HL Deb 18 November 1914 vol 18 cc65-83

THE EARL OF HALSBURY rose to call attention to the various acts of high treason alleged to have been committed in this country, and to ask whether His Majesty's Government have investigated the facts alleged, and, if they have been accurately alleged, why no indictment for high treason has been preferred.

The noble and learned Earl said: My Lords, I hope that neither the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack nor the noble Marquess who leads the House will misunderstand the object of my Question. The very last thing that I should desire to do would be in any way to embarrass His Majesty's Government. I say most sincerely that I wish to help them in every way in my power, and I regard that as the duty of all in the present emergency. My Question, therefore, has no reference to any criticism of His Majesty's Government. It is put with a wish to get rid of what I think is a great delusion, which is, I believe, leading to very great mischief. We have been so long away from the region of the administration of the law of high treason that nobody seems to think of it. Unfortunately I was not in the House at the time it was made, but I read with something like amazement the speech of the noble Lord Crawford, last Wednesday, and the instances to which he referred, including a case where certainly there was evidence of high treason, if it was not actually proved, which was punished by a £5 fine. The result of such a punish- ment is to make people misunderstand the exact position of the law.

We all know that the "chivalrous" and "courageous" mode of making war—that of spending enormous sums of money to induce people to betray their country—is going on. A man may think very lightly of the possibility of being fined £5, or, indeed, of being sent to prison for six months; but if everybody was made to, understand that the sending of letters, signalling, or any act by which the enemy could be assisted in what they were doing or in defending themselves was presumably an act of high treason for which the offenders might be hanged, people would: probably think a little more of the risk: they were incurring. I know nothing: about the facts to which my noble friend Lord Crawford referred, but he professed to know them of his own knowledge. The question which I venture to ask is this. If these facts are known and if they are capable of being proved, what is the reason why the course of procedure has not been taken which I suggest should be taken, and which is the natural and proper and ordinary course in cases of the kind when one country is at war with another?

I am afraid that a great deal of mischief may be done by the manner in which the Criminal Law is approached. We have got so much out of the habit of placing responsibility in the hands of the local magistrates and chief constables that everybody seems to think that the Home Office is the only authority who can authorise or begin a prosecution. I need not tell your Lordships that every grand jury in the country may find a bill for high treason to-morrow if they have evidence upon it; indeed, it has been held that they are entitled to do so upon hearsay. But be that as it may, what seems to me to be the very serious error which is pervading the whole country is that minor offences invented in time of peace in order to avoid the necessity of prosecuting in every case for high treason are taking the place of prosecutions for high treason when we are at war, and when very serious injury indeed may be done by signalling and epistolary correspondence. What my noble friend said the other day was that a regular code had been discovered by which information; of every sort and kind might be conveyed to the enemy. A conspiracy of that kind for the purpose of communicating with the enemy is in itself high treason, and has been so held. If the offence is treated as lightly as it has been, the fear is that people will not consider the risk they are running when they enter into a conspiracy of that sort. Should the facts that have been stated be capable of being proved, then the persons concerned ought to be prosecuted for high treason, so that those who are guilty of these offences should learn the serious risk they run in conspiring with the enemy with whom His Majesty is at war.


My Lords, so far from complaining of the speech which the noble and learned Earl has just made I think it is very useful that attention should be called to these matters, as it enables us to have the opportunity of sifting them and knowing where truth is and where fiction is, for I need not say that at a time of public excitement like the present fiction and truth are very liberally intermixed. I have no doubt of the bona fides of the impressions which people form about these cases. Last week the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, who is not here today, referred to certain cases in Scotland. I have had an opportunity since then of conferring with both the military and the civil authorities in Scotland about those cases. I find that the authorities were cognisant of all of these rumours and investigated them, and wherever they found a case where there was the least hope of success they took action. The cases in which they did not take action were based on hearsay—cases in which A had repeated information to B and B had passed it on to C, with the result that one could not get back to the original facts or obtain any evidence to establish the charge. I quite agree that in a case where anything approaching to high treason has been committed a £5 fine is ludicrous, and that the serious proceedings of which the noble and learned Earl spoke ought to be taken.

