HC Deb 08 March 1955 vol 538 cc167-77
Mr. Philip Bell (Bolton, East)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide that persons who give aid and comfort or adhere to the enemies of the United Nations shall, if the armed forces of the Queen are operating with the United Nations, be deemed guity of treason. Many hon. Members may think that in the light of the Questions yesterday this Bill is at least topical. I am inspired to introduce it by two reasons. First, like nearly all hon. Members of the House, I have been profoundly shocked and disturbed by the Ministry of Defence pamphlet dealing with the treatment of British prisoners in Korea. Secondly, I believe that there is considerable doubt, expressed by some not inconsiderable people, that the existing Treason Act does not apply to the events which are set out, in particular, in chapter VI of that Ministry of Defence pamphlet. I shall ask the co-operation of the House in due course to make it clear that aiding and comforting enemies of the United Nations, and doing the acts set out in chapter VI, should without any doubt be deemed to constitute aiding and comforting within the Treason Act.

The existing Treason Act, passed in the reign of Edward III, has served us well and it has not been necessary to amend it for many years. Of course, it has been used in very different circumstances, where all wars were national wars. There is grave doubt whether it is really applicable to wars which have the unhappy title of ideological wars.

This Act was used in the famous trial of Rex v. Lynch in the Boer War. It was used, unamended, in the case against Casement. It was used in the last war in the indictment against Joyce. But in none of those trials was the court concerned in considering whether propaganda aimed at tortured and "brain-washed" prisoners, and used on their relatives, in fact constituted treason.

If I may, I will give a short extract from the Treason Act, which is written in Norman French. I hope hon. Members will not think I am insulting them if I translate it. The relevant part of the Statute reads: Or if a man do levy war against our lord the King in his realm or be adherent to the King's enemies in his realm giving to them aid and comfort in his realm or elsewhere. Such, then, are the acts which constitute treason. That definition raises two questions. The first is: Do the enemies of the United Nations, such as North Korea—which was not recognised de facto or de jure—constitute within that Treason Act enemies of the Queen? The second question is: Do the acts alleged in chapter VI of the Ministry of Defence pamphlet constitute aiding and comforting the Queen's enemies?

Let us take, first of all, the first point, whether enemies of the United Nations can be treated as enemies of the Crown. A number of text writers—Archbold, Kenney, Halsbury, for example—say that the enemies must be subjects of the State; in other words, pirates and rebels are not enemies for the purposes of the Treason Act. Therefore, can forces fighting for the North Korean organisation properly be described as enemies of the Queen?

Like many other hon. Members, two years ago, when we first heard of what was going on, I raised the matter with the Foreign Office. The reply I received was that the matter was very doubtful. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Bishop) raised the matter in this House on 1st December, 1952.He was told by the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs that the Government were investigating what powers, if any, they had to deal with the complaint which my hon. Friend had brought forward.

It was a complaint about the activities of Mrs. Felton. As he told me, the complaint was that Mrs. Felton delivered a letter to a wife who said it was not anything like the sort of thing her husband wrote. Mrs. Felton asked this wife if she could use that bogus letter on platforms to show how happy and contented our prisoners were in Korea.

My hon. Friend was told, when he asked if any steps could be taken, that the Government were investigating what powers, if any, the Government had to stop it. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Totnes (Brigadier Rayner) pressed the Home Secretary in December, 1952, as to whether he would institute a system of permits for persons who wished to go to Korea. He was told by the then Home Secretary that he had not got the power to control even by permits persons who went there.

As I saw from yesterday's OFFICIAL REPORT, many learned counsel have expressed varying opinions as to whether the acts set out in the Ministry of Defence paper, if they are proved, would constitute treason within the Treason Act. There is an old saying, when doctors disagree, who is to decide? When lawyers disagree, it might well be that this House of Commons might decide, and might collaborate to try to make this branch of our law clear.

