HL Deb 09 November 1920 vol 42 cc218-32

LORD PARMOOR rose to ask His Majesty's Government under what regulation or authority Mrs. Annan Bryce was arrested without warrant at Holyhead; and to move for Papers.

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, the Resolution standing on the Paper in my name raises a question of extreme constitutional importance, especially grave in the opinion of those who view with alarm the constant advance of the bureaucracy against the old-fashioned notion of the liberty of the subject. I say "old-fashioned," although I think there is no principle of greater importance throughout the area of our constitutional system. It has been said that the price of liberty is a ceaseless vigilance. If that is true generally, it is true in a very special manner under the conditions which now prevail.

I do not bring this matter forward because the person concerned is Mrs. Annan Bryce. I have not the pleasure of her acquaintance, although for many years I knew Mr. Annan Bryce when I was a member of the other Chamber. The simple fact is this—I can state it quite shortly—that an English lady has been arrested without warrant within the territorial waters of Great Britain and carried a prisoner to Ireland under conditions of much indignity and discourtesy, upon some Order which purports to emanate from the Irish Executive. I think that this simple and plain statement covers the ground. I am glad to say that we have no question here of what is called tainted evidence, or indeed any difference in evidence at all. Unless the Government can justify this arrest under some special regulation or authority, there has been without any question a gross violation of one of the first principles of civil liberty.

The whole question is whether the Government can justify this action under their special powers or under special regulations. From answers given elsewhere I understand the Government to have made two explanations, which are in themselves absolutely inconsistent. I think both of them are quite bad, but they are wholly inconsistent in themselves. They rely either on regulations made under the Irish Act or under the D.O.R.A. regulations, as I understand it, which they say are applicable in England. The Irish regulations, to which I shall have to call your Lordships' attention in a little detail, give the Irish Executive no authority in England of any sort or kind. They are limited to Ireland under a Coercion Act which affects Ireland only. The English regulations, so far as they are still in force—I am not quite sure how far they are in force—have no application to the case in question. The action of which complaint is made was not purported to be taken under the authority of the English regulations, and as far as I know no Executive officer in England or Great. Britain is responsible under them for what purports to be the action of the Executive in Ireland.

The facts of the case were stated in some detail—I dare say your Lordships have seen them—in The Times of to-day in a letter from Mr. Annan Bryce. Immediately after the occurrence Mr. Annan Bryce wrote me a letter on November 1. I should like to read that letter, because it appears to me to put the facts in a concrete and definite form. He said— I have just got a letter from my wife. She was brutally treated, marched down the long pier at Kingstown amid crowds of wondering passengers, between five soldiers with loaded rifles, shoved by force into a dirty lorry, with the five soldiers with rifles pointing at her. The lorry drove at a furious pace jolting over the road, and when she requested the officer to ask that the rifles should not point at her—the jolting might have fired them — he replied No, I won't.' Arrived at Dublin she was put in a bitterly cold cell with a dim light and an open latrine in the corner—in fact, an ordinary condemned criminal's cell. On the steamer site had to sit on deck between a soldier and a wardress. The officer who arrested her refused to show a warrant. Is it lawful under D.O.R.A. to arrest people in England without warrants? There is the question he put to me. Then he expressed the hope that some notice might be taken of the matter. I do not think that any words could put the facts both of the arrest and the insult offered to this lady in shorter and more specific terms.

Now I shall have to ask your Lordships' attention—I am afraid with some detail, but I will be as little technical as possible—to the justification of the Government under the two suggested heads First of all their justification under what I will call the Irish Regulations. It must be quite clear as a matter of principle that under the Irish Coercion Act authority was only given to the Irish Executive to act within the territorial limitations to which that Act applied—I mean Ireland. It is not a Coercion Act applicable to Great Britain; and if your Lordships heard or read the debate in the other House I am sure not one of you could have supposed for a moment that it either permitted or sanctioned the arrest of a lady in Great Britain under the conditions which I have mentioned. I have here the Statutory Rules and Orders which have been presented to your Lordships' House, and they are, as you might expect, Regulations for the Restoration of Order in Ireland. But the matter does not rest there, since I shall point out to your Lordships in a moment that it is made perfectly clear on the terms of the Regulations themselves that they can have no application to such an arrest as was made of Mrs. Annan Bryce at Holy-head.