I am able to state to your Lordships that vigorous action is being taken not only by the military but by the civil authorities. There are three modes of dealing with treasonable acts. First the ordinary, Common Law prosecution for high treason, which is done here almost invariably at the instance of the Attorney-General, and in Scotland invariably at the instance of the Lord Advocate. Secondly, when an alien enemy commits an offence of this kind he can be tried before a Court-Martial for a war crime; a man was so tried the other day, and convicted. The third course is a prosecution before a Court-Martial under the Defence of the Realm Act which was passed the other day and under which certain statutory regulations were made to cover offences of almost every kind, extending to what, if tried civilly, would be high treason, the only difference being that although a Court-Martial can give penal servitude for life—at any rate for twenty years; I think for life—it cannot decree the capital sentence. Consequently in all cases in which the offence is one which seems likely to lead to a capital sentence, proceedings have been taken outside the Defence of the Realm Act. The other day, as I have said, an alien enemy was tried before a Court-Martial for a war crime and convicted; at this moment there is a prosecution for high treason pending, and there are others under investigation.

I can assure my noble and learned friend that it is not through want of attention on the part of the authorities that any of these cases escape. So far from its being in contemplation that these matters should be tried before magistrates or by inferior criminal tribunals, the desire is that they should be tried with the supreme majesty of the law. Investigations take place into every case to see whether it is one in which there is a reasonable hope of conviction. There is, of course, a class of offence—a serious class of offence—in which it is not necessary or desirable to proceed for high treason; but in some of these cases very heavy sentences have been given for crimes such as trading with the enemy, which either by Statute or Common Law are taken cognisance of by the Jurisprudence of this realm. Since I had notice of this Question I have had an opportunity of conferring with the Attorney-General, and I can only repeat to your Lordships what I have already said —that all cases that promise to be of the least importance conic before him for investigation, and he unhesitatingly directs prosecution when they present a chance of success. A large number of other cases have been inquired into by the military authorities, and I do not think your Lordships need be under any apprehension that any offence of a serious nature will escape punishment. There are other offences of a quite minor character which ought to be dealt with at a time like this, and which are being dealt with, by the inferior tribunals.

At this moment, however, I am talking of cases which amount to high treason. Fortunately there are not a large number of cases of that kind. But whether there are or are not, the authorities are taking the view which the noble and learned Earl has expressed— namely, that these are matters which, at a juncture like this, are of serious moment and should be so dealt with. They are being dealt with, as I have said, wherever there is a fair chance of success—the difficulty of evidence is one which must not be overlooked—and I can assure the House that the authorities are alive to their duties in connection with these cases.


My Lords, I have listened with interest to the remarks of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, but I regret to say that they have given me no confidence whatever. I live on the North-East coast of England, where the position is most precarious. We have reason to believe, as mines have been washed ashore on that coast, that assistance has been given to the enemy by people living on our own shores or by neutral ships. The Home Secretary made a speech the other day in which, as far as I could gather, he placed the responsibility on every single Department except his own. "Please, Sir, it was the other boy, not me." That was his cry—a contemptible cry. He stated that he thought chief constables ought to be in a position to arrest and bring before the authorities those who were suspected of assisting the enemy. I ask, What are the powers of a chief constable? According to the Home Secretary the whole responsibility has been placed on the chief constable. Is he to arrest people at once; is he to have them tried at once; and what is to be done with them? The German Consul at Sunderland has been arrested on account of seditious papers and plans found in his possession, and he has been in Durham Gaol since August. What is going to be done to him? Is he going to be let out on a £5 penalty?

I have not hesitated to write to my noble friend the Lord Lieutenant of my county, Lord Durham—grieved as he is at the moment by a bereavement to which I need not further allude—suggesting that he and the chairman of the county council should call a meeting of the magistrates of the county, at which the chief constable should be requested to attend. I ask, Shall we be justified in giving instructions to the chief constable? If that meeting is called I shall suggest that the chief constable be instructed to order the arrest of any man whom he considers to be a spy and have him tried before a proper tribunal, and that if the man is found guilty of spying and assisting the enemy, we, the magistrates, should take the law into our own hands and have him shot on the spot. That is the only way in which you will stop this; and although we may afterwards be arrested for murder, I doubt whether any jury would not say that in the action we had taken we were doing what the Government ought to have done in defence Of the country.


