HL Deb 11 December 1946 vol 144 cc838-50

6.33 p.m.

LORD SHERWOOD had the following Notice on the Paper: To call attention to the present position of those who were imprisoned under the Order 18B, and especially the refusal of a passport to Sir Oswald Mosley, Bart., and to move for Papers, The noble Lord said: My Lords, even at this late hour I would beg your Lordships to listen to the words which I intend to speak, for they will deal with a matter which does not usually come within the compass of the ordinary business of this House—the liberty of the subject. After all, this is a matter of the greatest importance, and perhaps this House remains the last of all platforms on which it can be dealt with, without fear or favour. In my Motion I have made reference to the position of people who were detained under Order 18B and I have indicated my intention to bring to your notice, especially, the refusal of a passport to Sir Oswald Mosley, and to move for Papers.

Now I take an interest in this matter, because, before the war, I was one of those who agreed that we were in peril. My Party, the Liberal Party, have had no connexion whatever with Sir Oswald Mosley. The Tory Party he adorned; the Labour Party made him a Minister; but to the Liberal Party he never came. We Liberals, however, do feel that the liberty of the individual is more important than anything else, and that is what is at stake, I suggest, at this moment. Sir Oswald Mosley, as we well know, was imprisoned under 18B and I as a Minister of the Government at that tune bore my share of responsibility. I was equally responsible with the Lord Chancellor who sits on the Woolsack now. I accept my full share of responsibility. But what is the position now of people who were similarly placed to Sir Oswald Mosley? I wrote to the Home Secretary and I got a polite reply—as you always get from the Home Secretary. In this he says: My Dear Sherwood, You wrote to me on July 8 about the question of Sir Oswald Mosley going abroad to the South of France. I find that he has not submitted an application for a passport, but I am afraid that if he does so I would not feel able to recommend to the Foreign Secretary that a passport should be granted to him at present. That is how the Home Secretary answered my letter.

Now what is a passport? Is it a police permit to allow an individual to go out of the country, or is it the mark of the right of an ordinary Englishman to pass from this country? I say to the Government: "If you are frightened of Sir Oswald Mosley, why not let him go?" Surely that cannot be wrong. You might be frightened of letting him into this country, and it may be that other countries might not wish to receive him. That is another matter. But, as an Englishman, he has the right, just as much as any of us sitting here—make no mistake about that—to a passport. I put that plainly to the Lord Chancellor and the Government. This, I agree, has not been done under Regulation 18B, but under Order 18B, which gives the right to hold back a passport. The reasons which have been given for holding back a passport are quite clear. They have been given by the Home Secretary, and by the Under-Secretary too. They are that someone might try to evade service in the Forces or that someone might try to avoid being controlled in this country. What right is there to say that Sir Oswald Mosley should be detained here because of these powers? We are dealing with dangerous topics and we are moving in dangerous worlds, but one thing that does remain is the complete liberty of the subject.

As I have said, Sir Oswald Mosley has never been a Liberal. He has been an adherent of the Labour Party and of the Tory Party. I admit, quite candidly, to your Lordships, that he is a personal friend of mine, but a political friend of mine he has never been. No one has opposed his political views more firmly and more consistently than I have done, and I shall always do so. Nevertheless there remains the question which we on those Benches regard as so vitally important, the question of the right of a British subject to leave this country and not be under police supervision.

6.39 p.m.


My Lords, I have listened to the noble Lord's speech with considerable surprise. He talked about the liberty of the subject, and he spoke about the ordinary man. I suggest to your Lordships that Sir Oswald Mosley is not an ordinary man, he never was an ordinary man, and he has become an extraordinary man. He became a man who had to be interned because of the views which he held (he held them not only during this war but before the war) when the war was becoming the most tragic struggle that has ever submerged this country or the world.

