I want to raise a matter arising from a Question which I put to the Home Secretary the other day, as follows:
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department on what grounds a letter dated 11th January, addressed to the Editor of 'The Times' from Admiral Sir Barry Domvile, K.B.E., at present detained in Brixton gaol, was intercepted?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th January, 1943; col. 599, Vol. 386.]
I would like to say that I have never met Sir Barry Domvile personally and that he is quite unknown to me except by his public record, which is extremely distinguished. I will not go into all the details of his various commands, but I would like to draw the attention of the House to some of the important posts he has filled, more or less on the staff side. Sir Barry Domvile was Assistant Secretary of the Committee of Imperial Defence of 1913 to 1914; director of the Plans Division at the Admiralty from 1920–22; Chief of Staff of the Mediterranean from 1922–25; Director of the Naval Intelligence Division from 1927–30; President of the Royal Naval College at Greenwich and Vice-
Admiral commanding the War College from 1932–34. In addition to that he has of course filled many other important posts and commands afloat.
It is evident that there are persons who have admirable and distinguished records of loyal service to their country but who, nevertheless, are at the present moment detained under Regulation 18B on the grounds of suspicion that if they were at liberty they might do some harm to their country in this present critical war period. On the other hand, there are persons whose record in the last war was not so good and who at present hold responsible positions and are rendering valuable service to their country in the war. Therefore, it cannot be denied that exceptional positions do and can arise. Nevertheless, I submit that in judging any man one must pay, not merely some regard, but substantial regard, to his past record, and for myself I find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to believe that a man with the distinguished service and long and loyal record of service to his country which appears to be the case with reference to Admiral Sir Barry Domvile could possibly at any time intentionally do anything which would be detrimental to his country. Further, I submit that if some person or persons have grounds for believing the contrary to be the case, then, in a case of that kind and with a record of that sort, it would be the duty of the House to make certain that there was no misjudgment taking place, and that it would be insufficient to accept an accusation of that kind solely on the responsibility of any—no matter who he is, not even the Prime Minister—single Member of the Executive unless it was corroborated in some form or other, such as by some inquiry other than the Advisory Committee, which in its present form is not sufficient. I want now to read the answer which the Home Secretary made. He said:
Persons detained under Regulation 18B are allowed to communicate with relatives and friends, with legal advisers and with Members of Parliament; but the sending out of matter for publication stands on a different footing from the writing of letters to individuals. No distinction, could be drawn between publications which take the form of letters to the Press and those which take other forms such as articles or pamphlets. Detention necessarily entails the curtailment of many activities including propaganda activities."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th January, 1943; col. 599, Vol. 386.]
I want the House to consider what is propaganda. As far as I understand it, propaganda is an endeavour to communicate and to spread your views on certain principles. That is a rough and ready definition, and no doubt there are other definitions. I readily recognise that communications to and from those persons who are detained on suspicion have to be censored, and they are censored, but I can see no reason whatever why a person who happens to be detained under Regulation 18B, and who probably finds time hanging very wearily on his hands—I think it affects some of these people not merely physically but also mentally—should not write articles which would be subject to censorship. I will give the sort of idea I have in mind. It might be pleasing to a man like Admiral Sir Barry Domvile to write some articles on Naval strategy or on his past experiences in the Services. Are we to understand that, because he is detained on suspicion under Regulation 18B, that would not be allowed?
On the other hand, he might wish to write to the Press on some subject in which he takes an interest. Are these people to have no interests? Provided it does not infringe any of the Regulations or touch upon any matter which would be contrary to the purpose for which he is detained, is there any reason why he should not write such letters if the Press cares to print them? Administratively it would not seem to me to present any difficulty. I suppose that such a person is allowed only so many letters, and a letter to the Press would count as one. The letters have to be censored in any case, and I should have thought a letter would be doubly safe if written to the Press, because to-day the Press are very careful and do not print anything until they are quite sure that the Government approve of it, as far as I can see. Nothing could be safer.
But there is a bigger principle at stake than that. The freedom of the individual in this country has three principal safeguards. The first is the House of Commons. The second is the Press. The third is the judiciary. I regret to say that, in my opinion, the only one of those three which has functioned so far to some extent successfully, and certainly with more enthusiasm than the other two, is the judiciary, in spite of the fact that this House has to some extent curtailed their powers and prevented them from performing functions which have always been considered constitutionally to be the proper functions of the judiciary. It is they who are constantly giving warnings, and in doing so they have served their country to the best of their ability. The House listens all too little to the warnings which they give.
The last point that arises is this. Are we to understand that persons detained under Regulation 18B are also deprived of civil liberties? It seems to me that the writing of a letter to the Press is essentially a civil liberty. Are they merely submitted to such Regulations as are essential, in the opinion of the Home Secretary, for the safety of the State, or are they, in addition, to be submitted to other impositions which in no way involve the safety of the State but which, in fact, curtail their civil liberties as citizens of this country? In the circumstances, I thought it more courteous and in every way desirable to obtain the permission of the Home Secretary to read the letter which Admiral Sir Barry Domvile wrote to "The Times" and which was intercepted by the Home Office. It is as follows:
After two and a half years in this prison, under Defence Regulation 18B, I have a few remarks to make which concern all British subjects, in regard to this deplorable page in the history of our native land. I feel sure that future generations will be ashamed of the 'reasonable causes' which are considered justifiable for the indefinite imprisonment of hundreds of men and women. The public was led to believe that we were people who might help our enemies. That was 'the most unkindest cut of all'. All are agreed that the Executive must be empowered to act promptly in time of war in apprehending suspects. But such special powers call for additional, not fewer, safeguards against injustice to the King's subjects. The Home Secretary's Advisory Committee affords no such safeguards. In connection with the proceedings of that Committee, does the public realise:
That is the signed statement of a man with a brilliant record in the service of his country. He has been in Brixton Gaol for some considerable time. I do not know—I cannot know, and neither can any Member of the House—whether the statement is definitely and strictly accurate in every particular. That is one reason why it is desirable that this matter should be raised, and the hon. Gentleman who is to reply, will be able to tell us to what extent the statements contained in the letter are accurate and to what extent, if any, they are inaccurate. There can, however, be no doubt in my mind or in the mind of any fair-minded man that if most of the statements contained in the letter are accurate, then the manner in which these people are detained is not only contrary to British ideas and to our traditional justice, but, in addition, is contrary in every respect,
I am sure, to the intention of the House. After the war, when victory has been won, those who have maintained the British Bastille at Brixton—because it is nothing but a Bastille—and those who have damaged the prestige of Parliament by consenting thereto will surely come up for judgment. I should like to quote a few more words which will possibly be recognised by some hon. Members:
Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants. It is the creed of slaves.
