this country from other countries is of the utmost importance.
As I see it, it amounts to this, that hon. and right hon. Members can talk about the rights of free speech—everybody can talk about them—but unless they are also prepared to shoulder the responsibilities of maintaining a free democracy, it will depart from us. That is the weakness of the case that has been put before the House by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). He has dealt with the rights of free speech but nowhere in his speech was there any recognition that those rights carried responsibilities. On those grounds his case is gone completely.
Today we shoulder heavy responsibilities before the world for maintaining democracy and its essentials. As I listened to the hon. Member, I wrote down one or two quotations. When he attempted to face the realities of the present situa- 1672 tion, he said that a new world war would be suicidal to all mankind. So what? On the basis of his attitude—do not rearm.
§ Mr. S. Silverman rose——
§ Mr. Dye
In that respect we agree, but the hon. Member did not assure himself or this House that somebody else did not want one; that there was no connection between holding this Peace Congress in Sheffield and all that has taken place in other parts of the world. I know there is a connection between them. The hon. Member also referred to people who know only what their governments allow them to know. If he recognised that that was the fact, that those who were coming from beyond the Iron Curtain knew only what their Governments allowed them to know, what contribution could they make either to the peace of the world or to free discussion in this country?
§ Mr. Dye
Can people who are prohibited from learning in their own country and who are severely handpicked when they come out of it, learn anything by coming to this country? The hon. Member and others may take that view if they so desire, but it seems to me clear beyond any doubt that we must have regard to the awful threat that hangs over the world and must preserve in this country both those things that are essential to our democratic way of life and also the means of defending our country and other free countries from the threat that is without.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
I think one must acknowledge that the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) was one of the first in the 1673 Labour Party to come away from that easy period of friendly association with Russia in 1945 and to begin to formalise the opposition of the party opposite against Russian Communism. I listened to many of his speeches in those days and thought them good and wise, because it seemed to me that we were in some danger of failing to take a stand in this country in time against an enemy and an enemy ideology which might become overwhelming.
Nevertheless, I am a little disappointed that the hon. Member should pursue his theme tonight with such violence when it seems to me that he has secured a position for himself and for a great many of his hon. Friends. I did not think that everything he said tonight was entirely wise. He said—and no one will dissent from this view—that our thought and purpose in this country must be to drive forward and liberate thousands of persons from the terrible conditions in which they are now living in concentration camps and elsewhere—and do it by arms, I suppose, and also by the processes of the mind.
Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if you want to save something from the swirling tide, must you not stand upon a firm rock in order to do it? If you want to save people from concentration camps, must not you do it from a secure place of liberty? It seems to me that if we go in the direction of gradually whittling down any of our cherished and traditional liberties, the ethos and inspiration behind our desire to liberate these masses from their conditions of slavery will begin to depart. There will be fewer and fewer persons in this country in conditions of limited freedom who will be prepared to accept and to live up to the challenge of the hon. Member.
I do not entirely agree with him in what he said about Czechoslovakia, although this is really extraneous to the Debate. I do not really believe that Czechoslovakia, with only 20 years of democracy, was in a condition where human freedom and inspiration to resist the onslaught of Communist control were as securely placed as is in some of the Western countries. I believe that Czechoslovakia, despite the policy of Wilsonian self-determination, despite the formalised democratic constitution planted upon that country, had too much tradition of subservience to autocratic rule under the Emperors in Austria before and back into history. They had 1674 not come forward to the stage we have in this country or in other Western European countries. Therefore, it seems to me that they were much more easily converted to the Communist way of life than we should be in this country.
I regard this conference, had it taken place at Sheffield, as being a possible example of free Britons, if left to their own devices to listen to the kind of propaganda that was being put over by these visitors to this country, being proved able to withstand it through the instincts and understandings which they have derived from our 300 or 400 years of developing democracy.
§ Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
It is an important point that the noble Lord has made, but will he also bear in mind that the insidiousness of this propaganda was not in regard to its impact on the British public, but the propaganda broadcast to Central Europe, where they have only one side of the story?
