HL Deb 02 March 1943 vol 126 cc357-8

My Lords, before we proceed to public business I should like, with the permission of the House, to make a personal statement. Some of your Lordships have read in the newspapers that, on proceedings instituted against me by the Director of Public Prosecution, the learned Magistrate at Bow Street decided that a certain letter, which I had written to Canada, constituted a breach of sub-paragraphs (a) and (f) of Regulation 3 of the Defence Regulations and imposed a fine of £50. As the proceedings were in camera, I am not at liberty to disclose what took place in the course of the very courteous and considerate investigation by the learned Magistrate. I think, however, your Lordships would wish to know from me that the letter mentioned in the newspapers was a letter which I as Chairman, without remuneration, of a Canadian Aircraft Company had written to the Managing Director of that company, solely designed to guide and assist him in what I thought to be certain directions in which the company's war effort could be assisted.

The Regulation No. 3, Section 1, on which the learned Magistrate had to adjudicate, is drawn so widely in its language that I venture to suggest no private person, seeking actively to assist the prosecution of the war, could possibly avoid infringement, inasmuch as it is made an offence to obtain, record or communicate, or even to be in possession of information being or purporting to be, information as to the description, armament, equipment, or operations of His Majesty's Forces, vessels, aircraft, or munitions of war, or any other matter, information as to which would or might be directly or indirectly useful to the enemy. It was stated in another place last week by the Deputy Prime Minister that the number of Statutory Rules and Orders now in force under the Defence Regulations is almost 2,100. The right honourable gentleman, himself a lawyer, added that it had always struck him as being difficult to assume that everyone knew the law.

In writing my letter, I naturally had regard to the fact that, if it contained anything imprudent to reveal, it would be stopped by the Censor. In fact it was so stopped. The learned Magistrate's decision was merely that I had recorded the information in the letter, and that if it had fallen into the hands of the enemy, it would have disclosed matters which were regarded as secret. It was not in any way suggested that my letter disclosed anything which had been stated in Secret Session of your Lordships' House. Had that been alleged, and I need scarcely say it could not have been alleged, the proceedings would have been taken under quite a different Regulation. Knowing the natural jealousy of your Lordships' House with regard to any matters affecting its members, I consider it is my duty to make this personal statement in order to correct any mistaken impression which your Lordships might otherwise have formed.

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