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Defence Of The Realm (No 2) Bill

Volume 66: debated on Wednesday 26 August 1914

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Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

I want to ask the Home Secretary a question with regard to this Bill. There are some words of somewhat vague import in the first Clause—

"or to prevent the spread of reports likely to cause disaffection or alarm."

There is some uncertainty felt as to whether these words, taken in connection with the Bill in general and the Regulations to be issued, may not be capable of being interpreted by military authorities to prevent the expression in speech or in writing of any political opinions on the actions of the Government. I am not sure whether they could be stretched to cover that—and I will ask the right hon. Gentleman to reply—in connection with Section 13 of the Regulations which he has made under the original Act, and in which there are rather vague expressions used. Perhaps I might read to him the words. Section 13 of the Regulations runs as follows:—

"Any police constable, officer of Customs, or any other person authorised for the purpose by the competent naval or military authority, may arrest without warrant any person whose behaviour is of such a nature as to give reasonable grounds for suspecting that he has acted, or is acting, or is about to act, in a manner prejudicial to the public safety, or the safety of the Realm, or upon whom may be found any article, book, letter, or other document, the possession of which gives grounds for such a suspicion, or who is suspected of having committed an offence under these Regulations."

I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he can give us any assurance that the Regulation and the new words he is proposing to insert will not be used for any such purpose as I have suggested?

I can certainly give my hon. Friend the assurance for which he asks. Of course, he must understand that the Regulations under this Act have got to be read with the Act itself, and the Regulations are limited by paragraph (a) of Section 1. Although, as he read the words of the Regulation, they appear to be extremely wide, they must be read, and always would be read, in connection with the Clause of the Act, and I do not think that they would bear the interpretation which he thinks might be put upon them. Then with regard to the words contained in paragraph (a), Sub-clause (1), "or to prevent the spread of reports likely to cause disaffection or alarm," I do not think ray hon. Friend can have failed to observe the case of the man who was prosecuted for stating that the Black Watch had been cut up and the wounded brought home to this country. That man was convicted, not of the offence of publishing that most untrue statement, but because he was wearing a military uniform which he was not entitled to wear. It is most desirable that the spreading of false reports of that kind, which may cause disaffection and do cause alarm, should be punished, and it is obvious that it is only false reports of that kind which it is here proposed to make punishable. If my hon. Friend can suggest any words other than those contained here to cover offences of that kind, I shall be very glad to use them in lieu of these words. But it does appear to me that the actual language of the Clause is extremely reasonable, and I do not know of any Amendment that could better it.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, "That this House will immediately resolve itself into Committee on the Bill."—[ Mr. McKenna.]

Bill accordingly considered in Committee, and reported without Amendment; read the third time, and passed.