THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
My Lords, I rise to call attention to the position of aliens in this country, and to the powers of the naval, military, and police authorities in relation to them. On September 10 last I raised this matter before your Lordships in a short debate which took place on the general position of aliens, raised by 'I my noble friend beside me, Lord Leith of Fyvie. I am afraid that my remarks on that occasion produced very little effect. Accordingly a month later—on October 17—so much distressed was I with the position in the part of the country in which I live, I wrote to the Prime Minister on the subject. By that time there was a great amount of public unrest on the subject. My letter synchronised with this manifestation of public anxiety, and I am glad to say that immediately after that date considerable activity was shown. However, I did not consider, and I do not now consider, that: the activity shown by the Government was adequate. I raised the subject again in your Lordships' House on the 11th of 130 this month, and one of the Members of Parliament for the district to which I alluded, Sir Henry Dalziel, also raised the matter in the House of Commons. Let me say at once that a great deal has been done since then. I wish to acknowledge in the fullest way how much has been effected since our debates in Parliament as regards the removal of aliens from that part of Scotland; and, amongst other things, we have resumed complete control of our own estuaries and waterways on the East coast, to which I attach the greatest importance.
The Secretary for Scotland has written me a long letter commenting upon my remarks in this House, and I am very much obliged to him for the trouble he has taken in the matter. On one point I must apologise to the House, and indeed to Mr. McKinnon Wood as well, for having been misled. Some of your Lordships may remember that I referred to a case where a ship was alleged to have arrived with a quantity of sawdust in one of her bunkers. Mr. McKinnon Wood says that that is an exaggeration. I accept it as such and regret that I should have given currency to it, though I am bound to state that the authority from whom the information reached me was one who, better than anybody else, ought to have known the exact state of affairs. But what concerns me most about the statement of the Scottish Office and what satisfies me most about it is the fact that it is a frank and general admission of the gravity of the situation. There has been no official document since war was declared which has been so significant and has so frankly recognised the peril. For that I am much gratified, and what has passed since gives me further cause for satisfaction. However, there is still room for criticism, and I propose, by your Lordships' leave, to make a few remarks on the general situation, having previously referred to one or two cases in particular in the County of Fife.
I wish to remind your Lordships of a particular case to which I referred a fortnight ago, in connection with which I asked a question of the Lord Chancellor which I hope he will be able to answer to-day. I refer to the illegal export of petrol by neutral ships from Fife ports. I quoted a case in which one of these instances was detected, and the man was brought to justice and fined £5. The 131 Secretary for Scotland says that the quantity of petrol in question was small and was allowed to go out "owing to a misunderstanding." On that point I should like to say that I do not for a moment admit that the persons who exported this petrol could conceivably have done so under a misapprehension. Their knowledge of the law and of the practice and decisions of the Customs Department is such that misunderstanding is practically impossible. As regards the quantity, I admit that it was negligible—forty gallons, worth perhaps eighty shillings. But forty gallons of petrol delivered to an enemy ship off our coast may to that enemy ship be a matter of life and death; and I do not, therefore, think that the paucity of the amount of petrol exported should have so closely corresponded to the paucity of the fine. My question to the Lord Chancellor is whether he can see his way to remove this offence from the category of fines and insist upon very much more drastic action when it occurs.
Since I addressed your Lordships on this subject another case, also from the Forth, of illegal export of petrol has come before the Courts. It is not decided yet, but as the prosecution is undertaken by the Government I presume that prima facie the facts are correct. On Friday last the Government prosecuted a Dane, a captain of a Danish ship, for attempting to export petrol in defiance of the Royal Proclamation. The case was remanded, and I hope it is not contempt of Court to say that the authorities recognised more fully the gravity of the offence by putting a substantial bail upon the person charged. In this case there were two consignments from two Forth ports, amounting in all to 134 gallons. I therefore point out to your Lordships that the illegal export of petrol has continued since the case was last decided in the Courts. The noble and learned Earl on the Front Opposition Bench, Lord Halsbury, speaking on this point a week ago to-day, indicated that such an offence might be considered high treason. Whether that be so or not I, of course, offer no opinion, but if that be the case I think it undesirable that the prosecution should be undertaken through His Majesty's Customs and Excise; if it be so serious an offence, a more responsible authority should be put in charge of the prosecution.
The second point in the Secretary for Scotland's letter to which I wish to refer 132 is the question of night signalling, which I said had been continuous. Mr. McKinnon Wood says—I presume you have reported those cases to the police or the naval or military authority on the spot.When I first read that it seemed to me to convey a certain rebuke, and I wondered whether Mr. McKinnon Wood suspected that I had been signalling to submarines. Then what happened in my own case occurred to me. Late one night I was routed out by the military patrol and ocularly shown that there was a light burning in one of the high rooms in inv house, which commands an extremely wide view over both shores of the Firth. At that particular moment the authorities had been veiling all lights in that particular neighbourhood in order to make it more easy to detect unauthorised lights, and it was then that I came to learn about the signalling that was going on and how serious it was considered by the military patrol.
I am perfectly certain that signalling has been going on, but equally I am bound to say that I agree with Mr. McKinnon Wood that no single act of night signalling has been proved—proved, I presume him to mean, by trial in the Law Courts or by Court-Martial. That is the base of my grievance. It was because we had been unable to catch the persons concerned that I brought the subject forward. The fact is that the residence of aliens in this prohibited area has continued almost uninterruptedly up till two or three weeks ago. Great progress has been made in the last ten days or two weeks. But how slow it has been! For months these men have been living there. The Home Secretary the day before yesterday announced the latest figures of aliens resident in prohibited areas, and said that on the East coast and on part of the South coast of this country alone—nothing to do with internal areas which are prohibited—there were 771 male and 2,190 female alien enemies. I am bound to say that it seems to me a grave risk to run to allow in prohibited areas—because it is in those areas that dangerous occurrences may be feared—nearly 3,000 aliens to continue residence. And that in only one section of the country. The figures do not refer to any of the West coast; they do not touch Wales or Ireland.
133 For my own part, I think the naturalised British subject of German birth is in many cases more dangerous than the alien enemy. I do not myself trust any man who has denationalised himself. And when we learn that these naturalisations have in many cases occurred within the last few years, surely we must not be called unduly suspicious if we say that under the terrible conditions of to-day we must take certain risks, and, unfortunate as some persons may consider it, bring these naturalised as well as unnaturalised Germans within the meshes of internment. The naturalised alien question is one to which the Government at the present moment are giving insufficient attention, and it is one in respect of which I strongly urge the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack to give a sympathetic reply.
The second question which I asked was as to the power of removal of these people. In his reply, Mr. McKinnon Wood states that the police and the naval and military authorities are empowered to remove any naturalised British subject of German birth who is open to reasonable suspicion. That power, he says, is vested in the competent naval and military authorities. I should like to know who is the competent naval or military authority. If it is an authority from whom we cannot expect to extract a reply under a fortnight, it is not very much use. We want promptitude in these matters, and much depends upon the definition of who is the competent authority. On that question there is a marked divergence of opinion. In the House of Commons Mr. McKinnon Wood, speaking of Scotland, said that the Scottish Office has no real responsibility—a very striking observation. I gather that he meant that the real responsibility rested with the chief constables. The Home Secretary, on the other hand, speaking on the 12th instant, said that the responsibility for saying which particular cases shall be interned rests with the War Office. There you have a conflict of opinion. When the Home Secretary referred to the War Office I suppose he also meant the Admiralty, because their powers are co-ordinate.
Now, how can the War Office act? If the War Office are to be responsible for interning these people, one assumes also that they are responsible for the direction of any prosecutions which may be necessary. But when all is said and done, the 134 military authorities are not made for that work. They have no legal knowledge and experience, and no officials to whom they could turn. There is a very material doubt in various parts of the country—this does not apply only to Scotland—as to what the powers are and who is responsible for their exercise. I cannot help feeling that somehow or other we have almost blundered into a condition of quasi-martial law. I am not sure which it ought to be—whether it ought to be real martial law or wholly civilian control; but a combination of the two is fatal, because it means delay, and delay may mean disaster. My feeling is that we ought not to put too much responsibility upon the War Office. Their primary duty at the present moment is to enlist, to equip, to drill, and to despatch soldiers. When you place upon the War Office a quasi-civilian duty of this kind you subject that Department to all the political controversy and pressure which the Home Office, a bona fide political Department, is accustomed to and w ell knows how to deal with. If you put this on the War Office, you divert the attention of the War Office, from the central and the crucial point, which is the provision and training of men, My feeling, however, is that if you are going to put this duty on soldiers, put it on them entirely and do not mix them up with the civilian authorities. Do not continue this half-and-half measure under which we are living to-day, and which in many respects is unsatisfactory.