My Lords, I regret to say that the country in which I live is riddled with seditious literature. An enormous quantity of anti-recruiting pamphlets is being issued in Ireland. A great many Irishmen have joined the Colours, but these pamphlets are distributed in out-of-the-way parts of Ireland and are doing considerable harm. There is no printer's name upon them and it is quite impossible to find out by whom they are printed. Then, again, several newspapers in Dublin consistently preach sedition. In old days a newspaper of that sort was easily stopped. A four-wheeled cab drove to the office in the early morning and the occupants broke open the premises, smashed up the type, and took the copies of the newspaper away. I wish the authorities would now follow that example of the Fenian days. This literature is distributed broadcast throughout the country, and that fact is not only exceedingly trying to the Loyalist population but also to the Nationalist Party, who, I am glad to say, have done their best of late to encourage recruiting in Ireland. I venture to urge that steps should be taken to put a stop to these proceedings.


My Lords, in reference to what has just been said by my noble friend Lord Mayo, I should like to state that I was informed in September last that in a part of Ireland which I know well a large motor-car had travelled through three counties distributing at every cottage leaflets of the character mentioned. The responsible police officer in the neighbourhood said that he knew the owner of the car and where it was hired, and that he had reported the matter to Dublin Castle. Nothing, however, came of it, and it seemed to me at the time a matter of some surprise that no notice should have been taken of so serious an offence.

In my part of the country we are all a little disappointed at the results of the recruiting campaign that was undertaken by Mr. Redmond and others of his supporters. We know how loyally and earnestly Mr. Redmond has pursued that campaign. But it is interfered with by the fact that there is published week by week in Irish newspapers literature which, whether it constitutes high treason or not, is seditious in character and certainly disloyal to the interests of the Empire at this juncture. It is quite true that the pamphlets that are distributed do not make the recipients of them Sinn Feiners, but we know that there have been in the last fifty years a number of leagues in Ireland which have influenced the population very largely and have almost exercised judicial functions. Though they may not endorse the views set forth in these pamphlets, the recipients of them think that it is better not to offend these people, and to that extent the distribution of this literature does have an influence upon recruiting.

We who live in the South of Ireland have supported Mr. Redmond as loyally as we could in his campaign. We feel that the insufficiency of the response to his appeal is a reproach to us, and we earnestly desire, whatever other causes there may be for it, that this cause to which attention has been called, which is capable of being removed, as I submit, should be removed by the Government. I think I speak for everybody in Ireland who wants to see the Empire supported at this juncture when I say that we have viewed with apprehension and surprise the inaction of the authorities in connection with this particular kind of literature. In Cork, I think it was, a man was tried by Court-Martial for having one of these papers in his possession, but he was acquitted on the ground that there was nothing to show that he had incited or done anything with it; he simply possessed a copy. It was rightly held that it was rather absurd to prosecute a man for having a paper in his possession when the person who published it was left unscathed. I hope that action will be taken in cases where the evidence is sufficient to put a stop to this form of propaganda.


My Lords, I can corroborate so far as Dublin is concerned what has been said by my noble friends from Ireland. Dublin at this moment is being swamped by literature which I should think came within the category of high treason. A good portion of this literature is issued from America, and is distributed in the poorer parts of the City of Dublin. I know this to be the case, because these leaflets have been distributed over my property in one of the poorest parts of Dublin. It has been done openly, so much so that people are stopped on the road and requested not to do anything which would assist the British Government in any way, whether by recruiting or anything else. Even the children have taken it up. Like children, they play at war; but they all want to be Germans.