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I am afraid I agree with the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) that we have done much more damage to our cause by putting a ban on this conference than we would have done by allowing it to proceed in the normal way. I am perfectly certain that the citizens of Sheffield, had they gone to listen to some of this semi-Communist and over-pacific stuff generated by some of these visitors, whether distinguished or undistinguished, would have rebutted it entirely in their minds, if not by their clamour in the hall. Furthermore, I think it is bad policy to put down a kind of nest or fringe of officials at the ports and thereby presume that it is His Majesty's Government that knows best the extent to which the British people, out of their inspiration and ethos, can withstand these arguments. I would feel much more secure if we had a Government which gave complete liberty to people to come here and say exactly what they like in the knowledge that the average Englishman, Scotsman or Welshman can withstand it and argue against it from his own background and his own tradition.
I hope I am not being condescending or presumptuous in saying that some of us on this side of the House have admired the handling of many events by the Home Secretary in the past. His humour and lighthandedness in ad- 1675 ministrative action have, perhaps, at times caught our fancy and we have agreed with him on such questions as the admission of foreign workers, Fascist marches through London, naturalisation and things of that kind. But I must say that this afternoon he seemed to stand in a very unhappy position indeed. We had a statement from him and from the Prime Minister earlier that freedom of speech was one of our most cherished possessions, that freedom of speech would be allowed at Sheffield, but, later on, we had the administrative act which denied the other cherished possession, freedom of assembly. How we can have freedom of speech without free assembly, I simply do not know. It came at an ill moment, the very day when we were discussing the Strasbourg Resolutions and the Declaration of Human Rights.
What we now seem to have descended to is a kind of new droit administratif. Communists in this country are considered as being constitutional in their acts. They are perfectly at liberty to assemble to discuss what they like provided they keep the peace. The Home Secretary would not dare to argue that the Communist Party in this country is not a constitutional party, or else how is it possible for two Communist Members of Parliament to have been lately with us? It must be so, yet the right hon. Gentleman takes this attitude for persons at home, the British, but denies it to the foreigner. If you are a foreigner, no matter whether you are a Communist or whether you are not a Communist but are coming to Sheffield to make a speech about peace, you must be banned and not allowed to come to this country. Apart altogether from what we must do on the military plane with those Communists who break the law, subvert the interests of the country and proceed by underhand methods, I do not see how we can ever grapple with Communism on the ideological plane unless Communists can come, whether from the East End of London or Paris or Warsaw, and be argued against and taught some of the things which we in Britain cherish.
If we are to put at the ports an array of officials some of whom act on their own and some of whom act on direct information from persons in Whitehall who have not considered these principles as 1676 thoroughly as has the right hon. Gentleman himself, may they not on many occasions deny access to this country for perfectly legitimate purposes persons whom we could convert to our Western way of life? Of course, if people can be shown to be coming here with subversive papers or nefarious apparatus, then let M.I.5 loose upon them. In many directions I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman's anti-subversive organisation is strong enough.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
Then the organisation of the Secretary of State for War. We have had too many cases in the last few weeks of sabotaging activities having taken place and having neither been prevented nor kept to small proportions. There is a good case for strengthening the military and police side to ensure that foreigners coming to this country do no damage to our vital interests. But there is nothing to be said for this administrative action to deny the right of free speech.
On the Third Programme at the weekend there was presented the remarkable funeral oration of Pericles. It seemed to me to come at a most opportune moment when we were proceeding, on Monday, to discuss the Strasbourg Human Rights resolutions, and when the fear of inept Government action on the Sheffield conference was in some of our minds. Perhaps it is a naive view that in our generation and time we can ever approach in this country to the pure form of democracy that was achieved in Periclean Athens. At all events, some of the sentiments that occur in that famous speech are those which we should grope and strive after, principally those which are contained in the passage in which he said:We have this further, that owing to the greatness of our city all things from all parts of the world are imported hither whereby we no less familiarly enjoy the products of other nations than our own: and in the practice of war"—perhaps had he known of this afternoon he might have said cold war—we excel our enemies in this, we leave our cities open to all men. Neither is it ever seen that by the banishing of strangers we deny them the right of learning of anything from which an enemy might reap advantage for we trust not to secret preparation and deceit but to our own courage in the action.
