Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £306,821, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1931, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of His Majesty's Secretary of State for the Home Department and Subordinate Offices, including Liquidation Expenses of the Royal Irish Constabulary and Contributions towards the Expenses of Probation."—[Note.—£155,000 has been voted on account.]
The Estimates which we are considering this afternoon raise many points in connection with the administration of the Home Secretary in his very important office. One of the most important matters with which the right hon. Gentleman is concerned is the administration of justice in this country. I am fully aware of the difficulty and complexities and importance of a subject of this kind. I desire to raise, first, a matter on which certain questions have been put to the right hon. Gentleman. It is a matter of considerable public interest, particularly in relation to what we may call the full and impartial administration of the law. It arises out of the prosecution and conviction of certain individuals in connection with the distribution of subversive leaflets and pamphlets to members of His Majesty's Forces. I will give the Committee three instances which I certainly think call for the further attention of the right hon. Gentleman.
The first instance arose in connection with a prosecution, on 17th March, at the Westminster Police Court, as to which the right hon. Gentleman has already answered certain questions in the House. On that occasion three persons, a clerk and two labourers, were charged with what was called, "Insulting behaviour, whereby a breach of the peace might have been occasioned," and from the evidence which was given it appeared that these three individuals were charged in connection with the distribution of leaflets to soldiers outside Chelsea Barracks. The distribution was continued despite a caution that was given to the three individuals. I wish to draw the attention of the Home Secretary particularly to the observations of the learned magistrate, not on the conduct of these three individuals so much as on the more important question which lies behind a prosecution of this kind. The magistrate asked the nature of the leaflets that were distributed, and, having been furnished with a copy, he read extracts from one document headed, "The Meaning of March 16th." References were made in the leaflets, according to the statement of the magistrate, to "The dirty liars of the Christian Protest Movement, the capitalist enemies of Europe, and the abominable slanders of priests about the Russian workers." The magistrate made this observation, "All very objectionable," and these three people were convicted and ordered to pay a penalty of 40s. or to undergo 21 days' imprisonment.
Having regard to the well-known principles of British justice, I want the Home Secretary to say why these three comparatively humble individuals have been proceeded against while the people who are mainly responsible, namely, the printers and publishers of the leaflets, who undoubtedly gave them the leaflets, have not been proceeded against. That is a very bad thing from the point of view of the administration of the law in this country. It is not an isolated case. The right hon. Gentleman at one time rather took the view, "Well, this is an isolated case, and the War Office have simply proceeded against the three people who were causing an annoyance. The War Office did not choose to bring any more important charge than that of insulting behaviour, and therefore the matter, so far as they are concerned, is at an end." I can quite well understand that the War Office dealt with the immediate situation, and that so far as they were concerned the matter was at an end with the prosecution of these three individuals; but, as the right hon. Gentleman himself said in answer to a question, there are other points of view than that: there is the general administration of the law, for which the right hon. Gentleman is particularly responsible. I want to know why three people who are simply the instruments, the tools, of those who print and publish these leaflets, have been prosecuted and may have had to go to prison—I do not know whether they paid the fines or not—while no proceedings have been taken against the printers and publishers who, we were told, in the course of the police court proceedings, were the Communist party of Great Britain.
There was another case quite recently. All these are cases within the last few weeks. I have not undertaken research to see how many cases occurred during the last 12 months. Quite recently a private of the Royal Dental Corps was found circulating seditious literature among the troops at Shorncliffe. He was dismissed the Corps under King's Regulations, and quite rightly so, but while he has been turned out of his regiment, and has to begin life again—I do not say anything as to whether it was a sufficient punishment—again no action has been taken against the publishers. This is a matter for which the right hon. Gentleman himself is responsible, and not the Admiralty or whatever other Department is responsible for this particular Corps. I do not know who this private was or what particular walk in life he came from, but obviously he must have been the tool of the people who print and publish these leaflets.
There is a still more serious case than that. I refer to a prosecution which took place only last week in which two individuals, one 65 years of age and the other 17, were charged at Brentford Police Court. In this case, again, the charge specially chosen was that of using insulting words and behaviour to soldiers at Hounslow barracks. In this case the right hon. Gentleman is directly responsible, because this was a prosecution by the police, and Mr. Humphreys, who, if it is the same gentleman that I have in mind, is a very experienced—
The right hon. Gentleman does not indicate under which Vote this comes. If it is a prosecution by the police, it would be in order under the next Vote, but not under this Vote.
I will leave the aspect of the police. I am not criticising in any way the action of the police. All I am doing is citing an instance in addition to those to which I have already referred. In this case these two individuals were prosecuted in respect of exactly the same kind of offence as in the other two cases. The two persons charged were ordered to pay certain fines or in default to suffer imprisonment, but the bench took such a strong view of the pamphlets which were being distributed, the objectionable nature of which would not, I think, be supported in any part of the House, that they ordered them to be destroyed. It is a very curious thing that in this case, again, no action has been taken against the printers and publishers. They were the same publishers in all three cases. The persons charged were the instruments or tools of the people who are really responsible and who ought to be punished—if an offence has been committed.
I do not want any Member of the Committee to think that the three cases I have quoted are the only ones which have occurred, because only a few days ago the Secretary of State for War stated that during the last six months there have been a number of cases in which pamphlets containing matter subversive of military discipline have been distributed amongst soldiers. That is a very serious statement to make. The Home Secretary might very well take up the attitude he has adopted in regard to an isolated case, especially as soldiers would obviously take no notice of the stuff in these pamphlets, but when we have convictions in three cases and the Secretary of State for War saying there have been a considerable number of such cases, I submit that the Home Secretary has a very considerable case to answer, and ought to say what steps he is taking in a grave matter of this kind. Like all of us, I am sure that the Home Secretary desires to see an impartial administration of justice, and what has been happening is not impartial. One Department of the State has taken action to deal with particular individuals who were found annoying the soldiers, and perhaps that is the end of it so far as that Department is concerned, but the Home Secretary stands in a different position. These cases call for much more vigorous attention from him, and I want to know whether he is giving consideration to the question of dealing with the people who are really responsible for what has been happening.
I do not confine myself merely to the War Office and soldiers, because another statement has been made in this House which is very grave from the point of view of the Navy. The First Lord of the Admiralty said in the House on 15th March that pamphlets of this nature had also been circulated among naval ratings from time to time, but that in nearly every case the distribution took place on shore. My observation on that is that obviously some distribution must have taken place on board ship, which is a very serious matter. I would point out that the statements of the Secretary of State for War and the First Lord of the Admiralty show that these are not isolated cases, but that this distribution has been going on persistently for some time. There is also the very remarkable fact that we have had only the three prosecutions to which I have referred. It may be that proceedings have been taken against the printers and publishers, but if so I do not know of it. I know of no case where those who were really responsible for interfering with and endeavouring to prejudice the Army and Navy in this way have been the subject of proceedings. If proceedings are taken at all, there ought to be an impartial administration of justice; the consequences ought not to be visited solely on the instruments and tools of those principally concerned in the work.
I want to know from the Home Secretary what action he is taking and what is his policy. A little while ago he said that he had the power to stop subversive literature and that kind of thing. We may very well take the view that a great deal of it is not likely to do any harm, but on the other hand, one is driven to the conclusion, having regard to the events which have happened in different parts of the world that propaganda of that kind must be very harmful, especially in countries like India. I want to know what steps the Home Secretary is taking to deal with this question. It may be said that the people who should be dealt with are only small people, and do not count very much. Some observations were made in the proceedings of this House about a daily newspaper, and it was said that what was contained in that newspaper did not matter very much because the circulation was very small. The people of this country in some respects are very easy and indulgent, but I often wonder whether it is sufficiently realised what a large number of centres there are in this country under the direction not of people in this country, but of what is called the Comintern, who are daily issuing, or issuing as often as they can, subversive and certainly disgraceful periodicals and leaflets in this country. I know of at least 11 centres and organisations of this character, and it occurs to me, as it must occur to every hon. Member of this House, that whatever views may be held about this subject we are entitled to know how on earth these people are able to do this kind of thing. I think we ought to know where the money is coming from.
The hon. Member for Plaistow (Mr. Tohrne) is entitled to his own views upon that matter. There is the case of the daily newspaper with a small circulation. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has had some experience of daily newspapers, and he is aware that you cannot run a newspaper upon a very small sum of money. Somebody is financing the daily newspaper which has been referred to, and it is very important that we should know who is doing it. This newspaper has been guilty of publishing things which I do not think anyone would care to defend. The paper to which I am referring is called the "Daily Worker."
I want to know, if the Home Secretary has power to stop this sort of thing, why he permits such things to be published. The paper to which I refer is a daily newspaper which is the organ of the Communist party, and it is associated with a section of the Communist Internationale. The object of this newspaper is to establish a Communist republic. The section I refer to is the British national section of the Comintern.
That particular organisation was regarded by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs as being of sufficient importance to be mentioned in the agreement with Soviet Russia. This particular paper is being issued day by day, and somebody is finding the money for it. Obviously, these people are receiving money, not from people in this country, but from the people for whom they say they are the agents. Has the Home Secretary given consideration to this important aspect of his administration, and has he taken any steps to find out how it is that these people, day after day, find sufficient money to be able to issue literature of the kind to which I have referred? I have not gone into details in regard to this subject, but it is sufficient for me to remind the Committee that the Home Secretary has said that his attitude in regard to this kind of propaganda is simply to ignore it. In view of the continuance of this kind of propaganda, one is driven to the conclusion that other people are financing it for purposes of their own, and in those circumstances, surely this particular matter calls for very much more serious consideration by the Home Secretary.
I can enumerate a number of periodicals which must have come to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman during his 12 months of office. I will give as instances the Young Worker, a monthly magazine, and the Communist Review, which is published monthly. There are many other publications which are put on sale periodically by the particular organisations which have been referred to and a large majority of them have published propaganda dealing with India during the last six or seven months. It is not necessary for me to develop this point any further, because I have put questions to the right hon. Gentleman upon it, and I could give instance after instance of the kind of thing which has been going on for some considerable time. What I am anxious to know is who is paying for this propaganda and where is the money coming from? The Home Secretary, having regard to the information which must be available to him, must have some knowledge as to how it is that these people, who themselves are utterly unable to find the money, are able to finance this propaganda. I feel sure that nobody in this country is subscribing sufficient funds for this purpose, because printing and publishing information of that kind is a very expensive matter. I want to know who is finding the money, and what action the right hon. Gentleman is taking on this point?
I also want to know from the Home Secretary why it is that he is not taking steps to secure an impartial administration of justice in this country by seeing that the publishers and printers of this propaganda are prosecuted? The persons who are prosecuted at the police court are the very humble people who distribute the literature, while the printers and publishers are allowed to go scot free. What is the policy of the right hon. Gentleman in regard to all these newspapers, monthly magazines, books and pamphlets which have been distributed from no less than 10 or 11 centres in this country during the last, 12 months? What is the right hon. Gentleman's policy; has he made any inquiries as to who is financing these people, and how it is that they are able to embark upon such an expensive propaganda? I think that the Committee is entitled to some information on those points.
I wish to put a question with regard to two or three inquiries which the right hon. Gentleman has promised to make. They are inquiries which arise from the presence in this country of the nationals of Soviet Russia. I believe that since 1924 there have been in this country some 70 cases where is has not hitherto been possible to secure the deportation of certain undesirable aliens believed to be of Russian origin. I think there were 15 of these cases in 1923 and 26 in 1929. On 22nd January the Home Secretary promised that, upon the exchange of Ambassadors with Soviet Russia, he would take such steps as were open to him to secure the deportation of these people. They are people who have been convicted by our Courts and recommended for deportation, but, so far as we know and believe, they are nationals of Soviet Russia, and up to the time of the exchange of Ambassadors with Russia it has been found impossible to arrange for their deportation.
We have had to keep those people in this country all the time owing to the refusal of the Soviet Government to admit them to Russia. How far has the Home Secretary progressed with his negotiations? Has he secured the deportation of any of these people, and what is happening to them in the interval? What restrictions are being placed upon them? Obviously some restrictions are necessary when you are dealing with people who have heed convicted of serious offences in this country, who have undergone terms of imprisonment, and who have been ordered to be deported. What has happened to them in the interval, and what steps of a restrictive character are being taken in regard to them?
Then the right hon. Gentleman promised an inquiry into the position of a number of Russian subjects who had received an order from the Soviet Consul-General in London to return to Moscow, where, apparently, they were liable, under the terms of the notice, which I think all of us read, to very drastic treatment, involving, I suppose, possible execution, under the laws of the Soviet Union. The right hon. Gentleman was going to inquire into the position of those men, and I want to know exactly what the position is, and what he is going to do in that matter. The right hon. Gentleman was also going to inquire at the same time into the position of a number of former employés of, I think, Arcos, or at any rate some Soviet organisation in this country which had dismissed a number of its employés, and thus, I suppose, throw them on the British Labour market. They were people who came over here, having received permits for the purpose of being employed by this organisation, and it dismissed them. I think the right hon. Gentleman has received a list of the names of those who have been dismissed by Soviet organisations in this country. Undoubtedly a large number of them were discharged about February of this year by Arcos, and were Russian subjects. I want to know what is the result of the right hon. Gentleman's inquiry, and what he is doing with regard to these people, because we must remember that permits had been granted to them on a particular assumption.
On the general question of administration with regard to aliens, I want to put to the right hon. Gentleman one or two questions in connection with what is admittedly a very difficult aspect of such administration in this country, that is to say, whom you shall admit and whom you shall not admit. I commend the right hon. Gentleman for refusing to admit into this country Mr. Trotsky. I think he did a very wise thing in refusing to have that gentleman here, although he said that he only wanted to come to study Socialism in this country. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman was aware that, at any rate so far as the Government were concerned, there was not much Socialism in this country, and, therefore, he refused to admit Mr. Trotsky; but that was not the reason that the right hon. Gentleman gave, and it is important that I should remind the Committee of the reason, because it leads me to another case upon which I want to put a question or two to the right hon. Gentleman. The reason that the right hon. Gentleman gave for refusing to admit Mr. Trotsky was that people of mischievous intention would unquestionably seek to exploit his presence for their own ends—that is to say, people in this country. Therefore, let no one say that there is not a sufficient number of people who are prepared to do that. Then I commend the right hon. Gentleman for refusing what was undoubtedly an impudent attempt under the pretence or guise of people coming into this country as a Soviet football team. I was very glad indeed to see that the right hon. Gentleman was not deceived in that connection, but it does show that there are organisations outside the country which are very anxious to get undesirable people into this country.
I also want to ask the right hon. Gentleman how it came about that a man named Isidor Dreazen, who was convicted at Manchester only last week, was able to get into this country and, undoubtedly, to pursue activities of a very reprehensible and dangerous kind. This man, I am informed—perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will let me know if this is correct or not—was an important member of the Executive Committee of the Third Communist International. He was described in the Courts here as a very dangerous man, indeed. He had plenty of money—I think a sum of £73 was found on him when he was convicted—and it was stated in the course of the proceedings that he had done a great deal to stir up industrial trouble in various parts of the country where it was obvious that a great deal of harm could be done. It was stated in evidence that he had been going to various centres in the country where labour difficulties had arisen, and undoubtedly he was one of the chief instruments in stirring up industrial trouble. [Interruption.] Much as hon. Gentlemen may think this to be a matter of amusement, it is undoubtedly very serious that a man of this bad record should come over to this country, obviously plentifully supplied with money, and obviously knowing exactly where to go so far as industrial difficulty and trouble was concerned. He was finally apprehended and convicted at the Manchester Police Court, being sent to prison and recommended by the City Stipendiary for deportation. It was stated that Dreazen, who is a naturalised American of Polish birth, was behind recent strikes which had taken place, and particularly the one at Salford Docks. He pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to register under the Aliens Order, and it was stated that he arrived in the country on the 10th January, 1929, and told the authorities that he was on a business visit. It is a very serious matter if this man is, as I am informed, a member of the Executive Committee on the Third Communist International, and, although this may not, perhaps, be obvious to hon. Gentlemen opposite, it will be very obvious to the Home Secretary. I want to know exactly what information the right hon. Gentleman has in regard to that matter.
Another matter to which I want to refer is one which several Members in all parts of the House have raised so far as has been possible at Question Time, but this is our first opportunity of raising it in Debate during the administration of the right hon. Gentleman. It relates to certain proceedings for which he answers in this House, namely, the proceedings and duties of coroners. I do not think that anyone wants to cast any general reflection upon a body of men who have to discharge difficult and often anxious duties. The right hon. Gentleman has to answer in this House for coroners throughout the country. Their office is a very ancient one, and a very large number of inquests are held by them every year. They have very large powers, and, unless the Home Secretary is able in some way to deal with certain aspects of their administration, I think there is a danger of the liberty of the subject in this country being infringed upon. One must remember that a coroner can hear statements which are not evidence in a court of law, that at a coroner's inquiry husbands and wives can be compelled to give evidence in circumstances which may incriminate a wife or a husband, and also that, in certain criminal cases, a coroner's depositions can be used against an accused person, but are rejected as improper in a civil case; and Parliament quite recently has had to intervene and has provided that, in a case where a person is brought before a magistrate on certain criminal charges, the coroner's inquiry must be adjourned until after the criminal proceedings.