What was Sir Oswald Mosley's record before the war? So far as his actions were concerned he led a movement which, openly and professedly, was associated with Mussolini and Hitler—with two schools of thought, one described as Fascism and the other as Nazism. With other nations, we launched into this war in order to fight what we and most of the world considered were evil doctrines which would bring the world into worse troubles than it is in to-day. The war is over, but Sir Oswald Mosley wears no white sheet of repentance. From my knowledge of him. I would not expect him to; but I would expect him at least to conform to what the country as a whole believes is right. He has not done so. Immediately he was released, or very shortly afterwards, he began to call public meetings, at: which he adumbrated the same views and policies as he had done before the war. This caused some public disturbance. His meetings were broken up, or nearly broken up. At any rate, those meetings stopped, and I can only imagine that certain indications were conveyed to him, through the Home Office, that it would be better if they were stopped.

Since then, if we are to believe what has come from America—and we learn much from America of things that happen in this country, of which we have no inkling—he is again active. A certain gentleman called William L. Shirer, a well-known American journalist who during the war wrote a very famous hook, Berlin Diary, who lined for a number of years before the war in Germany, and who knew the Germans and their creed, tells us, in an article in which he is analyzing what has happened with regard to the cult of Nazism to-day, that Sir Oswald Mosley: moves quietly around the country "— that is, this country— building up a network of cells, and lecturing privately to small groups on the tactics and philosophical basis for a new Fascist movement in Britain. That is what we are told; and I can believe it. I have every reason to believe it, because I find that Sir Oswald Mosley has published a little book, My Answer, which I presume is along the same lines as Hitler's Mein Kampf—because he likes to emulate Mr. Hitler. This particular book was not specially brought to my notice. I happened to go into one of W. H. Smith's shops about five weeks ago, and saw it on the counter. It was not very expensive—7s. 6d.—although a little too expensive for what is in it. I bought the book. I did not read it for a time, but since this Motion was placed on the Paper by the noble Lord, Lord Sherwood, I have had a look at it. I find that Sir Oswald Mosley is still a member—I suppose he is the leader—of the so-called British Union, which started all the trouble before the war, and many of whose members were shut up under Defence Regulation 18B.

I will not weary your Lordships by reading any extracts, except to quote from the last page which, as your Lordships may see, is in very large print. It is headed "Objects of the British Union", and it starts off by suggesting that a Corporate State should be established in Great Britain to secure certain objects. To begin with, however, we do not want a Corporate State in Great Britain. I do not take exception to that part of the rules of this Union so much as I do to the end part, which says: The barriers of Class shall be destroyed and the energies of every citizen devoted to the service of the British nation"— In 'point of fact, most citizens to-day are devoted to the service of the British nation. The war has proved that nearly every citizen in this country, whether fighting man or civilian, has been devoted to the service of his country. The book goes on: which by the effort and sacrifice of our fathers has existed gloriously for centuries before this transient generation, and which by our own exertions shall be raised to its highest destiny—the Greater Britain that shall be born of the National Socialist and Fascist creed. The last few words are the vital words, and I cannot think that anyone in your Lordships' House would agree with them.

Here is this book with that suggestion, after a war into which we have poured every kind of sacrifice—and are still pouring out every kind of sacrifice—in order to kill and strangle that particular form of policy. Sir Oswald Mosley, having been released, comes and starts the old game again. For that reason alone I should not regard Sir Oswald Mosley as an ordinary man, entitled to ordinary liberty, and I entirely agree with the Government in their action in not granting him a passport.

I want to add another point. What is happening in Europe to-day with regard to Fascism and Nazism? We have the clearest evidence that they are still very much alive. I would like to quote from a statement made to a representative of the British Press by Countess Edda Ciano, Mussolini's daughter, on July 19, 1946, only a few months ago. It was published at the time in the Daily Express. The name of the journalist to whom this statement was made was a man called Sidney Smith. This is what Countess Ciano said: Like my father, I was glad when Italy joined in the war, because I thought we could win. In Italy there are Fascists who will fight to the death. Nothing can change my sympathies. I am still a Fascist. Why not? I think no one has won the war, not even the Anglo-Americans. Countess Ciano is a lady of great importance in Italy. The noble Lord, Lord Sherwood, need not smile. She was Mussolini's daughter and the wife of Count Ciano, the Foreign Minister, who led Italy into the war. There is no doubt whatsoever that she has a very great personal following, apart from any following she might have as a result of this particular matter.