§ 9.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Bing (Hornchurch)
All of us, on whatever side of the House we sit, feel at least about the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) that he has the one attribute that most of us admire perhaps more than anything else in this House—very high Parliamentary courage. I would like to begin by associating myself with the final remarks which fell from him, but I will turn for a moment, to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye). He said we should test this matter in this way: that we should say people have rights but they have also responsibilities. What does my hon. Friend say to this? Are we to refuse entry to anyone from South Africa? There is nobody on this side of the House who does not deplore the racial discrimination that takes place in South Africa, but what would be said to the Home Secretary if those people came here to explain the reason for their policy and we denied them entry into this country?
This is not a question of numbers. The hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin Morris) suggested that because only a few people had been banned, it did not matter. This was an issue of importance, whether one person was banned or 100 persons were banned.
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris
No. I made no point about the smallness of the numbers refused. My point was that of the large numbers permitted to come in many did not take advantage of that permission. I was discussing the point about the peace conference.
§ Mr. Bing
I do not want to get into an argument as to administrative affairs at the ports, or why the people who presented themselves there were not admitted. There may be a good reason for it. I understood it to have been said that 82 people with visas presented themselves at the ports and only 75 were admitted.
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris
I am sure the hon. and learned Member does not want to misrepresent what I said. I was not dealing with numbers. I was not dealing with 82 or 75, but with the number that were permitted to come in—the difference between 82 and the 300 permitted, and the fact that they did not come, although they were permitted.
§ Mr. Bing
We are discussing a question of principle. It would be a great pity if the House were diverted into an argument as to whether the Ministry of Civil Aviation did, or did not, provide the necessary transport. There may be some point there, but the question for which we are responsible here is the failure to permit certain people to enter, and not the failure of other people to take advantage of it. That is a thing outside our responsibility.
This is a question of principle. Some hon. Members seem to think that the particular object for which the conference is held rather matters. Surely, that is immaterial. The question is whether we are to have freedom of speech here or not, and not for what purpose people happen to come together. One of my hon. Friends said that free speech is all right so long as the man who is making the speech is honest. That is an ideal standard, but it is a very difficult matter if we are to elect ourselves judges of what is honest and what is not.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), for example, has always expressed himself very much in favour of doing all he can to promote peace. He spoke at Fulton, in the United States, and made what many of us think was a most mischievous speech and one which, in the view of many hon. Members on this side, did a great deal of harm to the cause of peace. We on this side of the House would have been the last to have made any representations to the United States Government that the right hon. Gentleman should not be allowed to appear there; and had the United States Government, for any reason whatsoever, prevented his speaking, we would have regarded it as a gross insult to us all irrespective of what he had to say.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. McGovern), said we must make a difference between people who are brought together in some international body and those who owe some allegiance to an outside body. That sort of argument is often levelled not only against Communists but, for example, against people of various religions. It is not so very long ago that people were denied religious freedom in this country on the ground that they owed allegiance to some potentate in Italy.
§ Mr. McGovern
I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend does not want to misrepresent me. I did not say that. What I said was that these people were meeting for the purpose of overthrowing by brute force everything that we stood for.
§ Mr. Bing
Such is the subjective judgment made by my hon. Friend. He may be right or wrong. I was only reminding him that 100 years ago the same thing was thought of a great religious body in this country, and that for that reason they were prohibited from sitting in this House, from voting or taking any part in public affairs.
Who is there today who would suggest that we should go back to the old penal laws imposed on Catholics? Yet they were imposed and defended for exactly the same reasons as the hon. Gentleman advanced in the House today. Then it is said that we should oppose people because they have owed allegiance to other countries. It may well be so, but that is not a reason why one should deny to people freedom of speech. If it were, we should find ourselves on every occasion in support of having imprisoned every Indian leader, because every Indian leader from time to time has made the most inflamatory speeches demanding that India should throw off the British connection. We have, on these benches, defended, quite rightly, the rights of those people to say those things.