This matter has been pressed by my hon. Friends and myself. Many eminent members of the Bar are interested in it, and have taken very strong views on the situation. We have pressed upon the right hon. Gentleman the question of holding an inquiry as to the duties and powers of coroners, in order to see whether sufficient safeguard exists in the case of persons who may be suspected of a crime. I do not hesitate to say that certain inquests have tended to develop into inquisitions, not to ascertain the cause of death, but, by an extensive interrogation, to secure evidence which may result in a particular individual being committed for trial. I do not think that anyone would desire for a moment to forget the necessity of a thorough inquiry into cases of serious crime, but—and this is what I want the right hon. Gentleman to consider—it is a fundamental principle of British justice that a person is innocent in the eyes of the law until the offence alleged against him has been proved. Our whole criminal system has been founded upon this rock—it can be called nothing less—for generations, and our law and system do not permit that inquiry and inquisition which are to be found in other legal systems, and under which people have to prove themselves innocent. Undoubtedly, many eminent lawyers and a large section of the public have been disturbed by the conduct in certain aspects of some recent inquiries. I will only mention two, because other Members may desire to refer to others. There was the case called the Pace case, in which the coroner's inquest lasted for four months. The woman concerned in that case was subjected to a considerable ordeal, and, when she came up for trial at the Gloucester Assizes, the judge ruled that there was no case against her. I cannot help saying that in that case the coroner's duty was perfectly clear, it was to ascertain the cause of death. It was not his duty—and I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman thinks can be done, whether an inquiry should not be held—it was not his duty to subject a person to four months of interrogation and examination with a view to placing a particular person on trial.
I am not quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman is in order in criticising the action of the coroner. He should state the bare facts if he wishes to put a question to the Home Secretary, and ask for an inquiry.
I am grateful for that suggestion, and I will put it in that way, though I think it has been the custom to criticise public officers who do not stand in the position of High Court Judges. I will recite the events and put a question to the right hon. Gentleman. There is another case well known to Members of this House, and I am glad it is over, because we can look at it from a more sensible point of view than that of a great deal of the hysteria which surrounded it at the time. There is the Reading case. The coroner stated that that inquiry had been reopened for the convenience of Scotland Yard, and questions were openly passed to the coroner from the senior police officer present and put by the coroner to the witness. The Court was definitely turned into an inquiry against a particular man. The coroner doubled the part of prosecutor and Judge.
I want the Home Secretary, if he can, to lay it down definitely that a coroner's inquest shall not be used to get over the restrictions recently placed on the police in the matter of cross-examining prosecuted persons. If the police have not sufficient power, and the restrictions placed on the police do not give them sufficient authority to detect crime, the right hon. Gentleman's proper course is to come to this House and say so, but a coroner's inquiry should not be used for the purpose of adding bit after bit of evidence against a particular person who is not charged with any offence, whose rights of representation by counsel are limited, and when it is obvious to everybody that the whole inquiry is directed not to the cause of death, but, if possible, to make a case against a particular individual.
I would be the last to say that every legitimate step ought not to be taken to detect crime. I often think that in these cases we forget the family and perhaps the widow of the man who has been murdered, and our sympathy may go out to the man who is accused. There is no doubt, however, that it is a most unfair course to permit a coroner's inquest to be used for the purpose of detection of crime in that particular fashion. I press it upon the right hon. Gentleman that the whole question of coroners' administration ought now to be inquired into. I have not been able to find out—and perhaps the Home Secretary can help me, for his sources of information are greater than mine—whether there is any particular code of laws laying down what coroners may or may not take in evidence. A man as a result of a coroner's inquest may find himself in the position that evidence which would not be admitted in the Court of law is taken at the inquest, and ultimately the man may find himself charged on a coroner's warrant for murder. It becomes very difficult in such a case as that to secure a fair trial. In Scotland there is no such officer, and all these cases which in England would come before a coroner's court are dealt with by the Procurator-Fiscal, who ensures an efficient and speedy inquiry without all the grave danger to the liberty of the subject which exists in this country. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon will be able to make some statement about what many eminent lawyers and members of the public—for it is not simply a legal matter—regard as a serious question.
I should like to reinforce the appeal of the right hon. Gentleman in pressing for an inquiry into the whole administration of the coroner's court; it is high time that it should be revised. Some of us have pressed in the last three or four years for that course, though not with a very great measure of success. What has been said about the change in the functions of these courts and the necessity for an inquiry, is proved abundantly by cases brought before coroners in the last few years. In 1914 a case was tried by Mr. Justice Avory, I think at Birmingham Assizes. Mr. Justice Avory had before him a woman committed to the assizes, on a coroner's warrant alone, on a charge of murder. The case had been investigated by the magistrates before that, and they had dismissed the charge, there being no prima facie case in their view. She was committed because a good deal of evidence was admitted before the coroner which is not evidence at all in a court of law, and would not have been admitted in the Assize Court. In that case Mr. Justice Avory directed the grand jury that it must not find a true bill, because there was no admissible evidence to place before the court. The woman, however, had been committed to the Assizes, and she had to go to the expense of making adequate and proper provision for her defence, and there was public expense, although there was no reason to place her on her trial.
There was a precisely similar case last year, notwithstanding the Act of 1926, on the Oxford circuit. As the right hon. Gentleman reminded us, the coroners' court can now—I am not sure whether it is compelled to do so—suspend its inquiry if a man or woman has been arrested on a charge of murder. In the case in the Oxford Circuit last year, a youth of 19 or 20 years of age was charged with the murder of another boy in circumstances which eventually were found to be purely accidental. He was brought before the magistrate, who found that the firing of a gun was a pure accident and dismissed the charge. The coroner, however, reassembled his court and, admitting evidence which would not have been admissible in an ordinary prosecution, committed the boy to the Oxford Assizes. That involved, I think, bringing 17 witnesses for the prosecution, a number of witnesses for the defence, and the expense of solicitor and counsel to defend the boy in case of necessity. In that case, as in the Birmingham case, the Grant Jury threw out the bill.
There can be no justification for a system which, after an inquiry by the magistrates who have found that no prima facie case exists, permits the coroner's inquiry to reassemble and find a verdict of manslaughter or murder as the case may be. It is a grave injustice on the parties concerned, it involves the public in unwarranted expense, and the circumstances are such that the right hon. Gentleman should institute an inquiry into the whole administration of the coroners' court. A very serious development has occurred in two or three instances in the last few years. The merits of these cases are immaterial, but let us see exactly what happens. Every sensational case gets a wide publicity in the Press, every detail is published, particularly in the Sunday papers. There is nothing, unfortunately, that the Sunday Press likes more than the accounts of murders, manslaughters and all the filthy cases they can rake up during the week and publish on Sundays.
The coroner's inquiry, with its roving examination and cross-examination inquiring into anything and everything, a good deal of which is not evidence at all, results in the whole of the inquiry being published in detail. People who have to serve on the jury at the subsequent trial at the Assizes will probably have read a good deal that would influence their minds, though it is not evidence. How can it be said, after the great publicity given to the proceedings of the coroner's inquiry, that the persons can obtain a fair and impartial trial at the hands of the jury? It must influence their minds to an extent that was not possible when the coroner's court was a far more effective instrument than it is to-day. In the circumstances I think an inquiry is urgent and essential if you are to have proper administration of justice.
Another question to which I should like to refer is that of first offenders. In this Vote there is a sum of £49,000 for the expenses of probationary officers. There is no doubt at all that great progress has been made in this country in the last few years, and particularly in the last 25 years, in the treatment of young offenders. But great progress has been made, and there is now a very wide discrepancy between the administration of the more enlightened and the more backward magistrates. I hope the right hon. Gentleman can do something to bring to the notice of some magistrates that there exists a Probationary Offenders Act. A large number of them do not appear to know of its existence at all or, if they do, they completely ignore it. Only recently a case in one of the Eastern counties got fairly wide publicity in the Press. Three boys were charged for the first time with the small offence of having taken some street lamps belonging to the corporation. They had exemplary characters. They were tried by a bench of three magistrates, convicted, and given six strokes of the birch. If anyone ought to have been birched it was the magistrates for giving such a sentence.
In many cases, even when magistrates apply the Probationary Offenders Act, they register a conviction. The more enlightened magistrates do not register a conviction. It is very material to the boy, not only at that time but for the sake of his after life, because if a conviction is registered, certain avenues are closed to him. You close the possibility of his enlisting in the Army or the Navy, and you close any opportunity for him making a career in the Colonies, and probably he, of all boys, is the type who would make good. The case I have cited is so ridiculous that it ought to be possible to remove magistrates of that type from the bench altogether. But even in other cases there should be no registration of conviction.
The Departmental Committee on the Treatment of Young Offenders, which reported in 1927, made two recommendations with regard to probation officers. The first was that their salaries should be increased to such an extent that you would get a higher type of man appointed. I should like to know what steps have been taken in that direction and what type of person is being recruited into the service to-day. The second recommendation was that the probation officer should have a closer connection with such institutions as reformatory, industrial and Borstal schools, where there would be opportunities for the interchange of experience between them and the teachers and head masters. This is very material, because it enables you to combine the experience of the probation officer in his own sphere and the knowledge of the boy's family circumstances contributed by the head master of the school. All this is of great importance when you come to deal with what is, after all, the most difficult part of the whole of your criminal jurisdiction, the reformation of the young offender, making him a fit and useful citizen in after-life.
With regard to cases of fines, provision has now been made, particularly in regard to young offenders under the Act of 1914, for allowing time in cases where fines are imposed. A fine can only be enforced ultimately by imprisonment. In 1910, when time was not permitted, the number of people who were committed to prison in default of payment was about six times what it is to-day. But the provisions, even as they stand, work harshly, not only with regard to young offenders but even with regard to people above 21. A case came to my notice a week ago of a man who had not, for some reason, taken out a barrow licence. He was fined and given a month to pay. Unfortunately he became a victim of appendicitis and spent three weeks in bed, with the result that he was in a worse position to pay at the end of the month than when the fine was imposed. The position is that he is not brought before the Magistrate at the end of the month, but the police fetch him and take him to gaol without any opportunity of explaining why he has not been able to pay. There ought to be an opportunity in these cases of stating the case to the Magistrate before committal to prison takes place. [HON. MEMBERS: "There is."] He can make an application to the Magistrate if he gets there in time, but there is no obligation once the sentence is passed, and the police can take him and put him into gaol. I am asking for the right to go before the Magistrate before he is committed to prison. I do not know whether I am in order on this Vote in dealing with police training.
I desire to join in the representation that has been made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite that there should be some further inquiry into the powers and practices of Coroners' Courts. I hope my right hon. Friend will not take advantage of the fact that Parliament has carefully revised the powers of coroners, and that in the Coroners (Amendment) Act, 1926, very considerable improvements were effected in the administration of those courts. In particular, that Statute ended a matter which gave rise to considerable scandals from time to time, the continuance of proceedings in the Coroners' Court contemporaneously with proceedings about the same matter in the Criminal Courts. The reason why I support this appeal is founded on some experience of these matters. There are various Members of the House who have occupied the position of coroners, and no one here would desire to criticise these men who, in the main, discharge their office with great efficiency. Whereas in times long past these officers were charged with the duty of finding the circumstances and causes of death, and while, through the centuries, they have continued to discharge that function, there has gradually grown up a system of criminal justice which has put into the hands of other officials those duties which many coroners have continued to discharge.
It cannot be complained that coroners are doing things not warranted by the Statutes that regulate their duties. In the 1926 Statute, opportunity was taken to recast the duties of Coroners' Courts, and, therefore, the duty still remains upon them to investigate generally into the circumstances and the cause of death. The special circumstance that we bring before my right hon. Friend's attention to-day is that, considering the growth of the modern system of criminal justice, which has made other provision for questions which coroners have been in the habit of investigating for many years, it is not desirable that this overlapping should continue. The practical suggestion that we make is that these courts should be restricted to finding the cause of death. The 1887 Statute, which regulates these duties, and which was amended by the 1926 Statute, sets out that the coroner is called upon, for instance, to find whether the deceased came to his death by murder or manslaughter. That opens an extraordinarily wide area, which coroners naturally continue to exercise, and the suggestion we make is that there should be a departmental inquiry, if necessary, to consider whether the investigation of matters connected with murder and manslaughter carried on in the ordinary Criminal Courts should suffice, and that coroners should not be required to continue proceedings which cover the same ground. In 1926 we stayed proceedings that overlapped and I am now joining in an appeal for an inquiry to restrict the duty of coroners to finding the cause of death, leaving to the ordinary Criminal Courts the investigation of the circumstances that led to it.
The right hon. Gentleman called attention to the case of a person who was convicted of distributing leaflets, in the course of which he was guilty of insulting behaviour, and for the offence of insulting behaviour he was convicted. The right hon. Gentleman complained that the printers and publishers of the leaflets which the convicted person happened to be distributing were not also proceeded against. The right hon. Gentleman knows that until you have convicted one person for one offence you do not proceed against another person.
It is true that a particular charge was chosen against this man, but the hon. and learned Gentleman knows far better than I that it is a matter for the prosecution in such cases whether they take a number of charges. In this particular case—I think in all three cases—the convenient method of procedure was to charge them with insulting behaviour, but, as the magistrate said, in all the cases, the gravamen of the offence was the distribution of these leaflets. A considerable time, in fact nearly the whole of the time, of the Court was occupied in examining the contents of the leaflets, and in all these cases, I think, the magistrate severely commented on the character of the leaflets which had been distributed. My point to the Home Secretary is that in the administration of justice, whatever offence you may choose to bring against these poor individuals, who are simply the tools of the people who publish the leaflets, you should not proceed against them and leave the real perpetrators of the mischief untouched and unpunished.
I will give the three cases in order to show that they are not connected. If one person was convicted of insulting behaviour in distributing the leaflet, it does not follow that the leaflet he was distributing was actionable. There is no evidence before this Committee, nor was there before the Court, that such was the character of the leaflet. With all respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I am afraid that he is giving his own view of the matter.
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is confusing the case. I am now coming to the second case, where I should not be surprised to learn that the leaflets were ordered to be destroyed, because that was the case of a soldier carrying seditious literature—[Interruption.] I am within the recollection of the Committee. The second case to which he referred was the case of a soldier carrying seditious literature.
Naturally, if the court thinks that literature is seditious, it will order it to be destroyed. I am trying to help the Committee in showing that there is discrimination between a case of seditious literature and the case of a person who is merely charged with insulting behaviour and convicted. The third case was also one of insulting words and behaviour. These persons were in possession of leaflets, which fact, apparently, very much annoyed the right hon. Gentleman. He regards the leaflets also, I presume, as seditious leaflets, but as to that there is no evidence. There was no evidence before the court and there is no evidence before this Committee. Frankly, when the right hon. Gentleman impugns the administration of the present Home Secretary in respect of three cases which are not on the same footing, he is not doing himself justice.
In the second case I said that as the leaflets were held to be seditious literature, naturally the court would order them to be destroyed, but in the other cases the persons were charged, with insulting behaviour in the one case, and with insulting words and behaviour in the other, and the publications concerned were not impugned.
I want to make this general observation on this part of the complaint of the right hon. Gentleman. He complained of a certain publication—a newspaper—and suggested throughout his observations that this publication was merely the vehicle of sedition. I hope that my right hon. Friend is not going to suggest to the Committee or to use words open to the construction that any political publication which advances views which he does not share may be of a seditious character. We have left behind us the days, unfortunately not far distant, when any person who held views as to the late War which were not shared by the then Director of Public Prosecutions, was liable to be brought before the court and charged with a whole series of offences. I see opposite a Noble Lord who bears a name which is famed in connection with freedom of speech. We want to watch the exercise of these rights as closely as any hon. Gentleman may desire to watch them. This House rests on the foundation of freedom of speech. Suggestions that a daily paper of a political character is necessarily a vehicle of sedition, and that persons who holds views probably not shared by anybody in this House are persons who ought to come within the strict eye of my right hon. Friend who now presides over the Home Office, are suggestions which, I hope, the House of Commons, in pursuance of its old traditions, will not accept for one moment. I ask the Committee, on reflection, to refuse to regard these cases and the matters connected with them, which have so much affected the right hon. Gentleman, as matters of serious complaint. I most cordially join with the right hon. Gentleman in the suggestion that with regard to coroners' courts there should be an inquiry with a view to an improvement of that administration.
I do not propose to go into the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for South Nottingham (Mr. Knight), because I did not hear of the particular cases which my right hon. Friend the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) quoted in his speech before I came into the House. I think that the hon. Member rather mistook the purport of my right hon. Friend's remarks. Obviously a daily paper, no matter what political views it may happen to hold, cannot be said to be seditious, but there may be in any paper certain articles which are against the law of the land.
I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman that you have to prove that these particular articles are seditious. The only thing that my right hon. Friend did when he raised this particular case was to bring before the Committee the point, that if you prosecute at all, it is better, if the leaflets were really seditious, to prosecute the people responsible for them. I think that that was the only point which my right hon. Friend was trying to make. I do not desire to enter into this Debate in any critical spirit. My only excuse in intervening is the four very constructive years which I spent in the Department over which the right hon. Gentleman now presides in a very junior position indeed. I had a happy time there during the last Parliament and I should like to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the very quiet time which he has had administratively during the year in which he has been in office. It is a great change from what my Noble Friend Lord Brentford had to put up with.
Somebody once said that life was "one damn thing after another." It may be that the Home Office in the last Parliament found that that was so. We had the Arcos raid, we had the maintenance of law and order during the year 1926, and, in the end, there was the Savage case. The Home Office during the last Parliament had a great deal of criticism to meet. I am sure that all the right hon. Gentleman requires is to have peace during his term of administration. Not only has he not had to face administrative worries, but I think he has had rather more peace than usual from legislative worry. I remember in the 1922 Parliament, Lord Bridgeman, the then Home Secretary, having had his weekends for the tenth time spoilt by Private Members' Bills, came down to the House on a Friday and began his speech by saying,
I will now make my usual Friday afternoon remarks.
