HC Deb 14 June 1951 vol 488 cc2676-86

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Wilkins.]

11.29 p.m.

Mr. C. S. Taylor (Eastbourne)

I had intended to raise this evening a matter in connection with the gas and electricity boards, but such representations were made to me about this astonishing case of Mrs. Monica Felton that I decided, with Mr. Speaker's permission, to raise this matter instead.

In order to appreciate the full significance of this case, which is a very remarkable story, I think one should know a little about the background of this woman. She was a member of the London County Council from 1937 to 1946. She was a Socialist member of the Hertfordshire County Council from 1946 to 1947. I understand that there was a time during the war when, on the recommendation of Mr. Silkin, now Lord Silkin, she was employed in a secretarial capacity on the Select Committee on National Expenditure of this House.

Subsequently, in 1946, she was appointed by Mr. Silkin to be Vice-Chairman of the Stevenage Development Corporation. In 1948, he appointed her Chairman of the Peterlee Development Corporation. In 1949, he appointed her Chairman of the Stevenage Development Corporation. I understand that when this latter appointment was made, there were some representations from members of the local council, saying that Mrs. Felton was not an adequately qualified woman for the post, but Mr. Silkin overruled their objections.

In 1950 there were complaints that she was actively engaged in party politics and that she indulged in "contentious oratory." But the Minister of Local Government and Planning said in this House on 23rd May that the appointment was a part-time one—for which incidentally she received £1,500 a year—but that she should exercise her discretion in these matters.

We have now heard that Mrs. Felton absented herself without leave to visit Northern Korea, and that although she was summoned before a Committee of this House she failed to make an appearance. The Minister stated the other day that Mrs. Felton left England on 28th April and he received no information at all from her that she intended to go abroad. She has now been dismissed from office. I think it is important to have that background, but I now come to the really desperately serious part of the case I have to make.

On 10th June a recorded talk by Mrs. Felton was broadcast from Moscow, and I feel it necessary to give extracts from that talk. She said: But even worse than the damaged buildings were the stories we heard and the evidence we saw with our own eyes, of the atrocities committed in the areas which had been occupied by the United States, British and Syngman Rhee forces. Again and again we were told of whole families, men, women and children, who had been imprisoned for days without food or water and who had then been shot, burnt to death and even, on very many occasions, buried alive. The stories were told us again and again by eye-witnesses, by people who had themselves suffered many of the tortures they described or who had lost their own relatives…". She went on: For example, I myself happened to arrive alone at a barn in the district of Anak which, during the occupation by the Americans, had been used as a prison and in which over 300 women and children had been burnt to death. When I arrived, some of the survivors were already there, waiting to tell their story to members of the Commission"— which incidentally was Communist-sponsored— and in the short time in which we waited for the other members to arrive, these women described, with tragic, unforgettable gestures, the things which they had experienced themselves. One of them, Yanyen-dek, who was 28 years old, said that she had had five children and that all of them, including her baby of two, had been killed, along with her husband, along with her brother-in-law's family of 11 persons and her cousin's family of 10 persons. All these people had had petrol poured on them and had then been burnt to death. She herself had been taken out of the barn by two United States soldiers, both of whom had raped her and she had then managed to escape. A grave in which these people had been buried was opened for our inspection and as I looked down at the charred bodies a woman, a peasant, came up to me and said: 'You are English, you must know that it is not only United States soldiers that did these things. There were English soldiers, too.' I think I shall hear that accusation as long as I live. But the real accusation must, I think, be levelled not simply against the men who did these deeds but all of us, decent, respectable citizens, who have allowed these things to be done in our name. At a subsequent Press conference in this country held recently by Mrs. Felton, she admitted that she had obtained none of this information at first-hand, because she had to rely on a Chinese interpreter to get her that information. Incidentally, she never visited any of the British prisoners of war in Northern Korea. She has repeated a great many of these charges at public meetings in this country. I have here a report from the Press Association of a meeting held at Holborn a day or so ago. It says: Women wept as they listened to Dr. Monica Felton at Holborn Hall last night. She said: We as British people are ashamed that Britain should have played any part at all in the Korea situation. She said that men and women in Northern Korea had been machine gunned as they worked in the fields. She said: In areas occupied by Americans, persons had been killed aud burnt and buried alive. She said that hospitals had been bombed despite Red Cross markings, and that tortures had been inflicted upon innocent people.

