HC Deb 20 November 1950 vol 481 cc13-4
22. Mr. Thurtle

asked the Attorney-General if he is satisfied that the existing law against treason is adequate in situations in which the British Government is waging war not as a separate unit but as part of the forces of the United Nations Organisation, as in the case of the Korean war; if he is aware that collective war of this kind is now the only sort of war in which this country is likely to be engaged; and if he will amend the law against treason accordingly.

The Attorney-General (Sir Hartley Shawcross)

Yes, Sir. In the existing state of international law as laid down by the Pact of Paris, 1928, and the Charter of the United Nations, if armed conflicts occur in the future they are likely, as in the present Korean conflict, to take the form of an attack by one or more States in breach of the Charter of the United Nations and of collective action by other States on behalf of the United Nations with the object of restoring peace and enforcing the rule of international law. In my opinion, the law of treason is as applicable to such a conflict as it was to an ordinary war between State and State.

Mr. Thurtle

May I ask my right hon. and learned Friend whether the fact that he did not take any action against the "Daily Worker" for appointing a correspondent to the headquarters of our enemies in Korea was not because he lacked power, but because he had no desire to do so?

The Attorney-General

No, Sir. I have expressed the view on previous occasions that the law of treason applies during the present conflict, but, of course, one has to exercise discretion as to whether or not, in a particular case, to use what is a rather formidable weapon.

Mr. Eric Fletcher

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the whole law of treason is out of date and that at present offences are being committed which, although technically treason, do not merit the death sentence? Is it not desirable that the law of treason should be changed so that prosecutions could take place with a view to exacting some other penalty which is less than death?

The Attorney-General

That is a different question, but it is certainly a matter for consideration.

Brigadier Medlicott

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the correspondent to whom reference has been made accused British troops of savagery and American troops of cowardice? Surely there is no question of discretion there.

The Attorney-General

The correspondent is at present not within my jurisdiction.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of any definition of treason which would make it unlawful to publish in this country accounts of such atrocities as were, in fact, committed by Syngman Rhee and some of his assassins?

Mr. Speaker

That is another question.