There is one other point which I should like to mention before I close. I personally regret very much the coincidence of dates, that when the "grillings" and so on were taking place at the ports they took place on Armistice Day, a day when we all think back of the great losses and suffering which this country and all other countries have endured in war. [An HON. MEMBER: "And you."] An hon. Member says "And you." It is only fair that I should make this comment if that is said: I realise that those of us who had an opportunity to serve in the late war suffered far less and ran far fewer risks than those who served in the 1914–18 war. But if we did so and if our lives are preserved, they are in part preserved by the far heavier losses which were suffered by our allies.
In this case people were coming here to talk about peace. We may all say that the peace which they were proposing 1680 was the wrong sort of peace, that their plans for it were entirely wrong, and that what they would have done would have produced war rather than peace. But what a situation for us on this side of the House to find ourselves in, to be banning people who have come together for this purpose. However much we may distrust and feel doubtful of the motives of any one who discusses peace whenever that subject is discussed, surely we should see that it has the fullest and greatest consideration from all of us.
§ 9.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Osborne (Louth)
I think we are all indebted to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) for raising this matter. Although I have differed from him, and I fear that I shall differ from him in future on much that he says, I must pay tribute to the high motives behind the extraordinarily fine speech he made this evening. But I think that in trying to defend free speech in this country he omitted the real factor that faces us today.
We, as a free nation among other free nations, are having to struggle for our very existence in a cold war, which will decide whether that free speech for which he has been making such a plea shall be retained at all. It seems to me that in his pleading for absolute freedom of speech here, he ignores the risks that the giving of that free speech would entail to the peoples who themselves are guaranteeing free speech. The Communists who came here did not come to preach the pure gospel of freedom.
§ Mr. Silverman
But we did not prohibit the Congress. We allowed any British subject to go to Sheffield and say what he liked. We allowed many aliens to do the same. That is the complete answer to the hon. Gentleman's point.
§ Mr. Osborne
In so far as the foreigners came here with the avowed intention of destroying the institutions which guarantee us our free speech, surely the Government were perfectly right in banning them, just as they are perfectly right in controlling, as they have controlled, the Communists in the Civil Service who are in places of importance but who say that their first allegiance is to another country and not to their own. It seems to me that we have to look at 1681 this through the existence of the cold war which we are now fighting. An analogy comes to my mind in this way. If a man comes to my house and demands entry, but says to me, "If you let me in I shall not only want to rob you but I shall want to break up your family and destroy everything that you hold dear," then I think, as a peaceful citizen I have a perfect right to slam the door in his face and to keep him out.
That seems to me to be the position we are in today. The Communists who were coming to this phoney, so-called peace conference were coming with the avowed intention of destroying the very things for which the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne would fight, and I do not see what the Home Secretary could have done but to say to these people, "If you are coming here to destroy us, then we will not have you at any price."
The noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) quoted a magnificent passage from ancient writings, but what he failed to tell the House was that the liberty of which the Athenians boasted was based upon slavery. I am far from being a classical scholar, but I think the noble Lord will agree that the Athenians would not have invited the Spartans to enter and destroy their liberty. They would have been the last people in the world, in those ancient days, to commit such a folly. Yet that is what hon. Members are asking the Home Secretary to do in this country. While the situation has to some extent been bungled, if I may be allowed to say so, through the Home Secretary first doing one thing and then doing another, in his final action the right hon. Gentleman was perfectly right.
I make this comment on an argument of the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), who said that the "grilling" was done on Armistice Day and who thought that it added pathos to the situation that these people had been turned back on Armistice Day. I was one of the common, ordinary soldiers who today remember Armistice Day of 1918. Those who were very young and who were fighting for the preservation—as at least we thought—of those liberties we enjoyed at home, know that if the Communists had their way they would destroy those liberties. Our prob- 1682 lem is how we can give free speech to those who do not believe in it and who would, if they had their way, destroy it.