The first Regulation has that complicated phraseology which s often used, but the meaning of which is sufficiently clear— In relation to Ireland— Your Lordships will notice those words— the Defence of the Realm Regulations having effect in Ireland—— There were, as we know, before the Coercion Act certain Defence of the Realm Regulations having effect in Ireland only, owing to the special conditions there— on the 13th of August, 1920, and subject, as respects such of those Regulations as are mentioned in the First Schedule to those Regulations, to the modifications therein specified, shall apply for the purpose of the restoration and maintenance of order in Ireland. I turn to the First Schedule, and I find there Section 55, to which the Chief Secretary for Ireland referred, as I understand it, in justifying what the Government did. What is Section 55? It is not a new Regulation; it is merely an adaptation of a Regulation made applicable to Ireland and to Ireland only, with this alteration— For the words 'public safety or defence of the realm' there shall be substituted the words restoration or maintenance of order in Ireland.'

Is it possible or conceivable in these circumstances to quote a Regulation of that kind as justifying arrest in Great Britain as distinct from Ireland? If applicable in England, of course it is applicable generally. It would not only be applicable in Holyhead; it would be applicable in Kent or in any other county. Are your Lordships going to adopt a construction which, under a Coercion Act in Ireland, would in substance introduce a Coercion Act into England, and which would render subject to arrest without warrant and to deportation to Ireland anyone who might be suspected—because, after all, this is only a matter of suspicion—by the Irish Executive? That, I say, is an impossible proposition.

I believe that at a later stage the Attorney-General suggested another justification, to which I intend to refer in a moment. But think what this view of the Government really means. We know that Mrs. Annan Bryce was arrested on suspicion of having certain documents—one hardly likes to use the word "documents"—which turned out to be note of a speech which she was intending to make. I will assume that it is some English lady in an English county, perhaps going o a village hall with notes in her pocket in order to make a speech on Ireland. I ask the noble Earl opposite (Lord Crawford), who I think is going to reply, whether he suggests that under the terms of the Irish Regulations such an arrest could be made without warrant. It is to my mind an impossible construction. I cannot understand it. Were such a construction possible I can only say that the Legislature has been hoodwinked, because no one for a moment supposed that in introducing a Coercion Act in Ireland they were making its sections operative for the rest of Great Britain. That, however, was the justification put forward by the Irish Secretary. I think this is brought home to one's mind, that if such a justification is put forward the Irish Executive are not at the present time too careful in the exercise of the great powers which have been entrusted to them for the restoration of order in Ireland. That is the first justification that is suggested.

What is the second? The second justification, as I understand, was put forward by the learned Attorney-General on behalf of the Government. He suggested, if I am right, that although there could be no justification under the Irish Regulations, yet in some way a justification would be found under the English Regulations which had been issued under D.O.R.A. Is that possible? The arrest never purported to be made under those Regulations at all. I do not believe there are any Regulations having the smallest application to a matter of this kind at the present moment in England. But I need not go into that matter. The arrest without warrant was not made on the ground that some authority in England had given the power; it was on the basis that some authority in Ireland had given the power. And if there is any power at all in England—I doubt whether there is at the present time—it is only in respect of danger to the Realm. No one has yet had the hardihood to suggest that there was danger to the Realm, which was applicable to war times, in Mrs. Annan Bryce proceeding to a meeting in England with notes of her speech in her pocket. I will ask the noble Earl to pay special attention to this matter, because I do not think it is one of other than extreme importance.

With regard to Ireland, is the noble Earl going to say—he will have to go to this extent—that D.O.R.A. Regulations, so far as they are in force, can be put in force in England, without the intervention of the English Executive, in any form for an Irish purpose? As soon as one gets to close quarters with the conditions that prevail it really is unthinkable that such a proposition should be put forward. At any rate, until I hear what the noble Earl has to say I state in the most positive manner my own view that these two inconsistent justifications are one worse than the other. In the one ease you justify under Regulations that do not apply at all; in the other you justify under Regulations which have no reference whatever to the conditions under which Mrs. Annan Bryce was arrested. I am waiting to hear what answer the Government will give, but at present I have not been able to find any answer at all. I am not aware—perhaps the noble Earl will correct me—that any justification is even suggested except under the Regulations to which I have called attention. It was said in the old days, even when the Prerogative was pressed very far, that the King was sub Deo et lege—he was all-powerful but under God and the law. That was the starting point of the whole doctrine of civil liberty in this country. Is this true of modern bureaucracy? Is modern bureaucracy sub lege at the present time, or is it really gambling in this matter in the hope that, owing to the distress of conditions in Ireland, irregularities of this kind may perchance pass by and be overlooked?

