§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE had the following Notice on the Paper: To ask His Majesty's Government, whether they approve the drastic search by officials of the Ministry of Food on the 13th of July last, on the alleged ground of food hoarding, of the house of a certain Gloucestershire resident, who is a Deputy-Lieutenant for the County, a county alderman, a justice of the peace of 45 years' standing and chairman of his local bench of magistrates, and who achieved high military distinction in the last war; whether it is the fact that, as the result of such search, not a shred of evidence of such an offence could be discovered; whether such search was based upon the unfounded allegations of undisclosed informers without any "reasonable belief," as required by law; if reasonable belief existed, can it be stated what it was; and whether such incidents as these, which inevitably become known locally, are, in their opinion, calculated to evoke respect for the law or for those who administer it locally; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I make no apology to your Lordships' House for calling attention to the deplorable incident to which my question refers, not only because it has occasioned distress and a sense of humiliation to an upright and gallant gentleman resident in my own county, who is entirely innocent of the offence of which he and his wife have been suspected, but also and chiefly because the powers claimed by a certain Government Department and their mode of execution would appear to be in violent conflict with the traditional sanctity and privacy of the homes of British people. This is well expressed in the adage or proverb, "The Englishman's house is his castle," and it applies with equal force, whether it be a cottage or a palace, and whether it is occupied by a peasant or a Peer. I am conscious that its applicability to all Englishmen under war conditions may possibly be questioned, 524 but at least it should apply to those whose innocence cannot be denied. A principle dear to the hearts of the whole British race is involved, and it is surely the principle for which this war is being waged—namely, personal liberty.
§ Before describing the incident I want to make it abundantly clear that I am among the sincere admirers of the noble Lord who so ably presides over the Ministry of Food, and in no respect more than in his firm suppression of the despicable activities of the Black Market and of those selfish, unpatriotic and fraudulent people who traffic in it, seeking to turn national adversity to personal and ill-gotten gain. But cases like the present, I submit, are in an entirely different category, and call for a different line of approach unless the law and the war-time regulations and orders having the force of law are to be brought into disrepute and contempt. Owing to Press disclosures there is no secret as to the identity of the victim of this official episode. He is Colonel Sir Lionel Darell, D.S.O., Deputy Lieutenant of the County of Gloucester, a county alderman, and for at least twelve years chairman of the local bench of magistrates, a man well known, respected and indeed beloved throughout the county, devoting his energies in his retirement from the Army to unpaid public and philanthropic service of varied descriptions.
§ The story, as told by Lady Darell—and it has been sent in writing to the Ministry of Food and has not been so far controverted—is as follows. On Monday the 13th July at or about 2.30 in the afternoon, while her husband was away on county council business in Gloucester, two gentlemen arrived and were shown into her drawing room. I should say that her residence is Saul Lodge on the banks of the estuary of the Severn. Her parlour-maid told her that two inspectors wished to see her. She went to them at once, and asked what was their business. They said that they had been sent from the Ministry of Food to search the house in consequence of the receipt by the Ministry of an anonymous letter—and, by the way, it eventually proved not to have been anonymous, but it was a letter of secret information—stating that food hoarding had taken place there. The food hoarded, according to them, included amongst other things 3 cwts. of honey, 525 700 lbs. of jam, and 30 large tins of biscuits. She asked them to produce their authority or warrant for the right of entry and search, as she wished to see it before they went round the house. They both produced cards bearing their names, one giving his address at Cheltenham, but no formal warrant of any sort whatever. They took back their cards, and then asked if they might go all over the house. To this Lady Darell gave her ready consent, but on condition that they were accompanied by her parlourmaid, to whom she gave all her keys, including those of her store cupboards.
§ Immediately they had started on their search she telephoned to Sergeant Barn-field, the local sergeant of police, at Whitminster, stating that these two men, whose names she mentioned, had arrived and were searching her house—did he know who they were, and had they the right of entry? Sergeant Barnfield said that he did happen to know about one of them, but that this incident was entirely fresh news to him; lie had no idea whatever that they were coming. The men searched the whole house from the roof to the basement, and not only the store cupboards—they searched in the box room under the roof, they turned back the maids' beds, pulling one bed out from the wall and looking behind it; they looked into every drawer and wardrobe in every room in the house; they searched under Sir Lionel and Lady Darell's own beds; they would have disarranged even their family wedding lace box, had not the parlour-maid stopped them. After thoroughly exploring every possible receptacle downstairs in the kitchens and larders, they went outside and proceeded to interview the outside staff, visiting the saddleroom in the stable, the garage, the garden tool-houses, and other outside premises. They interrogated the chauffeur, asking him whether he had seen large quantities of honey and other foodstuffs enter the house. He answered emphatically, "No." They then inquired how long he had been in Sir Lionel's service, and they put similar questions to the other members of the outside staff.