Even though the responsibility for saying which particular cases shall be interned rests upon the War Office, your Lordships must have observed that the Home Office is all the time retaining power to release people from these camps. Application is made to the Home Office, and it is said that it is desirable that this or that man should be got out or that he is an employer and therefore should not be detained; and while the War Office on its responsibility, according to Mr. McKenna, is putting these people into confinement, the Home Office on its own responsibility is letting some of them out. That is manifestly undesirable. An officer commanding a district not in my part of the country said the other day that some of these people who had been let out had been released after signing a paper that they would be neutral during the war. It is almost impossible to believe that that is so, but I ask the question because it came to me front a very 135 responsible official in charge of an important district.
I want to ask one further question on this problem of control. Would it not be better, unless you are going to put the country under martial law and make soldiers and sailors solely responsible, to keep the dealing with this subject in the hands of chief constables and public prosecutors? The amount of work involved by this movement of aliens has been severe. None the less I imagine that if the Lord Chancellor were to announce that he desired the voluntary assistance of, we will say, twenty or fifty honorary recorders, he would secure the co-operation for the time being of men of the highest standing and integrity in the legal world. They could be made either recorders or prosecutors in the case of these aliens. The fact is that the people on the spot who are trying to deal with this question are frankly puzzled as to what their powers are and in whom full powers are regularly vested. This is not unnatural. There is the Common Law, to begin with; there is the Aliens Restriction Act; there have been two Defence of the Realm Acts and to-morrow we are going to have a third. It is not unnatural, therefore, that this confusion should exist.
I make this appeal to the Lord Chancellor, that he should make a blunt, terse, unenigmatic statement of what the duty and the power of these people are. That is what they do not know. They want guidance; they want something crisp and perfectly precise, which they can embody in their orders and explain to their subordinate officials. The authorities do not know what their powers are, and the public does not know what the duties of the authorities are. That is why there is this chaotic feeling in the Press and among ordinary civilians like myself. And that, believe me, is why we hear this talk about vigilance committees being formed in different parts of the country. I do not like the idea of amateur people trying to intervene where proper authorities exist, but it is because of the confusion into which those who live in the country in these areas know the matter has fallen that this proposal of vigilant committees is, I am afraid, taking a strong hold on the public mind.
A fortnight ago I made a third suggestion to the Lord Chancellor, and that was that 136 what I called a Joint Aliens Board should be established. The noble and learned Viscount said that it would be a slow and abstract institution, and there he left it. Perhaps he misunderstood my proposal. My real object was not that an authority should be put into commission and that everybody remotely or indirectly connected with the subject should have representation or a right to a say upon the subject. I did not mean it to be a debating society. What I really meant was this, that if you collected together the four or five or six Departments concerned they would codify and simplify the Government policy. What I suggested, therefore, was that the Departments concerned, knowing the facts of the case, appreciating all the dangers, knowing moreover the tremendous difficulties which must exist, should combine and lay down a common, clearly-understood policy which should be circulated amongst all those who are concerned in the country in dealing with aliens. I repeat that proposal to the Lord Chancellor. I do not think it would be slow. I think that if a board of that kind had met a fortnight ago when I first made the suggestion, they would have by to-day codified their policy on the subject. It is essential that it should be known who is responsible and to whom the public is to turn. It is necessary for the officials; I am sure it is advisable for the public; and it is, to say the least of it, only fair to the aliens who are still at large. I therefore strongly urge the Lord Chancellor to give that proposal, or something analogous to it, his favourable consideration.
§ LORD LEITH OF FYVIE
My Lords, I desire to associate myself with what has been said by the noble Earl as regards the necessity for Government action in defining where the power for dealing with this matter lies. At present authority to act is in the hands of the Home Office; but the Home Secretary, as is clear from his public assertions, does not recognise that it is his Department which has the final decision in this matter. Consequently when suspects are arrested they are turned over to the military authorities, and all action of the civil authorities then ceases. What is required is a definition of the powers of the respective authorities. I hope that the noble and learned Viscount will give consideration to that point.
Great delays have occurred in individual cases because there is no authority prepared 137 to take them up. There was a case which went to the Scottish Office from the Home Office of a female who was suspected of being a spy, and it took fifty-seven days before she was out of the country. A period of forty-two days passed before the case was recognised at all. I never could understand—I had no connection with the case except by correspondence—who the power was who kept the Scottish Office and the Home Office from acting all that time. At any rate they acted eventually, and the woman has been out of the country now for a fortnight. But her presence while here resulted almost in a not, the provost stating that he could not have held the men back another: night; they would have sacked the place she was in. There was another case of delay near my own home. It took the Scottish Office together with the local authorities over forty days from the day they decided that the coast of Aberdeen, finishing at the Bridge of Torry, was a prohibited area, before they made the further extension which every one had been demanding. No reason at all was given for that delay. Then in Banffshire it took twenty-eight days before we could get the prohibited area extended along the Moray Firth; and although the county council have applied for certain parishes at the back of the present prohibited area to be scheduled, nothing has been done. Consequently the chief of the police of the district informs me that those aliens whom he had to move from the prohibited areas have gone into the parishes a few miles at the back. This, of course, reduces the matter to a farce. I presume that in the course of time these parishes will be brought within the prohibited area, because not only are the county council taking action but the Lord Lieutenant has again applied for this to be done.
The Home Secretary reported the other day in another place that the prohibited areas extended along the whole of the East coast round to the coast of Dorsetshire. The request which I made originally in your Lordships' House was that the whole of the South coast should be a prohibited area, and also the West coast of England and Scotland. Why, I ask, should the prohibited area cease at the coast of Dorset-shire? Why should Devonshire be left out? A mass meeting at Torquay has appealed to have that county made a prohibited area. The local authorities there have made similar applications, but 138 nothing has resulted. I mention these cases to show that, under present conditions, jurisdiction conflicts to such an extent that action is not taken. I also called attention on the last occasion that I spoke on this subject to the unfairness of the method of arrest. The rich aliens have steadily gone free and they remain free still.
Again, there has been no practical consideration of the sources of supply of money in these cases. If you found out in the case of an alien suspect who his paymaster was, you would get at the root of the matter. It is acknowledged in many cases that suspicion has been followed by almost evidence of the alien having been paid. The funds are coming through the Deutsche, the Dresdner, and other German banks in the City of London. There is no question about it. Money also comes from innumerable parties dealing with the German Government, and the only way of reaching them is by doing what other countries have done. I have to go some way back in history to give you a case. Along the coast of North America, in the war between the North and the South, contraband of war could not be stopped until a Bill was passed one afternoon and put in force at once under which every firm doing business on the Atlantic coast in lines which were considered contraband of war was visited and its books and everything else were placed in the hands of a Court the same night. What was the consequence? Within a month contraband business had ceased. Some cases were discovered where munitions of war had been imported in the shape of saints and other works of art. German money is, I repeat, at the bottom of the whole of what is happening in this country. It is known, and can be easily followed up, that some of the paymasters are those who are receiving raw material through neutral countries, and the payment for this raw material is going to the spies. That is a matter which can be proved up to the hilt if the Government will only go into it. By ascertaining where the money is coming from and stopping it you will strike at the heart of the trouble. It is absolutely necessary under present conditions to speak plainly, and unless the Government take the matter in hand as it affects all Germans, whether they are rich or poor, who are doing business with Germany and Austria and have done business with the enemy for the last twelve months, you will not succeed in finding 139 out who are the guilty ones. It is necessary to have possession of their books and to know exactly the business they have been doing for the last twelve months.
There is no question about it that the calamity in the Pacific lately was caused by our lack of knowledge. The Germans have a most scientific system which they developed very largely in convoying and supplying with coal and provisions the Russian Fleet to Japan. This came to my knowledge through an American naval source. The Germans have done this coaling business, this ships' chandlers business, in such a way that it is a perfect wonder. Every cruiser that they sent out had probably not less than eight tenders; those tenders were large ships which carried coal and provisions. Not only that, but each one had a double supply of wireless so that they could put it on shore and connect up with the shore. Those are all facts which have been noted. The source from which I get this information is not English but American. These ships are to-day operating from our shores; coal is being sold; firms that stopped selling, coal two months ago are now selling it; Scottish and English firms are concerned, and Lord Inverclyde writes to me stating that a firm in Scotland is doing this business. Therefore I say you must strike at the heart of the matter.
Another subject that requires urgent consideration is that of coast defence. The present condition on the coast of Ireland is one approaching great danger. There is no question about it that enemy money is flowing steadily into Ireland. You see the results in the virulent and treasonable newspapers that are published there and in other regrettable incidences which are still worse than the paper talk. I know from official sources that this matter is being taken in hand, but action will not be a bit of good unless you strike at the source whence the payment comes. Spies and other people, fishermen and the like, will not work for love in these matters. They are being paid, and paid handsomely. If you knew the prices paid in the Pacific for the coal that is being taken out there you would be surprised; it is perfectly staggering where the money comes from. The same thing is occurring on the West Coast of Scotland and on the coast of Ireland, and the suggestion which I make to the noble and learned Viscount on the 140 Woolsack is that the Government should aim at discovering the source of finance in this matter, because it is only thus that you will get at those in your midst who are striking at your heart. The ultimate success of the war is undoubted, but it would be delayed for months by not striking at the heart—which is finance—of the conspiracy.