Those are the words of William Pitt the Younger. I hope my right hon. Friend will deal specifically with the statements that have been made regarding the Advisory Committee and also with the question of what are the Regulations governing these persons who are detained without trial for long periods, no matter what their previous record, in Brixton Gaol, and, more particularly, are they to be deprived of what they regard as ordinary civil liberties?
Until I heard Sir Barry Domvile's letter read out, I had not seen its contents, nor did I know what he had written. As far as my memory serves me, I have never spoken personally to him. Hon. Members who have heard my hon. Friend's speech must surely be searching their hearts as to whether it is right that the circumstances in which these people are detained should be what they are. My views about Regulation 18B are well known to my fellow Members. I have never denied the necessity for there being some Regulation of that kind. It is an unfortunate necessity, forced upon us by the war, that in certain circumstances people should be detained without trial, but when a convicted prisoner is asked what he can say in his own defence, his past record, whether it is good or bad, is counted for or against him. It does not therefore seem to me to be right that men and women locked up under 18B should not be entitled to have their past good records taken into consideration. Surely in deciding whether a man or woman is likely to be a danger to the State, it is essential that their past record of service should be considered. It is pleaded that it is necessary for the safety of the community that these people should be kept in detention. Some have been there for many years.
Before the last war one of the most notorious traitors was a Member of this House. I do not think that is a relevant remark at all. I am pleading for justice, just as much for the hon. Member as for anyone else. It is not a matter of personal opinion or personal spite or of different political points of view or of party bias. It is the inherent right of men and women to obtain justice. If it is right to detain these people because it is in the interest of the State that they should be under lock and key, surely every effort should be made to make their detention as little irksome as possible. I did not hear anything in the letter that did not seem to me quite reasonable for a man to write, subject to the censorship if necessary, or for the paper to be allowed to print. Why was the letter stopped? It is true that, on more than one occasion, letters from persons detained in prison to Members of this House have been stopped, but it is the inalienable right of every unconvicted person, in prison, or of a man in the Forces, to communicate with his Member of Parliament, and I deny the right of any Executive to take that right away. Many years ago, when the liberties of this House were in jeopardy, the House wrote a Memorandum, which was called the Apology of the House of Commons, in which they maintained that their Privileges were the general liberties of England. In that document are these remarkable words:
The prerogative of Princes,"—
which means in effect the prerogative of the Executive—
may easily and daily grow while the privileges of the subject are for the most part at an everlasting stand.
Looking back over the last three years, it must be admitted that the power of the executive over the individual has grown to such an extent that individual liberty has to a large extent disappeared. That may be inevitable in war-time, but, after all, these men and women have been detained often under conditions the reverse of good. Members who were in London during the blitz can imagine what it must have been like to be under lock and key. That smacks to me of the concentration camp in Germany. We complain rightly
of the tyranny of the German concentration camp. Let us be careful that we do not allow some of that tyranny to creep in here. Some say we should have more people detained and not fewer. I disagree. I would detain anyone who is an enemy of the State, but I should hope and pray that the spirit of the country was such that there would be very few people detained. We are fighting for freedom—the freedom of expression of opinion. No one can say that the letter to "The Times" from this very distinguished officer, whatever he has done, could have caused the slightest injury to the war effort.
Are these people to be deprived of all means of exercising their minds? For a time they were not even allowed to have food brought in by a wife or husband outside, a piece of petty tyranny for which there was absolutely no excuse. If I wished, I could give part, or all, of my butter ration to my wife, but for a time these people were not allowed to take in to their husbands or wives in prison such part of their rations as they wished to give them in order to try to make their lot a little more easy to bear. A person who has been charged has the right of talking to his or her lawyer in secret, but that right has been denied up to now to those detained under 18B. On what ground? Is it suggested that the legal representative may be a danger to the State if he hears something and takes it outside? Surely that is rather insulting to the great legal profession. I am sure that most solicitors and barristers would be perfectly capable of discussing with interned persons the circumstances of their case and keeping it secret. In a previous Debate I raised the case of a Mrs. Nicholson, who was charged, tried and acquitted and then taken back to internment on the same charge and was not allowed to discuss her case with her solicitor without a member of the prison staff being within earshot.
I beg hon. Members to consider this question again. I know that the preoccupations of the war are very great, and that other things seem much more important, but I believe that the most important thing for us to consider now and in the future is the liberty of the subject. We have had three years in which to consider the whole of this question of internment. It may well be that there are people now interned who should have been tried and shot long ago, but it may also be that there are many still interned who might perfectly well be at liberty. Do not let us make the lot of these people any harder than it is. I do not think anyone realises what it means to these people if they are in fact innocent—I have no sympathy with those who are not—who have to go through this war day by day and night by night in internment. The stigma of their internment—remember they have never been tried nor convicted—will stick to them and their children and their children's children for all time. If that is what the House of Commons thinks should go on there is nothing much more to be done about it, but surely it should excite our attention to ask whether the time has not come when there can be some form of appeal. Everyone knows that this Advisory Committee really does not meet the case. When the letter to the "Times" was read, the individual was told that he was there to answer questions, but the man who is asking the questions has a secret dossier in front of him so that the person who is being questioned does not know what is behind the questions that are asked. That is a travesty of justice.
I believe a case has been made out for a further investigation into this whole system. There must be a Regulation 18B. I realise how essential it is in time of war, and how very much more essential it would be in case of invasion, that there should be the power to apprehend people and keep them under lock and key untried, but there can be no justification for trying a person and taking him back after he has been acquitted. That is a monstrous abuse of the liberties and rights of the subject. It is in direct contravention with everything that our forefathers have fought for in the past. It is unjustifiable, but it has passed almost unnoticed. Some of these people have good records. Naturally I get quite a postbag and it is hard to tell which are genuine cases and which are not. One letter was sent by some ex-Servicemen who are interned and who told me that they all had their medal ribbons for the last war and that many of them had earned decorations. All that they wanted was to be given a chance to fight again in this war. Yet they are interned under 18B and they have no chance of proving whether they are entitled to serve or not. This matter has now been brought up again and one almost despairs of public opinion being roused against it. It is inherent in the whole question of the liberty of the subject, to maintain which we have been sent to this place. If my hon. Friend in bringing up this case of a man who has been deprived of the chance of exercising his brain and ingenuity and doing something to counteract the deadly monotony of prison life, turns the minds of this House and the public once again to the condition of those in prison, who may be innocent and who are suffering because they cannot prove their innocence, the Debate will not have been in vain.