§ Lady Darell had particularly requested that they should not leave the premises without seeing her, and on their return to the house she put to them the question: "What conclusions have you come to, and what have you found?" They replied, "Absolutely nothing. We shall 526 certainly never be sent here again." At about 5 p.m., having completely upset all the domestic staff, they went on to the police station at Whitminster, where they interviewed Sergeant Barnfield, the sergeant in charge, who insisted upon the presence of another policeman, a constable, at the interview. I understand that a written report, although a completely negative one, was subsequently sent to the local Inspector of Police to be forwarded to the Chief Constable of the county.
§ On July 15, two days later, Sir Lionel Darell addressed a letter to the Minister of Food. I am not quite sure if and when that letter arrived, but he addressed a letter describing this incident, and asking three questions, which were as follows: (1) Is action always taken on the receipt of anonymous letters? (2) Have your officials right of entry to search for such evidence? (3) Is it necessary in such cases to search in box-rooms, beds, clothes' cupboards, and private drawers? To this there was no reply. On July 20 Sir Lionel Darell wrote to the Ministry of Food asking whether the so-called anonymous letters, on the strength of which the search was made, could be sent either to his solicitor (whom he named) at Dursley or to the Superintendent of Police at Stroud. I wish very much to emphasize the fact that the Superintendent of Police was mentioned, for a reason to which I shall draw attention presently.
On the following day a reply was addressed to Sir Lionel from the Enforcement Division of the Ministry in North Wales, by a Mr. Wilkie Johnstone, to the following effect:
Unfortunately the policy of the Ministry does not permit of the forwarding of these letters to you, but I am asked to express regret that you should have been inconvenienced by an inspection of your house and to state that the courtesy and helpfulness of Lady Darell on that occasion is much appreciated.
Then the letter went on as follows:
It may well prove that the fact that the inspection was made will be a deterrent to any local gossip that may have been indulged in, and it may be hoped that you will now be freed from this kind of annoyance.
My comment upon that is that the unlooked for and drastic search of the home of the chief local magistrate and chairman of the local bench, with a view to the detection of an unpatriotic and despicable offence, and the cross-examination of his
employees, so far from abating gossip, had definitely evoked it to an intense degree throughout the whole neighbourhood, uncharitable folk, of course, assuming, as they always will, that there is no smoke without fire.
Following the recent Parliamentary Recess, Flight Lieutenant Perkins, Member of Parliament for the Stroud Division, asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food in another place, whether he could make any statement of the reasons for this search carried out by two officers of his Department at the house of an alderman of the Gloucestershire County Council, and on the result of this search; whether in future reasonable inquiries would be made before searching the house of well-known public men; and whether he proposed to take any action against the informant; to which Mr. Mabane, the Parliamentary Secretary, gave the following written reply:
The house of the gentleman referred to was visited by two enforcement inspectors of this Department as a result of information received of alleged hoarding of foodstuffs. No evidence of any offence came to light. So far as is practicable preliminary inquiries are always made before a formal investigation is started in such cases. A suitable communication has been sent to the informant.
One naturally asks whether preliminary inquiries were made in this case, and if not, why not. It is poor comfort to the innocent victim to learn that his unknown and possibly malicious subterranean assailant has received a suitable communication.
Last week, in the House of Commons, in reply to a question asked by Sir Leonard Lyle, Member of Parliament for Bournemouth, referring to anonymous letters as justifying enforcement proceedings, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry stated as follows:
In view of the many successful prosecutions for food hoarding resulting from investigations following anonymous communications, Lord Woolton is not prepared to give any undertaking that information on which action would otherwise be taken, should be ignored because it was anonymous. All investigations are conducted with the utmost care, tact and discretion.
It would be interesting to know whether, where the communication is not anonymous but is signed by the informer and marked "secret" or "confidential," any, and if any what, investigation takes
place, and whether it is conducted with the same care, tact and discretion.