I do not think that the present Home Secretary has had as many Private Bills to deal with as most Home Secretaries. I hope that he will continue to preside
as he does over the Home Office, and that he will have a quiet time and will not have the same sort of criticism as was directed against the Noble Lord who preceded him in the last Parliament. I desire to ask a few questions of the Home Secretary. I should like to raise the question of alien administration. I do not suppose that there is anybody in this Committee who thinks that the Aliens Order—
I wanted to raise the question of the administration of the Aliens Order. I think no one in this Committee, possibly, regards Aliens Orders as being a really permanent part of our Constitution. They were introduced at a time when unemployment was exceedingly rife, and, unfortunately, there is even more unemployment now than there has been for some years. I understand that the Home Secretary administers these Orders in very much the same way as preceding Home Secretaries have done. That is to say, they are administered on the principle that no man shall be allowed to come here and take work which an Englishman or Scotsman could do if such an alien had not arrived. That is a very good principle, though it may not, perhaps, be agreed to by everybody in this Committee. I remember the present First Commissioner of Works at one time make a very violent speech against these particular Orders.
I do not think, while we have unemployment as bad as it is to-day, that anyone is seriously going to challenge these Orders as being improper. Of course, they can be carried too far. If we look back in history, it is obvious that we can find cases where the non-admittance of aliens or the expulsion of aliens has proved very disastrous to the particular country which has indulged in it. Spain, for instance, when they expelled the Moors under Philip II or when they expelled the Jews under Ferdinand and Isabel, did not do a very great deal to help themselves. Nevertheless, as long as unemployment continues rife in this country, I have no doubt that these Aliens Orders will remain in force. I should like to ask the Home Secretary one or two questions upon them.
Is the Home Secretary satisfied that week-end tickets are not abused, and that the daily tickets, which I believe can be got for travelling from the Continent, are not also abused? Is there a proper check upon the people who come in on these week-end and daily tickets, and is the Home Secretary satisfied that the people who come in are checked out again? Moreover, there are always arriving in our ports ships of various nationalities, with crews and passengers. Is the Home Secretary satisfied that some aliens who cannot support themselves do not get into the country by deserting from the ships at the various ports? Can he assure us that, in spite of the obvious loopholes that must exist for the entry of aliens, he is able to administer the Aliens Orders as they were intended to be administered, and that he is now checking as many aliens out as come in.
My right hon. Friend the Member for West Woolwich asked whether the Home Secretary had found it easier to deport Russians since the Soviet Government had been recognised by His Majesty's Government. I may be wrong, but it has been my impression that it was not only after the Soviet Embassy had been expelled from this country that we found it difficult to get rid of people who we thought were of Russian nationality. I believe that difficulty has existed ever since the War. You can only deport a man to his own country. You cannot, for instance, deport a Frenchman to Germany, or a German to Italy. Unless you can find out the nationality of a man you are unable to deport him. Apparently, what has been happening in regard to Russian subjects for a very long time, long before the expulsion of the Soviet Embassy, was that if the Soviet administration did not like a man they claimed to have no knowledge of him. If we thought that the man was a Russian and we could not prove that he was anything else and we sent him to Russia, they refused to accept him and he had to come back here. There was no way in which we could enforce the deportation order that may have been made. Therefore, the expulsion of the Russian Embassy had nothing to do with the difficulty of getting rid of undesirable Russians from this country. It would be interesting if the Home Secretary could say whether he has found since the relations have been resumed that it has been easier to get rid of people who we think are Russian subjects and who in the past have been stated by the Russian Government to belong to some other country.
In regard to the Aliens Order, has there been any change respecting domestic servants? I have heard, but I do not know whether it is true, that these regulations have been relaxed to a certain extent. Perhaps they have more to do with the Ministry of Labour than with the Home Office, and that the Home Secretary has to give his sanction to what the Minister of Labour desires in this respect. Can he say whether there has been any relaxation of the very stringent order in regard to domestic servants? I should like to raise also the question of the Industrial Museum in Horseferry Road. Are the great advantages of this museum being understood and appreciated? Anyone who has taken the trouble to go to the Industrial Museum will agree that it ought to be a very great advantage to our industry, because any manufacturer can go there and find out the best means of fencing machinery or the newest methods for the protection of the workers. A great deal of money has been spent on the Industrial Museum and it costs a certain amount of money to keep it up, and it would be a great pity if the fact that this museum exists was not known widely all over the country. We all want to minimise accidents in industry and when the State has spent large sums of money in order to set up a museum which can show manufacturers the best methods of fencing and protection, it would be a very good thing if the museum could be advertised a little better than it has been up to now.
Does the Home Secretary think that the money spent on the Museum has been worth while, and is he getting any more inquiries than there have been in the past from people who desire to protect their workers, and to have the best machinery? Can he also tell us whether the number of people who visit the Museum is growing? I saw in the Press the other day an article by an enterprising correspondent who said that he visited the Museum and found nobody there and almost had to wake up the man who was supposed to show people round. I should think that was a highly-drawn account of what happens in the Museum. I am sure that the Museum has done a great deal of good, and every hon. Member will hope that it will long exist to do a great deal more.
A great deal has been said about coroners' courts. I do not know much about coroners but we have had a very interesting Debate, and the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for South Nottingham (Mr. Knight) were certainly instructive. I am sure the Home Secretary will pay attention to the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Woolwich, and the general interest which has been shown in all quarters of the House in regard to the fears that in the administration of the coroners' courts in certain cases, people have had the dice loaded against them, and that in certain famous or notorious trials during the last two years there has been a feeling of suspicion among many people that the law in this respect might be altered. As the hon. and learned Member for South Nottingham said, the criminal law has now been brought more up to date and therefore the coroners' courts have become more out of date, and hon. Members would like to know whether it would be possible in the future to bring them up to date. In conclusion I hope the Home Secretary, while he occupies his office, will have a quieter time than he has had up to now.
The remarks of the right hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) prove the impossibility of certain people getting justice in this country. He stated that certain persons were charged with insulting behaviour in respect to the distribution of two leaflets, but he admitted that the case before the Court was not concerned with the charge of insulting behaviour but with what was contained in the leaflets. The question is not the prosecution of the printers but that these persons were charged with a particular offence. As they could not be convicted on the charge preferred against them, the prosecution went outside the charge in order to secure a conviction. The right hon. Gentleman complained spout someone else not being prosecuted, but from the facts it would appear that these men were convicted outside the charge made against them, and convicted on another charge, which was not the subject of inquiry before the Court.
In my opinion they were treated in a very merciful fashion. The charge was laid upon a minor charge, that of insulting behaviour. If a more serious charge had been preferred against them and there had been a conviction, the sentence would have been much more serious.
That does not cover the point. Whether they ought to have been charged with another offence was a question for the prosecution. The prosecution decided to prosecute for insulting behaviour, but the insulting behaviour was not the material contained in the leaflet. In order to get a conviction the prosecution went outside the charge and read the literature; but they were not charged with the seditious character of the literature but with insulting behaviour. That shows that in certain courts these men cannot secure justice, and that in order to secure a conviction any sort of rig-up will he allowed to take place. Even though these men hold unpopular opinions they are entitled to fairness of trial, and when they are brought before the magistrates and charged with insulting behaviour, the charge of insulting behaviour ought to be the subject dealt with, and not what was in the documents which they happened to be distributing at the time.
Hon. Members opposite seem to be annoyed about this matter. They were supporters of the last Government. The right hon. Member for West Woolwich was a Member of the Government in 1926, and the last speaker was Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Home Secretary in 1926. What happened then in regard to the general strike? If anyone was responsible for the general strike it was not so much the rank and file as the leaders. What did the Government do at that time? They took little humble men in the various villages and prosecuted them, while as to the leaders the Home Secretary invited them to Buckingham Palace, to dine with them.
While the Government were prosecuting poor people in St. Helens and in various villages, they did not prosecute the leaders of the Trade Union Congress General Council, but they invited the leaders to Buckingham Palace. For sheer impertinence I have never heard the like. During the general strike if a crime was committed—and in the eyes of the Government the general strike was a crime—the men who now sit on the Front Government Bench, men like the Lord Privy Seal, were left alone, and while small people were prosecuted you sent for the leaders to dine at Buckingham Palace and you attended to dine with them.
Everyone knows that during that period you excused things from the great people or the alleged great people, and you prosecuted comparatively minor people. I want to raise a point in connection with the fees which have to be paid by aliens who desire to become British citizens. There are a number of aliens in my division who have been living in this country for 30 and 40 years. In most cases they are poor people but, nevertheless, their character and general mode of life is beyond all question of the best. The police authorities and everyone else agree that there is nothing against them from the point of view of their general character. British citizenship should not be based on a money qualification but upon character and capacity, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider this question. Some of these people in my own division were in the Army during the War; some of them, in fact, drew pensions because they had sons in the War. They are not debarred from becoming citizens merely because of the £10 fee but the right hon. Gentleman knows that in addition there is additional expenditure which must be met by these people. If a person's character and qualifications are proved I suggest that he should reduce the money qualification and make it easier for the poorer section of our alien population to become British citizens. It would be much better for all concerned.
There is also the question of delay. When a man applies to become a British citizen and there is nothing against him, not even the inability to pay the fee, his application is held up for years; he gets no kind of answer at all. It seems to me that the Home Office allows a certain quota to pass every year, perhaps 100 or 200, and that if you are beyond that number you must wait for another year. I have had to write to the Home Office on behalf of men who are my political opponents. Some of them are good employers, paying good wages; and the Home Office admits that they are of good character. The police also agree that they should be naturalised British citizens, there is no opposition whatever, yet for years their applications have remained dormant. Something ought to be done to speed up the machinery. If a man's character is good, and his qualifications are good, I do not see why you should make him go through the long process of waiting for years and years. I have at least eight cases where men have been waiting for two and three years without getting a definite answer one way or another; and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider whether he cannot speed up the machinery.
The question of the administration of justice, for which the Home Secretary is responsible, does not touch us in Scotland and I will, therefore, not refer to it. I do not know whether I shall be in order in raising the question of the inspection of factories. Some time ago the Home Office appointed a Committee to go into the question of the number of inspectors, and it has been agreed that the number at present is quite insufficient for the work that has to be done. I understand that the Report has been issued, and I desire to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he intends to act upon the recommendations of the Committee and appoint extra inspectors of factories. In Scotland the number of inspectors is altogether insufficient for the needs of the area, particularly in the West of Scotland, where you have springing up factories which are employing more and more women. There is a great need of additional women inspectors. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will also reconsider the position of certain men who are now in prison for what in my view was a political offence. The right hon. Gentleman says that they were guilty of a criminal offence. I take the view that they are in gaol for a political offence, and I think he should take steps to release them at the earliest possible moment.
I desire to refer to some of the important questions which were raised by the right hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) and to touch upon one or two other matters which also seem to me worthy of consideration. The first question raised by the right hon. Member for West Woolwich was the question of subversive propaganda and the administration of justice in connection therewith. That is a matter to which every Member of this House, and every thinking person outside, would attach the utmost importance because there is ample ground for suggesting that it is the British system of the administration of justice that has done more than any one other thing to raise this country to a position of pre-eminence amongst the nations of the world. It would be a great misfortune if any course was taken which seemed to discriminate unfairly between one class and another. I know it is rather a popular theme with some hon. Members opposite to discourse on the difference of the law, one law for the rich and another law for the poor, and to suggest that there is a differentiation; but personally I do not believe there are any substantial grounds for suggesting that this is the case so far as the actual administration of justice is concerned. Therefore it fills one with a certain amount of apprehension if there is anything in the suggestion that men are proceeded against for a lesser offence, such as the distribution of handbills and using insulting behaviour in connection therewith, whilst those who are responsible for what is a far more serious matter, provided it can be proved to the satisfaction of the Court—namely, the publication and printing of seditious literature, are allowed to go scot free.
The hon. and learned Member for South Nottingham (Mr. Knight) attempted to constitute himself a kind of counsel for the defence of the Home Secretary, and suggested that with regard to the question of seditious leaflets there was no evidence before the Court that they were in fact seditious, and that therefore we had no right in this House to assume that such was the case. That is exactly the point.
I am much obliged to the hon. and learned Member. In that event I should like to ask this question of the Home Secretary: Why were not proceedings taken against the printers and publishers in that particular case, in which there appears to be no doubt whatever as to the seditious nature of the publication? With regard to the other case I want to press the point that the Home Secretary will tell us whether he has considered, in conjunction with his legal advisers and with the chief Law Officers of the Crown, the question whether there are any grounds for proceeding against the printers and publishers. Perhaps he has been advised that he could not substantiate the case, but if he will tell us it would reassure our minds and we should know that attention is being directed to this aspect of the matter. I rather gathered from his speech that he has not considered that aspect but takes the view that it is a rather trumpery and trivial question about which he need not bother.
The same question arises in connection with these newspapers. The hon. and learned Member for Nottingham South said that the time had long gone by when we should regard as seditious anything with which we happened to disagree. The hon. and learned Member knows that we do not take that ground. We have had quotations from this newspaper to-day, showing that it openly advocated rebellion in India on a certain day, and there can be no dispute but what that amounts to seditious incitement. Again I press upon the Home Secretary to give the Committee the benefit of his considered view on this matter, and why he has not thought it wise or right to take proceedings in this case, in which undoubtedly proceedings could have been properly taken.
I pass now to the next question raised by the right hon. Member for West Woolwich—the
position of the former employés of Arcos. I think we have a right to ask for further information on this matter, because it has been the subject of many Parliamentary questions during the past few months—questions which have evoked some very curious answers from the Home Secretary, answers which leave the whole position in a great deal of uncertainty. What is the situation as far as we can gather? I quote from an authority which will be acceptable to hon. Members opposite, namely, the "Daily Herald," and I find it stated on 18th February that a large number of the employés of Arcos had been discharged from their employment; that no definite reason for these discharges had been given, and that most of the people affected were Russian subjects. Subsequently it was stated that about 200 employés had been dismissed. On 23rd February, an interview with Mr. Schostak, one of the directors of Arcos, was published. This gentleman said:
It is true that this week-end we have dismissed about 40 to 60 of the employés in the accounts and financial departments because we have installed calculating machines.
The Home Secretary was then questioned about the matter. He admitted that a large number had been dismissed, and said that he was making further inquiries, and was directing his inquiries particularly to the question of whether these employés were returning to Russia or were to be thrown on the British labour market. Nearly two months have elapsed while, presumably, the right hon. Gentleman was pursuing his inquiries. On 1st May, he said that only 11 of these people had been dismissed—which conflicts entirely with the statement made by one of the directors of Arcos that 40 to 60 were affected, and also with the statement made elsewhere that the number was about 200. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that the majority of the 11 concerned were in business on their own account, and that he had received a guarantee—I do not know from whom—that they would not be any burden on the British labour market. He added that he was still making inquiries. As that was only a few days ago it is to be assumed that those inquiries are continuing. The right hon. Gentleman was previously asked whether his attention had been called to
an order issued by the Soviet Consul-General that these Russian subjects should return, and a subsequent publication to the effect that they were liable to execution in Russia for not having obeyed that order. Again the right hon. Gentleman answered that he was making inquiries about the whole position. I submit that the time has arrived when those inquiries ought to be complete, and that it is reasonable to expect that the right hon. Gentleman should now be in a position to give the House the fullest information on this matter. Presumably, be considered the matter one of sufficient importance to justify him in embarking on detailed inquiries but, as to the result of those inquiries, the House has not yet received any information whatever.
Another matter which has been raised during this discussion is the question of the position of coroners. It is a vitally important matter as affecting the liberty of the subject, and, unquestionably one or two unsatisfactory cases have occurred in recent times. The right hon. Gentleman some months ago, in reply to a question, did not deny the existence of those unsatisfactory cases, but he brushed them on one side. He said that they were very few. He said that some 30,000 inquests had been held during 1927 and suggested that we need not trouble much about a few isolated cases out of that number. I suggest that that is not quite a sound position to take up on this question. The vast majority of inquests are purely formal. In connection with very few does any question of a criminal charge arise at all, but it is just in reference to that minority of cases, the cases in which criminal proceedings may ensue, that the public mind is becoming seriously apprehensive owing to the course adopted in some of these inquiries. There has been a widespread demand for reform in this matter, in spite of the Coroners Act of three years ago, and that demand has not been confined to any section of the community or any political party. It has come from newspapers of the most varied opinions, from the legal profession and from the mass of the general public.
If one follows the course of events at some inquests, one finds that there is foundation for the suspicion that a coroner's inquest may be utilised to get over difficulties which the police may feel owing to the restrictions recently placed upon them as the result of certain inquiries. Reference has been made to the instance of an inquest at Reading where there seemed to be a definite alliance between the coroner and the police. Indeed, the Reading coroner said, publicly, that he had resumed his inquiry at the express wish of Scotland Yard. I respectfully suggest that that is a most unsatisfactory state of affairs.
I understand that the Home Secretary has no direct authority over coroners, but many people feel that a coroner ought to be restricted to inquiring into the cause of death, and that the coroner's inquest should not be used as an instrument to try to bring home guilt to any person, especially as evidence can be produced before a coroner which would be inadmissible in the other Courts. That inadmissible evidence is widely published in the columns of the Press at a time when popular newspapers have circulations running into millions, and when special prominence is given to these cases. Thus, it is very difficult in many instances for a jury to avoid having their minds prejudiced by views which they have read in the Press as to what took place at the inquest. Then, at an inquest the man against whom suspicion is directed is not accorded the full protection of counsel which he gets in other Courts. Many coroners have laid it down that counsel are only permitted, more or less as a favour, to cross-examine or put questions at an inquest, and that they have no right to utilise their functions for the protection and defence of their clients as in the ordinary criminal Courts.
