HC Deb 01 November 1916 vol 86 cc1745-7W

asked the Attorney-General whether it is a punishable offence for a British subject in time of war to enter into friendly relations with the enemy from neutral territory and by means of such relations to enter enemy territory, and to publish in England false information relating to the War or the condition of territory of an Ally in enemy occupation alleged to have been obtained by means of such friendly relations with the enemy; and, if not, having regard to the conduct of Miss Emily Hobhouse, whether it is proposed to introduce legislation making such conduct a punishable offence?


To enter into relations with the enemy from neutral territory and by means of such relations to enter enemy territory is not, unless it amounts to adherence or is otherwise aggravated by the circumstances, a criminal offence. It is proposed by a Regulation to be made under the Defence of the Realm Acts to prohibit such acts for the future. The Government has at present no precise knowledge other than that contained in the published statement attributed to Miss Hobhouse of her activities in Berlin. The difficulty of obtaining evidence in order to determine the exact legal quality of her acts is apparent. It is an offence to publish in England false information relating to the War. If my hon. Friend will carefully read the published statement of Miss Hobhouse, he will see that it consists almost entirely of expressions of opinion, or of statements of fact, on matters which are not and cannot be within the knowledge of the Government. It may be added that inasmuch as Miss Hobhouse will not be permitted to leave the country as long as the War lasts, she will not enjoy any similar opportunity in the future of disparaging the cause of the Allies.


asked the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether a British subject who, during the War, obtained a passport to proceed to a neutral country and who then takes advantage of such permission in order to enter enemy territory and to consort with the King's enemies, is guilty of any punishable offence; and, if so, will the Government prosecute in all cases in which there is reasonable ground for supposing that such an offence has been committed?


I would refer my hon. Friend generally to the question addressed to me to-day by the hon. Member for St. Augustine's Division and to my answer thereto. If Miss Hobhouse at the time she obtained the visa to her passport had already conceived the intention of visiting Germany she ought most certainly to have informed the Home Office of that intention, and her failure to do so might justify proceedings; but the Government is naturally unaware whether Miss Hobhouse had formed the intention at that time or later, when she reached the neutral country.