§ I submit that whether the writer of such letters to a Government Department is anonymous or not, he is a "delator" or secret informer, the type of person who flourished in Rome in the days of Tiberius or Nero, and whom we were all taught to regard as the most contemptible of men, such as fortunately form no part of the judicial machinery of our own country, the type of person who, as a schoolboy, is well stigmatized by our now much-maligned British public schools as a "sneak" and who receives suitable treatment as such from his school-fellows. There is at least a family likeness in these clandestine co-adjutors of the Food Ministry. Is it really necessary or desirable to encourage officially such persons to provide the pretext for violating the privacy of our homes in a search for non-existing hoards of food? If it is, I would respectully ask the Minister of Food and the Government what protection has any honest man or woman against anyone who owes them a grudge, be it an employee dismissed for dishonesty, an unscrupulous political opponent, or even a real food hoarder or other offender sentenced from the local bench of magistrates by his future victim.
But apart from the questionable sources of information which eventuate in these searches of people's houses without a search warrant, is it quite certain—and I want to put this to the noble and learned Viscount who sits upon the Woolsack—that the Order under which these searches are made is itself valid? This form of domiciliary search purports to have been made under the Acquisition of Food (Excessive Quantities) Order, 1942, dated March 19 of the present year, which itself bases its validity on Regulation 55 of the Defence (General) Regulations, 1939. The Order itself is expressed as follows:
In exercise of the powers conferred on him by Regulation 55 of the Defence (General) Regulations, 1939, as amended, and of all other powers him enabling, the Minister of Food hereby makes the following Order:—
The material sections as are follows. Section 2 says:
No person shall acquire for himself or his household, or for any establishment carried on by him, food of any description if as a result of such acquisition the quantity of food in his possession or under his control, would exceed the quantity reasonably required for consumption by him or his household during a period
of four weeks or such longer fairly to be allowed by reason of an exceptional character.
Then follows Section 5:
Any person authorized in writing by or on behalf of the Minister of Food, may enter upon any premises in which he has reason to believe—
I stress the word "believe" there, because it requires something more than mere suspicion: it involves a reasonable belief which is a halfway house to conviction—
that food of any description is being kept which has been acquired in contravention of this Order, and may carry out such inspection of the premises as he may consider necessary, and may require the occupier of the premises to furnish him such information in connexion with any such food as he may consider necessary.
That Regulation 55, under which that Order is made, says:
A competent authority,"—
that includes, of course, the Minister of Food—
so far as appears to that authority to be necessary in the interests of the defence of the realm … or for maintaining supplies and services essential to the life of the community, may by order provide "—
leaving out immaterial words—
for regulating or prohibiting the production, treatment, keeping, storage, movement, transport, distribution, disposal, acquisition, use or consumption of articles of any description …
Then there is a sub-paragraph which says:
for any incident al and supplementary matters for which the competent authority thinks it expedient for the purposes of the Order to provide, including, in particular, the entering and inspecting of premises to which the Order relates with a view to securing compliance with the Order;
If one studies these Defence Regulations carefully, as I have done, the right of entry and search appears to be governed entirely by Regulation 88A. Regulation 88A is very significant. It has a marginal note "Entry and search of premises, etc., to obtain evidence of offences." The Regulation says:
If a justice of the peace is satisfied by information on oath that there is reasonable ground for suspecting that any of the offences specified in the Second Schedule "—
and that includes an offence against any of the Regulations—
… or any act prejudicial to the public safety or the defence of the realm, has been or is being committed and that evidence of the commission of the offence or act is to be found
at any premises specified in the information…he may grant a search warrant authorizing any constable or any member of His Majesty's Forces … to enter the premises specified in the information …
So far it would appear that for any search of this kind a search warrant is necessary and that search warrant is to be issued by a justice of the peace; but there is a qualifying paragraph which reads as follows:
If an officer of police of a rank not lower than that of superintendent, or any person authorized by the Secretary of State "—
I suppose that means the Home Secretary—
to act under this paragraph, has reasonable grounds for suspecting that any of the offences specified in the Second Schedule to these Regulations, or any act prejudicial to the public safety or the defence of the realm, has been or is being committed, and that evidence of the commission of the offence or act is to be found at any premises … and is satisfied that it is expedient in the interests of the State that the premises … should be searched for the purpose of obtaining that evidence "—
now come the material words:
but that by reason of urgency or other good cause it is impracticable to apply for a warrant … the said officer or person may, by a written order under his band, confer the like power of search or seizure in relation to the premises … as might be conferred under paragraph (1) of this Regulation by the warrant of a justice of the peace.