§ 9.55 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)
I am quite sure we have had a Debate which everyone who has listened to it must have enjoyed, for we have had the classic arguments for complete liberty advanced in speeches of great eloquence and power, and we have had also some practical speeches directed to the difficulties of the moment that must also claim our attention. Like the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne), I am no classical scholar. I had to have four goes to get through "Little-go" at Cambridge.
§ Mr. Ede
I got through the Greek Testament all right because I knew the Gospels by heart, and I looked for the long words and supplied them, and knew what to do. I listen to the Third Programme, too. Probably the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) and I are the only two Members of the House who do. I listened to that moving translation of Pericles' oration, and I could not help thinking, when it was finished, how it fitted the position today, because that magnificent oration did not defeat the Spartans and that oration was followed by the complete defeat and almost the annihilation of Athens by the Spartan Federation.
Do let us realise that we have to face not the world we should like to have but the world that exists. I am quite sure no one regrets that he has to deal with the world that exists rather than the world he would like to have more than the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin Morris), whose devotion to that classic tradition of liberalism in the face of what we have been discussing tonight must be acknowledged by every Member of the House. I ask the House to accept my assurance that I also value very highly the great classic tradition that was put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) and applied to the situation at the moment by the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen.
1683 Milton has been quoted a very great deal here tonight. The famous phrase about giving himthe liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely.. above all other liberties,has been quoted more than once. That was addressed to this House before Milton had to face the difficulties of administration, and then he warned us against being "lured with Atlantean and Utopian fantasies" instead of dealing with those difficulties in the midst of which God has placed us unavoidably. We cannot avoid these difficulties—those of us who are faced with administration; and we have to deal with practical affairs and apply our principles to them with as much steadfastness as the circumstances of our time will allow.
I think that we got landed in two world wars because our principal enemies in those wars thought, by their observation of this country and their contacts with some of its inhabitants, that we were not going to fight. I believe that if they had thought that we really were going to step in at the first moment they would have hesitated. When they were preparing their onslaughts on Czechoslovakia and Austria they sent out great masses of bombers to persuade the people of those threatened countries that it was no use resisting a power so nearly approaching omnipotence. The people who threaten us most now attempt to tell us it is no use resisting.
§ It being Ten o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed. "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Sparks.]
§ Mr. Ede
They attempt to tell us that it is no use resisting because they are so powerful that we are bound to go down, and we have to make it quite clear to the whole world that we do not intend to be browbeaten by threats, that it is our intention to maintain the liberties that we have fought for in the past and that we shall be prepared to defend again.
Let us face up to this. My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne said that majorities can look after themselves. They could not look after themselves in Czechoslovakia, in Hun- 1684 gary, or in any of the other countries that have slipped behind the Iron Curtain.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I am sure that my right hon. Friend does not want to misrepresent my argument. I was not dealing with that kind of protection at all. I was saying that in a free society liberty is preserved by protecting the rights of minorities and by protecting the right to dissent.
§ Mr. Ede
I think I have done as much as anyone to protect the rights of minorities in this House, but I must say that in the countries I have just mentioned the minorities did not adopt classical methods of dissent but intrigued and worked their way into positions of power, seized the police force for a start, and then took charge of the army, and so on. They were able to impose on the majority the kind of government that they wished to have. We have to face up to the fact that we have to deal with that kind of operation.
My hon. Friend quoted the classic case of the statement by one of the great judges that the moment a slave put his foot on this soil he was free. The people I have excluded did not ask to come here because they were slaves needing protection. The people they oppress come to me with that story, and to not one of them have I refused admission. They come to me from their embassies and legations and say, "We really cannot stand it any longer. We dare not go back." Have I ever refused anyone who has come here fearing persecution or slavery in the country that gave him birth? Not one. My record in maintaining the high traditions of English liberty is one that I do not mind anyone examining. I have not limited the right of entry to British subjects, but I have removed, and refused entry to, persons who are not acceptable and who are trying to undermine our way of life.