The second point concerns the words "aid and comfort." I was surprised to hear my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General say that the activities of Mrs. Felton and Mr. Gaster, which are referred to in the last two paragraphs of chapter VI, did not in his view constitute treason—assuming that the Treason Act applied at all. Whether that is so or not, it is true that, according to the directions given by the Judge in Rex v. Lynch, acts which constitute aiding and comforting must either strengthen the conduct of the war or weaken the power to resist or attack. They may therefore only be acts relating directly to the conduct of operations.

It might, therefore, be a matter of doubt whether lying propaganda given to ill-treated, "brain-washed" prisoners, and exploded on their relatives in England, relate strictly to the carrying on of war, but unhappily in these days, we live in an age where we must face total war. Now the area of battle, the area of aiding and comforting, is not confined to the troops directly engaged but is extended to their relatives and to their friends and to the country. And on that point also I am asking the House to co-operate in making it clear that the conduct of persons, as set out in chapter VI, if it be proved, should be deemed without any doubt aiding and comforting.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

Trying them in advance.

Mr. Bell

I said, if it be proved. There are three things which I undertake to the House I will not suggest about this Bill. First, it will not be retrospective. I do not think that we can properly engage in making important treason laws apply to previous acts. We cannot, indeed, restore the health of prisoners or remove the disquiet of their relatives; but I believe that we can, and we should, take such steps as are within our power to prevent the future degradation of our helpless prisoners and of their relatives.

The second thing I will not do is suggest that this Bill should stop legitimate criticism of whether a war should be carried on or not. We have good precedents. Not 200 yards from where we are, famous Charles Fox thundered against the Napoleonic War, though what we got was the peace of Amiens. Mr. Bright toured the country at the time of the Crimean War. Within living memory, Mr. Lloyd George raised his powerful voice against the Boer War. I do not suggest that in this free country we should stop that.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Thank you very much.

Mr. Bell

The third thing, for which I am sure some hon. Gentleman will be grateful, is that it is not proposed to stop free trips and banquets with incorruptible fly-swatters when there is only a cold war on.

Mr. Hughes

Who is the hon. and learned Member attacking—the Leader of the Opposition?

Mr. Bell

Visits to such countries will continue to be a matter of taste. I propose to leave it at that.

Our duty is to the men who suffered, endured and triumphed, to Fusilier Kinne, to the memory of Lieutenant Waters, and to Captain Gibbon, about whom hon. Members can read in the White Paper. Many hon. Members may agree with me that when it comes to decency and justice, Tommy Atkins is not a bad judge.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

The hon. and learned Member is a bad judge.

Mr. Bell

Tommy Atkins may not be a lawyer, but, if the hon. Member can control himself for a moment—

Mr. Ellis Smith

He will control himself.

Mr. Bell

—I will read him a passage from chapter VI of the Ministry of Defence pamphlet which, in a reference to Mr. Winnington, says: His main rôle in the North Korean camps was that of visiting propagandist. The fact that he once referred to captured officers as a lot of bloody Fascists may have accounted for the fact that he never visited the officers' and sergeants' camps. He did, however, go to Camps 1 and 5 on a number of occasions, where he had personal talks with selected prisoners and gave lectures-on such subjects as the Korean Peace talks, the aims of the world peace conferences, and the 'appalling conditions' in the United States and Britain. At Camp 5 (the 'Progressives' Camp') he appeared to be fairly welcome; at Camp 1, on the other hand, his lectures were often greeted with shouts of 'You'll hang,' and so on. How many hon. Members can charge their conscience and say that if they were captured prisoners in those conditions they would have had the courage so to rebuke what the ordinary Tommy describes and recognises as traitors?