§ Incidentally I may mention that the Superintendent of Police in Gloucestershire knew nothing whatever about this—so I am informed—until the unfortunate incident had actually taken place. It is perfectly obvious, if that is so, that he at any rate did not dispense with the necessity of a search warrant. So far as I know, the Home Secretary did not participate in this business at all. I submit that apart from the outrage committed by the execution of this order issued in the name of the Minister of Food, it is at least questionable whether the Order itself, if it is construed as enabling a domiciliary search to be made without warrant, is, not ultra vires the Defence Regulations. However that may be, it seems to me intolerable, and certainly repugnant to the whole spirit of English law and tradition, that a food inspector should enter and search the home of any subject of the King, whatever be his station in life, except upon the very strongest ground. Entry into any private dwelling is at least as great an infringement of liberty as the arrest of the person and the same precautions should surely be observed.531
§ It is particularly unsettling that the victim of this unjustifiable invasion of the privacy of his home is the chief magistrate in the district, who has been chairman of the local bench for about twelve years, having regard to the fact that offences against this Order framed for the protection of the public in time of war come before justices of the peace, and that therefore their public humiliation in the eyes of their neighbours must inevitably impair the respect entertained for them and the confidence reposed in them in the impartial administration of the law. When inexperienced punitive agents of the Government armed with a little brief but despotic authority strike an unmerited blow against one of His Majesty's subjects with the implication in the eyes of the public that he is a malefactor, it inevitably leaves a wound behind it and stains with an almost indelible blot the escutcheon of himself and his family. This is not removed by the statement that "a suitable communication has been sent to the informant" or "so many prosecutions for food hoarding, based upon anonymous communications have been successful that they will continue to be acted upon in suppressing the Black Market." That is a poor solace for the innocent vicitms of this speculative process of tracking down offenders. The blot remains and uncharitable gossips, ignorant of the motto, Honi soit qui mal y pense, do their best to perpetuate it.
§ That is in fact happening in this case. It is being said all over Gloucestershire today, and it is not being corrected by officials of the Ministry: "The search of Saul Lodge, it is true, disclosed nothing, but the food hoarding took place nevertheless. The food hoards were sent away in lorries two or three days before." I have been myself approached by a leading public man, no doubt familiar with this libellous gossip but believing it to be true, who begged me to withdraw my Motion because he said "something is bound to be revealed which will do Sir Lionel harm." Incidentally the lorry load was not of hoarded food but the accumulated paper salvage of the village, which Sir Lionel Darell, with characteristic public spirit, allows to be collected in his stables prior to its removal in bulk every six weeks to paper mills for sale for the benefit of the Red Cross. I may mention also that the only other abnormal removal of goods 532 from this house arose out of Sir Lionel Darell and Lady Darell giving a temporary home to a Mr. and Mrs. Gordon—Lennox when their house in London had been "blitzed." They left late in May or early in June, after enjoying that hospitality for two years, and moved to a home of their own in the New Forest.
§ In conclusion, I would venture to submit that unmerited victimization, whether of a working man or of the Deputy Lieutenant of a county, calls, at least, for the fullest explanation if not for redress, or at least, I would venture to say, for an apology. In this case an innocent Englishman with an honourable and hitherto unsullied record of public service, asks the Government to place all their cards on the table. He and his wife, a lady much honoured and respected in my county, have no fear whatever of the results of the fullest judicial investigation and of the utmost publicity which may be given to the matter in order to clear their besmirched characters. They ask, and I ask, for your Lordships' sympathy and support. I beg to move for Papers.
§ THE MINISTER OF FOOD (LORD WOOLTON)
My Lords, I think it would be better if I intervened at once in this debate so that your Lordships may be aware of the facts of the case as they have been reported to me, and in order that we may be prevented from discussing hypotheses, however interesting those hypotheses may be. There are two important issues that I would like to make clear at the outset. The first is that there is no question in the case to which my noble friend has referred of instructions to search having been based on an anonymous communication. When the noble Lord first placed this question on the Notice Paper, he indicated that such was the case, and subsequently there was considerable Press comment, as your Lordships may have noticed, based entirely on this question of anonymity.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
My Lords, if the noble Lord will excuse me, may I state that the officers employed by his Ministry, when entering the house, stated that the search was based on anonymous information, and on the strength of that I naturally put down the question in form to which the noble Lord has alluded. 533 Immediately I learnt from the answer given in another place by the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry that the information was not anonymous, I altered the word "anonymous" to "undisclosed."