I have read Mr. Bryce's letter. The concomitant circumstances speak for themselves, although I think this is a matter also of great importance when powers of a special character are purported to be put in force contrary to the ordinary principles either of our Statute or Common Law. Mrs. Bryce appears to have been treated without any regard either to courtesy or what I may call decent treatment—that is to say, she was put into the condemned criminal's cell, whereas for an offence of this kind she might have been confined in a room or in any other way. I do not know whether an apology has ever been made. I do not know whether the Government take the attitude that they were justified, or whether they take the attitude that the officer acted without justification, in which case an inquiry ought to be made and the offence, such as it is, properly punished. I need not detain your Lordships longer. A brutal outrage has been committed without any justification so far as I can see in either plea put forward by the Government. We talk about law and order. It appears to me that the Government have little regard for law and order in a matter of this kind. Law and order mean obedience to the law, not neglect of it and putting it on one side.

As regards my Motion for Papers, the matter occurs to me in this way. If all the facts are known further Papers are not necessary. But there is one fact which is not known—I do not know whether the noble Earl will tell us about it—and that is, Upon whose authority was this done The officer himself merely said he was acting "on authority" when he was arresting without warrant. One other question. If we know on whose authority it was done, what information did the officer have? I have great suspicion of this system of secret information. It gives an opportunity for the worst of all systems —namely, the spy system: a system which ought to be detested by every right-thinking man, a system which unfortunately tends to prevail when under special powers of this kind the bureaucracy act in secret and without that publicity which in my opinion alone can satisfactorily guarantee the liberties of the subject. I beg to move.


My Lords, I hope you will not think that your attention has been too constantly and too insistently directed to the administration of justice in Ireland. It is true that within the last few days you have on more than one occasion had this matter prominently before your notice, but I am bound to say that those efforts to obtain information from the Government, equally with those that have been made in another place, appear to me to have failed of their purpose. In this House representatives of the Government, I admit, are in a great difficulty. There is no one here who is directly responsible for the Irish Office, and the consequence is that either the noble Earl the Leader of the House or the noble Earl who, I believe, will reply this afternoon, is compelled in each case to accept as accurate the official statement that is placed before him without being in the least degree in a position so examine and test its accuracy. The remit is that we get what may be described as "official answers"; and there is slowly being borne in on my mind the conviction that the Government do not desire that this country should have the fullest information which it is entitled to possess as to what is in fact transpiring in Ireland at the present time.

I have no desire to go back upon the questions which have been al ready discussed in this House, but I feel compelled to say, when I find representatives of Ireland in another place saying that there is no tittle of evidence to show that creameries have been destroyed in Ireland by men in the Government service, and when I find the same statement echoed in different words in this House, although I have had in my own hands sworn testimony, given in open Court, which provides not merely a tittle of evidence but evidence which, if unanswered, is convincing——


What Court?


I was particularly referring to Newport County Court, where the County Court Judge made an award of £12,000 damages for destruction in the district. The Evidence there—I have seen a copy of it—was convincing. I am not so unwise as to believe that evidence on one side is conclusive testimony, but I do say that is the face of evidence such as that it is Impossible for any person to speak with absolute accuracy and say that there is no tittle of evidence that this has been done by persons in the Government service. I mention this, not for the purpose of reviving the old quarrel about the creameries, because the noble Earl would be unprepared to meet it, but for the purpose of suggesting that the Government is not anxious that this country should be placed in fell possession of the conduct of affairs at the present time And this is the more strikingly instanced by repeated evidence in the newspapers and the interference with newspaper correspondents in the course of their duty. Any one who accepts without some warrant every statement that appears in newspapers is to my mind a person of weak intellect; on the other hand, if statements appear in a variety of newspapers of different political opinions under the names of people whose individuality can be tested, then I say that to refuse to place credence in these statements is wilfully to refuse to know the truth.