§ Mr. Ede
I will deal with him. I shall not shirk any of the particular points the hon. Gentleman put up to me; it is not my habit to do so. I hope, however, that he will allow me to make my speech in the order that I choose.
As a matter of fact, Picasso and the Russian musician whose name I dare not 1685 pronounce were the next people I was going to deal with. Picasso is of no interest as a politician. I invite anyone who doubts my word on that to read the profile that was written of him in last Sunday's "Observer." But the other gentleman is an active politician, and even distinguished musicians and scientists can be most dangerous when they use the great position that they have acquired in those fields to give undue weight to their political views, whatever they may be.
§ Mr. M. Philips Price (Gloucestershire, West) rose——
§ Mr. Ede
I cannot give way. I have to reply to a very long debate in which many points of detail have been raised.
I was asked to deal with the two ecclesiastics mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne. I had reason to apply the same views to the Archimandrite of Bulgaria and to the ecclesiastic from Russia, who, I think, is not the Metropolitan, but the Assistant Metropolitan. I do not make any point of that, but I do want to make clear about whom I am speaking. I came to a conclusion, rightly or wrongly, on the information that was submitted to me, and I resent the view being put forward from both sides of the House that these decisions were left to some obscure person at the ports. May I say that from the moment I knew that I should have to deal with this matter, I have insisted on handling each of these cases myself. I am not going to allow any subordinate to be held responsible for decisions which are mine.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Plymouth, Devonport)
If all the decisions were taken in that way, can the Home Secretary explain to us why it was necessary to have long arguments at the port?
§ Mr. Ede
I am going to deal in a moment or two with that question of the two hours. There was some questioning, because if it appeared on examination that the decision I had given might be wrong one way or the other, the case was to be referred to me for further consideration. That was why, of the 82 who applied for 1686 admission, seven were kept out—because on further examination it appeared that some of the statements made could not be substantiated.
With regard to the French scientist, M. Joliot-Curie, at one o'clock on 10th November I informed the British Peace Committee that I was not going to admit this gentleman. In spite of that——
§ Mr. Ede
On the 10th. If the hon. Member is deaf I will even come closer to him. I was trying to give as accurate information as I could, because if there is anything for which I am blameworthy I am quite willing to stand any criticisms that may be advanced. At one o'clock on 10th November the British Peace Committee were told that this gentleman would not be admitted, but he came over at 6.30 on the morning of the 11th. He was not questioned for two hours; he was told at once when he arrived that he would not be admitted. Other people were questioned for the reasons I have given.
Now this gentleman is President of the World Peace Committee, which is the acknowledged instrument of Soviet policy, and I am not going to admit to this country a person holding that position in circumstances such as surrounded the holding of this conference. My hon. Friend said that those I kept out were the "wrong-uns." But those I keep off the list of horses I am going to back when I go to the races, are "wrong-uns." Unfortunately, however, I find that a number of those I leave on the list are "wrong-uns" too. My hon. Friend knows very well—nobody knows better—that a finding of "not guilty" is not the equivalent of "innocent."
There was a great deal of unreality about this discussion, introduced by those who talk as if this was a Congress where the arguments for and against the propositions put forward from the platform were to have been allowed, and as if there would have been some people there representing the point of view of this country and of the Western democracies who would have been allowed to put that point of view against that which was being advocated. If there is one thing that is certain, it is this: that what I did, in the choices I made, was merely to separate the shepherds and the dogs 1687 from the sheep. I decided to allow the sheep to come in to the succulent pastures of Western democracy. The shepherds and the dogs, on the figures given by the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen, declined to allow the sheep in to enjoy, or even to get a glimpse, of that particular form of sustenance.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) said that he would have banned the Congress. I dealt with that point earlier. I am against banning public meetings in this country. Persons living here, whether they be British or aliens, I would not have attempted to prevent from going there. Even an alien normally resident in this country or spending some time here owes a local allegiance to the Crown, which places him in a very different position from the person outside. I still feel that it is not part of my duty to allow persons like the President of the World Peace Committee and the members of his committee, whose first allegiance is not even to their own countries, but to Russia, to come here and use this country as a sounding-board, because I am quite certain, no matter what the people in Sheffield and in South Shields might know, that it would be trumpeted throughout the world that what these people said was the feeling of Britain.