I hope that the House will forgive me for intervening on this question for I have no longer any personal interest in the matter. One detainee in whom I took an especial interest has been released. In regard to Sir Barry Domvile, I know nothing except that I believe he served in the last war in the Harwich Force, under Admiral Sir Reginald Tyrwhitt. If-any force covered itself with honour and glory in the whole of British history more than the Harwich Force, I have yet to learn of it. That, at any rate, is something to be said in Admiral Domvile's favour. The letter to "The Times" and this Debate is an inevitable consequence of the failure of His Majesty's Government to deal with the situation that has arisen following the passing of the Regulations 18B and 12(5) (a) during a period of supreme emergency when we were threatened with invasion at any moment. The House was right at that time to pass any measure for the security of the Realm, but it was not anticipated by many hon. Members that these Regulations would be in force for longer than a period of the few months of supreme danger. We do not now say that we want these Regulations abolished; we want them amended to meet the requirements of a completely fresh situation.
These detentions, which nobody objected to in 1940, and which covered practically everybody against whom there was any suspicion, were expected to last for a period of few weeks. They have now become penal servitude for an indefinite number of years, as long as the war may last. This means imprisonment without trial, without charge, and they involve a stigma and an agony of mind which only those of us who have seen some of the detainees, who genuinely believe they are innocent, and do not know what they are there for, can fully appreciate or understand. That is not justice. It is quite alien to our British way of life. I submit most earnestly that the Advisory Committees no longer meet the requirements of the present situation. We want, and we must go on pressing for—and one day perhaps we will get it—a properly constituted appeals tribunal, a legal tribunal before which these people can present their cases. The cases should be heard in camera under such conditions as may be laid down in the interests of national security. Detainees should have the right to consult their solicitors in private, to he represented by counsel, and to cross-examine witnesses.
I admit that the Home Secretary went a little way to meet us the other day in reply to a Question I put to him, when he said that except in the very rarest cases detainees under 18B would have the right, which they have never had before, to consult their solicitors in private. Every prisoner at the bar, whatever charge is brought against him, has the right to consult a solicitor in private. An enemy alien on a charge of espionage has the same right. Only detainees who are suspected, and against whom there is not sufficient evidence to bring a major charge, are not allowed to consult a solicitor in private. That is a travesty of justice. And it is a slight indication of the mind of the Home Secretary that he said in reply to a Supplementary Question, that he would draw a distinction, so far as the right of consulting solicitors is concerned, between British subjects and friendly aliens, and that British subjects ought to be given a preference, in this matter at any rate. Why should we give a preference to anybody so far as the administration of justice is concerned? British justice for centuries has been the admiration of the world, and has not been built up by giving a preference to any one class of subject. Everybody in the eyes of British law is equal, or should be, and should have equal rights.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby) has pointed out that if we are fighting this war for anything, we are fighting it for freedom and individual liberty. Nothing will persuade me that we can ever forward our cause by denying that liberty in any single instance. We are locking people up without charge or trial. It may be in the interests of security that some of them should be locked up; and I am sure that, if some of them were tried properly, they would be sentenced. For them I would have no mercy at all. If, however, we cannot get sufficient evidence to bring a charge against them and convict them, the least we can do is to allow them to plead their case in private before some properly constituted legal tribunal, and not saddle the Home Secretary for the rest of the war with the sole responsibility for keeping them in prison for an indefinite period of penal servitude. Let them be given facilities for pleading their cases before a properly constituted tribunal. And if the tribunal decides that they cannot be released in the interests of security, on the ground that the suspicions against them are too great, then give them reasonable civil liberties inside prison, so long as they remain unconvicted on a specific charge. That is all we ask. We shall go on asking for it. Some hon. Members think that some of us who plead for justice for these detainees are little better than Fascists, but that is quite untrue. We have no interest in the enemies of our country, but we do plead on behalf of British justice and individual liberty. In doing so we feel that we are following a tradition of this House that is not ignoble, a tradition that was started by Mr. Pym and Mr. Hampden in the days of the fight against the Stuarts, and was carried on by Mr. Fox. The torch they lit ought still to be carried in the House to-day.
I intervene with some diffidence because I had no idea that this matter was coming up to-day. I therefore have not with me the documents with which I could substantiate what I want to say. I simply do not want it to go out from here that any substantial portion of this House or of the community at large is seriously perturbed about the administration of 18B. Those of us who support the Home Secretary in this matter do not suggest that hon. Members, such as the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), are in any way Fascist or near-Fascist. All that we suggest is that they are somewhat lacking in a sense of proportion. There are far worse infringements of liberty which have to be put up with in the war than this particular infringement. I maintain that the Home Secretary has repeatedly shown that 18B as it is administered is necessary and that he personally administers it with great consideration and the utmost care. Do let us keep some sense of proportion in this matter. Hon. Members have spoken in moving and noble terms of the liberties our forefathers fought for. Really, these liberties that our forefathers fought for—many liberties, including and not exclusively liberty of the subject—are the very liberties which would have been completely, not partially, destroyed if the philosophy of the friends of the 18B detainees had prevailed in this country. We have heard from an hon. Member opposite of the pathos of these unfortunate 18B people during the blitz, and I agree that it must have been a most unpleasant situation for them in Brixton Prison if, in fact, they were kept in their cells during the blitz. I am not sure about that. Perhaps the hon. Member is sure of his facts on that point.
We are talking about whether they got protection, and I, am saying that I do agree that it must have been an extremely unpleasant situation for them during the blitz, but again I must remind hon. Members that the main part of them were people who would probably have gladly led the Nazi authors of the blitz in triumph into this City of London. We have heard harrowing comparisons between Brixton and the concentration camps of Germany. They are far-fetched comparisons indeed, and there, again, precisely the same argument applies. These are people who would have installed the horrors of the concentration camps here for very large numbers of our fellow citizens if they had had their way.
If my hon. Friend makes that statement surely he must have some foundation for it, and if he has evidence which would go to show that any one of those persons would have acted in such a traitorous way, it is his duty to put his information at the disposal of the State, so that such a person could then be charged and tried. As far as I can see, the hon. Member is merely saying something which is his own opinion and is quite unsubstantiated.
Not at all. I can substantiate it by reference to their views. I do not say that all these people were guilty of actual treason to the extent of selling information to the enemy, or something of that sort, but they are people of specifically Nazi and Fascist sympathies, and, therefore, I am entitled to say that they would probably have led the Nazi authors of the blitz in triumph into this city, and have been glad to do so. Quite a lot of very unpleasant data about that kind of thing came out when one of these 18B detainees was rash enough to bring an action against the "New York Times." The judge in that case made some pretty damning references to the character of that detainee. He was, I regret, an hon. Member of this House. No doubt we should feel sympathy with that particular detainee for whatever he may have endured during the blitz, and one feels a certain amount of sympathy with anybody who is detained over a long period, but in this case I think the real condolences should be extended to the constituents of that hon. Member, who have been for so long disfranchised.