§ LORD ST. DAVIDS
My Lords, before the noble and learned Viscount replies I should like to make one or two remarks and also put a few questions. There can be no doubt of the point of view of everybody in this country. We are unanimous on one thing. I think we should all wish that there were fewer aliens here. As to the method of coping with them, I quite see the disadvantages. While in Germany and in Austria there are comparatively few British subjects, in this country there are an enormous number of Germans and Austrians. I think we all share the wish that the number could be materially reduced. It would be a benefit to everybody; it would be a benefit to the Government Departments that have to watch and deal with them, and it would make it much easier to cope with and watch those aliens who were left. I put this question to the noble and learned Viscount: Have the Government any information as to the statements that have appeared in the Press of neutral countries that the Germans are putting women and children and men above military age into concentration camps, or threatening to do so, under the idea that Germans in this country are being maltreated? If that is true, I think it would be well that the Government of this country should go even further than they have done in demonstrating that we are far from treating alien enemies unkindly. I believe a good deal has been done by inviting people from the American and other Embassies to visit the concentration camps and the camps of prisoners and to satisfy themselves and report abroad that everybody is being kindly treated. But I think the Government might take another step which would make it perfectly obvious that we are not keeping any alien in an observation camp in this country out of malice or hatred. I would like the Government to make a public offer that they would pay the expenses of sending back to their own country all alien women and children and men who are not of military age. It would not cost us very much; it would be an untold blessing to get rid of some of 141 them, and it would satisfy everybody abroad that we were not keeping anybody here out of malice. I cannot help thinking that that is a proposal worthy of the Government's consideration. Perhaps they have considered it. If so, no doubt the noble and learned Viscount will tell me why they have not adopted it. It certainly seems to me to be a thing worth doing, and if only a minority of the aliens in this country availed themselves of such an offer, if it were made, it would at any rate make our position plain to everybody in European countries. I think the noble Earl opposite suggested that all naturalised aliens should be put into concentration camps—
§ LORD ST. DAVIDS
I thought it would be going too far, because, after all, in the case of a man who has been for many years naturalised in this country and whose sons are serving with our sons in the trenches abroad—in a case like that I think a naturalised alien ought to be recognised as though he were a British citizen. But there are other cases where rich aliens, very prominent people, have been naturalised within recent years as regards whom no Englishman can feel that the fire of patriotism to this country is burning very brightly in their hearts. Without thinking of putting them in concentration camps I suggest that a hint might be given by the Government that there are some very nice counties in the Midlands—outside the radius of the metropolis and not bordering on the sea—which, while the war lasted, would be admirable places of residence for those people who had been naturalised within the last ten years. If the Government were to consider that point of view, they would give a great deal of satisfaction to many of their best friends.
In the last few weeks the Government have done a great deal to tighten up proceedings in all these matters, and I have no doubt it took a long time to get things going. Other business was more pressing at the beginning of the war, and it has been only as time went on that the Government have been able to perfect their machinery in this matter. But I think that in some counties the trouble arises from the fact that the chief constables, who have to deal with this business, were 142 appointed under a very different state of things. Old men, as we know in this House, are sometimes the ablest and the most vigorous, but I think that an old man who is given something entirely different to do from anything he has ever clone in the earlier days of his life is not the best person to cope with an entirely fresh state of circumstances. I know one county not very far from the coast where the public are very dissatisfied with the lack of activity that is being shown on the alien question, and where they believe, rightly or wrongly, that the whole trouble arises from the very great and reverend age of the gentleman who would be expected to cope with the matter. I would like to ask the Government to consider this point—I have no doubt it does not refer to many places—and satisfy themselves that the people who have to deal with this entirely new state of things are really up to the mark and acquainted with the work they have to do.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT HALDANE)
My Lords, we have listened to three speeches on this very important topic, speeches which dealt with it ill different phases, and I will refer first to the speech which my noble friend has just made. With much of what he said I quite agree. I think it would be a very convenient thing if we could agree upon some kind of exchange of prisoners—
§ LORD ST. DAVIDS
I was not suggesting an exchange. From my point of view, and from most people's point of view, the retention of aliens here who are not of military age is not of the slightest advantage, and whether the Germans set free women and children or not I think we ought to do it.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
There is a good deal to be said for what my noble friend has just put forward. As he knows, in cases of war it always takes some time before a stage is reached at which these things commend themselves to the common sense of combatants, and I hope that some such time may not be far off. At any rate, the point has not been overlooked. Then the noble Lord asked whether the Government had any information as to the Germans putting women and children, British subjects, into concentration camps, or threatening to do so, under the idea that Germans in this country were being 143 maltreated. I have no knowledge of that matter beyond having seen in the English newspapers extracts to that effect purporting to be taken from German newspapers. No doubt some of our subjects who are their prisoners have been lately removed from the great freedom which they enjoyed of roaming about in places like Baden-Baden and other quite agreeable spots, and placed in prisons. That has been done since we took to interning large numbers of aliens here in concentration camps. The Germans ale within their rights, and we are within our rights. I only hope that things that are not necessary will not be said here which may be misconstrued and probably mistranslated, and so tend to exacerbate public feeling and lead to reprisals. One ought to be careful to be accurate about the facts in these matters. As regards these two points I am glad that my noble friend spoke as he did, because on the last occasion when I made a suggestion that to arrest aliens wholesale, irrespective of their guilt or innocence, irrespective of whether or not they had wives and families depending 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, he rather reproached me for being too considerate to the people of the enemy. There is a great deal to be said about the necessity of being just even in war and sparing the innocent—
§ LORD ST. DAVIDS
I am not proposing any drastic course. What I am suggesting to the Government is the mildest thing possible, not that they should export German women and children and men not of military age to Germany against their will. What I am suggesting is that they should make a public offer that if any such are willing to go back to Germany, we would let them go and pay their expenses.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I was congratulating my noble friend on the gentler tone of his speech on this occasion as compared with his speech a week ago to-day when this subject was under discussion. It was his speech on Wednesday last to which I was referring. Now I come to the speech of Lord Leith of Fyvie. The noble Lord appears to me, not only in the speech which he has made to-day but in his speech a week ago, to confound two things—allegation and truth. 144 If the things happened to which the noble Lord has made allusion, then I agree that we cannot be too quick in dealing with those cases. But what we want to get at are the cases. If, instead of coming here and saying vaguely that coal is being exported in large quantities from the west coast to the enemy, the noble Lord would tell us where exactly it is being exported from, by whom, and how much, I can promise him that the cases shall be investigated with the greatest promptitude and thoroughness.
§ LORD LEITH OF FYVIE
The fact of the tonnage going out is a matter of statistics; there are the bills of lading and of shipment. I have not the particulars written down, but unquestionably they could be got at by a proper committee.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
If the noble Lord will give us any details, anything to which we can apply our minds, I can promise him that the matter shall be thoroughly investigated.
§ LORD LEITH OF FYVIE
It can be ascertained what tonnage of coal has been shipped out of the Welsh ports and out of Newcastle, Glasgow, and other ports.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
We are the greatest exporting country in the world, and one of our largest exports is coal. We export coal to a large number of places with which we are not at war. If the noble Lord will adduce any information to give colour to the suspicion that coal is going to the enemy I can promise him that the matter shall be fully investigated. I may say that the Board of Trade have given the closest attention to the very point on which the noble Lord has spoken, and they have no reason to suppose that coal is going in any large quantities, or indeed so far as they know at all, to the enemy. Vague allegations of the kind we have heard are not only useless but destroy the very purpose at which the noble Lord is at work. The more he can make his case convincing the more he will do good; the less he can make it convincing the more he will do harm. As I have said, what we really want is something tangible with which to deal.
The noble Earl who initiated this discussion went into very important questions. He asked what powers exist, who is 145 responsible for their exercise, and whether there could not be more co-ordination. I will endeavour to tell the noble Earl what the powers are. Apart from the Common Law—which must not be neglected, because, particularly in times of national danger, the powers of the Common Law are extensive—there are three main sources of power which can be applied. First of all there is the Official Secrets Act. I mention that Act because it was passed in time of peace. The reason why it was passed I will tell you. When I was at the War Office we were aware that a very large and highly organised system for obtaining intelligence existed in this country, which was being used by the foreign Power with which we are now at war. It was necessary to take active steps to counteract that, and steps were taken. An Intelligence Department was set up—it was naturally a secret Department—and for a long time it was at work. Then we strengthened its hands by passing the Official Secrets Act, which gave much more drastic remedies. It may be of interest to noble Lords to know the kind of people who co-operated. I will take the Metropolitan Police because they are, after all, the main people who come in in matters of this kind. Before the outbreak of the war the Metropolitan Police had for some years, in co-operation with the Secret Service Department of which I am speaking, been actively combating espionage. The work was taken up by a special branch of the Criminal investigation Department. Skilled officers were employed; foreign agents were traced and marked down; and there were several successful prosecutions even at that time. On the outbreak of war no break was made; on the contrary, the process was increased. The police establishment for making inquiries regarding aliens and suspects was strengthened, and a chief officer and a staff of over 114 officers and men have been engaged exclusively on this duty, these officers receiving the assistance of the police throughout the country. Over 120,000 inquiries have been carried out. Enemy aliens numbering 342 who have been suspected as dangerous have been interned—this is exclusive of a very much larger number who have been dealt with on more general grounds; and 6,000 house searches have been made. The record is one of considerable activity, and it has gone on, of course, unnoticed because attention has not been drawn to it.