I have dealt with Italy. Let us go to Germany. Field-Marshal Montgomery, in an interesting speech which he made quite recently, estimated that 75 per cent. of the British zone in Germany was still Nazi, that is to say, 15,000,000 out of 21,000,000. I am not going to weary your Lordships by going into too much detail, but I did want shortly to sketch the position in Europe with regard to this matter. I am not going to talk about Spain, but I should like to deal with South America and, in particular, to refer to the Argentine. The most serious menace in the future of Nazism is to be found in the Argentine. The State Department of the United States in February of this year published a Blue Book containing some very startling results of American investigations into the subject of Nazism in the Argentine. I may interpolate at this stage that the Argentinians are people who travel very widely in Europe. Many go to Paris. Many go to the place where Sir Oswald Mosley would like to go—namely, to the South of France. There he would meet those people. It would be quite easy to conspire with them in the South of France or in Paris, and then in the Argentine.

Let me quote short passages from this document published by the State Department of the United States. This Blue Book indicates that at the end of 1945—which is not so long ago—in the Argentine there were 57 schools and more than 500 Nazi organizations continuing activities under camouflage (this is official Government language) with the full knowledge of the Argentine Government. Nazi capital in the Argentine was estimated at 500,000,000 dollars and this remains hidden and protected in German hands. Then there are certain statements in the Press, for which one cannot vouch to the same extent as one can those from an official publication, which state that in South America German assets amount to no less than two billion dollars.

Here is the short passage which I am going to read to your Lordships and which is really significant of what is still happening in the world and of the dangers we are still up against. It says: In Argentina the Germans have constructed a complete duplicate of the economic structure for war which they had in Germany. They possess to-day in Argentina the economic organization—industrial, commercial and agricultural—which they need to provide a base for the reconstruction of German aggressive power during the period when the homeland is still occupied. The industries essential to warfare in which experimentation in the weapons of future wars may take place, and in which prototypes may be developed, exist in Argentina and are controlled by Germans. Businesses which may be relied upon to produce the foreign exchange needed for research, for payment of agents and salaries, for propaganda and so-called cultural activities, and to provide reserves for future aggression in countries destined for conquest, continue to exist. This is an official American document compiled after, no doubt, the most complete investigations into these matters in the Argentine.

That is the policy—National Socialism and Nazism—which is advocated in this yellow book of Sir Oswald Mosley. If that is the case, surely the Government are right in taking some measures of protection when they are dealing with an extraordinary man—not an ordinary man. No one will agree with Lord Sherwood that Sir Oswald Mosley is an ordinary man, or that he can be put forward as an example of that sort of man to support the well-tried and old principle of the liberty of the individual. Nobody, or very few people in this country, would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sherwood, that Sir Oswald Mosley can be put forward as such as individual. Therefore, I suggest that the Government are very wise in not allowing Sir Oswald Mosley to leave this country for fear that he may conspire and create danger by association with these various individuals. Again a noble Lord laughs. But it is true, and some day he will find it out; he is a younger man than I am. It is perfectly true. I think that the Government are right not to take any risk whatsoever in this matter. I personally commend them for the action they are taking; I hope that they will be adamant in that attitude and not agree to any person like Sir Oswald Mosley, or anyone associated with him of the same kidney, leaving this country. I will say this. I know of at least one country, which will not be named in your Lordships' House, that would not receive Sir Oswald Mosley, and I think that may make the task of the Government easier in not allowing him to leave the country.

6.57 p.m.