I take this opportunity of directing the right hon. Gentleman's attention to some other points, and the first of these relates to the terrible cinema disaster which occurred recently at Paisley. We know that there have been criminal proceedings and that the accused man, the manager of the theatre, has been acquitted. It seems beyond dispute, however, that many lives were lost on that occasion owing to certain doors which ought to have been in full use not being available. I wish to know what are the powers of the Home Secretary with regard to the supervision and control of cinema theatres? Has he powers which can be exercised in order to prevent the possibility, as far as he can humanly do so, of any such terrible tragedy occurring again in any of the cinemas of this country?
Then, with regard to the film censorship, I wish to know if the Home Secretary is taking any steps, and, if so, what steps, to ensure that the control of the British Board of Film Censors is universally accepted in this country? I understand that the present position is that the British Board of Film Censors is a purely voluntary body constituted by the trade, but that every film has to be licensed before it can be exhibited in public under the provisions of the Cinematograph Act, 1909, and that many local authorities—perhaps the majority—make it a condition of granting such licence that the film should have received the certificate of this voluntary body. On the other hand, many authorities do not impose that condition. I gather that it has been the consistent policy of the Home Office for many years to try to influence the licensing authorities to insert that condition. The right hon. Gentleman himself evidently felt that the position was not entirely satisfactory when he came into office, because, last December, he issued a circular letter to the licensing authorities, in which this passage appears:
Mr. Clynes earnestly hopes that those local authorities who have not hitherto thought it necessary to adopt the condition recommended by the Home Office in 1923 will consider, without delay, the desirability of doing so, and that all local authorities who have already adopted the condition or decided to adopt it, will take the necessary steps to see that it is enforced.
I hope that the Home Secretary will tell the House what response there has been to that circular letter, and what proportion of the licensing authorities make it a condition of granting a licence that the certificate of the Board of Control should have been obtained? If there are many who do not insert that condition, I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if it is possible to take any further steps to bring pressure to bear upon them? This is a very important matter. I know that the subject of film censorship is a controversial one. There are some people who would like to abolish the censorship altogether. I think, however, that the majority of people do not take that view, but, on the contrary, feel that some degree of
censorship is essential in view of the large number of young people who attend cinemas every week at a very impressionable period of their lives.
I remember the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, in a speech some time ago, was showing in picturesque fashion the wonderful progress which has been made in the last 60 or 70 years—under the capitalist system—and he mentioned that over 33,000,000 people attend the cinema every week. That is a very astonishing figure and, having regard to the enormous number of young people included in that total, some sort of censorship seems to be eminently desirable. We should like to know what steps the Home Secretary is taking to uphold the prestige, the influence and the authority of the British Board of Film Censors? I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman will consider these points of sufficient importance to justify him in giving the House all the information which he has at his disposal in regard to them.
I shall not detain the Committee long, and I do not think I would have risen at all but for the provocative speech of the right hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood), who opened the discussion. I wish he were as correct on every point as he was with regard to those details which he read from some police court proceedings. May I say, first, that I very much regret that we had not got the report of the chief inspector of factories before we secured a discussion on the Home Office Vote. I regard that report as exceedingly important, and it would be of great assistance if we could have it in future before we come to this annual Debate on the Home Office Vote. The right hon. Member for West Woolwich is always very excited about Russian affairs, but he divides Russians in this country into two categories. He is very much concerned about one category. If a man from Moscow comes here to work and disavows the Soviet regime, he wants to allow him to remain in this country.
The right hon. Gentleman suggested it. The Conservative party is always very much concerned about any Russian subject who comes here to work and who disavows the Soviet Government. [Interruption.] They do not want him executed, anyhow; but if any Russian is recommended for deportation by the Courts, they do not mind, apparently, if he is executed three or four times over. The right hon. Gentleman was very eloquent about the men who were discharged from Russian trading concerns. It might interest him to know that most of the employés of the Russian trading concern are members of my trade union, and that, so far as trade unionism is concerned, Russian trading concerns are no different from all other employers.
Anyway, the right hon. Gentleman's speech was mainly concerned with calling revenge upon somebody. He wanted to prosecute the owners of newspapers, and I agree with the suggestions that have been made that to advertise those newspapers does not do any good at all. I want to turn to another point on what may be the experience of other Members of Parliament as well as my own. I have had more than one case brought to my notice where a German lived in this country before the War and married an Englishwoman, and had children born in this country. In consequence of the War, the man was deported to his own country, where he is now residing with his family. There are several little tragedies connected with cases of that kind. In one such case that I know of, an Englishwoman, with two daughters born in this country, is living with her husband and family in Germany, and it is impossible for them to come here unless work can be found for the husband and father. I would like cases of that kind to be treated with a great deal of sympathy, because in such cases the Englishwoman and her British-born children have to pay the penalty of living in a foreign country. The best thing to do, if a suitable occupation can be found for the husband, is to secure the return of such a family to this country. I know it is a very difficult problem, because some people complain that Germans, Austrians, and other foreigners come over here and take jobs that Britishers could perform. But that is an assertion that cannot very well be proved, because the Ministry of Labour lays it down very strictly that no foreigners shall be allowed to come here to perform tasks that can be carried out by British labour.
I want now to turn to another topic. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will be good enough to tell us what is actually transpiring in connection with the report that was issued in March, 1927, by a Committee which inquired very exhaustively into the treatment of young offenders. The report and the recommendations of that Committee were divided into two parts. It required a great deal of legislation if some of the recommendations were to be adopted, but there were a great many things that the Home Office could do by sheer administrative acts. I have here a copy of the recommendations that were made, and I feel sure that the right hon. Gentleman would interest the Committee and the country at large if he would tell us what has happened in regard to those recommendations. There was the question of juvenile courts, and there was a point about probation, which are matters almost entirely for the Home Office to deal with through the courts of law. I will, however, leave that question, because other speakers, I am sure, will desire to raise it. I think we should not leave this Vote to-day without some reference to what was commenced some years ago by way of education in prisons, and I feel sure the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell the Committee something on that subject too. A great deal has been done in the past, by way of education, to teach those who are in prison to become better citizens when they return to civil life.
I will leave that question. I happened in 1926, I think it was, to sit through the whole of the proceedings in this House and in a Standing Committee when we passed the Amendment Act in connection with coroners' duties. We thought when we passed that Act that we had amended the Coroners' Acts to such an extent that there would be no difficulty in future in connection with their duties, but lo and behold, greater difficulties, I think, have arisen since the passing of that Act than ever before, and so far as I have been able to gather—and I have tried to make myself conversant with one or two aspects of the problem—I am sure that something will have to be done to deal effectively with the points that were raised by an hon. Member this afternoon on this issue. I do not know anything about the law, but I am informed very definitely that some coroners are dissatisfied with the present state of the law, and I am positive that the legal profession too, are dissatisfied with the present position.
In conclusion, let me say once again that I think it would be well if, in dealing with the Home Office Vote, we had always before us, though it has very seldom been the case hitherto, the annual report of the chief factory inspector. There are several factory and workshop questions upon which we could touch, but as we have not that report before us, we cannot do anything to enlighten ourselves on it this afternoon. As stated, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will tell us what has actually been done with regard to the recommendations of the Committee which dealt with juvenile offenders, and I should like to know also if the work of education in prisons is still continuing under the present régime. I feel sure—
I feel that I should apologise to the Committee for asking its attention to another question. When I saw the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) get up, I thought he would probably raise this question. I am going to ask the Home Secretary to exercise the powers conferred upon him, I believe, by the Racecourse Betting Act, 1928, to stop making the provisions of that Act a widespread net all over the country for collecting money to be invested in totalisators on racecourses. It would not be in order for me to suggest any amendment of the legislation, and I am only going to point out to the
Home Secretary the powers which he actually has under the Act. In Section 3, Sub-section (6), of the Act, it is provided that the Racecourse Betting Control Board
shall (subject to the payment out of the totalisator fund of all taxes, rates, charges, and working expenses, and to the retention of such sums as they think fit to meet contingencies, and to the payment out of the said fund of such sums as they think fit to charitable purposes) apply the moneys from time to time comprised in the totalisator fund in accordance with a scheme prepared by the Board and approved by the Secretary of State for purposes conducive to the improvement of breeds of horses or the sport of horse racing.
The Betting Control Board are taking out of that fund certain sums of money in order to pay commission to people far away from the racecourses on which the totalisator is operating on bets invested in the totalisators on the racecourses. In answer to a question put by me the other day, the Home Secretary said:
I understand that the Board is paying a commission to certain firms engaged in the betting business on bets placed by them on the course with the Board's totalisator, and it is advised that such payment is in order. I do not propose to introduce legislation on the subject."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th April, 1930; col. 2343, Vol. 237.]
I would ask the right hon. Gentleman seriously to consider if the powers conferred upon him, under the Act which we have passed for the control and the use of the fund, will enable him to prevent this course being followed. The Home Secretary is in agreement with me. He said in answer to another question of mine:
I do not approve the course that has been taken."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd April, 1930; col. 1440, Vol. 237.]
I am asking him to say whether he cannot take action to stop the course that has been taken.
The hon. Baronet was good enough to see me on this question before the session began to-day, and I pointed out to him that I did not know whether the Home Secretary had any power to do what the hon. Member desires him to do. I imagine these powers to be conferred on the Betting Control Board.
If the Home Secretary so interprets it, I shall be out of order in raising the question. If his legal advisers are right, and other legal advisers outside the House, who are not Law Officers of the Crown, are wrong, then the matter must drop so far as this Debate is concerned. I think that I should be in order in pointing out to the Home Secretary that he has certain powers to approve or disapprove the way that that fund is used. I have quoted the words in the Act, which says that it is to be subject to the approval of the Home Secretary; I have also shown that it is admitted that this fund is being used in order to pay commission to extend the operations of the totalisator all over the country through limited companies, bookmakers and others, in contradiction to the assurance that the House received on the Second Reading of the Act.
I would not have intervened were it not for certain remarks made by the opener of the Debate in the very lengthy and varied speech which he made on an important aspect of the Home Secretary's duties. I thought that it was well that someone on this side should say a word in support of the policy which has been adopted by the Home Secretary in regard to the trivial matters with very revolutionary names which were brought up by the right hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood). I contend that the Home Secretary, in taking the line that he has done, has adopted a policy which the biggest of his predecessors would have cordially approved. No one in this country who is in a position of responsibility tries in ordinary times such as those in which we are now living—I mean times of peace and not of war—to encroach upon the rights of ordinary men and women, even when they cannot express themselves very well or very politely, to print and publish things provided that the result of them is not destructive of law and order.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich remarked that a certain magistrate said in a court that certain pamphlets or leaflets which were connected with a prosecution for disorder, were very objectionable, and, apparently because the magistrate thought that these documents were very objectionable, the right hon. Gentleman thinks that the printers and publishers ought to be prosecuted. I have read many statements of many magistrates, for whom I have the utmost respect, but I suggest that because a magistrate or anybody else thinks that a leaflet or a pamphlet is objectionable, that is no reason why the printers or the publishers ought to be prosecuted by the Home Secretary. I am aware that when the late Government were in office, the paper referred to, which is now a daily paper, was a weekly paper. There is no difference whatever between the weekly edition which used to come out when the late Government were in office, and the present daily paper, except that the daily paper is somewhat milder.
I used to study the weekly edition because a considerable portion of its contents were devoted to very libellous attacks upon myself while I was a candidate for my constituency, but, although to me and to other people these statements were very objectionable, I should not for a moment suggest to the Home Secretary that he should lower his office and give dignity to the paper by prosecuting. What is the result of treating a paper of that kind with the contempt it deserves? It may interest the Home Secretary and the Committee that in a recent edition of that daily organ, it was stated that the district in England which formerly returned a Communist to this House, and where the Communist secured 6,000 votes at the General Election, namely, North Battersea, the least circulation of the paper had been obtained, there was the least sign of any activity for its support, and the condition of my constituency from the Communist point of view was absolutely disgraceful.
What would have happened if the late Home Secretary, besides having raided Arcos, had decided to prosecute this poor little sheet? He would have advertised the Communist movement and made martyrs of certain rather futile and stupid people, and he would have possibly given to the Communist movement of this country, which is a negligible movement, and one that can hardly be seen unless one applies a political microscope to it, the importance which it has obtained in Germany and France because the French and German Governments have adopted the contrary line to that adopted by the British Government. They have attacked, raided and suppressed the publications of the Communist movement, with the result that there is a powerful Communist body in both these countries capable of creating a large amount of dangerous disorder in the community, whereas in our country, by treating the movement in the traditional British way of allowing it to have free speech—
But we have not turned them out of the country. The Conservative party could turn them out of their organisation if it contained some supporters of the Communist movement. They would have the right to do it, for there is a great deal of difference between a voluntary organisation like the Trade Union Congress saying that the Communist shall not belong to it, and the State saying, "We are not going to allow you to print any documents because they happen to be considered objectionable by the right hon. Member for West Woolwich." When I hear speeches of the right hon. Gentleman opposite with regard to these poor creatures, whom I have met in my own constituency, and the importance that hon. Gentlemen opposite appear to attach to them and to what they say, I am always reminded of two incidents in my unimportant career. I was in Germany as a student at the time when the German Government were adopting a line very similar to that which the right hon. Member for West Woolwich would like the Home Secretary to adopt. I was warned that if I was not careful in what I said about the Kaiser, the servants in my pension would report to the police, and at their word I might be placed in prison for at least 12 months.
I came back to England, and in my street one night, a very bibulous gentleman, in the presence of a policeman, went into the middle of the road, and shouted at the top of his voice the most seditious and disrespectiful remarks about the reigning Sovereign. The policeman went up to him and said, "My good man, if you are not a little more quiet, I shall have to take you to the police station for being disorderly. You had better go home." That is the correct way of dealing with the Communist movement; just pat it gently on the shoulder, and tell it that, as far as we are concerned in this country, we do not attach any importance to it, and that wherever the money is coming from, it is being wasted by a number of incompetent and futile people, who know no more about revolution, in fact not so much about revolution, as certain hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side who, just before the War, were attempting revolutionary proceedings in Ireland. That is the way to deal with this negligible body. My respect for the Conservative party and for the bravery of the average Conservative who sits in the House is Only maintained by the belief which I have that all this agitation about a few hundred incompetent, futile people is vamped up for purely political purposes.
The expenditure of the Home Office seems to be going up in almost every detail. I notice that last year there was a decrease of £2,805 for the Home Office Vote, as compared with the year before, whereas this year there is an increase of £31,038 over last year. Last year, there was a staff decrease of three, and this year there is a staff increase of 11. If you turn to the inspection of factories you find that last year the staff was not increased at all, but this year there is an increase of 44 over the numbers of last year. Again, in regard to the inspection of explosives, there was a small increase last year over the previous year and a bigger increase this year over last year. If you turn to the Aliens Restriction Act, you find that the staff decreased by one last year over the previous year, but this year there was an increase of five over last year. If you take the totals, you find that last year there was an increase of £2,776 over the previous year, and this year an increase of £31,089. In regard to the staff, there was a decrease last year of four and this year an increase of 60. I am not prepared to say that any of these increases are unnecessary, because I do not know sufficient about the need. It may be that each of them is necessary, but it is quite obvious that there is a general tendency to increase expenditure, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will most carefully scrutinise the expenditure and help to save money where he can. It is only by cutting down expenditure that you can hope eventually to case the burden of taxation.
Now I would like to come to a completely uncontroversial question, the want of uniformity in the practice of Magistrates in dealing with young offenders. I am sure the whole Committee must agree that the less young delinquents are sent to prison and the more they are sent to institutions, the better it is for them. Can the right hon. Gentleman possibly do more to bring to the notice of the Magistrates the powers which they have to send these young offenders to Borstal institutions instead of to prison? The hon. and learned Member for Cardiganshire (Mr. Morris) raised the question of the records of convictions and fines, but he did not deal with this particular matter. It too often happens that the young offenders are not sent to Borstal institutions until after they have served one or more short sentences of imprisonment. Necessarily this means that, when they do reach the Borstal institution, the Borstal authorities find it very much harder to reclaim them. Let me give one or two illustrations of what has happened—I will not say recently but in the last few years. A lad not quite 19 had three consecutive sentences of two months' imprisonment. Three months after his release he got another two months' imprisonment. A lad of 18 had one month's imprisonment for larceny, then three months' imprisonment, then one month's imprisonment. Immediately after his release another two months' imprisonment was given to him for loitering. Five months later he had another three months and two months after his release he had another two months' imprisonment when he was only just over 19 years of age. I will take offenders of tenderer age, the case of a lad of 16 who got one month's imprisonment for assault—
I am afraid I could not tell you that. A lad of 16 got three months' imprisonment for theft. Four months later, when still under 17, he had another three months' imprisonment. It would be infinitely better if these lads, instead of getting these short sentences of imprisonment, were sent straight away to Borstal institutions. Some Magistrates think that the present arrangements for the classification and treatment of persons under 21 have diminished the objection to giving these short sentences of imprisonment. I do not think it is the case. Persons under 21 who have sentences of three months and over are, it is true, gathered together in certain prisons called collecting centres and that is done because far better arrangements can be made for them as young persons when they are all collected together, but it, does not in the least mean that they are getting away from prison conditions, and the conditions prevailing at the prisons are quite different from the conditions prevailing at the Borstal institutions. In the first place, at the Borstal institutions all the inmates are young and the whole of the administration is directed to training these young people. In a prison these young offenders form only a portion of the whole population, and, therefore, the whole administration has to be directed so as to suit a population of very mixed ages.
