Orders of the Day — Released Detainees (Employment).

– in the House of Commons on 21st July 1942.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—

[Major Sir James Edmondson."]

Photo of Sir Richard Denman Sir Richard Denman , Leeds Central

I desire to raise a point affecting the administration of the Home Office. It relates in fact to Regulation 18B, the subject which, I believe, was lately considered in the Committee of this House, and indeed, it may still be fresh in the memories of some hon. Members. The point I wish to raise is that relating to persons released from 18B and to the hardships from which they suffer. I suggest to the House and to the Home Office that we ought seriously to consider whether there is not some method of limiting the hardship. There was the case reported the other day of Mr. Knight, of Guildford. His case came into the courts, and it was declared, so I gather from the short accounts of the judgment, that he had committed nothing that in itself justified dismissal, and further, that his contract of service had been frustrated by the fact of the detention. Here you have the result not only that the man suffers considerable social and moral injury from detention, but his whole livelihood is lost. I should like to quote something from that much disputed broadcast that was not delivered at the end of last year by Mr. Gibbs, in which he dealt with this particular point, because in the concluding section of that broadcast he made remarks which seemed to me to be very apposite, although I may say, about the broadcast as a whole, that I was very far from agreeing with it and did not regard it as suitable for broadcasting unless it received an adequate reply. The words which I propose to quote are: And now there is one word of my own I would like to add. Very often the worst part of a man's punishment begins when he leaves prison, and with the stigma of prison on him faces the world and meets his own acquaintances. That is a terrible ordeal. Later he said: For the sake of those who are not guilty, for the sake of their wives and children, I would ask you not to forget that although they are in prison they are not technically being punished. Remember that they have never been charged, that they have never been tried and have never been convicted. With the exception of certain items of phraseology there, that seems to be a sound maxim. I am sorry, however, that he talks about guilt and punishment, because in this process of detention there is no guilt and there is no punishment. Guilt implies, the commission of some specific offence. It is not in the least necessary for detention, and if there had been a specific offence, the man would have been prosecuted. But, in fact, we find that when a man goes out he is liable to serious victimisation. I had a case, not of a constituent, brought to my attention the other day of which I should like the House to take note. It was of a man who, for 36 years, had been in a clerical occupation and was then put under detention. Coming out of detention he found his work was closed to him. He was taken on later by the Post Office, and I was told that he was dismissed shortly because of the organised hostility of fellow workers, arising, I am informed, from the fact that he had been interned. Well, that seemed to me so unpleasant and so un-English that I wrote at once to the Postmaster-General to inquire into the facts, and I received this reply, from which I will merely exclude names: I find that X started work at Z on 4th May. Over half the staff had been recruited locality, and X's presence immediately provoked a strong protest from members of the staff who knew his past record. Unfortunately, members of the staff refused to teach him or work with him, and warning slips against working with a fifth columnist were left about the branch in which he was employed. I ask the House to consider that picture. Here was a man trying to get back into work after being released. He goes into an office where his fellow workers refuse to work with him and where slips referring to working with a fifth columnist are left about for him to see. The reply goes on: Representations followed from the local branch of ex-Service civil servants, and the Department was placed in the unenviable position of having to choose between the alternatives of unrest among the staff and dispensing with X's services. In the interests of parties concerned, including X's, we chose the latter course after the decision had been communicated to X. Officials of another staff association made representations that its members were objecting to working with him. While I sympathise with X, I do not think I can reasonably be expected to compel the Department at Z to employ him at the cost of endangering the harmonious working of 1,600 employees. The fact that X elected to leave at once instead of completing a week from the date on which notice was given to him sufficiently indicates, I think, that he, too, felt that the situation had become impossible. I agree. I cannot blame the Postmaster-General for the action he took. He was in a difficulty, and he had to take the most peaceful way out. But I most strongly suggest that this indicates a deplorable situation that is arising out of the public misapprehensions relating to Regulation 18B. There has been so much talk about guilt and punishment, and so on, that the public mind seems to be convinced that there is something permanently wicked about a person who has been detained. We know that persons may be detained, and quite rightly detained, on very slight grounds of past associations, but the very fact that a man is released with a perfectly clean certificate ought to make him eligible to resume life in the circles in which he has previously been. In this case the man was offered jobs by the employment exchange in other parts. He thought that if he went to some district where he was not known it might be easier for him, and he went to a far-distant county. Here he had an interview with a view to taking a job, and he came away from the interview fairly sure that he would get the job, but subsequent inquiries produced a polite letter saying that his services were not required. He has not the least doubt that that meant, in fact, that they had discovered all about the difficulties to which his internment had given rise. I ask the Home Office and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to consider most carefully whether it is not possible by indicating to the public the real meaning of these detentions and releases, and by generally trying to break down this bitter prejudice, to make the lot of those released from detention less hard than it is liable to be. I strongly support the Home Secretary's administration of this Regulation. He has a most odious and unsavoury task, and I think it is our business to offer him all the strength we can in administering the Regulation with impartiality and strength, and not to weaken his arm by nagging him into any weakness. But if detention is going to produce results of the kind I have shown on people who are innocent of any fundamental offence, I think the public reactions towards Regulation 18B will be different from what they have been.

