HL Deb 28 May 1919 vol 34 cc882-6

My Lords, under the new Procedure recently adopted by your Lordships' House, I ventured to put an asterisk opposite my Question as indicating that on this occasion I have no desire whatever to raise a debate, or indeed to make any speech. I ask my Question for purposes of information only. If I do say a word after the answer that the Government will make, it will only be by way of what is called in another place a Supplementary Question in order to elucidate what the Government may state in answer to the Question on the Paper. I venture to read my Question. It is to ask His Majesty's Government whether Laszlo had become a naturalised British subject at the time when he committed certain offences against the safety of the Realm, and if so, why he was not tried for high treason instead of being interned; whether Laszlo is now interned; has his case come before the Committee appointed to deal with the question of the denaturalisation of enemy aliens naturalised after the commencement of the war, and if so, has the Committee reported on his case, and when will the Report dealing with his case, and the other cases referred to it, be published.


My Lords, before the Question is answered may I supplement it by asking a further question which bears upon it. It is, Whether Laszlo applied to the Home Office for a public hearing in order that he might have an opportunity of answering in public the charges which are made against him, and what is the decision of the Government in relation to that request?


My Lords, the noble Lord who has asked this Question has reminded your Lordships that, he has very considerately placed an asterisk against it, and I will therefore act on the suggestion which is thereby conveyed and endeavour to reply to the Question as concisely and specifically as it is in my power to do. Mr. Laszlo was naturalised on August 29, 1914, and the question of the revocation of the certificate granted to him has been referred to the Certificates of Naturalisation (Revocation) Committee. The case has not yet been heard by the Committee, and the Secretary of State would prefer to defer his decision as to publishing any Report which the Committee may make until the Report is in his hands. But, as at present advised, he is disposed to publish all Reports of the Committee in cases under Section 7 of the British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act, 1914.

As Mr. Laszlo's case is now under judicial consideration it would be improper to discuss the matters raised in the earlier part of the noble Lord's Question, but I must not be taken as admitting the accuracy of the noble Lord's suggestion that there was evidence on which Mr. Laszlo could have been put on his trial for high treason. The internment order against Mr. Laszlo remains in force, but he was released on parole some time ago in view of the serious state of his health, as shown by medical certificates, and was placed under strict conditions and supervision, to which he is still subject.

With regard to the Supplementary Question which the noble Viscount has put, I am informed that Mr. Laszlo has asked to have his case heard in public. Therefore the answer to that part of the question is in the affirmative. I am not in a position to state what the Government's decision on the point may be. If the noble Viscount wishes to ask any further question I am afraid I must ask for notice. That is all the information that, it, is in my power to give at the present moment.


May I ask whether it is not the fact that the question of Laszlo's guilt or otherwise, arising out of certain acts which he committed after the date of his naturalisation, is not now before the Committee at all? May I ask whether it is not the fact that all that is before the Committee is whether or not he ought to be denaturalised? May I therefore ask the noble Earl whether he does not think that his answer, at any rate to that question, is insufficient, and whether he does not agree that I am entitled to an answer to the question why Laszlo, having admittedly committed certain offences against the safety of the Realm, was not put upon his trial for high treason, exactly in the same way as a British subject would have been if he had committed those acts? Secondly, would the noble Earl tell me whether Laszlo is now interned, and, if he is, whether he is in an internment camp, or whether he is still in the nursing home where he was at any rate this time last year? Thirdly, can the noble Earl say whether he has been able to feel the pulse of the Home Office sufficiently to tell us when the Report from the Committee dealing with this case is likely to be received?


My Lords, before the noble Earl answers the Supplementary Questions I may, perhaps, be permitted to express my great sorrow that my noble friend should have put this Question in the particularly vindictive and unfair terms in which he has planed it upon the Paper. Mr. Laszlo is well known as a very distinguished artist. He has for a long time enjoyed the friendship and the respect of large numbers of people in this country; and what the noble Lord suggests by his Question is that Mr. Laszlo has been found guilty of an offence which amounts to high treason. I venture to say that the noble Lord has not a tittle of evidence on that point; that he has not the smallest ground for making a suggestion of that kind; and I therefore state that any noble Lord who takes advantage of his position here to make such suggestions about a very distinguished public man is doing a thing which I, for one, deeply deplore in the interests of the dignity of this House and the chivalry of English gentlemen.

Mr. Laszlo no doubt may or may not have been, for all I know, indiscreet in certain of his utterances. With regard to that the Committee that the Commission—I forget what it is which is considering his case will doubtless give an expression of its opinion; but to attempt to pre-judge their decision by suggestions of this kind is, I think, a violation of all proper dignity, and I must protest absolutely against the action which the noble Lord has taken. I know very well that unfortunately a good deal of ill-feeling has been introduced into this case by a certain section of the artistic world. There are artists who are not particularly pleased to see the pictures of a foreign artist sold at much higher prices than their own, and I think that artistic jealousy has in a great degree prompted this virulence of sentiment with regard to Mr. Laszlo. What I ask is that, now we are approaching as I trust a composition of our hostility, when we are attempting to allay the angry feeling which the war has excited, we should at least approach these questions with a wholly different attitude. Let Mr. Laszlo's case be judged upon its merits; and I for one, knowing Mr. Laszlo well, can say that no one will be more glad than he will be to see all the facts published to the world and to refute entirely the suggestions of the noble Lord.


In spite of my having put an asterisk against Joy Question, your Lordships will understand that after the observations of the noble Lord—


Order, order.


I do not wish to offend against the new rule. But I think every noble Lord must agree that there is nothing in the Question itself which might not fairly have been asked by any noble Lord. I ask why Mr. Laszlo was not tried, and then my noble friend opposite casts an aspersion upon my character; yet, because I have put an asterisk against my Question in order to save a discussion, a noble Lord says "Order, order," which means that I am precluded by my own act from replying to a personal aspersion upon my character.


My Lords, I do not know whether it is your wish that I should reply to the specific Supplementary Questions that were put to me by the noble Lord, but with your permission I will endeavour to do so. I do not propose to make any observations whatever on the general subject. I will confine myself to the specific questions asked by the noble Lord to which he did not think my answers were adequate. He first of all asked a definite question which I thought I had answered—namely, whether Mr. Laszlo was now interned, I have already said that he was released on parole owing to his health, and that he is not at the present time in an internment camp, but that he remains "under strict conditions and supervision."

The noble Lord then asked whether I could say at what, date the Reports of the Committee would be published, assuming that they are published. I am not able to answer that question. I have no information as to when the Reports will be available. As to the other question which the noble Lord pressed, why Mr. Laszlo was not tried for high treason instead of being interned, I can only repeat what I said in the beginning: that as the case is at the present time under consideration it would not be proper to judge it on either side; and I think that observation will apply equally to those who defend Mr. Laszlo and to those who hold the opposite view. I do not think it would be proper for me to express any further opinion on the matter.