Again, in the Borstal institution there are a very large number of occupations, and classes can be provided for the various kinds of young people they have to deal with. In a prison it is quite impossible to provide this diversity of training and employment. In Borstal institutions, where inmates are serving long sentences, courses of training are progressive; in prisons, where sentences are short, courses of training cannot possibly be consecutive or progressive. In Borstal institutions you have very extensive premises where open-air exercises and physical training can take place; naturally in prison those opportunities are very much restricted. Finally, in prison there is always the danger of contamination of these young offenders by the older prisoners. Great efforts are made to segregate them to a certain extent, but it is impossible in a prison to separate completely the young offenders from the older people. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman will continue to remind magistrates of their powers in this respect.
The only other point that I want to deal with is the question of mental defectives. There is a practice in some courts of convicting cases of doubtful sanity and sending them to prison for observation. The practice of these courts varies to a large extent. This is where the right hon. Gentleman can help a great deal by calling the attention of magistrates to their powers under various Acts. In one district a very low grade imbecile was sent to prison for stealing coal. In other courts cases of mental deficiency are dealt with under the Mental Deficiency Act and these persons are not sent to prison as convicted prisoners. To my mind it is very undesirable indeed to mix the mentally defective in prisons with those who are mentally normal. The Governor and the medical officer of one large prison gave the case of 12 women whose convictions for drunkenness ranged from 11 to 15 each during the year, and the number of days they spent in prison were from 201 to 318 days apiece.
It is obvious that these short sentences of imprisonment did absolutely no good at all, and that those poor people ought to have been sent to an institution. I have no doubt that a good many could have been sent to an inebriate home under one of the earlier Acts of Parliament. The Secretary of State sometimes on his own authority and initiative removes cases of that kind to institutions. I am sorry to say that there is often a great delay in getting these people admitted. Very often accommodation cannot be found, and these people remain in prison sometimes for many months. In some cases they remain in prison until their sentences expire and they never get into a home at all. I do not know if the right hon. Gentleman has got power at the moment to increase this accommodation but, if he could use his influence to do so, I am sure it would go a long way towards solving that particular problem. That is the only point I wish to raise before the right hon. Gentleman speaks.
I do not offer any objection whatever either to the terms or the tone of any of the speeches which we have heard in this Debate. I particularly welcome the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down and assure him that I share with him some concern as to the human side of the subjects upon which he has touched. I cannot at the moment say what my powers may be in dealing with inebriates and mental defectives, but he can depend upon it that I will give sympathetic consideration to what he has said and will see whether it is possible to do anything further. He made some criticism of the increase of the cost of working and managing the Home Office. I am afraid that the increase in an institution like the Home Office is inevitable. If you are to meet public demands and cover an increasing desire for public safety under the innumerable heads relating to Home Office work you will have to meet the cost. I think it is agreed that the necessary cost of that kind is more in the nature of an investment giving a good public return than expenditure of an ordinary character.
The right hon. Gentleman touched on a matter which I have often referred to myself in public speeches and at gatherings of magistrates, probation officers, and others interested in police and kindred questions. The view of the Home Office is that the committal to prison of persons under 21 should be avoided if any alternative method of dealing with them can reasonably be adopted. A certain number of young persons are still sent to prison in default of payment of fines. In 1927 there were 581, and in 1928, 454. There is a provision under the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act, 1914, that, when a young offender is allowed time for payment, the Court may place him under the supervision of some person who may be appointed by the Court until the sum adjudged to be paid is paid. A circular sent out some time ago urged that more use should be made of this provision. In many cases the Courts and the police do their best by delaying the commital warrants and by warning the defaulters to secure payment and avoid committal to prison.
A circular was sent out some time ago urging that in suitable cases conditions should be attached to probation orders requiring young offenders to live in hostels and places where they could go out to get work, or in homes or places where training and employment as well as accommodation are provided for young people. In more serious offences, where probation is undesirable in the public interest, and detention is necessary, the circular urged that Borstal treatment was the proper thing. Prison conditions do not permit of an adequate system of training for young people; and although young prisoners are as far as possible kept apart from others, it is impossible to secure complete isolation and for them never to come in sight of or in contact with older offenders. Those who are acquainted with the changes in prison life in recent years will agree that a very considerable advance has been made I think that advance will continue, no matter which party may be in office, and that efforts will be made to bring people, no matter of what age, out of prison better than they were when they went in. Much depends on the human element and the degree of education, guidance and instruction that can be given to those who, unhappily, are in prison. Reference was made to the position of probation officers. At the Home Office we are responsible for probation officers in the London area. Their pay has been increased and pensions have been established for them, and they are brought into closer contact with the different institutions with which they are concerned in regard to their duties than was formerly the case.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) raised, perhaps, the most controversial of any of the questions discussed this afternoon. I dare say the Communists will thank him for the wide advertisement which he has given to their literature and their efforts. I did not think he was so pro-Communist as he has turned out to be according to his speech this afternoon. He cited, first of all, two cases at Chelsea and Hounslow. In both cases the Secretary of State for War, on being consulted, advised that the terms of the leaflets were not such as to justify the military authorities in suggesting that proceedings should be taken for sedition. I know I have some responsibility in these matters, but at the Home Office we are not in any sense a prosecuting authority, and it is proper for us to take counsel, say, with the War Office when a leaflet is issued to soldiers or when some effort is made by an individual to undermine the loyalty of the Army. So far as I have acted in these matters, I have acted on the best legal and official advice which I could obtain from the appropriate quarter. The persons who were prosecuted were not prosecuted for what the leaflets contained, but for misbehaviour in their distribution and for the disorder which they caused. An arrest might equally well have been necessary, say, in the case of some importunate street hawker who persisted in trying to sell an Arsenal buttonhole to the supporters of the other team on the occasion of the Cup Final. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, no!"] Oh, yes. I repeat that these persons were not prosecuted because of the terms or character of the leaflet, but for disorder. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out that in one instance the magistrate read parts of the leaflets in court and made comments upon them and actually went to the length of saying that these leaflets were very objectionable. They may well be very objectionable. To my mind, many of the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman are very objectionable, but I would not on that account take any action to bring him into a Court of law.
I do not know whether my right hon. Friend was so intensely solemn and serious as, perhaps, he appeared to be in handling these cases. I shall, before I finish, make some reference to each one of them. But I say that the public interest has not been endangered by the printing or circulating of the leaflets in question. To that I will add that Communist literature is less abundant now than it was before the Labour party came into office. I might well ask the right hon. Gentleman why proceedings were not taken against the Communists by the late Government. The only difference, indeed, in the literature is that in their leaflets to-day there is a little more vituperation, a little more unrestrained condemnation of the Labour Government. The right hon. Gentleman wanted to know where they got all the money for this kind of work. So do I! It would be a matter of interest if we did know. But what action did the late Government take to find out where they got the money for the printing and the distribution of this literature? In such cases as these it is always a matter for consideration whether, in the public interest, it would be better to prosecute or to ignore the offence. You can do a great deal of good to an offender by giving him wide advertisement, and in these cases it was desirable not to give the Communists and their sympathisers the valuable opportunity of airing their views which a prosecution would have afforded them.
At Aldershot there were no arrests on either occasion. Near Chelsea Barracks two men and a woman were arrested on the 15th March and charged with insulting behaviour. They were convicted at Westminster Police Court on the 17th March and each was fined £2. These three prisoners were distributing to soldiers leaving the barracks copies of a Communist leaflet calling upon them to protest against compulsory church parades and to defend Soviet Russia, and so on. These particular leaflets were not printed, but multigraphed, and bore no direct indication of their origin. At Hounslow on the 12th April the circumstances were similar. Two men were arrested. The leaflets were not the same as those distributed on the 15th March, but they were similar in tone. They were addressed to the workers in the Army, and called upon soldiers to form committees for the abolition of compulsory church parades. The two men were convicted at the Brentford Petty Sessions on the 14th April on a charge of insulting behaviour whereby a breach of the peace might have been occasioned. One was fined £2 and £3 3s. costs. and the other was fined £1 I have been asked to state what is my policy in relation to the matter. It is to deal with each case on its merits, and, if I may say so, apply as much common sense as I can hope to do as to what action should be taken, according to the degree of the offence. It is impossible to announce beforehand what one will do in any hypothetical case, but I think the House may be assured that we shall have regard to the interests of the State and, incidentally, to the rights of individuals freely to hold opinions which are not in themselves offensive. It is none of our business to try to make new offences while we are in office.
I have been asked to make some statement on the question of deporting Russians. It is not a new question, nor does it arise solely in connection with the Soviet Government, for the persistence of the habit of classing all persons from the former Russian Empire as "Russian" has tended to emphasise the part played by the Soviet Government. For a year or so after the War it was impossible to dump all "Russians" into Russia without too great a regard to their actual place of origin, and ever since Russia and the Baltic States settled down to a fairly stable condition, and enacted nationality and immigration laws, the difficulty of deporting reputed Russians has been acute. The difficulty arises from the fact that the nationalisation laws of the country concerned do not recognise as nationals persons not resident in the country at a prescribed date, unless they have applied for citizenship within a certain period, and obtained it. This period has, of course, long since expired. Many, if not the majority, of the persons concerned have been long absent from their country of origin and have lost all connection with it, and have not troubled to apply for citizenship. Consequently, there are a large number of persons of former Russian nationality who are now without a country, are State-less. Some come from what is now Soviet Russia, but more come from the various concession States on the boundary, and we have met with at least as many refusals of recognition from Lithuania and Latvia and other places as from Soviet Russia.
As regards persons recommended for deportation who may be Soviet citizens, the renewal of diplomatic relations with the Soviet Government has afforded a fresh opportunity of considering the possibility of their removal from this country. A careful examination has been made of all cases outstanding since 1924. The Foreign Office have been asked to make application to the Soviet Government for facilities for the deportation of three persons whose deportation in existing circumstances appears to be desirable, and whose claim to Soviet citizenship appears to be worth further investigation. In all cases when deportation has not been possible after the expiration of an alien's sentence it has been the practice to authorise his release upon special restrictions designed to secure, as far as possible, that the offence shall not be repeated.
Now I come to the dismissal of the Russian employés and a statement of the position of the Government regarding them. The dismissed employés declined to return to the Soviet Republic, and in most cases they made formal application to the Secretary of State to be allowed to remain in this country. Careful inquiry has been made regarding the 27 persons mentioned in the list furnished by the Soviet Embassy, with special reference to the 11 dismissed in 1929 and this year. As regards those dismissed before that date, a decision has already been taken, in most cases, not to interfere with their continued residence in this country, and where necessary the condition attached to their landing has been cancelled. Two had left in 1927 and one had disappeared. As regards the 11 dismissed during 1929, an intimation has already been conveyed to five that no objection will be raised to their continued presence in this country. The other six cases are still under consideration. In reply to a question on 1st May, I said that, with one possible exception, none of these Soviet citizens is on the British labour market, the majority of them being in business on their own account.
My powers are adequate for dealing with this type of case which is clearly distinguishable from the cases of disputed or doubtful nationality that have given so much trouble. Each case must be considered on its merits, and, so far, I have not come across any case where it seemed desirable in the interests of this country that the alien should be required to leave. If and when such a case should arise in which, on the one hand, the interests of this country would require the alien's departure, and on the other hand public sentiment would recoil from the thought of exposing the alien to the risk of the drastic treatment contemplated by the Soviet decree of 21st November, 1928, the question of making representation to the Soviet Government would arise. That would be a matter of policy for the Government as a whole, and I cannot deal with what is at present a hypothetical case.
Another case which has been raised is that of Isidor Dreazen, who has been passing under the name of Mills in this country. He is a naturalised American, born at Wilno, Poland, on 3rd August, 1893. This man arrived in this country on 29th January this year, having travelled from Ostend to Dover with an American passport issued on 12th June, 1929. He stated to the immigration officer that he was on a three weeks' visit and did not intend to do any business in this country, and consequently he was granted leave to land. On 25th April he was arrested, following certain police inquiries at the headquarters of the Communist party in Manchester, and charged with failing to register himself as an alien within the prescribed period of two months. On 1st May he was convicted, sentenced to one month's imprisonment, and recommended for deportation. The question of his deportation remains to be decided and will be considered in due course. I think that in this case the police are to be commended for the promptness of their action and for the course they have taken.
Upon that point I have no information. Several hon. Members have raised the question of inquests and coroners' courts. The Debate to-day has not convinced me that there is any widespread demand for a far-reaching overhauling of the common law on this question. There was a very comprehensive inquiry by a committee in 1910, and another one in 1926, when there was a considerable change in the law. My view is that it is rather too early to review this matter, and our experience has not been sufficient to justify us in taking any further steps in this direction. It is true that there has been three or four cases which have given rise to some criticism and to some uneasiness, but the instances which have given rise to criticisms are extremely few in comparison with the total number of inquests which have been held. I can only state the law as it has been stated to me. The common law is now embodied in Section 4 (3) of the Coroners Act, 1887, and it is under this provision that the coroners are required to pursue their inquiries up to the point of enabling the jury to find the persons, if any, who have been guilty of murder or manslaughter. Our courts have always recognised the imperative need in this country of some method of investigating murders that has not the defects to English minds of Continental methods of interrogations in private. The function of a coroner is not to try the question or the guilt or innocence of any person. It is his duty simply to push the investigation far enough to enable the jury to come to a finding not of guilt or innocence, but whether there is a prima facie case against a person who should be put on his trial.
The rights and liberties of the murdered person should, after all, be borne in mind. When an outrage upon the rights and liberties of the subject is committed to the extent of murder or manslaughter, the law insists that every effort should be made to discover the culprit, even at the risk of some inconvenience to some other subjects who may be unfortunate enough to be suspect. For these reasons the safeguards which hedge round the proceedings in a court of trial do not apply in the case of proceedings before a coroner, but the absence of these safeguards is intentional, and if the proceedings in a coroner's court were hedged round with the same restrictions as apply in a court of trial, the usefulness of a coroner's inquisition would be considerably impaired. After listening to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Lowestoft (Sir G. Rentoul), I am convinced that there is considerable force in his argument, and I do not close my mind to the case which has been submitted in the course of this discussion. The hon. and learned Member for Lowestoft also raised the question of the censorship of films.
During the remainder of the Debate I will endeavour to give that information. With regard to the question of films, there may be differences of opinion as to what is good for the younger people amongst those who deplore the intervention of the censorship. I would like to point out that the Board of Censors is an independent body. The next body to intervene and to exercise the right of permits in regard to films is the local authority, and that body acts upon the certificate of the Board of Film Censors. It is a fact that the local authority can act independently of the Board of Censors, and I think it has done so in a few instances.
The Home Secretary has just stated that the Board of Censors is an independent body. Is it not a fact that the members of the Board of Censors are attached to the trade and that the salaries and expenses of that Board are paid by the trade? In those circumstances, how can it be said that they are an independent body?
That raises the question of what is meant by "independent." I mean that they are independent of any authority which I know, and it is the Board which the law permits. I will leave this subject by saying that I do not think anyone would seriously claim that the authority now exercised by local councils and local governing bodies should be taken from them, or that any power of that kind should be placed in the hands of others.
On the subject of aliens, I can assure my hon. Friend that the checking and supervision of the incoming of aliens into this country is completely effective. It must be realised that when nearly half a million people come into this country from abroad every year, it is not surprising that a few of them manage to get through, in spite of the restrictions of a competent board of officials. The conditions in this country are very different, economically and industrially, from what they were before the War, and no one in the present conditions of unemployment and economic stress would dream of giving a free access to aliens to come in just as they pleased.
Another aspect of this question was raised by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) who asked, quite reasonably, that something should be done in the case of many poor aliens who have been here for a quarter of a century and have not yet been naturalised. The hon. Member for Gorbals pointed out that it is difficult for these poor aliens to find the fee, and the other incidental costs necessary for naturalisation. I have discussed this matter with the proper authorities, and the conclusion I have reached is that it would be a fair thing to make some reasonable provision to meet these hard cases in respect of the legal fee and other costs, and to arrange for a different tribunal, and so organise the system as to make it unnecessary for these poor aliens to go to a solicitor to receive legal aid for which they have to pay. At the same time, I submit to the Committee that the acquirement of the privilege of British nationality is worth something, and it should not be treated as something which belong to everybody, and, consequently, it is necessary for us to exercise the greatest care in regard to these matters. We should do that if only for the reason that the conduct of this elaborate machinery in connection with aliens is a costly business, and those who are to take advantage of it and gain from its working should be willing to pay something in exchange for the advantage that it gives to them. There is much more under this head that I might say, but I know that other Members are anxious to raise new topics, which will be dealt with later by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary.
I was asked about an increase in the number of factory inspectors. The general inspection staff attached to the inspection divisions and the districts is to be raised from 180 to 243, the number of superintending inspectors' divisions from 10 to 11, and the number of inspection districts from 83 to 96. An additional division will be formed in the south-east of England, where there has been in recent years a great development of industry, so that, so far as we have the means and opportunity, we are increasing our power of supervision over industries in these new areas.
I should like to say a word on a point which has become of very real social interest in two or three centers, as, for instance, Hull and South Shields. It is in reference to coloured seamen, and the rather serious troubles which have been associated with incidents of quite recent date. These coloured seamen are of two kinds, British subjects and aliens. The British subjects are mainly Indians or lascars. The general question of the employment of coloured seamen is one for the Board of Trade, who have for some time been giving consideration to the problems involved. As regards alien coloured seamen, the Home Office has certain powers under the Aliens Restriction Act, and through emigration officers and the police, all practicable steps are taken to prevent any unauthorised addition to the alien coloured seamen population. Much of the trouble arose from the activities of certain coloured boarding house keepers, who make a profit out of the engagement of these men, in some cases even supplying them with forged papers. The recent conviction and recommendation for deportation of one of the most active of these boarding house keepers will, I hope, be of considerable assistance in curtailing this illegal traffic. I would like to express the opinion that, in taking full advantage of our powers, we should use the power to deal with coloured British subjects, and that, as regards both classes of seamen, the most effective remedy in my judgment would be for British shipowners to give a preference to the employment of British over coloured seamen wherever they can possibly do so.