It may be said that these people are merely detained for their opinions, and that, as the hon. and gallant Member has just said, I am merely expressing my opinion of them, but I would remind hon. Members that this is not an old fashioned, purely national war, but a war of opinions and ideas, an ideological war, and although it is said loosely that we are fighting for freedom, it is necessary to define freedom and the extent of it before you condemn those who in the inevitable exercise of authority do impose some restrictions on the freedom of a dissident minority. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen said that this may have been justified two years ago, but that there is now a completely fresh situation, and that therefore 18B is, possibly, no longer as justified as it was. There is no longer the danger of physical invasion, perhaps, but I am not satisfied that the political aspect of the war is so completely safe that we need no longer fear a subtle attack by the friends of the enemy in this country. I think the situation, physically, is com- pletely different from what it was two years ago, but I am not so sure that it is completely different politically and psychologically.
By way of explanation may I say that my point was that the passage of time had turned this detention into something' like penal servitude, and that that created a new situation.
Again, with all respect to the honourable and distinguished records in the last war of these detainees, I submit that that is quite irrelevant, because people who served with honour in the last war may well have gone wrong afterwards in one way or another. If we are talking about the records of people, Sir Barry Domvile gave distinguished service in the last war, no doubt, but in the period immediately preceding this war his political record was anything but honourable and very far from distinguished. I have very clear recollections indeed of the poisonous articles that he wrote in the "Anglo-German Review" and of photographs of Sir Barry Domvile with a portrait of Hitler hung above his desk, and that kind of thing. It is just as well to remind ourselves now and then of these facts in order to keep a sense of proportion about these poor, innocent detainees. I think it was from Hegel, but hon. Members will correct me if I am wrong, that Engels borrowed his famous definitition of freedom as the recognition of necessity. I submit that that is a definition which is exceedingly applicable to this present Debate. We have had to give up all sorts of freedoms during this war for the purpose of waging it more efficiently. The freedom of the Press has been limited, trade unions rights have been limited; it is not only the liberty of the subject that has been limited; if anything, that has been limited rather less than the others. All these freedoms have been voluntarily limited by the people of this country for the efficient waging of the war, and I submit that this is a necessity—regrettable, perhaps, but none the less a necessity—of this war which we must accept.
I believe it is necessary that this Debate should end in a couple of hours, and if that is so, it is not possible to begin by traversing all that was traversable in the remarks of the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg). I resemble him in one particular only, so far as I am aware, and that is that I also did not know that this subject was to be raised until a few minutes before this Debate started. It ought not to be necessary for anyone to protest that interest in this subject in no way involves any kind of political or intellectual sympathy with any of the persons suffering from these administrative Regulations and if it were necessary so to protest, I think I may say without vanity that I should have as little need for it as anyone, because it is within the recollection of the House that I have been interested in this subject since long before any such question could be raised.
The principal point to which I wish to draw attention is one which, I think, is made all the more urgent by reason of the speech of the hon. Member for Maldon. May I have the attention of the Treasury Bench, because I do really want to be heard by them? It is this: this subject, of all subjects, except major strategic factors—themselves perhaps not subjects very amenable to House of Commons discussion—is the
It was particularly desirable that I should ask for the Home Secretary to be present on these occasions and it was not in the least because I wished to attack him. It is because he is the Home Secretary.
I am sure he had an important engagement, and I was not in the least attacking him for not being present. I am only suggesting that one of the safeguards which the House as a whole ought to ask from the Executive is that, as a matter of rule, the principal Minister responsible for the Executive action under criticism ought to be present, when this subject, more important than any other, is under Debate. I do ask Ministers to consider very carefully whether it could not be so considered. Of course, we shall all understand that there might be occasions when the Home Secretary could not be present here, but it ought to be in the main, the business of the Home
The last speech we listened to seemed to be nothing but the enjoyment of the casting of accusations and innuendoes against those who are known not to be in a position to reply.
I am not bound to have any opinion on the matter to which the hon. Member refers, which is not before the House and of which I have had no notice. [Laughter.] Nor really is there anything for derision in that reply. I could not know that the remarks of a judge upon a particular case were to be submitted to my scrutiny to-day and, not knowing that, I have not read the remarks, and I do not propose to pass any judgment upon them.
There are three main arguments in this matter to which I ask my right hon. Friend on the Front Bench particularly, and the House in general, to pay attention. First is the need that there should be some people who, recognising the necessity for these unusual administrative powers, are convinced, in consequence of that recognition, that there should be some people who do their best to see that those unusual administrative powers are used with the minimum of danger to our constituted liberties. Also—and I beg hon. Gentlemen opposite to think that this is right and proper, whatever one's political prejudices may be—the need to see that those powers should cause the minimum addition to human unhappiness. Because the hon. Gentleman opposite thinks that somebody once wrote some poisonous articles, is that any reason why that somebody should have to go through almost intolerable sufferings? There may be people who think that the hon. Gentleman has written poisonous articles.
I am very grateful indeed for that interruption, but it is a curious commentary on the hon. Gentleman's argument that this was not a war between States but only a war between ideas. He now says that his only political prejudice is against two enemy States. This country will be for ever disgraced and this House will certainly begin very rapidly to lose power unless, during and through whatever crisis there may be, there continue to be some men in this House who think that, when the Executive has to be given added powers, it becomes all the more their duty to see that those powers are used to the minimum danger to our constituted liberties and with the minimum increase of human unhappiness. That is the first principle which I would ask hon. Gentlemen to accept and upon which I particularly ask the Home Office to reflect.