Photo of Mr Osbert Peake Mr Osbert Peake , Leeds North

Certainly I cannot complain about my hon. Friend the Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) having taken the opportunity on the Adjournment of raising this point, which is one aspect of the procedure under Defence Regulation 18B. Of course, there is no doubt that detention under the Defence Regulation may result, and sometimes does result, in a business being spoiled or a job being lost. As we saw in the case reported in "The Times" a day or two ago of Mr. Knight versus the Corporation of Guildford, it may well be held that the contract of employment has been frustrated by the operation of the Defence Regulation; but I should like my hon. Friend to appreciate the difficulty in which the authorities stand in this matter.

Some persons are released from detention Unconditionally; other persons are released subject to certain restrictions imposed in order to make their release compatible with considerations of security. The fact that a person has been released, even unconditionally, does not show that it was wrong or a mistake to detain that person in the first, instance. The fact of release must be allowed, so far as the Home Office is concerned, to speak for itself. It is quite impossible for Us to give testimonials to persons who have been released from detention under Regulation 18B. We have been justified in detaining them, and we have been justified in subsequently releasing them in the altered circumstances, or after investigations which we have made, or subject to the conditions which we impose on release. It is, therefore, impossible for us to give testimonials to those persons, or to consider the question of giving them pensions or compensation. The facts of the case speak for themselves, but we are most anxious that all these persons shall be employed to the full extent of their abilities to help the war effort. In some cases the jobs which they previously held are not suitable employment. They may have been released on restrictive conditions as to entering protected areas and so forth, and the jobs which they may previously have held may have been in such an area.

It may be taken for granted that we are most anxious that they shall be employed, because persons employed in regular jobs are much less likely to be a source of mischief than persons who are idle. It may be assumed that the Ministry of Labour will do their utmost to place such persons in suitable employment. It can be taken that they are suitable to be employed in any job in which they are placed by the Ministry of Labour. They will certainly not be recommended for jobs for which they are not suitable, and, therefore, there is no ground whatsoever for fellow employees pursuing the sort of course of petty persecutions to which my hon. Friend has referred in the remarks which he has just made. It is inevitable, I am afraid, that the operation of the Regulation will, in many cases, inflict a considerable hardship, but we must bear in mind that war inevitably inflicts hardship to a very large class of the population, and that many very patriotic persons have suffered in their jobs and in their businesses as a result of the war. There is a sphere here in which voluntary organisations can be of assistance. Notices have been posted in the camps that the Society of Friends will try to assist in hard cases, and this is a sphere in which hon. Members themselves may be able to be of useful service.

Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.