146 Now I come to the other two sets of powers which have been created and set in motion since the war. One is the set of powers under the Aliens Restriction Acts, and the other the set of powers under the Defence of the Realm Acts. In the case of aliens the real difficulties with which you have to deal are threefold. There is, first of all, the risk of organised hostilities. I myself have always been a sceptic about that, but it is a point that must not be neglected. Then there is the possibility of espionage. That falls under two subheads—the restriction of the movement of aliens, and time internment of enemy aliens. Under the Aliens Restriction Acts a series of Orders in Council have been passed fixing areas as required from time to time, and in other ways dealing with aliens under those Acts. I have these in a very convenient form in this book here. Noble Lords may not be aware that the Stationery Office has just published a Manual of Emergency Legislation, prepared by the Government, which gives all the Orders in Council and the explanations as to their application. It is too late for me to read copious extracts from this manual in answer to noble Lords' speeches, but if you will look at it yon will find very valuable information there concerning the two sets of Proclamations and the Orders in Council made under the Aliens Acts and under the Defence of the Realm Acts. As the noble Rail knows, the Acts are very general and provide for the possibility of these Proclamations and Orders in Council; but the Orders in Council are of a very potent kind. Those dealing with aliens give very large powers to the police in the way of putting restrictions upon aliens, preventing them entering the country pr going out, enforcing their registration, and restricting them as to area.
The other set of powers are of a different kind. They arise out of the Defence of the Realm Acts, and these powers, which are applicable only to a state of war, are in connection with people who have to be dealt with by the naval or military authorities, or, at any rate, on military principles. For instance, an officer commanding a district may become aware that there is reason to suppose that telegrams have been tampered with, or the naval authorities might become aware that wireless telegraphy is being set up or that wireless messages have been tapped. I am speaking not for the purpose of showing that the 147 civilian authorities should not be asked to co-operate, but for the purpose of showing that the principle of the Defence of the Realm Acts is military in application and therefore is primarily interesting to soldiers and sailors. The Orders in Council put forth under the Defence of the Realm Acts are very elaborate. They create a number of offences—in many cases they go far beyond offences at Common Law—and impose very great restrictions upon the action of people in this country, the country being treated as in a state of war; and it is an important point to remember that they apply not only to aliens but equally to other people.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
I expected to have heard something from the noble and learned Viscount with reference to what my noble friend behind me called attention—namely, that there had been discovered an elaborate system of spying by signalling from the East coast. I should like to know whether that has been communicated to the noble and learned Viscount.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I should also like to reply to the question which the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, was going to ask. Perhaps he will put his question and then I will reply to both at once. I had not finished my speech.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
The point on which the Lord Chancellor was speaking is the one where ambiguity exists. Soldiers and sailors are unaware whether they are entitled to intern British subjects, and, if they do so, whether the civil authorities of the State reserve to themselves the right to release those persons.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The Order in Council under the Defence of the Realm Acts deals with a vast variety of subjects, amongst them being the power of arresting any one, alien or not; it also gives power to intern as a semi-military measure; and the responsibility for arresting, for providing concentration camps—they are not prisons—and the responsibility for releasing rests with the military authorities.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Yes. But I need not say that that is a power which has been—in fact, both powers have been—very properly exercised in consultation between the military and the civil authorities. I will give the noble Earl an instance. One unfortunate German who had been interned had been in this country since he was two years of age; he did not know the German language, and he had two sons actually fighting for us at the Front. He was a German, and therefore he was put in the concentration camp. The military authorities had not the means of making complete inquiries into a case like that, and the chief constable of the district was asked to make them. Then, in conjunction with the Home Secretary, the Secretary of State for War decided to release him. There is another case which has come to my knowledge. An unfortunate Austrian gentleman—a more harmless man from our point of view I do not think any one in this House could wish to find—has been living in this country a long while and has been engaged on an important literary work. All of a sudden he was whisked away from Colchester where he was living and taken to Chester, I think it was. He was a man as free from bias against this country as any one could wish to see. That was a case where it was necessary for the civilian authorities to deal with his release. Both the War Office and the Home Office have been working very closely together in this matter.
It has been asked, Who is responsible for the administration of the powers taken by the Government? Under the Aliens Acts the civil authorities are almost exclusively responsible—that is to say, in London the Home Secretary, who has control over the Metropolitan Police; in the country the chief constables are mainly responsible, and, of course, the magistrates; and in Scotland the chief constables acting partly under the direction of the magistrates but mainly of the sheriffs. Then I come to the question of whether some good purpose might be served by a Joint Committee. My Lords, there is virtually a Joint Committee. The closest consultation is going on between the War Office, the Admiralty, and the Home Office in regard to these matters, and the powers are clearly distributed under the Acts to which I have referred. The same suggestion that the noble Earl has made was put forward the 149 other day in the House of Commons, and I would refer him to the answer given on November 18 by the Prime Minister. Speaking of these three Departments—the War Office, the Admiralty, and the Home Office—he said:The three Departments mentioned co-operate with one another, and I cannot agree with the suggestion that the division of responsibility has resulted in confusion and inefficiency. Division of duties is inevitable, because they relate partly to civil and partly to naval and military matters. The Homo Office and the police are responsible for the steps taken to register alien enemies and to enforce the provisions of the Aliens Restriction Order. The internment of alien enemies of military age is a military measure for which tire War Office is, and must be, responsible, though the Secretary of State for War is assisted by the civil authority in giving effect to Iris policy.I think that puts perfectly plainly the way in which responsibility is being apportioned at the present time. In all the cases with which the noble Earl is familiar the responsibility rests with the military authorities. The Prime Minister went on to say—As regards the dangers of espionage—a subject which the noble Lord has, no doubt, especially in mind—some time ago, on the advice of the Committee of Imperial Defence, there was established at the War Office an Intelligence Department, which co-operates with the Admiralty and has the assistance of the civil power wherever necessary. This Department has done invaluable work. The powers which the naval and military authorities possessed before the war to deal with espionage have been materially supplemented by the passing of the Defence of the Realm Acts, and the question of strengthening the staff of the Intelligence Department to cope with the new duties imposed upon it is now being considered. I would point out to the noble Lord that his suggestion would not remove any responsibility from the existing authorities, unless he proposes to transfer to his Committee of Public Safety the naval and military forces of the Crown and the police forces now controlled in the metropolis by the Government and elsewhere by the local police authorities.I have quoted that because I think it is a good answer to the question as to the nature of the division of responsibility.
Then the noble and learned Earl on the Front Opposition Bench put another question to me. He asked why have not steps been taken about signalling from the coast and other matters which have been referred to in debate? I do not think the noble and learned Earl can have realised the correspondence which has taken place between Lord Crawford and Mr. McKinnon Wood, the Secretary for Scotland, upon 150 this subject. Every case of signalling that has been reported has been most closely and carefully investigated. I gathered from what he said that Lord Crawford himself, who is of course beyond the breath of suspicion, had attracted the attention of the authorities on account of light that was showing in his house, which seems to indicate that at least the authorities were not wanting in vigilance. No doubt there is a great deal going on. With the extraordinary intelligence system which Germany organised in this country long before the war, no doubt they have certain advantages which they ought not to have, even of this kind. But when the authorities, whether civil, military, or naval, leave got the least trace of a case, they have followed it up with the utmost vigour; and it has become more and more clear what an elaborate system it is with which we have to cope.
If I were to harbour a suspicion, it would be that the most formidable people we have to deal with are not aliens but probably people of British nationality who have been suborned. One knows from the French official reports of the number of French spies who have been detected by the French, and one knows what an organised system there has been of paying for information. I wish I were sure that when really valuable and dangerous pieces of information were given they were not given by people of our own nationality. They are the people with the greatest facilities; and some of the information which has been given could only have been given by people who had access to knowledge of that kind because they were British. I heard of a case the other day which fully bore out this contention. It is so with every country and every war. I rejoice to think that we have very little of it; but that we have some, and that it is formidable, I cannot gainsay. In seeking these sources of communication with the enemy it is desirable to go about the search in a scientific way and to cast suspicion where it is most likely to be founded.