This is the second point: that this principle becomes far more urgent in days when those who, naturally, set themselves up, as a rule, as the fuglemen of liberty, when they are clearly turning obscurantist and have gone so far in the direction of becoming obscurantist and assumptionist that they cease even to endeavour to disguise it. Perhaps not all hon. Members who happen to be present this afternoon have happened to read the OFFICIAL REPORT every day for the last month. I did not know that this Debate was coming on, and I have not brought my references, but it happened to catch my eye that, day after day, somebody or other, almost always somebody extremely Left in sympathies, would ask of some Minister or other, some question or other, always tending to the suggestion that some paper, book, pamphlet or meeting ought to be suppressed. When I began to notice it I took the trouble, last Saturday, to sit down and write out a list. I have not brought it to-day because I did not know that this was coming on. I assure hon. Members that it is rather staggering when you look at it. Time after time, it is suggested that the Secretary of State should suppress meetings, or a paper control be used against a pamphlet, or so on. Let me say, lest I should be interrupted by the farmyard noisemongers opposite, that—[Interruption]—not from political prejudice—
I am perfectly willing to withdraw any suggestion which hon. Gentlemen opposite found offensive and I apologise to you, Mr. Speaker, if what I said was not perspicuous. I have not the least desire to be offensive to hon. Gentlemen opposite. I meant to suggest that there are those whose principal line of argument is making loud noises when they hear something put forward to which they are not accustomed and I endeavoured to use a shorthand phrase to indicate that. I am sorry if the implications of it may have seemed offensive to some. What I endeavoured to say was that the more it becomes clear that obscurantism is becoming conscious and unashamed among those who would naturally be supposed to be the principal critics of an administration at all tempted to interfere with liberty, the more in those circumstances, does it become important, that there should be some Members of this House who do consider it a duty to watch the exercise of those administrative powers.
And even if it were shown that these administrative powers had up to now, that is for something over three years, always been used with absolute infallibility, without ever one case of excess—even if that were true, yet it would remain the duty of this House to find some men who would watch that use continuously and challenge it continually. That is the second proposition which I ask the House to accept, and on which, I hope, the Front Bench will reflect, and on which I hope very much indeed, that those inside the Home Office will reflect. From it there arises a third proposition; This is the reason why I am sorry that the Home Secretary was kept from us to-day by more urgent business. It becomes necessary that Ministers when questioned or criticised on this subject should be peculiarly scrupulous to argue with us, to debate with us, and not in any way to endeavour to bully us, or to frighten us or to deride us out of what we regard as our duty.
I would ask my right hon. Friend on the Front Bench to draw the attention of his right hon. Friend to Questions and answers—I am sorry I have not given notice of this but I did not know it was coming up—between the Home Secretary and the hon. Member for Maldon on 4th February. I would ask whether the Home Secretary does not, on consideration, think there should be some explanation. The Home Secretary was asked about a proposed meeting at a London theatre and whether he would take steps to prevent the holding of such a meeting as likely to provoke a breach of the peace. I had not the foggiest notion by what people it was going to be held or why or what it was about. I have no prejudice in the matter. The Home Secretary said that watch was being kept and that there was no reason to apprehend disorder and that it would be premature for him to decide then whether there was sufficient grounds for prohibiting the meeting under Defence Regulation 39F or E—I forget which. He was asked by Supplementary Question whether he would bear in mind a deplorable exhibition of hooliganism at Finsbury, where the memorial of Lenin was broken up and so on. The organisation referred to in the original Question was alleged to advocate peace by negotiation with Hitler, and to
distribute pro-Nazi, anti-Parliamentary and anti-Semitic propaganda. In reply to the Supplementary Question the Home Secretary said:
I will certainly look into the incident to which the hon. Member refers. If it is true it is much to be deplored"—
He then said:
but I am between two fires. The hon. Member"—
that is the hon. Member for Maldon—
wants me to be harsher, and there are other hon. Members sitting near me who are always anxious that I should be much more lenient."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th February, 1943; col. 1046, Vol. 386.]
It may be true we ought to desire amendment now of these Regulations; I am not quite sure about that. I am quite sure that we ought to desire the Home Secretary and his officials very carefully and with really open minds at least once a year to consider whether the time has not come. I am still more certain that whether the Regulations are amended or not, we should be continually anxious for assurance that they are being well administered, and being administered in the best possible spirit. I suggest that for the Home Secretary to suggest that hon. Members who are interested in subjects of this sort are anxious that he should be more lenient to advocates of peace by negotiation with Hitler, to distributors of pro-Nazi, anti-Parliamentary and anti-Semitic propaganda, to defacers of historical memorials, to placarders of Fascist slogans, I do think that for such suggestions to be made, is unfair and an unnecessary hindrance to the proper performance of their duties by private Members of this House. I beg the Front Bench in general and my right hon. Friend in particular to ask His Majesty's Principal Secretary of State whether it ought not to be clear that what seemed to be the obvious innuendoes in that remark should be explained away and whether, quite honestly, those of us who are genuinely anxious in this matter for nothing except the maximum of liberty and the maximum of human kindness can really be 100 per cent. sure about the administration of these Regulations so long as language of that sort is to be used.
I will not follow the Senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) at too great a length, except to say that we do not want these questions coming up once a year, but if necessary once a month, or as often as necessary. Therefore I am grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby) for keeping this question alive and for showing that this House is at all times ready to protect the liberties—I agree, the contracted liberties—of those who may be, for the time being, termed internees. An hon. Member invoked great memories of the past, names of the past. Again, we very ordinary Members in these days do not need remembrances of that nature, or do not even need prodding. I should like to remind the Senior Burgess for Cambridge University—in fact, it is the first time I mention something which concerns me in my personal duties—that I was actually the first Member of Parliament to visit what is called a detention camp. That was a long time ago now. I had the experience of having to visit over 400 members of the British Union of Fascists. They were all Britishers. I had liberty to talk to them as I wished, and every one of them to talk to me. Their grievance was that the Advisory Committee should work more quickly. I made a report in my capacity as a prison visitor that these men should have the right to have their cases reviewed as often as they liked. I well remember one charming young fellow coming up to me. He said, "Is it fair, sir, that I should be here in this place because I am the younger brother of my brother?" I said, "Who is your brother, laddie?" He said, "My brother is William Joyce." British justice said he had no right to be kept in a detention camp because he was the younger brother of his brother. I remember my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Epsom speaking of the mental torture of men and women in prison when they were being blitzed. In my special favourite prison we see that everybody is at any rate under shelter. I expect that at Brixton protection is, given to all prisoners who are there under 18B, or otherwise—
I agree that there was a grievance at Holloway, The hon. and gallant Member should know whether it is now put right; I would know if it were my prison. I found in prison an Italian boy, aged 16. I asked the Home Office, "What right have you to keep this boy in prison? He should be at school." They admitted that they had made a mistake, and he was sent back to school. I found a Member of Parliament in my favourite prison—not a British Member of Parliament, but one of the hon. Members for Prague. The Home Office said that they had sent him to Leeds Prison to cure his rheumatism. I thought that that was rather far-fetched. I possess a certain nuisance value, and I pressed my right hon. Friend to let him out, which he did. I visited Brixton Prison. Hon. Members know that under 18B the internees in Brixton Prison are in a separate part of the prison. While they are not living delectably, I thought that in so far as prison can be made acceptable, these people, who on that day were sunbathing and indulging in squash rackets and other exercises, had found paths in places which, if not pleasant, were at any rate tolerable. I found an hon. Member there. He said, "What are you doing here; have you come to visit So-and-so"—mentioning a distinguished internee in Brixton. I said "No, I have come to visit an unknown." It was a ship's steward, who had asked me to go and see him; and, to' his great surprise, I went. Thanks to the innate sense of justice of the Home Office he got 80 per cent. of what he wanted. I will tell you what the other 20 per cent. was. His petition to my right hon. Friend was, "Will you please intern my wife?" The reply was, "I have no power to intern this lady, because, as far as we know, she has committed no crime against this country." This lady is sitting in sad loneliness in a nice place, while her husband has gone back to the Isle of Man.