I have hopes that the House will welcome the Bill as an opportunity to investigate, and to see if it is necessary to amend or strengthen, the law of treason in modern conditions. I notice that when my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Totnes raised with the Home Secretary his modest proposal for introducing legislation to deal with permits, he was met with the observation from the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) that any legislation giving such powers would be most fiercely resisted. I am asking the House to collaborate in a good deal more than the system of permits. I am ready for the "fierce resistance." It is for hon. Members now to decide.

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

I rise to oppose the Motion that leave be given to bring in the Bill. I hope to persuade the hon. and learned Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Philip Bell), who has made a most restrained and moderate speech in support of his Bill, that he ought to withdraw it.

The first point that I would make to him is that what he is proposing to do is to amend the law of treason of this country. I suggest to him that if the criminal law is in need of amendment, one can think of no more undesirable procedure than the procedure which he has adopted. If it needs amendment, the criminal law ought to be amended on the initiative of the Government of the day and not on the initiative of a Private Member under the Ten-Minute Rule— [HON MEMBERS: "Why not?"]—I am about to say why not, but I cannot say it all at once—in circumstances which give him little hope of pursuing the matter even if he is successful on this occasion. I should say that that is especially true where the criminal law which he is seeking to amend in this way carries only one penalty, and that is the supreme penalty.

Mr. Philip Bell

I could alter the penalty in Committee.

Mr. Silverman

The House can deal today only with the Bill which the hon. and learned Member has sought leave to introduce. Therefore, my point is a valid one, and I am sure the hon. and learned Member will appreciate its importance. If he were in Committee to alter the penalty, he would find himself, as I am sure he realises, in a very complicated field indeed and would produce a totally different Bill from the one that he has in mind.

The second point I would make to him—I think he will agree with me about this, in view of what he said towards the end of his speech about what he did not intend to do—is that patriotism does not require that a citizen shall think that his country is always right. [HON MEMBERS: "The hon. and learned Member said nothing of the kind."] No, I am saying it, and I am inviting the House to agree with me on it. I gather than the hon. and learned Member for Bolton, East agrees. I should think that nobody in the House would like to see the present Home Secretary bringing in a Bill to amend the law so as to declare some of the most honourable political activities of his distinguished father now to be treasonable.

It is all very well for the hon. and learned Member to say that he recognises the right of legitimate criticism or the right, or duty, of a patriotic citizen sometimes to tell his country that it is wrong, but he will remember that in the days of the Boer War when the late Mr. Lloyd George was making his speeches he was making exactly the kind of speeches which the hon. and learned Member described, speeches intended to weaken the war effort in support of a war which he believed to be wrong. Whatever one may have thought in the early 1900s about that matter, I should have thought that there was not one hon. Member who does not applaud the late Mr. Lloyd George today for what he did in those days. One must remember that in those days what made the difference when one analysed it boiled down to a fundamental difference of political opinion, and that is so with many of the things which were attacked in the hon. and learned Member's speech, though not all of them, I admit.

My next point is that the Bill as proposed by the hon. and learned Member is meaningless and mischievous. It refers to: … persons who give aid and comfort or adhere to the enemies of the United Nations … Speaking legally—if one is dealing with an act of the criminal law when death is the only penalty, one must have definitions—there is no such thing as an enemy of the United Nations. It does not exist. The United Nations does not have diplomatic representation in any country. It does not recognise Governments, nor not recognise Governments. It is not an organisation at all. It is a voluntary agreement among a number of nations to take common action against anyone declared under its rules to be an aggressor.

Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)

Thank God for it.

Mr. Silverman

But there is nothing in the United Nations Charter and nothing in its organisation which would enable the United Nations to take any action itself. The United Nations cannot conduct a war. The United Nations never has conducted a war. It is not within the competence of the United Nations to conduct a war, and therefore there can be no enemies of the United Nations.

I quite recognise that what the hon. and learned Member for Bolton, East had in mind was to make sure that a man did not escape the guilt of treason, if he were guilty of acts which otherwise would be treason, only because the war in which his country was engaged was in support of a collective act of the United Nations and not merely an individual act of its own. That I quite understand. But there is no difficulty at all about that.

