§ EARL RUSSELL rose to call attention to the Defence of the Realm Regulations under which British subjects are imprisoned without accusation or trial. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I fear that the Notice I have put on the Paper looks as if it involves rather a larger question than I intend to raise to-night. The point I desire to bring forward is a comparatively small one, but I think it is one of very great importance. Your Lordships know that under one of the Regulations made under the Defence of the Realm Act—I think it is 14 B—British subjects can be imprisoned, though perhaps "interned" is the strictly correct word, without any accusation and without any trial, for an indefinite period. I think there is the qualification that they must be of hostile origin or association, but that qualification. I believe, has been rather whittled away; and in effect the result is that British subjects are liable to indefinite internment without any trial and without knowing what are the charges against them.
§ I will clear the ground at once by telling your Lordships what I do not propose to deal with or to attack in that law. In the first place, I do not propose for a moment to attack the legality of that Regulation. It has been the subject of judicial decision by your Lordships, I think, and it has been held to be a Regulation which can be legally and properly made. In the second place, I do not propose to attack the expediency or the propriety of such a Regulation being in existence while we are in a state of war. I do not think that Parliament contemplated such a procedure when the Defence of the Realm Act was passed; but, on the other hand, I do not believe that Parliament would deny that power to the Executive if it were now asked for. I confess it appears to me to be a power which in all the circumstances of the case and with the knowledge that we now have of our enemies the Executive might wry properly ask for and be armed with. Therefore I challenge neither the legality of the power nor its existence. But a power of this sort, a power which is autocratic, which might indeed be fairly described as despotic, which might not incorrectly be likened to the lettre de cachet of the Bastille, is a power which everybody will agree requires the utmost care in its exercise. You have to be extremely careful that when you are in possession of so large a power it is not used in such a way as to 24 give rise to distrust, or uneasiness, or any sense of that kind in the general community.
§ There has been a case recently before the Courts—I think the last proceeding in it was yesterday before the Court of Appeal—the case of a lady named Miss Howsin, who I think I am right in saying has been in fact interned for twenty-two months under this power, and who is a British subject. I make no statement as to whether or not Miss Howsin is a person who is properly subject to suspicion. Her advisers apparently are convinced she is not. One may safely presume that the Home Secretary is convinced that she is, or she would not remain in internment. That is a matter which, while the Home Secretary has these powers, it is impossible for the public to determine. But, as I gather, for that very purpose and for the better reassurance of the public mind there has been established an Advisory Council to advise the Home Secretary on cases of this sort to which persons interned in this manner have a right of appeal. I am not going to suggest that the proceedings of that body should necessarily be hold in public. I can imagine that there may be many cases where it would be inconvenient and awkward that their proceedings should be public. But I am of opinion that it is important that the consideration by this body—I believe the instructions are that they are to give due consideration to these cases—should be a full and a fair one, and that the decision, if not actually a judicial one, at any rate should be a quasi-judicial one.
§ The noble Viscount who will reply on behalf of the Government will correct me if I am wrong, but I think I am right in saying that in the case of British subject thus interned there has been a Parliamentary pledge given that they should be acquainted with the nature of the accusation against them although they are not brought to trial. I suppose that procedure is followed. But in the particular case to which I have referred I am informed—and here again I have no knowledge, beyond that of my informant, as to whether the statement is true or not—that the method of consideration of the case by this Advisory Council was that this lady was brought up in custody without being told for what purpose she was being so brought up, that she was suddenly ushered into a 25 room in which she found some eight gentlemen, or some number of that sort, constituting the Advisory Council and was then asked questions. It is obvious that no person who is a prisoner and who is brought up in that way, not even a man still less a woman, could do himself or herself justice; and I think it is only fair to persons in that position that they should know what is likely to take, place, that they should be informed to some extent of the case they have to meet, that they should be provided, if they so desire, with legal assistance, and that the inquiry should be of a quasi-judicial nature. I think if it were possible to provide that—and I believe there are eminent Judges on this Advisory Council—it would go a long way towards removing any uneasiness that may he felt as to the justice of this imprisonment, because although one calls them "internments" they are in fact imprisonments, and it is a serious thing that a British subject should be deprived of his liberty for an indefinite period without trial and without an opportunity of meeting the case against him.
§ The only suggestion I want to make is that the procedure before this Advisory Council should be somewhat formal, and should give a fair opportunity to the accused persons to meet any case there may be against them—of course, if it is possible to state it. There may be cases, naturally, where that is difficult; and in that event the Home Secretary will have a grave responsibility. But if it is possible to state the case, I consider that there should be a fair opportunity afforded of meeting that case and of the Advisory Council giving the Home Secretary its advice on the case with a full knowledge of the circumstances.