I am not entitled, even as a Member of Parliament, to ask why a person is interned, but I am entitled not only to ask but to demand that every internee shall know why he is interned and have his case reviewed at reasonable intervals. I put a case before the Home Secretary only to-day of another internee who wants to get married. I suggested to the Home Secretary, in a moment of frivolity, that he should act as best man. But they cannot get married, and I am now going to explain to the lady why she cannot get married. I am grateful to my hon. Friends for raising this subject, and I hope they will continue their good work. I know that wherever there is a semblance of a case for justice for any man, woman, or child, this honourable House will respond.
This Debate has wandered a long way from the point which my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Sir I. Albery) wished to raise. That was the very narrow and limited point as to whether Sir Barry Domvile should have been allowed to send to "The Times," for publication if the Editor of "The Times" thought fit to grant space, the letter which the hon. Member read. I cannot see what harm the public interest would have suffered if the letter had been allowed to reach the Editor of "The Times," and if he had been allowed to exercise his discretion, which he must exercise under the Defence Regulations, of deciding whether the letter should be published or not. I do not say, and I do not know whether the hon. Member for Gravesend would say, that people interned under Regulation 18B should be allowed to write any letters they like, to write any articles they like, or to write any books they like, during their detention. If the hon. Member did say that I would say part company with him.
If the case of my hon. Friend rested on the particular letter which he read, I repeat that I do not see why the Home Secretary should have raised all this fuss and bother about it. It seems to me that the letter was purely concerned with the gentleman's criticisms of the machinery of the Regulation; and either his points are right, in which case they ought to be published, or they are wrong, in which case they could be published and replied to without any danger to the public interest. But the discussion has gone farther, into a discussion of 18B itself. I do not complain about that. I myself have frequently taken part in Debates in which I have criticised the machinery of 18B because it has not seemed the best machinery for its purpose. What brought me to my feet to-day was the tendency which seemed to be creeping into this Debate for Members to express the view that there was something wrong with Regulation 18B itself. I have never held that view. I recognise that nearly everybody who has spoken in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend has begun by saying, "I do not ask you to abolish Regulation 18B." What does that involve? Why do you want Regulation 18B? Everybody seems to admit that he does want it. If it is agreed that 18B is necessary for the Executive to have, it is agreed that people are to be detained without trial, are to be detained without charge, are to be detained indefinitely, or at any rate while the war lasts, or while we are in danger. All that is involved in the admission that Regulation 18B is a necessary power for the Executive to have, and it is a little irrelevant to talk about detention in prison during air raids on London. If a detention is justified, it is none the less justified because the enemy chooses the particular period of the detention to make an air raid on London. If the detention is unjustified, then the man ought to be at liberty, even if there is no air raid on London. The point of detention during air raids on London is entirely irrelevant.
This is a war of ideas. Let there be no mistake about it. As the war progresses people are inclined to allow that essential fact to be obscured. It is a war for certain ideas; it is a war against certain ideas. It is one of the ironies of history—this is not the first time it has happened by any means—that the fight for essential principles of liberty should centre round the persons of people who do not believe in it. What are the ideas against which we are fighting? One is that it is wrong for people to hold views other than those the Executive hold and to express them. Another is that it is wrong for people with political views obnoxious to the Executive to assemble together, to organise political activity, political propaganda, persuasion of every kind, in support of those ideas and, if they convince the majority of their fellow citizens that their ideas are right, to have that opinion translated, through democratic machinery, into legislation and to become the law of the land and part of the political, legal and social order under which we live.
Another of the ideas against which we are fighting is that some particular race, by some kind of self-selection, is entitled to dominate all other people and to put the world to torment in order that they may dominate it. These are some of the ideas against which we are fighting, and if there are people in this country who share those ideas, however honestly and sincerely, and with whatever good faith, it is right that the rest of us who are pledged to fight these ideas to the death should not take the risk of allowing them to be at liberty during the war in order that, perhaps in perfect good faith, they might act in accordance with their ideas which are the ideas against which we are fighting. That is the case for 18B. It is no good talking about particular individuals and records. Their good records are completely irrelevant. Indeed, their good records may in some cases be the very justification of their detention. Was there anybody in the armed service of the French Republic who had a more distinguished record than Marshal Pétain? (HON. MEMBERS: "Yes.") There may be one or two. I am not sufficiently acquainted with the details of French military history, but I should have thought that before June, 1940, there would be few people in this country who would not have described Marshal Pétain in the same eulogistic terms as we applied to Sir Barry Domvile.
I do not think it matters whether he was defeatist or not. The point I am making is that his distinguished record is that his loyalty, if you like, to his country, his patriotism, if you like, did not prevent him from having a social, economic and political outlook which rendered him incapable of resisting his country's enemies at the time when his country's forces were at their weakest, What prevented France from resisting was not the lack of men, arms or aeroplanes, but the lack of the political will to resist, the political will having been undermined by exactly those ideas, or something very like them, against which the war is being fought. These ideas against which we are fighting, which are drowning Europe in blood, will cost before this war is over 20,000,000 lives. They will render whole areas of Europe desolate and destitute. It cannot be wondered that, if there are people in this country who share those ideas, it is better for them and better for us that they should not have the opportunity at critical moments or at other moments to undermine the will of the vast majority of their fellow citizens to resist to the uttermost the domination of these ideas which they share in the world.
I have listened with great interest to what the hon. Member has said, but the whole point we are raising is whether there is proof that they do in fact still share those views, and whether they have had any opportunity of proving that, even if they did once share them, they do not share them any longer.