I had to inform the House on a recent occasion of a development in connection with the police forces of our country, to which at the moment I cannot refer, but, to reassure those hon. Members who have just touched on the subject, and who have been interrupted, very properly, by the Chairman, I would say that a reply will be given later in the course of our discussion to the points which I am certain they wanted to raise. I think, without belittling the importance of the questions which will be raised later, that I have dealt with the main subjects in which hon. Members are interested.
Last year, when we were discussing these Votes, the Home Secretary was asked whether he would consider anything in regard to the foundation of observation centres. There is no specific Vote down on that subject, and, therefore, I take it that I shall be in order in asking the right hon. Gentleman what are his intentions and views on the subject. As the Committee will realise, observation centres are supposed to be homes or places where persons who are charged, and especially young persons, can be placed for a certain time before they are actually adjudicated upon, in order to see what is the reason of their delinquency. These observation centres are extremely important. The case is like that of a doctor. It is no use going to a doctor and saying that a man has a headache, and the doctor saying, "Oh, it is headache, is it? He must have headache medicine," and giving him a pill or some sort of medicine just for headache. The doctor does not do that; he puts the patient under observation, sees what is the matter with him, and treats him accordingly. It has been suggested on former occasions that it would be a wise thing, in the interests of reforming, and not penalising, people who are charged, to take this matter seriously in hand. The Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary will no doubt understand what I am trying to convey, even if I do not express it very well, and I hope very much that they will tell us what they have in mind in regard to this matter.
I should like to touch upon a subject to which reference has already been made in the House. Four or five years ago, the Home Office appointed a Departmental Committee to consider the treatment of young offenders, and that Committee issued its Report in March, 1927. The Report contained many recommendations regarding the treatment of children who break the law. Some of the suggestions could only be carried out by legislation, and, therefore, I do not touch upon them now, but there were other matters which could be carried out at once by the Home Office, and it is on these that I propose now to speak. The Report was a most admirable one, imbued with the modern humane spirit. It said that the welfare of the child or young person should be the primary object of the juvenile court. We have got rid of the old idea that a person who broke the law was a person against whom the State ought to take revenge, and we now treat the child offender, especially, as a mental invalid, as a wrong-doer who has to be converted into an asset to the State. Retribution has given place to reformation, and that spirit ran through this very admirable Report.
The most important feature of the whole system of Juvenile Courts and probation is the probation officer. That he should be thoroughly competent and capable is essential if the probation system is to work well. One of the recommendations of the Report was that the whole probation system throughout the country should be supervised by the Home Office, and, therefore, I am not I think doing wrong if I press upon the Home Office the importance of securing for the work of probation the very beat men that can be obtained. I am not satisfied with the way in which probation officers are secured at the present time. When probation was first established, the Police Courts utilised very largely the services of the Police Court missionaries and the representatives of the Church of England Temperance Society. They were, I think, in every case quite worthy and excellent men. They have done good service in the past, and the Courts still largely resort to them for carrying on the work of probation, but I think the time has come for the establishment of a thoroughly modern and up-to-date system. One result of appointing officials of Church of England associations is practically to institute a sectarian test in the case of a large number of those who become probation officers, and certainly we on this side of the House think that sectarian tests ought to belong to the past.
It is very important, also, that the justices should be thoroughly qualified for their work, though a great many of them are not at the present time. I know, of course, that the appointment of justices does not rest with the Home Office, but with the Lord Chancellor, but the Home Office can do a great deal to mitigate the unfortunate results that follow from having incompetent justices. We want better qualified justices, we want younger justices, we want more women justices, and, above all, we want to banish from the appointment of justices anything in the nature of reward for political services. Mr. H. G. Wells once described the office of justice of the peace as "the knighthood of the underling," and it has been so to a very large extent in the past. We want our justices to be imbued with the modem spirit, to be free from the old idea that if you spared the rod you spoilt the child, and rubbish of that kind. I appeal to the Home Office to secure as far as they can—they can do a great deal without legislation—that in the Police Courts modern methods shall be adopted, and that the child shall be treated, not as a wrongdoer, but rather as a mental invalid to be restored to health.
The Departmental Committee made various recommendations, which I should like to press upon the hon. Gentleman who is at the moment representing the Home Office. I would ask him if he is satisfied that these recommendations are being carried out. The Committee recommended that, in the case of justices dealing with children, there should be a small panel of men and women justices set apart to deal with juvenile courts; that the number sitting was often too large, and should normally be limited to three; that there should be a greater sharing of common experience by Magistrates of juvenile courts; and that they should make themselves acquainted with some of the institutions to which they send children. It would be very interesting to know how many Magistrates do that. I venture to say that very few now obey that injunction. Then it was recommended that the whole procedure of juvenile courts should be remodelled on simpler lines, and that the forms should be made simpler. Is that being done? Other recommendations were that the terms "conviction" and "sentence" should not be used in the juvenile court; that proceedings in the juvenile court should be as private and informal as possible, care being taken to limit the number of persons present; and that publication of the name, address, school, photograph, or anything likely to lead to identification of the young offender should be prohibited. I should very much like to know how far these excellent injunctions are being adopted by Magistrates throughout the country.
One result of getting better and more efficient probation officers and justices would be a decline of the habit, which I am glad to say is already declining, of refraining, when a boy gets into trouble, from bringing him before the Court, because of the harm it might do. A boy goes to the local baker as an errand boy. He steals money, and the baker discovers it, but says, "Well, I do not want to spoil the boy's career," and quietly gets rid of him. He goes to the local grocer and repeats the process, emboldened by his success at the baker's. Again the grocer may say, "I know that the boy's parents are very decent people," and he, too, quietly gets rid of him. The boy goes to the butcher, who is rather more hard-hearted, and brings him up at the police court. There he appears as a first offender, and is dealt with as a first offender, but he is really a confirmed wrong-doer. I hope that Members of the House will realise that the truest kindness to such a boy is not to overlook his offence, and allow him to continue his wrongdoing, but at once to bring him before the Court. The report, I am sorry to say, does not entirely condemn whipping. If there is one thing to which, as one who has taken an interest in child offenders for many years, I am intensely opposed, it is whipping. I had the opportunity a year or two ago of addressing the National Association of Probation Officers, and on my suggestion they unanimously passed a Resolution that whipping should be abolished. They said that it hampered their work and that a boy who had been whipped came before them with a feeling of resentment so that the probation officer did not get a fair chance. A practice against which I want to protest is that of whipping boys and putting them on probation at the same time. Some magistrates are so firm on whipping a boy that if he is charged with stealing a box of chocolates and 5s. they put him on probation for the box of chocolates and have him whipped for the 5s. The whole point of probation is that a boy is not to be formally convicted, and if he is to be thrashed he must be convicted.
I am sure that all the lawyers in the House will bear me out that the practice is essentially illegal, and I press the Home Office to deal with the matter. The Departmental Report says that where the need arises the Home Office should procure the establishment of local committees to organise and co-ordinate the work of after-care. Such committees should be fully representative of all the interests concerned, for example, local education authorities, vocation committees, voluntary societies and so forth. That is very important work. Often the most critical time in the career of one who has broken the law is the time when the probation officer ceases to exercise any care over him. The boy suddenly finds he has got his feet, and that is the time above all others when the after-care should come into operation and he should be helped to fight the battle of life. I offer these criticisms in no sense of hostility to the Home Office. I recognise that the present Home Secretary and his able assistant, the Parliamentary Secretary, are deeply imbued with what I call the modern spirit and recognise that children who offend against the law have to be treated not as wrongdoers but as children to be restored to the paths of rectitude and to become assets rather than liabilities to the State.
I shall not detain the Committee long, and would not have risen at all if it had not been for the remarks which the Home Secretary made on a matter which very much affects the constituency I represent, that is, the dissemination by the Communist party of incitements to the troops stationed at Aldershot and other garrison towns. I should like to reinforce very strongly what the hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) said in that connection. It seems to me to be petty on the part of the Government to prosecute the poor dupes who are made to carry this literature through the camps and to leave untouched the organisations behind them who are paying them, providing the literature and are the schemers of the whole movement. The Government have prosecuted a few of these miserable men, but they have done nothing against the printing presses and the organisation that is pouring out this stuff.
I was astonished to hear the Home Secretary say that in his opinion, as I gather, and certainly in the opinion of the Secretary of State for War, the leaflets which have been circulated are not of such a character that he would feel justified in taking action against
the printers. He even went so far as to compare the appeals with appeals to join some football team and suggested that these men who go about with literature in the camps were merely prosecuted on account of the disturbance they made. I have been supplied with a specimen of the literature that was handed to the soldiers in the Aldershot camp only a few days ago, and I want to read to the Committee very shortly just a few passages to show the nature of this stuff that is being so freely printed in the country. This is an appeal
To the Workers in the Army, Navy and Air Forces.
To-day the police are brutally used to stifle the unemployed and, as our struggle grows so will stronger measures be used. To-morrow you may be called upon to attack us.… This Government composed of men who climbed to power on the backs of the workers, cannot even find money to relieve the misery of the victims of its rationalisation policy; yet in the midst of its so-called Naval Disarmament Conference it has decided to spend this year £110,000,000 on preparations for future wars and, as soon as the conference is over, it will vote further millions for new naval destruction. Thus does it show its capitalist character. We unemployed are marching to expose its shameful work and to end our misery and degradation. We are not prepared meekly to accept starvation because a capitalist Government, calling itself Labour, is in office. It is to your interest to help us in our fight against starvation, to contribute to our fund, to assist our meetings on the road and join us in demonstrations on 1st May for the unity of soldiers, sailors, airmen and workers in the common struggle against the Labour Government and its starvation methods against the unemployed, against the war preparations, against speeding up and low wages and for full work and waves for all workers.
That kind of exhortation, of course, would be quite unobjectionable if made to civilians, but the point about soldiers is that they are under discipline, and in their capacity as soldiers, whether they are officers or men, they are the servants of the Government and have no party politics. I am Member for Aldershot, but I have never held a political meeting in the camp or in the precincts of the camp. I have never asked permission to do so, and I do not expect that I should ever be allowed to do such a thing. The Army as such knows no politics and ought not to know any politics, and it is quite wrong that these organisations should be allowed to incite troops to take
sides in the grievances of the Communist party against His Majesty's Government.
I should like to tell the Committee that the soldiers intensely resent this literature being handed to them. They regard it as an insult, as an aspersion on their loyalty and steadfastness in that they should be suspected of being susceptible to such arguments as these, and therefore it appears to me to be altogether unworthy and contemptible that the Government ignore the printing presses and the printers that are printing literature of this description. The name of the printer is on this literature, and if the Government say that they have no powers to stop printing of this sort, it is about time they came to this House and asked for them. I am sure they would get them very easily indeed. To use their present powers on the miserable dupes who are made to carry this stuff round the camps and to leave untouched the men who are writing and printing it, is unworthy of the Government of a great country and also dangerous in so important a matter. We cannot, as lovers of liberty, and as politicians ignore the deliberate attempts which are being made to instil a spirit of indiscipline, a spirit of partisanship, a spirit of rebellion in the armed forces of the Crown and, although there is not the slightest danger of the officers and men paying any attention to this sort of thing, we owe it to ourselves and to our respect for the Forces to see that an end is put to it as soon as possible.
I desire to associate myself with what has been said about the exhibition in Horseferry Road. In many ways it is extremely interesting to anybody who is interested in industry, but it requires better propaganda than it is receiving. Perhaps it requires better propaganda than any Government Department is capable of giving it, but if the Government are incapable of getting the people to visit it, I suggest they should get in touch with some advertising agency which knows how to interest people in this kind of thing and get large numbers to visit it instead of the sparse numbers who visit it at present.
I should like to support, too, what has been said about the treatment of juvenile offenders. It has been said that there are a great many who ought not to be sent to prison at all, who owing to some mental kink or habit have committed some minor offence for which they ought not to be punished by being sent to prison, but should be treated in some way. It has been said that there is a certain type of young person, who goes in for burglary, who in another class of life would go in for big game hunting. I do not know whether there is anything in that. I do not suggest that burglary should be dealt with on lines of this kind, but there are a great many cases of youths and girls whose whole career and future life are ruined by being sent to prison, when they ought to go to a hospital for mental treatment. The Tavistock Square clinic is doing most excellent work in this way. It has very inadequate resources but a devoted staff and band of supporters, and I believe offenders of this kind are being sent there and suitably dealt with. I hope the Under-Secretary will be able to say that the Government are in sympathy with dealing with cases on these lines, and are going to take some steps to extend the possibility of the treatment. At present it can only be done on a limited scale, and a number of people are having their lives ruined owing to lack of opportunity of treatment.
I should like to know how far the Government have gone in carrying out the recommendations of the Committee on factory inspection. It was signed on 8th May of last year, and there were 16 recommendations. I hope that steps are being taken to put it into operation in due course. In making his selection of suitable people as factory inspectors, I hope that the Home Secretary will not place entire reliance on academic distinction. You must have an entrance examination and you must have a certain standard, but it is also vital to have people as inspectors who have some practical knowledge of industry, and who are in the habit of dealing with technical, industrial problems. In that way you will get far better harmony in carrying out their duties, and far more efficient work will be performed. I do not think sufficient attention is paid to the matter at present. Let us have academic distinction by all means, but let that go with practical industrial experience. I believe that there is a tendency amongst factory inspectors to pay far too much attention to factories that are well run, where things are done in the way of welfare, and where his attention is not nearly as much required as it is elsewhere. Smaller factories in the same neighbourhood, which may be of a lower standard, get neglected while the inspector is devoting his attention to well-organised places which do not require it in the same degree. I hope it will be suggested to them that they ought to give more of their time to the small, badly organised factories.
There has been a good deal of criticism of the Government order misting that in every department there must be first-aid boxes. I agree that, where no other arrangements are made, it is essential to insist on that, but where other arrangements are made, where you have central welfare institutions, it is far better to rely on that. If you rely on first-aid boxes posted in different departments, they get neglected, and they get dirty, and you do not get anything like the same attention to accidents when they occur as when you are dependent on a centralised department. I hope that factory inspectors will bear that in mind and not stick simply to the letter of the law, as they are far too much inclined to do sometimes.
I deplore the lack of information which seems to exist in the Home Office on many industrial matters. I have put a number of questions asking for information on industrial subjects, such as works councils, foremen's councils, works magazines and suggestion schemes, but either they have no information or it is of a very inadequate character. I do not know whether the Home Office consider it to be within their functions to give information of that kind, but if it is not, I hope that they are so reorganising the Home Office as to make it possible to supply it. If they cannot do that, or can only do it to a limited extent, I hope that they will instruct their inspectors to inform employers that there is a very excellent voluntary body, the Industrial Welfare Society, which has the Duke of York as President, and on the council a number of Members of the House of all parties, including Members of the Government and the Home Secretary himself. It has had a very wide experience of industrial questions, and it has been able in the past to advise and help employers who want to have a high standard of welfare in their factories if they wanted information. That information is not available now, and if the Home Office cannot give it themselves, they might at least advise employers where they can get it in a very effective way from this society.
A great deal of rationalisation is going on in industry. I hope that the Government will do what they can to rationalise themselves—to rationalise the various Government Departments. The Home Office is dealing with only one small corner of the industrial field. I hope that they are taking care to see that their work is properly related to what is done by other Departments. The Board of Trade, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Labour and the Board of Education are all doing work of a similar nature to some extent in industry, and they ought to be co-ordinated, either on a voluntary basis or by setting up a Ministry of Industry. It was a recommendation of that book which, I understand, lies at the bedside of most Members of the Cabinet for reading during wakeful hours, the Liberal Yellow Book, that there should be set up a Council of Industry. Until that is done—and I feel sure it will be some day—there will not be proper co-ordination between all these Departments connected with industry. Our problems to-day are economic. If we simply look at things from the point of view of the technical side, we are leaving out the human side, which is one of the most important. We are not going to make any proper progress in the restoration of prosperity until we get labour properly recognised as an essential factor in industry, as a partner, and I believe, by doing that on proper lines, we can do what is a vital and absolutely essential thing in restoring prosperity once more to a proper level in the land
I desire to bring to the notice of the Committee an action of the Home Secretary which is of some special interest to those who are concerned with local authorities, and the various powers within their jurisdiction. The Leeds Corporation has undertaken a task which has not been undertaken by any municipality in the country for 100 years.
It is obviously impossible to criticise the Home Secretary without giving reasons which would involve some discussion of the merits of the Bill—why it is being opposed or supported. My Ruling is clear. The Bill is now before a Committee in another place; it is sub judice and it would be improper to discuss it here. I must adhere to that ruling.
May I put the matter in another way without mentioning the Bill at all? The Leeds Corporation have passed certain resolutions desiring certain powers. A public meeting has been held and no objection has been taken to the Leeds Corporation's desire for those powers, but when the request came before a Committee of this House the Home Secretary, through his representative, took exception—he being the only person who up to that moment had taken exception—to the application for those powers. The Committee decided against the Home Secretary.
All these matters are before the Committee which is now considering the Bill. It is a competent Committee of another House and will take all those facts into consideration. It is obviously improper to discuss matters on the Floor of this House which are being adjudicated upon in another place, and I must rule the hon. Member out of order.
