Oral Answers to Questions — Treason Law

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Sir Eric Fletcher (Islington East)

asked the Attorney-General whether the Government have now reached any decision to introduce legislation revising the law of treason in order to bring it into line with modern requirements.

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Mr Peter Thorneycroft (Monmouth)

asked the Attorney-General whether he has now given further consideration to the question of amending the law relating to treason and sedition; and whether he will be in a position to introduce legislation this Session.

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Sir Frank Medlicott (Norfolk Central)

asked the Attorney-General if, in view of the changed conditions now prevailing, the Government have yet reached any decision on the question of amending the law relating to treason and sedition.

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Sir Frank Soskice (Sheffield Neepsend)

The Government have this matter under active consideration, but I am not yet in a position to make a statement and I cannot give an undertaking that there will be legislation dealing with it this Session.

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Sir Eric Fletcher (Islington East)

Would my right hon. and learned Friend, in considering what legislation is necessary to modernise the law of treason, also consider the law relating to the claims of the Executive to prevent British subjects from leaving the country?

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Mr Peter Thorneycroft (Monmouth)

Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that there are at present a certain number of men and women in the country who are, quite plainly, traitors in any ordinarily accepted sense of that term, and yet manage to escape the mischief of the rather ancient statutes dealing with this matter? Does not the Attorney-General regard it as a matter of supreme urgency—in fact, above almost anything else—that we should have legislation to deal with that limited class of persons at the earliest possible moment?

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Sir Frank Soskice (Sheffield Neepsend)

Legislation of that sort has wide repercussions affecting the liberty of the individual and needs to be extremely carefully considered.

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Sir Frank Medlicott (Norfolk Central)

Ought this matter not to have been given immediate consideration as soon as British subjects began to form part of the international force sent into action in Korea over a year ago by the United Nations?

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Mr Samuel Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

Would my right hon. and learned Friend make it clear that he will never lend his great authority, or the authority of the Government, to any change in the law which would reduce our position to the positions of Germans under the Hitler regime, in which everything was regarded as treason that was not acceptable to the Government or to the majority?

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Colonel Ralph Glyn (Abingdon)

Is the House to understand that in the consideration of this matter the views of Dominion Governments will also be taken into account?

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Sir Frank Soskice (Sheffield Neepsend)

Naturally, we shall endeavour to take into account anything relevant touching this question.

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Mr Samuel Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend answer the question which I put to him?

Mr. Hopkin Morris:

Does not the withdrawal of passports by the Executive make the demand for legislation in this matter urgent, in order to give the courts jurisdiction? Should not those whose passports have been withdrawn be proceeded against in the courts?

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Sir Frank Soskice (Sheffield Neepsend)

I can only say that that is the kind of question which we have under consideration.

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Hon. Michael Astor (East Surrey)

In view of the range and scope of Communist activities in the country today, is it not evident that stronger deterrents and measures are needed in this respect? Surely, with due respect, the delay which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has announced to the House is most disquieting. Would he not give an assurance that we shall get an earlier answer, without saying what the answer will be?

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Sir Frank Soskice (Sheffield Neepsend)

I can give no other assurance than that we are actively considering it in all its aspects, but, as I have said, it is a very difficult question and must be gone into thoroughly.

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Mr Reginald Paget (Northampton)

Can we at least have an assurance that opinion and the expression of opinion will not be included in any definition of treason?