I have ventured to speak as I have done just because the hon. Member and others know very well that I am one of the keenest critics of the machinery and operation of this Regulation in the House of Commons. I have never been afraid to say so. I say so now. It is a mistake that the Home Secretary and his predecessor should have put themselves into the position of being open to personal criticism by reason of these matters when they could and ought to have protected themselves by other authority. I am sure that the machinery under Regulation 18B frequently results in injustice. I have never seen why a man who is accused should not be able to consult his solicitor in private. I do not see it now. I have never been able to see why, if the State is prepared to prove that Mr. "A" or Colonel "X" shares these political ideas and his activities in the past have shown that he shares them, the detainee should not be told why the Secretary of State thinks so, and should have the opportunity of some third party judgment so that there might be some judicial or quasi judicial inquiry between the Home Secretary and the detainee to see whether there are in fact reasonable grounds for supposing that that particular person is in that class or not. I do not know why that is not done. A great deal of trouble would be avoided if that were done. I cannot see what harm would be done. Debates on this subject would cease if only the Home Secretary could bring himself to do that. I did not want to repeat that to-day because I hoped that previous contributions I had made to these Debates would make it unnecessary for me to do so.
I repeat now, that I stand by everything I have said on these points, and I would add, with regard to detainees under Regulation 12 (5) (a) the position is even stronger than it is under 18B which applies to British subjects. There is no tribunal, there is no legal representation and any improvement in legal consultation is not to apply to them. I am certain from the number of cases that I have been asked to consider that there are some friendly aliens, whose ideas are all on our side and who do not share in the least any of the ideas against which we are fighting, for reasons not merely that they do not know, but for reasons that the Home Secretary does not know either. Acting, as he must do, not merely on the evidence of secret police, but all too frequently on the evidence of foreign secret police, I do not know why the Home Secretary does not provide himself with the opportunity of a third-party judgment and of extending the rights of accused persons to a proper hearing, proper judgment and proper consideration of what evidence there is. I hope he will take an early opportunity of reconsidering all these matters, especially in the light of the new fortunes of the war. I do not share in the least any doubts of any hon. Member of this House about the Tightness of the existence of these powers or the doubts anybody may have that if there are people, no matter how distinguished, patriotic or loyal their records may be, who share these ideas which have poisoned civilisation and which are drowning it in blood, they ought to be kept in detention until the danger to civilisation is passed.
We have had a Debate which has ranged a great deal wider than the subject matter which my hon. Friend the Member for Graves- end (Sir I. Albery) gave notice he intended to raise and which referred to a very limited point. However, I do not complain, because the Debate has been interesting and well-balanced; it has touched upon the whole question of Defence Regulation 18B, its administration by the Home Secretary, the conditions under winch people are detained, and the merits of the detention of Admiral Sir Barry Domvile. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn), I am not prepared to meet a case of which I have not had any notice, and I do not intend, therefore, to cover the whole question of Defence Regulation 18B. But I would point out to our critics, who are not quite so numerous as they were a year or two ago, two general matters which I think they might bear in mind.
The first is this, that whereas the total number of persons detained under this Regulation was at one time in excess of 1,750, to-day it is in the neighbourhood of 500, of whom a considerable number are persons of hostile origin. That is a measure of the increasing confidence which the Government feel in the ability of our country to meet every danger which may beset it, whether from within or without. We have even reached the point at the moment of considering the release of individuals who are not prepared to put their cases again before the Advisory Committee. We have reached this point, in pursuing the policy, of endeavouring to release, or to procure the release of, every individual who can be released without danger to the State. The second general consideration which I would like hon. Members always to bear in mind is that the Advisory Committee, which has now been operating since the middle of 1940, has been presided over throughout by Mr. Justice Birkett, and anyone who knows anything of his record, either in politics, or at the Bar, or on the bench, must realise that he is not the sort of man to lend himself to any kind of Gestapo practice. You could not possibly find a man who was more anxious not only to do justice but to see that justice was done. I, therefore, ask hon. Members not to believe every statement which they hear made on behalf of detained persons, because they have only heard one side of the case—
I do not wish to interrupt to be tiresome, but really to clear up a point. When my right hon. Friend speaks of Sir Norman Birkett seeing justice is done, he is, of course, using a technical phrase. I am sure he means the House to suppose that Sir Norman Birkett is concerned to see that justice is done not in the technical sense but to see that the administration is carried out without too much inequity.
What I said was that I am sure hon. Members realise that nobody is more anxious than Sir Norman Birkett to see that justice is done, and I mean precisely what I said.
The limited point which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend concerned the interception by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary of a letter, dated 11th January, written by Admiral Sir Barry Domvile to "The Times" newspaper. This is a particular case, but it does have general implications, and general considerations must be borne in mind in considering it. Let me say, in the first place, that although my hon. Friend read the letter, the contents of the letter had nothing whatever to do with the Home Secretary's decision that it should not be forwarded to the paper in question—nothing whatever. The contents of the letter contain a travesty of the truth so far as the procedure in Admiral Sir Barry Domvile's case before the Advisory Committee was concerned. I have studied the transcript, and it does not bear any relation at all to the account given in the letter which Admiral Sir Barry Domvile wrote. Let me again emphasise the fact that the contents of that letter had nothing whatever to do with the Home Secretary's decision to stop it going forward. If the letter had been nothing more than to say that Admiral Sir Barry Domvile had heard the cuckoo on 15th April, the letter would have been intercepted in exactly the same way, for reasons which I will now give to the House.
We have to deal with the question not as being a question of a letter from one particular detainee to a particular newspaper; we have to deal with it on the basis of treating all papers alike, whether it be "The Times," "The People," or the "Daily Mirror," and whether it be from Admiral Sir Barry Domvile or any other person who is deained, and quite regardless of the contents of the matter in the letter. If we were to look at these letters and censor their contents, deleting some passages and so forth, we should put an impossible task upon the Home Office—certainly a task which the Home Office would not be ready to undertake. We are not ready to undertake the censorship of expressions of opinion, and I think it would be a sorry day for the country if that duty were ever entrusted to a Home Secretary or to any other Government Department. Letters from people detained under Regulation 18B have, of course, to be looked at from a security point of view, because some of these people are in possession of very secret information. We have to make sure in some cases that that information does not pass outside; but subject to a security check, any expression of opinion or any statement of fact contained in a letter by an 18B detainee is allowed to pass, and we have to apply that principle in dealing with communications intended by them for publication. We cannot, in my view, exercise a censorship, and it is, therefore, a question of either allowing all communications to go forward from any detainee to any newspaper, or of stopping them all and allowing no communications to go forward from detainees to newspapers.