Think of the way Stockholm has been advertised as conferring a kind of Scandinavian democratic flavour on last year's conference. Let us get this quite clear. If Scandinavia had its time over again, I doubt very much, after our example, whether the Congress would be held in the form in which it was held.
§ Mr. Ede
It is my example, and I am not apologising for it.
I agree with what the hon. Member for Shettleston said later on in his speech, when he told us that we cannot be democrats and flirt with dictatorships. Do let us be quite clear that this was not a democratic Congress. It was not there to advocate the spreading of democracy as we in this country have practised it during the period mentioned by the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke). Perhaps I might tell him that the 1688 period is a little longer than that for which he was prepared to give us credit. We built up that great tradition; but this was not a Congress either to be conducted in that spirit, or to spread that spirit throughout the world.
I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye) said, that when we talk about these democratic rights they involve us in ensuring that they are defended by that sense of responsibility which alone justifies men in having democratic rights. I am quite sure that the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen has read the great speech made by Thomas Babington Macaulay on the Reform Bill, when he said he was not there to create a democracy. If he thought it was a democracy he would not vote for the Bill, because the working classes of this country had not sufficient education to give them a sense of responsibility that free citizens ought to have. We have now widely extended the franchise and those of us who have benefited from it have to realise that participation as equal citizens involves us in tremendous responsibilities from time to time in just such issues as are raised in this debate.
I said the other day that the only way to avoid being drowned is never to go into the water. However, a person may have that resolve and still someone will push him in. It is as well, therefore, for him to learn how to swim. To go around the edge of a swimming bath being unable to swim and perhaps be pushed in by some freakish person at the deep end is to court disaster. We are in that position in the world today. We do not want war. We did not want the 1914–18 war, and we certainly did not want the 1939–45 war. We were pushed into it. We have to be quite ready if we are pushed into it another time, and we have to make it quite clear from the first that we are prepared to shoulder all the responsibilities that a modern democracy involves.
The noble lord the Member for Dorset, South, said that it would not have done any harm if Britons were allowed to hear these gentlemen who came in. I quite agree, and I would not have minded if this conference were addressed to Britons and if someone were allowed in who might have interrupted. I do not want to say anything that might appear con- 1689 troversial, but it appears that some conferences are controlled by the boys at the back. I have seen it happen at conferences. On occasions it is a very healthy sign. I myself have been one of the boys at the back.
I let in the boys who would have been at the back of the conference, but I kept out those who would have been in the back room at the back of the conference settling what this carefully hand-picked conference would have been allowed to hear and cheer. Has anyone seen the agenda of this conference? No. I have a few sheets of notepaper in front of me here, but they cover far more than my knowledge of this conference. I do not care what the political conference is, the agenda is published weeks and sometimes months beforehand. All sorts of people send in amendments, good, bad and indifferent. Some of them get discussed and some do not, but everybody knows what the subjects are going to be. But not with this conference. Oh no. They were going to be told. It was not theirs to argue. Let us face up to the kind of world we are living in and the kind of people we have to deal with in this matter. The noble Lord said: "Let them come from Warsaw, and let us argue with them." Was he going to argue with them? I would have liked to see him there.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
Well then, with the right hon. Gentleman's approval I might have gone there.
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
Can my right hon. Friend say who it was that kept away from that conference anyone who could raise his voice from the platform of the conference, coming from these benches?
§ Mr. S. Silverman
My right hon. Friend is pleading very eloquently for conferences to which people should be allowed to go and disagree. He surely knows that the Labour Party executive decided that it would expel any member of the Labour Party who went and attempted to do any such thing.