The truth is that there is a large amount of German money in Ireland. How it comes there is not known. I am not speaking from a Party point of view. The Lord Mayor of Dublin said openly in the Corporation that he knew there was "a good deal of German money going." We know this is so, because there are a great many people who have not much money of their own and yet are spending a lot. How did those mines get laid off the coast of Ireland? I should like to ask. I do not want any secrets told, but I think the man in the street could say pretty nearly how. I do not suppose that it was done by German men-of-war; that would not be suggested for one moment. The fact of the matter, I suppose, is that it was done by German agents or by disguised German officers in Irish fishing boats. I want to know, Have we a Government in Ireland or have we not? For the last few years I have come to the conclusion that there is nobody at all responsible in Ireland. I have hesitated to approach the Chief Secretary, because I know that I should get the answer which always has been given—namely, that nothing can be done. As a matter of fact, we do not know who governs us in Ireland. When we had the lamentable collision in the streets of Dublin it made one unhappy to feel that everybody threw the blame upon everybody else, and whether the people who eventually got punished were the real offenders nobody knows. But the point is that we are at war now. We are fighting for our very existence, and we must not be mealy-mouthed. We have to tackle this question of spies. It must be tackled somehow or other, and it should be done by noble and learned Lords.


My Lords, as Lord Desart said, not one of us wishes in the smallest degree to attack the Government; on the contrary, we want to render their action more prompt and more effective for the purposes that we have in view. But in my opinion noble Lords like the three noble Lords from Ireland who have addressed us are rendering a public service, not merely to this House but to the Government and to the country, by bringing before us their individual experience in these debates. I venture to say that this discussion will be by no means the last, any more than it is the first, that will take place in this House on the question of spies.

Noble Lords must be already thoroughly familiar with the fact that there is great and widespread uneasiness throughout the country on this matter—an uneasiness which the speeches that have so far been made from the Ministerial Benches either in this House or in the other have done nothing whatever to allay. One noble Lord comes here and speaks as to the scattering of mines on our coasts; another speaks of the circulation of seditious literature; another speaks—and we know how true it is—as to the large extent to which German money is employed in our midst. These are only slight evidences among many of a scheme of spy-mongering in this country conceived with consummate ability and secrecy, carried out with a lavish expenditure of money, and at this moment in operation on a scale which would startle every one of us if we knew its internal ramifications.

The noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, was dissatisfied with the speech of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack. I must confess that I thought it a better speech than the one he made the other evening, though perhaps that is not giving him the praise to which he thinks he is entitled. I own, after hearing the damaging case that was made the other evening by Lord Crawford, that I was both astonished and pained to hear the noble and learned Viscount get up and argue that the test to be applied in these cases was the comfort and convenience of the enemy aliens in our midst rather than the safety of this realm. I heard that doctrine forcibly repudiated by a noble Lord sitting opposite, and I was delighted that, after that unexpected castigation, the argument was not again used by the noble and learned Viscount to-night.


I never said that. What I said was that to arrest aliens wholesale, irrespective of their guilt or innocence, irrespective of whether or not they had wives and families dependent upon them, in such a way that you might be subjecting absolutely innocent people to the greatest hardship, was a policy as inhuman as it was inefficacious.


I do not think that was the language used by the noble and learned Viscount on the former occasion, otherwise the speech of Lord St. Davids would not have been delivered. From what he then said, the noble and learned Viscount appeared to be more concerned with considering the degree of discomfort of aliens which might be caused in these operations, and which in my view is no matter for alarm or regret, and to bestow insufficient attention on the much greater necessity of the State. My noble friend behind me called attention to the speech of the Home Secretary in the House of Commons. The general apprehension that prevails, so far from being stilled, was rather enhanced by that speech. There appeared to be an effort made by the Home Secretary to throw off the responsibility from his own shoulders on to the shoulders of the War Office. The War Office surely has enough to do at this juncture of our affairs with organising and equipping the Army, with sending it out to the field, with supplying it with drafts and guns and ammunition, not to be charged with the additional labour of rounding up spies on our East coast and elsewhere. And in this respect I was pleased to hear the remarks of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack just now, because they did seem to me to mark an advance from the position taken up by the Home Secretary. He talked about "vigorous co-operation between the civil and the military authorities." I heard that statement with pleasure. I only wish that the noble and learned Viscount had carried the matter a little further, and that we had heard something about a suggestion which, if I remember rightly, was made in the House of Commons and received a good deal of support the other day—namely, that a special Board should be constituted of all the various Departments and authorities concerned, to deal with this spy question; in other words, that there should be created a Spy Bureau in this country for the purposes of the war. Unless you have some new machinery to relieve the War Office of a burden which it is not able to bear, you will have these discussions from time to time, you will have these cases of discontent and alarm arising, and we shall not satisfactorily deal with the problem with which we are now confronted. Personally, therefore, I am grateful to the noble and learned Viscount for having gone further than he did the other evening, but I should have been much more grateful had he gone still further than he has now done.