Why was it that Mrs. Annan Bryce was arrested? Why was it that she was searched and imprisoned? It was because she was coming over from Ireland to this country with information about Ireland. Is that an offence? Is it now an offence under the Irish Regulations or under the Defence of the Realm Act to disseminate information here as to what is happening in Ireland? Or are we to be compelled to accept formal and stilted explanations from different Irish officials, and be utterly unable to test and challenge them in the light of the experience of those who have been, and seen, and know? I know nothing whatever about this lady. To the best of my knowledge I have never seen her, spoken to her, or communicated with her in my life. I know nothing about her husband, except that he was a respected member of the House of Commons when I was a member of that Assembly. But when I find that an English woman is arrested on English soil and treated with the greatest indignity, I say that if there be any authority whatever for such action it would apply equally to any person in the United Kingdom at the present time. The fact that she had been in Ireland could not make her a criminal. You cannot be a criminal because you are coining back from Ireland. If she can be arrested on suspicion, so can any other person in this country. I want to know whether the Government assert that these are the powers that they possess and intend to exercise. If it be so we have been living in a fool's paradise, because we have been led to believe that all these restrictions under the Defence of the Realm Act had been relaxed, except perhaps a few to carry on different Departments not yet wound up.

I had no idea whatever that personal rights or liberty which have been enjoyed by Englishmen for centuries and which were won by considerable effort and suffering had been in any direction taken away. If they have, I shall be glad to hear how; and I hope that an agitation will be set on foot to remove the restrictions at the earliest possible moment. It must be remembered that the liberty which people enjoy in this country is pot and cannot be liberty if it is to be at the mercy of the Executive Government. The Government of to-day may, some people may think, know how to exercise these powers well. But will you be quite so certain of a Government that will hold authority in fifteen years' time? And if you permit these things to happen now, they will possess the same power and you will be just as little able to challenge it. If it was not done under powers existing here, I should like to know what are the powers which exist in Ireland that enable the arrest of an English woman who, apparently, is not thought to have committed any offence except to have had notes of a speech in her possession. It appears to be a grave thing, and if that is the way in which the law is administered in Ireland it is not surprising that it has ceased to command the respect of the Irish people.

It is impossible for any one to look at Ireland to-day without feeling that the Government have been disgraced in spite of the powers we possess. Every one knows that at this moment terror and outrage creep abroad in the shades of the night, and murder walks unashamed by day. The two great things for which Englishmen have always been prepared to sacrifice themselves—justice and liberty—are on both sides (on the side of the Government and also on the side of the people) being publicly derided and disgraced; and this is nothing but another instance of the utter disregard of the Government of obedience to the law, by the most servile adherence to which alone you can maintain respect for the administration of the law.


My Lords, I propose to give an entirely official answer, although the noble and learned Lord may regret it.


I expected it.


Lord Buckmaster's expectations will not fail to be realised. Lord Parmoor says that the Regulations under which this lady was arrested form the grossest violation of civil liberty——


I said that the Regulation under which she was purported to be arrested had no application.


And also that, as he reads the Defence of the Realm Act, it did not include Ireland. I am not prepared to discuss these legal complexities and niceties with Lord Parmoor I and not competent to discuss them, and must content myself by saying that the Defence of the Realm Act and the Regulations under which this arrest was made have been acted upon in this country for years, have been interpreted in that manner for years, with the authority of two or three successive Lord Chancellors and ten or twelve Law Officers of the Crown. I am not arguing the point with Lord Parmoor; I merely set authorities against his own.


Will the noble Earl tell us what the Regulations are that are so interpreted?


I will read Regulation 55— 55. Any person authorised for the purpose by the competent naval or military authority, or any police constable or officer of customs and excise or aliens officer (a) may arrest without warrant (b) any person whose behaviour is of such a nature as to give reasonable grounds for suspecting that he has acted or is acting or is about to act in a manner prejudicial to the public safety or the defence of the Realm, or upon whom may be found any article, book, letter, or other document the possession of which gives grounds for such a suspicion, or who is suspected of having committed an offence against these regulations, or of being in possession of any article or document which is being used or intended to be used for any purpose or in any way prejudicial to the public safety or the defence of the Realm; and anything found on any person so arrested which there is reason to suspect is being so used or intended to be used may be seized, and the competent naval or military authority may order anything so" seized to be destroyed or otherwise disposed of. There are further Regulations, with which Lord Parmoor is well acquainted, notably Regulation 27. Lord Parmoor asked on what authority this was done. It was done on the authority of a person authorised by the "competent naval or military authority," and the political responsibility for that is assumed by the Chief Secretary for Ireland, who takes full personal and official responsibility, as the Minister who has to answer these questions in Parliament, for what has been done in this particular matter.