§ VISCOUNT SANDHURST
My Lords, I confess that the opening sentences of the noble Earl's speech relieved me considerably, because his Notice on the Paper covers a very large ground, and I should have felt at a loss had I to follow a noble Lord of his legal acumen on a question of such moment. With regard to the definite point which the noble Earl raised, I think he said that the persons interned were of hostile nationality—
§ VISCOUNT SANDHURST
Yes. I think the cases to which he principally refers are those of British subjects and not alien enemies?
§ VISCOUNT SANDHURST
The procedure is that when the Secretary of State is informed by the competent military authority that a certain person should be interned the necessary steps are taken. Then there is a right of appeal, as the noble Earl pointed out, to what is known as the Advisory Committee, presided over by a Judge. The total personnel of the Advisory Committee is two Judges and four members of the House of Commons. The duty of this Committee is to advise the Secretary of State after full investigation as to the necessity or advisability of interning such person. This course was most fully followed, I am informed, in the particular case mentioned by the noble Earl—that of Miss Howsin. The noble Earl then suggested that the proceedings before this Committee should be even more particularised, if I may use that, term, in a judicial sense. In regard to that, he may rest assured that. I will direct the attention of the Secretary of State to what he has said when Hansard appears. But I may add this. I have the authority of the Secretary of State, for stating that he has from time to time considered these cases, and that he has lately called for a report in all these cases with a view to considering whether in any of them internment may cease.
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, from one point of view I think what the noble Viscount has said is most satisfactory. The position has been fairly and frankly stated. I see a noble Lord present (Lord Lambourne) who was for a long time a member of the Advisory Committee. I do not in any way call in question the care with which the Advisory Committee consider these cases. On that Advisory Committee there were two learned Judges, Mr. Justice Sankey and Mr. Justice Younger. But some of these British subjects—I am dealing 27 only with them—have now been interned for a considerable time, I believe from two to three years.
§ VISCOUNT SANDHURST
I beg the noble and learned Lord's pardon. I think the particular Order dates only from June, 1915.
§ LORD PARMOOR
Well, for two years. I do not want to exaggerate. But I know of a case of internment which has gone on for more than two years. That is sufficient for my purpose. It might have been right when a case of that kind was originally considered, and as a matter of precaution, that the person should have been interned, the only basis of internment being that there has been association between the particular British subject and the enemy. That is the basis on which the internment is made. But after a period of time the conditions change. Even if in the first instance it might have been wise to intern the British subject, after a period of time has elapsed the notion that he or she could in any way give information of value to the enemy has entirely disappeared. If I understood the noble Viscount aright, he said that the Secretary of State approves the principle that these cases should be reconsidered. Am I right in that?
§ VISCOUNT SANDHURST
No. What I said was that the Secretary of State has called for a report on all these cases with a view to seeing whether internment might cease.
§ LORD PARMOOR
We know the enormous mass of work there is on the shoulders of the Home Secretary, and he has great difficulty in looking into these things personally. They are probably dealt with by some subordinate, although no doubt the Secretary of State gives to them all the care he can. What I should like to have gathered from the answer was that these cases would be reconsidered by the Advisory Committee. That is the body by whom you want reconsideration. I recollect that when these matters were originally raised I took a strong view against British subjects being interned without accusation or trial. It was pointed out then that they had the great safeguard afforded by the Advisory Committee. But they want this as a continuing safeguard. We wish to 28 know, as conditions alter, that it is still necessary, in the opinion of the Advisory Committee, that these British subjects against whom no accusation has been made and who have not been tried should remain interned. It is, of course, a very strong matter to keep any British subject in prison like this. It is similar to the old Bastille in France. That system created the French Revolution. If in the public interest a particular individual should still be interned I, for one, would not raise the slightest objection; but let it be thoroughly ascertained and considered whether it is necessary. I do not know whether the noble Lord opposite (Lord Lambourne), who is a new member of the House, will be able to speak to-night. I know the great interest he has taken in the Advisory Committee. I feel strongly that, apart from the special attitude of the Secretary of State, the Advisory Committee ought carefully to reconsider each of these cases after a period of time has elapsed in order to determine whether or not further internment is necessary.