My Lords, I have listened to what I consider to be a very strange kind of speech, particularly the latter part of it. At least, it is one to which I could not subscribe. I think that, having fought a war for liberty, we ought to set some example in this country. I remember not so many years ago how some of us Socialists were not wanted in certain countries. We were not allowed to enter those countries, and no one felt that restriction more deeply at the time than I did. I think that we ought to protect and respect—and this I believe is something of fundamental importance—individual rights and liberties. What a contrast one finds between the speech to which we have just listened and the speeches delivered by such a man as Cowen, who in his time was a great Radical, who defended the Irish, and who delivered speeches which were a credit to the great Liberal Party of that time, standing up, as he did, for the liberty of individuals then being persecuted.

I can only say that speeches like the one which I have heard to-day give me a real pain in the neck. It is astonishing, after going through what we have gone through, that we should hear opinions such as we have heard to-day. Dealing with colleagues of mine in the trade union movement, I would refer to the late Ben Tillett as an example. He was looked upon as being a funny kind of animal. I think they thought that he was growing horns out of the back of his head. When he wanted to go to Belgium they refused to have him in Belgium. At one time they refused to have him in France. They refused to have him in those countries because they did not agree with his opinions. Much as I differ from the opinions expressed by Sir Oswald Mosley and all that he stood for—and some of the men I know associated with him—I cannot subscribe to the philosophy that because a man has suffered the pains and penalties of his actions—


We had not fought a big war in the meantime.



I will not sit down.


Then stand up.


I. am going to speak. The parallel which the noble Lord gave of Ben Tillett is an entirely different one from that which we are talking about to-day We had not fought a war then, and he was out there purely on Socialist politics.


I hope we have marched a little bit since those days and that our minds and outlook have become broadened as a consequence. I hope the passage of time has shown to this country the necessity of giving liberty to the individual. As Patrick Henry said in America: "Give me liberty or give me death." Many men in this country have stood for the rights of the individual, and I feel proud that I have shaken the hands of some of them. If they were here to-day Sir Oswald Mosley would not matter in the least. It is a question of the rights of the individual, and we ought to safeguard them as far as we possibly can, because you and I might be in a minority one day—do not forget that—and might: have our opinions suppressed. Who is to be the judge, after all, of whether it is right or wrong? Many of us may find ourselves expressing opinions contrary to an accepted Government. We can see how things are emerging in the rest of Europe and in other countries, where you cannot express your opinion. I think it is very dangerous for any of us to attempt to suppress opinions or to confine the liberty of the individual. That is what concerns me, the right of the individual to express himself, and as long as the safeguards arr provided there is no special reason for preventing Sir Oswald Mosley from having a passport. I think he should have the same right as any other citizen in this country.

7.3 p.m.


My Lords, at this late hour I may perhaps reply briefly, and without unnecessary controversy, to this matter. First of all, let me say this. I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Sherwood, need apologize for raising this matter. It seems to me to be in accord with the best Liberal doctrine that you should always be astute to look after the individual and to see that the individual is not having a rough deal—in short, that you should not apply Fascist doctrines to the individual, even though the individual himself may be a Fascist. With that I quite agree.

The noble Lord draws attention to the present position of those who were imprisoned under Regulation 18B. So far as the general mass are concerned, they are now, of course, free; they are not now under any legal disabilities; and so far as the vast mass of them are concerned they are like any other persons in that if they want a passport they can obtain one. In many cases such persons have applied for and been granted passports. I am not going to embark on a controversy as to whether Sir Oswald Mosley is an ordinary or an extraordinary man, but we all agree that he was a very prominent man, and everybody in this country, and I suppose a very large number of people abroad. Know him by name and know the sort of action which he took.