I believe that we are not trying this woman in the House of Commons this evening, but I do submit that there is a very strong case here to say that she has been guilty of high treason. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] The Treason Act, 1351, uses these words: …Or be adherent to the enemies of our Lord the King of his realm, giving to them aid or comfort in the realm or elsewhere. I say that Mrs. Felton's widely-publicised broadcast from Moscow, incidentally heard in this country by an hon. Member, has given aid and comfort to the King's enemies.

It may be said that we are not officially at war with Northern Korea, but whether that is so or not, Archbold's Criminal Pleading and Practice, a textbook which. I believe, is universally accepted as a great authority on these matters, says that the word "enemies" includes the subjects of States in actual hostility with us whether war has been solemnly proclaimed or not.

I should like now to read an extract from a letter written by the Minister of Defence to the hon. Member for Northfield (Mr. Blackburn) which was quoted by the hon. Member for Northfield in an Adjournment debate on 31st May of this year. It deals with exports to China—I emphasise China, not Northern Korea—and its quotes an opinion of the then Attorney-General, the present President of the Board of Trade. Talking of treasonable activities, the letter says: This does, of course, turn to some extent on the question whether or not we are at war with China. Again, I would emphasise that this letter deals with China and not Northern Korea, and I think there is a considerable difference between our relations at the moment with China and with Northern Korea. The letter continues: On this it seems likely that from a legal point of view the state of hostilities between China and ourselves is sufficient to bring an act of giving aid and comfort to the Chinese within the definition of treason. The difficulty about instituting a prosecution, however…is that no other charge than that of treason would be possible and that the only penalty for treason is death. I wish to ask the Attorney-General a straightforward and definite question. I hope that he will perhaps be able to give me a straightforward "Yes" or "No" reply. I am going to ask him if, on the evidence which has been submitted to him, he is prepared to institute proceedings against this woman for treason so that the case may be fully examined in the British courts of justice. If in those courts she is found to be innocent she will be set free, but if, on the other hand, she is found to be guilty she must pay the penalty.

I raise this issue with the gravest feelings of responsibility, and I do so believing that during the past weeks and months we have seen too many full-blooded Communists posing as loyal and decent members of the Socialist Party. Too many of these full-blooded Communists are holding high positions in the land. I believe that we have got to show these people that, if they are failing in their allegiance to their King and country, and if they are prepared to give encouragement and comfort to, and to consort with, the King's enemies, then the most drastic action will be taken against them.

In conclusion, let me say this. We have been praising the actions of our British troops in the Korean war. We have honoured the gallant Gloucesters. We have admired the heroic deeds of our American allies. Are we now going to allow any British subject to libel those gallant men in this criminal fashion, to be guilty, perhaps, of sedition and perhaps, as I believe, of high treason, without raising one little finger in protest?

11.41 p.m.

The Attorney-General (Sir Frank Soskice)

I thought it might be helpful if I intervened at this stage of the debate to say that I have referred the papers relating to this lady's activities to the Director of Public Prosecutions and have asked him to report to me upon those papers. In the meantime—and I am sure the House will agree with me—it would be quite inappropriate if I took part in the discussion or answered questions about the case.

11.42 p.m.

Mr. John Freeman (Watford)

I desire to intervene very briefly in this debate to make a point which is of some importance to me and, I think, may possibly be of importance to one or two other hon. Members. I have had some very slight acquaintance with this lady for a number of years. On 9th May of this year I received a letter from her which was headed 29th April—though I received it on 9th May—and from which I should like to quote one or two extracts. She says: A fact finding delegation of one each from many countries, including Sweden, Denmark, Norway, France, Canada, the U.S.A., and the U.S.S.R., is about to go to Korea to investigate conditions. I have been asked to go from this country, and have agreed to do so Later on she says: Although the delegation is sponsored by the Women's Democratic Federation it will include many women who, like myself, have no connection with that organisation but who believe that an objective report on the facts would be of real value to the people of the countries from which they come. Later she says: All of us have felt handicapped by the difficulty of getting a really clear account of events on the spot. Finally she says: I hope it will be possible for you to give me an opportunity to see you personally and tell you about my experiences. Reading that letter in the light of what has happened since one cannot but admit to the House that there are warning signs in it which I might have noticed at the time I received it but which—as, I suspect, might possibly have been the case of some other hon. Members—I did not notice as warning signs at the time; and it appeared to me to be not only reasonable but, indeed, desirable that some account should be obtained by people whom one knew about what was going on in Korea. Therefore I replied to the letter—hon. Members will notice that it does not refer to North Korea—in cordial terms saying that I appreciated the terms in which it had been written and that, of course, I should be pleased to see her on her return.