§ LORD WOOLTON
I am very much obliged to the noble Lord; but I must point out that the question replied to by the Parliamentary Secretary in another place was answered a considerable time before his Lordship put his Notice on the Paper. I make no complaint at all on that issue, but in view of the disturbance that was caused by some of the Press articles, I do wish to point out that in this particular case, and only in this particular case—the noble Viscount has referred to other cases with which I will deal later—this question of anonymity does not arise. The second question is a legal one of the right of the Ministry of Food to make search of people's houses. If that had been the major question before your Lordships I am bound to say that I would not have had the temerity to reply to it. I should have asked that learned and more competent people should deal with the subject. But there is no issue of the right to search in this case. The facts—and obviously it will be clear to your Lordships that I can only speak of the facts of what took place at the interview as I have had them reported to me—the facts as reported to me are that these two officers of the Ministry of Food called at the house of Sir Lionel Darell, stated the reasons for their call—and I will deal with those—and, personally, asked Lady Darell whether she would give them permission to investigate the matter. I am advised that, without hesitation, Lady Darell indicated that she had no reason to object to any investigation being made. She called a member of her staff, to whom she handed the keys, and told her to allow the officers to go wherever they wanted to go and to make such inquiries as they desired.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
My Lords. Lady Darell is present in the House, and I am prepared to consult her as to the actual facts. I have told your Lordships of the facts as they were stated to me by Lady Darell. She pointed out that these officers arrived with their cards and claimed the right to search. Is it now being suggested that they would not have 534 searched but for the invitation extended to them by Lady Darell to do so?
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
All I can say is that if Lady Darell gave an invitation to these food inspectors of the Investigation Department to search her house, it is rather remarkable that immediately they had gone out of her sight and upstairs she communicated with the local sergeant of police.
§ LORD WOOLTON
I am afraid I have not got that last point. I am not clear as to what was remarkable.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
Naturally when people present their cards and claim, without a search warrant, the right to search a house, the occupant questions—at least in her mind—whether they have any right to do so. With the presentation of the official card, she naturally, not being a lawyer, was under the impression that they could enforce their right to search even if she objected. But immediately they had gone out of the room, in order to stabilize her own view, she communicated with the local head of the police and was informed by him that he had no knowledge that such a search was intended or was taking place.
§ LORD WOOLTON
I am most grateful to the noble Viscount. He has brought out the very point I wanted to bring out—that is, that this was not a case in which the police had been brought in and my officers were working under a search warrant. It is a fact that the officers did ask Lady Darell whether she would like to communicate with the police and, in point of fact, she did so while the search was being made.
§ LORD WOOLTON
My Lords, I do not think that I can deal with that. The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, is told that this is wholly incorrect, and I myself was not there either. I must endeavour to take this matter on more general lines than on that of what happened as a piece of conversation between Lady Darell and my officers. I must take the general principle under which they were working. That is this: their general instructions are not to proceed by means of a search 535 warrant. I can recollect only one occasion on which I have told officers to proceed by means of a search warrant, and in that case I was not simply making an investigation; I was very certain of the result. In this case, my officers were told to go to this house and to ask permission, and that permission—I think very wisely, and, my officers reported, very courteously—was given by Lady Darell. The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, says that the investigation was very thorough. Of course it was; otherwise it would have been entirely useless for the purpose for which it was undertaken. It would have been infinitely better for no investigation at all to have taken place if it had not been thorough. I am told that at the end of the interview the officers took the precaution of inquiring from Lady Darell whether she had found them objectionable, and she replied that she had not. The same question, I am told, was addressed to the maid, who, according to my report, was good enough to commend the way in which the officers had behaved during the course of this search. I have much hesitation in raising these questions, because they are so clearly questions of report, of what other people have told me.