My Lords, I venture to think that in some of its parts this debate serves as an illustration of the inconvenience which from time to time attaches to our procedure. A considerable and important part of this discussion has been taken up by reference to the particular case of sedition in Ireland and kindred subjects connected with that country. I quite understand that the House might well wish to discuss that subject, but my noble friend who represents the Irish Office is not in his place. He had no notice that any such discussion was likely to be brought forward, and we are therefore not prepared, on behalf of the Irish Office, to state the particular case in the form in which they might—


I was at great pains to say that I was making no attack. The whole of my speech constituted an expression of opinion that these matters required consideration. I do not think I suggested that I expected a categorical answer to-day.


I never supposed that the noble Earl was making an attack; in fact, all noble Lords who have spoken have expressly disavowed their intention of doing anything of the kind, and we fully accept their statement. But since this question of Ireland has been raised and has been the subject of three important speeches, it would have been an advantage for us to be able to reply with the knowledge which can only be obtained from the particular Department. I shall not, therefore, attempt to pursue the particular question as it concerns Ireland, because I am not prepared to do so. But on the one particular point which the noble Earl, Lord Meath, raised, he stated that it was a presumption, which he appeared to share, that the sowing of mines not far from the Irish coast was in some way the result of Irish sedition, the result of some combined action between the enemy and Irish spies, with the implication, as I gathered, that the mines themselves came from the Irish coast in boats of some kind belonging to Ireland. That is a suggestion which I am sure will interest the Admiralty, but it is one which I confess we have not heard made before. So far as that particular sowing of mines was concerned, our belief has been that they were sown—altogether improperly, as we think, by the obligation of the laws of war—under a neutral flag, but the particular association of them with Irish sedition is, I confess, entirely new to me.

So far as regards the general question of espionage and the punishment to be inflicted upon it, I am quite aware that no little excitement has been caused throughout the country at what has been conceived, as I think not quite fairly, as the failure of the Government to deal with sufficient energy or in a sufficiently drastic manner with cases of espionage. I may say at once—and I believe that in saying so I speak for all my colleagues—that we are not troubled by any kind of sentimentality or with a desire even to exercise mercy in cases in which action of this kind is proved either against alien enemies or against others in this country who may be guilty of such practices; because it is always important to bear in mind, in considering this question of espionage, that you cannot rely upon action of that sort being simply confined to alien enemies belonging to the nations with whom we are at war. It is, unfortunately, not safe to attempt so to limit the possibilities of the case, and therefore we have to include the possibility of other persons being involved. But when we speak of the punishment of these war crimes, sometimes amounting even to the crime which is the special subject of the noble and learned Earl's Question—the actual crime of high treason—we always have to remember that, even though you put the country under what is called martial law, you still demand, if not the full amount of evidence which satisfies a British jury in ordinary cases, something in the nature of positive evidence before you can convict people, even more before you can think of putting them to death. The noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, spoke of the North-East coast with which he is so well acquainted, and foretold the possibility that the resentment against the absence of convictions might become so serious in that part of England that the ordinary processes of law might be exchanged for a system of something approaching lynch law, carried on even by the magistrates themselves.


I merely said that if the Lord Lieutenant and the chairman of the county council called the meeting to which I referred, I should advocate that course.


I quite understand, and in a matter of this sort one is particularly anxious in no way to misrepresent what the noble Marquess said. Where a system of the wild justice of revenge has been instituted in other countries—for instance, in the Southern States of America., where, as we know, for many vents lynch law was of frequent occurrence—it has almost always been because juries or courts have refused to convict in the face of reasonable evidence, or where for one reason or another criminals have not been put on their trial; such wild action has been brought about; by what the people of a neighbourhood have believed to be a distinct failure of justice.