When the Security Council unanimously has declared a country an aggressor, it has done all that it can do. It may then proceed to ask its members to take action themselves. The members are not bound to take action, but if they do, then there is nothing to prevent them from declaring war on the aggressor nation, and if they do, the hon. and learned Gentleman will not need his Bill.

What was the difficulty here? We could not declare war on North Korea. This country could not declare war on North Korea, because North Korea was not a State. There was no such Government. There was no such legal entity as North Korea, and we could not therefore declare war upon it. But if one looks to the United Nations for one's authority, then one must remember that it is extremely doubtful on that ground and on other grounds whether our forces ever had any legal justification for being in North Korea at all.

They had ample, unimpeachable authority for being in South Korea, because South Korea was a country which we recognised and whose Government had invited our assistance. We were perfectly justified in giving it that assistance, but we had no authority whatever for proceeding elsewhere. If we proceeded elsewhere, where there was nothing going on but, on our own definition, a civil war, then we could not possibly declare war, and a man cannot be guilty of treason in somebody else's civil war.

My final point is this—and I suggest that the hon. and learned Member should seriously consider it. I should think that this Bill is completely incompatible with the United Nations Charter and with the whole idea of the United Nations as we have always understood it. The hon. and learned Gentleman talked about ideological war, and I take it that when he talks about the enemies of the United Nations he is speaking in those terms. This involves an implication which, with great respect, is wholly mistaken.

The United Nations has always been conceived of as a universal organisation. It is not a club of democratic nations. It is not a basis for any ideological discrimination of any kind. It would be very much worse for it as a world organisation if it were. The Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia and a number of other Communist countries are members of the United Nations. If the hon. and learned Member wishes the House to adopt as a basis of our criminal law the idea that one cannot be a member of the United Nations unless one adopts a particular form of social, political or economic organisation, if we adopt the principle that a Communist country cannot be a member of the United Nations, then we have altogether abandoned the idea of the United Nations. Indeed, this very difficulty in all these matters arises out of the failure of the United Nations to apply in this instance its own principle of universality.

There is the distinguished and high authority of the late Ernest Bevin for saying that if China, which is a permanent member of the United Nations and which is entitled to be a permanent member of the Security Council, had been allowed to have its correct, instead of its incorrect, representatives at the United Nations at the material time, the whole Korean War would never have happened. It would have been capable of negotiation at the beginning. Negotiation was sought and rejected, because they were not a member of the United Nations, and the whole difficulty arose just because some people in some parts of the world had the mis-

taken notion that there is some ideological ground on which one can distinguish between members of the United Nations and its enemies. If one abandons the principle of universality, one abandons the whole idea.

Mr. Patrick Maitland (Lanark) rose

Mr. Silverman

One cannot have a Bill based upon the idea that the United Nations can have enemies in that sense without abandoning its basic principle of universality.

If this matter has to be dealt with, let the Government carefully consider what amendment is necessary and produce this amendment in proper form, and let the hon. and learned Member withdraw his Bill to enable them to do so. If he will not, I beg the House to reject the Bill.

Mr. Maitland

Before the hon. Member sits down, can he say why Russia did not veto the thing?

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 12:—

The House divided: Ayes 153, Noes 39.