Moreover, I think the House will observe that we cannot draw the line, if we are going to draw the line, at letters to newspapers. What is the difference between a letter to a newspaper and an article written for a newspaper, and how could we possibly distinguish between the two? If you allow letters to pass, you have got to allow articles; I think my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend suggested that Sir Barry Domvile might contribute a series of articles to the Press on naval strategy. If you allow articles, it seems to me you have to allow pamphlets, and if you allow pamphlets you have to allow books as well. In point of fact you arrive at the position in which you say mat persons detained under Regulation 18B may conduct all such propaganda as is not actually a contravention of the law—
—during the period of their detention. The hon. Member for Gravesend went so far as to say that Sir Barry Domvile would not be allowed to write articles. Of course, any person detained under Regulation 18B can write anything he pleases. We encourage them to do so. We provide them with the necessary materials. I have on my table at the Home Office at the present time a novel written by a person detained under Regulation 18B.
Certainly, it will not be published during that person's detention because we do not believe it is right or proper when, under the terms of the Regulation, the Home Secretary considers it necessary to exercise control over people by keeping them in detention, that they should be at liberty during the period of that control to spread whatever propaganda they may please upon any subject under the sun.
Is it not the case that the late Mr. W. T. Stead was actually imprisoned for some agitation but continued the agitation on which he was engaged from the prison?
The right hon. Gentleman said that when the Home Secretary decided it was necessary to exercise control over a person it would be impossible to allow him to publish an article or a novel. But I should have thought that as long as the Home Secretary was controlling that person, in a sense approved of by him, and preventing that person from doing anything he ought not to do, it would not be necessary to continue to control him in the exercise of functions which would do no harm.
My hon. Friend must bear in mind that persons detained under Regulation 18B come under three classes. They are persons over whom, in the first place, the Secretary of State has reasonable cause to believe it is necessary to exercise control. That is common to all cases of detention under Regulation 18B, and unless you believe that those powers are exercised in bad faith by the Home Office, then you must accept the view that my right hon. Friend has some reasonable cause to exercise control over these persons. But in addition to that requirement, the person has got to fall into one of these three classes: either he must be of hostile origin or association, or secondly, he must have been recently concerned in acts prejudicial to the defence of the Realm, or thirdly, he must have been a member of an organisation which is subject to foreign influence or control and which might be used for purposes prejudicial to the war effort. Those are the three classes of persons detained under Regulation 18B, and to my mind it would be wholly unreasonable to allow such persons to carry on, while under detention, a constant stream of propaganda of any sort or kind.
The meaning of control seems to me to be perfectly clear. It is necessary that they should be subject to physical restraint. That is the reason why they have been detained.
I do not want to be difficult, but if the restraint were purely a physical one, a person might still be at liberty to edit a journal. There might be all sorts of restraints. It would be interesting to know if there is a definition of it.
It is clear that these are persons whom it is necessary to keep in detention of some kind or other. Their freedom of movement must be limited in such a way that they shall not go where they please. Their physical liberty is confined to the area of the detention camp or the prison in which they happen to be. As far as expressions of opinion by them are concerned, the position is as follows. They can write to their friends or their, relatives and say whatever they like. They can also write to their Members of Parliament in exactly the same way and letters to Members of Parliament are unlimited either in their content or in their length or in their frequency. They are not rationed in any way. Any hon. Member can get up, as the hon. Member for Gravesend did to-day, and read the contents of a letter from Sir Barry Domvile which my right hon. Friend had refused to allow to be sent to a newspaper.
What is the position of editors vis-à-vis the ban on letters to the Press, because obviously it is perfectly easy for a detainee to write a letter to an editor known to him personally and to send it to the editor's private address, or for that matter for a Member of Parliament to hand a letter to an editor?
Obviously, that must be a matter for the judgment of the editors, who are for the most part responsible persons, and as regards hon. Members, if they choose to read out letters from persons in detention, they are, of course, at liberty to do so. It is a matter for their own judgment and their own responsibility.
Suppose that a distinguished naval officer detained under Regulation 18B were to write an article of great value in these exacting times on naval strategy and tactics, what would be the procedure of the Home Secretary in dealing with such an article in order to make it available in the interests of the defence of the country?
Let us suppose that someone detained under 18B had something of great value which he wished to communicate. There are at any rate two channels obviously open to him. One is to send it to the Home Secretary himself, and the other to send it to a Member of Parliament, who can bring it to the notice of the Government or, it he so desires, procure publication for it. I cannot accept the view that the public interest can suffer because we do not allow letters, which are bound to become pamphlets and which are bound to become books, to be published by persons detained under Defence Regulations.
There are two objections to a censorship, not on questions of fact but on expressions of opinion. In the first place, we should require a very substantial staff at the Home Office to carry that out. These persons who are detained are not like convicted prisoners. They do not have to engage in useful occupations. They are free to sit about all day writing articles, books and propaganda. If all that had to be subjected to scrutiny in the Home Office as to whether it should be allowed out or not, it would impose a heavy burden on the officials.
Can that reply possibly be regarded as valid when we have a postal censorship for prisoners of war, and, if it is possible to censor their letters, what possible objection can there be to at least considering the setting-up of a similar censorship for internees?
The short answer is that persons who write to prisoners of war are, generally speaking, not trying to cause the maximum amount of trouble to the censorship. They are trying to avoid giving useful information to the enemy. Many of these persons are anxious to give the maximum amount of trouble to the authorities, and they would spend their time in devising matters of propaganda in their articles, pamphlets, and books, which would give an enormous amount of work and a very heavy burden of responsibility to the authorities. There are two choices. One is to allow all matter for publication to come out of the internment camp. The other is to forbid it all. On balance we think the latter course is the one to be preferred. There is a safeguard, because each of these detainees can send any matter he pleases to Members of Parliament.
Do I understand that letters to Members of Parliament also are subject to censorship for security reasons? The right hon. Gentleman said some of these people have very special information which it would be dangerous to allow to get out. I was wondering whether it could be sent out to a Member of Parliament.
Speaking from memory, the only case I can remember where a Member of Parliament complained to me that a letter to him from someone detained under 18B had been censored and a paragraph deleted was a case where it was not clear on the face of the envelope that the addressee was a Member of Parliament. If it had been known to the censorship that it was a Member of Parliament, I feel sure that they would have allowed the matter to pass.
Is there not a censorship in the camp itself, and then the ordinary postal censorship after they reach this country? I am thinking of a case of the communication from the Isle of Man which obviously had been censored, and the explanation given me was that it was subjected to the ordinary postal censorship but was not censored at the camp.
I should like to look into it. As far as convicted prisoners are concerned, the rule has always been that if they made a statement that was deliberately false, for instance, that the Governor of the prison was a drunken swine, a statement of that sort would not be allowed to pass out, at any rate until the Home Secretary had had an opportunity of investigating the facts of the case. There may be cases where detained persons have made similar statements about officers in whose charge they were, and they may have been deleted from letters. I should not like to say offhand whether any statements of that kind had been deleted or not.