I wish to ask the Home Secretary what his policy is as regards the Workmen's Compensation Act. I notice under Vote 1, Section (E) "Fees and Expenses of Medical Referees"—fees and expenses paid to the medical practitioners appointed by the Secretary of State for the purposes of the Act—for the year 1930, £17,500, whereas in 1929 they were £18,000. I desire to ask the Home Secretary what his policy will be particularly as regards Order 975, which deals with the question of silicosis? It is within the knowledge of the Committee that before a man can claim compensation under this Order he must have worked during 1929 or afterwards, and also that there must be in the rock upon which he had worked at least 50 per cent. free silica. Owing to the operation of these two conditions the Order as it stands now is an absolute fraud on the workers.
Taking the time first—1929—there are dozens and dozens of men in my constituency who have had to leave work two, three and four years ago. I have been told that a man may have been exposed to silica dust as far back as 20 years; that it may take even 20 years before that man becomes incapacitated. Taking the next condition—the condition of 50 per cent. free silica—as the matter stands now in the anthracite district we sent up two samples to be analysed. The first sample showed 22 per cent. and the second one showed 24 per cent. It is absolutely impossible for any man in the anthracite district to get compensation after he is incapacitated, or for his dependents to get compensation if he has died, because of the second condition of 50 per cent. of silica.
About a fortnight ago the Under-Secretary of State was good enough to promise that he would send an inspector to the anthracite district. Has this inspector been sent, and, if so, what is the likelihood of the Home Secretary being able to change this Order? I can give him, in addition to the examples which I have already given him, a few dozen more examples of men who are either incapacitated partially or totally and who do not at present receive a penny piece in compensation. I most respectfully suggest that we should drop these titles of "silicosis" and "anthracosis" and in their places substitute the term "fibrosis of the lungs," and let the doctors themselves find out as to what exactly is the cause of this fibrosis. At the present time, as my hon. Friend knows, there is a conflict of opinion as to the causes of the fibrosis, but what does it matter to the miner who is incapacitated whether in fact he has worked in a hard heading where there is 5 per cent. or where there is 90 per cent. free silica? The fact of the matter is, that the man is incapacitated. He is unable to work at all. In fact he is almost unable to walk. It does not matter to him what percentage of silica is in the rock if, through following his employment, he is now unable to work.
I think that the whole subject can be divided into two parts. For the men who have worked in hard headings there cannot be a shadow of doubt that the silica, and the silicosis from which they suffer, are due to the rocks in that hard heading. The question which I would now submit to my hon. Friend is: Is he going to take any steps as regards the men who have simply worked at the coal face? I would remind him of the fact that 6 per cent. of the anthracite coal is silica. In fact, if you take pure anthracite and burn it, 30 to 40 per cent. of the ash which is left is pure silica I would ask my hon. Friend to do this one thing for the colliers, namely, to ask for an interim report from the Medical Committee which is considering this question and on which we have some of the finest experts in the country. I know that they are going to quarrel for quite a long time over the exact causes of the fibrosis, but that silicosis and so-called anthracosis incapacitate men from work is, I think, absolutely certain. These two conditions are an absolute bar at present to any men, particularly in the anthracite district—and I am speaking for that district only—receiving any compensation. There is not a single case from the whole of the anthracite district which has been successful after it has been contested.
I beg of the hon. Gentleman to put these colliers on the same level as bakers. He can do it simply by Order in Council. It is a simple matter for him, as long as he is convinced of the facts in this case. If a baker comes along and says to the medical referee, "Here are my arms; I am suffering from dermatitis," it is to be presumed that the man contracted this disease in the course of his employment. Why not apply precisely the same test to the colliers? If the hon. Gentleman goes down to the anthracite district today he will see sufferers there by the dozen. He will see at once that these men simply cannot work; they can hardly breathe. These men have contracted this terror in the night because they simply do not know what to do with it. They have contracted it in the course of their employment. I beg of my hon. Friend to say clearly whether he is or whether he is not going to alter these two conditions. There are men in the anthracite district to-day who are looking to the Labour Government to see that this measure of justice is done to the men in that district.
The hon. Member who has just spoken has drawn attention to a very difficult subject, which lies within the department of the Home Secretary, but I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not accept the diagnosis of fibrosis as being one suitable for scheduling for workmen's compensation.
Because you can get fibrosis, unfortunately, not through industrial disease. The important point to bear in mind is that some of these cases of shortness of breath and cough are not due to industrial conditions, and one can understand that the Secretary of State when he has to issue an Order in Council to deal with these industrial diseases must be quite definite in issuing an order dealing with the specific cause of the disease. He can do that quite easily in regard to baker's dermatitis. I am certain that by the time the medical silicosis committee have finished their report they will have come to some definite and important result as regards silicosis, and in the course of time that will be scheduled and people who suffer from it will get resulting compensation.
If a man is suffering from fibrosis of the lungs, and he has worked only as a miner, surely it cannot be denied that he contracted the fibrosis in the course of his employment.
Unfortunately, that does not necessarily follow. A man may work as a collier and develop heart disease, but you would not say that he suffered from heart disease as a result of working in the pit. A man working in the open air may on examination be found to have his lungs laden with coal dust, a form of anthracosis. It is an extremely difficult subject, but I am certain that the medical committee will come to an absolutely fair and just decision. The speech of the hon. Member has led the way very nicely to the remarks that I want to make with reference to the factory department of the Home Office, which is concerned specifically with the health of the workers in industry. The factory service
is a very important service and, as the years pass by, it will become more and more important. I visualise the time when it will become the most important medical service of the State, far more important than National Health Insurance, because we shall have to deal with the prevention of disease among industrial workers, or treat these cases in the very earliest possible time and see that every opportunity is given to the industrial workers so that they work under conditions suitable for their health and well-being. I have had a little doubt about the position of the factory medical service, and I put two questions on the subject recently. I asked the Minister of Labour whether she proposed
When introducing legislation to ratify the draft convention limiting the hours of work in industrial undertakings to eight in the day and 48 in the week, adopted at Washington on the 28th November, 1919, to give effect at the same time to the recommendations concerning the establishment of Government health services adopted on the same date.
The reply that I got from the Under-Secretary to the Home Office was:
The recommendation to which my hon. Friend refers was, I understand, intended to secure the establishment of a medical branch in connection with factory inspection. It was duly considered by the Government in 1920 on a report from the official delegate at the Washington Conference, and the view was formed that, as effect was already given in this country to the intention of the recommendation no action by the British Government appeared to be called for. In this view His Majesty's Government concur."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th February, 1930; cols. 253–4, Vol. 235.]
One of the great difficulties about the ratification of the Washington Convention has been the different interpretation which other nations have put upon the 48-hour week. We all remember the London Conference, where an attempt was made to get six different nations to agree to the same interpretation of the Convention. If the British Government are going to start the same game and to say: "We put a certain interpretation upon the Convention in regard to factory medical service and we think that we are right, therefore we propose to make no change," we cannot grumble or find fault if other nations think fit to act on similar lines on the 48 hours' question, and to say: "That is how we interpret the Convention, and we propose
to make no change." To obtain further information, I put another question to the Home Secretary. I asked:
Under what powers he appoints medical men to the factory service; are such medical men under lay control in his Department and, if so, whether, in view of the recommendation adopted by this country at the Washington Conference, he will constitute a separate health department for this service.
The Home Secretary replied:
The medical inspectors of factories are appointed in pursuance of the general powers conferred by Section 118 of the Factory and Workshops Act, 1901, for the appointment of such inspectors as may be necessary for the execution of the Act. They constitute a separate, but integral, part of the Factory Department, and the senior medical inspector who is in charge of the branch acts under the directions of the Chief Inspector of Factories. The answer to the last part of the question is in the negative."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th February, 1930; col. 1400, Vol. 235.]
I have here a copy of the Washington Convention which refers, among other things, to the hours of work. There is also a recommendation concerning the establishment of Government health services which our Government, through their official delegate, signed at Washington. Here is the clause:
The general conference recommends that each member of the International Labour Organisation which has not already done so shall establish as soon as possible not only a system of efficient factory inspection but also in addition thereto a Government service specially charged with the duty of safeguarding the health of the workers, which will keep in touch with the International Labour Office.
I respectfully submit to the Under-Secretary that the present factory medical service does not come under that condition. What is the present service? We have our chief medical inspector of factories in London, who has a very small staff under him; he has four now and this year the number is to be increased to six. These six medical inspectors of factories represent the total medical staff of the Home Office concerned with industrial disease. It is true that we have throughout the country a large number of certifying surgeons who in each town or district are concerned with the certification of children for fitness for work, the health of the workers, inquiring into accidents, poisoning cases, etc. The certifying surgeons are general practitioners
in practice in the areas and they are a most important branch of the medical service.
Sooner or later, we understand, a Factories Bill will be introduced by the Government and in that Bill it is proposed that certain changes should be made in regard to the medical services of factories. The present certifying surgeons run the risk of being elbowed out for another class of medical men. At the present time the certifying surgeon is appointed directly by the Home Secretary. He is a Government servant and absolutely independent of any local control. A departmental Committee sat a few years ago and heard a lot of evidence. The certifying surgeons of the country, through their Association, not a trade union as I wish it was, gave evidence before the Committee. Unfortunately, the certifying surgeons, and I was one myself, had the idea that their evidence was not treated with the respect to which it was entitled, and we have a strong suspicion that the official delegate who went to Washington on behalf of the Home Office had very definite ideas about the medical services, the way they should be constituted, etc.; and his opinions are not the same as those of the certifying surgeons. They complain that they were treated with scant courtesy and were not given sufficient time to give their evidence. If the Home Secretary is going to produce legislation on the lines of that Report, he is not going to get the best results for the service.
I am anxious to impress upon the Home Secretary that he should visualise this factory medical service as one of the most important services of the Crown, and that instead of it being a more or less haphazard service as it was many years ago, it should become more and more every year a Government service, headed by a chief medical inspector of factories with a specialist staff going through the country and with this body of certifying surgeons in the various districts who know their job, are trained in industrial work, and in the diagnosis and treatment of industrial diseases. I hope he will see that this department is kept absolutely in the control of the State. One of the suggestions made is that this service should join with the school medical service, or that some other medical men should be brought in and run the factory medical service as a sideline. That will be very detrimental to the efficiency of the service. The people of the country want to be sure that they have at hand, near the scene of their work, a man who knows their lives and the conditions under which they work, a man who can follow their industrial health just as well as he follows their natural health. If this service is kept in the hands of the general practitioner with a specially trained staff it will be for the ultimate benefit of the people of this country in preserving their health. These certifying surgeons will be able to recognise the danger in its early stages and will see that the people get the treatment to which they are entitled.
I feel strongly that the Home Office do not realise the importance of this matter from the worker's point of view. It is all very well to have a senior medical inspector in London who can send a man down to South Wales to inquire into the effect of the anthracite industry and the effect of silica, who can make special inquiries in the case of special diseases. No one wants to interfere with that, but I am concerned with the general medical practitioner at the bottom, and I say that an efficient factory medical service must have these men. The argument is some times used, why do this? There is an increased interest in welfare work; for many of these works and factories start their own welfare department. I agree, and very efficient they are. If they have their own medical man he may be doing nothing else except looking after the interests of the workers. The weak link however is this, that the medical man is appointed by the firm, they are his master, and if through any reason he gets into trouble and makes a suggestion with which they do not agree he runs the risk of dismissal. It may not be quite so easy to get another job. If the medical man was appointed by the Home Office he would be a Government servant and could not be dismissed and any suggestions he might bring forward for the good of the industry and the workers would be carried into effect.
It is not every employer who is up-to-date and recognises the value of good health, good surroundings and good social life to his workers. You may have a weak employer who is afraid to embark on an expenditure of some hundreds of pounds, but if the medical man was appointed by the Government his position would be considerably strengthened and it would be ultimately for the benefit of the people. I hope the Home Secretary will look into the matter again and come to the decision that the present medical service does not conform to the conditions of the Washington Convention. I hope that the Government will ratify the Washington Convention with regard to health workers as well as with regard to the 48-hour week. We have given our signature; but we must see that the interpretation of the Home Secretary is the interpretation of the Washington Convention. We must not put our own interpretation upon it. The definition given by the Home Office in answer to my questions, probably supplied by the permanent officials, is contrary to the spirit of the Washington Convention and should not be accepted.
The speech to which we have just listened is fresh evidence of the many-sided activities of the Home Secretary. There is no Minister who covers a wider ground in our national life and who stands to be shot at from so great a variety of angles. The hon. Member for Royton (Dr. Davies) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his speech but go back to other matters which have already been raised. The Home Secretary has replied to the question of naturalisation, and I want to thank him for his reply and for what he has done on that subject. Naturalisation is not an easy or a simple problem. None of us wants British citizenship to be cheap, and at the same time none of us wants it to be offered for sale. The high charges made for naturalisation has, to some extent, justified the comment that British citizenship was a matter of barter, and not open to the poor. Anyone who has in his constituency a number of aliens knows of cases in which people have been here for 30 and 40 years, and who had sons serving in the War. They were never able to obtain naturalisation because of the severe expense which it entailed. I welcome the decision of the Home Secretary to cheapen this procedure in appropriate cases, and I ask him to go forward with the good work he has begun and reduce, or abolish altogether, the taunt to which I have referred, and make naturalisation a question of character and not a question of money at all.
There is another point upon which I should like to have the attention of the Under-Secretary, and that is the relationship between the Home Office and the local authorities, and the action of the Home Secretary in carrying out his duties under certain Acts. We have had more than one example this Session of the Home Secretary damping down and resisting local effort. We had some weeks ago, perhaps some months ago, the Liverpool case in which a local authority sought powers to have their own regulations relating to juvenile labour. Those regulations were such as reformers have been for decades seeking to achieve and here was an authority courageous enough to attempt to work those regulations themselves, and to lead the way. That particular authority had led the way in similar circumstances before, and that kind of local enterprise is a spirit which, I suggest, the Home Secretary ought to treat with the utmost encouragement. He ought to welcome it with both hands—instead of which, in this instance, it received the most grudging acquiescence here, with the intimation that it might be threshed out further upstairs. I do not know what was the ultimate fate of that particular proposal. More recently, we had a similar case in which a local authority, first, decided on a certain course and at a town's meeting that course was en-dorsed—
I am not referring to any specific Bill. I am referring to the action of the Home Secretary whose salary is at present under discussion. I am dealing with the administrative action which he from time to time takes, either in encouraging or in thwarting local authorities.
I have no intention of discussing the merits of any particular Bill. I am only discussing the extent to which the Home Secretary ought to encourage or discourage local enterprise, and giving an example of how local authorities can be very seriously thwarted. The process which I criticise is this. If a local authority, through its own council and officials, considers a subject and decides on a certain course, they bring their proposals here. Those proposals are examined upstairs, and the Home Secretary, using his legal powers, perfectly correctly—not only using his powers but performing his duty—puts in a report. Let us suppose that the Committee upstairs approves of the local authority's proposal and that the House of Commons endorses that approval. Then the Bill would naturally go to another place. What should we then expect the Home Secretary to do? Is he going to offer opposition and perhaps make difficulties between the two Houses of Parliament, or is he going to accept the progressive spirit of the local authority and of the House of Commons? If it were a party matter, if there were divisions of opinion, it might be for him to take a strictly official view. But supposing that, as in the instance I have in mind, Members on both sides are agreed in support of the local body, then for the Home Secretary to carry his opposition over the heads of the House of Commons to another place and to thwart the ambitions and the legitimate enterprise of a local authority, is a thing that ought not to be done. I appeal to the Home Secretary that if there be such a case outstanding he should withdraw his opposition, if opposition exists, before there occurs any untoward incidents in connection with the further procedure on such a Measure. I suppose it is impossible to deal further with that matter, without transgressing the rules of order, but I think it is clear enough to the Under-Secretary what is here meant, and it will be clear enough, in my own constituency, what is meant by the particular protest which I have made. Having made that protest, and having asked the friendly help of the Home Secretary in aiding the local authority and this House of Commons to obtain their will, I conclude by thanking the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary for the many pleasant letters I have had from them. I suppose that in my constituency I have occasion to worry them more than most Members, and I should not be fair to them, indeed I should be lacking in courtesy, if I did not convey my thanks to them for the helpful and kindly acts which I have experienced at their hands during their term of office.
Mr. A. HENDERSON, Junr.:
The Home Secretary, in his speech, referred to the question of alien seamen, a question which is causing grave concern in many ports of this country. Members of the Committee may not know that in the years which followed the termination of the War there was a great influx of coloured alien seamen to the ports of this country, and in 1925 the Home Office issued what is known as the Alien Coloured Seamen Order. Under that Order these coloured seamen have to register with the police authorities. Only those coloured seamen who were in the country at that time, or who were at that time employed in British ships, are eligible for registration. Unfortunately, the Order has not worked satisfactorily, and recently I asked the Home Secretary for the numbers of alien coloured seamen who had registered during the years from 1926 to 1928. I understood that there were no figures then available for the year 1929, but if those figures are now available, I ask the Under-Secretary to give that information to the Committee to-night. The problem is a serious one, because there are nearly 20,000 British seamen unemployed in this country.