Division No. 42.] AYES [4.28 p.m.
Alport, C. J. M. Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E. Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C.
Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J. Errington, Sir Eric Longden, Gilbert
Arbuthnot, John Erroll, F. J. Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)
Ashton, H. (Chelmsford) Fell, A. McAdden, S. J.
Assheton, Rt. Hn. R. (Blackburn, W.) Fienburgh, W. McCallum, Major D.
Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R. Fort, R. McKibbin, A. J.
Baldwin, A. E. Foster, John Maclay, Rt. Hon. John
Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.) Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone) Maclean, Fitzroy (Lancaster)
Benson, G. Garner-Evans, E. H. McLean, Neil (Inverness)
Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel Godber, J. B. Macmillan,Rt.Hn.Harold(Bromley)
Bishop, F. P. Gomme-Duncan, Col. A. Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Gough, C. F. H. Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)
Boyle, Sir Edward Gower, H. R. Maitland, Patrick (Lanark)
Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.) Graham, Sir Fergus Marlowe, A. A. H.
Braithwaite, Sir Gurney Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury) Marshall, Douglas (Bodmin)
Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H. Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley) Moody, A. S.
Brooman-White, R. C. Hall, John (Wycombe) Morrison, Rt.Hn.Herbert(Lewis'm,S.)
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Hamilton, W. W. Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.
Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper) Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.) Neal, Harold (Bolsover)
Browne, Jack (Govan) Hill, John (S. Norfolk) Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)
Bullard, D. G. Hinchingbrooke, Viscount Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.
Burton, Miss F. E. Hirst Geoffrey Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J.
Butcher, Sir Herbert Holt, A. F. Oliver, G. H.
Carr, Robert Horobin, Sir Ian O'Neill,Hon. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)
Channon, H. Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.) Osborne, C.
Clarke, Col. Sir Ralph(East Grinstead) Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J. Page, R. G.
Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.) Hurd, A. R. Pannell, Charles
Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'gh, W.) Peto, Brig. C. H. M.
Cooper-Key, E. M. Hyde, Lt.-Col. H. M. Peyton, J. W. W.
Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Hynd, H. (Accrington) Pitman, I. J.
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)
Crouch, R. F. Iremonger, T. L. Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.
Crowder, Sir John (Finchley) Jeger, George (Goole) Raikes, Sir Victor
Daines, P. Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Rees-Davies, W. R.
Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.) Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Remnant, Hon. P.
Davidson, Viscountess Jones, Jack (Rotherham) Renton, D. L. M.
Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA. Kaberry, D. Robens, Rt. Hon. A.
Doughty, C. J. A. Keenan, W. Robertson, Sir David
Drayson, G. B. Linstead, Sir H. N. Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)
Duncan, Capt. J. A. L. Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.) Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)
Roper, Sir Harold Sutcliffe, Sir Harold Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C
Schofield, Lt.-Col. W. Taylor, William (Bradford, N.) Wells, Percy (Faversham)
Sharples, Maj. R. C. Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury) Wellwood, W.
Shepherd, William Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway) Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood) Thompson, Kenneth (Walton) Wills, G.
Soames, Capt. C. Thompson, Lt-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W.) Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Spearman, A. C. M. Thornton-Kemsiey, Col. C. N. Winterbottom, Ian (Nottingham, C.)
Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard Tomney, F. Woollam, John Victor
Stevens, Geoffrey Touche, Sir Gordon
Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.) Vane, W. M. F. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Stoddart-Scott, Col. M. Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.) Mr. Philip Bell and
Studholme, H. G. Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth) Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing.
Bing, G. H. C. Holman, P. Silverman, Julius (Erdington)
Blenkinsop, A. Hudson, James (Ealing, N.) Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)
Bowles, F. G. Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock) Skeffington, A. M.
Brown, Thomas (Ince) McGhee, H. G. Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke- on-Trent)
Castle, Mrs. B. A. Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.) Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)
Clunie, J. Murray, J. D. Swingler, S. T.
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury) Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.) Pargiter, G. A. Wigg, George
Davies, Harold (Leek) Plummer, Sir Leslie Willey, F. T.
Evans, Edward (Lowestoft) Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.) Willis, E. G.
Freeman, Peter (Newport) Probert, A. R. Yates, V. F.
Gibson, C. W. Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Greenwood, Anthony Shackleton, E. A. A. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hastings, S. Shurmer, P. L. E. Mr. Emrys Hughes and
Mr. Sydney Silverman.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Philip Bell and Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing. Treason

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