HL Deb 16 March 1955 vol 191 cc1123-5

2.35 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government, with regard to Chapters VI and VII of the publication Treatment of British Prisoners of War in Korea, if they will publish a definition of the difference, if any, between the endeavours of Mrs. Monica Felton and those of Sir Roger Casement to suborn British prisoners in hostile hands.]


My Lords, the decision whether or not to institute proceedings in cases of this kind is constitutionally a matter, not for Her Majesty's Government but for Her Majesty's Attorney General. I am authorised by my right honourable and learned friend the Attorney General to say that, in his opinion, however much one may deplore Mrs. Felton's activities, there is no evidence that she tried to suborn British prisoners of war. In Casement's case, on the other hand, there was clear evidence, which Casement himself did not dispute, that he had actively endeavoured to persuade British prisoners to fight against this country. I need only refer the noble Lord to the particulars of Casement's overt acts of treason set out in Volume 12 of the Criminal Appeal Reports, which are sufficient to distinguish that case quite plainly from Mrs. Felton's.


My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Viscount for his reply. May I just mention to the House that for some time in the First World War I was head of the Prisoners of War Department and there is at least a strong resemblance between what was then done by Sir Roger Casement and what has since been done by this woman. It seems to me unjust that the one should have hanged and that the other should go scot-free, if that is the implication of the reply.


My Lords, in view of what the noble Lord has said I think it is right that I should refresh his memory and that of your Lordships, about the overt acts charged against Casement. May I take one as being typical of all except the last? On or about the 31st day of December. 1914, soliciting and inciting and endeavouring to persuade certain persons, being British subjects and members of the military forces of our Lord the King and being prisoners of war then in prison at Limburg Lahn Camp in the Empire of Germany, to wit"— I omit the names— to forsake their duty and allegiance to our Lord the King and to join the armed forces of his said enemies, and to fight against our Lord the King and his subjects in the said war. I think it should be made clear that that was the evidence which was given and, as I said, which was not disputed by the defendant Casement. If the noble Lord reads the relevant pages, which are 27 to 31, of the document to which he has referred, he will see the difference. The important point is that mentioned in the initial words of my Answer: that in this country the question of whether a person is prosecuted or not is not a matter for the Executive, the Government as politically formed, but for the chief prosecuting authority, Her Majesty's Attorney General.


My Lords, whilst thanking the noble and learned Viscount for his Answer and, if I may say so, humbly agreeing with it, I should like to ask him one question. I am not sure that our law does not need a little reconsideration, in view of the fact that complications arise where this country is engaged as a member of the United Nations. I will not say more than that, but I should like to be told that the whole matter is under consideration from that point of view.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Earl for raising that point. I am glad to be able to remind him that the predecessor but two in the office of the Attorney General, the right honourable Member for St. Helens, did express the opinion that the Treason Act would apply to the Korean conflict, so I do not think anyone who is contemplating acts of that kind should take comfort from any doubt there may be. I assure the noble and learned Earl that we have the matter fully in mind and will give it further consideration, should that be necessary.


My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Viscount again for his very explicit reply, but the conduct of this woman has been so utterly revolting that I shall feel compelled to study it carefully before I decide whether some further action cannot be taken to carry the matter further.

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