The problem which confronts the Home Secretary is one which arises under powers which Parliament recently gave to him under the Emergency Laws (Transitional Provisions) Act, 1946. What had previously been a Defence Regulation, Regulation 18B, was incorporated in this Act and it is the law of this land until the end of next year, 1947. The particular Regulation which the Home Secretary has to enforce is one under which the duty and the burden is imposed upon him of determining who shall enter or leave the United Kingdom. In the exercise of his discretion, the Home Secretary—there are a very large number of people in the United Kingdom; about 45,000,000—has come to the conclusion, as at present advised, and I stress "as at present advised," and it is a matter which should be kept under constant review, that there are five people in all to whom it is undesirable to grant permission to leave the United Kingdom. In making up your mind on this problem I think myself it is idle to deny that you should have regard to the fact that conditions in Europe are still very disturbed. To say that it is a powder magazine is perhaps too much now, but it is certainly a magazine and not and disorder might very easily break out.

I would like to give one illustration only, and I concern myself only with the Jews. Do not forget that millions of these unfortunate people were done to death in gas ovens. If I were a Jew living in Europe to-day I can quite imagine that I should feel deeply annoyed at the visit to the country where I was living of a man who had, rightly or wrongly, been identified as being very anti-Jew in this country. I merely give that as one illustration. If I were the Home Secretary making up my mind on this problem I should look at it from this point of view; everybody ought to be allowed to go, and if I am going to stop anybody there is a strong and clear onus upon me to satisfy myself that I have some real reason for so doing. I should then address my mind to the question whether I had a real reason. I should eliminate altogether the fact that the man had expressed views, or was still expressing views, which I disliked. I should eliminate from my mind altogether the fact that he was imprisoned under Regulation 18B. After all, let us be fair to those people who were imprisoned under Order 18B, and let us remember that they have never been accused of any crime; not only have they not been convicted of a crime but they have not been accused of a crime. That should be remembered in all fairness to them.

Having eliminated those things, I should say to myself: Is it really against the national interests at the present time—the onus being plainly on the Home Secretary to have a good reason—that this man should go abroad? Once he has gone abroad he can go where he likes; he is outside our control, and he can do what he likes. You have to think of it from two points of view. First of all, you have to think of it from his point of view. When he is abroad he is still under the protection of our Sovereign, and diplomatic resources must, of course, be made available to give him adequate protection. If you anticipate that there may be trouble in that regard it is much wiser to think of that in advance. Secondly, of course, you have to make up your mind, the state of Europe being what it is, whether there is or is not a reasonable chance that he may so conduct himself abroad as to make mischief. It is only too true, as has been said, that Fascism and Nazism have not been rooted out. They are there, they are lying dormant at the present time, but it is not impossible that they might be once again fanned into flame. That is the attitude which the Home Secretary has taken in this matter. Addressing himself to that problem, asking himself whether he was really satisfied that there was a good reason why a passport should not be extended to Sir Oswald Mosley, he has answered that question for the present time in the affirmative.

The noble Lord, Lord Sherwood, told us that Sir Oswald Mosley has not made an application since July. 9. I understand further that there has been nothing said to-day, as there was nothing said then, about health reasons, which obviously would be a matter, I should imagine, that the Home Secretary would take into consideration. I do not want the noble Lord to think that Sir Oswald Mosley is in any sense shut off from coming to the judgment seat. He can come and apply, and his case will be considered. On the other hand, I. have no authority whatever to indicate that the Home Secretary will alter the opinion he previously formed, but I do say that the Home Secretary will look at the matter, and look at it from the point of view of desiring to grant to all His Majesty's lieges those rights with which they can safely be entrusted. From that point of view the case will be examined, but in the last resort we must remember that this House only recently passed the Act to which I have referred and which confers these powers upon the Home Secretary. The Home Secretary is in duty bound to exercise the powers under the Act and in these few cases he has come to the conclusion that permission to leave this country should not be granted.

7.14 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, for what he has said. I do not necessarily agree with his last remarks about this Act, because I think a lot of Acts are passed without people fully knowing what they are passing. The noble Lord has given me a very favourable answer. He has said that this is what is happening to-day and that it can be reconsidered. Because of that I ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.