Reference has been made to the export of petrol. I would point out that in the first case mentioned by Lord Crawford, where a fine of £5 was imposed, the quantity was small and there was no suspicion, so I am informed, that it was sent for any enemy purpose. In the other case of 151 which the noble Earl spoke, I am informed that a fine of £50 was imposed and proceedings were taken against the owner of the ship—
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
Surely some penalty more than the imposition of a wretched fine of £50 ought to be inflicted. A fortnight ago I asked the noble and learned Viscount to look into the question of the fine. It may be that the fine was three times the worth of the petrol. But is not something further going to be done?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The noble Earl thinks I have control over the Judges, and particularly over the Judges in Scotland. I have no more control over them than he has. I can only say that where there is the least suspicion of dealing with the enemy the case should be treated as one of high treason. I am entirely at one with the noble and learned Earl that whenever you do get anything approaching a case of high treason you should deal with it, at once. As a matter of fact, there are such cases that have been dealt with at once. But if the learned Judge who hears the case thinks it is merely a piece of stupidity or recklessness about the law and that there was no enemy purpose about it, and imposes a fine instead of committing the offender to prison, I have no control over the Judge, nor have I the means of saying that he has acted unjustly. All I can say is that these laws, whatever they are, ought to be strictly put in force, and that whenever it is shown that there has been dealing with the enemy such a case should be dealt with strictly.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
Cannot the power be handed over to some one who will deal with these cases more severely than imposing a wretched fine of £50? That is the point.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I do not know the circumstances of the case except what the noble Earl has told me and that a fine of £50 was imposed. I do not know whether there was the smallest justification for a more severe penalty. As I have not been informed that there is any ground for suspecting such circumstances as have been referred to to exist, I again say that I am not in a position to discuss the case further. One other point. It has been said that if 152 the military authorities have responsibility over matters arising under the Defence of the Realm Acts there will be delay in taking action, and that they are not the people who should be given the duty of instituting civil proceedings. Under the Defence of the Realm Acts all cases that arise are tried by Court-Martial. They are being so tried now. The only restriction is that you cannot give a sentence of death. You can give penal servitude for life but not a sentence of death in a case which arises under the Defence of the Realm Acts. But you can always, if it is a serious case of an alien enemy trying to obtain information for the benefit of the enemy, have him dealt with as was done in the case of the spy Lody, who was tried by Court-Martial and executed. You cannot try an alien for high treason.
Some of your Lordships may say, "There is all this going on. Why is not more done to stop it?" The only answer I have to make is that everything is being done that we think can be done. No effort is being spared, either at the War Office, the Admiralty, or the Home Office, or by the Public Prosecutor, the Attorney-General, or the chief constables throughout the country, to deal with the cases as they come up. But I would remind your Lordships that we are dealing with matters of a most difficult and intangible order in which it is very difficult to get at the truth, matters as to which only unremitting vigilance can give you any result, and probably that result only the reaching of a proportion of the cases. We may lament this fact, but I suggest that the best is being done under the circumstances. The difficulty of defeating espionage and the kind of measures of which your Lordships have spoken is enormous, and I can only say that to the best of my judgment the action of the authorities has been not only vigorous but, as they get more and more experience of what is happening, is becoming more and more searching.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
My Lords, I do not want to repeat what I said the other night as to allowing things to be done which may or may not show acts of high treason and when they are done taking some trifling and modern Statute and attempting to put that in force as if it would stop what every one knows is going on in this country at this moment. I 153 entirely repudiate the suggestion that we are dependent upon these modern Acts which have been passed for dealing with trifling and comparatively immaterial matters. What I would apply would be the Statute of Treason. It ought to be understood that every act done in aid or assistance of His Majesty's enemies is an act for which a person may be indicted and hanged. With reference to putting this law in force, I am a little surprised to hear any doubt expressed upon the subject. Every constable, not the chief constable but every constable, is entitled to arrest upon reasonable suspicion of felony, much less for high treason. What the public feel is that what is every one's business is no one's business. As to any conflict between the Home Office and other authorities, I do not really know what particular jurisdiction the Home Office has, except perhaps to direct a criminal prosecution on the part of the State instead of its being done in the ordinary course of the law. But every constable has the right to arrest upon reasonable suspicion of felony, and no lawyer would deny that. In those circumstances I do not understand the difficulty there is in putting the law into force. My noble friend seemed to think that one must have an authority from the Home Office. I deprecate the sort of notion that you are to give the whole jurisdiction of the Criminal Law to the Home Office. The Common Law prevails, and every constable has a right, upon reasonable suspicion, to arrest if any act is done in assistance of the King's enemies. And if that is done and he does arrest, there should be a prosecution for high treason and not for some lighter offence.
THE MARQUESS OF WINCHESTER
My Lords, I wish to bring to your notice a matter which refers to the county of Kent. Although I am strongly in favour of strong measures, I think this divided responsibility leads to cases which inflict great hardships on certain people. I shall be glad to give the noble and learned Viscount particulars of a case. The person concerned certainly has a German name, but he was born in this country and had a British mother and a naturalised German father; for many years he was the electrical engineer of one of the largest Corporations in England. He has now been dealt with thus by the military authorities. A Deputy Lieutenant took a Yeomanry detachment and invaded 154 his premises, and he was told that he must I leave the county of Kent within twenty-four hours. On his seeing the military authorities at Dover, he was given until the end of the month. It seems to me that if a man has to leave in twenty-four hours there must be a grave reason, and if there was a grave reason certainly he ought not to be allowed to stay there until the end of the month.
There was one matter with which the noble and learned Viscount did not deal. I refer to the question raised by my noble friend Lord Leith—the question of payments. My noble friend mentioned the Deutsche and Dresdner Banks. I do not think that the Deutsche and Dresdner Banks could make payments of the description indicated, because all their business is in the hands of Sir William Plender. But there are other businesses carried on by gentlemen who have become naturalised but whose naturalisation does not go very far. Surely there is nothing to prevent the Government from appointing a person who could act in the position of a commissary in the case of those offices. I know that the noble and learned Viscount said we should not do anything which could give offence in Germany and lead to possible recrimination.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I said that by unnecessary prosecution we should possibly give rise to reprisals.
THE MARQUESS OF WINCHESTER
I accept the correction. But certainly I understood the noble and learned Viscount to say that action taken in this country might result in action being taken in Germany against British subjects. I believe I am right in saying that action has been taken in Germany against British subjects there who had any business connections with Germany and were in a position to be of assistance to this country; but there are certainly Germans in this country who have not been dealt with. There is no business house in Belgium at the present time that has not got a German commissary. It cannot write a letter, or draw a cheque, or do anything; and I do not sec at all why some steps of that sort should not be taken here where businesses are conducted by people of alien origin many of whom have not got papers of naturalisation.
§ VISCOUNT ALLENDALE
My Lords, I need hardly say that after the exhaustive reply of the Lord Chancellor I have very little to say on behalf of the Home Office. Nor do I propose, even if I were competent to do so, to enter into any legal question. But I should like, from the point of view of the Home Office, to emphasise what was said by the noble and learned Viscount as to the need of something tangible to go upon. I can assure Lord Leith, who has interested himself so much in this question, that any information sent to the Home Office or to the Police, whether authenticated by the writer's name and address or not, is very closely investigated. An enormous amount of time and labour has, in fact, been expended by the Police in the investigation of information given by noble Lords and others, and frequently labour has been wasted owing to the fact that in some cases the information, though given no doubt in perfect good faith, was based on hearsay or surmise, thus showing the difficulty in getting reliable information. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Leith, will excuse me if I illustrate that by some correspondence which he himself had with my right hon. friend the Home Secretary. In his letter of September 24 the noble Lord desired "to call attention to the fact that spies and alien enemies had been arrested along our South shores, making communication with steamers." He went on to say that he had personally seen men arrested in khaki uniform getting on the boats, and that it was only on account of the good look-out kept on board the mail steamers at Folkestone that the men were detected and handed over to the Folkestone Police. Naturally my right hon. friend thought that here was something specific to go upon, and he caused inquiries to be at once made. The result of the inquiries—I need not read the whole correspondence—was that the Folkestone Police said that they knew nothing whatever about this.
§ VISCOUNT ALLENDALE
As the noble Lord wishes I will read it in full. It was only to save the time of the House that I did not do so—
§ LORD LEITH OF FYVIE
If you will allow me I will state the case. I have not the correspondence here, but the arrest was made while I was at Boulogne on some Red Cross business. The captain of the "Onward" reported to me that he had arrested a man in khaki uniform and seen another one who was in semi-khaki uniform ashore at Folkestone. When my attention was called to the fact that my dictated letter stated that I had myself seen them, I immediately wrote to the Home Secretary that a correction must he made, that I had not seen the incident myself but had had it reported to me by the captain of the "Onward," and that I would write to the captain and get a confirmation of the fact and the date. That I did, and if the noble Viscount will follow the correspondence he will see that the captain confirmed the fact that he had turned down one man on board in semi-khaki uniform and that the other man was in khaki uniform trying to go from Folkestone to Boulogne, trying to go to the front. The Private Secretary to the Home Secretary, Mr. Harris, confirmed that; and if the noble Viscount will refer to the last sentence of his letter he will see that there is no question of contradiction.