The fundamental question which appears to me to be raised by the noble Viscount's Motion is a different one: it is whether a search should have been made in the house of a gentleman who was a Deputy-Lieutenant of the county, a county alderman, a justice of the peace of many years' standing, and the chairman of the local bench of magistrates, and who had achieved military distinction in the last war. I am very sorry that such a question has been raised in this House on this personal basis, because I find it most distasteful to have to deal with what appears to be a purely personal issue. But here are the facts. Some time ago my Department received an anonymous letter making accusations that certain foodstuffs were going into this gentleman's house in contravention of the rationing orders. This letter, although anonymous, was evidential. I caused inquiries to be made quietly. The letter had been written under a misapprehension of intention: there were technical grounds of complaint, but there was no doubt that the action was one to which neither Sir Lionel nor Lady Darell 536 was a party, and we were able to put the matter right. Soon after that, another Government Department received a further anonymous letter, making complaints of unduly large provision being made in this household. My personal attention was drawn to this. So far as I could judge, this letter came from an entirely different source from that of the previous letter. I am bound to say that I was surprised at the tone of it, in so far as it referred to one holding such a responsible position; however, I still did not think it right to worry Sir Lionel Darell about the matter. I did not know him, and I felt that it would be an impertinence for a Minister to write to him on the subject of an anonymous communication.
I then received a third letter, which was of a very different kind. It was sent by a person who, so far as I could judge from the letter, was obviously concerned only with public morale. It drew attention to the fact that there were these stories of undue quantities of food going into this gentleman's house. It gave details of these rumours, mentioning specific quantities of food. It recognized that the stories were probably exaggerated, but indicated that there was no doubt about the fact that unrest and suspicion were rife in the district. That letter indicated to me that the writer of it felt some obligation to draw my attention to the matter in order that the facts might be ascertained. Here, surely, was an unhealthy state of affairs. It seemed to me to call for action which would either confirm or finally put an end to these rumours. Whether or not this particular household had an undue amount of food was purely a matter of fact. I submit that it was a matter for my judgment, whether the persistence of these rumours was likely to have a bad effect on morale in the neighbourhood. I considered that it was as important for the preservation of respect for the law, to which the noble Viscount has referred, as it was for the reputation of the family about whom these rumours were circulating, that my inspectors should make inquiries. My officers reported that these rumours were circulating over a wide area, and this strengthened my conviction that inquiries should be made, as that was the only means whereby those rumours could be set at rest.
537 My noble friend has raised the question of whether I was entitled to investigate the facts upon what he calls "unfounded allegations." I am sure your Lordships will agree that it would be ludicrous to demand that no investigation of the facts in regard to an accusation should ever be carried out unless it was shown for certain in advance that the accusations were justified. Investigation is warranted—indeed, I think it is required—when information comes into our possession of such a nature as to establish prima facie grounds for reasonable suspicion that a breach of the Food Regulations may be taking place. We make a practice of not taking action on vague rumours or on communications which may be purely spiteful; nor did we do so in this case. In the face of such evidence as was submitted to us here, however, I believe that the Ministry of Food would justly have lain under a charge of being fearful about doing its duty if it had not carried out an investigation to find out whether or not there was any truth in these rumours.
The noble Viscount's Motion cites particulars of the public service and of the status of Sir Lionel Darell. I am not failing in respect for those services, but I am uncertain of the inference which I am supposed to draw from their citation. In the execution of my Ministerial duties I can know nothing of such distinctions; I am concerned only to see that the Food Regulations are being impartially obeyed. Indeed, I should have thought that Sir Lionel Darell might have welcomed the investigation. It must be very embarrassing for a gentleman who is the chairman of the local bench of magistrates that such rumours should be circulated. Nothing that he could do or say would ever allay suspicions, but what I could say and do would allay those suspicions. As a result of the search that was being made, I sent a communication to my informant, indicating that after a most careful search of these premises I was satisfied that the' allegations made were entirely without foundation, and that I hoped that the writer of the letter would make it known how baseless these suspicions were.
The fact is that this most careful search disclosed beyond possibility of doubt that there was no excessive quantity of food in this house. There were supplies that would have been large for a small house 538 but were moderate for a house of this size, and moreover those supplies were within the law because they were not rationed foods but home-produced foods. The investigation in this instance has protected Sir Lionel against further currency of these rumours, which I have reason to believe were widespread and persistent in local gossip. I hope that Sir Lionel Darell will find this statement eminently satisfactory. Moreover, it has made clear to the people of this district that the administration of the Food Regulations knows nothing of privilege and Sir Lionel Darell's position on the bench is in fact reinforced by these investigations. I regret that they were necessary; but I had a duty to perform in the maintenance of morale and I hope that my officers executed that duty with delicacy and courtesy.