I pass for a moment to the cases which were named the other day by the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, who is not now in his place. He mentioned cases in which, according to his statement, a serious public offence had been committed and was punished by a penalty which, as he described the case, appeared to be almost derisory. But, of course, before forming an opinion on the action which the magistrates took in that case one would have to be acquainted with all the circumstances and know what the charge really was, what the evidence was that was brought in support of it, and also what the plea advanced by the defendant was; and I have no doubt that those cases have received, since the noble Earl spoke, the careful attention of the authorities. I repeat once more, these are, and are bound to be, matters of evidence; and I cannot help thinking that at the back of the minds of some of those who criticise the Government so freely there exists the thought that, after all, in these cases, where there is great public danger, evidence does not so very much matter, and that even if you are unfortunately wrong and hang or shoot two or three people against whom nothing is really proved—well, you are sorry; it is their bad luck; but in a great public crisis you cannot afford to be quite so particular as all that. That is not an attitude which it is possible for the Government or for the legal advisers of the Government, as I venture to think, to take up.

In the first place, the existence of so great a public danger from information given to the enemy from this country—so great a public danger as to justify a regular departure from what we conceive to be the ordinary course of justice—is not sufficiently proved. People may have their own opinion as to the amount and the value of the information which is conveyed to the enemy from this country. Some people believe that an enormous quantity of information of cardinal importance is somehow or other conveyed to Germany from this country. At the other end of the scale, you will find people who believe that scarcely anything of serious importance from the point of view of our success in the war or of the loss of life of men in our Services can by any means be so conveyed. It is not easy to strike the correct balance between those extreme views, and the positive suggestion that has been made—it was mentioned by the noble Earl who is leading the Opposition—that a special Committee representing various Departments should be formed for the particular purpose of dealing with this spy question, is one of which I do not deny the attraction in some respects, but there are, if the noble Earl will consider, certain difficulties connected with it. At present these matters are in the hands of the naval and military authorities respectively. If you are to have a system which is approaching martial law, it is not 'easy to place it in any hands except those of the fighting Departments, and I should expect that an attempt to divide up responsibility by creating such a Committee might be somewhat resented by them.

But surely there is a further practical difficulty. Among all these aliens, of whom, by general admission, a large number are quite harmless, you would have to inquire into the circumstances of each particular case before you could decide whether such a person ought to be interned, or possibly deported, or conceivably put on his trial with the possibility of his incurring in the last resort the death penalty. My Lords, can you devise a Committee representing the different Departments which, in the space of three months, six months, or a year, could make an investigation into the case of each one of those aliens? I am arguing on the supposition that you should do what is proposed as the remedy—that every person of German or Austrian birth should be treated as a prisoner and as a more or less guilty person until the contrary is proved. Those investigations would occupy a vast amount of time, and in a great number of cases they certainly would not be worth the trouble which it would take to undertake them.

I can say, on behalf of the Government, that we do not resent, but on the contrary we welcome, any criticism that can be made of what has been done, and we also welcome any suggestions that can be made for improvement; in the method of dealing with this alien question. This question takes a somewhat different, form here from that which it takes in any of the countries on the Continent of Europe. Our insular position introduces somewhat new factors into the situation which you would not find, for instance, in France, in Germany, or in any of the belligerent countries on the Continent. So far as we can, we shall endeavour to improve the methods by which we are working. We do not desire to encourage what I may call a spy panic in the country, to which some organs of the Press, as I venture to think, give a quite unrestrained vent; but we do not in the least deny the gravity or the difficulty of the problem, and I myself am glad that this discussion has taken place.


I do not understand that either the noble Marquess or the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has answered my specific question. Has a system of correspondence, a very ingenious and extensive system, been discovered? Has that matter been investigated by any of the authorities, and, if so, have the allegations turned out to be accurate?


Every case in which there have been traces of anything of the kind has been investigated, with the result that the civil and military authorities have got to the bottom of everything that they can.


I would point out that there are no accessaries in treason. That which makes a person an accessary in ordinary crime makes him a principal in treason.


There is a case in which a true bill has been found.


The noble and learned Viscount has not answered the question which I put. The Home Secretary has thrown the responsibility of the Home Office on to the shoulders of the chief constables. I ask, What are the powers of chief constables, and what are they to do?