I am going to make one comment on that. The letter, so far as I know, is directly truthfully, but it is, of course, misleading. I may have been at fault—I admit that perhaps I was—but I thought—and hon. Members in the circumstances might have felt as I did—that South Korea was what was referred to. I myself do not think, when we are in the situation we are at the moment, that people, when they say they are going to Korea, are referring to a visit to the opposite side of what are, whatever may be one's political views, the enemies' lines.

I wish to make only two further comments. First, I am now very much less interested in discussing these matters with Mrs. Felton since she has revealed the meaning she attaches to the words "serious and objective report on the facts." I am afraid that her standards and mine differ on this matter.

My second comment is this: I have nothing personal against Mrs. Felton; but the people with whom she is now associating herself have frequently shown in the past that they are willing to publicise apparent support for their cause by using letters and speeches out of context. The fact that I wrote this letter, and replied in terms which might have been construed as offering some kind of support for or endorsement of her mission, arose out of my incomplete knowledge of the facts, and must not be taken as indicating that I wish to associate myself with her peculiar idea of a "serious and objective report on the facts." In fact, I wish to dissociate myself from it entirely.

11.46 p.m.

Mr. Nigel Fisher (Hitchin)

I am most grateful for this opportunity of intervening very briefly because I have a close constituency interest in this matter due to the fact that Mrs. Felton was until yesterday Chairman of the Stevenage Development Corporation in my constituency. I must say that since this matter arose I have been inundated with letters and telegrams from my constituents protesting at her recent activities and showing the indignation and resentment felt in Stevenage.

I should like to stress that point to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Local Government and Planning, if he should reply, because I think that her recent activities have been quite inimical to the good relations which should exist, and by and large have existed, between the residents of Stevenage and the New Town Corporation. Quite apart from her dereliction of duty to which the Minister for Local Government and Planning referred yesterday, it does seem that her journey and her statement made it quite out of the question for her to continue in office.

I felt that the Minister evaded these wider and more important issues in his statement. I submit that her trip and her sentiments expressed later are insulting to British and American troops, prejudicial to good relations between ourselves and the United States, and totally at variance with British Government policy and United Nations policy. I would ask why the Foreign Secretary franked her passport for this visit and allowed her to go to China and North Korea? Did he not know that the was going as the guest of Communists, subsidised by them?

Mr. McAllister (Rutherglen)

On a point of order. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General has submitted this case—

Mr. W. J. Taylor (Bradford, North)

This is no time to stop the hon. Member.

Mr. McAllister

The Attorney-General has said that he has submitted this case of Mrs. Monica Felton to the Director of Public Prosecutions. I would suggest, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that it must really be totally out of order for further attacks on the character or conduct of Mrs. Felton to be made in these circumstances.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)

I am of course not legally wise, but it seems to me that the matter is not sub judice until the learned Attorney-General starts proceedings.

Mr. Fisher

I was saying, did the Foreign Secretary not know that she was going under Communist auspices?

Mr. Frederick Elwyn Jones (West Ham, South)

Further to my hon. Friend's point of order. It may be true that in a technical sense this matter is not sub judice because no court has yet cognisance of it, but surely the reference of this matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions does require that hon. Members should exercise restraint in the matter?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I have made my Ruling in this matter.

Mr. Fisher

I willingly leave that point and turn to another matter in support of what the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) was saying on the question of prosecution. I appreciate that the Attorney-General must take advice on this matter, because there is an important principle involved; that is, ought we not now to decide what is permissible for British subjects in relation to what is an enemy State, namely, North Korea, against whom we are fighting and by whom our soldiers are being killed? There is an important point of principle there, and I understand that the only legal action which can be taken is a prosecution for treason. In the last war had a British subject gone to Germany and consorted with the enemy—

Captain Field (Paddington, North)

They did.

Mr. Fisher

If a British subject had gone to Germany, consorted with the enemy, returned to this country and spread Nazi propaganda here, it seems to me he could have been indicted for treason.

Captain Field

They were.

