HL Deb 04 August 1942 vol 124 cc168-71

My Lords, I beg to ask the question standing in my name.

[The question was as follows:

To ask His Majesty's Government whether their attention has been called to the judgment of Mr. Justice Hilbery in the case of Knight versus Guildford Corporation from which it appears that the Corporation charged Knight who was the Borough Engineer with not being a loyal citizen of this country, an allegation emphatically rejected on the evidence by the learned Judge; whether nevertheless Knight had been imprisoned under Defence Regulation 18B and had thereby been disabled from discharging his duty as Borough Engineer and had lost his job; and whether the Government proposed to make such changes in the administration of Regulation 18B as will prevent any repetition of gross injustice of this kind.]


My Lords, my noble friend, the Duke of Devonshire, is unable to be here, and I have been asked to reply to the noble Viscount's question. Mr. Knight was detained in May, 1940, by order of the then Home Secretary in the exercise of his powers under Defence Regulation 18B, on the ground that there was reasonable cause to believe that he was a person of hostile associations, and that by reason thereof it was necessary to exercise control over him. He was released in November, 1940, after review of all the circumstances of the case including the report of the Advisory Committee. If the suggestion is that the result of the recent action by Mr. Knight against the Guildford Corporation shows that the Secretary of State acted wrongly in making an order for Mr. Knight's detention in May, 1940, this suggestion cannot be accepted by His Majesty's Government. On the information available to the then Home Secretary he would have been failing in his public duty if he had not ordered the detention of Mr. Knight as a necessary measure of precaution. It is incumbent on the Secretary of State in the exercise of his powers under this Regulation to form a judgment as to the necessity for an order of detention upon the best information available to him; and if he makes an order, to inform the suspect of his right to make objections to the Advisory Committee. The detained person is then given full opportunity of making representations and explaining matters for which his own conduct may have been responsible. If subsequently he is released it does not follow that his detention was unwarranted.

It is fully recognised that an order for detention under this Regulation may involve great hardship. For this reason amongst others there is need for the Secretary of State to exercise great care in examining all information available before making such an order, and in reviewing the case subsequently in the light of any representations from the suspect and any report from the Advisory Committee. In the case of Mr. Knight there was no failure to exercise such care, and there is nothing in the history of the case to justify the suggestion that the Regulation was administered improperly or without due regard to the importance of limiting detention orders to cases where there is reasonable cause to believe that this measure of precaution is necessary to national security.


My Lords, I am much obliged for the answer which has just been given, but there are certain aspects of this case which I do not think my noble friend was fully aware of when he made that reply. Does he know that Mr. Knight was dismissed from his position as Borough Engineer on the ground that he was a disloyal person and that he thereupon, as soon as he was able to do so, brought an action for wrongful dismissal against the Corporation? Is he aware that the case came on for trial before Mr. Justice Hilbery in the High Court, that he heard all the evidence that was adducible to suggest that Mr. Knight was a disloyal person, that he said with regard to some of the evidence that he without the least hesitation rejected it as unreliable, and as to other of the evidence that it amounted to absolutely nothing, and that in the conclusion the learned Judge found nothing in the evidence which even slightly savoured of misconduct on the part of Mr. Knight? Is my noble friend aware that the learned Judge thereupon gave judgment for Mr. Knight for the recovery of his contributions to the superannuation fund and gave him the costs of the action? Is he aware that none the less the Corporation also pleaded that since Mr. Knight had been interned he was unable to discharge the duties of Borough Engineer and that therefore that was another ground on which they could dismiss him—in other words, that it was the action of the Home Secretary at that date which prevented Mr. Knight discharging his duties and enabled the Corporation to dismiss him?

Although he was aware that the Corporation, acting on both of these grounds, did discharge him, the learned Judge found that there was a frustration of his power to serve the Corporation and that, therefore, to that extent, the Corporation was justified in dismissing him. The result of the dismissal has been that a man who was subsequently found by a learned Judge, after the hearing of all the evidence that could be given, to be absolutely free from any taint of disloyalty, has, in fact, lost his job, and has been put to—I do not know exactly how much because I have had no communication with Mr. Knight—a great deal of anxiety and trouble, and probably, I suppose, had the whole prospects of his professional career very much interfered with.

Is the noble Lord aware, further, that Mr. Knight, seeking work in exchange for what he had lost, applied to the Air Ministry and has received an appointment by the Air Ministry as an aircraftman? No doubt they made full inquiries also into the question of his loyalty or disloyalty. I am not making any attack on the Home Secretary—please let that be clearly understood. The Home Secretary has to discharge as well as he can the duties imposed on him by this Regulation. Nor do I desire to raise even the general question of the Regulation, which may or may not be desirable. I am asking the Government to consider very carefully whether they do not agree that a very serious injustice has been done to this particular man in the circumstances of the case, and whether they are satisfied that the directions actually existing to prevent such injustices are really sufficient to prevent them; whether, in fact, they propose to take any action to lessen this danger.

I would only add that I hope every noble Lord will realize that this is not merely a question of minor importance, or of a minor injustice done to a particular individual. These are questions which go to the basis of the whole of the structure of our liberty. As the learned Lord Chancellor will no doubt agree, these are matters of the most serious importance, and I think it would have been quite wrong for me not to bring them to the notice of the House when they had been brought to my notice. I beg to ask these supplementary questions. I am sorry that they have been so elaborate, but it was impossible to include them all in the form of a single question and I understand that there was no other way in which I could put them.


My Lords, I am sure it would be very difficult for me—as I think the noble Viscount himself will admit—to answer these long and important supplementary questions at such very short notice. The subject is in fact almost enough to provide the material for an afternoon's debate. I cannot, at present, add anything to the answer which I have given, but, of course, any remark which the noble Viscount makes or any other of your Lordships make on this or any other matter will be reported to the appropriate quarter, and, no doubt, the Government will consider what action, if any, they will take in regard to this question and others like it.