The Secretary of State has, I think, indicated how the problem could be very largely solved by the shipowners of this country employing British seamen instead of alien seamen. Of course, this House has no authority at the moment to compel shipowners to follow that policy, but something might be done. It is suspected that at the present time smuggling is going on. The Home Secretary also indicated that that knowledge had come to the Home Office. People are making a livelihood out of smuggling these foreign seamen into the country, and they then receive a per capita grant from various people interested in the shipping industry in return for procuring this foreign labour. It is a very serious thing so far as my own constituency of Cardiff is concerned, not only because of the unemployment that exists in that great port, but also from the social point of view. At the present time there are more than 500 half-caste children in Cardiff, and the authorities in the city are at a loss to know how to deal with the problem. People will not employ these half-castes, and they are going to be quite a problem in the future. All that I ask to-night is for information from the Under-Secretary of State as to whether the Home Office is satisfied that the 1925 Order is effective, with evidence, if any, to support that view, and if it is not so satisfied, what steps the Home Office proposes to take in order to deal with this very serious matter.
My right hon. Friend has dealt with the questions raised by the Opposition, and I rise for the purpose of answering some further queries that have been put in relation to the work of the Department, but before turning to those matters of detail, I should like to reply to the question pressed upon my right hon. Friend by the right hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) in connection with coroners' proceedings, and particularly in relation to the Reading case. He was anxious to know whether the inquest, as reported in the Press, had been reopened at the instigation of Scotland Yard. So far as my information goes, Scotland Yard officers have no knowledge of the statement attributed by the Press to the coroner, and I think that disposes at any rate of the question—
That has been largely discussed in connection with the coroners' question, and my right hon. Friend has made a statement of his views. In connection with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman), I can assure him that, while it would be out of order for me to go into the matter, his observations in relation to the matter that he clearly had in mind will not pass unnoticed by my right hon. Friend. The hon. Member for Royton (Dr. V. Davies) dealt with the system of factory inspection, with special reference to safeguarding the health of the workers. He called attention to the fact that our medical inspectors consisted, I think, of four, and later of six, and suggested that there should be set up a more satisfactory system of medical inspection which, as I understood the hon. Member, should be under the State and fully controlled by the Department. That is a matter which would, I believe, involve new legislation. I have no doubt my hon. Friend will have an opportunity of discussing this matter when the Factory Bill comes before the House, and it would not be wise for me to anticipate the provisions of that Bill. Nevertheless, there is a great deal that he said which is worthy of sympathetic support and attention, and I can assure him also that his observations will not pass unnoticed.
In connection with the question of coloured seamen, which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for South Cardiff (Mr. A. Henderson, Junior), we are familiar with many of the distressing features arising from this problem, and particularly in so far as they affect the life of the City of Cardiff. The problem is inevitably bound, up with the large volume of unemployment which exists among British seamen, and there has been for some time an agitation, as to which I make no complaint, in respect to this matter. Quite recently, my colleague at the Board of Trade and myself received a very powerful deputation from the Seamen's Union, supported by Members of Parliament interested, and I can assure my hon. Friend that every effort is made to cope with the difficulties of the problem.
We have to remember that there are two matters involved. We have British subjects who are coloured, and we have coloured seamen who are aliens, and while we can in a very reasonable way, under our administrative powers, deal with the alien coloured seamen, we have no power to deal with British subjects. On the other hand, we are extending our activities in connection with the prosecution and, in some cases, deportation of coloured boarding-house keepers, who undoubtedly make a profit out of the employment of these men and in many cases supply them with forged documents. My right hon. Friend and I are hoping that this increased activity on the part of the Department, in association with the police, will tend to curtail and hamper this illegal traffic.
I have not that information by me at the moment, but I will see that it is supplied to my hon. Friend later. My hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin) raised the question of workmen's compensation arising out of the disease of silicosis, and for the second time called my attention to the incidence of this complaint, and the need for some further change, especially in connection with the 50 per cent. limitation. Not long ago this matter was raised on the Adjournment, and I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his persistency in this matter. Following upon his representation on the Adjournment, he supplied to my right hon. Friend a large number of cases, and I gave him an undertaking, to which he has referred to-night, that we would send an inspector down to investigate these cases. He will not expect me to say to-night what action will follow, but I can assure him that an inspector associated with the Mines Department has already been sent down, and a medical inspector of mines is pursuing the matter and investigating the cases to which he referred.
The Medical Research Council recently set up an expert committee to institute and co-ordinate research into this subject, and the committee have commenced their work. It must be realised that the question is complicated, and that a good deal of research work will be necessary before they are in a position to reach any definite conclusion. I can assure my hon. Friend that the question of the effect of coal dust on the lungs will be brought to the attention of the committee, and will form part of their investigations, but there is likely to be some delay before we secure a report. On the other hand, I can assure him that we shall make every reasonable effort to ask them to push on with their studies.
I will certainly inquire what is the position, but, as I say, if anything can be done to facilitate the production of this report, which is on a matter both urgent and important, I can assure him that it shall be done. The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) dealt with various matters, including the treatment of juvenile offenders, and he invited my right hon. Friend to view with sympathy the better treatment of such offenders. I can assure him that in that respect we find ourselves in complete harmony with him. In connection with the factory inspectorate, he asked me some questions in relation to the qualifications that might be required, and as to what action had been taken in connection with the recommendations of the Departmental Committee on the factory inspectorate. In March, 1930, my right hon. Friend made an announcement in connection with the recommendation of that committee, and said that he proposed to increase the general inspection staff, to amalgamate the men's and women's staffs, and to strengthen the technical branches—medical, engineering and electrical. These increases will be spread over a period of five years.
Further, he proposes that the general inspection staff attached to the inspection divisions and districts will be raised in number over a period of five years from 180 to 243; the number of superintending inspectors' divisions from 10 to 11; and the number of inspection districts from 83 to 96. The additional division will be formed in south-east England, where there has been a great development of industry. At the end of five years, the full staff will consist of chief inspector, three deputy-chief inspectors, 11 superintending inspectors, 46 Class IA inspectors, 96 Class IB inspectors, and 90 Class II inspectors. There will be certain rearrangements arising out of the amalgamation of the men's and women's staffs, and the technical branches will be increased, the medical staff from five to eight, the electrical staff from five to 12, and the engineering staff from six to 10.
In regard to the qualifications, it will be recognised that our factory system is developing on highly technical lines, and certain high qualifications will be required, but not necessarily academic qualifications. We shall certainly look for the right class of person possessing the right class of qualification to perform the duties. The method first of all is that the candidates are personally interviewed to see that they are fit, and then there is finally some competitive examination.
I would not like to commit myself to that. I am not fully seized of the policy that will be pursued, but that is the general practice. It may be that some applicants will possibly be ruled out on the first count, but, generally speaking, the policy that I have enunciated will be followed. The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton and the Noble Lord the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Lord Erskine) made reference to the Industrial Museum, and I am grateful for their observations. The desirability of bringing this Museum to the notice of the country generally, and to employers and workpeople in particular, is fully recognised by the Department. Since my right hon. Friend came into office, we have circulated to Members of Parliament invitations to visit the Museum, but I regret to say that very few took advantage of the invitation. The report upon the Museum as published in the Factory Inspector's Report for 1928 or 1929 indicates that a large number of people visited the Museum, and I understand that they were the right type of people, the type which has something to learn as employers and employers' representatives. If any words of mine and of hon. Members can attract further attention to the existence of this Museum, and increase the number of visitors, we shall not have spoken tonight in vain.
There is one other point to which the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. R. Davies) referred, namely, the absence of the annual report. That is not our fault. We should have liked to have seen the Chief Inspector's report available for Members when this Vote reached the House. We seek as a rule to do so, but this Vote has come on somewhat earlier than usual, and consequently the report is not yet available. The hon. Member also raised the question of the British-born wife of a German who had been separated, and possibly the German had been deported to Germany. The hon. Member made some complaint respecting the attitude of the Department upon that issue. Let me say, in that connection, that an alien, strictly speaking, can come to this country to take employment only if he obtains a permit from the Ministry of Labour, but we view these cases very largely upon compassionate grounds, and if the case warrants it there is an understanding between the Ministry of Labour and my right hon. Friend, and usually facilities are afforded to the alien to join his family in this country.
There is only one other matter which calls for any further observation, and that is the position of probation officers. This subject was raised by the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Morris), and it was referred to by other hon. Members. The questions they raised referred to salaries, recruitment and training. It is only since the passing of the Criminal Justice Act of 1925 that the Secretary of State acquired any real powers in relation to this matter. As a result of the passing of that Act and consideration of this matter, we have now laid down a scale of salaries and qualifications, in connection with the appointment of probation officers, have established a contributory superannuation scheme, and have sought to reorganise the areas and to obtain better service from the officers concerned. Further, we have just initiated a scheme, which is not yet operating, but which will ensure a better class of officer being appointed, and will secure more adequate training of these officers prior to their appointment or on their appointment. Generally speaking, I can satisfy the Committee that in this matter we are making every reasonable effort to ensure a great improvement in matters relating to probation officers. I have now dealt with most of the points raised in relation to this Vote, and if there are any which have escaped my notice, it is not because of any lack of courtesy but because I did not take any elaborate notes of them.
Has the hon. Gentleman anything to say about observation centres? I know he and the Home Secretary have this matter very much at heart, and I hope he will tell us what is is their minds.
There is one point not touched upon so far, except in the final sentence of the speech of the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). I want to raise it in the hope that we may have from the Minister some hope that additional steps will be taken in the near future. I refer to the question of those who are known as the Irish political prisoners. It is quite an old story now, and one which has been referred to on more than one occasion in this House already, but it is one which will be an eternal shame to us until we finally end it, and I hope we may have some definite promise upon it to-night. There are those people who challenge the view that these men are political prisoners but, as far as the Department itself is concerned, the proof is in existence that these were political prisoners and nothing but political prisoners. So far as heavy sentences are concerned, that does not, for us, constitute the measure by which we should judge whether the crime was a political or non-political one.
The facts are as follows: These four men did break into a bank armed, and did steal £240 and got away with it. Subsequently they were captured and charged. So far as the Court is concerned, the Court had only to take into account the evidence which was presented to it, and one has to admit that it was proved quite clearly to the Court that these men did, armed, break into a bank and take the money and disappear.
So far we are dealing only with the Court and from the Court's point of view it can take no other evidence into account. There was the evidence presented to them, and on that they were fully justified in sentencing the prisoners. But when the matter is brought into this House we are not compelled to judge it from the same point of view as the Judge who sits in Court. We now can take into account the question of whether this was a crime committed by criminals for criminal purposes or whether it was, in fact, an act of war committed by soldiers acting under the orders of their superior officer. The shameful thing about the whole business is that the Home Office has in its possession full proof that that is the case. It has been made clear to the Home Office more than once that these men were soldiers in the Irish Republican Army, and that they received an order from their superior officers, and that they, as soldiers, obeyed the order thus given. In those circumstances I submit that we in this House not only have the right to declare that these are political offenders but that we can take no other view than that they were political offenders, and we should consider them from that point of view.
Appeals have been made from England, from Scotland, and by their own people in the Free State, in which it has been stated officially that these men were soldiers in the Irish Republican Army, and that they acted under the instructions of their superior officer. When the matter was raised on a previous occasion, so far as one could gather from the reply given, the reason why these men had not been released was because the crime was committed somewhere about six months after the amnesty. Had they committed this crime six months previously, they would have been released, but because it was six months after the amnesty they were to remain in prison, one of them for the rest of his natural life and three others for 10 years each—for the sake of just a handful of money! I understand the Home Office has since been provided with proof that the reason why this crime was committed was because all was not well in the Free State; that internal disputes caused difficulty and that the order that was issued before the amnesty did not, by reason of this trouble, arrive in the hands of those soldiers in England until the time when the crime was committed. I submit that the circumstances would justify the Home Office in taking up a very different attitude from that which has been adopted, and, indeed, at the time when preparations were being made to bring forward this case, came the news that two of the four prisoners had been released. For that I tender my sincere thanks to the Home Secretary; I congratulate him on the step he has taken, and I would appeal to him to go a step further and say that the other two shall be also released. I insist that they were soldiers in the Irish Republican Army—that is known; and that they were acting under the orders of their superior officer—that is known. Further, it was the final hostile act in the war which was being waged at that time, and since then there has been no similar act on the part of other members of the Irish Republican Army in this country. From the point of view, therefore, of protecting people in this country there can be no interest in retaining these men in prison any longer; it is simply vindictive punishment. When the men were captured feeling was high and blood was flowing. There was a great deal of enmity between ourselves and the inhabitants of the Free State. But after the time which has elapsed, after the punishment which these men have suffered, and after the proofs which have been adduced, what Member is there in this House who would say that these men, who were taking part in a fight which, in their opinion, was destined to secure the freedom of their country, should be retained in prison for years longer? I do not believe there are 10 Members of the House who could be brought to vote for a continuation of this imprisonment. Therefore, having thanked the Home Secretary for the release of two of the men, I would now plead with him to complete his good work by setting free the other two.
With the permission of the Committee, I would like to say a word in reply to my hon. Friend opposite. The matter he has brought before us and on which he asks for a reply is one of the recommendations of the Young Offenders Committee, and it will be most earnestly considered with the other recommendations at an early date. With reference to the speech of the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Kinley), I can offer no observations whatever on the merits of the action of the prisoners or the offence of which they were convicted, or on the action of the Court. I can only say that for a long time past I have given the closest attention to these cases, and some time ago I took the necessary steps to effect the release of two of the four prisoners. There is a real difference between the two who are now in prison and the two who are out, but into that difference I cannot enter, nor can I explain to the House, because it would be most irregular to do so, the reasons which prompted me in the exercise of the prerogative that rests, in the first instance in the hands of the Home Secretary, and ultimately with higher powers. I can only say that the form of the demands made upon me some time ago and the character of the pressure that was exercised with a view to compelling me to take certain action have been of real disservice to the men, and I hope that such pressure and such demands kill not be repeated if the interests of the men still in prison are to be considered.
The hon. Member who spoke for the Government just before the Home Secretary referred to the industrial museum. I spent a very interesting two or three hours in that museum and found there a very great deal which I think would be of use in the factories of this country. I am wondering whether we are taking full advantage of that museum. A great deal of money has been spent in equipping it, and I think we ought to do more to attract visitors from our factories. The Under-Secretary mentioned that numbers of employers have been there, but that visits had not been paid by many Members of Parliament. It is no doubt very useful for employers to see what the museum has to show, but I also think it is desirable that the foremen in the various works, and even the charge hands working under those foremen, should spend some time in the museum to see the various safety devices that have been installed.
When it is realised that even a cut finger may take away a skilled man from his work for some two or three weeks, and that probably such work is so skilled that several months are necessary to train a man for it, it is very desirable indeed that every possible effort should be made to avoid even these minor accidents. In this museum one sees all types of safety devices, such as gas masks, and other practical safety appliances for the protection of operatives working machinery. There are all sorts of methods for protecting the belting, and I ask the Home Secretary to take an opportunity of circularising, the various factories of the country in order to attract this particular type of visitor.
There is another point which I would like to raise. I have noticed recently that many of the insurance companies which are taking the risk of accident insurance are issuing to various factories some very interesting and useful posters giving the operatives an idea of how accidents happen and how to avoid them. These posters are certainly not expensive to purchase in large numbers, and I think they would be a very useful addition to the help already offered by the Home Office. If they would pick out the best of these posters for circulation the cost would be trifling; it might save a great many accidents, and it would enable us to keep our skilled men at their jobs.
Reference has been made to the training of factory inspectors. The factory inspector and the head inspector who showed me round the museum were a very suitable type of men for that work. I have in my experience, however, come across men who, it seemed to me, had not had sufficient practical experience in engineering works. I think that for this special service, which is a very important one it is desirable that those men should have had practical experience as mechanics in engineering or similar works. It seems to me that a factory inspector, to do his duty thoroughly, requires to have had some early training with various machines. I agree that such training is difficult to arrange, and it must be particularly difficult for the Home Office to arrange, but, in my opinion, a certain amount of practical experience in works is an essential qualification for such an individual. I should be the last person to make any complaint with regard to the factory inspectors' visits to the works. I feel that those visits are necessary, but I suggest that we could, by careful investigation, remove the feeling that many employers have at present that a factory inspector only comes into the works in an inquisitorial way. I would like to see the feeling cultivated that the factory inspectors can be friends of the manufacturers, although it must be recognised that they are there at the same time to put right those firms which are not doing the things which they ought to do. The inspectors ought to go into the works to prevent accidents, and at the same time befriend the various manufacturers of the country.
I believe that a great many accidents happen through employers not knowing what they should know. I think one of the greatest sources of causing accidents at the present time is the untidy shop. Many accidents occur through people stumbling over things, and having to pass round obstacles in order to get past them, and thus coming into contact with dangerous machinery. I think that more accidents are caused in this way than in any other way. The factory inspector can point out to employers the proper way to keep his factory. For instance, the inspector can say to the employer, "If that gangway were cleared away, you would have fewer accidents." If a policy of that kind were adopted, we should develop a feeling amongst the manufacturers very much opposite to what it is to-day.
Another question to which I would like to refer is that of the employment of aliens. We want more employment for our own British workers. When foreign-made machinery comes into this country it seems to be considered absolutely necessary for the first few months or years to work that machinery with labour from the country in which the machinery was made. I wonder some times whether that is not rather stretching the point, and I think we ought to be able to find in this country men who could work that machinery. I hope that the Home Office will investigate this matter which is very necessary at a time when we have so much unemployment.
I had in mind the question of passports in regard to this labour, and I feel that at the present time when we have so many men wanting work, that everything should be done in the direction which I have indicated. When one comes across cases of German and other foreign workmen who remain doing work in this country for six or eight months at a time, I often wonder whether it is really necessary to keep those men so long in this country. If something could be done to investigate these particular cases, I am sure that it would be a good thing. There is little doubt also in connection with alien seamen that if the Home Office were in closer touch with the shipowners all over the country some improvement could be effected, and every effort should be made to employ more British seamen.