Mr. Fisher

What is the difference in this case? Are we not, in practice, at war with North Korea, whatever the finer shades of opinion upon the matter may be. I submit that this woman has consorted with the enemy abroad and has spread enemy propaganda at home, and that she ought to be prosecuted by the Crown with all the severity which the law of the land allows.

11.52 p.m.

Mr. McAllister

The charges which have been levelled against Dr. Felton by the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) are as grave charges as could be made against any citizen of this land. Therefore, I do not propose to comment in any way upon the charges he has made. I will just make this one comment upon the hon. Member's speech, namely, that I imagine that it would have been possible for him to obtain from the Attorney-General an indication of the course which he intended to take. If the hon. Member knew the course which the Attorney-General intended to follow, the speech which he has made was, in itself, not calculated to assist the course of justice.

One thing is clear from tonight's Debate. It is that the cause of Dr. Felton's dismissal from the chairmanship of the Stevenage Development Corporation was not the cause given by the Minister of Local Government and Planning. I propose, because facts and truths are important in these matters, merely to deal with the narrow issue of her dismissal for neglect of her duty in the capacity of Chairman of the Stevenage Development Corporation. I would not defend the statements made by Dr. Felton in the "Daily Worker" and elsewhere; but my own attitude was, on the broad principle of liberty, the attitude which the British have always taken—the attitude of Voltaire when he said "I do not agree with what he is saying, but I would defend to the death his right to say it."

Mr. Marlowe (Hove)

Does not the hon. Member realise that the difficulty with which the Minister of Local Government and Planning was faced was that the sentiments expressed by Mrs. Felton are identical with those expressed by dozens of Members below the Gangway on that side of the House?

Mr. McAllister

I do wish profoundly that, when once in a long time this House is discussing a grave matter, hon. Members would not make idiotic remarks of that kind. We are not discussing the views of hon. Members below the Gangway or the views of hon. Members on the other side of the House. We are discussing the dismissal of Mrs. Felton from the Stevenage Development Corporation.

I want to make one or two remarks about the statement made yesterday. One is that Dr. Monica Felton did, in fact, notify General Duff, the General Manager of the Stevenage Development Corpora- tion, of her intention to go abroad, of the date she was going abroad, and of the date she expected to return, which was 29th May. She did inform the Deputy-Chairman of her intention to go abroad, of the date when she would return, and that she intended the Deputy-Chairman to take the chair in her absence. Indeed, there can be no member of the Stevenage Development Corporation who did not know Mrs. Felton was going abroad and would not return until the end of May.

Sir Peter Macdonald (Isle of Wight)

On a point of order. Is it not a fact that Mrs. Felton was appointed by the then Minister of Town and Country Planning and that she did not notify him she was going abroad?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

There can be no point of order in that.

Mr. McAllister

That deals with one part of the statement made yesterday. With regard to her failure to come to the meeting of the Public Accounts Committee—

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)

On a point of order. I understand that Mr. Speaker is going to give a Ruling about whether it is in order or not to refer to what did or did not happen in the Public Accounts Committee of this House before it has been reported to the House, and is not that, at any rate, sub judice?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Yes, I think that perhaps is sub judice because we do not deal with the reports until they have been presented.

Mr. McAllister

I have not the slightest intention of beginning to describe anything that took place at the Public Accounts Committee, because I have no knowledge of it. With regard to her failure to appear—[Interruption.] Can hon. Members allow me to finish this sentence?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I do not think this House knows officially whether Mrs. Felton appeared there, and I do not think we should deal with that.

Mr. McAllister

The Minister of Local Government and Planning said so in the House yesterday and, as a matter of fact, it is common knowledge, without any regard to the Public Accounts Committee at all, that she did not return to this country until late on Thursday evening last week, which was after the meeting of the Public Accounts Committee. What I was dealing with was this: Did she make any effort to return to this country in time to attend the meeting to which she was summoned and did she give any notice that she was having difficulty in so doing?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I think we should not pursue this in view of the Ruling we are going to have from Mr. Speaker.

Mr. McAllister

With the greatest respect, I really am not attempting to say anything about what happened at the Public Accounts Committee. I am merely trying to give the House this information, which I know as a matter of certainty, that Mrs. Felton did by cable and by telegram succeed in informing the Secretary of the Ministry of Local Government and Planning and the General Manager of the Stevenage Development Corporation—

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'Clock and the debate having-continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at One Minute to Twelve o'Clock.