§ VISCOUNT ALLENDALE
I have no wish to be at all unfair to the noble Lord. I was coming to the remainder of the correspondence in due course, but I wanted to save the time of the House. The noble Lord did write in his first letter, "I have personally seen men arrested in khaki uniform." He afterwards said that that was a mistake, that he had not actually seen it. The noble Lord's first letter was typewritten, so presumably it would be dictated and would be looked through. Anyhow, I do not want to press that point; but it probably would not be a letter which was written in haste for the post. Then Mr. Harris, the secretary to whom the noble Lord has referred by name, wrote a letter early in October —I do not wish to trouble the House by reading it—to the effect that inquiries had been made, and that the Folkestone Police knew nothing whatever about the matter. The next letter bearing on this 157 subject was from Lord Leith on October 24 to the Home Secretary, in which he said that the person who had reported this to him was the captain of the "Onward." This case turned out to be one of a man in khaki uniform who was attempting to go from Folkestone to Boulogne with the object of making his way to the firing line—the noble Lord did not know the exact date, but thought it was the date mentioned in the letter from the secretary to the Home Secretary—whereas the allegation was that spies were coming over to this country. The one fact that has come out of all this was that of one man only who wanted to get to the firing line and for some reason or another had not been allowed to go. So I think the noble Lord was misinformed if he assumed that there were spies in khaki coming over to this country—which was what was inferred from his first letter to my right hon. friend. But I do not desire to score a point against the noble Lord. I only mention this to show how very difficult it is for the Home Office or any other Department to press matters and investigate all the cases that are brought to their notice when they are founded on such inaccurate information as this. I can, however, assure the noble Lord and the House that the Home Office and the Police are perfectly ready to investigate, in fact are continually investigating, any information reaching them with regard to these matters.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
My Lords, it seems to me that we have lapsed into a very irregular procedure. The noble Viscount who has just been speaking on behalf of the Government has, I have no doubt with the best intentions, holding a correspondence in his hand, been quoting extracts or passages here and there in a mariner that made it almost impossible for the House to follow the sequence or to note what was going on. I am not quite certain what is the practice of your Lordships' House, but certainly when I was in the House of Commons nobody was allowed, by an invariable although an unwritten rule, to quote from any correspondence without laying it on the Table. I do not know whether that would be the desire of my noble friend Lord Leith in this connection; I only call attention to it in passing. Although the noble Viscount no doubt had no desire to break any rule, as a matter of fact it is very important that these unwritten rules should continue to be observed in our procedure.
158 I do not know that I have much to say, but inasmuch as this has been an admittedly important debate, and as we have had two speeches from noble Lords representing His Majesty's Government occupying between them, I think, something like an hour of time, perhaps it may be considered desirable that at least a few words should be said from this Bench in reply. The first thing that strikes one is this. The frequent repetition of debates on the spy question in this House is, I think, a measure of the anxiety which continues to be felt not in this House alone but in the country on the matter; and for my own part I think your Lordships in all parts of the House will feel that a debt of gratitude is due to Lord Crawford, Lord Leith, and others—I include Lord St. Davids—who have been persistent in calling the attention of the House to this subject. They have rendered a public service if for no other reason than that of having elicited, in the reply from the Lord Chancellor, the first really comprehensive statement of what we understand to be the position of the Government. I do not think the speech of the Lord Chancellor will quite have satisfied the expectations of my noble friend Lord Crawford. My noble friend asked the Lord Chancellor to make a reply that should be both "blunt and terse." I hardly think that those are the two adjectives which any one would choose to describe the oration which we have heard. It certainly was not blunt, for the obvious reason that I do not think the noble and learned Viscount could be blunt if he tried; and I hope I am not disparaging his speech when I say that it certainly was not terse. But at any rate the noble and learned Viscount's speech in reply did cover a great deal of ground.
Before I pass on to mention the branches of the subject which the Lord Chancellor did not touch, may I join with Lord Crawford for a moment in his recognition of the fact that during the past three weeks, at any rate, progress has been made in the serious interest which the Government are taking in this matter, in their realisation of the dimensions of the problem, and in the practical measures that they are taking to meet it. That we acknowledge. But we also think that there is a great deal of ground still to be covered and a good many gaps still to be filled. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack and the noble Lord opposite, with I think perfect justice, said, "Give us cases. 159 Let us have something tangible to go upon." Just as those noble Lords plead the extreme difficulty with which the Government are confronted in dealing with the matter, so also I think they must in fairness acknowledge the difficulty we sometimes find in being able to prove the actual facts of each case. There is an element of suspicion that often enters which may turn out to be unfounded, but certainly the charge of not producing specific cases cannot possibly be brought against my noble friend Lord Crawford. His cases have been specific throughout. His cases in the speech he made on November 11 were specific. The cases he has submitted to your Lordships this afternoon have been specific. The ease raised by my noble friend sitting behind me was a specific case; and there are one or two specific cases to which I shall also personally refer.
I do not think the reply of the Lord Chancellor on the question of the export of petrol from our shores and the imposition for that offence of what appears to many of us to be a very light fine, really covered the whole ground. The noble and learned Viscount said that you can, if there is any reasonable ground for doing so, proceed for high treason. Quite so. But we are referring to cases in which it might be difficult to establish such a charge; and really we do invite the noble and learned Viscount to say whether the existing powers are adequate when cases like this, which are likely to be very serious in their consequences, can be dealt with by a tribunal which only imposes the penalty of a comparatively trifling fine.
Then we come to the case of night signalling. We do not dispose of the matter by saying that, close as the investigation has been, in none of the cases that have been so far examined has definite proof been obtained. There is not any one of us who has any connection with the Eastern shores of England and Scotland who is not perfectly certain that the thing is going on, and going on every night. I make mention of the matter, not with a view of reproaching the Government, because I truly believe that every case that has been brought before them they have immediately investigated, but with the view of urging that the very fact that the existing procedure has been inadequate shows the depth, the ramifications, the secrecy, and the cleverness of the procedure that has been 160 adopted, and should really urge the Government to reiterated efforts in this connection. Of all these matters this matter of night signalling seems to me to be one of the most serious. We have every one of us talked to men living in these counties who say that, whether it be by flash lights from houses, by lights from motors, or by lamps, this signalling to ships lying off our shores is going on. I hope, as we are shortly going to separate, that that will be one of the matters to which, while Parliament is not sitting, the Government will continue to give their most earnest attention.
There was another point in the speech of my noble friend Lord Crawford to which the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack did not refer in his reply. Lord Crawford gave the numbers of alien enemies—771 men and 2,190 women—who are still living in the prohibited areas on the East Coast of Scotland and England and on the South Coast of this country; and he mentioned these very significant and rather alarming numbers with a view to asking the Government whether they had any explanation of them, or whether they proposed to take any steps. I repeat the question, because it is one of some moment.
Then we pass on to the question of naturalised Germans, of whom it has been said, I think more than once in this debate; that they are perhaps the most dangerous factor with whom we have to deal. Again my noble friend pressed upon the Government greater attention to the matter. Upon that nothing was said in reply. If the question of greater vigilance is raised, I think I could myself contribute one or two cases where perhaps there is a need for that quality. For instance I had only to-day brought to my notice a case of a German who has a house at Camberley. He is a man of rank in his own country, and he has to report himself once a month at Farnham and once a week to the Camberley police. He has been deprived of his motor, and may not go more than five miles from his home. I have nothing whatever to say against this individual; I have no suspicion even to suggest about him; but is it altogether wise to leave, under these very slight restrictions, a German gentleman of this description in close proximity to a place where large numbers of troops are employed? I 161 venture to think that that is a case that calls for sonic inquiry.
Another case that has been mentioned to me may perhaps be worthy of being laid before your Lordships. It is that of a German who is the district manager of a boiler-making company bearing what looks to be a German name, and who travels about the country in connection with the business of the firm by whom he is employed. Again, I have nothing to say against the individual except that he boasts that, under the easy conditions of Our law, he can go wherever he likes about the country and do what he chooses. When the chief constable of the borough or the county concerned was asked to make inquiries about this case, it turned out that all this German gentleman has to do is to report himself to the police and obtain a travelling permit confirming that he is subject to the provisions of the Aliens Restriction Order, and apart from that his movements are entirely free from any control. Really this man is in receipt of police protection. He is moving about the country with what one may call a passport signed by our own people. Heaven knows what he may be doing. He may be doing nothing unfriendly to us. On the other hand, he may. Yet under this system no check seems to be placed upon his liberty of movement or his liberty of action.
I pass for a moment to what was the chief topic raised by my noble friend Lord Crawford, and here, if I may say so, I do not think that the reply of the Lord Chancellor quite gave us the information that we desired. The point that was raised by my noble friend was this. Having in his mind, I imagine, debates that have recently taken place in the other House of Parliament upon the subject, he sought an explanation here of the apparently conflicting statements as to the authority by which the various powers, enjoyed by the Government are set in motion in the prohibited areas and in other parts of this country. I own that I have been left in similar doubt by the mysterious speeches in the other House. We had the Secretary for Scotland disowning responsibility and yet admitting that the chief constables who are under him were constantly set in motion in the matter. Again, the Home Secretary in 162 the other House—and may I be allowed in passing, while I am mentioning the Home Secretary, to say how entirely we on both sides of the House, I am sure, repudiate the ungenerous sneers in which he indulged in the other House at the expense of my noble friend Lord Crawford, sneers which no doubt many in this House have not read, but if they have they have pint at their proper value—the Home Secretary, in his speech the other day, divested himself of all responsibility and threw the responsibility on to the War Office, a Department which, as my noble friend remarked, is overburdened with other and more important duties and which ought to be relieved of a task for which it is unfit.