A chief constable has the power which arises in a case of serious crime of arresting without warrant. But the proper person to refer these things to is the Public Prosecutor, who gives directions as to what is to be done. The chief constable has all the powers that are wielded by the constabulary in a county, and the magistrates have the power of issuing warrants. Really those things should be dealt with locally—they can be so dealt with much better; and if the noble Marquess would take vigorous action and send up the details to the Public Prosecutor these cases would be attended to.


But that all takes times.


The noble Marquess has his police officers on the spot, and there is the bench of magistrates.


In the meantime we have these mines being washed ashore.


Does the noble Marquess think that the Public Prosecutor or the Lord Chancellor will catch the mines more quickly than will the military and civil authorities on the spot?


I think the reason why the Home Secretary referred to the chief constables was this. The Home Secretary is the superior of the Metropolitan Police, and therefore there is sometimes a disposition to regard him as being the head of the police all over England. That is not the case. As the noble Marquess knows very well, the police in counties are under the statutory joint committee, and their active officer is the chief constable. That, I think, was the reason why the Home Secretary, as the noble Marquess put it, placed the burden on the shoulders of tire chief constables. He merely wished to make it clear that he had nothing to do with the country police.


My Lords, I am sorry to find myself not quite satisfied with the vigour of the Government on this particular matter. I hold very strongly the view that in most Departments of Government no war has ever been waged with greater vigour than the war which is being waged by the present Government; but as regards the danger of information going out of this country, I do not think the Government quite appreciate the public view. The noble Marquess the Leader of the House said just now that he did not think that sufficient public danger was vet proved for the Government to go out of their usual course as regards trials in these cases. I know nothing of this matter except what I see in the newspapers, but there was one item in the newspapers the other day which surely showed that information of enormous value had gone out of this country—I refer to the attempted raid on Yarmouth. We saw it stated that large enemy ships went at full speed through the passages of a mine field. A passage through a mine field is a crooked passage, and no enemy ship could possibly have gone at a fast speed through that crooked passage without most valuable information having left this country. It is possible, if that kind of information does go out of the country, that one item of information might lead in some case to a great national disaster. Surely this is a matter which requires exceptional treatment. With the attitude of the noble Marquess the Leader of the House I do not at all agree. He laid down the fine old English maxim that you must not punish anybody who by any conceivable chance may be innocent—


I must protest against what my noble friend says. What I said was that a great number of persons were apparently desirous, upon this particular subject and at this particular time, to convict people without any positive evidence. I do not know whether my noble friend is one of them.


I am certainly not one of them, and I am very glad indeed if I misunderstood the noble Marquess. But the position, it seems to me, is this. You want to see that justice is done, that you do not hang an innocent man, and that the man is given the benefit of every possible doubt. In fact, I should say that in England it is almost impossible, under ordinary circumstances, for a man to be put to death who is innocent. But in the case of spies, what you have to do is to stop information going out of this country; and surely in an emergency like this you have to lean the other way. If there is any doubt as to whether a man is innocent or guilty, that man ought not to be let go You are not trying to punish a man or wishing to be vindictive because he is a foreigner; what you are trying to do is to keep your information in your own country. That is the point of view upon which we should act. I am bound to say that that point of view was not laid down with any distinctness by the noble Marquess. Although on most things the 'Government are strong enough, on this question of aliens they are not hard enough.

I do not want in the least to make any alien suffer unnecessarily. If you put aliens into concentration camps, I hold that they should be fed as well as our soldiers. I would not have any unnecessary hardship inflicted upon them. But the country must not run any unnecessary risk even if these aliens do suffer hardships. All countries in time of war have to be hard. Take any successful Government, say the Government of Cromwell; that was a hard Government. Take the Government which acted under the greatest possible difficulties which any Government in the world hard to face, the Government under the Revolution in France; that Government won by reason of being a hard Government; it won by stamping out everything that was opposed to it. The Government of this country to-day has this advantage, that no class is opposed to it; we are all doing everything we can to assist it. I do think, my Lords, that His Majesty's Ministers should harden their hearts, and that on this particular matter they should adopt a much more drastic point of view.