§ LORD COURTNEY OF PENWITH
My Lords, I do not wish to detain you unnecessarily, but I hope it will be felt that any member of your Lordships' House is justified in regarding with a certain godly jealousy the continued exercise of the extraordinary powers which are vested in the Secretary of State; and I would most earnestly press on the noble Viscount who speaks for the Home Office that he should represent to the Home Secretary the character of the anxiety that is felt with respect to the powers vested in him. No one has any doubt that the right hon. gentleman acts with the sincerest desire to do justice to every particular case. Anybody who realises the amount of work which is thrown upon the Home Secretary and the scope of his functions at the present time must extend great commiseration to him in this additional burden.
But I do not think that any one could have perused the reports of the special case to which my noble friend behind me (Lord Russell) referred which appeared in the newspapers last week, and which appeared again this morning, without feeling that there was something wanting in the way in which the powers of the Act have been exercised. The circumstances of the case were gone into by the Lord Chief Justice when it was before the King's Bench, and by Lord Justice Pickford and Lord Justice 29 Scrutton yesterday in the Court of Appeal; out those circumstances all referred to what had happened before September 1, 1915, when Miss Howsin was apprehended and when her incarceration began. And both the Lord Chief Justice and Lord Justice Pickford said of this lady that she was not interned on account of any offence she had committed, but in order to prevent her from possibly committing an offence. Both the high authorities to whom I have referred recognised that Miss Howsin had protested that she had no desire whatever to be involved in anything contrary to the interests of the nation; that she had no hostile feeling on her part whatever the hostile association might be into which she had been betrayed. That is only a matter of suspicion, justifiable if you like, as was admitted by the high persons to whom I have referred, at the time of the internment on September 1, 1915. But now that a year and ten months have passed by, should it be tolerated that this woman, or any other person, should continue to be kept in custody without reconsideration of the question whether the circumstances of suspicion which justified action on September 1, 1915, are still cogent circumstances? My noble and learned friend who has just spoken said that this question ought to be referred—and we cannot be satisfied until it is referred—to the Judges and other persons who constitute the Advisory Committee. The matter should surely be re-inquired into periodically, and re-inquired into with the assistance of the same high personages who inquired into it in the first place.
There is one more circumstance which I must press upon your Lordships' attention. Suppose there is a risk; suppose that this unfortunate lady was something more than injudicious, and that a year and ten months have not purged her of her offence and induced her to be more careful in the future; suppose she is released, as she might be in the new circumstances, by the Home Secretary. What then? She is not likely to get out of the country without its being known; she is not likely to move from place to place without some observation being possible on her movements. And if there is the slightest cause for apprehension of anything happening, or of anything that may possibly lead to betrayal or even to forgetfulness of the interests of the nation, the Home Secretary has still his powers under the Act to apprehend her 30 and to intern her again. Even if the case were more serious than it is suggested to have been, I think that the risk might still be run by the Home Secretary of letting her free again, with the consciousness that he on his part has the power of re-arresting her and re-committing her the moment any suspicion of offence arises. This is a matter which touches the vital principles of our Constitution, and however they may be necessarily suspended in time of war—and I am not going to question the propriety of their suspension—it is surely desirable that we should be on our guard from day to day and from hour to hour lest these great powers are abused. We should take care to see that the actions taken upon them are revised from time to time, and that detention should not be continued one day longer than appears to be necessary in the interests of the State.
§ LORD LAMBOURNE
My Lords, I am, of course, intimately acquainted with the case of Miss Howsin, having sat on the Advisory Committee since its inception. I am sure that your Lordships would not expect that I should enter into the merits or demerits of the case. But with regard to what fell from the noble Lord opposite as to the men or women who have been interned under the Act a year or two years ago, it is always possible, of course, that those people may have ceased to be a danger to the Realm. As I understand it, and I think it is the case, the Secretary of State for the Home Department has power to remit these cases to our Advisory Committee, by whom the whole question is again gone into. I can say this much of the case of Miss Howsin, that it gave us great anxiety, and that we went into it most carefully with the assistance of two learned Judges, Mr. Justice Sankey and Mr. Justice Younger. On the point raised by the noble Lord opposite of people who might have ceased to be a danger, there is always that possibility; and I take it that I am not wrong in saying that the Home Secretary has, and does exercise, the power of remitting to us cases in which he thinks this might be the case. We then proceed to see whether the person has ceased to be a danger to the Realm, in which case we should probably recommend the Home Secretary that the person might be let out; or, if we thought that the danger had not ceased, we should advise that we saw no reason to change our decision.
§ LORD PARMOOR
Might I ask the noble Lord one question from his experience of these matters? Have the recommendations of the Advisory Committee always been accepted?
§ House adjourned at ten minutes past sis o'clock, till to-morrow, a quarter past four o'clock.