My noble friend accordingly comes here and asks two questions—first, what are the powers that are being exercised, and by whom are they exercised; and, secondly, cannot we have some greater co-ordination, and cannot the orders, if so co-ordinated, be made known in some simple form to the people who have to administer them? I think I am correctly putting his questions. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack answers with great fullness the first question. He gives us a long and learned account of the different powers conferred by legislation on the Government in this respect. He tells us, for instance, that some of these powers are conferred by the Official Secrets Act of 1911, and he gives us interesting information as to the vigour and efficiency with which an Intelligence Department created under that Act has been conducting those operations. Then he went on to say that there were powers enjoyed by the Government under the Aliens Act—powers for the discharge of which the civil authorities and the chief constables acting in conjunction with them are responsible. Thirdly there were, he said, the Defence of the Realm Acts, the powers under which are primarily entrusted to the military and naval authorities; they are responsible for the arresting and the interning, and, I think he also said, the releasing of suspected persons. I wonder what the actual facts about this are. I think I remember reading in the debate in the House of Commons that it was there stated that while the military authorities had in some cases arrested and interned these people, they were let out by the Home Office.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
That makes it even more difficult to understand. The powers vested by Statute are vested in the naval and military authorities, but by arrangement they are handed over to the civil authorities.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The military authorities cause inquiries to be made—a matter which, I am afraid in a rather long speech, I described at some length—and in connection with those inquiries it was considered desirable that the co-operation of the police should be obtained, and that they should make a full report.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I am much obliged to the noble and learned Viscount for giving us so clear an explanation. But that still leaves the question unanswered whether it would not be desirable for all the officers who are concerned in these operations in these coastal areas to know exactly where they stand. I believe at the present moment that they are bewildered and puzzled by the conflicting instructions as to how they are to proceed. When my noble friend Lord Crawford suggested the other day—and he repeated the suggestion this evening—that there should be a Joint Aliens Board or Committee, I think what he had in view was a body which should draw up and promulgate some such instructions—I think he used the word "codify." That was a point not taken by the noble and learned Viscount. I own for myself that when I spoke the other day I meant something quite different. I meant by a Joint Aliens Board a Committee sitting in London on which there would be a representative, perhaps more than one, of the Home Office, the War Office, and the Admiralty, which should take in hand the whole of this business, thereby relieving the War Office of a burden which I maintain it ought not to bear, and not merely discharging the functions mentioned by my noble friend but practically charging itself with the whole business of spies. To that the noble and learned Viscount replies that we have such a Committee already, that there is 164 already perfect co-ordination between the various Departments. If that be so, I do not quite know why the noble and learned Viscount the other day, when he deprecated the suggestion emanating either from the noble Earl or myself, spoke of it as a "slow and abstract institution." There is, of course, nothing abstract about it; and as for slowness, nothing could be slower than the present system. We could all of us give many instances of that. I was rather sorry, therefore, to hear the noble and learned Viscount put on one side as not worthy of consideration that suggestion of a Joint Committee. But even taking the word in the rather more limited sense which my noble friend Lord Crawford has in view, I would ask the noble and learned Viscount whether it might not be possible to draw up for the information of the various authorities—naval, military, and civil—in the coastal areas some body of rules which would enable them to act with a greater knowledge of the law and their powers and duties under it than they at present enjoy.
There was one other matter mentioned in the debate to which I may refer—the suggestion made by Lord St. Davids that the Government might well consider the advisability of repatriating boys, old men, women, and children now living in our midst, and, so to speak, making them a present to their own country irrespective of what Germany may do in reply. The noble and learned Viscount said of this suggestion that the point had not been overlooked. I should have liked him to express rather more sympathy than that, because although I have not had the opportunity of examining the suggestion in detail it seems to me to have a very great deal to be said for it, and I hope that it will continue not to be overlooked and that His Majesty's Government will address themselves to a serious contemplation of the suggestion. I do not think I need say anything more, except, as this is the last occasion on which before the adjournment of the House we shall have an opportunity of raising the subject, to implore His Majesty's Government to continue that active and vigilant interest in the matter of which they have lately shown signs, and which I believe in the opinion of every one of your Lordships is absolutely essential to the successful prosecution of the task on which we are engaged.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, the subject of this debate is such an important one and so much interest has been taken in it by noble Lords on both sides of the House that I am unwilling to allow the discussion to close without saving one or two words on various points which have been raised in the course of it. First of all with regard to the mention by my noble friend behind me [Lord Allendale] of the correspondence which had taken place between the Home Office and Lord Leith, I can only repeat what my noble friend said—that his only object in doing it was to show the great difficulty of arriving at strictly verbally accurate accounts of these matters. We all know the extreme difficulty of repeating with perfect accuracy an account even of anything that one has seen oneself. Certainly it is quite familiar to all noble Lords who are connected with the law how difficult it is for the most honest witnesses to tell a perfectly coherent story; and my noble friend only desired to illustrate by this example one of the difficulties with which the Departments are confronted in attempting to deal with this question. As regards the use which Lord Allendale made of the correspondence, the noble Earl opposite is quite right in saying that it is the unwritten custom in this House, as in the other, that where any document of a public nature is quoted in part those interested have a right to ask that the whole document, or in such a case as this the whole correspondence, should be laid on the Table, and, if desired, printed and circulated as a Parliamentary Paper. I do not think the noble Earl is likely in this particular instance—the matter is a small one—to make this request; but we certainly should not decline it if it were made.
I followed with great interest the speech of Lord Crawford, particularly on the point with which Lord Curzon dealt last in summing up the matter—that is to say, the question of the supposed conflict of authority in dealing with this subject of aliens and of espionage generally, and the steps which the Government ought to take or might take to inform the different public authorities more precisely of their duties, and, generally, to bring the whole business into a more coherent shape. It is quite true, as the noble Earl pointed out, that there is a possibility of confusion arising from the fact that there are various Statutes 166 under which it is possible to proceed and under which proceedings are actually taken. The noble and learned Earl, Lord Halsbury, desired that more reliance should be placed on the Common Law and on the general powers which exist under older Statutes, and that not so much exclusive attention should be paid to those more novel expedients which have been tried in order to meet particular cases; and I have no doubt that the noble and learned Earl's opinion, as always, will receive due attention.
But we come to the real question whether the main management of this business ought to be in civil or in military hands. The noble Earl was not inaccurate when he stated that we were living in a condition of quasi-martial law. I do not quarrel with that statement, because the powers given under the Defence of the Realm Acts are somewhat of the nature of what is described as martial law, whereas on the other hand the powers under the original Aliens Act and also under the Aliens Restriction Act which was passed recently are in the hands of the civil authority; and I gather—I am particularly anxious in no way to misrepresent the noble Earl—that he thinks that on the whole it would have been better if, when the Defence of the Realm Acts were passed, no attempt had been made to place the onus on the Admiralty or the War Office, but that it would have been better if in all those cases the responsibility had rested with the civil authorities—speaking generally, the Home Office. I quite see that it is possible to adduce forcible arguments in favour of that contention, but I think there is this difficulty—that it is not clear that Parliament and the country generally would have tolerated that those powers, which are, as I say, martial law powers, should be placed in the hands of the Police. It is simply because we are at war and because the defence of the country has been handed over in the main to the Admiralty and the War Office that these more or less arbitrary powers have been so cordially agreed to by the whole country. Consequently I think that a certain division of authority, which, as my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack has pointed out, is got over as far as it can be got over by communication of the most friendly kind between the two Departments, was unavoidable.