§ Mr. Ede
It is always a great marvel to me that the Labour Party executive never expelled me. I am not going to be drawn by any red herring about what the Labour Party executive may or may not have done. The astounding thing is this. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made a statement to the Foreign Press Association on 1st November which I read to the House this afternoon. I do not think I need read it again, except to quote these words:We are not willing to throw wide our doors to those who seek to come here to subvert our institutions, to seduce our fellow citizens from their natural allegiance and their daily duties and to make propaganda for those who call us 'cannibals and warmongers'.From that day until this afternoon I received no representation with regard to that statement or that policy, from any hon. Member on this side of the House, other than from my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies).
I believe it to be a sound policy for this country, and I have loyally carried it out. It is not merely the policy of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and myself. It is the policy approved by every member of His Majesty's Government. I am not here tonight merely defending myself for my administrative action, although I hope I have done that, perhaps not to everybody's satisfaction, but at least with some satisfaction to some hon. Members behind me; I am defending the action that was taken by and approved by every member of His Majesty's Government. I feel that we have taken the right line in this respect.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) raised one or two issues that I do not think were very germane to the issue. It is no good asking me, "What about South Africa?" South African citizens are British subjects and if they come here they have the right of admission. It is not necessary always to agree with everything that every self-governing Dominion 1691 does, but, still, they are British subjects. We are not concerned with my actions with regard to British subjects tonight.
We are concerned with what I did to prevent the entry of certain people whose allegiance is to another country and whose attitude was well described in the paragraph I read from Mr. Zilliacus's letter in the "Manchester Guardian" yesterday. They are people who believe that their prime duty is to recruit partisans for the Soviet Union in case of war and camp followers for the Soviet side in the cold war. I believe that in the cold war this country is adopting the right policy in its own interests and in the interests of the world——
§ Mr. Ede
—and I believe that the great mass of our fellow countrymen, with the exception of the noble Lord and a few more, take that point of view. With regard to the final issue, I believe we should make it quite clear to the world that we are determined not to allow to be propagated in this country this conspiracy to destroy us from within, either by getting active supporters from the Soviet Union or by frightening our fellow countrymen into acquiescence to Soviet demands because they make out that they are so powerful. I do not think that that conspiracy will succeed.
We can meet and argue with our own fellow citizens. I go as far as this with my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne. In the long run it will be argument within our shores that will settle this issue. If we have no answer in argument and in practice to the Communist case, in the end the Communists will triumph. I believe that we have both the answer and the practice and that this great practical nation will feel that what we have done during the past few days has been to demonstrate to the world that we intend that no matter in what form the trial may come, whether it be cold or hot, we shall see our principle through to a final triumph.
§ Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)
I did not interrupt the right hon. Gentleman while 1692 he was speaking, but in the one moment that is left may I ask him whether it is or is not true that members of the Foreign Press Association were advised by Scotland Yard not to attend the Peace Congress or, if they did, to notify the police before they went?
§ 10.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
In the one moment left I cannot even express my view, but I would never put it quite so high as did my hon. Friend the member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). My right hon. Friend gave us a balanced argument and I respect his sincerity in this matter. I have never approached him in the cause of liberty without having a very careful hearing, but although I agree it is a balanced argument, I come down on the side of the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke).
I am making one protest. The hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) has thought fit to infer that anyone who stands for liberty in this House is something in the nature of a fellow traveller. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, he did. In the course of his observations he went on to say that he had been invited to join the Communist Party. I have not. I was opposed by a Communist at the General Election, and the Communists say that they will oppose me in any constituency for which I stand. I stand for liberty and I do not take the view of the hon. Member that anyone who sends a Christmas card is suspect in the future. I, personally, regret on balance the decision which the right hon. Gentleman has come to honestly and carefully on proper consideration of the case——
§ The Question having been proposed at Ten o'Clock and the Debate having continued half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
§ Adjourned at Half-past Ten o'Clock.