I think the only other issue that remains is the question of disclosure. The noble Viscount asks whether in fact action of this nature should be taken on undisclosed information. Undisclosed to whom? The point about which we are concerned is the observation of the law. I submit that it is the duty of a Minister, on receipt of information of this kind, whether anonymous or otherwise, to satisfy himself whether the information is conveyed in good faith: if it is so conveyed, then he is under an obligation to satisfy himself whether the law is, or is not, being broken. My Department, as your Lordships know, has been considerably concerned in dealing with the Black Market. The noble Viscount raised the question of tile Black Market. There can be no sort of suggestion that anything that Sir Lionel Darell might have done had any association with the Black Market, none at all. No suggestion and no rumour have I heard to that effect, and I hope therefore when I deal with the question of anonymity of correspondence it will be understood that I am not associating it with anything that affects Sir Lionel Darell. But we have been considerably concerned about the Black Market, and I am happy to say that the market is yielding to treatment. The Black Market operator is a person with more fear than conscience, and one of his fears is lest some employee, with more loyalty to his country than his employer, should divulge what is happening. I have had many communications from such people. I would not call them sneaks or use any of the 539 opprobrious terms about them which my noble friend has used, but if I am to say "We must disclose to the employer the source of our information" we should indeed naturally cease to get them. I have never asked for anonymous communications, or encouraged them, but I submit to this House that it would be very foolish of us to say that we would never take any notice of an anonymous communication.
The remaining issue is whether, when a communication that is not anonymous, has been made and inquiries have been completed that show that the communication was unjustified, we ought then to hand over the informant to the person who has been misjudged in order that action might take place at law. I do not think so. I realize that it is natural and very human for people who have been misjudged to want to get to the bottom of a question of this nature. I am afraid I cannot help there, because the essence of this incident was not this particular letter that was signed, but the fact that it came on the top of a somewhat unhappy state of rumour and suspicion. That was why it was written.
In my judgment, painful as I found it, investigation was required in this case. I ordered it. I shall always make investigations if the circumstances appear to me to demand it, and no person, however eminent he may be, can reasonably object to his innocence, when questioned, being established by impartial investigation. It was with those views in my mind that I ordered this investigation. I am extremely pleased that the investigation showed beyond doubt that there was no foundation for the rumours that had been circulated, and I hope that Sir Lionel Darell will feel that at any rate in the remarks which I have made to your Lordships' to-day I have expressed my regret to him for any unhappiness that may have been occasioned. I have made it clear beyond a peradventure that he is entirely innocent of anything that would justify these rumours that have been circulated.
§ VISCOUNT MAUGHAM
My Lords, I would like to acid one word to this debate, which after all does raise a question of considerable importance to many people because the sanctity of a man's home is well known and it ought not to be 540 infringed without good reason. It seems to me quite clear that all that is necessary to enable a search to take place is that the Minister, or I suppose his trusted representative, has reasonable ground for suspicion that there has been some breach of the Food Regulations. I would add that for my part I think the reasonable ground for suspicion might consist in a measure, if not entirely, of anonymous statements if there seems to be good ground for the communication itself. For example, it may be a servant actually in the employment of a person who makes the anonymous communication, and therefore I am not inclined to think that the Minister has done wrong in any way in attributing some importance to anonymous statements and their effect on local opinion. Moreover, I entirely agree with what has been said that Sir Lionel Darell's position and distinction ought not to weigh with the Minister in any degree except so far as a long record of public service does make one, prima facie, inclined to doubt anonymous or other statements by people who say he has committed a breach of the regulations made under the Defence of the Realm Acts. Some importance ought to be attached to that just as, I should hope, my friends would doubt a statement that I had picked the pocket of somebody I had come across in a crowd. They would, I hope, say, "He may have done it, but it seems unlikely."