167 So far as the last suggestion which the noble Earl who is leading the Opposition made—that of the promulgation of some general statement of a co-ordinating character for the benefit of the various local authorities—so far as that suggestion is concerned I have no doubt that my noble and learned friend and the various Departments concerned will take it into careful consideration. I might add that had we depended entirely upon the civilian authority for carrying out the exceptional legislation which the times demand we should have been in a weaker position as regards the imposition of severe penalties than we are at present. It is a fact that trial by Court-Martial can and does take place in certain instances. That makes the infliction—at any rate the possible infliction—of severe penalties easier than if we had to go through the whole of the ordinary process of hauling up a man before a magistrate and committing him for trial at some future time. Then as regards the whole question of the internment of aliens generally. Lord Curzon alluded to the fact that it had been stated that there were 771 aliens within prohibited areas.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
Precisely. The number seems to me large. I had no idea there were so many. But it is the fact, as the House knows, that no alien enemy is permitted to reside in a prohibited area without a special licence after his case has been carefully examined and investigated by the police. In this connection I cannot help remarking on the fact that although there are a great number of people who would be willing to see aliens generally interned, each one—and I believe it was the case with the hon. gentleman in another place who initiated the discussion there—each one has three, four, or half-a-dozen aliens among his own personal acquaintances whom he knows to be quite honourable people, people about whom suspicien 168 would be almost farcical, and who therefore ought obviously to be excepted from any idea of general internment. Well, if each critic has half-a-dozen friends of that kind, it does go some considerable distance towards producing the 771 males of whom complaint has been made. I think from our own experience we should all say that we have known some unnaturalised Austrians or Germans whom it would have been quite ridiculous to place in a barbed wire compound. Then there is the question of the supply of funds, on which Lord Leith laid not a little stress. I understood the noble Lord to say that he had personal knowledge that payments were made from the three great German Banks in London which he was able to prove were in respect of consignments, as I gathered, of commodities—
§ LORD LEITH OF FYVIE
I did not say that I knew that the Deutsche and Dresdner Banks had done so, but there is no question about it that the majority of German funds has passed through their hands. Not only that, but money required during the war was certainly in the City of London before war was declared.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
As it happens I have been concerned with these particular matters and am familiar with the position of these German Banks, because I was one of the people who had to arrange for their being taken over by a receiver. And, of course, so far as their present payments are concerned, they are all under control, as the noble Lord very well knows and as the noble Marquess behind him also pointed out. The export of coal—another point that has been made —is a matter which has given us great anxiety, but nobody, so far as I know, has suggested that we should attempt altogether to kill our great export trade in coal to neutral countries, for that would be a terrible blow to a great industry. The limitations imposed on that trade have, of course, been severe, but a complete shutting down of a great many collieries in the North of England and Scotland is not a matter which can be lightly contemplated. The closest care is taken by the committees whose particular business it is to look after those matters to trace the final destination of consignments of coal, particularly navigation coal, which is the kind 169 that the enemy specially desire to obtain. There is a great deal of export coal, as the House very well knows, which would be practically of no use to a German cruiser in the Pacific or anywhere else; but the particular kind of steam coal which they must have if they are to conduct their operations successfully, is, of course, watched with the greatest care. At the same time I most fully admit, as Lord Leith pointed out, that the skill and capacity with which the German naval authorities made arrangements long beforehand for the coaling of their cruisers at sea has been a source of astonishment and even of admiration to every one who has observed them. The whole thing had been most capably and carefully planned, no doubt, beforehand. But I do not think that it could be shown that there has been any failure of skill, and certainly not any carelessness or inattention, in the steps that have been taken by the authorities in the restriction of supplies which by any possibility might fall into the hands of the enemy. And perhaps Lord Leith will also allow me to say that I know very well that he has made representations at various times on specific cases to the Admiralty, and I can assure hint that all those cases have received the most careful investigation at the hands of the Intelligence Department there, so that he must not suppose that in those cases in which he has been able to supply a specific case any sort of investigation has been overlooked.
Lord Curzon mentioned the case of naturalised Germans, who, he said, by common consent were regarded as possessing at any rate the most dangerous potentialities of any class. I am not quite sure that that would be generally agreed, because, as my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack pointed out, there might be some people, not Germans at all—we hope not many—who might be and probably would be more dangerous still. The noble Earl mentioned the case of a German gentleman at Camberley, and the case of another German gentleman who was allowed to go about where he chose—that is to say, only under a very small degree of supervision. Well, those cases must have been, in fact undoubtedly have been, carefully investigated by the police, and all that it is possible to say in a case of that kind is that the critic who supplied the noble Earl with his facts takes one view and the police take 170 another, and until you come to the conclusion that it is necessary to intern everybody those cases and such criticism will continue to arise. It is obviously impossible to make sure that every one will be convinced that these particular people are altogether harmless and inoffensive and that the comparatively mild restriction to which they are subjected is sufficient. I suppose if we were to go to Germany we should find that there were a number of English people undergoing no more supervision than this. To that it might be replied that it is more dangerous to allow Germans to be running about loose in England than it is to allow Englishmen to be running about loose in Germany. I do not deny, because I think it probably is so, that our particular position obliges us to take special precautions which it is not necessary for a large Continental country to take.
Then the noble Earl opposite asked about the question of the export of petrol, obviously a most serious matter. The great importance of the possible export of petrol, even in small quantities, subsists in the fact that it may be taken out to sea., possibly in a trawler, and that a submarine may thereby receive just the amount of petrol to enable it to get home, which it might otherwise not do, and therefore serious risks might attach even to the export of a small quantity. That, I understand, was the point of the noble Earl. I quite agree that great importance ought to be attached to any export of petrol. But when you come to the infliction of a really grave penalty, you are confronted by the question, "Is there anything to show that the petrol was destined for the enemy? Is there anything in the character of the man who is proved to have shipped the petrol, or anything in the circumstances, which would lead to a reasonable suspicion that such is the case?" If there is, as my noble and learned friend pointed out, scarcely any penalty can be too severe. On the other hand it is quite possible to criticise, as the noble Earl did, and as others have, the smallness of the penalty which was inflicted in a certain case; and I know that the question of increasing the penalties for illegal exports as such, apart from the question of their guilty destination, is now being carefully considered by the different Departments concerned—the Customs and the Admiralty.
171 With this question of petrol is closely connected the other one which the noble Earl mentioned—that of night signalling. It has been assumed that if, as is believed by so many, there has been a system of coast signalling, it has probably been at any rate to a great extent in connection with this very question of the supply of petrol, because it is not easy to indicate a great number of purposes for which a rather elementary system of flash signals of that kind could be applied, although no doubt it might be applied to that particular one. Of course, it is impossible to prove or to disprove these allegations about night signalling; they have been continually repeated, and I should be very sorry to say that I entirely disbelieve them. No doubt some supposed instances of signalling have been accounted for by harmless causes. But I do not think it is said, and I do not think the noble Earl opposite says, that there has been a failure of intention or of activity on the part of the authorities in endeavouring to hunt down the culprits in these cases. I believe it is also the fact that the civilian population has given a great deal of help in turning out and trying to hunt hillsides and find out where these people with mysterious lights come from. I am sure that my right hon. friend the Secretary for Scotland fully recognises the absolute necessity for doing everything he can to encourage the police to show all possible activity in this matter, and I sincerely hope, if it is shown that in a particular case there undoubtedly has been signalling, that at last the efforts that are made will be crowned with success.
My noble friend behind me, Lord St. Davids, referred to the possible inertia of some chief constables owing to advancing years. I have no doubt that my noble friend's statement will receive the attention it would deserve. I am glad to say that most of the chief constables I have the pleasure of knowing are considerably younger than I am myself, and, I believe, exceedingly active. But there may be some exceptions such as that to which my noble friend alluded, and I have no doubt that, if so, the Watch Committees or the Standing Joint Committees concerned will take to heart the observations of my noble friend. Lord St. Davids also alluded to the possibility of the repatriation of men—I take it not of a combatant age—and of women and children, his suggestion being 172 that the country should offer to pay the expense of returning to Germany a number of those belonging to those classes. Like my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack I should not think of scouting a suggestion of that kind, and it will certainly be considered. Whether a great number of people would take advantage of it I am not in a position to say. I should think it is doubtful. I am afraid that those who in the interests of public safety ought to take advantage of it would be just the ones who would not. A large number of them would be people whose husbands or the younger members of whose families were interned in this country, and they might not be willing to go home and leave them. And, of course, there are a large proportion among whom, if some noble Lords are right, the greatest danger is to be found—those who have been here a long time and who have become Anglicised in appearance and in all outward matters, but who, at the same time, have so warm a love for their Fatherland that they are prepared to engage in espionage on its behalf. Those are the ones who would not by any scheme of the kind be induced to leave our shores. But, as I say, I am far from saying that something might not be done in the direction of my noble friend's suggestion, and I am sure it will be carefully considered by the Departments specially concerned.
Like the noble Earl opposite, I am glad that this discussion has taken place as it will be some little time before we are able to mention the question again; and though I am afraid that neither he nor the noble Earl who started the discussion would profess themselves to be entirely satisfied by what has been said, I hope that we have been able in our observations to put forward some facts and some deductions which they may regard as being of certain assistance in their consideration of the subject.
THE MARQUESS OF WINCHESTER
The noble Marquess has not dealt with the point which I raised—namely, as to whether the Government have considered the question of the extension of the principles which have been applied to the Deutsche and Dresdner Banks to other and private institutions under the control of, or in the hands of, German agents who have not been naturalised.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
I am sorry I omitted to deal with the point which was raised by the noble Marquess. The extension which he suggests would have to be one, as I think he realises, of a very large character. I take him to mean an extension to all businesses which contain either a large element of German shareholders or German managers or German partners of the kind of inspection, a sort of receivership, which has been applied to particular banks with which he is well acquainted. I do not know what evidence the noble Marquess may have that transactions are taking place by bills of exchange or otherwise through such firms with enemy countries which have a dangerous effect upon this country, either in supplying the enemy with actual money or in facilitating the supply of the enemy with goods. Those, I take it, are the two points, and I do not know on what evidence the noble Marquess relies; but I will consult the Treasury on that point. My impression is that the remedy which the noble Marquess proposes would have to be on so large a scale that it would be exceedingly difficult in practice to carry it out. It would not, of course, apply only to London but to a very large number of business firms all over England in varying degrees, and I suspect that it would be found barely possible to carry out in practice. But I will make the inquiry.