The second specific question was, On what information was this action taken? I do not know what the information was, and I am quite prepared to agree on general grounds with Lord Parmoor that the spy system is a detestable one. On the other hand I do not go so far as to agree with him that the bureaucracy, as he calls it, is to be censured for acting in secret. The bureaucracy is not the aggressor in this matter. The bureaucracy stands for every honest citizen in the State and for every law-abiding subject of the King. It is the duty of the bureaucracy, so called, to defend itself and to defend him against outrage and terrorism.

I will add one word, although I have no personal knowledge at all of the subject, as to the treatment to which this highly-placed lady has been subjected. Lord Par-moor was extremely cautious in what he said. He complained that she had been "subjected to conditions of discourtesy," whereas Mr. Annan Bryce, whose letter was communicated to your Lordships, said that she was "brutally treated"—she was put into a cold cell which was badly lighted, she was driven quickly along the roadway in a lorry and rifles were pointed at her. It is not usual for soldiers to point rifles at prisoners in lorries, and I am very doubtful if it was done. A soldier does not protect himself against an unarmed prisoner by pointing a rifle at a distance of two or three feet. Bat I am not even convinced that this lady was treated with discourtesy. If it were so, I regret it; I regret discourtesy-wherever it be encountered. But I ask your Lordships to remember that the circumstances are not quite simple or quite normal in Ireland just now. These police and these soldiers who are so glibly accused of discourtesy are going in hourly danger of their lives. Dozens of them have been assassinated already; hundreds of them have been the victims of attempted assassination. These soldiers and police know that round them in Ireland there are not merely thousands but tens of thousands of constructive assassins, who go in their scores and in their hundreds to shoot down one or two or three isolated policemen. Lord Parmoor is a man of the world, I hope. Let him realise that under those conditions arrests in Ireland are not made with the easy-going nonchalance of the London policeman. That is really all I have to say to your Lordships or the subject of the treatment of this lady. I regret if there was anything discourteous in it, but the circumstances are such that the niceties of courtesy cannot be quite as easily respected as in this country.

As regards the rights and the powers of the Government, it is not only the personal rights and liberties of those who, like Mrs. Bryce, consider themselves aggrieved that have to be taken into account; but all those in Ireland who hate and loathe and abominate the present system of terrorism, and who until that system of terrorism is stamped out will not be able to call their souls their own, ought to be able to say they enjoy rights and liberties under the British Crown.


My Lords, I should like to say a few words in answer to the noble Earl, thanking him for such information as he has given. He has said very frankly that his information is official. The argument that I put forward, that tinder neither Regulations could the action in this case he justified, the noble Earl has not attempted, as he said quite fairly, to answer. The point is not whether successive Lord Chancellors have acquiesced in certain matters or not; it is whether in this case and under these conditions either the Irish Regulations or the English Regulations can possibly be applicable Of course, the Irish Regulations cannot be applicable; they are territorial only. As regards the English Regulations, I believe what was said by Lord Buckmaster to be the fact. But there is another matter. The arrest was not purported to be made under an order from the English Executive; it was purported to be made under the Irish Regulations and under orders from the Irish Executive. That is the statement made. Will the noble Earl tell me that the order for Mrs. Annar Bryce's arrest came from an English source?




Of course, he will not.


Does the noble Lord state that Mrs. Annan Bryce says she was arrested under an Irish order?


She was arrested by an Irish officer, who warned her, who would give her no information, and then took her over to an Irish prison. The necessary and the only inference is that it was done under the orders of the Irish Executive. If t hat inference is not accurate, let the Government say under whose order such an arrest was in fact made. If it was made under the order of the Irish Executive and the Irish Regulations do not apply, it was made without any authority and was simply an outrageous violation of every principle of civil liberty.

There is one other point on which I should like to say a word. We have had reintroduced by the noble Earl the question of what I may call terrorism in Ireland. I am certainly one of those who would not vindicate that for one moment. I think the condition is a very deplorable one. But are you going to apply what we are told about the anger of the military on the arrest of a woman put under the conditions under which Mrs. Annan Bryce was put? Is it is an excuse for her treatment what can we suppose would be the treatment of a poor woman in Ireland of whose wrongs little might be heard, and that little suppressed as far as possible by the Government? What have these reprisal matters to do with this case? My Lords, I have asked my question. I have had an official but wholly inconclusive answer. I do not, however, propose in the circumstances to trouble your Lordships with the Motion for Papers.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

[From Minutes of November 4.]