No doubt the Minister is quite right in saying that in this particular case—and this is not in dispute—Lady Darell, when asked by these two gentlemen to be allowed to search the house, at once gave her consent. The only reason that I rise to make a suggestion to the Minister is that I am not sure that his speech shows that he really appreciates toe precise position from the point of view of Lady Darell or any other lady in a similar position or, for that matter, of the wile of the humblest member of society. When a man comes to a door in London and says—and I invite any of your Lordships, suitably attired, to try it—"I have come to look at the gas-meter," the mistress of the house, or her servant who opens the door, at once jumps to the conclusion that this is a claim of right and the person is allowed to enter without any further information. As a matter of fact, it is not an uncommon way in which a thief 541 gets into a house who has no authority at all. When these two men came to the door of the house of Lady Darell and said to the person who opened the door that they wanted to search the house, and produced a card—I have not seen it, but I gather it was a card with the printed words, "Ministry of Food," or some such words on it—every woman in the house who saw it would be perfectly convinced that there was a right to search the house. I do not believe anybody would doubt that that would be the ordinary opinion which would be formed. That is a matter on which the Minister ought, in future, if I may say so with the greatest respect, to take precautions. In this country, which is a law-abiding country, people are not expected to take improper action.
I do not know if I may tell your Lordships of an experience of my own long ago when I was at the Bar. There was a question whether there was any right to do certain very unpleasant things on a certain piece of ground. There was a very complicated title connected with the case, and I could not make up my mind as to who was the owner of the ground, and I do not think anybody else could, without long investigation, have done so. What was desired to be done was simply to prevent nuisances of various kinds being committed. I recommended that a notice board be put up prohibiting these nuisances, and underneath the words were to be printed, "By Order." When my client said to me, "Whose order?" I replied, "My order, and if anybody asks you, you can tell them that." That was the end of the whole matter for everybody assumed it was properly done and under legal authority. Being a justifiable thing, nobody complained and nobody looked into the matter.
In just the same way, if the Minister of Food sends people with a printed card asking to look over a house, everybody there thinks it is a claim of right to do it. I suggest to him that if, in future, he is sending anybody to do anything of this kind, the card they produce should bear a statement to the effect that it is a mere request, as a matter of courtesy, to be allowed to look over the house and see that goods beyond the amount permitted by the rules and the orders have not been hoarded.
542 If that had been done, I do not believe there would have been any of this trouble at all. Lady Darell could have replied, "Well, I must telephone to my husband," or she might have said, "I must communicate with the Superintendent of Police before I allow you in," or she might have taken some other course; but it is perfectly clear to your Lordships that Lady Darell came to the conclusion that these people had got a right to enter. Having been allowed in, I must add, to be quite fair, that I think some of their conduct in the search was really not quite reasonable. It does not seem to me that Sir Lionel Darell or his wife would be likely to have hoarded food in their own beds or to have concealed it in some way behind cupboards and so on. A little more discretion should have been exercised by these gentlemen in their search. In other words, my suggestion to the Minister is that in future there ought to be very clear evidence as to whether it is a search by right, accompanied or not with a warrant. The other point is that I think that men engaged in this work ought to act with the greatest discretion, more particularly when they are engaged in such a search as they were making on this occasion.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
My Lords, as none of your Lordships propose to continue this discussion, I can only say this, that I hope my noble friend, whom I respect and whom I regard with feelings of friendship, will not be hurt when I say that, having listened very carefully indeed to his reply, I remain wholly unconvinced in regard to, at any rate, the justification for this search and the nondisclosure of any of the evidence which led up to it. I feel and shall continue to feel that the liberties of a subject, whether humble or in authority, are at the mercy of people who write anonymous or confidential letters, when the word of such people is to be taken in instituting such a search, and all the discomfort and humiliation it involves, against the word of the unfortunate victim, whether he be a cottager or the owner of a castle.
I cannot pretend to be happy about it. As a lawyer I have a very strong impression, after carefully studying the Regulations and the Order, that the Order was in fact ultra vires the Regulations. The Order purports to be made under the De- 543 fence Regulations, and obviously the Defence Regulations govern the Order, but I submit that the Order was in fact ultra vires those Regulations. Were it peace time I should have liked to take the opinion of your Lordships with regard to this matter, which, as I say, affects a vital principle regarding the liberties of this country, but I do not feel that I should be justified—entertaining considerable respect for the Minister of Food as I do, and for his general policy in regard to food control, and particularly in regard to the Black Market—in causing a wrong impression amongst your Lordships or outside this House, as I might do if I were to ask for a Division. I therefore in those circumstances, but with some reluctance, beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.